From Golden Baptist Church to the Streets of Gold

From this weather graphic on my way to Ben Fine’s Visitation . . .

To this view of a double rainbow from the balcony of my room that same evening.

It was a turbulent weather day on my way to pay my respects to my old friend, Ben Fine, at White Funeral Home in Cassville, Mo. A 12-year-old girl drowned near Neosho, Mo., as did a 34-year-old man who jumped in the water to try and save her after she was swept away.

As I drove back to Springfield, Mo. after the visitation, the City Park in Monett had lots of flooding and my windshield wipers were getting an extreme workout. Later that evening, the rain subsided. As I stood on the balcony of my motel room in Springfield, a beautiful double rainbow appeared in the eastern sky.

The next morning as I drove south on 160 Highway through Nixa and Highlandville toward Golden, Mo., to attend Ben’s funeral, the sky was overcast, but calm. The drive on that peaceful morning took me through familiar territory.

Many of my wife’s ancestors are buried in Flood Cemetery west of Highlandville just off of Route O, behind Pleasant View Baptist Church. My wife and I own a couple of plots near the back of that cemetery. I will be buried under a walnut tree to which someone already tied a wind chime to a lower limb. If I go first, I have instructed my wife to surreptitiously remove the wind chime and dispose of it. Having to listen to that throughout eternity would drive me nuts.

Further down the road I crossed the bridge over Table Rock Lake at Kimberling City. In times gone by, I have fished and waterskiied in that area. Just beyond that is the Mill Creek Recreation Area. In the late 1960’s, Ben Fine, another guy whose name I cannot recall, and I pitched at tent at Mill Creek. We played Indian Ball until it was dark, followed by the card game, Spades, until late. Before we crawled into our sleeping bags we got hungry. We attempted to cook a frozen chicken over a hastily built fire. We did not starve and we did not contract any foodborne illnesses, but I recall the chicken was charred black on the outside but still had some ice crystals near the center. The middle was perfect.

The funeral was at the Golden Baptist Church, in Golden, Mo. Behind a well-maintained sanctuary I drove to a large, metal building with a concrete floor suitable for basketball and large dinners, with plenty of room to stretch out. The building also had a stage. In front of the stage was Ben’s casket.

As I walked in the door, I was greeted by the delicious smell of fried chicken being prepared by caring people for a family dinner after the funeral.

A large crowd was present. Many, I suspect had planned to attend the visitation the day before, but were wisely discouraged by the weather.

After a welcome and a song, the Pastor asked if anyone had any stories they would like to tell about Ben. There were multiple stories about Ben’s goodness and concern for others. And more than a few fishing stories. His son, Brad, also told a “moving” story – as in moving away. After finishing his education, Brad wanted to move to Los Angeles. Ben was supportive. They rented a U-Haul, loaded it with Brad’s possessions and headed west. After numerous breakdowns, the truck finally gave out near Gallup, N.M. When U-haul arrived with a replacement truck, Ben & Brad unloaded the first truck and loaded everything into the new truck in the desert heat. As often happens, L.A. did not work out and Brad and his family now live near Charleston, S.C.

I debated whether to take the microphone.

The next thing I knew I was walking to the front. The Preacher handed me the mic.

“I went to school with Ben. We were both in the Hillcrest High School Class of ’66. Ben and I went fishing a lot at Fellows Lake, north of Springfield, Mo., in our younger years. We would rent an aluminum boat for three bucks a day from the Marina there, and row around the lake. We both loved fishing and we both love spending time on the water” I said. “On my way down yesterday, I decided to visit that old Marina – just for old times sake. When I arrived, I was greatly surprised to find it was being demolished. By today, I imagine it is gone.”

There were disappointed murmurs from those in attendance.

“They plan to build a new Marina on Fellows Lake. Another fifty or sixty years in the future, it will wear out too. Ben Fine’s body wore out. But Ben now has a brand new heavenly body that is never gonna get COPD or wear out!”

I handed the microphone back to the Preacher and hurried back to my seat. As I was seated, the Preacher handed the mic to another guy who had made his way to the front.

“My name is Gary Ellison. I was also in the Hillcrest Class of ’66 with Ben. And it is great to see my old friend, Doug Reece! What’s it been, Doug? Fifty years since we’ve seen each other?”

And with that, though I had lost one old friend, I had just been reunited with TWO OTHER old friends! After the funeral, Gary, his wife, Judy and I exchanged hugs and contact information. I was in their wedding. They had already celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.

The funeral procession slowly made its way from Golden Mo., down busy Highway 86, to Roach Cemetery. Along the way, passersby stopped their cars in the roadway to pay their respects. Roach Cemetery is 200 yards of dirt road north of 86 Highway in Eagle Rock, Mo.

