In my humble opinion, the 1989 Civil War movie Glory contains one of the greatest movie scenes ever filmed. The men of the 54th Regiment, an African-American regiment, are gathered around a campfire contemplating the next days battle.
One of the soldiers is portrayed by Morgan Freeman. The gist of the speech he gave has stuck with me for the past 30 years.
“If tomorrow is our great gettin’ up mornin’, if tomorrow we have to meet the Judgement Day . . . let our folks know we went down standin’ up!”
Those words were in my mind the night before two neighbors and I planned to scale three tiers of scaffolding and re-attach a 50-lb chandelier to a 21-foot ceiling. For good measure we planned to replace two 25-year-old ceiling fans and add a new beam at the same time. Though that was pretty much routine for my neighbors, I was nervous enough for all three of us.
Thus my flashback to the inspirational scene from Glory and my own personal recreation of the campfire prayer meeting the night before our attempt.
If you have five minutes, sit back, watch this video clip, and reflect on the bravery of the men of the 54th Regiment.
My neighbors arrived at 8 am sharp.
:Here is proof I helped. That me in the middle. Though I am supposed to be holding up the beam so it can be firmly secured by Tom & Bill, I appear to be holding on instead.
When the fixture was firmly in place, it was time for the moment of truth.
We held our breath as the switch was flipped to turn on the 24 twinkling lights.
“Turn the dimmer switch up” suggested my wife.
12 hours shy of three weeks since the fixture fell, it was back in place.
Thank God & Tom & Bill! It turned out to be the chandelier’s great gettin’ up morning (afternoon, actually, by then) instead of mine.
Though the large fixture is now, I guess you could say, “well hung”, the grandkids, who used to sit under the light doing homework or coloring, now make sure now to avoid what turned out to be ground zero when the light came crashing down.
On January 1, 1972, I began keeping a journal. That was the year I planned to graduate from college, get married, start a career and finish my six year obligation in the Army National Guard. On the cover of my journal I inscribed my favorite Scottish prayer.
I accomplished all of my goals for 1972. AND – I’ve been really fortunate in the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties area since then.
But at 4:30 am on March 5, 2019, I took a hit in the “things that go bump in the night” category. That was when my wife woke me from a sound sleep with the words “The chandelier fell off the ceiling!”
To which I alertly responded “HUH?”
She had been awakened by a rather large “bump in the night”. When she went to investigate, she discovered the large chandelier that had been suspended from the 21-foot ceiling in our great room for the past 25 years was now residing on the floor of our great room.
The chandelier in question had been hanging from the ceiling of our home for approximately 219,000 hours (3,140,000 minutes) when it succumbed to the law of gravity. That’s a long time. Maybe I’m overly demanding, but I still expected better.
It’s not the first time this large lighting fixture has been a source of trouble. When we bought our home in 1998, the original owners (who had designed and built the home) were in the midst of a divorce.
“My wife spent our entire lighting allowance on that chandelier” lamented the husband.
As often happens in life, our calamity was caused when something little went awry resulting in a chain reaction with disastrous results.
In this case, an apparently “too small” or “too weak” piece of metal that had been supporting the weight all these years suddenly snapped in half. That left only a hanging electrical cord with frayed ends and a large void where once had hung a 50 lb chandelier sporting 24 twinkling lights.
Pictured above are the hanger that broke and the frayed cord where our chandelier once hung
Though I don’t recommend this as a way to start your day, looking on the bright side there are two things I’m thankful for in the aftermath of the chandelier that waited for spring to fall:
No one was injured (or worse). Our grandkids often use the coffee table beneath that light to color and do crafts; and
When something like this happens at 4:30 am, you are almost guaranteed that your day has to get better from there.
Now for the challenging part – reattaching the chandelier to the ceiling. I have put together a crack construction team of three: two guys who know what they are doing and me. The combined age of my team is just shy of 210 years.
What could possibly go wrong?
Though I get little nervous standing on top of a 16-foot-tall platform that sways under my feet, I am a proponent of the philosophy “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain!”
Tomorrow I will put that philosophy to the test.
Worst case scenario, I won’t have to be concerned about “ghosties” any more.
I’ll be one.
If there is a next blog, I intend to title it “That Great Gettin’ Up Morning”.
If no more blogs are forthcoming, contact my wife if you are interested in buying a used chandelier. CHEAP!
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.
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.
On October 7, 1963, something that would be unheard of today happened in Springfield, Mo. And I, along with my friend, Ronnie Potter, was there.
The NBA World Champion Boston Celtics and the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks played an exhibition game in the Parkview High School gym in Springfield. I still have the program from that game.
