Saturday, February 24, 2018

Wild Bill and the Champagne Chairs

Is this not a quintessential Florida scene? That's a street at the mobile home park where Dave's parents spend the winter. The guy on the bicycle is known as Wild Bill, and he rides around and around the neighborhood -- I bet I saw him ten times yesterday. He is as tanned as a briefcase.

I went out to breakfast with Dave's parents yesterday, and ate two eggs and a huge pancake that pretty much killed my enthusiasm for food for the rest of the day. (It was good, though, and well worth the sacrifice!) Then I walked around the neighborhood and took some photos, encountering Wild Bill numerous times, and finally returned to the in-laws' and watched Olympic curling on TV. I don't understand curling at all, and the three of us tried to make sense of it -- it seems a little like shuffleboard on ice with big rocks -- but honestly we were all pretty bewildered.

I was amused to see that Dave's parents not only saved my champagne-cork-cage-chair (say that three times fast!) from 2013, as well as its companion from 2017, but have crafted some more of their own! They've got a regular used-furniture store going now.

I left their place shortly after a light, post-pancake, cheese-and-crackers lunch, and drove north to the tip of Anna Maria Island to stay my final night in Florida with my college friends John and Sue. We had pizza for dinner and went for beers on the local pier and at a neighborhood bar we've been frequenting since we were just out of school. The place hasn't changed one bit in 30 years -- except it's been dusted a few times. Possibly.

By the way, apropos of nothing, when I mentioned flowering trees the other day I said jacarandas bloom about now. But when I drove into Tampa I didn't see any, and doing some research I've learned they bloom later in the spring. So, a correction! My bad!

I'll be headed back to London tonight on an evening flight.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Hairy Dogs and One Big Rodent

I had a long, leisurely drive yesterday from Jacksonville to Orlando to Bradenton, where I stayed last night with Dave's parents. It was a longer drive than I would have liked, honestly, but I hit some traffic and made some detours -- for photos, naturally!

North of Orlando, an area I don't know very well, I decided to explore the tiny communities of Lake Helen and Cassadaga. Lake Helen had some beautiful old homes (above).

I've been curious about Cassadaga for years. It has a reputation as a New Agey place full of spiritualists and mediums -- apparently this goes back to the 1870s, when a spiritualist camp began there. I had friends who went there on road trips from college back in the '80s, but being a skeptic, I'd never been. I can report that there's still an abundance of palm readers and psychics and crystals.

From there I drove to Orlando, where my friends Lynn and Glen live in an older neighborhood that I have always envied. (Yes, Orlando existed long before The Mouse -- although The Mouse transformed it from a sleepy Central Florida citrus town into the entertainment behemoth it is today.)

I met Lynn at her house, where I cuddled (not that I had a choice) with her three yellow labs, Ember, Persimmon and Rupert. Persimmon in particular was in my lap immediately. They were very sweet dogs and they covered me in dog hair.

Then we went to lunch at a neighborhood cafe and walked around Lake Davis, where the groovy little deco apartments above are located. I've long loved those apartments. They look tiny, but they're so stylish!

I hopped back in the car and headed south, where I hit masses of traffic on I-4 around Disney World.

If that looks like hell, that's because IT IS!

(Not bad for a picture shot from a moving car through a windshield, though. The Mickey Mouse electricity pole is a well-known highway landmark.)

Finally, after creeping along for a while, I escaped the clutches of The Mouse and found myself in Polk County, where I used to live. I took a little detour north of Lake Alfred on some roads that I used to cycle when I lived near there circa 1990, just to see if I recognized anything along the route. I didn't.

I drove through Polk City and on into Lakeland, where I got back on the Interstate. But traffic continued to be a nightmare, and it was 4:30 p.m., and I was approaching Tampa. I did not want to get stuck in Tampa during rush hour. So I got off the highway in Plant City and headed south on rural roads through eastern Hillsborough County.

They took me past phosphate mines and farmland to the tiny community of Duette, in eastern Manatee County. (You're getting quite a geography lesson here!) From there I turned west and drove into Bradenton, arriving at the in-laws' around 6:30 p.m.

We promptly went to dinner at a popular restaurant on the beach, where I had to gently defend our claim of a stool at the bar against a woman who seemed shocked that we would want to sit there before moving to a table for dinner. (She seemed to think she should have priority because she was eating at the bar. Dave's dad and I were already standing, but his mom uses a cane and I wasn't about to give up her seat.) Very weird.