Ben’s remains were buried just to the right of the large tree in the background

Rest in peace, Ben. Thanks for making the good times better. Not sure who will be next, but the Class of ’66 seems to be headed your way in ever increasing numbers.

The weather was pretty scary on Day 1, but cool, beautiful and dry on Day 2. As I drove home, I felt I had accomplished two goals:

  1. I had paid my respects to an old friend and his family; and
  2. I had followed the advice of Yogi Berra, who observed “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours!”

On the Road Again – Day 6

And Just Like That . . . Everyone was Vaccinated!!

Branson, Mo. rescinded its “Mask Mandate” effective April 16.  While masks were not required, businesses were free to require them if they chose to do so.  On May 13, the day we arrived in Branson, the CDC revised its mask guidance.  No longer were they needed outdoors and no longer were they needed indoors for fully vaccinated people.

Most thought the change was a blessing. 

A few thought it was a curse. 

On May 14 -day two of our trip -when we visited Silver Dollar City, I hoped Silver Dollar City would update its guidelines regarding mask wearing and social distancing to match the CDC guidance issued the day before.

The first clue that they had not was when we approached the turnstile to enter the park.  A security guy advised us “You cannot enter the Park unless you are wearing a mask.”

We complied, but when we entered the Park, hardly anyone was wearing a mask.

So neither did we. 

Social distancing was another matter.  As soon as the park opened, my wife and I and our neighbors headed to the Opera House as fast four septuagenarians not riding souped-up mobility scooters can make it.  The Opera House is about as far away from the front gate as you can get but I still thought we were close enough to the front of the line to get into the theater. 

I was wrong. 

After a 30-minute wait, the line began to move.  With about 25 people left in front of it, it stopped.  After a couple of minutes, a half-dozen more people were allowed inside the theater.

To much grumbling, the usher then advised “Folks, if you want to see the NEXT show after this one that starts in one hour and fifteen minutes, I advise you to stay right where you are!”

Not wanting to spend the entire morning in line to see one show, we did not heed the usher’s advice.

We left the line and while our bride’s waited patiently, my neighbor Tom and I rode the Barn Swing and the Outlaw Run Roller Coaster.  Both are thrilling rides.  We brought the average rider age up considerably on both.

Notice how relaxed and carefree the couple in the front row look after an 18-story almost straight, down drop, multiple vertebrae rattling twists and turns, and two consecut360 degree barrel rolls. My neighbor Tom and I are the ones in the back who look less relaxed and carefree.
The Giant Barn Swing! I love this ride. My wife, however, required multiple doses of industrial strength Dramamine to survive her first – and definitely last – time to ride it..

After zero bluegrass and eating zero BBQ on Day 2, we returned to Silver Dollar City on Day 6 of our vacation.

Presto change-o!   In compliance with CDC guidelines, we didn’t have to wear a mask to enter the park and social distancing was no longer enforced.  Theaters were filled.  We spent the day seeing all the shows we wanted to see.  Some we saw twice.

That night we went to see the Haygoods who were performing at the Clay Cooper Theater.   Five brothers and one sister comprise the Haygoods.  My wife and I first saw them perform at Silver Dollar City in the 90’s when they were just kids.  They are all grown up now.  They were great at Silver Dollar City.  They are better now.  The show we attended was sold out. 

No masks (unless you wore one voluntarily) and no social distancing.  

We partied like it was 2019!

Even though social distancing is no longer mandatory, I still have my own personal standard for how close is too close to another person.

I call it the “Biden Guideline”.

If you are close enough to sniff my hair you are too close.

My wife and I at the Haygoods- Mask-free! But no hair-sniffing please!

On the Road Again – Day 4

Fifty-Four Years of Entertaining the World (and each other)

Presley’s Country Music Jubilee in Branson, Missouri celebrates its 54th Anniversary next month. My wife and I rarely miss an opportunity to see the Presley’s Show. In 1967, I attended the show with my parents. Later with my wife, and then my wife and son, and later with my wife, my son, his wife and our grandkids. On this visit, my wife and I attended with our neighbors, Tom & Linda Block.

I think that qualifies as a family tradition.

My Favorite Visit to the Presley’s Country Jubilee

2017 marked the Golden Anniversary for Presley’s Country Jubilee. It was also Gary & Patty’s 50th wedding anniversary.

As they said in their advertising that year, “Now that’s a pretty good start!”

Gary and Pat also received a very special honor in 2017. They became the first husband and wife to be inducted into the Springfield, Mo. Public Schools Hall of Fame. I had the distinct honor of introducing them at that ceremony.

Here is a synopsis of what was said about them in the program and a short video featuring fellow Hillcrest students and celebrities alike

Branson’s first music theater opened 50 years ago and with it Gary and Patricia Presley launched a business and a partnership that would establish their family as a cornerstone of Branson’s entertainment and tourism industry.

