~ 2011 ~

California:  You Have to Like Driving!

>>  Interactive Google Map for 2011's Travels  <<



29 31

February 3

March 5
9 27

The Plan
    2011 will bring a couple of shorter trips than in years past, but they could prove eventful and, judging from the early winter weather in the northeastern USA, a lot warmer than staying at home.  The first portion of the trip will be to escort my "Little Brother" from the Big Brothers program to New Orleans as a reward for completion of his GED. Now 22 and no longer a part of the Big Brothers program, I had promised him, while trying to prevent him from dropping out of school, a trip to the city of his choice if he completed high school. While the GED does not completely fill that bill, I am proud of his accomplishment and will deliver on the promise. Although he doesn't talk much, I sense his excitement about the trip.
    After getting him to
New Orleans, I will send him home by bus or train and continue on to California, the land of sunshine - and mudslides, wildfires, and earthquakes. I haven't seen Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, and Palm Desert and I want to clear up that detail. If local information indicates the safety of the venture, I may then attempt a run down the Baja to La Paz, a city I enjoyed very much a couple of years ago.
    Whether I return from the Baja or from southern
California, I will wind my way back home sometime in mid-February. Updating the page will be difficult, since finding access to computers in the USA is much more difficult than in foreign countries. In the States, everybody has their own computer, so there are many fewer internet cafes. I do not have a laptop, so WiFi locales are of little help. When Apple comes out with their newest model, I may be tempted to purchase an iPad or laptop for the next portion of this year's journey.
    Upon returning home in February, I will renew acquaintances with my mother in the nursing home and spend some time sleeping in my much more comfortable bed. Then, I will probably make another short trip. The destination is undetermined at this point, but the countries of
Colombia or Portugal, the island of Sicily, and a trip to Clearwater, FL, to see my beloved Phillies in spring training are still in the mix.
That is the plan, but as usual, anything can happen and I am very flexible. If something interesting turns up along the way, I adjust. Stay tuned.

The Journal

January 14, 2011 - San Antonio, TX
    Sitting in the San Antonio Public Library as I write this after waiting for more than an hour for my turn at the keyboard. One only gets an hour of time to do his/her computer business before the next person takes over the machine. I knew it would be difficult to get internet access on this trip, but it has been even more of a challenge than I expected.
    Leaving PA just ahead of the second snow storm of the year, my "Little" and I spent the first night in
Lewes, DE, at the summer home of our good friends, the Flicks. With an early departure and persistence on the road, we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel and eventually reached Wilmington, NC, a delightful little city where the movie Cape Fear, as well as several TV series, was filmed. We took only two-lane roads, except where required to take larger roads to approach and exit the bridge/tunnel so it was a long day. We slightly exceeded the $15/day meal allowance that I established for the trip, but we did remarkably well in that regard. No fancy restaurants for us. The diner-type food was remarkably good.
    The next night found us in
Charleston, SC, one of the planned stops on the trip. After checking into the hotel, I decided to show the "Little" around Charleston, but he opted to take a "break" and I toured Charleston alone. His break was spent texting on his cell phone and writing on his laptop. I was a tad miffed, since I only took the coastal route so that he could see the cities of Charleston and Savannah, GA. I seem to have a few different values and interests than my 22-year old partner. Go figure.
    The morning weather forecast, as well as my "Little's" lack of interest in
Charleston, made my decision to bypass Savannah and get as close to the Gulf of Mexico as possible a rather easy one. It was only there that there would be none of the snow and freezing rain forecast for the south beginning that evening. We spent the night in a small town 100 miles east of Pensacola, FL, after traveling on Interstate highways much of the day to stay ahead of the storm. It rained that evening as we headed to a local diner where we both stayed under the $15 daily meal limit.
    The next day found us in
New Orleans, the city of my "Little's" dreams. A stop at the visitor's center located a hotel in the French Quarter with free parking on the first night for only $49. It is great to travel in the low season!
    The rain had abated, but it was cold and raw during our stay in "the Big Easy." A quick tour of the French Quarter the first afternoon and an increase in the meal limit to $20 meant that my partner skipped dinner and spent his $20 cruising
Bourbon Street that night. I dined alone at Felix's Oyster House and enjoyed the meal and the entertaining oyster shucker who shared his homemade pecan candy. It worked well on producing a generous tip from his customers and the stuff was delicious.
    A trip on the
St. Charles Street trolley the next morning and a breakfast at one of my favorite breakfast stops in the city evoked no response at all from my young companion. He doesn't speak much, but his silence in the face of all the beauty and culture of the city was beginning to wear on me. We walked River Walk, his first view of the mighty Mississippi, but there was still no response. As I browsed my way back through the French Quarter, he headed back to the hotel. I assumed he needed to go to the bathroom, but when I got back to the room a short time later, he was texting again. This pretty much was the straw that broke the camel's back and I headed to the bus station to procure his ticket for the trip back to PA. We planned to have him leave the following evening at 8:45 p.m., but I decided that, since he was more interested in texting than New Orleans, he might as well take the bus home a day early. He readily agreed, since he had shared the fact that he was getting homesick.
    Unfortunately, because of the snow and ice storm that had the south locked up, there were no buses going in or out of
Atlanta for at least two days and neither of us wanted him to stay that long. Fortunately, there was a train leaving (through Chicago) that could get him home the next day. I was more than happy to cough up the extra 50 bucks (above the bus fare) to see him off that evening. I saw him off on the train, but I have no idea if he arrived safely or is still wandering the streets of Chicago. He failed to call me as promised to let me know of his safe arrival.
    I decided to leave New Orleans the following morning and head west through the bayous of southern Louisiana, taking two-lane roads the entire way after crossing the bridge over the Mississippi. I meandered through rice and crayfish country, fields and ponds holding both were evident most of the way, and pushed the envelope somewhat when darkness approached as I traveled route 82 along the southernmost part of the state only a few feet from the Gulf of Mexico. At
6:00 p.m., with night falling, I was stopped by a sheriff who claimed to have clocked me at 40 mph in a 25 zone. I guess it was possible, but I was following a pick-up truck the entire time and he seemed to always know exactly what the speed limits were. The sheriff only gave me a warning when I told him that I was in absolutely no hurry whatsoever, when he asked where I was going in such a hurry.
    The road (82) required a five-minute trip across a ferry to continue my journey, which was an interesting experience in the dark with a cold wind blowing. By nightfall, I had reached the city of
Port Arthur, Texas, which appeared to have more oil refineries than northern New Jersey. The sky was lit orange from the burning off of a sugar cane field as I approached the refineries, but the light from the refineries was absolutely spectacular. The odor wasn't so pleasant, but the lights on the refineries and storage tanks made my arrival in Texas seem like Christmas all over again.
    The next morning found me passing through
Houston on Interstate 10, a concession to the temperatures which had everyone shivering. I reached San Antonio last evening, expecting a much warmer temperature than I got. The low temp dipped below 40, but it is expected to reach 70 degrees by Monday morning. It is now Friday afternoon and I expect to head west on Sunday morning, after having my laundry washed and resting my derriere, weary from the long drive. I will update when possible. Stay tuned!

