|January 17, 2014
Ahhhh..... I finally have WiFi in the mobile home as promised in the advertisement when I rented the place. It will be difficult to describe the harrowing experience I went through to get the WiFi unit installed, but I'll try, I'll try.
A complaint on our second day in residence to the realtor yielded a promise to contact the owner and inform them of the absence of WiFi. A weekend intervened, so three days later we got word that a WiFi unit was in the mail from Comcast. It arrived a few days later with detailed instructions for installation. Now, we were charged with doing Comcast's installation work despite a woeful lack of knowledge among the three of us about things electronic. I am an absolute geek when compared to my two companions, but I barely know a USB port from a modem. We persisted and the equipment was hooked up, wires spreading like octopus legs from the box and back of the TV set (which we all recognized). Lights blinked, some lit completely, reception was noted on my iPad, but access was denied time after time.
The only WiFi access I had during the first 10 days of my stay was at the "Ragged Ass Saloon" where I walked (about a mile) to breakfast in the morning to check emails. I don't name these places, I only report their existence and the Saloon is the only restaurant in this rather primitive city serving breakfast. There was also sporadic connectivity from neighbor's units in the wee hours of the night in my bedroom from which some of you may have received emails sent at odd hours.
After a day of attempting to insert accompanying Comcast passwords and names to no avail, I began a series of calls to Comcast that can only be described as laughably frustrating. I was given five different phone numbers to call on one day by Comcast employees who couldn't address my problem. Two were located in Florida, one in west Texas, one in Harrisburg, PA, and two in Manila in the Philippines. Finally, an employee in Manila convinced me that I needed a technician visit, REALLY? And, he could schedule it for me. Fantastic, but the first time available was the following Tuesday, another weekend intervening. "No problem, send them over." Fine, he'll call a half-hour before his arrival between 10 and 12. I gave him my cell number and waited by the phone that day until 3:30 when I gave up in disgust. No call and no technician arrived. A wasted day!
Suffice it to say, by the next day I was a tad frosted, even after calming myself on my walk to the "Ragged Ass" for breakfast. I called the realtor and she said she would have an employee stop and try to complete the hook-up, though she wasn't a technician. Not a technician is correct, but she was the wife of a commercial fisherman and we got some valuable local information during her failed attempt to complete the installation. She did call Comcast and got a promise that a technician would visit the next day (yesterday) during the same magical 10-12 morning block of time, but he would call first. Great.
I waited and we delayed a trip to the Everglades to count alligators, but there was no phone call. At 12:30, I blew my cork with a call to the realtor, threatening lawsuits, demanding a rebate for lack of promised amenities, mentioning a refund and a move to another rental, before realizing that the poor realtor was between a rock and a hard place. She said that 90% of her complaints are about Comcast service and she had just gotten off the phone with a renter who was nasty, obnoxious, loud, and bitter. I must have sounded like a sweetheart, comparatively speaking. Anyway, I told her I was heading for the Everglades and it was not my responsibility to waste vacation time to await service that was advertised to be there upon my arrival. She sounded and was helpless about the situation, but said she would do what she could.
As I angrily installed addresses in my GPS for the trip to the Everglades, with numerous mistakes due to my frustration that delayed our departure, a Comcast truck pulled into the driveway. The technician installed the unit, saying (surprise, surprise) that we hadn't installed it correctly and I now have WiFi. The technician (a subcontractor) suggested that Comcast would do better to hire more Americans to give better service and improve their severely tarnished reputation; he hears complaints everywhere he goes. I called the realtor immediately to brighten her day. My elevated blood pressure will still prevent me from writing about the beginning of this year's journey until some time tomorrow, but write it I will. First, I think I shall hit a few golf balls!
January 18, 2014
This year's adventure began in Pittsburgh, PA, where two couples who have been celebrating the New Year together for twenty years traveled for the celebration. Pittsburgh was this year's choice of cities in which to ring in the new year and we got there via Amtrak, a relaxing, six-hour journey. At 7:30 a.m. on January 2nd, we boarded the return train arriving home just in time for me to empty my suitcase and repack it with the warm weather clothing I had piled in a ready position on the bed. It's good I had prepared the summer togs in advance because a nasty snow storm forecast for the area was closing in. I put the golf clubs, GPS, telephone charger, suitcase, and backpack in the car, said my "good-byes" and headed for CVS pharmacy to pick up enough medication to last the winter. On my way out of town, the snow started to fall and the farther east I got, the heavier the snow fell. By the time I reached Gap, PA, I was driving in blizzard conditions, making my exit an anxious one, but one that fully justified my reason for heading south.
I was headed for Milford, DE, where my brother, John, and my lifelong friend, Larry, were waiting in my brother's vacation, mobile home with his boat already hooked up and ready for the long drive. Larry, John's constant fishing companion these days, was going along to bolster him because of my brother's anxiety about towing the large, twenty-foot Wellcraft on its dual-axle trailer. My brother is a very conservative individual and not much of a risk taker. Larry's "devil may care" attitude was just what he needed to make the journey. The plan was to leave early the next morning, drive down the Delmarva peninsula, and cross the Chesapeake Bay on the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, getting as far south as possible before spending the night.
The farther south I drove that evening, the lighter the snow became and I breathed a sigh of relief by the time I reached Wilmington, DE. It was very stressful driving up to that point, but I was even afforded the luxury of a dinner stop south of Dover because the snow had almost stopped falling. We talked about an early start the next morning before turning in that evening, but were stunned at first light when we looked out the window to see 6-8 inches of snow covering the car, truck, and boat. Snow is so rare in Delaware that a snow shovel was not among the equipment stored in the broom closet. We did have two brooms, however, and used them to brush enough snow out of the way to get my Volvo on the unplowed, trailer park street and head for a hardware store to acquire a snow shovel. A decision was finally reached at 11:00 a.m. to make a run for it, though the roads were icy, slick with blown snow, and exceedingly dangerous. On our way south at a very tentative pace, we witnessed a dozen accidents or more, cars in ditches, on their roofs, on their sides, and snuggled up against other cars they met after long skids. It was not an encouraging kick-off to this year's adventure.
As we progressed south, miles and miles south, we began to notice a slight decrease in the snow accumulation. At the southern tip of Delmarva, there was no snow, but upon reaching Norfolk, VA, a slight accumulation of snow was evident on the fields and along the highway. We were miles south of Norfolk before the snow disappeared completely. We kept hammering south, reaching Wilson, NC, where we stopped for the night, ate dinner, and congratulated ourselves on a good decision to depart and our careful driving.
The next day we made plenty of progress and spent the night south of Daytona Beach, Florida. By noon the following day we arrived at our destination in St. James City on Pine Island. Tomorrow, I will attempt to describe the city, our quarters, and a few of our activities to date. The warm weather has been fantastic!
January 20, 2014
Devoid of beaches and surrounded by mangroves, Pine Island is the poor cousin of highly developed Sanibel and Captiva Islands a short distance across the bay. There is a commercial fishing industry, producing oysters, clams, and fresh fish, and a small agricultural zone, growing crops I have not discovered, yet. The island is sixteen miles long with St. James City located on the southern extremity. The city is a community of mobile homes, pick-up trucks, canals, boat lifts, marinas, bait and tackle shops, and a few restaurants, most located dockside on a canal and featuring bar food, highlighted by fried local seafood. There are a few, very few, gorgeous homes only a short walk from our location and all have canal frontage and boat lifts. The town is also the destination for weekend motorcycle day trips when many Harleys and their riders visit the local pubs. The "Ragged Ass Saloon," (I don't name these places, I merely report) and "Woody's Waterside" seem to be the most popular, but the "Ragged Ass" is the only place in town that serves breakfast. I have become a regular there, visiting several times a week after walking the mile from our humble abode for my morning exercise and repast.
