No cold, no ice, no snow
You can click on "photos" to get directly to the first photo page, which has a connector to the second page, or you can click on specific links in the text to get to the photos associated with that part of the travelogue.
Not since we lived in South Florida from 1977 to 1982 have we spent a winter where we totally eluded the bitter cold and/or ice and/or snow. But we did it this past winter by staying south of the freeze line in Florida, and let me tell you it was GREAT. Pretty much nothing but sun and warmth every day.
After spending three weeks with the Atlanta-based kids and grandkids, we headed straight back to Florida. We had told Mark Nemeth (Mark's Fulltime RV Adventure) that we'd come spend New Year's Eve at the Suwannee Valley Campground in White Springs, FL, which is where Mark was workamping. This was to be his last few days at Suwannee because Mark had taken a job working with the Escapees RV Club at their home park, Rainbow's End, in Livingston, TX. It also gave Diane another chance to visit with her brother, Jerry. The campground had a New Year's Eve party and we invited Jerry and his wife. It was nice to see everyone again. The owners of Suwannee Valley Campground, Kevin and Jessica Finch, are very nice folks who used to be in the restaurant business. They run a very friendly campground, and it's a great place to stop for a few days on the way south into Florida.
We gave Mark our best wishes for his new journey with the Escapees organization and headed over to Crystal River to spend a week. This wasn't in our plans, but when we found out that the Paynes and Hammonds were going to be there, we decided to also head in that direction. Jim and Patty Hammond were planning to come off the road in 2002, so we thought we'd spend one more week with them and say goodbye. The weather was pretty cool, but not cold, except maybe a little in the early morning. It was on one of those pretty cool mornings that the Hammonds and the Paynes decided to go swim with the manatees. They asked if we wanted to go, but getting up at 6 a.m. to go swim in cold water with cool air temperatures wasn't our cup of tea. They all said they had a great time, albeit it did start to get a bit cold in the water, even with the rubber suits. Of course, we had some great meals in the area, such as in the China First Buffet and at Yanni's, and I did get to play a round of golf. Diane and I also drove over to Ocala to spend a day with my mom.
The backup camera on our motorhome wasn't working properly (everything looked like a negative), so we scheduled an appointment with Independence RV in Winter Garden (near Orlando) to get it fixed. So off we went to our favorite campground in the area, the Encore park near Disney World. We knew that Mike and Sherry Kraus were at the park, so we got to visit with them while we were there, as well as visit again with Ray and Earline Greer, whom we had met in December when we were there. I was able to get in a round of golf with Ray. The folks at Independence diagnosed the problem with the camera and decided I needed a new one (under warranty, of course). That meant we would have to return after the Tampa RV show to get it installed.
We wanted to spend a few days in the Tampa area prior to the RV show and had made a reservation at the Happy Traveler campground in Thonotosassa, a little north of Tampa. I have an aunt and cousins in Tampa, so we made plans to take my aunt out to lunch and go visit my cousin Jay. If you follow these travelogues, you may remember that we were in Tampa in January 2001 and visited with my cousin. He had taken ill in 1995 with Guillain-Barre Syndrome that left him totally paralyzed for a time. He has worked his way back to partial paralysis and is an inspiration to me. I admire Jay's outlook and determination. We had a great visit, which I hope will be at least an annual event.
One day while I was playing on the laptop, I heard a diesel engine go by and asked Diane what kind of coach it was that was coming in. She said it was a Dutch Star and it was going to park next to us. I got up to take a look and realized right away that it was Norm and Linda Payne. We had made plans to go to the RV show together, but they didn't know if they could get into the Happy Traveler. What a pleasant surprise.
The four of us took a ride over to Lazy Days to sit in on one of the semiars that Ron and Barb Hofmeister were giving during the Lazy Days January activities. Cec and Judy were there helping out and it was nice to see all of them again. After the seminar, we all went to lunch and had a great time chatting about lots of different subjects. Needless to say, lunch lasted a few hours.
Last year we spent the four days of the Tampa RV Show with the Veaches and the Holders, and we got to meet Dirk Harrington. This year we would do it with the Paynes and also hook up with Dirk again. John and Libby weren't around this time as they were spending the winter out in New Mexico and Arizona. This is one of the largest RV shows. Lots of rigs to look at, food to eat, people to meet. It took a lot longer to get into the fairgrounds this year than last. As we were moving along slowly in our lane to enter the camping area, I called Dirk on the cell phone to see where he was. He was on the grounds, so I told him where we were and realized that he was close. He found us and came aboard as we continued to snake our way into the camping area. He knew who the Paynes were from email and the RV bulletin boards, but had never met them. So after we got into our spot, everyone got introduced and then it was into the show to look around.