Although Presleys’ Country Jubilee opened its doors in 1967 to entertain guests with a mix of comedy, bluegrass and gospel performances, Gary Presley, better known as the comedic Herkimer on stage, says it might never have happened had it not been for one fateful fire drill at Hillcrest High School where he ended up standing next to Patricia Adams.

The couple married a few months before the Presley family opened their theater along Highway 76—the glittering strip now crowded with theaters, restaurants and arenas. It was nothing more than a big metal box with folding chairs for 360 people. The show eventually gained national attention from television shows like “60 Minutes” and “Good Morning America” and today the theater seats 1,600 people and features three generations of Presleys. Gary and his brother Steve, who joined the show when he was 10, are the only original members still in the show. Patricia runs the front of house, managing anything and everything from customer inquiries to securing new costumes, which for the past 30 years have been made in Hollywood. 

The Presleys put on 230 live shows a year at the theatre plus 26 TV shows broadcast on RFD-TV to a weekly audience of 400,000 nationwide. 

I am proud to have been a friend and admirer of the Presley’s since they started this amazing journey. What they have accomplished is mind-boggling.

On this trip I got to visit the theater twice.

First to enjoy the show, and then the next day to attend worship services of the Freedom Fellowship Church which are held in the Presley’s Theater at 10 am every Sunday morning. Pastor Scott Presley delivered the inspiring sermon. I have never heard a better sermon while sitting in a more comfortable seat.

Congratulations to the Presley family on their astonishing accomplishments over the past 54 years and thanks for always, as Tim McGraw might say, staying humble & kind.

And now, in closing, here are some pictures of Patty & Gary from their years at Hillcrest High School in Springfield.

Patty, left, and best friend Wanda
Patty’s Senior Pic – Class of ’66
This is a picture of Gary with Ron Cordry. The caption states “Mr Ron Cordry, Freshman-Senior Counselor, seeks further information to advise Gary Presley on future plans.”
I wonder if Mr. Cordry advised him to open a music theater in Branson?
Gary in Action

On the Road Again – Day 3

Revisiting Famous Inlaws Who May Have Been Outlaws

Though my wife and I and our son and his family now live west of Jefferson City, Mo., we grew up in and around Springfield. Most of our relatives are buried in southwest Missouri – including a couple who achieved great notoriety during their lives.

On Day 3 of our trip we decided to visit the graves of our best known kinfolk.

A distant relative by marriage of my wife’s family was recently portrayed in a new movie produced by Branson resident Michael Johnson. It was released in 2019 and titled Baldknobber. Nathaniel Kinney, known as “Captain Kinney” by his fellow Baldknobbers, was featured prominently.

After the Civil War ended, southwest Missouri was a dangerous, lawless place.  Forsyth, Mo., not far from Branson, was one of the most dangerous.  According to the Missouri State Historical Society, The Chariton Courier reported in 1892 that “the town of Forsyth is 50 years old, but does not contain a single church and never did.”  According to Google, there are 18 churches in Forsyth today so there has been progress.

After the formation of the Baldknobbers, which were predominantly in favor of the Union, another group was formed known as the “Anti-Baldknobbers”. They were predominantly Confederate supporters according to a Doctoral dissertation by Matthew James Hernando titled “The Baldknobbers of Southwest Missouri, 1885-1889: A Study of Vigilante Justice in the Ozarks.”

 At the height of the vigilante justice, Nate Kinney was gunned down in his own store in Forysth, Mo. He is buried in the Forsyth Cemetery, which was our first stop of the day.

Captain Nathaniel Kinney’s (1843-1888) Final Resting Place

We had only minor difficulty finding Mr. Kinney’s grave.  His wife Maggie is buried beside him in a small, peaceful cemetery on the outskirts of Forsyth.  My wife’s family used to vacation in nearby Rockaway Beach with distant relatives of Capt. Kinney when my wife was a kid.  That was in the days when the water in Lake Taneycomo was still warm enough to swim in before the Table Rock dam was constructed. 

If you would like to see a movie that shows the good side and the bad side of the Baldknobbers,  the movie Baldknobber is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Prime at the following link:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2919200/

As I often do, I wandered among the other graves to see what else I could find.  Off by itself, I found the large, moss covered crypt of Ernest Crist.  Ernest died January 8, 1923 at the age of 14. I did some research but was unable to find a cause of death or any other information about Ernest, but his crypt was unique so I suspect his family was well-to-do.

Ernest Crist’s (1908-1923) Moss-covered Crypt

Near the entrance to the cemetery I found the headstone for James C. Johnson, MD, who died in 1906 at the age of 66.  Buried next to him was his wife, Sarah E. Johnson, Nurse, who died in 1934 at the age of 93.  It is very possible that James and Sarah treated many of the Baldknobbers and their victims, possibly even Nate Kinney himself.

