26 July 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

I began writing this post Sunday, 1 June. It will likely take several days for me to finish. So, at this point I have no idea when it'll be online. The following is a recount of our always too short vacation that began rather uneventfully on May 17.

Pre-Trip at Home · Saturday through Wednesday, 17 - 21 May
Saturday was lawn care day. We mowed, weed-whacked, cleaned, repotted, pruned, pruned and pruned. We shopped for some new plants to take the place of roses we moved. The new hosta, "Dream Queen" and "Grand Tiara" are blooming and look very nice in their new home. Who knew we'd pick these based upon how they look and end up with ones with such "fairy" names.

We continued working on the house and yard through Sunday and Monday.

Cameron left on Tuesday for his annual "hands-on" training in Minneapolis. This is the FAA required training where he demonstrates his abilities to operate each of the different aircraft upon which he works in an emergency situation as well as safety procedures during normal operation. In order to make his flight his wake up was 4 A.M. I got up at 4:30 and had coffee with him. When he left I considered going back to bed, but instead stayed up and cleaned a bit in the house and gathered items for packing. As soon as it was daylight I went outside for more yardwork. Around 10, I began my 6 hour stint of washing, waxing and detailing the VW. Between stages I would do something else in preparation for our trip, like pulling the dog crate out of the garage attic or cleaning the cooler. Cameron returned from hands-on around 8 that evening. We relaxed together outside and talked about the next day's agenda.

Day 1 · Thursday, 22 May
I got up at 6:30 to pack the car. Because we had to bring a dog crate it was like fitting together a complex puzzle. In fact, I think cracking the Rubik's Cube was easier. We filled the cooler with Ozarka and V8 juice and fit it inside one part of the dismantled crate, placed the dog food next to it and luggage all around and in the passenger floorboard. Sheets were on the back seat and the dogs' bed went on top. We got Billie and Georgia settled into their riding spots and hit the road for Biloxi around 11. We arrived at Lisa's new house in Woolmarket around 6:30 p.m. The plan was for Billie and Georgia to stay with her, while we drove our whirlwind trip around Florida.

We unpacked the car, got the crates set up and the dogs settled, ran a couple errands and got back to her house where we talked, ate some smoked pork shoulder that our friend and next door neighbor, Gene, the captain of TVA's Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest team, Fossil Fueled Porkers, sent with us.

Day 2 · Friday, 24 May
Awake before 6, Lisa was feeding the dogs and getting ready for work when I got up at 6:30. After letting her boxers, Lucy and Roxie, outside for a few minutes we took Billie and Georgia outside. We talked about the fence she had moved and her plans for her large corner lot. She left for work at 6:45. Cameron and I showered, and got back in the car around 8:15 for our drive to Lake Alfred, FL, southwest of Orlando, to visit his parents, Carolyn and Jim. We stopped at the first exit for coffee and were shortly on our way.

We had prepared a AAA TripTik for the drive before we left Memphis but were having some networking issues and couldn't print the thing. And trying to access it on my iPhone was impractical at 85 m.p.h. So, we were navigating by memory and a completely inadequate MapQuest atlas that we picked up at Walgreens before we left Memphis. I miss the Rand McNally Atlases with their detailed metropolitan area maps. I guess a TomTom or Garmin navigation system is in our near future.

The estimated 8 hour and 42 minute drive should have put us in Lake Alfred around 4:30 or 5. But because a tractor-trailer had jacknifed on the exit ramp to I-4 we ended up detouring until we could get back on Florida's Turnpike to take an alternate route back to Highway 27, at Clermont. The detour set us back almost 2 hours. Finally nearing Lake Alfred we stopped at Publix for tonic and soda and the package store next door for vodka. We got to Carolyn and Jim's at after 7 p.m.

They held dinner for us even though we asked them to go ahead and eat. Jim made Philly Cheese Steaks and potato salad for us. After dinner Carolyn took us down the street to meet a neighbor, Cathy, who is a freight forwarder who works from home. Later in the evening we sat in Carolyn and Jim's Florida room, looking at the fields behind their homes with rows upon rows of citrus trees. The land is a University of Florida citrus research area where the trees are nurtured, studied, pruned and treated in the interest of sustaining the citrus industry and eradicating its problems, like canker.