There is a small, St. James General Store, but the closest supermarket is Winn Dixie, an eight-mile drive away. Also located at the island's center is a Dairy Queen, a Dollar Store, a couple banks, a CVS pharmacy, a liquor store, and a Chinese Restaurant. The shopping on the island will not excite any readers, but on the next tiny island, through which one must pass to get to Pine Island, is the tiny town of Matlacha (mat la shay) that has a couple motels, several restaurants, fish markets, marinas, and all the usual tourist shops. There is one golf course about 12 miles away that seems short, but which sports water on 16 of the 18 holes. I have chipped and putted at the course where everyone seems very friendly, figuring they have another snowbird to pluck.
I have fished three times and my brother and Larry have fished almost every day, the last five or six in succession. We are not catching humongous fish, but have caught 12 different species in large numbers, some of which ended up in the frying pan. The sheepshead and the trout large enough to keep were delicious. A fishing license is required for both salt and fresh water fishing, but we only purchased an annual, out-of-state resident, salt water license which cost about $60. As soon as the tide is right, I'm certain that the boys will be out lashing the water again today. My goal for the day is to get in a round of golf.
The weather has been marvelous, but the locals are freezing. Daily lows have dipped to 40 on a couple of mornings, but quickly rise to the daily high of around 70. One or two days have been as warm as 88 degrees, but most have been very comfortable.
I have dined at most of the local restaurants, though John and Larry favor the McDonald's just off the island or the local VFW and American Legions. I had a great seafood chowder at Cap'n Con's on the northern tip of the island, recommended by a reader of this blog. He and his wife make an annual trip to the island to consume that delicious concoction. My thanks to him; it will not be my last visit to that place.
I will transport Larry to the Clearwater/St. Petersburg Airport (PIE) on Friday, hoping to stop on the way in Tarpon Springs to show him the docks of the sponge divers and to dine in one of the famous Greek restaurants close-by. After dropping him off, I will search out a small hotel where I will spend the night with my wife, whom I will pick up in the evening at the same airport. She has never seen that part of Florida, so we will probably prowl Clearwater Beach and may even have lunch at Tarpon Springs. I like the food and she has never been to that port, either.
Saturday evening, like a bad penny, Schim will turn up again. We will meet him and his beautiful, significant other, MJ, in Lakeland for dinner. The man just keeps turning up in these winter adventures. He is threatening to visit us in St. James City to show us how to fish, which will be interesting since he hasn't fished since he was 12 years of age, some 65 years ago. I'll update as further occasions warrant, so stay tuned.
January 22, 2014
I experienced a short-term satisfaction with WiFi and internet accessibility, because my iPad started sending me the signal that my server could not be accessed and that I should check my settings. Since I had done nothing to the settings, I just waited, assuming that the server would soon recognize my warm, fuzzy approaches to it. Not! After 24 hours, I called Comcast this morning, speaking directly to Javier in Bogota, Columbia. It certainly is a global Comcast economy, that much is certain, but this time Javier refreshed my modem, had me turn the iPad off and on, and bingo, I'm back up and at 'em. Hence, this update is now possible.
92, in case the golfers out there are wondering what I shot in my first round in three months at Alden Pines "Country Club" on Pine Island a couple days back. That score was not bad, considering the five balls I saw disappear into the dreaded Mangrove ponds and swamps that bordered almost all fairways. I played the round with a husband and wife team that was retired from the Army. He a retired Major in anti-aircraft artillery and she a nursing Lt. Colonel. It was awkward with him having to salute her on every tee, but we made it through the round without an injury, the most important consideration after a three-month hiatus. I was very tired by the end of the day and probably should have begun my comeback with a nine-hole round, but I never was that smart. I cooked dinner at home that evening, warming up frozen, chicken wings and dipping them in delicious blue cheese dressing - the entire menu. The nutrition notwithstanding, I felt great after a good night's sleep.
Fishing buddy Larry has been saddled with a cold the past few days, so he and John have not been fishing. He is feeling somewhat better today and, if it warms sufficiently, we may head out on the water later this afternoon. The polar air hasn't reached this part of Florida, but the evenings have been chilly, reaching 40 degrees on a couple of mornings. That sounds cool, but watching the snowstorm batter the northeast last night and having temps reach the lower 60's this afternoon will cause few complaints from these snowbirds.
Friday afternoon, I deliver Larry to the Clearwater airport (PIE) and pick-up my wife at the same terminal in the evening. The plans after her arrival are starting to come into focus. We will have lunch in Tarpon Springs, then head to Orlando to meet Schim and MJ for dinner. The next morning we will head for St. James City with a few sightseeing stops along the way. I'll report anything I think may be of interest to you.
While I realize that the world isn't waiting for my next word, I probably owe an explanation to those who tune in to my comments on a somewhat regular basis. My iPad has been on a trip of its own while I ferried Larry to the Clearwater airport and picked up Joan there a few hours later. The iPad rode along to Clearwater and rested in the small, very nice condo I procured ($89/night, plus tax) at a tiny hotel on North Clearwater Beach while I made the trip to the small airport that also serves Sarasota and Tampa for inexpensive airlines like Allegiant that has a direct flight to/from Harrisburg.
The next day, as Joan and I toured Clearwater Beach, Dunedin, and lunched in Tarpon Springs at Hellas, an outstanding Greek restaurant and bakery across the street from the Greek sponge docks, the iPad seemed safe and secure in the trunk of the car. It rode along on the back roads to Orlando where Schim and MJ awaited us at MJ's house. We spent the night there and in the morning, over a delicious breakfast highlighted by a blueberry, cream cheese, and egg casserole that MJ (and Schim) made for us, the iPad rested on a side table in the living room. After breakfast, I took photos on the iPad (for easy transmittal) of MJ's beautiful home and lanai. You're probably ahead of me here, but, after a tour of Winter Park and its beautiful homes, we bade good-bye to Schim and MJ and headed to Pine Island on back roads most of the way. In Kissimmee, about an hour out, my phone rang and Schim informed me that the iPad was still lying on the table in MJ's living room. We almost returned to pick it up, but Schim assured me that he could ship it to me and save me time. It was Sunday afternoon when Schim called and he sent the iPad by UPS overnight service. The iPad arrived Tuesday around 5:00 p.m. in perfect operating order, since Schim packed it in the Chrome box that he had conveniently and recently purchased. Thanks, Schim. I'm back up and running again. Long story, happy ending.
There are a few stories to relate during the iPad's absence, but I'll only attempt to recount one today. While trying to consume time waiting for Joan's plane to arrive, I decided to wash the windows of my car, inside and out. Admittedly, I am somewhat obsessive/compulsive about clean windows in my car, a 2004 Volvo S80 - named Sadie. Where could I wash the windows while facing the sun to see all the dirt on the windshield, you wonder? Come on, I know you wondered. I went to Brighthouse Field, the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies, where I remembered a huge park with ballfields adjacent to the major league facility. There, on the Joe DiMaggio field complex, I pulled the car onto the dirt parking lot where 25 or thirty cars were parked on the lot that could easily handle 1,000 cars. I had purchased Invisible Glass, a product manufactured in Lancaster County, at an auto parts store that afternoon, and the product and I did a great job of cleaning the glass. When finished, I glanced down at two of the fields in the complex and noticed a team in blue uniforms practicing on the field I had watched a college spring game on a prior visit to Florida. On the adjacent field, I saw a game with two teams, one dressed in red shirts, one in white. It was quite a distance away, but I decided to stroll down and see if perhaps the red and white teams were two Phillies minor league teams going at it. Nope. As I got closer and could see the action more clearly, I watched three pitches and knew these weren't professionals. It even passed through my mind that I still possessed more expertise than the pitcher who threw those three, arched offerings to the batter. Probably not, but it passed through this old athlete's mind. Turns out, the game was one of five, the others being conducted on the Phillies complex next door, of the Phillies Fantasy Camp. These folks were all (120 of them) would-be major leaguers, who paid $5,000 for the privilege of rubbing shoulders with Phillies of yesteryear who offered encouragement and advice. The old Phillies were there: Larry Anderson, from whom I stood five feet distant, listening to him regale a couple fans with stories of his life and yesteryear. Mariano Duncan, Mickey Morandini, Milt Thompson, and Dickey Noles were all there on the field yelling suggestions and insults. The participants were having a great time. I began talking to a petite lady standing near-by who talked to a couple of players in the dug-out. Mistakenly thinking that she was the spouse of one of the players, she quickly informed me that she had participated in this event the past six years, but had to replace her heat pump this year and couldn't afford the tuition. She said that many participants were there several years running, because it was such a great time. The lady was nobody's spouse; she was a petite, retired police officer from the Harrisburg police department.
