Rich Unmasked

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Well, winter is over and we are about to be on the move again after spending the winter months in Florida. We roamed around in January and then parked the motorhome in Port St. Lucie in February and March.

With the Christmas celebrations over, we said goodbye and headed to White Springs, which is where Diane's brother, Jerry, and his wife lived. It was a quiet New Years, as it usually has been for us over the years. We were looking forward to hooking up with Norm and Linda Payne in Crystal River and headed over there on the day after New Years. It was great to see them again. Norm's sister, Gloria Martin, and her husband, Don, were traveling with them. So we became a three-rig party for the next few weeks.

Diane and I like the Crystal River area, and the Encore park there is nice, especially since it was a Good Neighbor Park which gave us an $11 camping rate. We spent a week in Crystal River, which gave us a chance to drive to Ocala to visit with my mom and my brother who drove up from Port St. Lucie. A very nice restaurant in the area that we found last year was Yanni's.  Good food, good price. We had nice group out for dinner one night at Yanni's.

Dennis and Cindy Henderson spend the winter in Crystal River, so we got to visit with them and see their new motorhome. I also got to play a round of golf with Dennis, which was a real treat for me given that Dennis is a PGA Golf Professional. Norm and Linda decided to learn to play golf and bought golf clubs recently. Norm, Linda, and Diane got a group lesson from Dennis.

One day, Norm and Linda met some folks who knew them via their website, Mike and Gale Nagy. They also knew our website and we got to meet them and go out to dinner a couple of times. One of the great things about this lifestyle is continuing to meet new RVers and develop new relationships.

After a week in Crystal River, our three rigs headed out for the Encore park in the Orlando area. This was also a Good Neighbor Park and is one of our favorites. The sites are all paved and long pullthrus. One of the reasons we like the area is because there is a great Newmar dealer in Winter Garden, Independence RV. Our motorhome needed some warranty work, so I scheduled it to coincide with our plans to be in the area. We had somehow lost our cell phone antenna and the service tech determined that it wasn't due to anything we hit, so we got a new one. The caulking on our rig was cracking again. It was replaced once by the factory, but the service tech determined that they must have used some bad caulk. It was interesting how thorough everyone was. Pictures were taken of our rig and sent to Newmar to show the bad cracking caulk and Newmar authorized the dealer to re-caulk the rig. We continue to be impressed with Newmar service.

We didn't really get to meet JW and Vassie Roberts back in 2000 when Diane and I flew out to Harlingen, TX for an RV rally before we had our motorhome. JW became ill at that rally and they came off the road for a while. We met them in 2001 when we went with John and Libby Veach to visit them at their home in Leesburg. I sent them a note to tell them we would be in the area, and that we were traveling with Norm and Linda. We drove up one day with Norm and Linda to visit JW and Vassie. They live on a water lot and had a large pontoon boat docked there. They took us on a great trip into one of the lakes and into one of the connecting rivers (or canals?), and then we docked at a restaurant for dinner. It was a bit cool, but the boat was covered and they had a heater to take the chill out of the air. What a great day.

The Tampa RV Show has been on our path for the past couple of years, and we once again signed up to camp at the fairgrounds and take in the show. It also has served as a base for us to visit with friends a family in the area. This year provided lots of opportunity for such visits. We got to visit with my Aunt Mary and take her out to lunch one day. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to visit with my cousin Jay as he was busy the entire time we were in the area. An ex-colleague of mine from Dallas moved to the area in the past year, so we got to visit with Dave and Jacque Fuson in their new home in Land O Lakes.

Dirk Harrington (sorry Dirk, no photo this year) was there again this year as he gets closer to becoming a full-timer. He was definitely headed in the right direction and bought a few items in preparation for his upcoming new lifestyle. We all told him to hurry up and get his motorhome and get out here on the road.

Of course, whenever we are at the Tampa RV Show, we drive over to Lazy Days to kick tires at that huge RV dealership. This is especially true when our friends Ron and Barb Hofmeister are in town conducting seminars at Lazy Days. They were there this year, so we all met them for lunch along with Cec and Judy who were also in town helping out Ron and Barb with the seminars. It was great to have this group together again. Needless to day, these lunches last a long time.

A final dinner with the group at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City was a great way to end our stay in the Tampa area. This Spanish restaurant has a show featuring Flamenco dancers that was very enjoyable. I would say everyone had a good time.