Day 3 · Saturday, 25 May
Jim and Carolyn were up early and asked if we'd like breakfast. He was planning a big breakfast for us but we asked for cereal instead. That option was considerably easier and it would allow us to spend more time with each other. He loaned us his SunPass for getting through the tolls on Florida's Turnpike and we were headed to Lauderdale by the Sea by 11 or so.

We made a pit stop at one of the service plazas, that sit on the land between the roadways, mid-way between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. When we were leaving we saw a windshield washing station. Because it had been 16 years since I'd traveled the Turnpike, this was a new, innovative alternative to getting out of the car and hosing the windshield down. A white hexagon was painted on the asphalt indicating where the car should stop. Once the vehicle was still, a blast of water pelted the windshield (wipers on) and cleaned every exoskeleton and related innards from the glass. It was quick, easy and much needed because I had run all of the RainX Bug Wash (which really works) from my windsheild washer reservoir some miles before. Up to this point we had run through two gallons of the stuff. We refilled the tank with the cheap blue fluid available at that station but it does virtually nothing for cooked on bugs.

Our views up to this point during the trip we're a lot like this:

And this. (The speedometer is for Lisa).

We saw a brand-new, black Rolls Royce being driven by what appeared to be punked out children. Since Rolls Royce was taken over by BMW I think that the look of the cars is absolutely hideous. Bentley fared much better under Volkswagen's watch.



We arrived at Ken, Cameron's uncle, and Bob's house around 3 o'clock. Ken greeted us outside. After we passed the in-law suite in the front we walked through a louvered exterior door which opened to the pool in the courtyard. Walking into their house the smells coming from the kitchen were exquisite.

This was my first time to meet the two of them. They seemed as excited to see us as we were to be there. As we sat and got acquainted I learned that they recently celebrated 40 years together. I heard about their travels. I got the tour of the house that Bob, an architect, had built in 1963. It's been renovated three times since then. It's filled with modern furnishings and the artifacts and treasures of a lifetime together. It's beautiful.

While Bob was cooking for a small dinner party to be hosted that evening we spent a few minutes sharing photos and such. As the day's light began to fade Cameron and I had a drink and a cigarette or two on their back patio before dinner until it began to rain -- the only rain we had for the entire trip. It was a fairly significant storm.

Ken and Bob's guests, John, Rob and Ron, began to arrive one by one. We sat down to a delicious dinner and entertaining conversation. We stayed up a bit too late, but we did make it to church on time the next morning, where Ken was ushering.

Day 4 · Sunday, 25 May
After church, we said goodbye to Ken, Bob and their friends and headed south to Hollywood to visit Cameron's brother David. He lives in a retirement home there, and when we arrived he was waiting for us at the gate. We met some of the people who help take care of him and then drove to Miami for lunch.

Linda, David and Cameron at Apollo Gardens.

Later, we stopped for supplies for both him and me. I needed powder, sunscreen, and body lotion. When we finished we took David back home and started our journey back to Jim and Carolyn's in Lake Alfred.

I had asked Cameron if he'd mind stopping at Desert Inn, a place I noticed on our drive south a couple days before. It's just off Florida's Turnpike on Highway 60. I wanted to take his photo next to this historic marker, but he insisted on taking a shot of me -- showing my mileage for the day.

The plaque states: "The Desert Inn was founded as a trading post in the late 1880s. The present building dates before 1925 and served as a supply and recreational center for cattle drovers, lumber men and tourists during the era when much of Osceola County was still undeveloped wilderness. Cowmen working the free ranging cattle on the palmetto prairie and lumber men cutting timber in the nearby pine lands came to the Desert Inn to eat, drink, and dance at this "oasis" where they could enjoy some relief from their arduous labors. Local patrons of the trading post and restaurant included African Americans and Seminoles, who had separate dining facilities in the era of segregation. The construction of the roads in the 1930s brought tourists to the area, and a set of overnight cabins were erected behind the original building. Today the Desert Inn continues to be a popular destination for tourists and local residents. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1994."

Cameron went inside to see about getting us some refreshments, but quickly realized that the Desert Inn is more a diner than a general store. We hopped back into the car and headed west to Jim and Carolyn's. We passed the orange processing plants we'd noticed two days before. The orange scent is so strong driving past these places that it was heavenly to me -- I like oranges. But, I can imagine it could be sickening if one didn't care for the fruit. There were literally hundreds of open tractor-trailers, parked side by side, filled to near overflowing with oranges. I've never seen anything like it.