There were two ladies in a motorhome parked behind where we were parked and we started to chat one day. They were Robin and Linda from Colorado, and they were entertaining getting a new rig. They had lots of questions about ours, and the Paynes' Dutch Stars. We answered their questions and gave them a tour of both rigs so they could compare floor plans. We told them that Independence RV was at the show and had Newmar products. One day while Diane and I, and Norm and Linda were walking back to our rigs, we saw Robin and Linda coming at us with big grins on their face. They had just gone and traded in their rig on a Kountry Star. We later found out that they ran into a glitch and couldn't get the exact configuration they wanted, so they ended up selecting a MountainAire gas motorhome. It was fun to see their excitement after they made the decision to go ahead and trade their Bounder for a new rig. We all wished them well in their travels.
The RV show seemed more crowded this year than last, which was no surprise given what I had been reading about lots more folks getting into RVing. As usual, there were RVs that ran up to over a million bucks. What's cool about this show is that they don't lock up the expensive units and we were free to walk through them. Lots of glitz. We all agreed that they wouldn't be something any of us would be comfortable living in, but nice to look at all the same. We found one of the million dollar units that had a carrying capacity (CCC) of 904 pounds. That was almost unbelievable, so I asked if the sticker was correct and was told that it was. It was a bit incredulous to see a million dollar motorhome that would only allow you to add 904 pounds of YOUR STUFF. We have a carrying capacity of around 3,000 pounds in our Dutch Star, and many units in our price range offer CCCs of 4,000 pounds and even 5,000 pounds. Caveat Emptor. I wonder how many folks who shell out those big bucks have done any homework before making such a purchase. No doubt there are some big buses on the roads that are very much overweight.
There were some interesting units this year at the show. We saw a fifth-wheel with a "Sky Deck" on top. The stairs to get to it were inside the unit. It had plenty of seating up top, plus a BBQ grill, table, and some other goodies. Pretty cool.
There was a Georgetown motorhome with an "Observation Deck" on top. However, you had to climb a pretty shaky ladder to get to it. When assembled, it was nothing more than a patio type table and umbrella. I have included some photos of these rigs in the "Scenes from the Tampa RV Show" section on the photos pages. I guess they'd be great units for racing fans who like to park at the tracks.
Of course, a visit to Tampa wouldn't be the same without a visit to Parksdale Farms for some of their great strawberry shortcake, so off we went one day to add some calories to our waistlines. YUMMY!
The four days of the show went quickly and it was time to say goodbye to Norm and Linda. They were heading down to the Everglades and the Keys, and we were heading back to Orlando to get a new backup camera installed. So off we all went until our next meeting. We drove back to the Encore park, and although they usually blackout the discounted rates for Coast to Coast members, the guy knew us and gave us the night at the $15 rate for an upgraded site rather than the $35 rate. Nice guy. Independence RV is a great place to take our rig for service. They knew we were on the road later that day, so they got us in and out by noon. With a new camera installed and working, we were on our way to Avon Park for a week.
Avon Park is a small town on US 27 just north of Sebring. We wanted to visit the area and also visit with Paul and Diane Andruss. In this small world we live in, I met Paul via a former colleague of mine in my last job assignment, Merle Stuchell. He told me he knew a retired IBMer who was full-timing, so I asked him to have Paul contact me. We traded a couple of notes and then met them as they came through Atlanta in the year before we bought our motorhome. They were parked at the campground near Six Flags. Diane and I drove over to meet them and chat for a while. After almost 2 1/2 years on the road, they were planning to come off the road and build a house in Avon Park. They told us to stop by sometime after we get on the road and our path to South Florida this past winter was taking us through Avon Park.
We made reservations at the Lake Glenada RV Park right across the road from the entrance to Sun n Lakes where Paul and Diane lived. We had a very nice time visiting with them at their house and also at our house on wheels. I got to play two rounds of golf with Paul on the two courses in their community. Both Paul and Diane are avid golfers and had golfed at different courses around the country when they were traveling. I told Paul that living in a golf course community would be my "Plan B". The two Dianes went out shopping and touring the area one day. It was great to visit with them and hope to return to the area sometime in the future.
As it turned out, Norm and Linda decided to spend a few days at the Escapees (SKP) park in Zolfo Springs, which wasn't too far from where we were staying. Diane and I drove over there to see the park and tour the area with them. We went to visit Solomon's Castle and to see the Lipizzan Stallions at their winter training headquarters.
We were really surprised at how nice a park the SKP Co-op is. Linda told us the waiting list was now at eight years to lease a site in the park. Although it was a nice park, it was much too much in the boonies for my taste. I need to be closer to activities, like movie theaters and golf courses. :-) If we ever wanted to spend a week someplace to do absolutely nothing, then that park would be perfect.
Solomon's Castle (http://www.solomonscastle.com) in Ona was pretty interesting. It was owned by Howard Solomon who built it himself. As you can see from the photos, it was big and shiny, had a moat and stained glass windows. What made this castle unique was that it was built entirely of printing plates discarded by the local newspaper. The family lived in the castle, but allowed tours through the living quarters. There were many "object sculptures" in the castle and some were very interesting. I have included photos of a few of them on the photos pages. He had an interesting sense of humor while creating them.
