June 26, 2008

At Large In Sarasota

It's about 5:40am and Charlene and I are being driven by a friend to Louisville International Airport. We're on the ramp to the Watterson westbound and we see a knot of police cars ahead with blue lights swirling. We see a twisted motorcycle in the median and forty feet after that, the rider lying on his side perfectly still, as if napping. The police are standing in a wide reverential semi-circle around the scene. Charlene's cell phone rings and it's Ben who said the rider was dead and the police are awaiting the ambulance to take the body to the morgue. Charlene wiped a tear or two from her eyes. A very sad and surreal beginning of a vacation.

Charlene and I were the fourth and fifth of our crew to arrive at the airport. Ben and Noelle were at the curb side check-in with Hailee in tow. Hailee was very excited about the plane ride as she has a friend who told her all about flying. Abby and Tristan are the last to arrive and we are ready to start our vacation. We get all our baggage checked in and get our bodies and carry-ons cleansed and sanctified by the Transportation Security Administration. On the way to our boarding gate Ben and I stop at Starbucks to get cups of their rocket fuel. I snitch a couple of Hailee's small powdered donuts to go with my coffee and by the time we board the plane I'm sizzling like an isotope. I usually enjoy flying but the instant the jet leaves the runway I feel a sense of vertigo and my hands are slightly trembling. It's been awhile since I've flown but it seemed like steeper than usual climb to the friendly skies. I heard Tristan yell "blast off Mommy!" and Hailee's giddy giggle. I looked out the window to see Iroqouis Park fading away behind us and I settle down once we level off on our short hop to Atlanta. It's seems we payed Delta for the experience of having a coke and a small package of peanuts at 20,000 feet in the air because before you can say Orville and Wilbur Wright, we touch down in Atlanta. We get delayed over an hour in Atlanta because of a hydraulic pump failure on our next plane. Before we finally board Charlene wants to interview the mechanic who happens to be sitting at the boarding gate filling out a repair form. He said he replaced the hydraulic pump with a brand new one. Once we board I told her I thought I saw a half pint in his pocket and she turns an interesting shade of pale green.

On this leg I'm sitting in a middle seat between Hailee and Tristan. Tristan falls asleep just before take off and REMAINS SLEEPING through acceleration and take off. I couldn't believe it. It's peanuts and pop time again and Hailee can't wait. She said "Papa, these peanuts are really delicious!" We're above Tampa Bay and there is a finger of land jutting out into the bay. Hailee thinks she's seeing the whole Florida peninsula. The plane seems to be slightly crooked while coming onto the runway and it's a very rough landing; the plane seems to want to cartwheel down the runway. The passengers' collective white knuckle sheer will manages to make it a safe landing. I was wondering if the only place Delta could find a hydraulic pump was a local Auto Zone near the Atlanta airport and rig it to fit this honkin' jet. I guess these days Delta has to keep an eye on their bottom line anywhere they can.

We hit the concourse and Tristan is wide awake and ready for action, eye-balling the cavernous terminal, he's ready to rip and run. We have to keep an eye on him to keep him close to our crew. I let him roll my carry on and he thinks he's Mr BigStuff. He loves to help 'ol Papa Bear. We're all hoping the van we rented will be big enough for our crew and the luggage. A Hummer wasn't available. To our relief it was a very roomy '08 Toyota Sienna. We plugged the Tree Line Court address into the GPS and left Tampa International in style. The traffic along I-75 is light. As we're riding along two crotch rocket motorcycles scream past us, weaving through the cars. I would guess their speed at least 120 mph. It's the fastest speed of any vehicle I've ever seen on a public road. I thought we might witness what we had just missed earlier that morning on the Watterson coming to the airport.