The RV show ended on Sunday and we all got ready to move out. At this point, Don and Gloria were heading off to visit some folks they knew in the area. Diane and I, along with Norm and Linda, headed to the Escapees (SKP) park in Zolfo Springs. The weather was quite cold for January in Central Florida, although the days were reasonably pleasant. We boondocked at the SKP park for five days. It provided a nice base for us to visit with some friends in the area. We made plans to visit with Paul and Diane Andrus in Avon Park and I got a chance to play the two golf courses in their community. After one of the rounds, we hooked up with Diane, and Norm and Linda, who had gone to play a Par-3 golf course, for dinner and had a nice time chatting about our travels around the country last year, and Paul and Diane's travels to Ireland and Scotland.

We also drove over to River Ranch to visit with our friend Hawk. John and Libby were wintering in Okeechobee (our next stop), and they drove up for the day. It's always great to visit with Hawk, but it's wonderful to be able to do it with all of us together. We went to lunch and, of course, took the obligatory photos with Hawk and Huck. He's such a nice man and we all very much enjoy visiting with him and Huck.

Our next stop was the Big O campground in Okeechobee for a week to visit with John and Libby. It was a wonderful week of playing golf, eating out, and socializing. The Big O has many regular snowbirds that return every year, so folks know each other and were very friendly. There were lots of activities, such as meals, and "gator races". Now if you've never seen a gator race, you'd be in for a treat. No, they weren't real gators, but folks sure got into these races, especially since you can bet quarters for the gator of your choice. Fun evening.

I think we ate out about every evening, except one. John and Libby have eating out in the area down to a science. They know the places with good food at great prices. One evening, we had a BYOF(ood) party at John and Libby's site. Stan and Betty Bober were spending a few days at the KOA in Okeechobee, so they also came over. Pappy and Cecile arrived at the Big O during the week. It was one nice, big party.

Norm had just recently taken up golf, but had never played on a regulation golf course. The Big O had a weekly golf outing at the Okeechobee Country Club, so John and I talked Norm into playing with us. He did quite well for the first time on a real golf course. I kind of thought Norm might take to the game given that he was quite an athlete in his younger years. I hope he sticks with the game so we can play together when our paths cross.

Diane and I have never parked the rig at a campground longer than about a month, but we planned to spend two months at the PSL RV Resort in Port St. Lucie. One of the draws to do that was that my brother, Charlie,and his wife, Shirley, moved up from Boynton Beach to Port St. Lucie. Upon our arrival in Port St. Lucie, we met Charlie and Shirley for dinner and found out that we had all been invited to visit with Ray and Vera Kiter the next day for dinner. We drove down and visited with them in their new oceanfront condo in Palm Beach. Needless to say, we were all very much impressed with a condo right on the beach. What great views. We had a great time visiting and talking about old times from early in our careers when Ray and I worked together in Poughkeepsie.

We got to visit with lots of folks over the winter while we were in Florida. That's one of the great benefits of our full-timing lifestyle. Here's a summary of some folks we hooked up with while in the Port St. Lucie area.

We knew that some former neighbors of ours from Poughkeepsie, NY, Joe and Roxanne Larotonda, who now live in North Carolina, were visiting the Port St. Lucie area. We made plans to meet at an Olive Garden for dinner and had a nice visit.

My high school friend, Frank Gallo and his wife, Mutchie, were also in the area during the first week we were in South Florida. They were visiting their son in Miami Beach. We arranged to meet about half way, in Lake Worth, and have lunch together. They had flown in from Beijing, China for a vacation. It was great to see them again.

Yet another high school friend, Frank Pesile, lived in Palm City, which was close to Port St. Lucie. I got to play a couple of rounds of golf with Frank and then meet up with Diane for dinner.

Last winter we visited with Julius Aita when we were in Lake Worth. This year we made plans to visit while attending a Spring baseball game in Jupiter. We got tickets for a Marlins-Expos game and the weather couldn't have been more pleasant than it was that day. I think Julius and I chatted more than watched the game, but Diane loves baseball, so I'm sure she enjoyed it.

I had been to Key West a couple of times on business when I worked in Miami, but Diane had never been there. We decided to drive to Key West in the car and leave the motorhome parked in Port St. Lucie. We spent three days there and hooked up with the Paynes and the Martins who were camping about 30 miles north of Key West. We all got together one day and toured the city, ending up with dinner at a nice restaurant. Diane and I went back to Key West for a second day.

