It’s a sweltering August day in 1960, and you’re out on a routine patrol on the streets bordering Salt Creek. It’s the dog days of summer in St. Petersburg, Florida, and although the air is cranked up and the windows are sealed, you’ve already sweated through your uniform in the seat of your ‘52 Ford Mainline. The paper says the high today is 91 without even the slightest chance of rain, and you can tell. The sky is blue and the water is fine, though, and maybe you’ll hear Marty Robbins’ new song “El Paso” on the radio today. You slowly meander along the downtown St. Petersburg area and find yourself at the Gandy Bridge. As you cruise closer, however, you notice a boat sticking out of a cove near the bridge.
It looks unseaworthy, and on closer inspection appears to be a houseboat in serious need of restoration. No, you think, tapping on your breaks. Denial rises up quickly. It’s just some out-of-towners who got lost on Salt Creek. It’s just a local who forgot to bring in an abandoned boat he’s found on the water. It couldn’t be. A sunburned, mustachioed man in his early thirties walks out onto the deck of the boat, and waves cheerfully at you. Your heart sinks, but you wave back, pretending that the fella on the boat is a stranger. He’s a tourist. He’s with the Coast Guard and he’s here to haul this junk in. But you’re Patrolman Homer Allen, and you know better. Agee is back in town, and he’s brought the bottom half of his houseboat with him.
When you’re done hearing Agee’s latest tirade about the Bill of Rights and the inevitable Ice Age that’s going to make everyone sorry they ever doubted him, you’re going to have to fill out another dadgum police report. Vernon Agee—
You can already see it now—wife, five children, unseaworthy craft and another sewage dump on Salt Creek. Tomorrow’s paper will get right to the point: “AGEE RETURNS WITH FAMILY, HALF OF BOAT”. If that isn’t enough, Agee wants to be Navy war buddies, attempting to swap stories with you while you fill out his multiple citations.
You used to have nice, quiet patrols through these neighborhoods and over the bridges bordering Salt Creek. A couple good tunes on the radio and maybe a couple of kids setting up a lemonade stand down past Thrill Hill. Sure, every couple of years the paper runs a blurb about a big fish kill, or an update on page four to remind everybody around town that the city’s dredging and filling project is still going on— otherwise it’s a sleepy old creek. Ever since Agee showed up a few years ago, though, that sleepy old creek keeps sneaking its way up to the front page.
Used to be a man could sit down for his breakfast with a cup of coffee and the paper and see the score or read the word around town. Now it’s all “SEA OF WOES ROCKS AGEE’S BOAT,” or “SALT CREEK SQUATTERS TROUBLE CITY AGAIN.”
After you finish your paperwork and your conversation, you tip your hat to the missus and the little ones and slide behind the wheel again. As you pull away, the shirtless, sunburned figure energetically tossing junk into the water slowly disappears around the bend in your rearview mirror and you breathe a sigh of relief.