Like Ramen Left Out in the Rain

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I volunteered to help organize a conference for work. An unexpected perk was that I needed to go to Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL to conduct site visits at three hotels and one museum. One of the hotels comped a night’s stay. I realized that Garnet was old enough to entertain himself while I worked and invited him to join me for a bit of adventure.

We had completed all four visits and intended to spend the evening swimming at the hotel pool. A thunderstorm disrupted our plans. We were up in the room watching the sky flash in the distance. Garnet was rather agitated because he wanted to buy a perfect birthday present for a friend. It was almost 8pm. I thought about how I felt at that age and asked if he wanted to go shopping. He nodded.

So off we went into the rainy, tropical night. We were in St. Petersburg, on Central Ave. waiting to turn right on 3rd Street. The light had changed, but there were pedestrians crossing the street. Behind me, a black Saturn Vue XR saw the light change, but missed me stopping for the pedestrians and slammed into the back of me when it skidded in the rain. I completed the turn and pulled over in front of a row of bars and restaurants. Seconds later a distraught young blond woman appeared beside my door, the rain and tears streaking her mascara. Garnet was upset by the noise and my sudden seriousness, but I assured him we were okay.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed an indigent man trying to make the chaos we created work for him. He was taking a grocery bag and hitting passing cars with it, then pretending the car had run over his foot. No one was stopping. I calmly told the crying girl to go back to her car. It was her first accident too.

I called Budget, who took the report and told me that in the state of Florida cops often don’t come out for minor accidents. There was a rap on my window. It was a bouncer from one of the nearby bars. He said that the indigent man was claiming that the woman who hit me had run him over. I got out in the rain and followed him over to the sidewalk where the man was in his death throes. I laughed. He was overacting his part something fierce. Pedestrians were stepping over him.

The bouncer said they had to call the cops and that we should wait. The bouncer said that the guy was a known local drunk and that the cops weren’t going to take his word over ours. So back to the car I went, glad that the hedge blocked Garnet’s view of the scene.  It was then I realized the indigent man had been hitting the passing cars with a bag of ramen. The bag was now run over in the crosswalk, noodles crushed, scattered, and rehydrating in the rain.

I didn’t want to leave the girl to face the cops on her own, but they still hadn’t arrived after 15-20 minutes. I saw something going on in the rearview mirror and assumed another bouncer was confronting the guy, who had made a miraculous recovery. The first bouncer reappeared at my window and told me another bum had arrived on scene, saw the guy playing dead and called him a scumbag. They got into a scuffle and went off into the night. He suggested we leave, quickly, and if the cops ever came they would handle it.

Later, I would realize that I had gotten my learner’s permit in Florida and almost 30 years later was in my first real accident in the same state. You can say what you want about Florida, but the state has the best writers. I mean, where else can you have your first car accident resolved by a bum fight?

 

 

Perspective

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I learned to love to travel as a child. So did Patrick. When Garnet came along we hoped he would also love to travel. We took our first real trip together when he was 11-months-old. We dressed him in a bear costume, hoping that if he cried on the flight people would at least be ameliorated by the overwhelming cute of a small bear-like child. He barely cried and it soon became evident that he was one of us.

Each year, we took trips that were more demanding – longer plane rides, more hours in the car, longer hikes, different locales, weirder motels, less sleep, more snack-based meals. He adapted to everything and we enjoyed sharing new places with him. There were always limitations imposed by traveling with a child, but that was okay. One of the main reasons to travel is fresh perspective and by taking him we had that two-fold.

A work trip presented itself recently that was a bit different than most. I needed to conduct site visits at three hotels and one museum. One of the hotels comped a night’s stay and I had frequent flyer points to cover a plane ticket. I invited Garnet to join me. I explained I had to work all-day Friday, but that we’d be free to adventure all-day Saturday. I knew he’d get bored waiting, so I asked him to help me. I gave him my old camera to use and asked him to take photos of the places we were visiting.

I’ll admit it, I was just hoping to keep him occupied while we spent the day conducting tours. That isn’t what happened. He asked helpful questions and his use of the camera was natural and innate.

Something about the camera shifted the dynamic. I could see what he saw. Further to that, he was sitting in the passenger seat beside me for the first time on a trip. He took photos of clouds, signs, and the dashboard. I saw what was interesting to him. He was curious about how the camera worked and I started to teach him about light, shutter speed, composition, and perspective. We were less parent and child and more like traveling companions. It was wonderful.