In addition to the castle, there was a restaurant and obligatory gift shop on the property. The restaurant was inside a replica of a 60-foot 16th century Spanish galleon and was named "The Boat in the Moat". There was even a resident alligator that we saw lounging on the side of the moat. We enjoyed a nice lunch on the patio outside the restaurant.
The winter training headquarters of the "Original Royal Lipizzan Stallions of Austria" (http://www.herrmannslipizzans.com) was located in Myakka City. They trained there from January to March and it was open to the public. It was a great place to get up close and personal with the stallions, as well as to watch a training session. These sessions were held three times per week and were free to the public. They only asked for a donation for the upkeep of the site and the stallions. The show was a little longer than one hour and it was interesting to see the young stallions getting to do the jumps and moves for a live audience. Part of the reason for putting on the shows, which were actually just training sessions, was to give the young stallions a chance to perform in front of a live audience, in some cases for the first time.
There are only about 3,000 Lipizzan horses in the world with about 600 in the United States. Colonel Ottomar (Otto) Hermann, who owned the ranch we visited, owned 16 of them, including offspring of a mare that was given to General Patton for saving the horses from the advancing Russian army towards the end of WWII. These horses have a very interesting history. Records exit back to 1735 for the breed and all Lipizzaners can be traced back to six stallions imported in the 18th century. They were raised as military horses and owned by the rich and famous of their day.
Interestingly enough, they are not born white, but rather bay or black and it takes around five to eight years for them to turn white. In actuality, they are not white, but grey. Their white coat hides the grey, which can be seen when they are wet. They reach full size somewhere around ten years old.
We returned to Zolfo Springs and had dinner with Norm and Linda at the Pioneer Restaurant in town. Great deal: two meals for $15. We made plans to visit Hawk in River Ranch the next day and then Diane and I returned to Avon Park.
It was nice to see Hawk and Huck again and he was happy to see all of us. After chatting for a while, we went over to the Indian Lakes Estates Golf and Country Club for lunch. This was Norm and Linda's first time to River Ranch, so Hawk took us on a tour of the place. He told us he was thinking of purchasing a site since he tends to return there every winter. We later found out from John and Libby that he did purchase a site there. So I guess we'll plan on visiting with Hawk whenever we are in Florida for the winter.
On the way back to Avon Park, we stopped in Lake Wales to visit the Bok Tower Gardens (http://www.boktower.org). Diane and I had known about it, but had never stopped. This was a National Historic Landmark built by Edward Bok in 1929. Edward Bok was six years old when he came to America. The story goes that his grandmother told him, "Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it." He never forgot those words as he became successful in America. In 1922, he bought a large tract of land on the highest point in Florida and created a sanctuary for birds and people.
As the sanctuary was being developed, Bok decided to add a carillon tower as a centerpiece for the garden. The tower was 205 feet high and constructed of pin and gray Georgia marble and Florida coquina stone. The carillon was cast in Loughborough, England and comprised of a set of 60 tuned bronze bells. The largest bell weighed over 11 tons, the smallest bell weighed 16 pounds.
Diane and I drove around the area one day, including a stop in Lake Placid, the Town of Murals, to see the murals painted on the walls of some buildings and trash cans in the town. Some were quite nice and some covered the entire side of a building (175 wide and 30 feet high).
We visited one last time with Paul and Diane at a restaurant next to the campground and the next day we headed to Fort Myers Beach (FMB) where we planned to spend the next 26 days. We made reservations to stay at the Sunburst RV Park, which is part of the Encore network of RV parks. The park consisted of mostly seasonal sites comprised of trailers and park models, but with some rental sites, as well. Nice park, but seemed to be mostly older folks, which I guess goes with the fact that it was an older park. It was also one of the least expensive parks. Still, this 26-day stay was going to give us an expensive start to our camping costs for 2002. The going rate in the area was $875 for a month. We checked out the Red Coconut RV Park, which is on the beach road and they get $1000 for a month. That might be nice for vacationers, but full-timers don't usually spend that kind of money to park their rigs. But we knew it was South Florida in winter and expected the rates to be pretty high. We'll make up for it once we start moving north.
There were two couples that we knew in the area: Roger and Julie Spinks and Tony and Barbara Alexander. I knew Roger from my very early days in my career when we worked in Poughkeepsie, NY. Roger left and went to San Jose, CA only a couple of years after starting in Poughkeepsie. We lost touch for many years and then renewed the acquaintance when I traveled out to San Jose on business in the late 80s. We managed to sort of stay in touch since. It turned out that Roger retired and they sold their house and went full-timing a few years ago. After about two years, they decided to come off the road and "settled" in Redding, CA. Then, after just eight months, they started to get the itch to get on the road again, so they sold the house, bought another fifth wheel and went back on the road. Roger's dad lived in a park model in the campground across the road from where we were staying.
