The last night of vacation is traditionally my least favorite.
2018 was no exception.
It was time to try to pack up everything we brought, plus the souvenirs we bought, into our suitcases and eat up all the leftovers in the refrigerator. I know, I know. You are not supposed to be sad that it’s over. You are supposed to be happy that it happened!
As Forrest Gump might say “I guess I’m always a little of both”.
Check-out was 11 am sharp the next morning.
It was time for some last minute pictures to help us remember the fun we’d had during the week.
Off we went to the Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier, a mile down the beach. It is a perfect setting for family pictures. I captured several of my son and his beautiful family. I wanted to make sure I got at least one picture in which they were all looking at the camera and smiling.
In baseball, four hits in five at-bats is a heck of a game. Taking family pictures, four out of five smiling is about par for the course. In every picture, our three-year-old grandson stood with his mouth wide open. When I asked him later why he did that, he offered the following explanation:
“I SAW A TREE FROG!”
So much for Grandpa’s expertise with a camera, although if you want memorable, it definitely fills that bill.
As it turned out, their Mother, Maria, had already captured one of my all-time favorite pictures of my grandkids.
For me, this picture sums up perfectly our week in Boca Raton and the good times we shared.
I don’t know if any of the kids were smiling.
All I know is that it brings a smile to my face every time I see it.
On Day 9 of our vacation we took a break from the outdoor activities and spent a little time indoors at the Town Center Mall in Boca Raton. The Town Center Mall is a gigantic 200+ store mall where we had to park at the far reaches of the parking lot even on a Thursday afternoon.
First Stop – The Pandora Jewelry Store, not to be confused with Pandora’s Box, a totally different business which markets a monthly “relationship enhancement subscription box for couples.”
A few years ago, I purchased my wife a Pandora Charm Bracelet. Ok, maybe she purchased it, but I’m pretty sure I was there. Now, whenever we travel, she has an excuse to visit a Mall that has a Pandora store so she can add a charm to her bracelet as a keepsake of our journey. When we are dead, our daughter-in-law is going to inherit a charm bracelet with a lot of shiny pineapples, sea shells and palm trees on it.
As my wife and granddaughter headed to Pandora, my grandson and I chose a different venue: Auntie Anne’s pretzel store. There are actually two of them in the Town Center Mall. We were just as happy with a large lemonade and a box of warm cinnamon sugar pretzel parts as my wife and granddaughter were picking out a new charm.
Whereas malls in mid-Missouri might feature a new pick-up or an all-terrain vehicle on display, the two Florida malls were considerably more upscale. The Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale had a Rolls Royce on display. Sticker price – $384,0000. The Town Center Mall has a Tesla sales location with pricey – but not Rolls Royce pricey – energy-efficient vehicles on display.
While even the Sears store in Jefferson City bit the dust, the Town Center Mall offers such Specialty stores as Pea in the Pod maternity store, Everything But Water designer swimwear, a Papyrus fine paper store and a Mont Blanc fine pen store.
Everything from A (Auntie Anne’s Pretzels) to Z (Zumiez Cutting edge clothing, shoes, accessories, and gear for skateboarding, snowboarding, and surf lifestyles for guys, girls, and kids).
In 2007, the Town Center Mall made the national news when 3 people were kidnapped at the mall & murdered. One of the cases involved a mother & young daughter who were found bound & shot in the head inside their SUV at the Mall. Though that case was featured on America’s Most Wanted it remains unsolved. At no time did I feel uneasy while walking around the mall (other than looking at the prices). I suspect a few rich people may have looked at me sideways and clutched their purse a bit tighter as we passed. Now there is a police substation right in the Mall.
The truth in advertising award at the Mall goes to Junk de Luxe, advertised as “first and foremost, about a certain kind of hip, urban attitude. An uncompromisingly urban cross over style, making its presence felt on the biggest catwalk of them all: the street”.
It was time for us to take our junk back to “the street”.
Actually, “the beach”.
The Town Center Mall was impressive, but we’ve got Malls in Missouri.
It was time to get back to the reason we drove 1300 miles to get to south Florida.
The Ernest F Coe Visitors Center near the entrance of Everglades National Park was just an hour from our condo. Our route took us near Homestead, Florida, the town where Hurricane Andrew severely rearranged the landscape in August, 1992. While the kids and grandkids checked out a waterpark, the four grandparents decided to check out the Everglades.
Grandpa Eugene even hoped to ride an airboat on some private land just outside the park if things worked out.
Entry was free with my National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass that allows me and three friends into all National Parks for free. Passes are available to U.S. Citizens ages 62 and up. Mine was $10. Last August, Congress raised the cost to $80, still a heck of a bargain.