It was an interesting diversion, my windows were clean, Joan's plane was a half-hour late, but arrived safely, and we had a light bite to eat before retiring for the night. I will attempt to update a few more of the stories about the missing days in another edition. Stay tuned.
I need to go back to last Thursday, the day before I shuttled Larry and Joan to and from Clearwater, for the next story I think some of you might find interesting. It was a fishing day and John, Larry, and I continued to catch large numbers of small fish using live shrimp as bait. We had caught a dozen species of fish during our time on the water during the past two weeks. The day was over and we decided not to keep any fish for dinner that evening, throwing them all back; that was a good thing, because we only caught one or two fish, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, and trout, that were legal. Almost the entire trip off the water is through canals with boats on boat lifts and expensive docks lining the sides of the twenty-yard marine highways. That meant the trip in and out required no wake from the boat's motors to protect the properties. There were also many signs declaring that no wake was permitted from April through November because of the presence of manatees in the canals. We have seen no manatees, but have spotted numerous porpoises up close and personal, one even swimming under our dock and startling John while he cast into the canal.
Because we travel so slowly into and out of the canals, we troll artificial lures while we move, though we have never seen others doing the same. We have never made a trip in or out that we haven't caught fish while trolling, but they were always relatively small. Thursday, on the way in, I began trolling a larger, white sluggo, on a fluorescent-green jig head, while the others continued using the smaller yellow jig and twister that we had been using every other trip. I had a huge hit, immediately recognizing the larger weight of the fish I had hooked, but I was unprepared for the 10 or 15 minute fight that ensued. The fight in the narrow canal was complicated by the thick mangrove roots on one side of this canal. The fish fought in an erratic pattern, taking it on both sides of the boat and under the motor on a couple runs. Another boat with two fishermen witnessed the entire fight and remained respectfully back while I was engaged in the battle. We could not identify the large, beautiful fish once Larry netted it, but the other fishermen said that it was a pompano and that they were delicious. We kept the 10-pound specimen and, when Larry began to clean the fish on our dock, two of my brother's friends and their spouses from Delaware pulled into our driveway. One of them, another Larry, owns a property here and has been fishing these waters for decades. He properly identified the fish as a Jack Crevalle and told us they were great fighters (of that I was already aware), but were not good to eat, though he liked to smoke them. Hmm, I wonder how he gets them into the pipe?? The Jack filets now lie frozen in our freezer, after an overnight soak in salt water, while we figure out if we should eat it or feed it to the friendly pelicans who greet us at the dock whenever we return from a fishing trip.
Next time, I'll try to describe our trips to and from Clearwater and yesterday's visit to Sanibel and Captiva. Stay tuned.
January was pretty much consumed by touring southwest Florida, several fishing outings out the canal, around the mangroves, and in Fort Myers Bay, and one lone golfing venture on Pine Island's only course. Larry wanted to see alligators, so we pulled that off on a day trip to alligator alley. Joan had never been to Venice, Naples, Sanibel, Captiva, and neither of us had seen Marco Island. We lunched at the Mucky Duck on the extreme tip of Captiva, at Schim's recommendation, and enjoyed the trip to all of these locations that are markedly more upscale than St. James City. We saw many other small towns in the area and also had lunch in Tarpon Springs, visited Schim and MJ and generally acted like the snowbirds we are. The restaurants of southwest Florida have appreciated our visit.
Larry's exit was very routine, but Joan's departure 10 days later while a snowstorm dumped eight inches of snow on the northeast was a little more hairy. It was made more anxious this week by media reports from Ft. Myers that Allegiant Airlines had failed to fly out of Punta Gorda to points north during the last storm, blaming the bad weather on the cancellations. The media questioned that claim, theorizing that Allegiant didn't have the proper equipment possessed by other airlines which permitted flying in the extant conditions. Joan was flying nonstop, as are most Allegiant flights, from Clearwater to Harrisburg and the storm lacing Pennsylvania certainly appeared to cast a doubt on her flight home. Allegiant had responded about the Punta Gorda flights by stating that they would have the stranded passengers home within two weeks. WHAT?? Allegiant only flies into Harrisburg on Mondays and Fridays and has similar schedules to other northern cities. It seems ridiculous, but one could see why it would take a couple of weeks to get everybody to their destinations.
Contingency plans had to be made, since Joan was scheduled to work on Tuesday and an important (aren't they all?) Womens' Club board meeting would be held Wednesday. Could we get her on a later flight from Tampa, at a huge expense? Perhaps, she could get to Harrisburg, but the friend who was picking her up might not be able to get out of Lancaster. A taxi to a hotel in Harrisburg with his pickup the next morning? Should I remain in Clearwater, get a hotel, and recapture her once her flight was canceled? How about a flight to Newark and a train through Philly to Lancaster. All these options and several others were explored on the anxious 2.5 hour drive to Clearwater and over lunch after checking in at the Allegiant counter, where no mention was made of the storm pounding Pennsylvania and closing the Harrisburg airport.
It was almost impossible to believe, and I doubted it even an hour south of Clearwater on my return trip to St. James City, when Joan told me that passengers had begun to board the plane. I never heard another thing until our friend called us from home saying that they had arrived home safely in Lancaster. Eight inches of snow that started as sleet, a closed airport, and an airline not noted for pushing the envelope. Who could have guessed that she left Clearwater and arrived exactly on schedule in Harrisburg. One just has to be lucky, I guess.
February will involve more fishing, much more golf, a long drive to Key West where my brother has never visited, and additional exciting, spontaneous events. I'll attempt to keep you informed about the highlights.
There are a couple of past fishing trips worth mentioning this morning as I grope for things of interest to share with the hordes of readers awaiting my every word. At least I know Schim is awaiting my words, especially the ones where I invite him to come for a visit. Okay, I'll risk it; come on down, Schim, there is more excitement on Pine Island than I can handle myself. Oh, and forget the collared shirts, creased shorts, linen pants, and the other stylish garb that is always crammed into your travel trunk. A pair of shorts, a few tee shirts (go buy a couple), and a pair of jeans will make you St. James smart.
About those fishing trips: Joan went on one fishing excursion while she was here. I think she rather enjoyed and surprised herself. Armed with a bird book, binoculars, sunscreen, and a stylish, coral-hued, golf cap of mine that shielded her ears from the tropical sun, she lounged in the rays and enjoyed the water view of houses and mangroves. She took a couple photos of the fish we caught, but there were only a few to snap. These waters are simply full of fish, but Joan managed to stop them from biting in our worst fishing trip of the winter. Perhaps, they were awed by her beauty, but they simply would not bite. It made for a much shorter excursion and that may just be why my wife enjoyed it so much. She was thrilled upon our return, however, when my brother started throwing the remaining shrimp to the neighborhood birds. Pelicans, big, beautiful, and rather rare wood storks, a great blue heron, egrets, ibis, and a multitude of sea gulls came within a few feet of her as she photographed the daily feeding frenzy. She has shared a couple of those photos on the website.
The other trip to report was the trip we took with my brother's friend, Don, who first acquainted us about Pine Island last winter when my brother and Larry visited on a quick, fishing weekend. Don and his wife, Becky, who now live in Rehoboth Beach, DE, have been snowbirding in St. James City for about 10 years and simply love the laid back lifestyle that the place offers. Don knows the waters around Ft. Myers Bay very well and that is extremely important with the many shallows that ground many an unsuspecting sailor. Don also possesses the latest electronic map of the area, showing water depths, a depth finder, and a GPS that make navigating these waters a breeze. My brother has been flying blind through these waters with only a depth finder and a GPS. With a new 150-horse Evinrude on the back of his 20.5 ft. Wellcraft, John has been very tentative and careful about where we fish, not that I blame him. Don had no such limitations and we fished many of Don's favorite hotspots. Like Joan, and assisted by the low tide notorious for stopping the bite, Don also managed to halt the success we have been experiencing on the water.