Remember Stranger as You Pass By, As You are now so once was I

What I found most interesting about the Johnson’s headstone was the inscription below the names and dates on the headstone.  It read:

Remember Stranger As You Pass by,

As You Are Now So Once Was I

As I Am Now Soon You Will Be

Prepare For Death And Follow Me

This is not the first time I have heard of this epitaph, but it is the first time I have actually witnessed it.  When I first heard about it, it was because someone had taped a note below it which read:

To Follow You I’m Not Content

Until I Know Which Way You Went

That is one of my favorite epitaphs, rivaled only by one I found in the Cemetery in Anutt, Mo.  It was on the grave of a girl who died young.  It read:

Here Lies Debbie

Who Didn’t Give a Doo-Dah

All Decked Out in Her Purple Baracuda

I would love to know the story behind that.

Our Day 3 cemetery tour ended at Bonniebrook, the home of one of my distant relatives by marriage, Rose O’Neill. Rose is best known as the creator of the kewpie doll, though she had many other achievements in her life, including some that were quite controversial for her day.  Bonniebrook is 10 miles north of Branson in the woods on Bear Creek.  When Rose O’Neill first moved there around the turn of the 20th century, it was a two-day wagon ride to get from Bonniebrook to Springfield.

I’ve read Rose’s autobiography.  At one time she was one of the richest women in America.  She got some of her artistic ideas from gazing into the forest around Bonniebrook where she used her imagination to conjure up the images of “sweet monsters” in the foilage of the densely wooded property.

Bonniebrook was closed when we visited, but the gate was open so we strolled the beautiful trail from the home and museum down to the small family cemetery in the woods just across a small bridge over Bear Creek.  Rose died of pneumonia on April 6, 1944 in the Springfield home of my grandfather’s sister and her husband, Rose O’Neill’s nephew.  She was 69.

Though there is no epitaph on her grave, in her autobiography Rose said her personal philosophy was “Do good deeds in a funny way.  The world needs to laugh or at least smile more than it does.”

On our way back to the car, we noticed a relatively large dog eyeing us suspiciously at the gated entrance we had breached. 

“Maybe that’s the guard  dog” I told my wife.

While I am not scared of dogs, I did get a little nervous when it came running toward us.  When it reached us, it laid down, rolled over, and put its feet up in the air. It wasn’t playing dead, though that would have been appropriate based on our days activity.

Turns out with the museum closed it was just looking for someone to rub it’s stomach.

On the Road Again – Day 2

What Would Jesus Do?

In December of 2019, I purchased season tickets for Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., for my wife and me for 2020.  After the coronavirus hit in early 2020, Silver Dollar City announced policy changes which included mask wearing indoors and out, social distancing, and attendance control measures which mandated reservations to visit the Park.

When I balked at these restrictions, Silver Dollar City personnel were very accommodating.  If I did not visit the Park in 2020, my season tickets would automatically roll over to 2021.  I chose to do that in the hope that the restrictions would be unnecessary by 2021.  The good news is that the restrictions were lifted on May 15, 2021.  The bad news is that we visited the Park on May 14, 2021 when social distancing mandates required long waits to get into theaters. 

By 2 pm, we were discouraged at our inability to see any shows that in most years we might have been able to see multiple times in the same day.

Though we didn’t get to see Bluegrass headliners Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver like we planned, after leaving Silver Dollar City early, we did get to see JESUS.  No, He did not come to Branson in the flesh, but the amazing story of Jesus’ 33 years on earth told in the New Testament comes to life twice a day at the palatial Sight & Sound Theater in Branson.

While schedule flexibility has its benefits, getting good last minute show tickets is not one of them.  We ended up with seats near where the angel later began its descent from heaven to roll the stone away from the tomb of Jesus.

The theater has 2000 seats, but even from where we sat the view was excellent, perhaps better than those closer to the stage because of the massive dimensions of the theater.

As the lights dimmed and on stage the story started with the future disciples of Jesus bemoaning the poor results from a long day fishing, the two people with tickets for the empty seats directly behind my wife and I arrived. In the darkness behind us was jostling & seat-bumping as our new neighbors settled into their seats and tried to get comfortable. Shortly thereafter the crackling of cellophane food wrappers from the seats behind us began to compete with the dialogue on the stage.  I began to struggle with the words of Jesus to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”. 

Eventually, after Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount and fed the 5000 with a few loaves & fishes, the people behind us also got full.  The only noise I heard from that point to intermission was their applause mingling with my applause at inspiring times throughout the performance.

As the lights came on for intermission, the man behind us leaned over tapped my wife on the shoulder.

“I would like to apologize to you”, he said.  “I accidentally kicked your chair when I sat down.  I have not been able to straighten my right knee since I was 18 years old”, which I estimated had been sometime in the latter years of the Eisenhower Administration.  My wife’s mobility is also somewhat limited due to two titanium hips, two titanium knees, and a couple of bunion surgeries thrown in for good measure.  My wife and the guy began to commiserate on the challenges of living with bad joints.

