Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Hudson James

Today I'm clearing out of Jacksonville and heading back to Tampa. My brother and mom are both exhausted, I think. It's hard to have a visitor, even for just a few days!

Yesterday, I went to First Watch for breakfast with my brother and older niece. I had carrot cake pancakes, which may sound a little scary, but they were actually really good -- shredded carrots with raisins and pecans. I told myself they were healthy because they contained an orange vegetable.

As we were paying the cashier, this very cute dog was creating chaos on the patio in front of the restaurant. His name is Hudson James (I'm not sure whether James is a middle name or a last name!) and he's a year old. He was a constantly wriggling, spluttering meatball, winding his leash through the legs of all the chairs, messily gulping down water, then spilling the rest and rolling around in it.

I spent the day with Mom, watching birds from her balcony and -- when that got too hot -- watching Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and "Sanford and Son." (Daytime TV offers a wealth of old shows, at least on cable.)

In the afternoon I popped over to a Goodwill just down the street from my mom's. It looked promising -- a huge store -- but I didn't find anything I wanted. Just a lot of nondescript clothes and charity-run t-shirts. Oh well.

Today will be spent mostly in the car, and I'm kind of looking forward to it. I can listen to the Sirius Radio '60s channel, like I did on the drive up here, and jam to lesser-known singles by the likes of Herman's Hermits and The Royal Guardsmen. It's amazing what they dredge up -- a lot of it I've never even heard before. And I consider myself a '60s aficionado!

(Top photo: Downtown Jacksonville, seen across the St. Johns River.)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Art, History and Parking Lot Drama

My brother, my niece Jane and I went to Lowe's yesterday, on a minor errand that suddenly became very dramatic. They went into the store while I paused to take this photo. When I finished I began walking toward the door, and I suddenly heard a woman scream in the parking lot. I turned around and there were two older people lying on the ground near the handicapped spaces.

Strangely, my mind immediately told me they were perpetrating some sort of scam. (I suppose this is the city dweller in me.) Still, I ran over to them, as did another woman from another direction. By this time, the man had stood up, but the woman was lying on the ground saying her leg was broken. Apparently the man had tripped on a concrete parking barrier, and fallen into her, knocking her to the ground.

I get first aid training every year at school, so I was trying to think what to do. Ice! But unfortunately, we were in the middle of a sweltering parking lot. There was no ice to be had. I asked her if she could voluntarily move her leg at all, and she could. She eventually felt confident she could stand up with some help, so a few of us (the group had grown by this time) helped her to her feet.

Another young woman came up and said, "I'm an EMT." I thought, THANK GOD! We determined the leg most likely wasn't broken. A Lowe's employee brought a wheelchair from inside the store and we put her in it. We wheeled her over to her car and lifted her in, and the man drove her away, supposedly to the hospital -- the EMT had recommended an x-ray.

I never did see the inside of that Lowe's, which is fine. I've seen 'em before.

Fortunately no one took my name as a witness for the purposes of future legal action.

We went on to lunch at a nearby sub shop, and then drove into downtown Jacksonville. I wanted to see some of the city's numerous murals, but while we were there we checked out some of its history, too.

These are the LaVilla shotgun houses, which are more than 100 years old. The city is storing them for future restoration, but as you can see, they're in pretty rough shape. In fact they're listed among the city's most endangered historic buildings. They were homes for working people in the largely black neighborhood of LaVilla, and called shotgun houses because you could supposedly fire a gun from front to back without hitting any walls.

We also took a closer look at the historic sign on the Maxwell House coffee roasting plant. It lights up at night. If I were more motivated I'd have gone back later for a night shot, but oh well.

And here are some of the murals. This is one of the newer ones, according to my brother. It says, in Latin,  "If the common people want to be deceived, let them be deceived." Or something like that. (I confess -- I used Google Translate, and had to massage the result.)

Jacksonville always has a lively mural scene.

The reclining Buddha!

I got incredibly hot jumping in and out of the car and walking around in parking lots. It was something like 94ยบ F yesterday. Far hotter than I'm used to in England!