He did reprise an incident like I reported on my fishing trip in La Paz, Mexico, a couple of years back where my 18-year-old captain abused a cormorant that kept diving and eating the baitfish attached to our lines. Not that Don beat the cormorant, mind you; he has mastered a much more sophisticated defense system against the wily critters. Don keeps a professional slingshot and large shotgun pellets at the ready when cormorants visit his 18-foot Boston Whaler at sea. Sure enough, our baits were sought by the feathered, diving marvels, but Don was prepared. He fired a couple of shots at our unwelcome visitors and, though he closely missed, they got the message. Don recounted that the birds recognize the boat after a few shots and steer clear. He was right, they stopped bothering us, but nevertheless, Don and John caught very few fish. I, on the other hand, was completely shut out. They caught a handful of small trout and even more spot, a small baitfish. I generally measure fish before I hook them and, of course, didn't want to catch such small specimens. Perhaps, John and I will do better today. Becky has invited us to happy hour and dinner this afternoon, at 3:30 - an early repast on the normal, relaxed, St. James schedule.
Yesterday, John and I went exploring and visited South Fenway, the Boston Red Sox spring training site. We got inside the gorgeous, new stadium through an unclosed gate and marveled at the green monster copied from the old park in Boston. The diamond and outfield grass were pristine! We also visited the nearby, much-older Minnesota Twins training site, but didn't feel like climbing the stairs required to see inside the park. When the Phillies visit Ft. Myers to play in the beginning of March, I hope to see a couple games, though the stadia are almost an hour away by car. Of course, anything is almost an hour by car from the southern tip of Pine Island. Hasta luego!
The score is now: Harry-2, Jack Crevalle-0. I hooked up and landed another fighting Jack while at the end of a trolling run as we exited the canal/river system and were about to enter the open waters of the bay. This Jack was about half the size of the other, about five pounds, but still plenty full of fight. John netted the pretty creature for me and I returned it to the water, since the overwhelming opinion is that these creatures are not fit to eat. The first Jack still rests in the freezer, awaiting our attempt to taste the thing.
Yesterday, I revisited Punta Gorda to meet up with a friend and his wife and her friend, a former superintendent of schools, from Delaware. I knew Mike in high school, though he was a couple of years my senior, and worked with him in my career in education. We reminisced about a few things, but talked mostly about travel. The other superintendent is a world traveler, traveling often with university tour groups, a style of travel far different than my own, go-it-alone, meanderings.
Dinner with Don and his wife, Becky, was a wonderful affair with pork steaks, candied sweet potatoes, ratatouille, and Key Lime pie for dessert. We dined on their screened-in porch, watching the boat traffic chug through the busy canal, and chatted and teased one another until it was time to head off to bed. Prior to dinner, however, we observed a wonderful demonstration of SW Florida fishing expertise. Don was sitting on his dock, casting a shrimp-covered lead-head under his neighbor's dock. He caught a mangrove snapper and one keeper sheepshead on almost every cast under the dock. A friend of his, who stayed to enjoy a cocktail before heading for a dinner engagement of his own, removed the fish from the hook and took the keepers into the boat shed for cleaning. The local flair was enhanced by the friend when pelicans frequently dove for the fish that was being caught. He used a garden hose to defend the catch, aggressively spraying each intruding pelican until they retreated and the fish could be landed. A real southwest Florida sub-nuclear, defense system and one my brother and I thoroughly enjoyed. I made sure that the pelicans, wood storks, egrets, and ibis fed royally on the off-fall of the fish generated during the cleaning process; they appeared famished.
When I send off this up-date, I will finish packing my backpack, take the golf clubs out of my trunk, and head off with my brother on his first trip to Key West. It will be probably be a relief for you to know that I will be silent for the next three days. Don't go too far away, however. Schim has confirmed his arrival at the end of the week, so activities are sure to pick up. Chow.
You won't find a description of our trip to Key West in any travel publication or website and I wouldn't recommend any of you repeat our experience, but my brother, whose positive reflections are few and far between, exclaimed when I offered that we had done a lot of driving, "yeah, but we saw a lot of things!" We left Monday morning after a great breakfast at "Mel's Diner." No, we never saw Flo or Mel, but the huge place was packed and the food and service were commendable. I may have to drive the 15 miles to that famous establishment again one of these mornings.
It was about 9:30 when we pulled out of Mel's parking lot, headed south on interstate 75 until we reached Naples where we picked up route 41, a two-lane highway that passes through the Big Cypress Preserve, a portion of the Everglades, before reaching Miami. We skirted the outskirts west of Miami, passing through a major agricultural area and Homestead, where Hurricane Andrew caused horrendous damage a few years ago, before crossing into the Keys. John was impressed with the turquoise water, bridges, boat dealers and marinas that we passed on the 150 mile-long highway and we reached Key West around 5:00 p.m. There was much street construction and the three or four hotels that greeted as you crossed the bridge into the "Conch Republic" were in the process of being demolished. Not an auspicious welcome, but I continued to Duval Street and pulled into the parking lot for Mallory Square, the site of the famous sunset celebration.
With more than an hour before sundown, I suggested we look for a hotel room prior to experiencing the Mallory Square phenomenon and John concurred. We drove to an area near the southernmost point in the USA, where I had stayed in a small, clean, Mom and Pop motel on another trip. Oops, there was a handwritten, "No Vacancy" sign posted on the office door. Not to fear, there are plenty of small hotels and bed and breakfasts in Key West, but I proceeded to find the same reception at the next four I tried. I finally found a room nearby, but only for one night and for $239, before taxes. Thinking we would stay two nights, I declined that room and headed to other hotels to secure sleeping quarters. I drove down (or up) Duval Street one more time and headed to the area at the entrance to the Key where I knew many, less expensive hotels could be found. Oops, that's right, those were the ones being demolished. I had passed a Marriott on the way out and decided to try there when John suggested that we could head back toward the mainland and get a head start on tomorrow. He is still not confident walking with his second knee replacement only three months old and didn't really want to walk the streets he had seen. Apparently, he didn't need to see Mallory Square, either, because he was content to head back.
I figured that we could find a hotel on the way through the smaller Keys, so I agreed, although John had never actually set foot on Key West. He opined that he'd been there and he could cross it off his "bucket list." To each his own. I was wrong about finding a hotel on the way back and after checking twice along the way and seeing "No Vacancy" signs posted in front of dozens more resorts and hotels, we stopped at 8:00 p.m. for dinner at the "Islamorada Fish Market" where I had dined before. Had we not stopped then, it would have become far too late for us to dine, so we grabbed a bite and got back on the road. We reached the mainland around 10:00 p.m., and found a room at a Fairway Inn for $100, including tax. The long, long trip from Pine Island through Miami to Key West and back to the mainland had consumed 12 hours, including a short break for dinner. I was exhausted and John fell asleep within three minutes of hitting the sack. Remember, I told you I would not recommend this trip to others!
Awakening late the next morning, we started home (to St. James City), but stopped for breakfast at La Carreta, a Cuban chain restaurant that had many cars parked outside. We had a super breakfast, including cafe con leche, Cuban toast, and freshly squeezed orange juice served by the most friendly, attentive waitress we have met on the trip. Of obvious Cuban descent, she explained the La Carreta means "the little cart," referring to the horse-drawn carts that served meals in her native land. While dining, I mentioned to John that being this close to Miami (30 minutes northwest of Miami Beach) it was a shame he didn't get to see South Beach and Calle Ocho and I inquired if he was interested in going back for the experience. He eagerly responded, yes, since he had never seen South Beach and we headed back to the big city. He enjoyed the drive on Ocean Drive, the art-deco hotels, and the shops on Collins Ave., although we never left the car. I guess you could say he had an auto tour.