The earlier wrapper crackling incident was soon forgotten amidst the camaraderie engendered by shared surgical experiences. 

When the elderly couple learned where we lived, mutual acquaintances were discovered.  While we didn’t make dinner arrangements together, a respect and bond began to form which supplanted my earlier irritation.

Ok, just as a refresher course, here are the lessons I was given on the first two days of our vacation:

Day one – It is more blessed to give than receive (even if the recipient has expensive taste in coffee).

Day two – Love your neighbor as you love yourself, even if they cracklecellophane food wrappers behind you in a darkened theater.

Branson already has a reputation for wholesome, family entertainment.  Sight & Sound Theater, bringing stories from the Old Testament and the New Testament to life with amazing depictions of JESUS, MOSES, SAMSON, NOAH, and QUEEN ESTHER can only help bolster that reputation.

A couple of nights after we attended JESUS, I met a military couple from Pa. who had been to see JESUS the same night my wife and I attended.  Their seats were 6 rows from the stage (but they had to sit through a time-share presentation to get them).  Even from the upper reaches of the balcony we experienced the same amazing sights and sounds as they.  But If you order early (or sit through a time-share presentation) and get seats on the floor like the Pennsylvanian’s did, instead of 40% of your five senses (sight and sound) being stimulated, you get one additional sense stimulated (smell) at no additional cost.  The profusion of well-trained camels, Roman soldiers on horseback, sheep, & pigs roaming the stage and aisles also stimulates your sense of smell according to my new friends who live not far from the other Sight & Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pa.

Adult Ticket prices were $62.50 with a 10% discount for veterans. 

Steep, but after I saw the performance, I thought it was worth it. 

And as everyone knows who read yesterday’s account of the first day of our trip, I’m not one to hand out money like it grows on trees.

On the Road Again

What Would You Do?

My wife and I were barely 20 minutes into our first vacation since the good old “pre-corona” days.  The morning was cool.  Our spirits were high.  We were headed to Branson, Mo. to enjoy a week of vacation that had originally been scheduled for May of 2020.  That week was cancelled when I received an email from the hotel suggesting we not come due to the uncertainties, closures, and untested restrictions that had been implemented in response to the then newly declared pandemic.

So – this was not to be a “blazing new trails” trip.  It was an “ease your toe back into the water” trip visiting long-familiar places in and on the way to Branson, Mo.  Having grown up only 40 miles from there, my wife and I had been enjoying Branson since our parents had taken us there to enjoy the Christmas parade when we were just kids.

Our first stop was to join a moderately long line at a Scooters Drive-thru in Jefferson City for a burst of caffeine.  I rarely sleep well the night before we leave on vacation.  This vacation was no exception.  Rarely, also, do I face a question more difficult than “room for cream? (NO!) when I order my usual large, dark roast coffee. 

Today would be different.

We advanced slowly toward our goal of two dark roast coffees, large for me, medium for my wife, no sugar, no cream.  Just delicious, tasty, dark roast non-prescription caffeine to clear our heads and invigorate our souls.

As we waited, I observed the car behind us from my side mirror.  An older guy was behind the wheel, unsmiling, with a short, gray-haired lady in the passenger seat. Maybe they were married.  Maybe it was an older son caring for his octogenarian mom.  He seemed stressed. 

As I pulled up to the drive-up window expecting “That will be $5.67” and adding a buck in the tip jar, the cashier said something unexpected.

“I’m sorry.  Could you repeat that?” I asked.

“The car in front of you paid for your coffee.  You don’t owe anything”. 

That had happened to me once before when I got in line behind an old man in an old pickup truck with a dog of undetermined age by his side.  It had seemed to take forever for him to get thru the line.  When he finally pulled away, I pulled up to the cashier, ready to pay and glad to be on my way. 

“That guy just paid for your coffee,” said the cashier.  That pleasant surprise was diminished by the embarrassment I felt from the realization that only moments before I was wishing he would just hurry up and get on his way.  The cashier said they were at fifty-something people in a row who had “paid it forward”.  I did the same to add 1 to their record.

Back to the present.

I know the thing to do when someone pays $5.67 for your coffee is to then pay for the coffee of the person behind you.

“How much do the people behind me owe” I asked, holding a ten-dollar bill and ready to happily pay it forward. 

“Their bill is $16.71” the cashier replied.

$16.71?  My eagerness to pay it forward suddenly evaporated.  I am a man of simple tastes, a man satisfied with a good dark roast coffee, no cream, unaccustomed to paying for designer lattes.    No wonder the guy was stressed., I thought to myself.   At $15 a day he was shelling out $450 a month to Scooters.