On our first morning in FMB, we hooked up with Roger and Julie for breakfast at a restaurant at the beach. The weather was quite beautiful and we sat outside to eat. With the beach, the pier, and the Gulf within view, and visiting with old friends, it made for a wonderful breakfast. After breakfast, we walked out on the pier to soak up the sun and the Gulf. This was the only way to spend the winter months. It reminded us of the five years we lived in South Florida, in Coral Springs, from 1977 to 1982. Being in South Florida in the winter months was like living in Paradise.
I met Tony Alexander while I was working on my last job assignment. It was a 100% traveling job with an internal corporate audit function. In 1996, my audit team was scheduled to do back-to-back audits in Paris and Zurich, each for four weeks. As was the norm in our function, we would sometimes go to other audit teams to borrow necessary skills if we needed them for an audit. Tony had an Information Technology (I/T) background, so he was asked if he would like to join our I/T Audit Group for eight weeks. I had been with that audit team since 1993 and had come to love the traveling, especially since Diane was able to travel with me many of the times, and she would be with me for the full eight weeks in Paris and Zurich. Tony accepted the invitation and a new friendship was formed. Barbara joined Tony for part of the stay in Zurich. We had some good times and many great dinners with anywhere from four to six folks, which made for much conversation and laughs.
Tony still worked for the Audit organization, but he and Barbara decided to move to Florida a few years ago. I knew that he lived in the FMB area, and made sure to let them know we would be in the area for about a month and it would be great to get together. We got to visit them at their home and they came over to see our house on wheels. We found out that Tony loved wienerschnitzel and we happened to be parked across the road from a restaurant named Schnitzel House. Diane and I had eaten there once and thought it was pretty good, so we all went there for dinner. It was great to see them again and I'm sure we will see them again in the future when we go back to the FMB area. We both like the area a lot, although there sure was a lot of traffic at times.
During our stay in FMB, we visited the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary; went to the beach to watch sunsets; visited the Henry Ford/Thomas Edison Houses; took in a big flea market; looked at some beautiful model homes; went to Sanibel and Captiva Islands; took a tour of Naples; saw some movies; went to Ballenger's Restaurant a couple of Wednesdays to visit with Roger and Julie along with Roger's dad and his buddies (it was a regular Wednesday thing). We were busy. But we also left time to just hang around and do nothing. Of course, the Winter Olympics were going on during our stay in FMB, so I was pretty glued to the TV in the evenings to watch the events. I love the Olympics.
The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was owned and operated by the National Audubon Society. Audubon first got involved with Corkscrew in 1912 when it sent game wardens to protect egrets and other birds from hunters who killed the birds for the plumes (remember the big plume hats?). We walked along the 2.25 mile boardwalk as it twisted and turned through pines and open prairie and into the largest forest of ancient bald cypress in North America. We didn't see many animals, but did see some birds. There were some telescopes set up to view nests, including the largest colony of nesting wood storks in the US.
Diane and I drove over to Sanibel one day to check out the Periwinkle Campground (the only one on the island). When we lived in Coral Springs we had a Winnebago and we made a couple of trips to Sanibel. Then we toured the island and found a place to park so Diane could do some shelling. We walked a good distance along the beach and then drove to Captiva to the Mucky Duck Restaurant. They Paynes had told us to make sure to go there to take in a sunset. So we got there early enough to get a table outside and have a snack and then watch the sun go down. Beautiful.
The Edison-Ford winter estates (http://www.edison-ford-estate.com) were located in Fort Myers. They were business partners, neighbors, and friends, and it's incredible when one thinks of the contribution of those two men. Thomas Edison started spending his winters in Fort Myers in 1885. He met Henry Ford at a convention and Ford started to spend some time at the Edison house. He finally purchased adjoining property and built his own winter estate.
The second largest Banyan tree in the world is located on the property (the largest tree is in India). It was given to Edison by Harvey Firestone in 1925. Also on the property were the Edison Research Laboratory and museum. Few know that it was Edison who introduced the Royal Palm tree to Florida, bringing it from Cuba.
I know this isn't for everyone, but Diane and I have always liked to look at furnished models of homes, villas, condos. We both agree that the houses in Florida are some of the most beautiful we've seen around the country, along with houses in the Southwest, and we definitely like the look in South Florida more than the Atlanta look, although there are lots of very beautiful homes in the Atlanta area. We had fun visiting a few neighborhoods to see how the "other half" lives. You know, the "if money were no object thing". ;-) We like the Gulf Coast better than the East Coast but it sure is expensive. One of the neighborhoods required an escort to see locked up models, so we passed on that. We find enough upscale models (anywhere from mid-200s to over a million) to look at without needing an escort. One does have to wonder why anyone would pay a million bucks for a motorhome that depreciates in value after seeing million dollar HUGE homes that are beautifully decorated unless, of course, the million bucks is pocket change.