We arrive at Mom & Dad's condo which is part of an eccentric little community called Village of The Pines (VOP). We waste no time unpacking the van. I thought we'd have to spend some time at a Sarasota hospital for hernia repairs after lifting Noelle and Abby's suitcases for the second time that day. OSHA would have required a fork lift. Thanks to roller luggage nowadays my right arm doesn't look orangutanian in length. We claim our spaces and decided to hit the beach since it was only two o'clock. I hadn't been to Siesta Key beach since I was very young. I dimly remember all the white sand. I've found that it has received many awards and is consistently ranked among the top ten beaches in the world. The sand is 99% pure quartz, unlike most beaches which are composed of crushed shells, rocks or lava. The sand is dazzling white, looks like refined sugar, and doesn't feel hot. It's a beautiful beach to say the least. Ponce de León wrote a entry about the beach in one of his ship's logs. "Thee beacheth is most lovely for the eyez to gazeth upon. I nameth it Isabella Beach." To the native Calusa Indians, Isabella could be translated as 'my eyes have turds in them'. The Calusa Indians changed the named back to 'unchancathy', which translates to 'two dogs kissing'. Ponce didn't stick around to protest as he was busy traipsing all over Florida in his metal conquistador outfit looking for the Fountain of Youth. You can bet he got pretty warm in that get up, and this was before the advent of bottled water! They grew 'em tough back in those days. Of course nowadays everyone knows the Fountain of Youth is in St. Augustine and you can buy it in bottles. Hailee doesn't care much for the beach although she's a trooper and towards the end of our vacation she gets to like it more than she ever has. Tristan, on the other hand, is game for anything you throw his way. He loved riding the waves while being held. "Here comes a big wave Papa!...whoa!"

The third day at Tree Line Court was a soap opera. The condo next door was being changed to look like a circus tent. I found out later that these two adjoining condos were being fumigated for termites. Ben and I were nursing our light hangovers while the women folk went shopping. When we first opened the blinds to the back patio we thought our hangovers may have been worse than we first thought. It looked like the Ringling Museum moved in next door or an explosion at a bubblegum factory. The next day the big top comes down and the phone rings. I answer and it's a woman named Gay who lives next door, calling from her home in Michigan and I explain who I am. She asked me if I could do her a favor and check the windows and doors to make sure everything is locked up. I check and come back to the phone and tell her yes, everything is locked up. Fifteen minutes later she calls and asked me if the window shades are closed...When I go and check I find the the windows are open and the front door is unlocked! I hear "hellooo" and it makes me jump. It's the woman who lives in the other half and she tells me she is the one who's opening up the adjoining condo because she's freaking out about the chemicals used for the fumigation and is opening up Gay's condo to air it out. She said the the fumigator gave her the key to Gay's condo. Her name is Carmen and if I had to guess I would say she's Cuban. Carmen is not wearing a fruit hat but is wearing latex gloves

I go back and tell Gay what's going on and she gives birth to a four headed cow. "I DID NOT authorize her to be given the key to MY condo"..."oh this is SO UPSETTING"...and so on and so forth. I kinda got the feeling that Gay didn't care much for anyone not 100 percent American. "And oh, by the way, if the panel is off on the attic access can you put the panel back in place for me?" I go back and put the access panel back in place and talk to Carmen some more. Later I learn from Carmen that while we were talking Gay left a message on Carmen's answering machine saying that she's calling the police because she has the key to her condo and is talking to an attorney also. I can't believe this is happening. Sure enough, TWO Sarasota County Sheriff patrol cars roll up to the Carmen/Gay condo. Ben and I go out to rubber neck. After the officers and Carmen are through talking, one of the officers gives me the key to Gay's condo. I feel like throwing it in the pond nearby. While I'm talking to Carmen, Ben and the two officers talk shop. Carmen and I come to the conclusion that Gay is one sandwich shy of a picnic. Later, the fumigator comes by and I give the key to him and that's it, I'm through with the whole mess, finito, kaput, chicka boom, over and out. The day before we leave Sarasota Carmen drops by to thank me for dealing with the whole mess. I wish Carmen the best. I often wonder how people can be so mean spirited and prejudiced as Gay certainly was.