I spent the evening with my mom. She asked to go back to the Julington Creek Fish Camp, the restaurant overlooking the marina where we went for lunch on Friday -- so we did. Then, last night, my brother and I went to Bruster's, an ice cream stand where you can get a good-sized cone and hang out on benches beneath trees on a brightly lit patio. It was kind of a retro scene. I expected Suzanne Somers to pull up in a convertible.

Finally, some of you asked to see the frog I bought my nieces. Here it is, in its new home on my brother's patio. They've named it "Fangpuss" after a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character -- I suppose because it appears to have prominent teeth!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Dog and Frog

More errands with my brother's family yesterday -- a trip to the local branch library, a stop at the optician to get my older niece Jane's glasses repaired. The library was airy, modern and pretty impressive. I thought it was very well-stocked. They were having a sale of donated books to raise money, but by the time we got there I think things had been picked over -- lots of James Patterson, Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy were left languishing. I have enough to read, so I didn't bother!

Afterwards we went to a little restaurant called The Local for lunch. I had a big salad with chicken on it. I'm always hungry for vegetables when I travel -- I don't know why that is. Kate was horrified that I was eating beets.

You know how I make those GoPro dog-cam videos in London, with Olga wearing the camera? Well, I brought my GoPro camera to Jacksonville so we could make a video featuring Queens, my brother's dog. I thought it would be a fun project for my nieces. It turns out Jane knows more about iMovie than I do (of course) so we had fun yesterday morning filming 40 minutes of video and then paring it down. Unfortunately Queens was a somewhat reluctant participant. We'd put the GoPro harness on her and she'd just stand there -- she didn't like to move with it on her back.

Finally, by putting the leash on her, we were able to motivate her to explore the neighborhood on a walk. It didn't make for thrilling video -- Queens is way too well-behaved. Apparently the GoPro works most effectively when attached to a crazy, squirrel-chasing, Kong-loving staffy!

As you may remember, I've written before about the colorful concrete frogs that are a feature of this part of Jacksonville. They appear on bridges, tree stumps and other areas beside the roads and in people's yards, and they're created by the "frog man of Mandarin," a sort of reluctant local celebrity. I've always liked the frogs -- fun creations that hopefully raise awareness of local ecology.

Well, as I was driving past Walter Jones Historical Park yesterday, I saw this sign out front. I stopped and sure enough, the frogs were for sale. Woo hoo! I chatted with the frog man and picked out a green-and-purple one for my nieces, with the money going toward the Mandarin historical museum (located at the park). I gave it to them last night and everyone seemed tickled with it. If you live in Mandarin, you have to have a frog!

(Top photo: The St. Johns riverfront at Walter Jones.)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The DMV, and Finding Things

Yesterday was a day of errands. My mom's driver's license expired on her birthday, so my brother and I took her to the DMV and got it replaced with a state ID card. Mom doesn't really drive anymore -- she doesn't need to, because she lives in a retirement community with shuttle buses to shops and entertainment venues -- so an official photo ID will suit her purposes just fine.

The DMV outing didn't take very long, and I didn't even accompany my mom and brother to talk to the inspector. I just sat in the waiting area gazing at a display of Florida's specialty license plates. Do you realize Florida has something like 120 specialty plates? You can get one supporting virtually any state school or sports team or any one of dozens of social and environmental causes -- save the manatee, save the panther, save the dolphin, celebrate horses, keep kids off drugs, support the Police Athletic League -- it's insane, frankly. Money from the plates goes to charity, but it's not always immediately evident what charities are supported by certain plates. So I got out my phone and looked them up. It kept me busy.

Anyway, afterwards we took my mom out to a birthday lunch at a restaurant overlooking this marina (above). My brother and I each ordered watermelon salad, and my mom initially said she didn't want one, but of course when ours arrived she began making eyes at them, so we got her one too. Then I had a salmon BLT, which was excellent, and Mom had shrimp and grits. She's always had a good appetite, at least as an adult -- apparently she was picky as a child, but you'd never know it now.