When we got home we worked together to pick his best photos. I showed him about cropping, adding contrast, and general editing. He showed me which photos were his favorites and why. He teaches me more than I could ever hope to teach him. These are some of his photos from the trip…

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Fort De Soto State Park
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Great Egret
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Flag in the breeze
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Passenger seat perspective
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Passenger seat perspective II
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On the road
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Plans for the day
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Having coffee
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Dali Museum
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Dali Museum, self-portrait
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Dali Museum
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Descending the stairs at the Dali Museum
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Still Life at the Hilton
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Hotel site visit
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Hotel site visit
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Where the day took us
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Roadside attraction under construction

801 Cabaret

It is theater.

It is edgy.

It is familiar.

It is feminine.

It is masculine.

It challenges.

It is scripted.

It is improv.

It is truth.

It is lies.

It is pop.

It is punk.

It is psychology.

It is inclusive.

It is exclusive.

It is a craft.

It is art.

It is drag.

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Sushi
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Boa
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Raquel
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Boa
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Kylie
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Boa
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Dominique
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Dominique
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Sushi
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Sushi
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Jade
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Jade
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Boa and Marilyn
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Marilyn
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Boa
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Marilyn
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Kylie

The 801 Cabaret is one of our musts when we’re in Key West. Highly recommended.

If you want more portraits go here. This is just a sampling.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

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Alligator, La Chua Trail

Florida’s state parks are often hidden gems. Such is the case with Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. We were planning a trip some years ago when I saw a swath of green on the map. I had never heard of Paynes Prairie, but it seemed worth a stop. We visited in January of that year and I was delighted to find a savanna filled with migratory birds, alligators, and bountiful wildlife. It was like a tiny, hidden Everglades. The park is 21,000 acres with various habitats, from swamps to forests.

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Golden orb weaver (aka banana spider)

In April of this year, I went to Gainesville for work. Once the meeting was over, I asked the person I had the meeting with if she wanted to go for a hike. We took our work hats off, put our friend hats on, and headed over to the park.

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Mud turtle

She drove us to Bolen Bluff, a trail in Paynes Prairie, just off 441, about 25 minutes south of Gainesville. We found a wee turtle and golden orb weaver within minutes. We also spotted a northern parula. The forest gave way to prairie. Ahead of us was a family of bison.

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Wild bison

People expect exotic wild animals in Florida, like cobras and Mickey Rourke, not bison. They were once native to Florida and were reintroduced to the park in the 1970s as part of the park’s goal of preserving the land as a living museum. The population reached 70 in 2011, but unfortunately, they deemed this excessive and began culling instead of sterilizing or maintaining. There is now a small group of 8-10 bison.

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Wild horses
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Fisheye view from the top of the observation tower

I had to drive to Jacksonville the next day, but I got up early and hiked two additional trails on my own. I first stopped at the visitor center and went to the top of the observation tower. From there I spotted a few wild horses and unspoiled wilderness across the prairie basin.

 

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Thistle and insects, La Chua Trail
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Gallinule
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Kite being attacked by a smaller bird
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Dragonfly
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Great blue heron

Then I drove to the La Chua trail. To reach the trailhead you need to go through suburban Gainesville. It isn’t the easiest spot to find and the park provides written directions. The parking lot leads to old barns and out onto a trail that runs out to the Alachua Sink, draining into the prairie. The waterline and waterways are teeming with wildlife, especially birds and reptiles. There are kites, blackbirds, primordial-looking dragonflies, alligators, turtles, herons, egrets and more sliding and flying in and out of the reeds. Unlike in winter, the alligators are active in the spring, often walking across and blocking the trail. Even at 10am on a weekday, there were birders and hikers out. A word of caution, if you don’t recognize animals for what they are and show some common sense, I don’t recommend visiting. There’s no Plexiglas between you and the rightful, rather large, inhabitants of the savanna.

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Coolest grackle ever

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Hours: 8:00 a.m. until sunset, daily

This map provides an overview of the area.