A couple hours later we exited Highway 27 and stopped at a different Publix that's nearer to Jim and Carolyn's than the grocery from days before. Since it was Sunday we couldn't get our beverage of choice so we opted for a case of Red Stripe. After unpacking again at Cameron's parents', we ate barbecue Chicken. and what was left of Jim's potato salad. I tried to want the beer but I just didn't. After one and a half, I was through. It was too filling. As we talked a bit more with Jim and Carolyn, I mentioned at some point wanting to take the Passat to a carwash in the morning, but Jim insisted that I should wash it in their driveway. Shortly thereafter I said "goodnight" and headed off to bed. Saying that I was road weary at this point was an understatement.

Day 5 · Memorial Day · Monday, 26 May
Because we had to be in Leesburg at Cameron's long-time friend Gary's for a cookout at 3, I got up early. Neither Cameron or I were hungry so we skipped breakfast for just coffee. Jim pulled his car washing supplies out for me and let me take a stab at getting the bugs off of the car. I hadn't planned on waxing, but he brought me this spray that waxes while you dry. It was pretty amazing. So, I cleaned out the interior of the car, cleaned the glass and was pretty happy with the results. I pulled some clothes out of my luggage for the next leg of our trip and packed the remainder in the trunk. I showered, we said goodbye and hit the road sometime after 11.

On the road for about twenty minutes, Cameron was looking down at the map when we drove into a swarm of lovebugs that looked like it could have been a plague. They were hitting the windshield and front of the car in such large numbers that he commented that he thought it was rain. Really.

A little less love in the air.

We turned the wrong direction off of Florida's Turnpike when we got to our exit and were actually driving into "downtown" Leesburg instead of the outskirts where we should have been. Cameron called Gary who pointed us in the right direction. We turned onto the street we were instructed, noted the new fire station that Gary mentioned, but completely missed his hidden driveway.

After another call and a U-turn we found Gary standing in his front yard looking for us. After introductions we went in and met his partner, Kevin, and several of their friends. We made beverages and followed Gary out the back door where he walked us around his 11-acres. We saw his chickens and cows and where he's cleaning large stones from a space where his new house will be built. He spoke of plans for a creek and an ornamental pond.

Some of Gary's trees festooned with Spanish Moss.

After the tour we walked back into his house. He had made a lot of great food and prepared to grill hamburgers and hot dogs. Some of us went outside with him while others stayed in -- it was quite warm outside but I thought it was comfortable enough. Some of the folks were drinking Strawberry Daiquiris made with Everclear. ICK. I opted for Bullfrogs (vodka and 7-UP).

Opal and Cameron talking.

After dinner a few of us sat in a mosquito tent in his backyard. One by one the guests began to leave -- one after her second attempt. (She was stopped and brought back into the house until she was in better condition for driving). She works in law enforcement. Because Kevin is an auditor for a chain of convenience markets he had to go to bed before sundown, allowing him enough sleep by his wake-up time of 3 A.M. Gary, Cameron and I stayed up well into the wee hours of the next morning talking. It was a beautiful night. I tried to snap a photo of the starry sky that was silhouetting a tree with my digital camera, but all I got was a black rectangle.

Kevin and Gary winding down after the guests have gone.

Day 6 · Tuesday, 27 May
We awoke around 7 A.M. Gary had coffee for us and we sat on his screened front porch for an hour chatting and listening to his radio. It was a very pleasant way to wake up. Nearing 9 o'clock, when his favorite morning broadcast airs, I went in and began gathering up my belongings. Cameron joined me. We showered, dressed and I began packing the car. Gary gave us some Mexican Petunia, a Morning Glory shrub, and another plant which flowers with a bloom in the shape of a large purple trumpet.

David, Cameron and Gary saying goodbye. Cameron
later told me how special it was to be standing with his
first love and his last love at his sides.

We set out on the highway to Biloxi. A couple hours into the drive, right before we hit I-10, we stopped at one of the many citrus/souvenir stands that dot Florida's Turnpike, where we bought some trinkets and gasoline. A bit further we stopped at Wendy's for lunch then it was back on the road for our few hours on Interstate 10.

A view from the Wendy's parking lot: I'd have to be "whacked"
to even consider this a clever
name for a hair salon
even if they promise a "
haircut just for me." I'm scared.

I hadn't been to Mobile before our drive south earlier in the week, and I remembered liking the drive through. I was looking forward to the long bridge and then the tunnel that goes deep under water or part of downtown. I couldn't tell which. I guess it could be both. We stopped for gas right outside of downtown and hopped back on the expressway. Just a couple of hours later we're back in Woolmarket.