We dropped my mom back at her place, intending to pick her up for dinner later. My brother and I went to the hardware store and then spent the afternoon watching YouTube videos of guys who find things. This intrigues both of us.

As I've written before, I have my own metal detector. I haven't used it much yet -- all that digging -- ugh! I think I may be more of an aspirational metal detectorist than an actual one. But my brother and I have been "finders" from way back. For example, my brother has a little collection of found bottles in his garage. Some of them were things we found years ago as kids, some he got more recently.

And of course you've seen all the junk I come home with after walking the dog or exploring Hampstead Heath.

So, yeah, finding is in our blood.

Anyway, as evening approached we called my mom for dinner, but she'd already eaten something at her retirement center's cafeteria. (I think she forgot we had plans.) That's fine -- one meal out per day is probably plenty for her. We'll take her to dinner tonight, maybe.

My niece Kate saw my camera sitting on a table and asked if she could take a picture of her inflatable swimming pool. Kate is six, and my camera weighs about 42 pounds, so the deck was stacked against her -- but she managed this shot. She was very excited that she got her lion suncatcher in the frame!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Sea Dip

I drove up to Jacksonville yesterday, where I'm now visiting my brother and mom. Today is Mom's birthday, in fact -- she's 82 years young. Someone asked in the comments why on Earth I came to Florida in July. Well, that's why -- that and the fact that I'm off work now.

I took a little detour through Daytona Beach. I hadn't visited Daytona for more than 30 years. I came several times in the mid-'80s, when I was 18 or 19, with some friends from high school -- two of them moved to Daytona after graduation, drawn by an engineering school there. Yesterday I stopped by the apartment complex where they used to live, and where six of us memorably spent the weekend of Hurricane Elena holed up watching MTV. It now has the ridiculously ostentatious name "The Park at Via Corso Premier Apartment Homes." That isn't what it was called when my friends lived there. I think back then it was "Craptastic Court."

Anyway, while in Daytona, I decided to buzz past the one landmark I remember in the whole city -- the Sea Dip Beach Resort. It's on the ocean just over the bridge from my friends' former apartment complex.

As you can see, it's now pretty bland-looking. Not even very noticeable. But check out how awesome it was about 60 years ago, according to these old postcard images I found online:

I never saw it with that groovy paint job. When I encountered it in the mid-'80s, it was beige or light brown, as I recall. But it still had that fantastic sign, which stands out vividly in my memory.

(Who are all those people, do you think? I love old postcards where people are so busily and photogenically lounging around a swimming pool. They always look so poised, and never sweaty or dehydrated or overly sunburned -- thus departing wildly from reality.)

The only reason the Sea Dip made an impression (aside from the sign) is that my friend Kevin and I used to make fun of the name. We'd do a sort of Beavis-and-Butthead laugh every time we passed by -- even before Beavis and Butthead came along -- because of course "dip" (or more colorfully, "dipshit") was an insulting term for a sort of juvenile or clueless person.

What can I say. I was a teenager. A "dip," in fact.

Anyway, it was a fun little detour. Daytona is actually much nicer than I remember -- lots of little pastel motels decorated with plaster seahorses and starfish, as well as more modern and stylish accommodations. I stopped downtown and had an excellent turkey reuben sandwich at the waterfront Chef Papa's Cafe, where I accidentally overtipped my waitress -- but that's fine. She deserved it.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Zombie Morning With Gradual Recovery

I have already entered that crazy travel/vacation time-warp, in which events seem weirdly expanded and also compressed. It seems like days ago that I wrote my last post! That's partly because yesterday was so busy.

I was like the walking dead for the first part of the morning, but around lunchtime I began to feel better. I couldn't seem to rouse my stepsister or anyone else (they probably felt just as bad as I did), so for lunch I made a solo trip to a Chinese restaurant that Dave and I frequented when we were here in December. I was craving broccoli and tofu in brown sauce. I'm not sure why crunchy broccoli and salty sauce seemed so necessary as hangover food, but it was calling my name.

