A night in a lonely Florida motel turns into something magical once the cast of Cocoon walks in…
At the end of almost every line in Five For Fighting’s Superman, there is a high note. I know this because I can’t reach it.
It would, perhaps, have been better to discover this before now. Alas, the Eureka moment comes stood on a stage in a foreign country, before an audience that gave up on this newfangled pop music thing when Dame Vera Lynn was something of a Lady Gaga.
“It may sound absu-[croak of air trapped in throat]/ But don’t be nai-[hacking noise usually associated with choking on a chicken bone].” It’s an inglorious lumber to the finishing line, pants long around ankles.
The end is greeting with the sort of rippling polite applause that only those above a certain age can be bothered to muster any more. One day, maybe Simon Cowell will greet poor song choices in this way.
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Fate has brought us to this dark, slightly other-worldly room. We picked Stuart because it was about halfway between Key Largo and Cape Canaveral and, as there was nothing on it in the guide book, we reasoned that motel rooms would be ridiculously cheap.
“I don’t half fancy a pizza tonight,” I said as we pulled into the car park of a Best Western with precisely zero distinguishing features. It sat on one of those roads that Florida loves so much – four lanes tumbling into six, small blocks of strangled pseudo-life spaced out too far to walk between. A drive miles for dinner kind of place, past subdued chain mega-outlets and sprawling parking lots in their after-dark slumber.
“We’re not going to get to do karaoke here, are we?” sighed my wife, who’d been hankering after a sing-song since we arrived in the US.
We checked in and raced out, car keys in hand, to find somewhere other than a Denny’s or Wendy’s. “Hang on,” I whispered. “What does that sign say?”
The only other thing in view was the motel across the road. It had a banner outside. It was serving pizzas. And it was karaoke night.
The motel bar had a maudlin, bleak quality. Two middle-aged women serving drinks, one soak slumped on his stool, a couple of feeble fairy lights brought in to pierce the melancholy but only managing to add to it.
And then it slowly started to fill, walking sticks clattering into replacement hips, purple rinses peacock-strutting amongst the wigs. We had landed in Cocoon. This sad little motel on a road no-one could love was clearly the epicentre of Florida’s world-leading retirement industry. The septuagenarian puppies would have to spice things up for the rest.
But sometimes magic arrives from unexpected sources. Singing songs from before any era I recognise, rattly crone after fragile old dear came to the microphone and crooned. Not in a creaky, amateurish way, but with rich, honeyed timbres that wore 80 years of stories. Occasionally, they ventured into songs I know. Have you ever heard Unchained Melody sung with the measured beauty of a lifetime’s hurt, hope, love and loss? It’s spellbinding.
Then up stepped one woman, reduced to a patchy comb-over and elephantine wrinkles in what had to be at least her 90th year. She grasped the microphone softly, and her heart seeped into it. Taking a different audience member in the eye with each bar, she stepped down from the stage to work each table – a long-extinguished career of singing in clubs blazing through, youth flooding back by the note.
We were seeing slow-burning happiness emerge in the strangest of places; past lives and exploits being brought back with an explosive sepia-tinted flush. The sort of warm glow that can’t be ruined by an idiot squeaking to death on a Five For Fighting song.
A couple of croons later, and Linda – a scruffy-looking lady in her sixties – steps up. The anticipatory applause is rather louder than normal. The crowd knows Linda. They know something special’s coming. My wife and I look at each other? How on earth can she top the pitch-perfect Frank Sinatra impersonator, complete with rat pack hat and gear? What is she going to do to upstage the woman on the next table’s ferocious country power-howl?
Linda steps up to the mic, big and possibly slightly disturbed grin on her face. She raises a fist to the heavens and the doof-doofs kick in.
“PUMP UP THE JAM! PUMP IT UP! WHILE YOU’RE FEET ARE STOMPING…”
All content copyright David Whitley.