When we arrived at Lisa's we were amazed to see how much control she'd gained over our wild-child, Georgia. We quickly unpacked and drove into D'Iberville for some groceries. That night we made spaghetti with some italian sausage I'd left in her fridge before we left. After dinner we sat outside, talked and watched the four Boxers play. For the most part it looked as if Lucy, Roxie, Billie and Georgia were having a good time together.

Roxie and Georgia

Lucy having a stretch.

Billie having a suntan.

Day 7 · Wednesday, 28 May
I woke up when I heard Lisa getting ready for work, feeding the dogs and taking them outside. She talked to me about training Georgia and she said that she really thinks that after we finish her initial training classes that we need to take her to agility training. After she left I got in the car on a quest for Starbucks. After thirty or so minutes on the road, however, I gave up, turned around and stopped at the evil sign of creepy clowns and yellow arches and ordered Cameron and myself some coffee. When I walked out the back door at Lisa's, Cameron was having a smoke and wondering where the hell I'd been until I handed him his cup.

Weeks before our visit Lisa told me that she was overwhelmed with some things around her house, like a tree that had grown into her neighbor's roof. So after she left I went into her garage and found a pruning saw and used it to cut the tree back. After we showered we headed to Lowe's. We both decided after our first stop a week earlier that we wanted to pick up some essentials for her like Preen, a pump sprayer, grass seed, Roundup and quick connects for her hoses and attachments. Add to that a $100 gift card and we felt like she'd be off to a pretty good start. She returned from work to see what we were doing. It was an emotional moment for all of us because we know how difficult it must be for her to do this work on her own.

That evening we met her friend and co-worker Myeisha, and her sister Gigi who was visiting from New York, at Ruby Tuesday for dinner. I hadn't been and wouldn't normally go to any Ruby Tuesday for years but when that's what's there among not much else.... The food was good and of course we had a great time. Back at Lisa's house afterward the four of us continued our evening, listened to some music and played with the dogs until bedtime.

Having a big time at Ruby Tuesday: Gigi, Lisa, Myeshia,
Cameron and me. So much for focus and lighting.

Day 7 · Thursday, 29 May
Lisa took off this day. Since we bought coffee and such at Wal-Mart the afternoon before, our caffeine fix was already taken care of. We stopped at a McDonalds for a 99¢ Breakfast Burrito before heading into the Home Depot adjacent searching for one a suitable aluminum and fabric pergola for the space just off her patio. There is no shade behind her house. After Katrina the single, splintered live oak at the side of her house will someday provide relief from the sun, but she needed a shady place to take breaks during a Saturday of yardwork, or even a nice place to relax in the evenings NOW.

We settled on one from Lowes and hurried back to her house to put it up before we met her friend Gina for lunch at The Bayview Gourmet in historic downtown Ocean Springs.

Lisa's new dress.

At the restaurant, a small, yellow clapboard house turned upscale-but-not-snooty restaurant with wraparound decks for al fresco dining, we took a seat inside. The heat outdoors was like sitting in a brick oven. While we waited for Gina, I ordered one of their famous Bloody Marys: Absolut & Zing Zang with pickled okra and olives. It was so delicious that I had to order another. For lunch I ordered one of the specials, a Fried Green Tomato BLT. The menu describes this sandwich as "Wheatberry bread lightly toasted and filled with fried green tomatoes, crispy bacon, green leaf lettuce, and garlic mayo served with fries". For $6.95 this sounded like an awesome deal, and the sandwich was good, but I hardly think it was "filled" with fried green tomatoes. There were only two, small breaded discs. Nevertheless, I'd probably order it again.

Following lunch we walked across the street to "Realizations: The Walter Anderson Shop," which according to their website is "located in the historic L&N Railroad Depot in Ocean Springs, Mississippi." I was only vaguely familiar with Walter Ingliss Anderson's work but was overwhelmed with all the work available as reproductions in silk-screened glory. I'm intrigued by his work and plan to look for something that might be just right for our house.

A Walter Ingliss Anderson print.

We left the museum and walked through the historic district to Two Dogs Dancing, a store filled with anything and seemingly everything you'd need for your canine companion. Cameron purchased two oval stickers with the silhouette of a Boxer for each of us, styled after the United Nations mandated stickers used to identify country of origin for autos traveling in the Eastern Hemisphere. We also bought a Water Rover portable pet water bowl for Billie and Georgia. To me, this one seems to be the most practical one on the market.