The Celtics won 134-116 in front of a packed house.
By 1963, Celtic’s future Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell had been named NBA MVP six times and had led the Boston Celtics to six World Championships. The Hawks were led by 10-time All-Star and future Hall-of-Famer, Bob Pettit. The Celtics would go on to win another NBA Championship that year, while the Hawks were runners-up in the Western Division.
Can you imagine the 2018 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors coming to Springfield, Mo. and playing an exhibition game in a high school gym?
Me neither. But things have changed a lot since 1963.
The highest salary Bill Russell ever made in the NBA was $100,000. That equals about $600,000 adjusted for inflation today. Stephen Curry of the 2018 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors will earn $37,157,154 for the upcoming season. The average salary in the NBA is now $7.1 million per year. One of my favorite quotes about players salaries came from Babe Ruth. When a reporter asked him how it felt to make more money than the President of the United States, the Babe responded “I had a better year than him.”
The most memorable thing for me about attending that game in 1963 was not the game. It was what happened after the game. Programs in hand, Ronnie & I sneaked into the Parkview Boy’s locker room where both teams were showering and getting dressed after the game. Just walking around in there was memorable enough, but I took advantage of my good fortune by securing 20 autographs on my program from players in various stages of dress – or “undress” in some cases. Five autographs on my program are from players who are now in the NBA Hall of Fame.
The memorable night did not end there.
Ronnie’s dad picked us up after the game and before he dropped me off at home, I heard my very first Beatles song on the radio. Later that month, the Beatles came to the attention of variety show host Ed Sullivan when the plane he was on was delayed at London’s Heathrow Airport by screaming teens welcoming the Beatles. On February 9, 1964, 73 million viewers tuned in to the Ed Sullivan Show to watch the Beatles perform five songs: “All My Loving”, “‘Til There Was You”, “She Loves You”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
The music world was changed forever.
Something else that would be life-altering for teenage males was brewing in October of 1963 totally unbeknownst to Ronnie Potter and me. When that game was played, there were already 16,732 American troops in a little known place in Southeast Asia by the name of Vietnam. Five years later that number had grown to 536,100 American troops in Vietnam. Ronnie Potter joined the Marines. He spent over a year in Vietnam, much of it in combat.
He survived, thankfully, though I’m sure he had some close calls.
Eleven months and two days after that game – on the very day I turned 16 – I got my driver’s license.
I have since survived 54+ years and a couple of million miles behind the wheel, thankfully, though I’ve had some close calls. Occasionally my passengers from the 60’s still remind me.
And my autographed program from October 7, 1963, the one and only time the St. Louis Hawks and the Boston Celtics ever visited Springfield, Mo. has survived the last 55 years as well.
I wish I could say the same thing about my baseball card collection.
Before there were Honda’s and Toyota’s and Datsun’s (known today as “Nissan’s”), there were VW Beetles roaming the streets of Springfield, Mo. where I grew up.
Or, at least, where I grew older. The jury is still out on whether I ever grew up.
I had a family tie to the proliferation of Beetles. My Dad helped populate the streets of Springfield with VW Beetles and VW busses and VW Karmann Ghias. He was a salesman for McAllister VW in Springfield in the 60’s when VW beetles were a novelty, sometimes referred to as “pregnant roller skates”.
But they still sold like hotcakes.
Rather than the Beetles arriving at the dealership on an 18-wheel car hauler, salesmen from McAllister VW carpooled from Springfield to New Orleans. There they would pick up a VW straight off the boat from Germany and drive it back to Springfield where it was cleaned up and sold. Here is a postcard my Dad sent from New Orleans on such a trip. It is postmarked June 19, 1962:
My Dad never got rich selling VW’s, but our family always enjoyed the “Demo” vehicle he was furnished as a perk. In the summer of 1962, maybe ’63, we went on the only 2 week vacation our family ever took. We rode in style in a brand-new VW Bus. My brother and I each had our own row. Along with two other families, we visited Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Mt. Rushmore, camping out 12 of 14 nights along the way.
After graduating from high school in 1966 and getting a job while deciding between Vietnam & college, I became the proud owner of a 1964 VW Karmann Ghia. It already had 35,000 miles on it and cost me $1300. Though it ended up being a great car, the engine went out the first weekend I owned it. The dealership stood behind it and replaced it with a rebuilt engine. It was a fun, stylish car with 2 bucket seats up front and an “emergency” back seat suitable only for small children, contortionists, or luggage.