After a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center, where we grabbed some snacks and a map, we headed west on State HW 9336. Florida State HW 9336 is a mere 4 feet above sea level.
First stop: the regally named Royal Palm Visitor Center and the Anhinga Trail. It was hot and muggy as we climbed from the car. We added another layer of insect repellent. Since the Anhinga Trail had two routes, I asked the Ranger for his advice. Forest Route or Swamp Route?
“If you take the Swamp Route, you will see alligators. If you take the Forest Route, you will see mosquitoes” he responded.
Swamp Route it was! It consisted of an elevated boardwalk through a bright, sunlit area of green vegetation & black water.
As we got back in our car, reinvigorated as the ac hit our sweat-covered bodies, a decision was made to drive to Flamingo Lake at the western park boundary and work our way back to the Visitor’s Center.
Flamingo Lake, we learned upon arrival, had sustained major damage from Hurricane Irma last September and is still recovering. On the way we had passed a gator sunning itself by a small lake. Since stopping would have blocked traffic, I decided to investigate on the way back.
Not a lot of activity at Flamingo Lake, though we did spot a pair of manatees lazily drifting in the water.
When asked the most memorable thing that happened on their cruise through the Everglades, a young couple in a kayak replied without hesitation “Fighting off the biting flies!”
On our way back to the eastern entrance to the park, rain began to fall. It let up briefly and we stopped to see if the alligator was still visible beside the small lake we passed. Even though news reports had just carried a story about a gator carrying off a woman who had been taking her dog for a walk, and against the advice of the other three occupants of our car, Grandpa Eugene decided to get a closer look. I got my iPhone ready to record, just in case.
As we watched with wide eyes, this well-marbled tasty gator snack known as Grandpa Eugene, opened the car door, got out, and strolled from one end of the shoreline to the other. As he stood gazing out over the water intently, the thought crossed my mind to sneak up on him, touch his leg with a stick, and then video the second man in history to walk on water.
Then the rain got serious, with an ample dose of thunder and lightning for good measure. The narrow road began to cover with water and I soon understood the principles of hydro-planing more thoroughly. At the storms crescendo, I pulled off the road. It would have been interesting to watch the water rise on one of the “4-Ft. Above Sea-level” signs but none was around.
During a let-up in the storm we made a dash to the Ernest Coe Visitor’s Center Parking lot and parked on a high spot. Near a storm drain the water was up to the floorboard on a nearby minivan.
It was an interesting, educational – if somewhat brief – trip to the Everglades.
There would be no airboat ride for Grandpa Eugene today unless it is part of a rescue attempt.
If you would like to sample the “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” but have a budget more suited to “Lifestyles of the Cheap & Frugal”, I have discovered just the answer when visiting Fort Lauderdale.
The Intracoastal Waterway is a great way to legally take a peek into the living rooms of multi-million dollar homes in Fort Lauderdale. Of course, most of the inhabitants are so wealthy they are out-of-town staying at one of their other multi-million dollar homes. To tour the Intracoastal Waterway, the first thing you need is a boat. In our case, a boat that would hold at least 9 people.
Option 1 was to rent a fully stocked yacht for $875 per hour.
That option was quickly discarded.
Option 2 was more in our price range: Only $28 per person, $23 for age 65+, $14 for kids, and free for kids that could pass for under 5. For only $172, our party of 9 received All Day Unlimited Passes for an entertaining, unlimited on-and-off privileges, round-trip cruise of the Intracoastal Waterway on the fleet of Fort Lauderdale Water Taxis.
In addition to a relaxing, entertaining cruise complete with narrated history, educational facts, and gossip, we could also get off and tour different locales on foot.
This tour will make you appreciate the cost of living in Missouri.
The property taxes on one home we passed were $50,000 per month. If you own a yacht and want to anchor it at an Intracoastal Waterway marina, the cost, depending on season, is $5 to $15 per foot, per night. That means the 300-foot, $250,000,000 yacht Steve Wynn bought for his wife for her birthday could cost close to $4,000 just to dock for one night.
Homes and lots on the Intracoastal Waterway come at a premium. Per our guide, one guy bought a home for $25 mil. He then bought the house next door, apparently a fixer-upper, for $7 mil, He then had it demolished so his dogs would have a place to play.
Our grandkids were fascinated looking at the large iguanas sunning themselves on the sea walls along the waterway. As we exited our taxi to visit the Galleria Mall, the guide on the taxi told us confidentially that the Iguanas love to eat the flower buds on the surrounding bushes.
As we were waiting to reboard the taxi after boosting the net sales of the Galleria Mall, my son tossed a flower bud in the direction of a large iguana eyeing us from a seawall. Like a flash, the formerly lounging iguana devoured the bud. At first, one lady thought we had thrown a plastic straw to the iguana. Before a fight broke out, we educated her on the culinary preferences of the large lizards, whereupon she also began throwing flower buds to the lounging lizards.
After working up an appetite feeding flower buds to iguanas, we walked 2 blocks to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
A great place to eat inspired by one of my favorite movies of all time.
Then it was back to Boca Raton for a twilight walk by the sea.
As my ten-year old grandson likes to say, “Well, this has certainly been quite a day!”
When I booked our accommodations for our family vacation, I limited my search to places with at least 3 bedrooms. Making the trip would be two sets of grandparents, one set of parents, and three grandkids ages 3, 7 & 10, who on vacations past have bunked on the sofa bed in front of the TV.
One review especially caught my eye. The title was:
That sounded like the perfect place to spend a week with grandkids. I booked a 3 bedroom unit for a week.
When I checked in to our condo, I was given a sheet of guidelines for our stay. The final guideline was “A maximum of 8 guests per condo REGARDLESS OF AGE”. It has been my experience that MOST places overlook a small child when tallying the maximum guests allotment, but apparently NOT at “Grandma’s beach house”.
We were one tyke over the line.
When I listed the names of all the guests, there were only 8 spaces.
I omitted our three-year-old grandson’s name. He would be the easiest to hide. In one review of the property I found a picture of a cute kid hiding in the cabinet. I now understood why the kid was in there.
Our youngest grandson’s “absence” on our vacation brought to mind a poem by American educator & poet William Hughes Mearns. In 1899, Mr. Mearns wrote a poem that was eventually set to music titled The Little Man That Wasn’t There.
It goes like this (with a few minor revisions by me):
As I was going up the stair
I met a (little) man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!” (NOT!)
When I came home last night at three,
The (little) man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, at least when housekeeping is at the door.
Last night I saw upon the stair, A little man who wasn’t there, He wasn’t there again today Oh, how I wish he’d go away…
I usually mention the names of the places we stay on vacation.
Not this time. Although we had a great time, I’m not sure when the statute of limitations runs out on “exceeding the guest limit” in Florida.
Sure would hate for the “little man who wasn’t there” to start Pre-K with a record in juvy.
Our trip to the Fort Lauderdale airport to pick up our son and his family and shuttle them back to our rental condo in Boca Raton was uneventful. Thankfully. We picked them up at the curb in front of the baggage claim area where, in January of 2017, Esteban Santiago opened fire on travelers awaiting their luggage. Santiago was recently sentenced to 5 life sentences, plus 120 years.
Welcome to Fort Lauderdale!
Safely back in Boca Raton, we headed to our condo. Last Valentine’s Day, Nikolas Cruz opened fire inside Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – a dozen miles from where we were staying.
As they walked from the parking lot to check out their new digs, our grandkids were apprehensive. Not about the history of shootings in the area. They are used to hearing gunfire back in Missouri. The difference is that when they hear gunfire near our home in rural Cole County, Mo., it’s just the neighbors taking target practice and not a reason to get scared.
What had them alarmed in Florida was the omnipresence of curly tailed lizards scurrying ahead of us to take refuge in the abundant beautiful green foliage along our path.
Though curly tail lizards may look threatening at first glance, the kids soon realized these lizards were way more scared of them than they were of the lizards.
Not so, the large iguana’s they would be introduced to later in the week.
After carry-out pizza for dinner, the kids were eager to explore. A walk on the beach was in order.
The route I envisioned would involve a pleasant one mile walk along the Atlantic from the beach in Boca Raton to the Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier near where we had spent the previous night. From there it was just a block to the frozen custard place for dessert. Then we’d walk back on a well-lit sidewalk rather than the beach where flashlights are discouraged because it might disturb the turtles.
As we left the wooden walkway that led from the street to the sand in front of our rental, something unusual caught my eye. Scattered along the beach were what appeared to be miniature crime scenes – small areas blocked from beach traffic by orange tape. We soon learned that each of these “crime scenes” was actually a protected turtle nest containing eggs fertilized following courtship.
That courtship might include multiple male turtles fighting over a female.
In some cases, I learned, all the turtles ended up with a prize.
Unlike humans, female turtles may mate with multiple males. Ok, that part is like humans. But wait – there’s more. According to the SEA TURTLE CONSERVANCY, “Females may mate with several males just prior to nesting season and store the sperm for several months. When she finally lays her eggs, they will have been fertilized by a variety of males.
A question came to my mind: Is this the kind of behavior to which I want my grandkids exposed?