I plugged Calle Ocho into my GPS and we left South Beach headed for Little Havana. Calle Ocho (Eighth Street) is the site and name of a huge festival that my wife and I have visited before and one of my favorite restaurants in the world was the destination. It took two passes on Calle Ocho for me to recognize the place, "Versailles," and the lunch crowd had begun to arrive. Finding parking was a problem until we found the overflow parking lot and wandered across the street. Warmly greeted and escorted to a table for two beside one of the large etched mirrors that so beautifully decorate the interior of the place, we perused the extensive Cuban menu. I opted for ceviche, one of my favorite Latin appetizers, along with one of the specials of the day, Imperial Rice. It was delicious and a meal I will attempt to replicate at home. Suffice it to say, it was too much to eat, but the doggie bag with the remainder awaits me in the refrigerator since John had thought to pack a cooler for the trip.
John ordered a vanilla milkshake, one of the best he has ever consumed, a bowl of Cuban black bean soup, and a Cuban sandwich. The two waitresses who served us were attentive, friendly, and attractive. By the time we left, close to 2:00 p.m. the place was packed and many customers were still entering. We passed another four men in business suits heading that way as we crossed into the parking lot. It was a fantastic lunch experience and we would both return in a minute, but only if I didn't have to drive to Key West and back to get there.
We headed home on route 75, a much faster trip through the Everglades than the way we took to head south and, though we held our breath (only 15 miles range left in the tank) until we found a gas station to refill in Naples, we reached home safely around 5:00 p.m. We nuked the fried chicken John had packed in the cooler for the trip and enjoyed dinner and a drink to toast our arrival.
This morning, John is out lashing the waters in the canal and catching small (so far) mangrove snappers. He came in to tell me that a porpoise startled him swimming almost under his feet, so I stopped writing and walked out to see if I could see the creature. Sure enough, as I stood advising John about where he should cast, his friend returned swimming right beneath us. John has described his shock on a previous visit by the porpoise and it is amazing to have so much wildlife so near your back door. All of this and 80 degree temperatures while central Pennsylvania braces for another 8 - 12 inches of snow. It doesn't seem right!!
Schim pulled up in his humongous, black Chrysler 300, looking for all the world like the local mortician. Neighbors came to their doors to see from which mobile home the body would be removed. No, it was Schim and he emerged in his long-sleeved, lightly starched, yellow and blue striped, dress shirt and a brand new pair of stiff blue jeans. Oh, the boys at "The Ragged Ass Saloon" are going to love his style. From the trunk of the "hearse" he pulled a full backpack and the largest suitcase ever put on wheels. He was ready for all Pine Island had to offer.
We sat and reminisced and John got acquainted with our new visitor, who kept insisting that he was my travel buddy. After driving to the northernmost tip of the island at Bokeelia and finding Cap'n Con's with a waiting list of prospective diners (go figure, sometimes there are only a handful of customers in the place), we drove back to Matlacha and found seats at the bar in Micelli's Italian Restaurant. Everyone seemed to find the meal (and the prices) reasonable, but I continue to find the place somewhat lacking, except with their friendly waitstaff and 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. happy hours.
Before Schim's arrival, I played my second round of golf, this time at Coral Oaks, a course owned by the local municipality and in far better shape than the course on Pine Island. A trifle more expensive, but the manager/pro gave me a resident rate based on my long term rental. Greens fee and cart were $65. I played with a retiree from Kentucky who owns a house in Cape Coral and visits often because his son now lives here. We were joined by two locals, one a school photographer who hasn't missed many meals and a local government employee, a navy veteran from the Viet Nam war era. I played the back nine pretty well after hacking up the front, which included a nine on a par four. When the round ended, I forgot to ask Mike, the Kentuckian who was keeping score what I actually shot. I imagine I was in the 90's again, but the game is coming along. When Schim ends his visit, I'll get in a few more rounds to get my game ready for the return home. For a change, I should have an advantage over the members of my golfing group who may have had a little difficulty getting on the course this winter because of the bad weather.
Yesterday, though it seems so much longer since Schim arrived, we went fishing in Pine Island Sound. As we trolled out through the mangroves, I gave Schim detailed instructions about trolling, casting, setting hooks, bait usage, etc. To his credit, he paid very close attention. He demonstrated a complete lack of respect once we got on the open water, however, by out-fishing me by a rate close to two to one. I'm not really certain of the numbers because I simply enjoy being on the water and don't need to make the process a competitive one. John and Schim, however, loudly counted every fish that landed in the bottom of the vessel and I'm not certain how accurately either of them can count. There were many fish to count, though. We ran into Don on the water and he led us through the narrows and flats, with which he is very familiar, to great fishing grounds on grass flats behind Chino Island that produced 15 sea trout between 12 and 15 inches long, one in excess of the minimum 15 inch limit. We also picked up several sheepshead, one a keeper, and a decent ladyfish, kept to be cut up for bait, but used by John to feed his friends, the pelicans, egrets, and ibis on the dock.
Today, we enjoyed breakfast at Mel's Diner and spent the morning touring Fort Myers, observing the Thomas Edison winter home on another drive-by, before stopping at an Ace Hardware and picking up some teak oil, which Schim and I will use to oil the teak on John's boat. John thinks it a waste of time because the wood will fade again. Schim and I think he should re-oil a little more frequently because the trim is starting to look like driftwood. If the chore is not too tedious, there is really little wood on the boat, maybe we can give it a second coat. There will, no doubt, be more exciting activities to report in the next few days, so stay tuned, although I don't know what else you can do since another storm is heading your way. Chow!
Schim is gone! I washed the windows on his hearse to facilitate his departure, willing to do whatever it took to speed his exodus. Well, not really. I did wash his windows, because I hate dirty windows on a car obstructing my view and thought he might better enjoy the ride to Orlando if he could see. We had a great time during his visit, fishing, fishing, eating, and watching him focus on his electronic equipment - Chrome, smart phone, electric toothbrush, etc. On the few occasions when he wasn't scrutinizing a screen or napping, John and I engaged him in conversation. Schim was mostly concerned about where he and I were going to winter next year. He suggested Viet Nam, Thailand, Taiwan, and/or Hong Kong and I went more for Madrid, Rome, and Sicily with a wonderful train ride, perhaps, to connect the three. He doesn't really care, just so he can go along. He apparently has insecurities about traveling alone and I can understand that, considering that the Schimster is a real people person. I suggested that, perhaps, he could go to Viet Nam and I would go to Sicily, but he didn't appear excited about that option.
We ate at a few, inexpensive, local restaurants during his visit and I prepared one evening meal of chicken meringue, jasmine rice, and ratatouille, made from fresh, local vegetables: tomatoes, zucchini, green peppers, onion, and acorn squash. I thought it was delicious and went well with the Lindeman Cabernet consumed with the repast. Schim even went back for seconds.
While I prepared dinner that night, Schim oiled the teak on John's boat. It probably hadn't been done for eight or ten years and the wood sucked up the teak oil. After Schim's departure and once I recovered from the melancholy caused by his absence, I put a second coat on the vessel. The boat is almost 30 years old, has a few knocks and scrapes, but the teak is now shiny and oiled. Here's hoping John keeps it that way.
Today, John and I are headed for Thomas Edison's winter home and museum in Fort Myers. Schim and I found the place on an exploratory trip early during his visit, but Schim was satisfied with a drive-by and John and I would like to see the place. I'll let you know if we consider the visit worthwhile.
Fort Myers is a city not known, according to the Schimster, for its beauty. The downtown area is a pretty generic urban setting, but it is obvious that a revitalization effort is underway from the accumulation of quaint eating establishments sporting al fresco dining areas that seem to beckon in the four or five blocks that have gotten a head start on the renewal process. On an exploratory ride one day, Schim and I passed through the downtown and along McGregor Avenue to locate the Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Winter Estate and Museum. As we passed their estates, as close as Schim will ever come to a museum setting, he commented that McGregor must be the prettiest street in the city and I think he was right. A line of massive, majestic palm trees guarded the entire length of the street like a troop of soldiers at attention. There, at the beginning of the long street beside the banks of the broad Caloosahatchee River were the adjacent winter estates of Ford and Edison in what must be one of the most beautiful settings in Florida. Who knew they were such close friends, often wintered together, and that Ford was a former Edison employee? Not I, and certainly not Schim who only gave the place a passing glance.