Here I am, already getting into arguments with the locals!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Predator and Prey

It wouldn't be a trip to Florida without a picture of an alligator. So there you go. This guy/girl -- not particularly large -- was sunning him/herself on a log at my mom's retirement community. Apparently every once in a while these gators show up, and take up residence in the pond, and eventually get big and have to be removed. Until then it's a gator paradise, with lots of turtles and other snack foods swimming around.

My mom takes a walk every morning, and she always passes the residents' art gallery. It's now exhibiting a collection of whimsical fabric animals made by Leni Mittelacher, who is 94 and has had some gallery shows in the past. I loved this bird feathered with clothing tags.

Yesterday was a day for getting things done. My mom never registered with a GP when she moved to Jacksonville several years ago, so I took her to a local practitioner recommended by my brother and we signed her up. Now, if she gets sick, at least she can just get in a car and drive a short distance to a specific place without hemming and hawing about finding a new doctor. As one of the nurses told us, "You're being proactive!"

Then we went to Target and bought a whole mess of cleaning supplies, and I spent the afternoon cleaning her apartment. I went top to bottom through the bathroom, bedroom, living room and kitchen. She has the limiest water I have ever seen -- it leaves heavy white calcification on the fixtures and on her granite countertop -- and darned if I know how to get it off that stone, because the anti-lime cleaners say you can't use them on stonework. But I de-limed everything else, even the coffee pot. (Hopefully we won't die when we make coffee this morning.)

Last night we joined my brother and nieces for pizza and watched David Attenborough's "Planet Earth" series. Those wildlife shows -- though amazingly filmed -- always depress me. I think of all those animals out there struggling to survive not only with each other but against the ever-encroaching human influences of agriculture, poaching, habitat destruction, fence-building and so on. They're like that gator in the pond -- fine for now, but headed for a reckoning.

Today I depart Jacksonville and head south again!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Harley and the Castaways

My mom, brother and I spent the day together yesterday, with two agenda items in mind. I wanted to revisit Castaway Island, a city park we visited last July but couldn't really see because the nature trail was closed. And my brother wanted to take us to one of his favorite eateries, in Fernandina Beach.

I was hoping to see some more cool birds at Castaway Island -- you may remember last summer I saw a roseate spoonbill there. But this time, we didn't see much -- a lone palm warbler, a distant osprey hunting for fish, swarms of odd little swoopy birds in midair above us. I guess midday on a warm afternoon is not the best time to birdwatch.

On the way there, we drove past this shopfront.

"OK, we just passed a shop decorated with a mural of three monkeys riding on a shark," I said to the family before demanding that my brother turn the car around. What's with the cross on the door? Is it a church? While I get the three monkeys -- hear, see and speak no evil -- I am mystified about the shark. Could it be...Satan?

We took a car ferry across the St. Johns River, which was a novel experience, and drove up Amelia Island. In Fernandina Beach we admired the Lesesne House, which was built in 1860 and has been occupied by the same family since immediately after the Civil War. As I told my family, the house is nice -- but the trees make the picture!

We had lunch at Tasty's, a burger place that has been fashioned out of an old Gulf Oil gas station. I had a Carolina burger with bacon and barbecue sauce, and sweet potato fries. (I made up for it at dinner with a kale salad!) My brother loves their burgers, and I gotta agree -- they are good.

We also ran into this big guy ambling up Centre Street, the main drag through Fernandina, where he was attracting so much attention you'd think he was Brad Pitt. His name is Harley. He's a rescued Great Dane and he came up to at least my waist. He had a head like a football. A whole lotta dog!

I asked his owner if I could take a picture, and he said yes. He added that he was in the process of building a wide skateboard with big rubber wheels, so Harley could pull him along the beach.

"That would be the picture!" I said. "When you get that done, let me know!"

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Segways and Kress

Another beautiful day in paradise! After breakfast with my stepmother and nephew, I spent the late morning yesterday in downtown Tampa, where I met up with my friend Cherie for lunch. It's always great to visit the old hometown.

I spotted a Segway tour rolling past the old Tampa Bay Hotel (above). I didn't know people still rode those things! I thought that fad ended about the time George W. Bush fell off his.

Way back in 1985 or so, I used to work in this building. It was my first official newspaper job -- I was a part-time clerk in a tiny 3-reporter news bureau, located somewhere on the left-hand corner of that tower, facing the Hillsborough River. Sixth floor, maybe? I thought it was the height of glamor to be working in a downtown skyscraper -- even though it is, at best, a rather bland mid-rise building.

It looks like it's about to become student housing -- according to that banner on the right.