They could not have cared less.
As the sun disappeared over the condos, my grandkids were far more interested in looking for seashells along the beach en route to the custard stand rather than learning the gritty details about how we get baby sea turtles.
Ninja Turtles may get all the publicity, but, as it turns out, these sea turtles see their fair share of action, too.
I woke up before dawn on Day 5 of our vacation. It would be a busy day and I needed a good breakfast. While my wife dozed, I hiked two blocks to a 7-11 and procured a large, dark roast coffee and a bear claw. From there it was a short walk to the beach to await the sunrise. On the way I passed other insomniac geezers, many accompanied by small dogs.
1300 miles away our son’s family was on a shuttle to the St. Louis airport. We had transported most of their luggage with us so each of the five of them were only encumbered with a small carry-on. Our grandkids were already excited about coming to the beach so I imagined the added adventure of boarding an airplane had the needle on the excitement gauge bumping the red line.
It was our grandkids first time to fly. It was also their first time to hear the phrase “flight delay”. Before they boarded their plane in St. Louis an announcement was made that their connecting flight in Atlanta would be delayed 2 hours due to bad weather.
As soon as they were airborne a kid in the row in front of them barfed prodigiously all over himself and his mom. An unlucky guy who had procured a window seat in the same row managed to avoid the projectile vomit stream but was treated to a full measure of the smell as it began to waft throughout the plane.
“I LOVE THE SMELL OF VOMIT IN THE MORNING!” said no one, EVER!
Meanwhile, back on Deerfield Beach, I was enjoying a glorious sunrise, along with a optimum dosage of salt air, sugar, and caffeine
It would be a busy day. As soon as the sun was up, I grabbed a cup of coffee for my wife and headed back to our room.
We would need to pack up from our one-night Airbnb rental, meet up with our grandkids OTHER set of grandparents who were someplace between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale headed south, form a two-car parade to pick up our son’s family at the airport, then, proceed en masse to check into the three bedroom condo I had reserved for the next seven nights in Boca Raton, Fl.
After sleeping in a different bed each night for the past 5 nights, we would now sleep in the same bed for seven consecutive nights.
Throughout the day we received updated ETA’s on our grandkids flight. 2:20 pm eventually ended up being 4:40 pm thanks to Mother Nature’s shennanigans. Though we were eager to see them, when it comes to air travel and flight delays, rather than getting frustrated, I always recall the wisdom once imparted to me by a hot air balloon pilot: It’s a lot better to be down here wishing you were up there than up there wishing you were down here.
When the day starts off with news that a friend has unexpectedly passed away, the odds are pretty good the day has to get better from there.
It did, but it took awhile.
We had 500+ miles to travel to reach our destination. Traffic was heavy and the weather was uncertain. It varied between overcast and rain so heavy it was like driving in a car wash. When the cold rain hit the hot pavement it produced clouds of steam on the interstate that had some drivers stopping in the breakdown lane.
Near Daytona Beach rain pelted our windshield and we decided to stop for lunch. I missed the exit for Cracker Barrel and ended up at McDonald’s. Things were tense. I attributed the missed exit to my navigator. My navigator disagreed with that assessment. It was, as the wise King Solomon would advise, “a time to keep silence”.
As we neared our destination, we began to ponder where to stay. Our first attempt at Airbnb had been a success. Why not try it again?
My wife took to the internet. “Here is a place in Deerfield Beach that is ‘steps from the beach'”, she said.
The reviews were good. We booked it. We have learned there is a big difference between “Ocean-front” and “Ocean-view”. “Step’s from the beach” turned out to be about a half-block. We were happy.
Any time we spend the night on the road, my wife checks things out carefully. Security, cleanliness and bedbugs are at the top of her checklist. On this trip, a new concern popped up.
In the bathroom was a locked door. In the door was a small hole.
“Do you suppose there’s a camera in there?” my wife asked. “They could be taking videos of people in the shower!” That seemed preposterous to me. Not to my wife. She stuffed tissue paper in the hole.
On the news the next morning was a story about an Airbnb host who had been caught with a hidden camera positioned toward the bed in his rental unit.
There was enough time and daylight left after we unloaded the car to walk to the beach. A light rain was falling. We didn’t care. The clouds parted and the sun broke through.
A day that started with bad news ended with a beautiful sunset and a cup of frozen custard.
Life goes on.
Hopefully without bedbugs for our sake.
And without pictures of me in the shower popping up on the internet for the sake of humanity.