John and I returned to the place and purchased a ticket to tour the lovely place. It will kill the folks in the north who are facing another week of frigid temperatures, but we toured the restored homes, admired the fantastic settings and gardens but, because of the increasing afternoon heat and the tiring of John's new artificial knee, we cut the tour short before visiting the museum and workshop. Perhaps, we will return to that nearby, lovely location one day to finish the tour. A cool beverage and a light dinner enabled us to fully recover from the overheating.
Over the weekend another fishing trip yielded only two fish, a very unusual turn of events, but we only spent a couple of hours on the water as high tide approached. The one fish I landed, however, was the largest trout of the winter, a 17-inch female specimen whose girth dwarfed the 13-15 inch creatures we have been catching. It was worth the effort just to land that fish, hooked on a fluorescent-green, lead head with a sluggo tail of the same color.
The past couple of days I have been suffering with a self-diagnosed recurrence of labyrinthitis (inner ear infection) that laid me low a year and a half ago. Short term acute dizziness that makes the room spin when I turn or lower my head and severe loss of equilibrium have been limiting my activities and the updates with which I would probably have bored you. An accompanying neck and shoulder pain made me think it might be a pinched neck nerve and a trip to a chiropractor, selected from the many on the internet seemed to verify my diagnosis. He thought it could be nerve related and treated me accordingly which yielded a miserable day after with stiffness and a nasty ache I could barely endure. I googled massage therapy on the internet and had my brother drive me, since I didn't trust that the dizziness could appear while I was behind the wheel, to the highly skilled therapist who made me feel significantly better. I took a few ibuprofen last night and today seem somewhat better with only a deep, dull ache in my right shoulder. I am well enough, at least, to have prepared this update. Here's hoping tomorrow will bring a full recovery. I'll let you know.
Each year of my travel blog these days seems to include a medical episode and this year's blog is no exception. See root canal in Spain, flu and dehydration in Spain continuing in South Africa, dog bite by rabid, street dog in Baja Sur, Mexico, and last year's crippling, sciatic inflammation in Portugal. Now a recurrence of labyrinthitis, an inner ear affliction, has laid me low for about a week. Though I am not dizzy all day long, when the vertigo hits it is debilitating. I tried a chiropractor last Monday because a stiff neck and deeply aching shoulder also accompanied the dizziness. The chiropractor verified that I was misaligned (duh) and made an attempt to straighten my neck, a process that kept me in worse pain for two more days. The masseuse, however, whom I selected from a yahoo list, gave me some relief, although she had to stop her ministrations several times because of waves of dizziness that occurred when she moved my head.
That is not the whole medical episode. Oh, no! When the vertigo continued, my brother suggested I see a real doctor in case this was something more serious than the labyrinthitis diagnosed by a Lancaster otolaryngologist 18 months ago, despite the fact that the symptoms were remarkably similar. After much internet searching and many phone calls, I finally came up with a general practitioner who could see me on Friday afternoon. John drove me there because I was a tad concerned that the vertigo would kick in while I was behind the wheel. Just as we exited Pine Island into Cape Coral, my phone rang and the doctor's assistant informed me that the doctor felt that because it was Friday afternoon and my symptoms required tests from which she couldn't get results until the following week, that I should go directly past GO and head to an emergency room where results could be produced forthwith. The assistant referred me to Lee County Hospital which was closest to our current location.
Surprise, the emergency room was packed! There were, however, five ER doctors on duty and the entire staff, including the welcoming volunteers, was caring, warm, and friendly. I was immediately placed in a wheelchair, something about not wanting blood on the floor after my fall, and the service was remarkably efficient. Yes, I spent 2.5 hours there, but I had a blood work-up, a chest X-ray, an EKG, a checkup by a handsome, young doctor, who diagnosed my malady, once the test results were returned, as "Benign Positional Vertigo." Pretty much the labyrinthitis that the Lancaster otolaryngologist had diagnosed 18 months ago, although the doctor mentioned that, since he can't see into the labyrinth of my ears, he didn't want to call it that, although that was certainly a possibility. He prescribed "meclizine" after giving me one to gauge its effect while I rested on the gurney in my cubicle. Since I showed no ill effects of the medication and actually felt a little better, he sent me on my way. Another medical episode ended, but the symptoms persist. Perhaps, it will take a little time, especially since I've weaned myself off the meclizine which seemed to be doing no apparent good. I'll keep you informed about my recovery, if and when that may occur. Chow!
It's amazing that when one is healthy, one never notices his neck. But, when one's neck gets stiff and sore, extending into a deep, cramp-feeling pain at the back of one's shoulder, one can think of nothing else. It doesn't help that when one moves his head the world spins like he drank a full bottle of Crown Royal. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I have been experiencing for the past week or so. I had a late night email last night from my neighbor, Dr. Jon, a retired urologist, inquiring about my vertigo, an affliction he characterized as horrendous. I responded, having been awakened with the stiff neck and shoulder and continued dizziness, agreeing with his description and thanking him for his concern. But, when I awakened in the morning, the dizziness was gone and the neck and shoulder pain had considerably subsided. I immediately wrote him, thanking him for his long distance curative powers. I have heard many positive comments about his bedside manner, but his medical impact from 1,000 miles distant had gone unreported until now. And, benign positional vertigo does not even fall into his area of expertise. Nothing beats having a great neighbor!
We are currently under a tornado watch that will extend until 7:00 p.m. Just the thought of what a tornado would do to this old mobile home (trailer) is enough to drive me to start pre-planning my funeral. The closest solid building, a concrete block structure that houses a community center, is several blocks distant and the drive, even in the teeth of the forecast 70 mph straight-line winds would be a challenge. Lord help us if the storm starts spinning. Actually, a few minutes have passed since I wrote the last sentence due to a pause to watch the wind-whipped rain and wind make my brother's boat sway fore and aft on our boat lift. That appears to be the extent of today's entertainment, because the worst of the storm has passed, according to the local TV weathermen. They do say an isolated tornado will still be possible until 7:00, though. Here's hoping one doesn't isolate over St. James City.
I dined alone last evening at the best Italian Restaurant I have found in SW Florida. Fabio's was like many trattorias I have frequented in Italy, complete with the 82-year-old proprietor and his wife both of whom visited my table. I didn't take notes about my meal, so I can't even report the name of the dish, one of the evening's specials, but it was chicken and sweet Italian sausage in a white wine, garlic, and sherry sauce, served over penne. It, and the fresh clam soup that preceded it, knocked my socks off. My brother was experiencing the beginnings of a cold, so he stayed home in bed. I know we are starting to sound like a hospital ward, but he is also feeling much better today and enjoying the fury of Mother Nature's attack on our peace and quiet.
Tomorrow, we will meet my eldest son at the SW Florida International Airport in Fort Myers at 11:00 a.m. He and I plan to play some golf and he looks forward to catching many fish on his uncle's boat. He has also purchased tickets for the three of us to attend a Twins - Phillies spring training game on Sunday afternoon. The weather for his long weekend visit is forecast to be perfect, so he'll get a welcome respite from the ugly northern winter. I'll keep you informed about any interesting activities that may arise. Ciao!!
The visit of my eldest son, Gary, has ended after a long weekend that included fishing, golf, a spring training game, a tour of Pine Island, and great dining. The three of us had a wonderful time together and enjoyed the visit immensely. Friday was spent touring the island and acquainting Gary with our plush mobile abode. Unlike my wife, who felt the place a tad primitive, my son thought the small trailer was a perfect environment for two seniors to spend the winter. Later, after another of our 20 mile drives for dinner, he would recognize the remote nature of our location.
Saturday was fishing day and we spent far longer on the water than planned. Our time was extended attempting to catch more fish on a day whose weather was perfect after a chilly start, because the cold front that brought the tornado warning also dropped temperatures and diminished the fish bite. Gary thought the fishing was fine, but we felt badly that we weren't catching the numbers to which we had become accustomed. The low humidity that increased the sun's intensity, the foolish choice to forego sunscreen, and the extended time on the water turned my hide lobster red and blistered my lips. After as many days in the sun as I have spent this winter, I was certain that I was fine without the sun screen. My compatriots used sunscreen and protective lip balm. I fried! My lips are still sore.