I wish I had had the opportunity to drink my large cup of Scooters coffee while I pondered this dilemma.  My usual decision-making rationale of “I’ll sleep on it!” seemed inappropriate.  Drivers behind me were beginning to get restless.  In fact, drivers in a drive-thru coffee line are restless when they enter the line.  I have long advocated for an express lane for customers at a coffee drive-thru whose order involves two ingredients or less.

“Uh”, I think I will pass” I said as the cashier waited patiently to see if I would continue to “pay it forward”.  I had fully intended to pay it forward if I had not been stricken with sticker shock.  And in retrospect, I wish I had. 

Large coffee in hand I drove away with a full day ahead of me to second guess my decision. Forking over $16.71 (plus tip) is better than the “cheapskate” guilt I experienced in response to my refusal to let a stop to purchase two cups of coffee set me back the better part of twenty dollars less than twenty minutes into our vacation.

From now on, the cashier will receive no blank stare from me when informing me the car in front of me has paid for my coffee.  I have already charted my course of action should this situation reoccur. 

I plan to pay it forward up to a $20.00 maximum, including tip. 

And if the tab for the car behind me exceeds that amount, I will resolve the situation with one simple question: “How much for the car behind the car behind me?”

We had been on the road for about 30 minutes and our vacation was already off to a memorable start.

Wanna Get Away?

My wife and I just returned from vacation.  Though we love roadtrips, this time we flew Southwest Airlines from Missouri to Florida.  And I’m glad we did.  Winter Storm Gia would have hindered our drive to Florida and Winter Storm Jayden would have hindered our drive back to Missouri.

Though Southwest is not a “bargain” airline, I like the fact that the initial price is the final price, even if you need to make changes to your itinerary.

When I was younger and needed to book a flight, my decision on which airline to fly was based on two factors:

  1.  Is the plane going where we want to go? and
  2.  Is it the cheapest fare?

Then the airlines started adding fees to the initial cost when you arrived at the airport if you wanted special treatment.  So what started out as the cheapest might end up costing more if you needed what the airlines decided were “frills”.

Like, say, for example you wanted to bring luggage.

The last time I bought cheap tickets there was a disclaimer that the tickets could not, under any conditions, be changed and I was a fool if I expected any money back if something unforeseen came up and I needed to change or cancel my plans.  As it turned out, the tickets COULD be changed at no cost.  Just not by me.  When I went on-line to confirm the tickets the day before our flight, an extra city and 3 additional hours of travel time had been added to the itinerary I had locked in six months earlier.

Then I got “educated” at check-in about extra charges.  That went something like this:

Check-in person:  Good morning!

Me:  (Stifling a yawn while putting two pieces of luggage on the metal table in front of me)  Hello.

Check-in person (with an incredulous look on his face): You want to bring LUGGAGE?

Me:  Yes.

Check-in person:  That’s an extra $25 for the first bag and $40 for the second bag = EACH WAY.

Me; HUH?

Check-in person:  Would you like to upgrade to first class for only $312 more each way?

Me:  No

Check-in person:  Would you like a little extra leg room for only $29 each way?

Me:  No

Check-in person:  Would you like to be able to wiggle your toes for only $5 more each way?

Me:  I guess I’ll be ok for a few hours.

Check-in person:  Would you like restroom access?

Me:  Well, yeah.

Check-in person:  Fluids only are $5.  Solids are $12.  For only $15 we are offering unlimited fluid and solid disposal, plus complimentary toilet paper.  AND – we will waive the normal $2 environmental impact fee.

Me:  OK, I’ll take two unlimited specials.

Chcck-in person:  Would you like a sandwich for only $10?

Me:  My wife and I will split one.

Check-in person:  Condiments for only $3?

Me:  Nah, my wife’s passed that stage.

Check-in person:  Would you like priority seating on a life raft in the unlikely event of a water landing?  Only $10 for one or $17.95 for two.

Me:  I’ll take one.  My wife can float on her back for hours.

(Note: This may not be word for word since my head was starting to spin from making this many decisions prior to 8 am.)

So it was that for only $50 more per person than the non-stop, all-inclusive flight from Southwest, my wife and I were on our way through “SECURITY”.  There, because my wife’s titanium knees kept setting off the metal detector, she was escorted to a small, private room where a female TSA employee “patted her down”.   From what my wife described, this required about the same level of intimacy it took me to the third night of our honeymoon to achieve.

But at least we were cleared to get on the plane!

Which went something like this:

Gate person:  Thank you for flying with Untied Airlines.  We’d like to begin the boarding process by seating our Executive Sky Alliance PLATINUM members.  Please follow this red carpet please.

Ok. Now, would all Executive Sky Alliance Gold members  please board.

And now, all Executive Sky Alliance Silver members.

And finally, (after a few more passenger-grades of increasingly less value), will all Executive Sky Alliance TARPAPER members please hustle onto the plane?

AND PLEASE . . . Be careful not to step on the red carpet!