January 18, 2011 - Phoenix, AZ
     Just before reaching Port Arthur, TX, my cell phone died and I was out of touch with the free world for a matter of hours. The following morning, I asked the hotel to look up the location of the nearest AT&T store, which turned out to be in Beaumont, a mere 15 or 20 minutes away. There, I purchased a new smart phone to get back in touch. The problem with smart phones is that it takes a relatively tech knowledgeable individual to operate the thing. It took me a few days, including another stop at an AT&T store in Tucson, AZ, before I could so much as answer an incoming call. This phone has touch screen, so I had touched, pushed, pounded, and done about everything else before giving up in desperation and pleading ignorance at the Tucson store. Who knew that you also had to stroke the screen to answer the phone? I had simply pushed the green button, but one had to slide it (stroke) to answer. Nobody had told me that and the two booklets given with the phone hadn't explained that, either. Enough said, I am back in contact, touch, pushing, and now stroking the screen.
I left Beaumont and reached San Antonio after a long day's drive. I secured a hotel room in a Travelodge that had obviously never been remodeled. My room was on the third floor, but "not to worry" the Indian clerk told me, "there is an elevator right beside your door.”  There was, but it only worked when I took the bags to the room. For the next two days, there was a sign on the door that apologized for the inconvenience of the elevator not working. It was only six blocks to the Alamo and Riverwalk and I walked there for a couple of days, despite the light drizzle that stayed for both days. I have promised this year that I would not emphasize my food stops, honoring a request by my former next door neighbor, but I would be remiss not to mention Texas de Brazil. A Brazilian steakhouse with a 50 item salad bar, the food was tremendous and highlighted the Brazilian practice of waiters delivering succulent cuts of beef to your table from which you could select as much as you wanted. I controlled myself pretty well, but ate far too much red meat that evening. The thing which made this restaurant stand out, however, was the 30-foot tall, glassed-in, wine cellar at the end of the dining room. The unique part of the cellar, however, was the way the wine was extracted from the upper shelves. A trapeze artist, clad in an off-one-shoulder, red velvet, jump suit exercised gracefully on the trapeze, taking bottles from the shelf as they were ordered. My seat, in the front row, right next to the window afforded me a delightful view of the process and provided me with wonderful entertainment during the meal.
     Since drizzle was forecast for Sunday, the following day, I headed west right after breakfast, choosing route 90 instead of Interstate 10. The two lane road took me south, along the Mexican border, and border patrol vehicles were much in evidence during the entire ride. I was stopped one time at a regular highway stop and questioned by one border patrolman while another took his German Shepherd on a walk around my car, apparently sniffing for illegal immigrants or drugs in my trunk. I passed the beautiful
Pecos River Canyon and stopped for a few minutes at Langtry, TX, the home and office of Judge Roy Bean. The now-deceased Judge, known as the law west of the Pecos, was crazy about Lily Langtry and named his town after her. There is a museum, with restroom, the object of my stop, and I took a few photos of the Judges old office building. I continued on to Sanderson, TX, about as far as I could go in daylight and looked for a hotel. There were three from which to choose and I apparently selected the worst. It had a new, BUDGET HOTEL, sign in front of the property, but that is all that was new about the place. I slept with my socks on because of the filthy carpet and changed into my new socks and shoes while still in the bathroom the next morning. I reckon (a western expression) I got what I paid for at $45/night, but I was eager to leave. My departure was delayed a few minutes while the Volvo warmed enough to melt the thick coating of frost that covered her. The desert really gets cold at night.
     My breakfast at one of the two restaurants in town was home cooked and also produced information about the nature of the small town. This was a hunter's paradise with mule and white-tailed deer in abundance. The chef/owner told me that she had seen seven deer on the street on the way home at 10:00 p.m. the night before. She said there were probably a hundred more in back yards around town. In Texas, they can hunt from bait and I had noticed signs advertising "Deer Corn." Seems they feed the deer and shoot them from stands overlooking the feeder. Doesn't sound like it is very sportsmanlike to me.
     As I left town, the road sign read "No Services for 74 Miles" and they weren't kidding. There were occasional signs of hidden ranches and nothing else. I watched a border patrol truck pass by on a railroad track on some kind of rail cart and I observed a drone or blimp in the sky scanning for illegal immigrants. The border patrol has an almost impossible task in that sparsely populated part of the country. I reached the juncture of Interstate 10, where route 90 ends, and took the Interstate the rest of the way through the desert to
El Paso. The speed limit on 90, a two-lane road, was 70 or 75 the entire way and I rarely passed another vehicle and they were all going in the other direction. It was a lovely Sunday morning ride and once on route 10, the speed limit changed to 80 mph, although I was much more comfortable cruising at an economical 72 mph.
I have averaged 27.7 miles per gallon which is quite good for the S80. Gas prices have varied greatly and I have been very fortunate to fill up at low prices. I understand that gas has risen to $3.15 per gallon at home, but I have only paid as much as $3.09 one time. I filled up in Tucson yesterday for $2.79.
     I wanted to stay downtown in
El Paso to make a library stop possible on Monday morning, so I took a chance on a seedy-looking hotel six blocks from the public library. I should have balked when the man behind the glass partition with a money slot on the bottom required a $20 deposit for the room. The room was $35 and not worth half that, but unless I returned the remote, turned off the lights and heat, and did not smoke in the room, I would not get my deposit back. It was easy not to turn off the heat, because the heater did not work and the outside temp dipped to a chilly 41 that night. Initially, I slept in my tee shirt, fleece sweat shirt and underwear (too much info?) because I did not want much of my body touched by the stained sheets. They seemed to have been laundered, but were threadbare and stained. Midway through the "night from hell," I used two towels to cover and hold in heat, but I eventually put on my jeans and slept in my clothes. I refused to use the bedspread as a cover. It was the second worst hotel that I have ever experienced (the worst was in Guatemala), but the shower wasn't bad. I was so eager to leave the place that I didn't even shave, a rare occurrence for me.
     I arrived
in Tucson where the temperature on the Volvo read 77 degrees. It felt great, but was a long time coming. It seems chilly weather had followed me everywhere. After the stop at the AT&T store to receive more instructions on my smart phone, I kept on trucking to Phoenix. The temp upon arrival was 76 degrees and I quickly upgraded to a Motel 6 which seemed like the Plaza after my experience in El Paso. A quick meal at a local Mexican restaurant, with a couple of Margaritas, and I crashed. I awoke this morning to 56 degree temps to begin my search for the Phoenix Public Library, where a tourist can obtain an hour's free usage of a desktop computer. This is where I sit with the computer blinking 10 minutes remaining on my time at 12:00 noon. Methinks, I will spend another day in the warm temps of Phoenix and return to Motel 6 for another night of luxury. The morning news described the snow and ice covering my hometown and I think I will bask in the sunshine here. Stay tuned as I cross the desert into California.