My buddy John told us to watch we don't get bit by the house bug and decide to come off the road and back into a house. I told him to have no fear, we'll be on the road for some time to come. However, Diane did find HER house one day in Cape Coral. We went over there after visiting the Edison/Ford Houses. She absolutely fell in love with one house. All lots were on one of the 27 holes of golf and the course was PLUSH. The house went for $250K. So far, so good. BUT....add a lot for $50K and now it's $300K. ALSO....she totally went gaga over the pool package, which I agree was one of the nicest I've ever seen, so add $50K more and now it's $350K. OF COURSE....she would have to have a jacuzzi in the BEAUTIFUL bathroom, so add $1100 (peanuts, right?) and we're at $351K. THEN....there was the stone driveway (who wants plain old concrete) and heaven's knows how much that cost. Anyway, I think we'll keep the Dutch Star.
Well, just when we thought we'd seen everything in some of the model homes we visited, we outdid ourselves. There was one community, Palmira, that we hadn't visited because it wasn't on our path as we toured the area. It was on our path one day on our way back from Naples, so we stopped. The house was 3600 sq ft on one floor, on water, across from one of the golf holes. Cost was $810,000 WITHOUT THE LOT. The lot was $250,000, which put the house over a million. But the thing with this house was the pool. We had never seen anything like it. It had a "negative edge". The edge closest to the house was the Spanish reddish tile. The edge away from the house looked like it had no edge. Instead, the wall sloped down about 45 degrees so the water in the pool was running over it. The water fell about three feet to a catch basin the length of the pool (and spa) and then recirculated into the pool. Quite cool. The pool bottom wasn't the normal turquoise, but something called permaflex (or something like that). It was black with speckles (like small stones). What a beautiful pool. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that day.
We had never been to Naples, so we drove down one morning to take a trolley tour around the city. It was one of those "get on and off" tours, so we got off and walked around a bit, went out on the Naples pier, had lunch, and reboarded. What struck both of us wasn't the fact that there were people who had the money to buy the million, and multi-million, dollar houses, but rather the NUMBER OF PEOPLE who had that kind of money. Some of the homes were incredibly large and beautiful. And some of them were just WINTER homes and then empty most of the year. WOW!
Time was running out on our stay and we wanted to go to Sanibel with Roger and Julie to visit the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Sanibel is a 12-mile barrier island composed of sand, shell, and silt. Native Americans inhabited the island for over 2,000 years, including the Catusa Indians. European explorers and settlers began to inhabit the island in the mid-1800s. A hurricane in 1926 destroyed the farming and fishing that provided a living for the settlers. Today it is tourism that supports the island. In 1945, over 6,400 acres was set aside as a wildlife refuge, which was named the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge in 1967. It was named for one of the pioneers of the conservation movement. Jay Norwood Darling was a political cartoonist who received Pulitzer Prizes for his work in 1923 and 1942. "Ding" is a short version of his last name.
The first thing we did was to stop at a restaurant for breakfast. Finding out that there was more than an hour's wait, we drove down the road, parked, and walked along the beach near the lighthouse to look for some shells. We got back to the restaurant and had a short wait for a table. After breakfast we drove through the refuge. It had been almost 20 years since Diane and I were there with our kids. Unfortunately, we didn't see much in the way of birds or wildlife during our drive, but we did see a gator sitting on a bank just below a trail we were walking on.
Our stay in FMB seemed to go by quickly and it was time to drive across the state for a two week stay in Lake Worth to visit with my brother, Charlie, and his wife Shirley. The weather turned a little cool and rainy on our departure day, so we arrived in rainy and cool Lake Worth and found out they screwed up our reservation. We made a reservation last October for this 2-week stay and had site B28 assigned. We got there to find out the site was given to someone else and they assigned us to another site. That site was for a 30 footer and we are 38 feet. The lady in the office said if the owner, Del, who was in Virginia until the next day) had looked at our record he would have seen that it was not a match. She was under the gun by some other folks who arrived and weren't happy. I told her "look, we are usually prepared for this kind of thing and came in with full water and empty holding tanks, so we can just dry camp for a day or two". With that, she thanked me profusely for being understanding and she would try to get us a site as soon as she was able. Dry camping is not having full hookups. We are self-contained and can go a week to 10 days without any hookups. We did get a site after two days of dry camping and Del apologized and refunded two nights camping fees, so all worked out well in the end.
I had been looking forward to staying in Lake Worth for a couple of weeks as it would offer the opportunity to play a few rounds of golf with Charlie, and to visit with some folks I knew when I worked in Miami from 1977 to 1982. Also, a former colleague of mine, Tom McGonegal, was going to visit the Naples area with his wife Tish, but we would miss them by several days. Tom suggested that they drive over to Lake Worth to spend a night and we all get together for dinner. So we made arrangements to do that and Charlie made reservations for us at a great, albeit pricey, Italian restaurant, Couco Pazzo Italian Bistro, in Lake Worth owned by his friend Marty. Shirley's daughter, Sherry, was visiting from NY, so she also joined us for dinner, as did her daughter, Billy Jo, and Shirley's son, Greg, both of whom lived in the area. It was very nice of Tom and Tish to make the change to their plans to come visit with us across the state. We had a marvelous time and a great dinner at Marty's restaurant.