Karmann Ghia’s weren’t all that plentiful or well-known, but I loved mine. The engine – which featured a whopping 1.2 liters, 40-horsepower, & four-cylinders – was in the rear. Maximum speed was around 80 mph. To fill the gas tank required raising the hood. In 1967, somewhere in the deep South, I pulled into a gas station, popped the hood, and waited for the attendant. In those days I could fill up the Ghia’s 10-gallon gas tank and get my windshield washed for under three bucks. Standing back to take a puzzled look at my car, the attendant asked “What the heck kind of car is this? A Studebaker?”
I explored 15 states in the 2 years I owned that Karmann Ghia. It got 30 mpg and had AM radio. It had no air conditioning and the worst heater of any car I’ve ever owned. On an 11-state roadtrip I took in January of 1967, I drove 3000 miles and spent $32 on gas. I could drive a hundred miles for about a buck. What more could an 18-year old ask?
I sold mine and bought a Ford Mustang in 1968. VW stopped making Karmann Ghia’s after 1974. They were discontinued to make VW Sirocco’s. Scirocco’s were discontinued in October, 2017. And now VW has announced that the iconic VW Beetle will be discontinued after the 2019 model year.
In 1968 I heard the siren song of the Ford Mustang and said goodbye to my Karmann Ghia. I replaced it with a blue-gray 1965 Ford Mustang with wheel covers modeled after the wheels on the Roman chariots in the movie Ben Hur.
Though the last VW I owned was during the Nixon Administration, I am sorry to see the Beetle go the way of the Studebaker. The only good thing about that news for me is that it reduces the odds of me hearing the words “SLUG BUG!” followed by a whack on the arm.
Maybe they’ll be back. There are lot’s of new cars on the road today that have been resurrected from the 1960’s. Think Challenger and Charger and Camaro. When asked if there was a chance that VW might one day produce Beetles again, a spokesperson replied “Never say never!”
As someone who grew up with Beetle’s in the 60’s, I’ll paraphrase Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart: “They may take our Beetles, but they’ll never take our memories!”
After a good night’s sleep in Doc Holliday’s hometown, Valdosta, Ga., my wife and I were ready to cover some new ground on our way back to Missouri.
But first, breakfast!
The last time I stayed in Valdosta (1967), my $8 room did not include breakfast. In 2018, our $125 room did. It was a good breakfast, but not worth the extra $118. Still, in 1967 I was earning $1.35 an hour, so $8 amounted to about a day’s pay in those days and I thought it was an outrageous sum to pay for a place to sleep. On that 1967 trip I covered 3000 miles and spent a total of $32 on gasoline which I charged on my new Gulf credit card. Gas prices averaged thirty cents a gallon in those days.
My wife and I had two goals for the day:
Survive Atlanta traffic, which was not new ground for us; and
Find our way to Georgia’s Amicalola Falls State Park, gateway to the Appalachian Trail, which was new ground for us.
We entered Atlanta well before lunch. My heart rate increased as traffic thickened. Atlanta traffic is notoriously bad. And it has been my experience that if you do not drive AT LEAST 20 mph OVER the speed limit you risk being run over at worst or receiving multiple one-finger salutes at best. I try to stay with the flow – that’s usually 25-30 mph over the posted speed limit. Occasionally, an Atlanta police car will suddenly appear out of nowhere, lights flashing, speed past our car, and make a traffic stop. How they decide who to stop is a mystery to me.
As it turned out, Google maps directed us through the bowels of Atlanta with a minimum of hassle and spit us out heading northeast toward the Chattahoochie National Forest, home of Amicalola Falls.
As the skyline of Atlanta receded in the rearview mirror the nice lady on Google maps spoke up:
“Exit right. Then turn left.”
We obeyed to the letter. We exited Highway 19, turned left, crossed over Highway 19 and awaited further instructions.
“Make a U-turn.”
Huh? I HATE it when she says that. But I obeyed, recrossing Highway 19 heading the opposite direction.
That put us right back on the same Highway 19 she had requested we leave a few minutes earlier. Guess she thought a curly que would be a nice addition to our route. 95% of the time Google Map instructions are perfect. The other 5% of the time is why we still carry an Atlas in our car.
Not having had lunch, we stopped in Dahlonega, Ga., located on the southern edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest. After a quick stop at the Food Lion grocery store for bottled water & snacks and a stop at Bojangles Famous Chicken for a carry-out box of famous chicken & biscuits, we were ready to explore Amicalola Falls. As we pulled out of the Bojangles parking lot, I suddenly heard a siren and saw lights flashing in the rearview mirror.
I pulled over. The police car sped past me toward some emergency elsewhere.
Whew. I am never quite sure if a Missouri license plate brands us as Yankees or fellow southerners in Georgia.