Though I seriously considered upgrading our passenger status from TARPAPER to VINYL for our next vacation,  I switched airlines instead.  I have found that Southwest rarely starts out cheaper, but the price I book is normally the price I pay.

I also signed up for TSA Pre-Certification.  Now, after undergoing an extensive background check and paying $85 for 5 years, my wife and I get to remain fully clothed while passing through airport security.

It’s a small price to pay.

Even though – at our age –  one might think they’d be willing to pay US to keep our clothes on.

 

Be Nice

IMG_2662
Meeting New People & Making Friends on Vacation

It wasn’t the best 24 hours of our vacation in Fort Lauderdale.

My wife had developed an earache and a sore throat.  We abandoned our tourist agenda and headed for nearby Broward Medical and Urgent Care.   My wife was seen promptly by Dr. Chau Nguyen and she walked out of the office clutching two prescriptions..  One prescription we were able to fill immediately at a nearby Walgreens.  The next would take overnight.

And then some.

When we went to pick up the prescription the next day it wasn’t ready for two reasons:

First, we hadn’t paid (or been asked to pay) in advance.  And,

Second, they didn’t have the ingredients.  Would “after 2 the NEXT day” be ok?  It wasn’t, so they transferred the prescription to another nearby pharmacy in their chain and told us it would be ready in two hours.

I suggested a little sun might be good idea so we headed for a fast food chicken place I remembered to pick up food for an impromptu picnic at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park.  After a longer drive than I remembered it to be, we came to the chicken place.  It was closed for remodeling.  Nevertheless, a person was patiently waiting in the drive-thru lane for someone to take her order.

Next door was a Burger King.  Not our first choice, but it was convenient and didn’t appear to be busy.  Only one car ahead of us in the drive-thru.  Even so, it took awhile before it was our turn.  And then it took quite awhile longer before they took our order.

I ignored my better judgement and waited.Burger King

We placed our order and pulled around the corner to find two cars waiting for their food ahead of us.  By the time we got to the window, there was a pickup truck  and a car waiting behind us.

“Be right with you!” said the lady working the window cheerfully.

And we waited some more.

Then the honking began.

First, I thought it was the guy in the pickup behind us.  The honking continued.  If anyone has any suggestions about how to hurry when waiting for a very simple order at a drive-thru window I would be interested.  The honking continued until a woman two cars behind us had had enough.  She veered out of line, pulled alongside of us, and hollered “What the f*** is taking so long?”

This was a woman in a hurry for a whopper.

The window clerk politely hollered back “We are slammed and doing the best we can!” to which the impatient whopper-craver hollered another rude comment.  Use your imagination.

The drive-thru attendant then hollered “Have a blessed day!”  as the honking woman beside us accelerated out of the parking lot.

Whew!  That’s a big departure from the normal “Would you like fries with that?” drive-thru dialogue.

Thru the window came our bag of food.  I thanked the lady and off we headed to our picnic site.

On the way we encountered a work zone traffic jam.  As we slowed, an SUV suddenly swerved into our lane in front of us causing me to slow much more abruptly.  Prominently displayed on the back window of the SUV was a sticker that said “BE NICE”.

Nearing Birch State Park, my wife got an email.  Her prescription was ready.  Things were looking up.  We found a picnic table alongside the Intracoastal Waterway which borders the park on the west. and had our  hard-earned, not exactly hot by then, lunch.  Soaking up the sun, we watched boats pass, some of which cost more than many people would earn in a lifetime.

IMG_2628
A beautiful spot for a picnic at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Fort Lauderdale\

Feeling refreshed after a meal, some sunshine, and the absence of any high-volume arguments, we headed to the pharmacy to pick up my wife’s prescription.

“Be ready in 10 minutes!” the attendant said.

“But we got an email saying it was ready” I responded.

“It was wrong” said the attendant.  “Come back in 10 minutes.”

With the wisdom displayed on the back window of a crappy driver I nearly rear-ended running through my mind, I pulled around, parked in the warm sunshine, and cooled my jets.

“Be Nice!”

It sounds a lot easier than it is some times.

Be nice

 

 

And the Answer is: Bolt, Lime & Bird

carnac the magnificent
Johnny Carson as “Carnac the Magnificent”

Back when late night comedians specialized in comedy rather than political commentary, the incomparable Johnny Carson frequently portrayed “Carnac the Magnificent”.  Carnac, a mystic from the East, was able to determine the answers to written questions that had been “hermetically sealed inside a mayonnaise jar kept on Funk & Wagnall’s porch for security purposes”.  An example:

Carnac the Magnificent:  The answer is ‘Sis, Boom, Bah”!

Ed McMahon (unscrewing the lid from a mayonnaise jar and removing a sealed envelope):

And the question is “What sound does an exploding sheep make?”