One of the main things I wanted to do while in South Florida was to play a little golf as I don't get to play very much while on the road. As it turned out, I got to play six rounds while we were in the area. It was great to get out on the golf courses again. As much as I like to full-time, I would be quite happy living in a golf community and playing lots of golf. Diane doesn't exactly share that thought, but we both agree that we don't see ourselves as full-timers forever. We will continue to live this lifestyle for as long as BOTH of us agree we are satisfied with it. The rule of thumb out here is that when one of the people in a couple decides he/she doesn't want to full-time anymore, then it's time to get off the road. This lifestyle really requires that both people are enjoying the lifestyle. For now, we both enjoy it and golf isn't an all consuming passion for me, not yet anyway. :-)
There were several people who lived in South Florida who we wanted to visit with while we were in the area. The first person was Shirley Kappeler, a manager that I worked for in Miami for the five years we lived in Coral Springs. After 11 years of working in the lab in Poughkeepsie, it was time for a change, and South Florida beckoned. I found an assignment in the Miami IBM branch office and accepted. We moved to Coral Springs in 1977. I had worked for 12 managers in 11 years as there seemed to be a reorganization every year, or so. Shirley interviewed me for the job and got me into her unit, which was one of three in the branch. She managed to hold onto me and keep me in her unit for all five years. What a pleasure it was to work for one manager and have that kind of stability for five years. Shirley ended up being the best manager that I ever worked for in my career, although I have a few close second place managers that I enjoyed working for, and I won't mention the ones I worked for who never should have been in management. I'm sure everyone in the work force has the same experiences with their bosses.
Everyone in the branch wanted to work for Shirley, and those that did end up in her unit loved working for her. She had tremendous people skills to go along with great business skills. Shirley was a great, and quick, judge of people and wasn't often wrong. I grew a lot while working for Shirley, both career-wise and personally. She had a reputation as a manager who took care of the people who worked for her. Shirley had a way of instilling self-confidence in all who worked for her. We managed to stay in touch over the years via Christmas cards and an occasional phone call, but we hadn't seen each other for about 10 years. Diane also got to know Shirley very well and we were both very happy that she came to visit with us. We had a great day chatting about old acquaintances and getting caught up.
The other person from the Miami branch that we wanted to visit with was Julius Aita. Julius worked in another unit, but our paths crossed many times during the five years I worked in Miami. He was always one of my favorite people in the branch and was always there to help me out if I needed it on my accounts. We also stayed in touch via Christmas cards, but hadn't seen each other for at least 15 years, or so, since the time in the 80s when he visited us in Atlanta while he was in town for a class. Diane and I were also very happy that Julius was able to make it up to visit with us. Again, we had a great day renewing old acquaintances and getting caught up.
Frank Pesile and I went to high school together and last July, at our 40th high school reunion, was the first time I'd seen Frank in 40 years. Frank was always one of my favorite people while in high school. He was pretty easy going, funny, a great basketball player on the high school team, and we both played on the baseball team. And what a singing voice. I still remember some days where we were returning home from a football game and Frank would sing the lead to "In the Still of the Night" and the rest of us would sing the background. Such fun. Frank sang at the reunion and I could see some folks with tears in their eyes as they remembered the days when Frank used to sing at parties, or on the bus, or in church.
Frank gave up baseball and played on the golf team, as he used to be quite the golfer, but had laid off the game for many years. He was now playing again and Charlie and I got to play a round with him while we were in the area. Charlie hadn't seen Frank for more than 40 years, although they used to play basketball behind the high school many evenings and weekends when we lived on Long Island.
We lived in Coral Springs from 1977 to 1982. Our neighbors at the time were Bob and Jean Talboys who still lived there. Diane had visited with them a couple of years ago, but I hadn't seen them for many years. We drove to Coral Springs to visit with them and had a great time chatting about old times. Bob was into model planes and showed us his collection, including a big one he was building. I always thought flying model planes was an interesting hobby. However, as Coral Springs grew from the 30,000 people who lived there when we left, to over 100,000 people currently, Bob said they lost many of the fields in which they used to fly their planes. The city didn't look like I remembered it. We knew it would turn out that way because it was a planned community and was planned to house about 110,000 people. It was also the place where the PGA Honda golf tournament has been held the past several years.
After spending two weeks in Lake Worth, we moved a little north to Port St. Lucie for six days. We stayed three days each at the Outdoor Resorts (pay for one night, get three) and the Port St. Lucie RV Resort (Good Neighbor Park). We were certainly impressed with the Outdoor Resorts. They sell the sites, starting at $49,900, and it is surprising how many people buy them. And then they do some marvelous things with the sites, like installing wet bars, BBQs, patios, landscaping. These are usually folks who come to the same place every winter and have lots of discretionary income. There were several million dollar coaches in the resort while we were there. The daily rate was $40-$50, which is too steep for most full-timers. But the special deal cut it down to $13 per night and that was a great price. We did enjoy our stay there.