Sunday was spent at the Phillies-Minnesota Twins game in Fort Myers. Another perfect day and great seats, purchased for us by Gary, gave us shady perches to observe another Phillies disappointment. The game ended in a tie, but the Phillies only managed two scratch singles in nine innings. A record crowd was at the game evenly split, it appeared, between Twins and Phillies fans. Hammond Stadium, spring training home of the Twins and summer home of their affiliate Miracles, was recently renovated and was beautiful. My brother commented that it was the most beautiful ballpark he had ever seen. After the game, John decided he wanted to stay home and consume leftovers for dinner, so Gary and I dropped him off and headed for Reds, one of the best restaurants on Pine Island. We drove back nine miles and enjoyed a great meal: a dozen delicious, local raw oysters started the meal and Gary enjoyed a local fish called Triple Tail which he loved. I had fish tacos that I thought were the best of the winter.
Monday, Gary and I arose early and played 18 holes at Cape Coral Golf Course. We both shot lower than our ages, provided I live 30 more years and Gary 50. Don't bother with the math; neither of us broke 100. We were horrible. We played with a couple of interesting, retired Detroit police officers, though, the weather was perfect again, and we had a great time, despite our golfing inadequacies. All in all a great weekend. Gary showered, packed, and took off from the Ft. Myers Airport, arriving home near Philadelphia around 10:00 p.m. I stopped after dropping him off and enjoyed a great Spanish (Spain) dinner at a restaurant near the airport that Gary had located on Yelp while we traveled to the airport. Only two other diners were at the bar, the tables were packed, but my bar mates turned out to be Boston Red Sox sports writers who had just returned from a Red Sox away trip. The conversation, the outstanding meal starting with a sauteed calamari appetizer, then paella valenciana, and wonderfully attentive waiters made for a great end to the weekend. Ciao!
A medical update is overdue, no doubt, considering the medical challenges my brother and I have faced this winter. This type of update is often times called an organ recital where old folks share one of the many maladies that accompany advancing years:
While Gary and I played golf last Monday, John drove to the same emergency room I had previously visited with my vertigo problem. John's problem turned out, after chest X-ray, blood tests, and whatever other tests they performed, to be a viral bronchitis that had him coughing frequently and painfully for a few days before the hospital visit. Gary and I encouraged a medical visit and, when one has no family doctor at hand, the hospital seemed the best choice. He was prescribed antibiotics, steroids, and an inhaler, and spent the past few days closely following the doctor's advice. I am pleased to report that he is vastly improved and the frequency and the duration of his coughing has been greatly reduced. I only heard him cough one time during the night last night through the paper-thin walls of our trailer home. His energy has returned sufficiently that he washed and WAXED his pickup truck under the carport yesterday. The truck looks great!
I am also somewhat improved. The vertigo has generally dissipated, although a strange feeling persists inside my cranial cavities when my head changes position. It was apparently the labyrinthitis that was diagnosed by the Lee County ER doctor and the otolaryngologist at home 18 months ago, but it is a frightening affliction. More persistent has been the stiff neck and painful shoulder that may have caused the problem. The symptoms interrupted my sleep every night for two weeks and required three visits to a chiropractor and one great, deep tissue massage from a topless masseuse that really perked me up. Just checking to see if you are reading. Nah, at the time I would have been too dizzy to appreciate a topless masseuse, and the portly, muscular Candace would definitely not have evoked any interest. She gave a great massage, however, stretching my neck with a towel and finding every sore muscle in my body. When the next visit to the chiropractor also produced a therapeutically-stretched neck that yielded a little relief, I got a brainstorm and purchased a soft, neck brace at the nearby CVS Pharmacy. Wearing that the past two days, except when I go to dinner, has provided marked relief and improved sleeping conditions. The symptoms are not gone yet, but at least now there is hope for a full recovery. TMI, you say? I agree, but Google labyrinthitis before thinking me a wuss.
John is now sitting on the boat, listening to his radio, and catching some rays. I have been awaiting a visit from the plumber promised by the realtor to alleviate a clogged garbage disposal (that has never worked) that has eliminated use of one of our two kitchen sinks. He should also replace one of our toilet seats that has fractured and, actually, completely remove the fiber-glass shower that has been leaking on the floor since we arrived in January. We are completely dissatisfied with the conditions we found in the trailer; conditions that a little preventive maintenance could have prevented. I don't know what options are available to me at this time, but I will pursue a rebate for the unnecessary inconveniences we have had to endure. You'll remember the WiFi that was advertised and required a two-week's wait before being installed. The sun-baked Chesapeake chairs that looked so good in the realtor's photo, but which exploded when my brother first sat on one, almost causing serious injury to his recently replaced knee. The dining room chairs that need completely rebuilt and which I have glued twice to have a safe place to sit. We have had to replace batteries in the clock, the smoke detectors, and the thermostat, scrubbed heavy mildew off the refrigerator door, and received no remedy from the owner, except for the WiFi that required hours and hours of time and phone calls to have installed. The pillows on the other old porch furniture required a double laundering before any of us would sit on them and were also falling apart. The realtor, stuck in the middle between an unsatisfied, though very patient and understanding tenant, and an unbelievably frugal (think cheap) owner who apparently refuses to spend any money to correct problems. I will strongly recommend to the realtor that they not handle this property in the future, though I imagine that will do little good.
The good news is that I have a dinner date tonight! No, not with John, with Irena. Irena is the 86-year-old (I'm only guessing) mother of a fellow Rotarian whom I met at a pop-up dinner fund raiser on our condo's patio at home last summer. I was going to accompany friends, Gary and George, when they visited and took Irena to dinner. George has been ill much of the winter, so they never made it south. I figured Irena shouldn't have to pay for George's maladies, so I called her yesterday and arranged to take her myself. I have reservations at Gloria's Little Trattoria Napoli where I had such a great meal the other night. Here's hoping she's a little adventurous in her dining, since there are such great Spanish tapas and interesting Italian cuisine in the little cafe. She is a delight to be with, so I'm certain we will have a good time. I'll let you know how my first date in many years turns out. These days, do you have to kiss them goodnight on the first date? Ciao!
Yes, I am more than aware that my update is several days overdue. It strikes me as a more challenging task to update when the days have become very routine, so I procrastinate. It is time to get the monkey off my back and get this writing assignment done. It will reduce my stress level and may even calm my sleeping hours.
The past few days and weekend really were what have come to be routine: sunny skies, temps in the 70's and 80's, except for the day we experienced a tornado watch and waited all day for the violent thunderstorms which fell mostly to our north. We had a few hours of rain one evening but, as usual, the TV meteorologists made much ado about nothing. It was probably good to warn folks in imminent danger but, like the snow storms that have punished the mid-Atlantic this winter, it may have been less traumatic to simply look out the window to see the weather.
I have never been called frugal, Schim insists I am a spendthrift and, comparatively speaking, I imagine that's true, but on Friday I stumbled upon a good reason to eliminate frugality from the remainder of my path through life. I do have several frugal idiosyncrasies, namely prices paid for gasoline, airfares, my own cash from an ATM, and golf greens fees. I hate it when people pay less than I do for those commodities and, with my own cash withdrawals, to pay anything at all. To that end and with an hour to waste before lunch at El Mambo, a new Cuban restaurant I wanted to try after my chiropractic appointment, I used my GPS to locate the nearest gas stations. No gasoline "buddy," the GPS simply lists the names of the nearest stations and their distance. Aha! I saw a Racetrak Station listed, a brand that had always been among the least expensive in our area, and only 1.2 miles distant. That would probably be better than the $3.45/gallon at the Sunoco directly across the street from the restaurant where I was conducting my research, so I hit "GO" and followed instructions to save big bucks. "Go one block, turn left, and proceed the 1.2 miles to the station." I did that and followed the directions to the station where I found the fuel advertised at $3.53/gallon. Oops, I returned to the Sunoco, but had to re-cross a toll bridge where the $2.00 toll is collected only on northbound vehicles. I grudgingly paid the toll while laughing internally at my naîveté. When I made the left from the Sunoco, there was no turn before I crossed the beautiful bridge. Once I returned, I pumped 14.5 gallons of fuel into my vehicle at the Sunoco, saving $1.16 with my frugality. Subtracting that savings from the $2.00 toll, my net savings turned out to be a loss of 84 cents. What a waste!! Schim experiences the same sort of economies in food quality and restaurant ambiance with the restaurants he selects but, when the loss is in cash, it makes me smile about my weak attempts to save a few pennies.