The first day we went to the VOP pool there were a few residents there sunning their bones around the pool. They looked up as we entered like we were a band of gypsies coming to open fortune teller and three card monte booths. There was a huge painted plywood sign as you entered the pool with eighteen pool rules and regulations. They covered everything you could possibly imagine and were probably drafted by a commitee of fifty people. 'Babies in diapers must be fully covered.' Covered with what? Scotch-Guard? 'No diving or jumping into the pool.' Are you supposed to roll in? 'No floats permited in the pool except for noodles.' What kind of noodles? Bow-tie? Linguini? I didn't even know that pasta could be used for flotation. There was a white haired gentleman sitting in his Hoveround by the pool smoking a cigarette. He looked like he may have been a judge before he retired. He was keeping a close eye on us, particularly Noelle, as she was carrying a forbidden float. "Don't put that in the water." He shouldn't have tangled with Noelle. I thought Noelle might put ol' Hoveround in a arm-lock and make him cry uncle. "I'm not putting it in the pool." We did put floats in the pool when there was no one around. Nyaa nyaa nyanya nyaaaaaa!

We went to visit my sister, Amy, and her husband Darrell, and their daughter, Stacia Jo a couple of times and one evening they invited us over for a crab boil. They live just a couple of miles away from Mom & Dad. It's hard to believe Stacia Jo is going to graduate from high school next year. I remember like yesterday when she was born. She hooowwwwllllled so loud you could hear her all over the hospital. She's grown to be a beautiful soft spoken young woman and a heck of a basketball player. She's so good she might win a full basketball scholarship to college. Their screened in pool was a big hit with everyone. Hailee thought it was pretty neat to eat her dessert while in the pool. I sometimes think that girl is going to grow gills.

Towards the end of our time in Sarasota, I plugged Dartmouth Drive into the GPS and Ben and I took off in the van in search of my grandparents home where they used to live. Our family used to vacation there every summer in my tykehood. Ernest and Mabel McClain retired back in the 60's to Bradenton which is just north of Sarasota. Back in those days I remember their neighborhood was pristine and every home was neat as a pin. We would go to Bradenton Beach or to a pool which they were members of. Grandpa was one of the best shuffleboard players at the club and taught us kids how to play. He had a deft touch with his cue and uncanny accuracy. We were in awe of Grandpa's shuffleboard skills and our goal was to beat him but it never happened. Grandma loved the water whether it was the beach or the pool and always wore a swim cap. She was a big card player too and taught us how to play Michigan Rummy. I have many happy memories of my Grandparents and summer vacations at their home. I wish I hadn't gone back to Dartmouth Drive. The homes in the area have gone to seed and the shopping center down the road looks like any other generic shopping center back home in Louisville. The memories are still vivid but the actual physical place has gone through change and decay after almost forty years. "Let's get out of here Ben."

Paula Stout and her husband, Bob, live down at the end of Tree Line Court and are originally from Newport, RI and they've lived at VOP for the last three years. We met Paula at the pool one day with her grandson Noah. Paula said most all the pool rules were bullshit so we instantly hit it off. Bob Stout still works in sales in Sarasota. They both have that northern accent and they said that we have a southern accent. One night we had a pizza party at the pool. They had gin and we had bourbon. Paula said that we were the nicest people she's met at VOP and she was sad to see us leave. Paula and Bob were nice folks and we hated to leave them too.

Precious moments:

The first evening there, we went to the local Publix for groceries and there was a bagger there who wore an eye patch. Ben smiles at me and and growls, "ARRRR, would you be wanting paper or plastic matey?"

Charlene and Abby get an upclose encounter with a BIG cockroach in the dishwasher. They both scream bloody murder and Charlene does this wierd skipping dance out to the back room making a OOOH! OOOH! OOOH sound. I thought the cockroach had her by the heel.

After being in two airports all day with delays, missed connections, Tristan meltdowns, and everyone being tired and cranky we ate at a Mexican restaurant across from the Holiday Inn in Atlanta were we're spending the night. The waiter comes for drink orders. Abby says "I WANNA BIG MARGARITA." Charlene and Noelle follow suit and they all pay a loopy visit to Margaritaville. Not the healthiest way to relieve stress but it worked. I took a sip of Charlene's and there was enough tequila in it to tranquilize a full grown water buffalo. Abby resisted the urge to pour a little in Tristan's sippy cup.

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