While in Port St. Lucie, we got to visit with yet another former colleagues of mine from Miami, Tom and Joan Foster. I learned they lived in the area and found Joan via the Switchboard search engine on the web. I called and told her we'd be in the area and it would be great to visit. They were able to stop by one day while we were there and we had a nice, albeit short, visit. Once again, renewing old acquaintances and getting caught up. Can you tell by now that I'm basically a "stay-in-toucher" at heart?
Well, the winter seemed to fly by and it was now time to start making our way north and out of Florida. Our path would take us back to Atlanta to visit kids and grandkids before heading to the northeast and midwest for the summer months. Our first stop would be back to Ocala to see my mom for a few days. We went by way of Okeechobee to spend a couple of days with John and Libby, who were spending the winter months in the Lake Okeechobee area. We got a site next to theirs for two days. We hadn't seen them since late September. John and I got to play a round of golf one day. Of course, given that we all like to eat out, we went out to eat at a couple of their favorite places. They took us for a ride around the area to show us where they used to live. We weren't sure when we would see them again as they were going to Wisconsin to workamp for the summer. So we said our goodbyes until next time and Diane and I headed to Ocala.
We found a campground, Camper Village of America, that had a site for a few days and parked the rig there. We used to park in my mom's driveway, but her community decided to crack down on folks parking boats and RVs in their driveways. Camper Village is an older park, but had wide, long pullthru sites, and was half the price of the KOA next door. We visited with my mom and took her to run some errands and see a couple of movies before saying goodbye and heading to St. Augustine.
Neither Diane nor I had seen much of St. Augustine in our short trip there once before, so it was definitely on our list of places to visit. We were able to get five nights in the Coast to Coast park there, Beachcomber RV Resort, which was on A1A right across the street from the beach. The roads in the resort were dirt and very bumpy, but someone had warned us and told us to try to get a site up towards the front, which we were able to do. It was a short walk to the road and the beach. Diane loves the beach, so this was right up her alley. We had great weather and took several walks along the beach during our stay there.
I had made email contact with Kathie and Bill Champ but we had never met. They were from Georgia and also were wintering in Florida. Our paths came close when we were in Ft. Myers, but they didn't cross. They would finally cross in the St. Augustine area. They were in Anastasia State Park, which we weren't able to get into, however, we made plans to meet for dinner one evening at O'Steen's. It's always nice to meet people we've met via email. We had a nice dinner and made plans to get together again during our stays in St. Augustine. We traded dinners at each other's rigs and met one day to visit the lighthouse. We meet so many nice folks on our journey.
Diane and I went into St. Augustine a few days to walk around and tour the city. Florida was discovered by Don Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 and St. Augustine was established in 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez. It is the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental United States. The town's principal value was as a military base for the protection of Spain's colonial trade and commerce.
Our first stop was to visit the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. This fort was the northern-most outpost of Spain's empire in the New World and the oldest masonry fort, which was built in 1695. It was very windy and cold on top of the fort, so we didn't stay up there too long. We walked through the city's main gates and into the old town, found a place to eat lunch, and then continued our walk. We saw an "old drug store" and the "oldest schoolhouse". Maybe yes, maybe no. We see many "oldest" sites on our journey.
On the way back to the campground we stopped at Nombre de Dios, America's first mission. It was there, over 400 years ago, that Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales offered the first Mass in the city, and was considered the site where Western culture and Christian faith took root in America. We walked through the grounds and made a stop at the Our Lady of La Leche Shrine.
Another of my former colleagues, Lynn Genest, and her husband Gary, moved from the Atlanta area to Ponte Vedra. Gary traveled a lot on his job and could live anywhere, and Lynn now telecommuted and worked from her home. I had known Lynn since the early 80s when Diane and I first moved to Atlanta. We both worked in the same organization at the time and then ended up working together again almost a decade later. Diane was a big Atlanta Braves fan, as was Lynn. Given that Gary and I were both doing a lot of traveling on our jobs, that offered the opportunity for Lynn and Diane to go a few Braves games together over the years. They now lived in a gorgeous golf community, and I do mean a beautiful community. We learned that the professional golfer, Matt Kuchar, built a home for his folks not too far from where Lynn and Gary live, and he is building a home for himself there now. Lynn suggested playing the course, so I played one day with Lynn and Gary. It was a beautiful course. Diane rode around the course with me while we played. Some of the houses surrounding the course were magnificent, with many worth over a million dollars. We had dinner at their home and totally enjoyed our visit. Lynn is winding down the last couple of years of her career and looks forward to retirement.
One of my must-see places was the World Golf Hall of Fame. We spent a few hours there one day and could have spent more time there. It was worth the visit, especially for golfers interested in some of the history of the game.