January 19, 2011 - Palm Desert, CA   
     Fred was a gentle man of 57 years, with a three-day growth of beard, a weather-etched face, wire-rimmed glasses, twin-golden hoops hanging from his ears, and a soiled do-rag that covered his head. He looked rather harmless, standing by the ramp onto Interstate Route 10 at
Ehrenberg, AZ, the last stop before crossing into CA. I probably wouldn't have picked him up if I had seen "Sunny-Boy," his six-month-old mixed husky/spaniel that must have been lying behind his backpack when I stopped the car. Fred was hitchhiking his way to Alaska, but with only a 50 cent roll of pennies in his pocket and unable to find any work for the past few weeks, it was going to take him a long time to reach Salt Lake City where he hoped to find some work to support the rest of his trip.
     I only saw "Sunny-Boy" when Fred opened the door, slid his backpack onto the back seat and patted the seat for him. We traveled together for a couple of hours to Palm Springs where I left them out at a truck-stop, at which Fred hoped to find some work polishing wheels and gas tanks on 18 wheelers to earn a little cash for food. I gave him $20 for a meal for him and his four-legged buddy and he seemed a lot more appreciative than my "Little" did during our visit of
New Orleans. Fred is from Rochester, MI, and has been on the road since 2005. He has two children and seven grandchildren and he stays in touch with them when he can buy some minutes for his cell phone. We had an interesting discussion for two hours and I learned a lot about what life is like when you are really on the road.
     My family is terrified every time I mention picking up a hitchhiker, but not everybody who needs a ride is a serial killer. Fred certainly wasn't. Now that I think about it, if I had seen the dog I would have been more likely to give him a ride. I doubt that serial killers treat animals very well. Before Fred and "Sunny-Boy” entered the car, I had removed my heavy duty pepper spray from my sweatshirt pocket and placed it in the tray on the driver's side door. If he were a serial killer, I wouldn't have gone peacefully. Relax, all, I won't do it on a regular occasion, but the desert was a nasty place for Fred to stand in the heat of the day.

     I have arrived in
Palm Desert after passing the town by on the Interstate and exiting at the next exit in Cathedral City. I took Palm Date Road from that town through Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs on the way to neighboring Palm Desert. I stopped at the visitor's center and, unbelievably, the Bob Hope Desert Classic Golf Tournament is being played here this weekend. Wow, I have to catch some of that event.
     The valley here is a gorgeous oasis at the foot of brown, sometimes snow-capped peaks with palm-lined streets, many of which I crossed on the way to this hotel, the Best Western Resort, cheapest lodging in town at $94/night after some serious dickering. It includes a full breakfast cooked to your order, but it is still more expensive than most places I stay. The streets I crossed were named after celebrities that made the ride through town very interesting. There was Dinah Shore Dr., Gerald Ford Rd., Frank Sinatra Ave., Fred Waring (without the Dr. or Rd.), and Bob Hope Way. The shops and restaurants are all upscale and it will be somewhat difficult to maintain my $15/day meal allowance. Oh, wait, I gave that up when my "Little" boarded the train. I'll try to update again before my skin blisters from the sunshine (77 degrees). Stay tuned.

January 21, 2011 - Palm Desert, CA
     What do Kurt Russell (Goldie Hawn's partner), Craig T. Nelson, Tim Allen's bearded partner on Home Improvement (Richard Karn), NBA Hall of Famer, George “The Iceman” Gervin, and yours truly have in common, you ask?  We all dined at Castelli's Italian Restaurant just down the street from my hotel last night. I am not much of a celebrity gawker - I try to give them the privacy that I would appreciate if the situation were reversed (like that will ever happen). Anyway, Kurt Russell walked right beside my table as he went outside to pose for a photo with some folks who apparently interrupted his meal. George Gervin and I shared the rather small rest room where I went to wash my hands before dinner and I thought nothing of it until he posed for a photo with the restaurant's manager. Then, I asked the waiter, "Who was that big guy?" He told me it was Julius Erving (Dr. J) and I told him that I'm from Philly and that isn't Dr. J. He came back a couple of minutes later and told me it was George, but that Dr. J had been in the place the previous night.

     I never saw Tim Allen's pal or Craig T. Nelson, although the waiter told me they were there. I wasn't going to prowl around looking at tables just to see a star, but I enjoyed the meal and rubbing shoulders with the stars.

     Today, I changed my mind about attending the Bob Hope Classic, although I saw an electric golf cart made with "old ski nose's" likeness parked at the electric car dealership. It was probably the one that he used for the tournament which I had seen several times on television. I simply am not that much of a golf spectator. For me, golf is something in which I love to participate, but I don't relish sitting by a hole and watching golfers, no matter who they are, hit similar shots onto the same green. On TV, though, where you can watch all the shots, I enjoy being a spectator.

     My geography teacher's background trumped the golf today and I headed 45 minutes east to the
Joshua Tree National Park. It was once called the Joshua Tree National Monument, but has grown into a national park since I stopped teaching. On the way to the park, I passed through great sections of irrigated farmland, the heart of the Coachella River valley. Huge, flat fields with artichokes, turf grass, lemons, oranges, and other crops I couldn't identify grew and many times sprayers showered the fields with the water that is missing in the natural environment.
     I finally got back on track; I had only briefly checked the map before departing the hotel in the morning. I had gotten an unexpected treat by passing through the agricultural area near the dry, dusty town of
Mecca before realizing that I was a little lost. Sometimes, just following the sun is not the shortest distance to your intended destination, but interesting.
     The park itself was desert, desert, and more Colorado and Mojave desert, but interesting for much of the 50-or-so mile trek through the two-lane, winding road that snaked through the park. I took many pictures of desert flora and interesting geologic formations, but just as I was entering the section of the park where the unique Joshua Tree flourished, my camera battery ran out of juice. It is a brand new Nikon and who knew that I needed to charge my battery that frequently? I didn't get a single photo of a Joshua Tree on my camera, but I snapped a couple with my new cell phone, so we'll see how they turned out. Huge piles of graphite rock protruded from the sandy desert floor creating interesting shapes and formations, but my Nikon caught few of them. It was an interesting ride and I'm certain that I made the right decision about the golf tournament.

