Somewhere between Hawthorne and Palatka, I began to hate the vulture sitting on the seat beside me.
Now that is a strong word, much too strong ... for what I was feeling.
Yes, that's it.
I couldn't really hate a helpless, injured bird, but I am just selfish enough to resent his company.
My pre-vulture plans were:
Get up early, drive to St. Augustine, hit the beach first, and then slide over to Mom and Dad's where there was a porch rail to install so Dad's polio leg has some help going down the front steps.
Heck, I might even load up the kayak and hit Guana lake.
And then ... the vulture entered my life.
The first thing to go was the kayak.
Since I would have to stop at the wildlife rehab center, quite a detour and delay, I slashed kayaking from the plans.
There was still the beach after all.
Soon it was time to leave the house with a JEEP full of tools that might be needed for the porch rail project.
Somehow, I had to fit a full grown black vulture in there too.
There was absolutely no room in the back of the tiny JEEP with 2 sawhorses, a power miter saw, a drill, a tool box, a rolling bar stand, my overnight stuff, camera tripod, monopod, various bits of weaponry, and a tape measure.
It looked like the vulture would be riding up front with me.
Oh wait! Maybe he died during the night.
It could'a happened, ... you know, destiny and all that, ... nature taking its course, ... the circle of life, etc.
I stepped out on to the porch and lifted the beach towel from the top of the Rubbermaid vulture container.
Two shiny black eyes peered up at me ... and he hopped.
(Okay, yes, I was glad he survived)
I returned the towel.
Back in the house, with a pile of Christmas boxes still sitting in the den, there was not one vulture sized box.
So I grabbed a roll of shipping tape and my Gerber scissors, the ones I hide from everyone else around here, and McGuyvered a box that would both hold a vulture and yet fit on the passenger seat of a JEEP.
I lined the bottom with old GatorBait magazines to prevent poo leakage. After cutting a pair of air holes in the top, I placed the vulture in it and taped down the cover.
We left shortly after that, this vulture and I.
I had one quick stop at Junior's apartment in Gainesville which I accomplished quickly and in no time I was heading for Florida Wildlife Care over near Paynes Prairie.
I pictured a slight detour, a quick drop off, and zip! Back on the road again.
It WAS a pretty picture, but I waited too late to call them and got an answering service and a second pager number to call.
Pagers? In 2010?
I cruised down to the rehab center and parked nearby, determined to wait a little bit and give the volunteer rehab folks a chance to call back.
Time passed and I really needed to get to St. Augustine, so I made the decision to push on.
Somewhere along the way, there would be a Vet Clinic and every Vet has a wildlife rehab connection.
Surely, the Vet would say, " Why, yes, drop your foul-smelling carrion eater here."
And I would be free.
Have you noticed ... there's never a Vet around when you need one?
I drove East, scanning each little community I passed through ... desperately seeking a Vet clinic.
Sometime later, when I had gone too far to turn back, Leslie of the Florida Wildlife Care center called me. She had gotten the page.
It turns out she and the other volunteers had been out rescuing an owl caught in fishing line. That certainly had priority in my opinion, and I told her not to worry, that I would get this vulture to a safe place.
I meant it at that moment, but as time wore on ... my attitude changed.
In the JEEP, with the heater keeping the very cold morning at bay, strange and pungent odors wafted up through the two large air holes in the vulture box top. They permeated the tiny JEEP and hovered right at nose level.
I swear I could almost see the vapors.
I think they were greenish yellow.
So it was that somewhere East of Hawthorne, I began really resenting the vulture and his intrusion into MY plans. Briefly I entertained the idea of pulling down a side road, out of sight of traffic, and dumping this stinky vulture out.
Let nature take its course and all that.
That didn't feel right now that I had already intervened and as everybody knows ... as soon as I dumped him, there would have been a Vet Clinic around the very next bend in the road.
Isn't it always that way?
So, the vulture and I pushed on.
I pushed my nose deep into my extra large McDonald's Coffee cup and breathed every so often to escape the vulture stink that filled the air around me.
Surely, I thought as we approached Palatka, ... surely I will pass a Vet Clinic on the drive through town.
If there was one, I missed it.
Over the St. Johns River, through Hastings, and then, there it was! A Vet Clinic in Elkton.
Rustic and looking more like a ranch than a critter hospital, but the sign said Vet Clinic!
I pulled in, and a very nice lady called the local rehab folks (no, she did NOT say, "Give us your foul fowl.").
So, I was still "with bird", but she did give me the address of a Vet clinic that took injured birds ... AND ... it wasn't too far out of my way.
Thirty minutes later, I was handing over the vulture box to a cute, perky gal at St. Johns Veterinary Clinic in St. Augustine.
She even said, " Oh, he's in luck, the technician on duty today loves these vultures!"
I filled out a little information form and walked back out to the JEEP.
On the passenger seat, a small brownish damp spot shone in the morning light.
Gingerly, I swiped it with my finger tip and sniffed.
The box had leaked.
More proof that "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished".
My tale ends with a dash into Winn Dixie for some paper towels and Febreeze.
Because of Winn Dixie, (wacka wacka) the JEEP smells a little girly, but not vulturey, which is just fine with me.
I suppose I won't ever know how the vulture's tale ends, but in my mind ...
... it turns out just fine.