||Tales from Margaritaville (stories) and Where Is Joe Merchant? (a mystery) secured songwriter Jimmy Buffett's niche reputation as an affable, poetic beach bum. A Pirate Looks at Fifty, a travel-diary-cum-autobiography, features Buffett behind the wheel of his Grumman Albatross seaplane, safely piloting family and friends through a three-week trip around South and Central America and the Caribbean. He blends gentle scenic narration with rambling, unplugged life stories meant to convey that he's made peace with the whole aging process. For Buffett, turning 50 "can be a ball of snakes that conjures up immediate thoughts of mortality and accountability. (`What have I done with my life?') Or, it can be a great excuse to reward yourself for just getting there. (`He who dies with the most toys wins.') I instinctively chose door number two."
On this tack, Buffett plans an opulent, laid-back trip for his brood and goes into so many details about his favorite possessions (three pages on knapsacks!) that the cheerful vagabond in flip-flops is nearly eclipsed by the rich, domesticated businessman/dad he's become. In addition, stinging losses and limitations--his dad's Alzheimer's disease, his own terrifying solo plane crash in 1996--creep into his cozy yarns. Yet Buffett's infectious, grinning attitude towards life eventually finds resurrection in extended riffs on fly-fishing, solo piloting over water, and surfing. In such passages, he earns his claim to a "saline psyche," a legacy inherited from his grandfather, skipper of a five-masted barkentine that ferried lumber from New Orleans to the Caribbean. Sailing and soaring over Atlantic, Caribbean, and Pacific seas, Buffett looks at 50 and sees a very good life.