     Tomorrow, after three beautiful days in the dry, 75-degree air of the desert, I will head to
Santa Barbara to complete the triangle of California cities I had never before seen. After a few days along the sea in Santa Barbara, I will probably head to San Diego before turning for home. I will head home via a different route, snow permitting, and hope to make a stop in Las Vegas on the way. Stay tuned, it could get interesting and who knows, I may yet decide to head down the Baja.

January 23, 2011
- Santa Barbara, CA
I have reached the golden California coast and fallen in love with this beautiful city, as many said I would. Now, if only California can hold on a little longer and not break off and sink into the Pacific, I will enjoy the perfect weather, delicious seafood, and the unbelievably friendly locals.
Before launching into a description of my activities here, let me recap my visit to Palm Springs and Palm Desert. The entire desert area was captivating, with palm trees and flowers and the entire Coachella Valley surrounded by the beautifully-snow-capped Santa Rosa Mountains. Palm Springs was the older of the two locales, with a definable downtown area. It seemed significantly more commercialized and is beginning to show a little seediness, although the Chamber of Commerce would probably disagree. Palm Desert, on the other hand, is a newer suburban community where shopping malls have evolved into neighborhoods. Its El Paseo Street is the center of the shopping district and is a beautiful street on which to stroll with all of the major, upper-end retail merchants presenting their wares in gorgeously landscaped buildings with numerous reflecting pools and modern sculptures.
     As I left town, I drove one exit back to the truck stop where I dropped off Fred and "Sunny-Boy," as I had promised Fred. If he couldn't find a ride to
Barstow during my three-day stay in town, I told him that I would take him to the town where he knew people and was certain he could get a ride to Salt Lake City. Who knows, I might have learned something more about life on the road with no money. Fortunately, they were nowhere in sight and I continued west, pleased to be alone, now that I had time to think about the varmints that might have made a home on both of them. Those fleas, ticks, and whatever else they carried would have enjoyed making a home in my sweatshirt and windbreaker.
     The drive to
LA only took a couple of hours and the smog that covered the entire valley as I drove down the hill through Covina reminded me why I hadn't enjoyed the city in previous visits. I drove past Hollywood with its name emblazoned on the hill in its world famous sign, but I couldn't really do much sightseeing. Having no navigator, my eyes stayed glued to the road and the road signs so that I didn't miss a turn-off. The traffic on the Interstate Route 10 Freeway was abominable; I passed two accidents on my way through town, and it took another hour to reach Santa Barbara. I rested briefly in the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center, promising myself that I wouldn't drive back through that stressful traffic again.
     The Visitor’s Center was quite helpful, listing for me the available hotels in town and their rates. They mentioned a special at the perfectly located Franciscan Hotel for $80 and I jumped at the offer. True, the rate goes up to $104 after the first night, but the location made it a bargain. There is a heated pool, a continental breakfast, and free chocolate chip cookies with coffee every afternoon; I could smell them baking as I registered.

     After dozing past sundown time in my new quarters, I attempted to find the favorite restaurant of the clerk who had checked me in, lauding the view of the sunset from there, I attempted to drive out of town to find the place, anyway. I gave up in the darkness and returned to town, following a couple of cars that pulled into the
Santa Barbara Harbor. There appeared to be a restaurant in the area and I inquired of a local walking his dog if that were the case. Sure enough, Brophy Brothers Clam Bar was recommended and it was just a short walk from the free parking area I had entered. The upstairs restaurant had a fantastic view of the harbor and was packed with locals. In a stroke of genius, I walked past the short line of folks awaiting tables and sauntered (well, it felt like I sauntered) down the bar where there were no available stools. Within five minutes, I had finagled a seat and prepared to dine. The place specialized in seafood and encouraged the ordering of several appetizers. I was pleased to comply and enjoyed some delicious clam chowder and a heaping portion of some delicious ceviche, accompanied by a couple or three vodka tonics.
     Unbelievably, the friendly folks on both sides of me had ties to
Pennsylvania. The couple to my left, Wendy and Harry (can you believe two Harrys at one bar?) were raised on the mainline in Philly. On my right, were Melinda and Mike and Melinda and Jeff.  I'm not stuttering: there were two Harrys and two Melindas at the bar last night. Melinda II's husband, Jeff, graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in my hometown and then the University of Pennsylvania. He was very familiar with my fair city. In another coincidence, the other Harry was in the travel business (My wife and I had owned a travel agency for a decade). What a great evening I experienced with loads of delightful conversation and great food in a fantastic venue. Perhaps, I will see the sunset tonight. Stay tuned.

January 25, 2011 - Santa Barbara, CA

     Medical marijuana is legal here, the place is notoriously full of granola (nuts and flakes), and the government is almost bankrupt, but the state has loads of positive characteristics. You can't beat the sun, the winter warmth, or the variety of climates within easy reach; the people are very friendly, law-abiding, and caring. When traveling, I always watch what the locals do and attempt to blend in, which makes me less a target for thieves and more likely to get inside information on where to eat and what to see.

     One reads about the crime in the ghettos of LA, but in
Santa Barbara nobody jaywalks, so ever observant, I also wait for green. I'm certain they have their share of crime, but I was fascinated watching everybody wait for the signal to change, even when there were no cars coming. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and skateboarders all waited for the green. Apparently, they have enforced the jaywalking ordinance, because they are very well trained. Traffic also stops for pedestrians to cross at streets with no signals, so being a pedestrian is a very pleasant experience.
     Citizens are so caring that they do almost nothing to disturb the homeless, who seem to gather here in droves, quite possibly because it is easy to spend the night outside in these temperatures. I saw a discussion on a community TV channel last evening where two city councilmen took opposite sides on attempting to get a handle on the homeless population, now estimated at 6,000. One wanted to take away the benches on which many homeless sleep, and the other wanted to build scattered shelters for them in various neighborhoods. A very humane approach to the problem was being openly, though heatedly, discussed with the conservative calling the homeless people "vagrants".