Two days ago, John and I traveled to Clearwater on a ride, since he had never really seen Brightside Stadium where the Phillies take spring training. That trip evolved into a return route through Clearwater Beach and down the coast to St. Petersburg beach before returning to Interstate 75 for the two-hour trip home. We blindly stopped for a late lunch at Keegan's Seafood House in Indian Springs Beach, where I dined on a delicious scallop ceviche, served in a martini glass and a second appetizer of grilled octopus that made the entire five-hour round-trip worthwhile. While dining and between courses of oyster stew and coconut shrimp, John observed a large, autographed photo of Guy Fieri, star of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," displayed on the wall. The waitress confirmed that our chance luncheon stop was featured on his show. The appetizers validated the restaurant's worthiness to appear on national television. I'd return there for lunch in a heartbeat!
When the tide provides a little more water to navigate through the canals, today will produce another fishing trip in search of marine life. We need to make a few more trips in the time remaining to reduce the quantity of fuel in the boat's tank before heading north. No need to reduce John's mpg farther by transporting gasoline north in his towed vessel. I don't know if the remaining days will provide any more exciting material to update, but I will continue to update nonetheless. Who knows? Reading the updates might be better for you than going outside until Spring decides to visit the mid-Atlantic for real. Stay tuned.
The past weekend produced more gorgeous weather, a solitary trip to Naples for Saturday lunch, and an unproductive fishing trip on the Sabbath. We have never been shut-out fishing but, lately, we seem to be fishing at the wrong time, tide-wise, to produce much success. We have the tidal information, but seem to ignore it and fish through the highest or lowest tides, the least recommended fishing times. The cause is probably that the water is so accessible and only a couple minutes are required to get fishing. A cure would involve planning on when to fish 24 hours in advance and I don't see that happening in the present state of laid-back attitudes prevalent in our abode.
The trip to Naples was a lengthy affair down the Tamiami Trail, route 41, with a traffic signal every half mile. My arrival in beautiful Naples coincided with a huge, arts and crafts fair that closed 5th Avenue (the Main Street) for more than 10 city blocks. I didn't take the time to shop for arts and crafts, but drove to the city's beach that I had never seen and returned to the end of the fair where a good looking Italian restaurant, Bice, beckoned on the corner. I enjoyed an endive, gorgonzola, and walnut salad and a tortellini dish with parmesan sauce named for a famous, Italian, soccer player of whom I had never heard. The bartender corrected my pronunciation of Chinaglia and described the most famous professional Italian player of all time who had retired to Naples and dined there every evening. As he approached his death, he requested that Luca, the general manager of Bice, name a dish after him after he passed and Luca did him proud. The tortellini was great! The ride home, using interstate route 75 was much faster and produced a tank full of $3.53 gasoline only a mile or two from my exit in Fort Myers. I almost coasted into the station, the Volvo running on fumes. It was the cheapest price I had seen all day and I had seen prices of $3.79/gallon in upscale Naples. I need somebody to explain to me why gasoline is $3.79 in Naples, $3.53 in Ft. Myers, and only $3.41 in Clearwater. I seriously doubt that the law of supply and demand has anything to do with fuel pricing.
I made contact with Elaine, daughter of Irena, my date of last week, and met her, her significant other, her son from Colorado and his girlfriend, at a restaurant that they visited on Pine Island in the boat they had rented in Ft. Myers. Elaine and I are in the same Rotary Club at home and she briefed me on the activities of the club. I then met them at a very nice seafood restaurant near Irena's home which enabled me to visit with Irena again. Irena invited me to her home for dinner with her grandson and friend after her daughter had left for home, but I had to decline because of a prior commitment at a bon voyage party for John's friend, Don and his wife, Becky, who departed this morning (Monday) at 4:00 a.m. I was sure to warn John that I would not be leaving at 4:00 a.m. for our trip home. I wanted to clear his mind of that notion right up front.
This will, no doubt, be my penultimate update since we will depart next Tuesday morning for the long trek home. Much time will be spent this week packing, repacking, cleaning and readying the boat for the trip North and I do not expect much newsworthy material to be generated. I'm certain there will be at least one more fishing trip and, if we pay attention to the tidal charts, and make a significant catch, I may update you about the experience. Otherwise, I expect only one more writing chore from Florida. Ciao!
With head on, the shrimp were as long as my arm! Well, almost as long as my forearm! These things were huge, the largest shrimp I have ever seen. We bought them, eight or ten to the pound, at a wholesale/retail fish house only a half-mile from our trailer. I never looked for the decrepit looking place before, but John had wandered there on one of his boredom-relief drives. They sold hard and soft-shelled crabs, shrimp, locally raised clams and oysters, and fresh fish at the shack on the water. We bought a bag of 100, nice-sized clams (I hate tiny cherry stones), and a pound and a half of the monster shrimp and took them home. I was concerned that the shrimp may be alive; they said they were flash frozen on the boat while on the Gulf of Mexico, but they were large enough to be a threat to our lives should any have survived the sudden frost. I eyed them cautiously while I steamed them and half the clams in a broth of sauvignon blanc, butter, garlic, hot sauce, and dried basil, utilizing all that our small pantry held. They were fantastic!! So good, in fact, that we returned to the shack two days later and bought another bag of the dangerous, decapod crustaceans. They didn't look any less fierce, but the threat was lessened by the non-violent behavior of their older brothers in the last pot. The second batch, reusing the refrigerated broth from the first, was just as good and made for another meal. That was it: two meals of steamed, steroidal shrimp dipped in cocktail sauce purchased at the St. James General Store, accompanied by steamed clams dipped in butter, micro-waved in cocktail glasses, and a slice of bread for sopping up the remaining clarified butter. They may have been the best two meals of the whole winter and I prepared them with my own hands. John, who had cooked several previous meals, denied knowledge of the steaming process, though I distinctly remember him steaming shrimp in years past.
Yesterday (Thursday), we removed the boat from the water, placing it on the trailer whose wheels John painted during the winter. We are leaving early Monday morning, so that gives John four full days to check mechanical things for the trip. He is a worrier and frets about what may happen on the way home. He even suggested he should buy an additional jack in case the trailer has a flat on the journey. No real worry, he bought a brand new spare tire to carry along on the trip to repair a potential flat on the way down and we both have jacks in our cars. He refilled the "zerks" on the axles with grease for the trip home and has double, no, triple-checked every lubricant on his truck and the trailer. I checked my oil level and washed my windows.
I hit a small bucket of golf balls today, my final tune-up for the first rounds in the frozen North. My golfing buddies have scheduled rounds on Monday and Tuesday, so I'll be a few shots behind by the time I arrive on the links the following week. Actually, I hit the balls quite well, considering this was my first effort since the neck and shoulder pain receded.
This year's winter hiatus produced almost perfect weather in direct contrast to the horrendous, snowy, frigid conditions at home. It was more difficult to enjoy those great conditions knowing that family and friends were battling Mother Nature. The diversions of fishing and golf helped, as did the visit of Schim and my eldest son, Gary. Absent, however, was the challenge of adjusting to a different culture and language and I missed that. I do not believe I will be Florida bound next winter, if I am fortunate enough to be able to make another winter trip. I need the challenge of foreign travel! Thank you for traveling with me on this year's trip which must have been far less exciting than previous adventures. I'll do better next year. Ciao!!