Admission:

Main Entrance Admission
$6.00 per vehicle, limit 2-8 people per vehicle
$4.00 Single Occupant Vehicle
$2.00 Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass

LaChua Trail Admission
$4.00 per vehicle

Bolen Bluff Admission
$2.00 per vehicle, limit 8 people

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UF Bat houses

Also worth checking out in the area:

University of Florida Bat Houses

The University of Florida is home to the world’s largest occupied bat houses. At dusk each night thousands of bats fill the sky.

North side of Museum Road between Village Drive and Radio Road across from Lake Alice.

 

Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park

This is basically a huge sinkhole accessed via stairs.

9:00 am – 5:00 pm Wed-Sun, closed Mon-Tues

4732 Millhopper Road

Gainesville, FL 32653

(352) 955-2008

P.S. – Chopstix on Rt 441 has a decent vegetarian selection.

 

Out and Back

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The official motto of the United States Coast Guard is “Semper Paratus,” or “Always Ready.” But, since the heyday of the United States Life-Saving Service (which merged with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form our modern USCG), at least, another phrase has adorned the flipside of that figurative coin: “The rules say you have to go out, but they do not say you have to come back.”

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On February 18, 1952, four young men with those words in mind set out from the Chatham (Massachusetts) Lifeboat Station in a 36-foot self-righting, self-bailing wooden motor lifeboat – clinically named CG36500 – into a hellish nor’easter, and the annals of lifesaving lore. In what has since been considered the greatest small-boat rescue in USCG history, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber and his crew of three – Andrew Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey, and Ervin Maske – battled at-times hurricane-force winds and frigid, 60-foot seas to rescue the crew of the S.S. Pendleton, a 500-foot World War II-era tanker which had broken in half several miles offshore.

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En route, the CG36500’s engine briefly quit, and the angry seas smashed the boat’s windshield and tore away her compass. Yet, somehow, Webber and his crew successfully reached the stern of the mortally wounded Pendleton, and despite the odds, successfully rescued 32 of the ship’s crew in a boat designed to hold a maximum of 12 (including its own crew).

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Not surprisingly, this seemingly impossible feat became the stuff of Coast Guard legend, yet Webber, Fitzgerald, Livesey, and Maske did not consider themselves “heroes”, per se; rather, they regarded their actions simply as a fulfillment of duty. By the late 1960s, the old 36-footers, including CG36500, had been decommissioned, and the slick, new 44-foot motor lifeboat became the Coast Guard’s standby.

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The CG36500 languished in dry-dock, neglected, for more than a decade, until a collective of intrepid locals, recognizing her historical value, set about painstakingly restoring her. Today, the fully restored and operational CG36500 is maintained under the auspices of the Orleans Historical Society and Museum, which features an impressive exhibit on the famed rescue in its nearby museum. As the son of a career Coast Guardsman, having the opportunity to visit the boat was a borderline spiritual experience. The 2016 movie The Finest Hours – based on Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman’s 2009 book of the same name – faithfully recreates the Pendleton rescue. While the film was not a commercial success, in this era of hyperbolic action movies that inexorably seek inspiration through the spilling of blood, it is good to see the four lifesavers from Chatham Station – and, by proxy, all who have come before or since – finally get their due.

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Orleans Historical Society and Museum
3 River Rd, Orleans, MA 02653
http://www.orleanshistoricalsociety.org/
orleanshs@verizon.net
call 508-240-1329

Hours:
Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9:00 – noon and 1:00 – 5:00 or by appointment

The boat moves seasonally, so please visit the website to check on its location.

Book Review: Snorkeling the Florida Keys

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I love planning trips. I search the internet and use a few specific apps, but nothing beats sitting down with a book to begin imagining and shaping an itinerary. I’ve read countless travel guides and Brad Bertelli’s Snorkeling the Florida Keys is my new favorite. Published by the University Press of Florida, it is the perfect union of history, nature, and logistics, complete with an enthusiastic tour guide.

The book covers Biscayne National Park, Carysfort Reef, John D. Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Molasses Reef, Pickles Reef, Alligator Reef, Indian Key, Coffins Patch Reef, Sombrero Reef, Bahia Honda State Park, Looe Key, Key West Marine Park, and Dry Tortugas National Park. I’ve snorkeled along the Keys, from Pennekamp to Sand Key Light, and this book gave me so many new places to try. I learned that I’ve snorkeled beaches that had better, hidden sports. Bertelli describes not just the reef locations and structures, but the history behind their names (many are named for shipwrecks). I came for the travel tips, but stayed for the history lessons. For example, I have known the name John Pennekamp since I was a child, but what I didn’t know was that he was personally responsible for protecting huge swaths of Florida’s coral reefs.