     It is interesting that they would consider building shelters, since there is no room for growth in the city and property is very, very expensive. A realtor who, as an introduction, shouted for me to see a seal or sea lion while I was walking on the city's huge Stearns Wharf on Sunday (I only saw the back half of the critter) engaged in an hour's conversation with me about the condition of the real estate market and the effects of California Proposition 13 which froze real estate taxes at one percent of the assessed value several years ago. This fellow had moved to
Santa Barbara from Connecticut in 1965 and purchased his home for $27,000. The home is now worth $2.5 million and is assessed at $150,000 - the sales price plus the value of the two additions he has added to the place. He said he couldn't even afford to move across the street now, because the assessment on the new home would be its new market value - ouch. He said that you couldn't even buy a rundown fixer-upper in town for under $750,000, which means I probably won't be moving here anytime soon.
     As much as I am enjoying the scenery and the weather, I am feeling a little guilty about those suffering the hardships of winter at home. I am currently thinking about checking out and heading east to
Las Vegas in the morning, the first stop on the long road home. Here's hoping I change my mind after a good night's sleep and spend another few days in this beautiful location, but I'm not sure I can handle the guilt. Not only that, there are so many other places to see on the way home and I may want to spend some time in several of them. Who knows, I could win a jackpot in Vegas and return to buy a place on the beach in Santa Barbara. Don't turn your dial.

January 29, 2011 - Winslow, AZ
     "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," is apparently not holding true in my case. No, I am not being chased for an unpaid gambling debt. Nobody has ever had less fun on a trip to Las Vegas than yours truly. Boy, I miss Santa Barbara, which I departed just three mornings ago. I drove up the coast to catch Route 166 and meandered through the Coastal Range of mountains until I reached the fog-shrouded Central Valley of California, our nation's agricultural capital. As soon as I cleared the last mountain of the Coastal Range and headed downhill into the valley, the change in weather was obvious. From bright sunshine to thick fog that made it difficult to breathe, as well as see. But, migrant workers labored in the soup, picking the oranges hanging from the heavily laden trees and weeding and watering other crops of vegetables difficult to identify at 65 mph. There were many easily identifiable citrus crops brightly decorating the branches of the trees:  tangerines, lemons, navel oranges. I choked through the valley, stuck in the fog that a Subway manager told me was a gift from San Francisco and reached the slight rise of the Sierra Nevada foothills where,  just like the manager told me, the sun came out brightly again.
     I pushed myself through the desert and arrived in Las Vegas around 7:00 p.m. in the dark and locked in a ten-lane gridlock in the heart of the city. I had begun feeling poorly as the drive progressed, but I attributed the exhaustion to the long drive. What a zoo the strip was at that time of night. I checked hotel rates at two casinos, before settling on Circus Circus where my room cost $39, plus an additional $7.50 charge for the amenities (WiFi, exercise room, etc.). I took my bags to the room, went downstairs and ate in one of the many restaurants in the building. I went straight back to my very nice room and crashed. A sinus infection flared up overnight and I was worthless the next morning. I tried to walk up the strip for breakfast, but in half-a-block I realized that I couldn't go on. I returned to Circus Circus, ate breakfast in the hotel and returned to my room, where I remained for the next 24 hours. The only good news is that I didn't lose a nickel gambling. By the following morning, I felt no better, certainly unable to explore the city, and tired of my room. I just couldn't spend another day in bed reading. So, I checked out, figuring that I was too tired to walk, had a sore back from too long in bed, but I could drive. I had spent 36 hours in Las Vegas, 34 in bed, one in a traffic jam, and another eating two meals. Not much excitement for a city that offers so much of it, although I have never been enamored of all the garish buildings and glitzy sign-work.
     So, drive I did. I stopped for breakfast in Boulder City, AZ, after crossing the new bridge over Hoover Dam and took an old Amoxicillin pill that I had purchased a couple of years back in Mexico. Also swallowed a few Ibuprofen to fight the headache and drove on. Nothing like self-diagnosis and treatment, I began to feel a little better as the day wore on.
     I talked on the phone to my daughter who has been keeping me company telephonically on the trip, and I read a road sign to her that I was passing that listed the Grand Canyon as only 162 miles away. She exclaimed that seeing the Grand Canyon was one of her life's dreams. I hung up and kept driving, only to find the distance to the Canyon diminishing as I drove. Where the road to the Canyon exited off Route 40, it was only 62 miles away, and I made a snap decision to see the Canyon a second time in my life. I drove the south rim, took what should be great photos in the late afternoon sun, and kept trucking.
     I reached Winslow, an hour's drive east of Flagstaff at nightfall, checked into a Motel 6, and ate dinner at the Colonel's right next door. Last night's sleep didn't go a lot better, with the headache, stiff neck, and runny nose returning, but I will push on after I finish this update. Here's hoping my health will improve as I head east. Albuquerque is only 300 miles away. Adios.

January 31, 2011
– Denton, TX
When my "Little" and I left on this journey a month ago, we changed our departure date and our routing to stay ahead of a nasty winter storm approaching the northeast. I am now altering the timing and the routing home because of a huge winter storm approaching the southwest, but which is forecast to head through the midwest and crush the northeast once again. No wonder I left the country completely in previous years.
     I arose early in Albuquerque where the winter storm warning was threatening the entire state, and included snows of 20 inches or more in the mountains. Cold air had already tinged the morning wakeup and the temperature read 29 degrees as I packed the car. I was on the road by 7:15 a.m. on the brisk, but sunny Sunday morning. I put on many miles with little traffic and entered Texas without incident. As I approached Amarillo, I saw the big sign made more famous by its recent appearance on the Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food" show, which I try to avoid whenever possible. Something about celebrating that idiot's gluttony turns me off, but the Big Texan Steak Ranch was apparently the scene of one of the star's big gorging attempts. Seems you get a "Free" 72 ounce steak, if you can eat the thing, with all the trimmings, in an hour. I had eaten at the place on a previous trip through Amarillo, but stopped again at the tourist mecca. I didn't attempt the 72 ounce special, which costs $72 if you fail to consume it in the allotted time, but enjoyed a delicious, 18 ounce rib-eye, cooked perfectly with baked potato and cole slaw.
     I left Route 40 in
Amarillo and headed southeast toward Dallas/Fort Worth on route 287 through Wichita Falls. It was a beautiful drive through the high plains where the cattle ranches were checkered with the familiar oil pumps churning up the black gold that brought wealth to the Lone Star State and some of its residents. I reached Denton, 39 miles north of Dallas, a little after dark, checked into the first Motel 6 that I saw, and lugged my suitcase and backpack into the same, simple, but clean room that has been my home for most of the trip. The stay in Palm Desert, CA, and Santa Barbara in two large rooms were luxurious anomalies, but cost significantly more than the $33 to $40/night Motel 6 accommodations. Last night's lodging set me back $36.
     I am beginning to feel like a techno-geek, with wires and chargers for my little notebook, the new Nikon camera, and the Kindle. I have enough wires, plugs, and sockets to warrant a special suitcase for electronics. I would appear to be an electronic wizard to the uninitiated, but I am using an old notebook handed down by my eldest son, who advised against buying an Apple iPad until the new ones come out in a month or two. Sometimes, like this morning, it works and sometimes it doesn't. There aren't many internet cafes in our country and hunting public libraries to update is a real pain, demanding time and navigation in the heavy traffic of downtown
US cities. WiFi is available almost everywhere, although Motel 6 usually wants to charge an additional fee for the service, which I am reluctant to pay since I never know if my notebook will balk that day or not. Last night, the clerk at the motel informed me that they had no WiFi, but mentioned that the Denny's next door had free WiFi, the reason I ate breakfast here and labored for 45 minutes to connect. The staff needed to unplug and re-plug the wireless server before I finally was able to get online. My thanks to the other patron who complained that the WiFi wasn't working which alerted the staff to our dilemma. I wouldn't have had a clue as to the nature of the problem; I simply thought my notebook was acting up again - some techno-geek.
     I will leave now, intending to bypass
Dallas and head east into Louisiana at Shreveport. Dallas, where the Super Bowl will be held this weekend, is also expecting the winter storm, but it is not scheduled to arrive until after 11:00 p.m. tonight, giving me time to exit the state just in time. Hopefully, the storm will head northeast and I can swing around it and keep the snow and ice in my rearview mirror. Let's see if the weatherman is accurate.

February 3, 2011 - Savannah, GA

     Sadie (the Volvo) and I successfully managed to stay ahead of the nasty winter storm that seemed to lick our heels all the way across the country when we reached
Savannah a little after dark last evening, welcomed by a balmy 71-degree temperature. Not that we didn't have some challenges and long days listening to National Public Radio (better than Limbaugh) as we kept on trucking across the nation. After Denton, TX, we reached Monroe, LA, only to find that Denton and Dallas were getting hit by snow and ice and Amarillo, home of the 72-ounce steak, was experiencing blizzard conditions. Whew, that was close!
I drove around downtown Monroe, because I had an Army acquaintance many years ago who lived in that community. The city reeked of urban decay, with many empty buildings and boarded up homes and made me feel good about my hometown, well on its way back from similar decay. One quick overnight and Sadie and I headed east, still trying to beat the weather. The Gulf States only experienced rain from the "tail of the storm," but the drive from Monroe to Demopolis, Alabama, was not a pleasant experience. Driving rain, occasional lightning, and trucks pounding the Interstate, oblivious to conditions which made it difficult to see, created a very long, stressful day. It was better than the blizzard conditions in the rear view mirror, but just barely. An early start from Demopolis, just west of Montgomery, and another long day of NPR, enabled us to reach Savannah, a delightful city and an island in the ugly storm that haunted us across the country.
     Last night, I took a nasty, head-first tumble on the sidewalk on the way home from dinner, but managed to athletically roll with the fall and prevent serious injury. Thank God, there is still a little athleticism left in these old bones. It was pretty humbling, however, to be helped to my feet by a young couple, inquiring if this old man was okay. I was fine after the initial pain departed and was left with only a small brush-burn on my knee and a severely damaged ego.

     Rain is forecast for this evening and that storm, a different meteorological phenomenon, is expected to head north and provide more snow and ice that I want to avoid. I will probably stay in the balmy conditions of coastal
Georgia for a couple more days and watch the storm head north. If conditions seem favorable, I will make a run up Route 95, a road I despise.
     Right now, after all those long days behind the wheel, the trip to Clearwater in March, and Phillies spring training, does not look very attractive. I have had enough driving, thank you. A few weeks in the frigid north could change my mind, however, and require a quick trip to
Portugal for recovery. Stay tuned.

February 16, 2011
- Lancaster, PA
I regret that I haven't updated in quite some time. Unfortunately, I got caught up in the welcome home celebrations and the throngs of people lining the streets to greet me. The parties, pretty girls, delicious food, and adult beverages distracted me from my appointed task of informing readers about the last few days of the first part of this year's adventure. I apologize for that, but will make up for it with this update and with the next portion of this winter's experience:

The weather my last morning in
Savannah forced me to wait for departure until the rain storm that was heading up the coast had left the Georgia town ahead of me. I didn't want to drive in rain all day as I headed north on Interstate Route 95. It was 10:00 a.m. when I finally pulled out of downtown Savannah, a city I had really grown to enjoy in my three-day hiatus there. I'd recommend you plan on staying a few days to become acquainted with this historic southern port city. Arriving in Savannah, I had stayed ahead of the frigid weather with accompanying ice and snow, but had to drive some long days to accomplish that feat. Savannah was a delightful break from the winter weather that had chased Sadie (the Volvo) and me into town. Temperatures in the 50's and 60's and an occasional shower were the only effects of the storm that had stopped most of the nation with frigid air, ice, and much snow. I enjoyed the three day respite, explored a gorgeous cemetery, a couple of historic forts, Tybee Island (a beach resort), and the beautiful Isle of Hope along the intra-coastal waterway. Then, when the last of the droplets of rain moved north, so did we.
The trip north, begun on a Saturday and completed on Sunday, was a very smooth one, if you don't count the screw that Sadie picked up in her right rear tire. Noticing a sign advertising inexpensive gasoline, I pulled off of 95 somewhere in North Carolina to fill Sadie's tank with $2.81 fuel. While pumping the gas, I happened to glance down the hose and saw that the right rear tire was really low. I finished refueling, pulled up to the truck stop building, and took time to have a six-inch, Subway tuna sub. By the time I got back to the car, the tire was completely flat. I drove 25 feet to the air hose and filled the tire to protect from further damage as I hunted somebody to repair the tire. There was nobody doing that work at the truck stop or at the neighboring gas station, but the clerk told me that there was a tire store five minutes away where I quickly headed when she told me that they closed at 2:00 p.m., a mere 20 minutes from that moment. Of course, the tire store was closed and I now faced spending the weekend in North Carolina, since I did not want to drive north on the miniature spare hidden in Sadie's trunk. I saw a sign for a Ford/Lincoln dealership two buildings away and decided to inquire if they did tire repair. They, too, seemed about to close, but the wonderful, female, service manager told me to pull the car in and they would have a look at it. They removed the screw that caused the leak, pulled off the tire to repair the hole, and told me, "There is no charge for that, have a safe trip home."  What lifesavers (at least weekend savers) they were. I tipped them enough to buy drinks for the manager and the two mechanics who had done the work and went merrily on my way north.
I made it beyond Richmond, VA, by two exits when I ran out of gas. No, not Sadie, me personally. I was too bushed to continue pushing north. I probably could have arrived home before midnight, but there was no sense taking the chance of driving while exhausted. I checked into another cheap ($39/night) Day's Inn, not worth half that, and crashed. By 7:00 a.m. the next morning, I was on my way home, scooted around Washington, DC, with minimal, Sunday morning church traffic, and was in my garage before noon. Other than the flat tire, the trip up Route 95 was far less frightening than I had anticipated. It would appear that traveling on weekends around Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond is the secret.
Oh, you may have noticed that I failed to mention the throngs lining the street as I pulled into the garage. Actually, the welcome home celebrations and the throngs of well-wishers were the figment of my overactive imagination. The real reason I have failed to update is that all the illnesses plaguing people who remain in the tundra during this season came crashing down on me a day or two after my arrival home. I suffered a sinus infection, stomach virus, and feverish flu in one successive illness after another, lasting a full week. Today is the first day that I have honestly felt strong enough to make you aware of my condition. The week's rest, heavy anti-biotics, and heartfelt prayer have enabled me to survive this onslaught of disease that I thought was going to take me.
I will do a better job of keeping you informed forthwith. I have not finalized a plan for the next portion of the winter, but I have shopped airline tickets to Portugal and hotel rates online, so that is still a possibility. I really believe, however, that I may opt for another run down Interstate 95 to visit the spring training facilities of my Phillies in Clearwater, FL. I might even drop in on Schim in Orlando. You remember Schim, my timid companion in Mexico and Central America, then the author of a competing webpage description of our activities in Argentina a few years back. He is still kicking around Orlando, serving his Elks Club, and eager to have me visit so that I can pick up a few dinner checks. Stay tuned.