Afterwards I drove into Tampa and visited blog pal E, who is an old college friend of mine. (She does in fact have a name, but I am respecting her nom-de-plume.) E has been going through some drama lately with her condominium association, which you know if you read her blog, as well as travails with a non-functioning computer.

I walked around E's condo complex and outwardly it seems so placid and pristine, with tropical landscaping and lush grass. I met this family of Muscovy ducks -- I think it's so cute that one of the ducklings has a brown face while the others are all yellow. Funny how genes work. Or maybe that's a gender thing? I know nothing about ducks.

Anyway, it was good to catch up with her -- for one thing, she's a trained librarian, and she has inspired me to consider going back to school to get some true library credentials. I've resisted that idea because of the effort and expense, but frankly I do need some new challenges and the school where I work would help pay for it. So I'll think about that. I also met E's confident-but-chill orange tabby cat Lukas.

Back in the car, I encountered this van on my way down to South Tampa. I don't know if you can read all those bumper stickers, but the driver's heart is in the right place. I wanted to leap out of the car at a stoplight and give them a hug.

In late afternoon I met my friend Sue -- also from college -- and we had a few drinks (hair of the dog!) and then dinner at yet another swanky, trendy restaurant. It blows my mind how hip Tampa is these days. When I grew up here, there were a few nice old-school restaurants like the Columbia or Malio's or Bern's, but mid-range dining mostly meant Red Lobster and other chains. (At least to my family.) It's so great to see how interesting things have become.

Good Lord. I'm sitting in my stepmother's dark living room and some animal, seemingly about two feet away from me, just started making the craziest, Jurassic-Park type chirping and croaking noises. I'm sure it was just a frog outside, but it sounded gigantic. Florida!

(Top photo: An inspiring building near my stepmother's house in North Tampa. I have no idea what's inside!)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Derailed, In More Ways Than One

Well, yesterday's travels were certainly eventful. Ultimately they were successful, and I'm now in Florida, but there were times I didn't think I was going to make it.

I carefully checked the Transport for London web site before I left home, and saw that there were no tube outages. The trip planner recommended that I go to Victoria Station and take the train down to Gatwick. One hour, it said.

So I left at 8:15 a.m., which should have given me plenty of time to make my 11:30 a.m. flight.

But what the trip planner didn’t say was that there had been a train derailment outside Victoria at 3 a.m., and all the trains were in chaos. All Gatwick Express trains were cancelled, as were many others. People were milling around Victoria by the hundreds, looking uncertain. I wound up having to take one train — which moved at a snail’s pace — down to East Croydon, and then changing to another train for Gatwick. The journey took more than two hours, and I had just enough time to check in, get through security, buy a Starbucks and get to my gate before boarding my plane — which wound up being delayed about half an hour anyway.

As I stood in line next to a duty-free shop while waiting to board, my anxiety slowly ebbing, two American guys — possibly a father and son — were talking behind me. Clearly they had never been in an international airport before.

“Duty Free? Is that the name of the shop? That’s a strange name. What does that mean, Duty Free?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s confusing. It’s like Chick-fil-A. Why’s it called that? What are they filling the chicken with?”


On the plane, I managed to read most of "Lady Chatterley's Lover," which I've long been curious about. It's a remarkably frank book for its day, but of course now it hardly seems scandalous. I didn't realize how much of it was about ecological, social and economic concerns in post-World War I England. There's a lot of that woven in with all the sex. Lawrence was clearly concerned with how we could all live authentic lives in the midst of not only stifling morality, but also soul-sucking industrialization and capitalism.

Finally, after nine-plus hours of flying, my stepsister and her husband picked me up from the airport in Tampa and took me to dinner. We wound up going out afterwards, and we ran into some old co-workers of mine from my years in journalism, with the end result that I am not just jet-lagged but also hung over. I'm not sure how effective I'm going to be today.

My brother sent me this New Yorker cartoon because he always jokes that this is what my blog is like -- me talking about how busy I am doing nothing. Prepare for more of the same!

(Top photo: Plants on my stepmother's porch.)