I was directed to Bonita Bill’s by friends who are sailors and frequent visitors to Ft. Myers, Florida. They assured me it was my kind of place and they were correct. As much as I love fine dining and a good glass of wine, I am equally attracted to an easy, laid back atmosphere where nobody really cares and strangers are friends. There’s a sign on a post that says dogs must be on leashes, but we quickly discovered…that’s more of a guideline than a rule.

So is the ‘No Alcohol Beyond This Point’ sign. In fact, the only sign that’s really of any importance- and it’s printed on the menu- is

‘No Shirt, No Shoes, Can we get you a beer?’

Captain Dave is one of the first people we met there, if you don’t count the bartender, and in two months I don’t think I ever saw him in shoes.

Chillin' at Bonita Bill's

Chillin’ at Bonita Bill’s

The great thing about taking your dog places is that it’s easy to make friends. I’m a natural born talker and could pretty much strike up a conversation with anyone, but even the stodgiest ol’ grouch wants to pet Henri. A charmer, he is. So it was with Capt. Dave, who is not a grouch, and introduced himself by asking if Henri could have a treat. Dave lives at the end of the dock on a 42’ sailing yacht named ‘Sundance.’ By day he is a charter boat captain, by night a musician, and he has 40 years of tales to tell.

His friend, ‘Steel Drum Jimmy,’ quickly became one of my favorite people in Ft. Myers. We hit it off so well that the first night I met him, I ran off with him to some stranger’s boat at another marina. This type of behavior is why my mama prays.

I don’t make a habit of running off with strangers, but sometimes it happens. Jimmy has a soft-spoken sense of humor and kind eyes that sparkle with mischief. He also likes red heads and dogs.

He was headed over the bridge to Snookbite Marina to join friends for dinner and invited me and Henri to join him. Aside from a quick text to friends to let them know what I was doing and where I was going, I didn’t give it much more thought.

I love boat people!

Regardless of where they were born and raised, they’re friendly, welcoming, and hospitable. Boat culture is a lot like living in small town south. Based solely on the word and escort of Jimmy, this girl and her dog were welcome. They simply added another plate, poured an extra glass of wine, and opened the door.

The fun really started when the brewing storm finally caught us. We hurriedly moved everything from the deck to inside- two dogs, two kids, and six adults. No one would be going anywhere in this squall, but no one was in a hurry. The adults took turns eating at the galley table or holding their plates of homemade spaghetti, and the kids sat on the couch weaving on a rubber band loom. I still wear the bracelet the little girl, Maddie, made for me.

The best part came after dinner while we were having ice cream. The little boy began to play his ukulele to show off a Jimmy Buffet song he’d just learned, and as it turned out, Steel Drum Jimmy was his music teacher. Jimmy took over the playing and suddenly it was a sing-along. This. This is why we travel- not for the places, but for the people.

Henri and I were on a stranger’s boat, in the middle of a storm, having a sing-along.

I would see both Dave and Jimmy many more times at Bonita Bill’s, where after only two weeks, I was referred to by a Ft. Myers resident as ‘a regular.’ Jimmy goes back to Delaware in the summer, but Dave is still on the dock doing charters. Look for the white sailboat with the green awning.

When they ask “Can I get you a beer?”, have a cold Yeungling and order the grilled cheese and chowder. Also, tell them I miss them.