February 19, 2011 - Lancaster, PA
     I have purchased a ticket for the second leg of this year's travels. I will fly from here to
Tampa, FL, on March 2 to spend a couple of weeks basking in the Florida sunshine. I will also visit a few friends, including Schim, get in two or three rounds of golf, and spend some time consulting with the Phillies. I feel certain they will want my input on potential batting lineups and the order of the pitching rotation, as well as my take on the progress of younger farm system prospects. I am always glad to be of service to my favorite team.
     My eldest son, a partial season ticket holder, is going to fly down for a long weekend to catch a Phillies game and join me in a trip or two around the links. We should have an enjoyable time watching the "Fightin' Phils" and an even better time trying to get our golf games in shape. The golfers with whom I play during the summer will be out on the course around here as soon as the snow thaws and the ground dries enough to eliminate plugged lies. Their games will be in mid-season form by the time I return. They are a very competitive lot and will take every advantage if I show up without having played since October.  I have experienced that in the past and they are merciless and abusive. I want to be ready for them this year.

     I will continue to update along the way, or until you lose interest, and will terminate this year's adventures upon returning home from the
Sunshine State. Don't touch that dial!

March 5, 2011 - Orlando, FL
Lunch consisting of a grouper sandwich, fries, and a lemonade while sitting outside a tiki hut overlooking the intra-coastal waterway in 82 degree weather and the sun shining brightly on the sunburned skin seared a delightful pink only yesterday while sitting on the soft, powdery white sand of Siesta Key makes me wonder what took me so long to head to Florida. I drove 8,165 miles to California and back, always ahead of the winter blizzard that haunted me and I never enjoyed conditions like these. There just could be a lesson in there for future winter travels.
     I had arrived in
Tampa, picked up my tiny, red Chevy Aveo and driven an hour or so south to the lovely condo of my friends, Mary and Jerre, who had been inviting me to return to their place in the sun for the past several years. What a great welcome, with my favorite cocktail, a beautiful salad, and homemade seafood chowder - a perfect greeting to a weary traveler, tired after the long day's travel, although on an amazingly short flight. The time flying to Baltimore, waiting in the airport, securing the car, and driving the 65 miles or so seemed like it would never end, especially in the lightning-fast traffic, but the welcome made it all worth while - that and the evening's 70 degree temperature.
     Mary and Jerre took me on tours of beautiful
Sarasota, including a long visit to a community of Amish and Mennonite families who also seemed delighted to be out of the nasty winters in PA, IA, IN, Ohio, and MI. They, mostly men, enthusiastically played shuffleboard on six or eight beautiful courts, while another contingent waxed just as enthusiastic over a game of bocce outside the shuffleboard fence.
     We lunched in downtown
Sarasota overlooking the marina and delighting in the warm sunshine. That evening, we enjoyed dinner at the Bonefish Grill, one of the few chain restaurants I really enjoy. The wine and dinner conversation made a pleasant ending to a great day in the sun.
     Friday morning, after Mary's personal tour of colorful neighborhoods in
Sarasota while Jerre played tennis, we had lunch joined by two of Jerre's tennis partners. It was a relaxed, interesting lunch, meeting new folks and sharing war stories. But then, it was time to head to Orlando to see what Schim and MJ (his significant other) had in store for me. Two and a half hours later, after another run in very heavy traffic, I arrived at Schim's where he had a cocktail waiting. I parked the panting Aveo in Schim's driveway and we headed, cocktail in my hand, to MJ's house to enjoy the weekend. We traveled to Schim's Elks Club (he is a newly elected trustee) and dined on liver and onions before the country and western music and dance began.  Only Schim would think of a liver and onion dinner to welcome me - I guess the Elks don’t serve tortillas. I enjoyed meeting the Elks, some certainly in their 90’s, and watching them dance. I danced as often as Schim and won the 50-50 drawing, a prize of $61.00. The club's $61 went into the new carpet fund, so I donated my half to the same cause. I enjoyed the evening, especially meeting such warm and friendly Elks, not a single one with horns. I'll try to keep you better informed as my holiday continues.

March 9, 2011 - Sarasota Florida
     The unbelievable weather continues, with daytime temperatures around 80 degrees, clear skies, and delightful breezes. Evenings have not required a long sleeve shirt or jacket and are almost as enjoyable.
     My last couple of days with Schim and MJ were magical, probably because of their warm hospitality, but influenced, no doubt, by the Disney presence in the neighborhood. Schim and MJ took me on a tour of the area, including visits to the Bay Hill Golf Resort owned by Arnold Palmer. At least, he plays there and hosts a Professional Golf Association tournament there each March. They were setting up the tents to prepare for this year's event when we visited. The housing around the course and the clubhouse were less than spectacular, especially when compared to Isleworth, where the homes of golfers Jim Furyk, Mark O'Meara, and Tiger Woods made the walled development extremely upscale. I couldn't see much because of the walls and the guarded entrances, but the size of the roof areas made it abundantly clear that I wouldn't be moving into the neighborhood anytime soon.