Anyway, it was fun to walk around and experiment photographically with the strong light and shadows and reflections.

This is a beautiful old Tampa edifice -- the colorfully-tiled Kress building. It's been vacant as long as I can remember. I don't know why the powers-that-be can't restore it and get some tenants in there.

After meeting up with Cherie I drove north through some of Tampa's older neighborhoods (above) before getting on the highway and driving four hours up to Jacksonville. I wound up taking a new route, partly by accident because I made a wrong turn. But hey -- that's how you discover new things, right?

I stopped for some photos of sights along the way -- like this colorful hardware shop in the tiny town of Bostwick. It's not often I get the opportunity to be in my own pictures!

Monday, February 19, 2018


Yesterday morning I had a chance to walk down to the lake and sit out with my coffee and my camera. I watched the ducks and anhingas come and go, and the light went from gray and misty to bright and golden. It was a beautiful day, cool and clear, as days often are at this time of year in Florida.

You can't quite tell, but that's a wood duck in the picture above:

Is there a prettier type of duck? If there is, I've never seen it. I wish it had been closer but they're pretty shy. That picture doesn't begin to do them justice.

Then I went and visited Maybelline, my dad and stepmother's dog. She's still crazy energetic when I first walk into her fenced yard, and she still tackles like a linebacker. She's just playing, but she's pretty rough. I got some dramatic scratches on my forearms from her paws.

It's even hard to get her to stay still long enough for a picture!

My stepmother is trying to find a new home for Maybelline. She feels like she can't give the dog the attention she needs, which is probably true. Maybelline spends a lot of her time in a good-sized fenced yard and though she's treated well, she's just too strong for my stepmother and she's obviously hungry for human contact. She leaps into my lap every time I visit! I'd take her back to England but Dave would kill me -- and God knows Olga would never forgive me. Besides, Maybelline doesn't have much experience with living indoors. I think she needs a big space where she can run around and work off all that excess energy.

So this may be the last time I get to play with Maybelline. My scratched-up arms aren't sorry, but the rest of me is.

This is also a great time of the year to be in Florida because many of the tropical trees are blooming. The neighbor's tabebuia is waving bright yellow blossoms against the sky, and I wouldn't be surprised if the jacarandas and kapoks are out, too. (We're a bit too far north for kapoks here, but we do have jacarandas, particularly in some of Tampa's older neighborhoods.)

Last night my stepmother made beef stroganoff, one of my favorite dishes, and my stepsister and her husband and son came over. We drank a bizarre electric-blue sparkling wine my stepmother found at the grocery store. It looks like Windex, but it tastes pretty good!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mouse Sock

Here I am in Florida, where I got a surprisingly good night's sleep, despite the five-hour time difference. It's 5:41 a.m. here, as I write this, and it's weird to think that right now Dave is probably poking around in the garden in broad daylight, moving toward lunchtime. Air travel always amazes me.

My flight was uneventful. We left a bit late because of "unscheduled maintenance," whatever that means -- it sounds important so I'm not complaining. I killed time at the Starbucks in Gatwick airport, which had a surprisingly hip '80s alt-music soundtrack including Roxy Music, New Order, Depeche Mode and even Bronski Beat. I felt like I was in one of the nightclubs of my youth, except that it was, you know, Starbucks, peopled by stroller-pushing parents and occasional senior citizens. (Who may have grooved to that music themselves decades ago!)

It's funny how songs that seemed rather subversive when new have basically become Muzak.

On the plane I read all of "My Absolute Darling," which is a good but harrowing novel with possibly one of the most odious parental characters ever created in fiction -- a paranoid, abusive, controlling mansplainer. I was quickly propelled right through all of its 417 pages. And then I watched "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool," which I'd meant to catch in a theater, about the relationship between aging Oscar winner Gloria Grahame and a much younger man in the late '70s and early '80s. It was pretty good, and the acting was impressive, but I didn't get a good sense of why Jamie Bell's character was so in love with Annette Bening's Grahame -- it seemed to me that she didn't have much to offer him, aside from the residual glitter of her glamorous distant past.

My stepsister and her husband picked me up at the airport and brought me back to Lutz, north of Tampa, where I'm staying a few nights at my stepmother's house. It's strange to be here just days after Feb. 16, which would have been my dad's 81st birthday. If he were still with us we'd be having cake and presents now, no doubt.

(Photo: A lost sock in London, which seems Florida-appropriate even though I am not quite in the land of Mickey and Minnie. I haven't had a chance to take any photos here yet!)