The weather was great as we walked around the city taking in the tourist sites. Of course, we ended each day at Mallory Square to watch the street performers and watch the sunset. A cruise ship was in port both days. We have only taken one cruise way back in 1982, but we sure would like to cruise again sometime.

It was bike week in Dayton Beach, but the weather was wet and cool up there, so many of the bikers just headed to Key West. I never saw so many Harleys in one place. Hundreds of them roaming around Key West, and lots more parked at the Hogs Breath Saloon.

The rest of our time in Port St. Lucie was pretty much doing what most people do when they are home. We ate out a bunch, played a few rounds of golf with my brother and his wife, and their friends Marcel and Lovey from Canada, saw lots of movies, etc.

We did drive up to Ocala for a weekend to take my mom to see Riverdance at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She was about to celebrate her 80th birthday in April, so it was an early birthday present.

It was now April 1 and our time in Port St. Lucie had come to an end. It was time to start moving north. We had planned a little party for my mom in Ocala and had a few days to get there. We decided to go back to the SKP Park in Zolfo Springs for two days. That allowed us to play golf one more time and visit with Paul and Diane Andrus, who we visited on our way south back in January. I also knew that a former Miami colleague of mine, Niel Muir, lived in Sebring, so we made plans to meet for lunch and talk about old times. It was great to see Niel again after some 16-17 years.

We left Zolfo Springs and headed up to the Orlando area for some maintenance on the motorhome, and also to pick up our son, Curt, and grandson, Talisian who flew down for my mom's birthday party. The party wasn't intended to be a surprise, but she was very surprised to see her grandson and great-grandson. We picked them up and drove up to Ocala, arriving at the same time as the Atlanta-based kids and grandkids. We had a party at the Olive Garden in Ocala and my mom enjoyed it very much. She said she didn't remember the last time she had a birthday party and was a bit emotional at all the attention. Having almost all of her grandkids and great-grandkids from my family there made it nice for her. What she didn't know was that when she got to New York the following week, Charlie had planned a surprise party that would include her grandkids and great-grandkids from Charlie's family, plus some friends and family from New York who she hadn't seen in years.

I have had a beard since 1989. For those of you who have never known me without a beard, well, here's your only chance to see the real Rich or, as I've named this travelogue, Rich Unmasked. I decided to take off the beard after our two-year old granddaughter, Ashley, found my beard interesting over the Christmas holidays. So over the winter I grew it longer than it has been since the late 60s and then had the grandkids help take it off. And then I shaved since for the first time since 1989.

The Atlanta kids were on Spring Break for the week, so Diane and I volunteered to keep the three older ones for the week and drive them back to Atlanta. That meant that we would have April (13), Richard (11), and Amanda (7) for a week in the motorhome. It was the first time we had any of them for more than a day. We planned to head back to Orlando for a few days and then over to Crystal River for a couple of days. We were asked not to take them to Disney World because of the Iraqi War, so we found other things to do. We had been to Medieval Times with them back in 1998, but Amanda was too young to remember it. April and Richard remembered it and were glad to go back. We also had Curt and Talisian that evening as they were going to fly back to New York the next morning. I'm sure everyone had a great time watching their favorite knights jousting for the hand of the princess.

In lieu of Disney World, we drove over to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. I wasn't sure if Amanda would enjoy it at seven years old, but she did, as did the rest of us.

Now, we didn't go "into" any of the parks in Disney World, but we did go visit some of the hotels and ride on the monorail. What a great way to spend a couple of hours. I wouldn't have thought they would have enjoyed looking at hotels, but they all did, especially April, who appreciated the beauty of the hotels.

The reason we wanted to go back to Crystal River was to take the kids to the Homosassa Wildlife Center. Diane and I thought the kids would like to see the manatees, and we were right. They all loved the place. I think the manatees and hippo were the big hits of the day.

We took two days to drive back to Atlanta, and into Jill's driveway. That's where we sit as I write this winter travelogue. We'll sit here for about three weeks before heading up to Indiana and Michigan. We'll hook up with Norm and Linda for two rallies and then we'll head to New York to visit family and friends. Then we'll hook up with Norm and Linda again in early July for a tour of the Canadian Maritime Provinces for 8-10 weeks.

Until next travels. 

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