     I took leave of Schim and MJ and headed west toward
Tampa on crowded Interstate 4 and stopped, at Schim's suggestion, at Ybor City where the renovation process of the old town is still in progress. I enjoyed a stop at a Cuban Cafe and purchased some takeout to enjoy with my friends in Sarasota. Stuffed potatoes and a huge deviled crab ball made for a great lunch upon arrival back on the Gulf Coast.
While my host plays tennis here in Sarasota, his wife, Mary, and I take our books (mine a Kindle) to the park along the bay in downtown Sarasota and sit in the sun reading and watching the walkers exercise on the trail by the water. What a way to spend a couple of hours - my tan is slowly turning to bronze. I got in a round of golf with borrowed clubs on Monday, playing with Angie, the girlfriend of a friend of my hosts. We had a great time, although I played as expected after a four-and-a-half month layoff. Angie, a German national, even took $5.00 from me when we played a match on the back nine. Mortified, I kept a stiff upper lip while handing over the fin. She was a delight to play with, though she struggled a little with the English language, which for me made it all the more enjoyable. Okay, I shot 99 and lost four balls on a course that had only two small ponds. No big deal! It was a perfect opening round of the year and I expected no more than to loosen some muscles and get ready for my son's arrival on Friday. Stay tuned; I hope to update one more time before heading back to colder climes.

March 27, 2011 - Lancaster, PA
     My intention was to update as soon as I returned home on March 16th. Ten days have passed and the harsh conditions have frozen my fingers and prevented a prompt description of my final, fun-filled week in the Sunshine State. Tough and single-minded, I will fight through the frozen conditions of overnight temperatures in the mid-20's to bring an end to this year's saga.
     I returned to the home of my friends, Mary and Jerry, from
Orlando and enjoyed three days of perfect weather, which now seem like a pleasant dream. Sunny days, low humidity, and high temperatures hovering around 80 degrees hardly seem possible to the residents of my hometown who still see occasional snowflakes and watch the nightly weather forecasts like death row inmates awaiting the final walk to their demise as they track the storms coming from the west that can still wreak havoc on the expected coming of springs warmer breezes. But, those final days in Sarasota with Mary and Jerry were absolutely gorgeous. We took short rides to Venice where we watched fishermen catching permit, sheepshead, and other saltwater game-fish from both sides of the jetty, while sunbathers seated on lawn chairs lined the path behind them, soaking up sunshine and watching the boating and fishing action. The area was crowded with sun worshipers.
     We also toured Casey Key with huge, mega-million-dollar homes, including one owned by Stephen King, overlooking the beautiful turquoise water of the
Gulf of Mexico. It is an idyllic location but, with today's real estate market being what it is, I think I'll pass on picking up one of the several mansions for sale on the beautiful sand spit. One evening while in Sarasota, the three of us went into downtown Sarasota to the theater, seeing a dynamic performance of "Twelve Angry Men." The three day return to Sarasota was a delightful stop on my winter odyssey; I sincerely appreciate the hospitality of Mary, Jerry, Schim, and MJ.
     I left
Sarasota in the only rain I experienced on the trip, but by the time I reached the Skyway Bridge into Saint Petersburg the rain had stopped and the sun reappeared for my trip up the Gulf Coast keys through Saint Petersburg Beach and into Clearwater Beach. I located a small "Mom and Pop" hotel and spent the night alone for the first time since I got back home from the California drive earlier this winter.
     I spent the next day watching Phillies minor league players cavorting around the Carpenter Complex on a day the major leaguers traveled for an away Grapefruit League game. As an old high school baseball coach, I enjoyed the drills and skills of the minor leaguers and ventured across the street when I saw what looked like a baseball game being played in what was the old Phillies spring training location. Turned out the game was between two college teams, Alderson Brodus of
West Virginia, and East Stroudsburg University from Pennsylvania, a team I had pitched against four consecutive years during my own college career. I enjoyed talking to several of the players and parents and watching some very good baseball at the college level. I reminded myself that I must return to the campus when East Stroudsburg returns to play my alma mater later this spring.
     That evening, I picked up my eldest son, Gary, at the airport and we checked into the hotel where he had reservations. That weekend, we enjoyed a morning watching the Phillies minor leaguers at the Carpenter Complex, then watched an afternoon game at Bright House Field where the major leaguers lost to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in front of a sold-out crowd of around 10,000. We departed an inning early since the Phillies were losing 6-1, and headed to a nearby public golf course where we squeezed in 18 holes of golf before dark on a course that was no better than our rusty golf swings. The very old rental clubs didn't make the matter any easier, but we stretched a few muscles as we prepared to play a better course the following day.

     The Bardmoor Course was a better test, played with an amiable couple from
Montreal who were also enjoying a couple of weeks in the Florida sun. Better, but much more expensive, Cobra rental clubs improved our games somewhat and, until my son's ball found two lakes on the last hole, I found myself facing my initial golf loss to an offspring. He claims an earlier victory, but extensive historical research fails to turn up any evidence to support his position.
     Gary and I enjoyed two wonderful meals at Keegan's on
Clearwater Beach where the chef's creativity with fresh seafood drew us back for a second meal which is a real compliment. My son headed north very early on Monday morning, scheduled for an 8:30 business conference call from his home. I packed, checked out of the more expensive hotel that he required near the airport for his 6:00 a.m. departure, and headed for the much more reasonable and very clean "Mom and Pop" motel that I had located in Clearwater when I passed by it several times. Another day at the Carpenter Complex, a few more hours reading by the pool in the hot sunshine, and it was time to head back to colder climes. My flight from Tampa to Baltimore was smooth and rapid and only half a Xanax was required to make the journey. My arrival in BWI half an hour early enabled me to catch an earlier, 35-minute, Cape Air commuter flight back to Lancaster and by 2:00 p.m. I was sitting in Sadie (my Volvo S80) in my hometown's airport parking lot wondering where the warm weather had gone.
     My bronze skin brought jealousy-induced rave reviews for a few days, but dissipated quickly under the deluge of regular morning showers. I helped to celebrate my grandson's twelfth birthday, the reason for returning to the cold temperatures so soon and I enjoyed sharing in his birthday celebration for the first time. I made no promises, however, to share in future birthday activities since the cold weather is wearing mighty heavily on these thin, old bones. There is no reason we can't celebrate his birthday on whatever date I return from warmer temperatures in future years, is there? That way, he can celebrate twice and I can avoid the frostbite.

     This year's winter experience may not have been as exciting as prior geographical explorations, but I had a marvelous time on the trek to
Santa Barbara and the delightfully warm respite in Florida. I hope you enjoyed the experience half as much as I did. If the good Lord is willing, I'll see you again next year.  Adios.

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