My wife and I were on the road early on Day 4 after spending the night in Myrtle Beach. We had visited 7 states in our first 3 days and our plans were to add a couple more before we slept again. Since the Atlantic coast from Myrtle Beach to Charleston was new territory for us, we shunned I-95 in favor of 2-lane Highway 17 hoping to discover some pleasant surprises.
We got a surprise, but it was not one we would have chosen.
As we entered north Charleston, my wife’s phone rang. After a brief conversation, I heard her say “OH, NO!” She turned to me and said “Rich passed away this morning!”
We had just had breakfast with my brother, Rich, the day before. He was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He had lost 35 pounds and survived rain and snow and numerous physical ills covering 700+ miles in 3 months.. At age 67 he was the same age I was when I had a heart attack two years ago. My mind automatically began to plan turning around and backtracking to Virginia and the Appalachian Trail.
Then my wife clarified. It wasn’t my BROTHER, Rich. It was our NEIGHBOR, Rich, who I had spoken to by phone just the day before on our way to Myrtle Beach. The same guy who, when I had asked him how he was doing, responded with an enthusiastic “I’m feeling better every day!”
When I misunderstood my wife and thought it was my brother who had passed away, I experienced grief. When I found out it was my neighbor instead of my brother, I felt relief, then grief again, and then guilt that I was relieved when I found out a good friend had died instead of my brother.
A single phone call had sure put an end to that “peaceful, easy feeling” I was enjoying while driving coastal Carolina on a beautiful summer morning.
In December of 1965, the rock group The Bryds released what would become a number 1 hit in the U.S. Though it was put to music in the 20th century, the lyrics were composed considerably before Baby Boomers arrived on the scene.. They were written by King Solomon in the tenth century B.C. and are found in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
My wife and I had that scripture read at our wedding in 1972. The preacher was hesitant. He wasn’t sure there should be “a time to kill” or “a time to hate”, but he reluctantly agreed to include that scripture in the ceremony.
As of August 18, my wife and I will have been married 46 years. During our marriage we have experienced everything King Solomon wrote about in the 3rd Chapter of Ecclesiastes. In fact, just on this vacation alone we were checking off quite a few. (Just to clarify, in my life I have primarily restricted the “time to kill” to apply to ticks, mosquitoes, moles, and armadillos). And even though I consider our marriage to be strong, love and hate are not mutually exclusive in a relationship.
I do admit – I haven’t allotted as much “time to dance” as my wife would have liked.
As we merged on to I-95 headed south, our trip, like life, went on. We had an appointment to pick up our grandkids at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
A time for every purpose under the heaven surely includes spending time with your grandkids at the beach.
Love, Laughter, probably some weeping thrown in – and definitely a time to keep silence when grandpa goes to bed.
Prior to our vacation this year, my wife and I had been to North Carolina and we had been to South Carolina, but we had never been to north South Carolina. Myrtle Beach is located just south of the North Carolina state line in north South Carolina on the beautiful Atlantic Ocean.
We arrived there late on a hot afternoon. We were hungry, tired, and curious about what Myrtle Beach had to offer. It turned out to be a lot, but the very first thing it offered was $5 an hour parking across the street from the beach.
Traffic was heavy as we maneuvered our way to the Boardwalk separating the beach from the shops, restaurants and tourist attractions like the giant ferris wheel smack dab in the middle of everything.
Walking the frenetic Boardwalk in the afternoon heat was not my wife’s idea of a good time. We began to search for a place to grab a bite to eat within view of the Atlantic. We found it in the Landshark Bar & Grill where we asked for and received an outside table overlooking the beach.
As we split a large order of nachos and cooled off in the shade, I began to do an on-line search for a place to stay. Prices seemed a little steep, but hey, it’s the beach! Reinvigorated after some food and ice water, I paid the check and we prepared to leave.
“Y’all be careful in all that craziness out there this weekend, you hear?” said our waitress as we left. I smiled and thanked her, not sure what she was talking about.
We soon found out. We had stumbled into Myrtle Beach on the first night of the Carolina Country Music Festival. An extra 30,000+ country music fans were also there to see and hear Luke Bryan, the Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith, Cole Swindell, Brett Eldredge and a whole bunch more. It was the first Country Music Festival since a madman opened fire with Jason Aldean on the stage in Las Vegas last October.
My wife was ready for some A.C., so we headed to our home for the night – the Marriott Myrtle (One Mile From the) Beach Courtyard. As soon as I got Val comfortably settled, I headed back to the craziness at the beach for my daily 3-mile walk.
Never have I ever seen so many girls wearing shorts and cowboy boots all gathered together in one place. Though I had no ticket to the concert, it was interesting just to walk around.
From Andy and Barney and Opie to Luke and Zac and Toby – Day Three of our vacation was full of pleasant surprises.