The time had finally arrived to leave Florida. We were both very glad to have spent the winter south of the freeze line. We enjoyed the warm weather, the sun, the beaches, the sites and, of course, our visits with old friends, as well as making some new friends. Now we would travel up the coast to Savannah for a week. We lived in the Atlanta area for 18 years and had never been to Savannah. The Hofmeisters suggested Skidaway State Park, so we called there and got a site for the week. The campsites in the state park were very big and all were pullthrus. It was a great place to use as a base for touring the city, which we did over several days.
Diane and I love to take in the sites in a city on foot. Except for a short horse and carriage ride, we walked miles around the city. It really is the best way to see the sites at one's own pace. We visited the cathedral, the first Girl Scout Headquarters, the Andrew Low House, and we walked through many of the city's many squares. We also walked down to and along the river to see the "Waving Girl" Statue.
The Andrew Low House was owned by the Low family and was built in 1848 by Andrew Low, a wealthy cotton merchant. The son of the builder of the house, William Mackay Low, then occupied the house. His widowed wife, Juliette Gordon Low, lived in the house until her death in 1927. It was Mrs. Low who founded the first Girl Scout troop in 1912. Diane was a Girl Scout leader for many years and had always wanted to see where the organization started.
Tybee Island wasn't far from Savannah, so we drove out there one day to check out the area and see the lighthouse. Having climbed to the top of the lighthouse in St. Augustine, we didn't go into the Tybee Lighthouse. Instead, we found a little restaurant on the beach to have a snack. I later found out that Tybee Island had been used in several films and that Sandra Bullock purchased a large piece of property on the island.
While walking in the campground one evening we met Sam Stratman who was vacationing from Washington, D.C. for the weekend. He was the Communications Director for the Committee on International Relations in the U.S. House of Representatives. He asked if he could walk along with us and asked many questions about motorhomes. We also had some discussions about what was going on pertaining to terrorism in the world. It was just a short walk, but it was very interesting chatting with Sam. We told him that we were making our way north and also planned to visit Washington. He gave us his card and told us to contact him if we got to Washington and maybe we could get together if his schedule allowed it. We said we would most certainly do that.
Our RV friends, Dick and Kay Ackerman, were in Savannah visiting Kay's sister, Clara and her husband, Mike. We found out they were actually very close to where we went to see a couple of movies while in Savannah. We have crossed paths with the Ackermans several times on our journey and it was cool that they were in Savannah at the same time we were. Dick was a Vietnam veteran who fought in the battles at Ia Drang in 1965. That battle was featured in the recent film, "We Were Soldiers", with Mel Gibson and Sam Elliott.
They invited us over for a "low country boil" on Easter Sunday. We had never heard of low country boil and were eager to enjoy whatever it was. Well, it was a great dining experience. It was a very big pot in which is put lots of stuff, such as shrimp, sausage, veggies, corn-on-the-cob, crab claws, and seasoning, and all boiled for a while. I guess you could put whatever you want in the pot. In any case, we had a great time and totally enjoyed the low country boil.
It was nice to see Dick and Kay again and to meet Kay's sister and husband. Their hospitality was very much appreciated on that holiday weekend. We got caught up on each other's travels and future travel plans and got to chat about the movie.
Spring was now in full bloom in Georgia as we drove from Savannah to Douglasville. Our grandson, Richard, was home from school when we arrived and ran outside when the rig pulled up in front of the house. After several hugs, he helped us get ready to back the motorhome into the driveway. We planned to spend about two and a half weeks there to visit with the three kids, and five grandkids, who lived in the area, as well as take care of doctor and dentist visits. We got together with daughters Jill and Theresa, and families, for dinner at the Mexican restaurant we like to eat in when we are in the area and had a nice visit. We also got together with son Henry and the grandkids for an afternoon at Chucky Cheese's to celebrate granddaughter, Raven's birthday.
I had forgotten just how beautiful Atlanta was in the spring. I always found it to be one of the most beautiful places I've seen in the spring. There were splashes of color all over the place with everything blooming: redbud trees, dogwood trees (white and pink), flowering plum trees; plenty of azaleas of all colors; and flowerbeds full of tulips and daffodils. When we lived in Marietta, I always longed for everything to start blooming in the spring. We had several flowering trees and lots of azaleas in our yard.
It seemed such a short time between the time we left Atlanta after the holidays and our return in early April. The time just flew by. Now it was time to finish our visit in Atlanta and continue on our journey. We were looking forward to touring the Maritime Provinces this summer after Norm's surgery. Diane and I were going to be up there sometime in June and the Paynes were going to hook up with us sometime in that time frame. However, current news from them indicated that a new cancer was found in Norm's jaw that must be taken, so they will be spending the summer months in the Louisville area (http://www.seeya-downtheroad.com).
We decided that we would still go up to the northeast to visit family and friends in the Hudson Valley in New York, and our friends, Tom and Tish, in Maine (we LOVE the lobsta). Our travels would also include Myrtle Beach, SC; Southport, NC; Manassas, VA; Washington, DC; Gettysburg, PA. We would also like to visit Cooperstown and Niagara Falls, and spend some of the summer visiting Michigan, especially the Upper Peninsula.
Until next time....safe travels.
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