A boutique made in heaven for Billie and Georgia,
their cousins, Lucy, Roxie, Daisy, Maggie and
Scout and their aunt Lily, (my sisters', brothers
and Mother's boxers).

Later that afternoon, we decided to drive to Gulfport so I could see what was left after the devastating hurricane. I was awestruck. All along Beach Boulevard there were ghostly foundations where buildings used to stand. There were signs for chain restaurants only recognizable by their shapes, twisted like pretzels pointing to the sky. On the beach side there were splintered piles of wood that more resembled a pile of Lincoln Logs than the piers they once were. Many of the larger structures still stood and had either been rebuilt or were in the process thereof, but many of the businesses haven't returned. Some of the homes have been rebuilt, elevated above ground. This is a requirement if the structure is a total rebuild. If not completely destroyed and repairable, the homes are allowed to stay at ground level.

Lisa had wanted us to drive Second Street, a historic neighborhood (where she's sure we would live if we were to move there) to see homes that were spared during Katrina because the huge Antebellum homes that used to stand between them and the beach took the initial blow. There were many homes on the street that appeared to be unscathed and many others that had been or were in the stages of being rebuilt.

From there we drove to Belk department store where Lisa was looking for shoes and Cameron and I were looking for shorts. Two 40-ish men may have seemed out-of-place to a fifty-ish woman who was obviously shopping for her son in the Young Men's department or maybe she clocked us for queer, based upon the leers we were getting, but we knew what we wanted and it wasn't Burmudas for the shuffleboard set. And if she clocked us, so what? I could've mentioned her bad hair, frumpy clothes and need to lose 50 pounds, but I didn't. We each picked up three pairs of cargo shorts at 50% off and couldn't have been more pleased with our finds.

Day 8 · Friday, 30 May
With Lisa at work and Cameron still in bed, I cut down a random tree that was growning next to the live oak I'd pruned a few days earlier. Then I organized some paperwork that had been sitting upon her dining table, and was organizing her garage when she arrived home from a half-day at work.

We drove back to D'Iberville to Whataburger for lunch. I hadn't eaten at one of the orange and white striped restaurants since the last one in Memphis -- on Frayser Boulevard -- closed. At last pass it was some barbecue place. Go Figure.

This is the good stuff.

My burger was exactly what I expected, the fries were great and they were offering lemon pies for a limited time. I had to have one. Pressed for an answer for my opinion on best fast-food burgers I couldn't give a clear one. If you know me, you'll know that I think they're all different and have merit on their own, or conversely suck on their own shortcomings. My top pick is White Castle. Then, it's a toss-up between Steak-n-Shake and Whataburger. I like Back Yard Burger a lot, but it's in a league of it's own. At the bottom of the barrel? McDonalds, hands down with Burger King a close second.


After a stop at Lowes we sat in Lisa's back yard and took cuttings from the plants that Gary gave us. We potted them in the shade of her pergola and talked of plans for meeting her friends Maria, Gina and Myeisha and some friends of theirs at Chili's for dinner before going to The Grand Theater to see Sex and the City. I loved the movie. At least what we saw of it. The theater began experiencing technical difficulties at around five minutes to go. They finally got the film back on the screen, but with no audio. So, the angry mob of mostly women and me went to the box office for a refund. Twenty or so minutes later I had my refund stub in my hand and we went back to Lisa's for an evening of burning CDs for the trip, for her, and a cocktail or two.

Day 9 · Saturday, 31 May
First thing, I began packing the car with everything that wasn't needed for the morning. Over coffee, and between showers, Cameron and I burned more music for Lisa. We hit the road for Memphis sometime around 11 A.M. Outside Jackson we stopped for lunch at Back Yard Burger.
We walked the dogs and tried the Water Rover. It worked like the label claimed it would. What a nice thing to have. Back on the road we made haste until we arrived at home around 5 P.M.

Billie and Georgia were so excited to be in familiar surroundings. Six hours in the car one way, and 10 days away from home certainly must feel like an eternity to them. After unpacking the car and getting settled we made a few calls and retired to the back yard for cocktails, grilling some steaks and reveled in the past few days' travels, the 2,656 miles we drove, the delight of seeing friends and relatives and joys of being home.

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