There were two sections in particular that endeared me:

“In reality, the reef had been known as Pickle’s Reef for a long time before the barrels ever came to rest at the bottom. In fact, Pickles Reef began to appear in the record books as early as 1828, decades before the first shots of the Civil War were ever fired. The odds must have been astronomical that a load of mortar-filled pickle barrels would sink at a reef already known as Pickles Reef!” It is that kind of geeky enthusiasm that gets me every time.

The second section has Bertelli trashing Peter Benchley and the movie Jaws. “To put the whole shark scare into perspective, statistically speaking it is a far more dangerous proposition to drive a car – for any distance – than to snorkel in Florida waters. In fact, snorkelers are much more likely to be mauled by a dog, swarmed by bees, or win the lottery than have a negative encounter with a shark.

                Instead of worrying about sharks, snorkelers would be much better off making sure they have applied a suitable sunscreen to their exposed flesh. While shark attacks are rare events in the Florida Keys, horrible sunburns are not.” He then goes on to warn people about the real bullies of the sea, the wee damselfish. I love this guy.

I plan to use this guide to check out several spots that are accessible from the shoreline, as well as one chartered trip. Whether you are new to snorkeling the Florida Keys or are an old-timer, this book should be essential reading.

The Edward Gorey House

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Museums to dedicated individuals can be a tricky thing. I remember going to the Ava Gardner Museum and walking away thinking she was even more boring than I suspected, but the idea that there was a museum devoted to her was fascinating. I’ve now walked away from the Edward Gorey House twice and each time I am further intrigued.

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Many of us knew of Edward Gorey before we knew who he was. His theme for PBS’s Mystery! was ubiquitous:

His pen and ink drawings are recognizable around the world. The settings are often Victorian and display the dark humor of someone who can’t but help see the ridiculous in the morbid. He illustrated many books, including a well-known edition of Dracula, and published his first book, The Unstrung Harp, in 1953. Graham Greene said of the book, it is “the best novel ever written about a novelist and I ought to know!”

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In a New Yorker interview, Gorey said, “If you’re doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there’d be no point. I’m trying to think if there’s sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children—oh, how boring, boring, boring. As Schubert said, there is no happy music. And that’s true, there really isn’t. And there’s probably no happy nonsense, either.”

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It is in the small details of his home that Gorey becomes the person behind the children in peril. He enjoyed cats, which any fan would know, but he also enjoyed Buffy, X-Files, Petticoat Junction, Golden Girls, and Xena. He collected rocks, traveled to Cuba as a child, and often had the exact same breakfast every day. There is a waffle framed in his kitchen. His parents married each other twice and he described himself as asexual. He loved animals and provided for them in his will. He was a child prodigy and one of his first jobs was in the art department at Doubleday, illustrating more than 50 book covers. It is estimated that he illustrated over 300 book covers in his lifetime. He created his own independent press, The Fantod Press, in 1962.

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He purchased the home in Yarmouth Port in 1979, which now stands to share his art and life with the public. There are different exhibits, so even if you have gone once, go again.

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Edward Gorey House

8 Strawberry Lane
Yarmouth Port, MA 02675
(508) 362-3909
info@edwardgoreyhouse.org
http://www.edwardgoreyhouse.org/

Hours:

April 15 – July 3: Thu/Fri/Sat: 11:00am – 4:00pm; Sun: 12:00 – 4:00pm
July 6 – October 9: Wed/Thu/Fri/Sat: 11:00am – 4:00pm; Sun: 12:00 – 4:00pm
October 14 – December 31: Fri/Sat: 11:00am – 4:00pm; Sun: 12:00 – 4:00pm

Admission:

Adults: $8.00
Students & Seniors (65+): $5.00
Children 6-12 years old: $2.00
Children under 6 are free

 

PS – To my zine friends who read this, the curator and associate director of The Edward Gorey House is Gregory Hischak, the creator of Farm Pulp, one of my all-time favorite zines. I recognized his name the first time I visited. I suspect from his surprise that few visitors recognize him from Farm Pulp. That or I totally creeped him out.

Culture, Nature, and the Strange