In the title to this blog, the answer is “Bolt, Lime & Bird”.

The question is “What are three things that might run over you on Fort Lauderdale sidewalks?

Bolt, Lime and Bird are electric scooter brands scattered around downtown Fort Lauderdale (& beach) sidewalks since last November.  Lime official reported that 14,000 different riders covered nearly 48,000 miles in just the first 3 weeks the scooters were available.

electric scooters
Electric scooters for rent along Hwy A1A at the Fort Lauderdale Beach

While some scooter riders use the bike lanes, many others preferred the already busy sidewalks.  Scooters have a 15 mph maximum speed and make very little noise, so unless you can run a 4 minute mile you better get used to being startled when these scooters zip around you.  One idiot we encountered came at us full speed hollering “OH SHI*************!!!! as if he had lost control only to swerve around us at the last second.

Ha! Ha! (DIPSTICK!)

We encountered entire families on scooters, as well as an older child ferrying a younger child along the crowded streets and sidewalks.

In our car we passed a guy in full business attire -suit & tie – riding a scooter, presumably to work or to an appointment.

 

My favorite was when my wife and I approached an intersection just as a young woman wearing a thong rode by us on a scooter and stopped for a red light.  Her booteus maximus was as unencumbered as the day she was born.   I am sorry I didn’t have time to take a picture.  You will just have to take my word for it.

Or my wife’s.

Or perhaps that of the lady with a Bronx accent standing beside us staring in wide-eyed amazement who exclaimed “SHE’S GOING TO CAUSE SOMEONE TO RUN INTO A TREE!”

On the positive side, it did seem to make the time pass faster while we were waiting for the light to change.

Don’t Judge a Bird by its Beak

img_2367 (1)
Me Feeding Flamingos at Flamingo Gardens in Davie, Florida

It is a cold morning (by Florida standards).  I arose before dawn and watched the sky transform from black to gray.  That’s not as much of a sacrifice as it sounds.  Dawn arrived at 7:07 am.  Rain pelts the windows in front of me and the ships moored off the Atlantic coast are barely visible.  The weather lady on tv just said “the temperature will struggle to reach 70 today.”

Can you feel my pain?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

It is a good day to reflect on the week’s high points and low points of trading some January days of ice & snow in Missouri for balmy days in the sun in Florida.

First, the good.

I manned up, looked fear right in the eye, and let flamingos eat directly from my hand this week.  While flamingos are unquestionably beautiful and have never personally threatened me, their beaks are long and pointed and look like they could sever a finger with little difficulty.

Maybe they could if provoked, but the flamingos at Flamingo Gardens in Davie, Florida were gentle and patient.

Inspired by an intrepid 10-year-old girl ahead of me, I placed a quarter in a vending machine and received a fistful of pellets in exchange.  A row of flamingos lined up patiently waiting in front of me.  Placing a pellet in my hand, I extended it to a large flamingo.  It very gently nibbled the palm of my hand until it secured the pellet.  No pinching, no biting, and no aggressive jostling among the flamingos to compete for the pellet.  I methodically went down the row until each flamingo had politely & gently nibbled a pellet from my hand.  I then repeated the process until my pellet supply was depleted.

Flamingos – I am impressed!  You are surely the most polite birds I have ever encountered.  Not at all like the duck who spewed a 12-inch circle of semi-liquid poop near my shoe later in the day.  NO PELLETS FOR YOU, Mr. Duck!!

A less pleasant memory occurred on a visit to the food court at Sawgrass Mills Mall yesterday.  First, let me say that my wife and I have been eating at Chinese restaurants ever since David Leong began his successful quest to make Springfield, Mo. the “Cashew Chicken Capital of the World”.  I am confident with a Chinese menu.

Stepping up to the food line at Asian Chao, a Food Court eatery at the Mall, I proceeded to order what I thought was a two-entree meal for $8.99 which my wife and I planned to share.  As the server pointed to a rib, I nodded ok.  Same for a shrimp dish.  Though we normally go for orange chicken and bourbon chicken, what the heck!  We are on vacation.  Why not experiment?

Well, I can give you one reason.

When the checker totalled up my plate and added two drinks, the bill came to $26.38. And that fortune didn’t even include a fortune cookie!  My single  rib was $11.99.  I now understand why God borrowed one from Adam.  Shrimp was $3.99 extra as were the two egg rolls.  I’m guessing even the well-mannered flamingo’s might have gotten a mite peckish when presented with that bill.

On the bright side, I learned a valuable lesson.   Don’t hesitate to utilize the words “IS THAT INCLUDED FOR $8.99?”  when ordering a meal from Asian Chao.  And, after reluctantly paying the tab, I also decided what my given name should be had I been born Chinese:

Me So Dum

img_2455
The menu said $8.99 for two entrees.  Which entrees made a big difference. I could have fed a lot of Flamingos for $26.38