The scenery was gorgeous as we neared & entered the State Park. We paid a small entry fee and received a guide to the Park and a permit to hang on our rearview mirror. Parking was scarce, but we finally found a spot near a picnic table. We exited our car to claim that picnic table which was located in a beautiful, shady area near the Visitors Center.
The Visitor’s Center in Amicalola Falls State Park near where we had our picnic lunch is where all thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail check in & receive their permit before officially starting their 2191 mile hike to Maine. Registration for approval to hike the A.T. is typically months before you plan to begin a thru-hike.
This was the same place where, three months earlier, my brother had hoisted his 30 lb pack onto his back, crossed under an archway, and started hiking the 8 1/2 mountainous miles one must traverse to even get to the 2191 mile Appalachian Trail.
More than a few hikers have called it quits before even reaching the official A.T.
I love to hike and found that standing in front of this arch is like standing on hiker holy ground.
But this day, under a threatening sky, I hiked from our car to our picnic table. Instead of a 30 lb pack, I carried some cold drinks and a 12-piece box of Bojangles Famous chicken and biscuits. It was great. I understand how it got famous.
Our last morning in Fort Lauderdale was a whirlwind. Packing the cars, taking a headcount, checking out of the condo where we had spent a great week – then it was another two-car parade to the Fort Lauderdale airport where we dropped our son and his family off at the curb.
They would be sleeping in their own beds that night.
My wife and I were headed back to 1959 by car.
When my wife was a kid, a summer road trip was an annual event. Along with her Mom, Dad and two brothers, my wife vividly recalls exploring the United States by car. One of those trips, circa 1959, included a visit to Weeki Wachi, a roadside attraction north of Tampa on U.S. 19 featuring real, live mermaids.
The Weeki Wachee Mermaid Show was the fulfillment of the dream of former Navy Frogman, Newton Perry. In World War II he taught Frogmen how to navigate underwater. After the war, he scouted out pretty girls and taught them how to be mermaids with the aid of air hoses concealed in the scenery. Newton Perry’s typical mermaid could drink Grapette, eat a banana, do the ballet – all with a smile – twenty-feet under the surface of Weeki Wachee Spring.
My wife never forgot that.
On Day 11 of our vacation we hoped to end up at Weeki Wachee, now a Florida State Park, but still featuring daily mermaid shows.
To get there, we would have to navigate “Alligator Alley”, the nickname for the stretch of I-75 that traverses south Florida from Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic to Naples on the Gulf of Mexico.
That actually sounds more treacherous than it was. Alligator Alley passes through the Everglades and Big Cypress National Park. Though there is no telling how many alligators saw us, we didn’t see any alligators. That might have changed had we been unlucky enough to have a flat.
Though the alligators didn’t slow us down, road construction, traffic signals and beach traffic did. By mid-afternoon it became clear we would not make it to Weeki Wachee before its 5 pm closing time. Since the next day was Sunday, the park didn’t open until 10 am.
Weeki Wachee would have to wait.
My wife wasn’t overly disappointed. What she REALLY wants is to take our 8 year-old granddaughter to see the mermaid show at Weeki Wachee and pass those memories to the next generation.
Whenever I revisit a spot I recall fondly from my childhood, a poem by Elizabeth Akers Allen titled “Rock Me to Sleep, Mother” sometimes comes to mind. That poem opens with the following lines:
Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight, Make me a child again, just for tonight!
The rest of that poem is a little dark, but I love those first two lines and imagining what it would be like to go back and experience life as a child again for a single day. The closest I’ve come is experiencing life through the eyes of a child, first our son, and now our grandkids.
We ended up spending the night in Valdosta, Ga. In 1967 I spent a night there prior to taking Army Basic Training and before the U.S. Army generously furnished a very large comfortable room for me and 23 other guys. The thing I most recall about Valdosta from that night was having to spend $8 for a room. My budget for that trip was $3-$5 a night.
Oh, yeah – one other Valdosta memory!
Doc Holliday was born there. Despite that fact, when I was making a reservation, the national Marriott reservations desk person had never heard of Valdosta.
“Where?” she asked.
“Valdosta, Ga” I replied.
“Never heard of it!” she responded.
“Ever heard of Doc Holliday?” I asked.
“Yes” she said, unconvincingly.
Well, Doc Holliday was born in Valdosta” I informed her.
She found us a room.
And it made the eight bucks I paid in 1967 sound really cheap.
With apologies to Elizabeth Akers Allen:
Backward, Turn Backward, Oh time in its flight. I want a room for 8 bucks, just for tonight!
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.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain