We had the luxury today of awaking at 7 am. That probably didn’t allow us enough time for sleep, but it was a good start. We did have a chance today to chat with Betsy, Steve and Shannon, and to tour their beautiful house, so this morning was a little relaxing.
But that beginning to the day belied the reality of our day.
The last day of a road trip is the worst because there’s no point to it except to get home. The struggle back towards home seems all the longer because that is our only goal for the day.
Our day’s trip started well. Traffic was smooth, and the weather was clear. We passed into Maryland, into Pennsylvania, past Gettysburg. But we’d forgotten we’d be driving on I-81, that most unforgiving of highways, because it is always under construction. We decided to take I-81 to I-88 today because I didn’t want to stop multiple times to pay tolls on I-95 and I-90. We would have had to have stopped since EZ-Pass doesn’t work with our van for reasons EZ-Pass cannot explain or solve. So we took I-81, and it all went well for the first 90 seconds or so.
Then, just outside of Harrisburg, we came to a stop and wasted at least a half an hour to go a few miles. The cause of our delay was merely that we were in a work zone. No-one was working there, but still I-81 had the power bring us to an almost complete stop. Eventually, we all escaped from that bottleneck, but everyone was anxious to move by this time, so driving became a bit more treacherous for us.
The rest of Pennsylvania was unremarkable, but as soon as we crossed the border into New York the grainy sky grew darker, and the winds pummeled our van. Nancy guided the van through rough waves of wind, but once the rain began to pour down in 50-mph winds and the hail started we did something we never do. We exited the highway (at Bainbridge) and waited a few minutes for the storm to subside.
Once back home, we unpacked, listened to our messages (most were from a kid dialing a wrong number over and over again), thumbed thru our mail, and began to put our things away. Our Manx was a little shy with us at first, so we didn’t see him for a few minutes. Tim and I left to retrieve from the kennel our three dachshunds, who were excited to see us.
Erin, the one of us not on this trip, had the big news of the day. She had to follow a friend to director Peter Bogdanovich’s house to feed his cat last night. Erin didn’t meet Bogdanovich, of course, but she met his cat, who was very nice but kept head-butting her in the stomach.
Remember: there will be one last blog entry for this trip tomorrow: the traditional list of trip statistics!
Spring Peepers, Toads, and the Coming of the Locusts
Abbey Oak Drive, Vienna, Virginia
There is one hour of the day that I never want to be awake, a time I think is too late to still be up and too early to be waking up. I call it 4 am. That is the time we awoke today.
And before five, in the dark of a remarkably cold Floridian morning, we were on the road. For at least an hour, all we saw was black as we drove north, but eventually the whole sky turned a subtle yet dark grey. Then a glow appeared on the eastern side of us, which grew into a fulgurating sun holding fast to the horizon. (And Florida is virtually all horizon.) A fingernail paring of a moon appeared low in the sky, and we stopped at a rest area. Walking through a cold and dreamy twilight, we entered the restrooms.
When we exited, two or three minutes later, it was full morning. The sun reigned over us once more.
We drove. It took five hours to make it out of Florida, and we had four more states to go. Nancy drove fewer shifts than I did today but longer ones. She ended up driving three minutes shy of nine hours.
It takes a long time to drive this far.
The day was clear and easy. We drove through Georgia without any trouble. Then, after we crossed the river into South Carolina, the road narrowed to two lanes heading in each direction. Traffic slowed and accidents popped up in the Carolinas, slowing us down, even tho a vehicle never blocked the roadway. We passed four accidents, losing time in the process.
By the time we reached Virginia, we thought the trip couldn’t end, but Virginia stretches on interminably. We hit northern Virginia, even about thirty miles out from the Beltway, and the road was dark save for the headlights and taillights of thousands of cars. Occasionally, traffic slowed almost to a stop, but we continued, we made our exits, we paid our 50-cent toll, we took the Wolf Trap exit, and we found ourselves once again in the dark woods and twisting and dipping roads of my sister-in-law’s neighborhood.
The trip took us 16 hours and 23 minutes today, almost an hour and a half more than the trip down to Florida. Maybe it was that extra mile and an eighth we drove today—making today, officially, our longest day-long drive ever: 985.8 miles.
At least we arrived early enough that our niece Shannon was still awake. We stored our carry-in luggage, talked a little, and watched the end of the movie Finding Nemo.
Betsy and Steve now await the return of the big brood of seventeen-year locusts, which return to the DC area this year. I was living in Washington, DC, not for the last awakening, but for the one before that. Our trees, our lawn, every bush, the sidewalks were almost completely covered with an orange-brown humming mass of locusts. I couldn’t walk the streets without killing scores of them. It was one of the most amazing instances of thronging animal life I had ever experienced, greater I think in some ways that the termite storms of my Ghanaian childhood.
The woods around here thrummed with spring peepers. A lovely sound, it means spring has arrived—at least to Virginia. Tim went outside tonight to catch toads. Four of them were resting on the pool cover—imagining that the quarter-inch of water trapped atop the plastic sheeting was a pond. When I went out with Tim, one of the toads was chirping vibrantly and romantically, and we shone the light on him and saw his throat puffed out into a tight ball beneath his jaw as he called to the other three toads on the plastic. When Tim caught the toad, it chirped a small musical chirp—something touchingly plaintive and quiet—asking for release.
Tim quickly let him return to the wild, where he sat solemnly on the blue sheeting awaiting his chance to continue his race.
Quote of the Day (Tim): It used to be that he did that for the Huthodex, but he hasn’t done that for a long time.
Around this part of Florida, there is a certain tree called a jacaranda, and it shares a name with a street nearby. I cannot identify this tree, but yesterday I did see one nearly leafless tree that was covered with purple flowers, and it turned out to be a jacaranda. That name is but one of the interesting ones for streets here; another is “Alamander.” We say good-bye to both of those sometime early tomorrow morning.
I had to arise early (8 am!) to get a little work done today before we had to leave for Punta Gorda. I’m rarely clear on what any of our plans have been since we’ve arrived here, so on the way to Punta Gorda today I asked where we were going. And we were headed for a place called Fisherman’s Village. What it turned out to be was a covered but open-air mall with a bunch of little tourist shops. We wandered through a couple of shops before having a good lunch at the restaurant at the end of the pier.
Part of Punta Gorda, tho, reminded us of Key West. Quaint old Sears houses lining the streets, fenced yards, and cats everywhere: walking the mall, sleeping in the bushes. Well, it may have been a particularly catful day.
Once back home, Nancy Tim and I returned to Manasota Beach to search for glyphshells. The beach was deep with shells when we arrived and we collected pounds of them before returning home. We also collected a number of shark’s teeth and things that Nancy called “pretty shells,” but I wasn’t sure of the purpose of them.
Again, we returned home, only to shower and leave again for dinner. (It seems that meals make up most of any vacation, which always seems a waste to me. I don’t mind eating, but meals took up much of our time here.) We ate dinner at a nearishby restaurant called Johnny Leverocks, getting there in time for the early bird specials. Good food, and I finally had some key lime pie.
Then we had to rush home so we could make it to the evening festivities at Polynesian Village. First, we had to say good-bye to the Grants, who are also leaving early tomorrow morning. And all three Grant girls had to chase Tim around a little bit. Here, Tim is the life of the party.
Our entertainment tonight was Bruce Nye, The Elvis Guy, whose banner proclaims, “I Swear It’s Elvis.” (I thought it interesting that being an impersonator was not enough appropriation of another persona for him; he also had to steal the name of Bill Nye, the Science Guy.) As expected he was a Vegas Elvis (also known as a Fat Elvis), because that’s such an easy persona to fit into: slip into a costume and the parody is ready. I don’t care for Elvis impersonators, but he did tell a number of jokes (tho only I laughed at the one below), and he got the women of PV to wiggle in front of everyone. We couldn’t stay for the whole two-hour show, since we had to pack.
So we packed and stowed our belonging, and we’re set to hit the road at 5 am tomorrow for a 15-hour ride to Virginia. Tomorrow is the kind of day I dread.
So, Betsy, expect us around 8 pm on Sunday.
Quote of the Day (Bruce Nye, the Elvis Guy): I don’t see many old people here tonight.
Sign of the Day:
Biziness is Good
You Can Make it Gooder
We did three things today: 1. Watched breakfast on TV; 2. Went to the beach; and 3. Had dinner at that the Myakka River Oyster Bar.
We were supposed to wake up in time to attend a coffee this morning at the recreation center, and I did indeed wake up in time to see it on closed-circuit TV (channel 15 here in Polynesian Village). Nancy woke up a little later than I did and missed some of the good stuff. When the image came on the screen, I saw Mr Mike’s back walking away from the camera. Suddenly, women started moving around just off camera—occasionally coming into view—and one ran to the end of the room and picked up an armful of paper towels and ran back to the scene of the coffee spilled—which I could imagine but couldn’t quite see. Right after this, Mrs Mike came on screen and said the first words I could pick out of the ambient sounds the microphone picked up—but those words are the quote of the day, so see below. The rest of the breakfast consisted of announcements (including many requests for charity work: blood donation, collecting material to help others) and jokes, one of particularly questionable cultural sensitivity.
After the Mikes returned (minutes after the end of that narrowcast), Nancy and Mr Mike left for a walk on Manasota Beach. When they returned, Nancy presented me with a handful of the most wonderful pieces of the world, which she called shellglyphs. Each was a single lid of a bivalve into which had been cut (by what, we do not know—a burrowing seaworm?) channels that often represented or nearly represented a recognizable symbol: a C, a Y, an arrow. Sometime, I’ll put these to good use.
Later in the day, after I finished some reading and reporting for work, we left for Venice’s Nikomis Beach. The day was too windy and the sea was a cold and muddy churning, so only Tim did any swimming. The beach had two weird features, which are somehow one. The end of the beach by the Venice jetty had almost no real sand near the water; the “sand” consisted of shells of various sizes, but none so small as to make them grains. And the beach was covered about four inches deep with a thick, prickly seaweed covered with little brown berries. I had never seen anything like it. Nancy and I searched for shellglyphs, but had little luck. Tim and I designed sandglyphs farther up the beach where there was some real sand.
In the evening, we went out to dinner, meeting up with the Grants (that’s Aunt Joan, her son Peter, his wife Beth, and the three girls: Suzanne, Caroline, and Sophie). We had a good time, especially since the girls (12 down to 4 years in age) are so cute. Sophie, once again, expressed her love for Tim by sitting by him all the time, giving him hugs, and yelling out who he was going to marry. Unfortunately, she could only imagine people at the table as future spouses for Tim, so that usually meant his second cousin Suzanne, but sometimes it was his mother, his father—and once, at the very end, and quietly, it was Sophie herself.
Quote of the Day (Mrs Mike on “Breakfast with Don”): You’ve gotta focus on Polly, Don. She just spilled her coffee.
Sign of the Day (on Polynesian Village Channel 15): Fruit Tree Owners / You must pick up your fruit or we will have to charge you
First, a recounting of the events that took place during my absence from the Gulf Coast yesterday: Nancy bought sandals for Tim (his huge feet outgrew his old ones), Tim went to the beach with the Grants, Nancy rode her bike around this circular “park”—and Nancy, Tim, and the Mikes went to dinner at a Chinese buffet. As you can see, life is just as exciting when I’m not around.
The most memorable part of my day occurred at the beginning. While waiting impatiently at the reception desk at the celebrated Terrace Inn in Coral Gables, Florida, I noticed that a woman had moved towards the breakfast table and removed five of the six remaining bagels for her own use. By the time I got in line behind her, the final bagel was still there, but she snatched it up, saying to the woman next to her, “Para mí familia.” Maybe, maybe not, but this gave Bob Grumman plenty to complain about as we drove back across the state.
I arrived home to discovere that Nancy, Tim, and Mr Mike were heading out for a walk to and on the beach. I quickly changed my clothes, and we headed out into the cool windy day. We took a back road to the beach, and it was covered studded with shells, making the road resemble the rough tabby once used to build simple homes in the ocean southeast. Later, we crossed over the Intracoastal Waterway on the Manasota Island drawbridge, providing us a beautiful view of brown pelicans in flight. We then walked on a boardwalk that curves around a small inlet on the island. There we saw mangrove roots covered with oysters and drooping towards, but not quite touching, the water.
Only two families decided to set up umbrellas and chairs on the beach and pretend today was a nice day for sunbathing. (They paid for their vacation, so they were going to enjoy it whether that was possible or not.) The waves off the gulf were tall and wild today, and wind-whipped sand stung our legs on our walk. Mr Mike and Nancy searched for sharks’ teeth, and Tim and I carved and photographed sandglyphs in the moist but solid sand.
After dinner, we went to Venice, where we saw the Venice Municipal Airport—now famous for (unintentionally) having trained a number of terrorists how to crash jet liners into the Twin Towers. But our goal was the Venice jetty, a strip of asphalt laid upon a base of rough-hewn rock and leading out into what was today a wild sea. We came for the sunset but arrived during those few minutes just after sunset when the sun still illuminates the world from beyond the horizon. Nancy, Tim, and I walked out onto the jetty, ignoring the spray until it actually hit us. We ran towards the end of the jetty then away, trying to time our arrival at the very end so that we hit a dry spell between huge splashes.
The cold wind, the sea spray, and the adventure made this the best part of the day. Laughing, we walked back to shore.
Signs of the day (with a few yards of one another):
Exotic Handmade Pottery
Quote of the day (Nancy): Your hognose bellybutton is a hernia?
I left the Mikes’ home today in a rush, such a rush that I cannot remember if I actually hugged and kissed Nancy good-bye. At Nancy’s insistence, I did wake up Tim, asleep on the sofa-bed, and give him a hug. Then I drove away, but during my trip to Bob Grumman's a certain traveling theme song of my family's (the equivalent of the National Lampoon's Vacation theme for the Griswolds) came on the radio: Tom Cochrane's, “Life is a Highway." In a mood a little perkier, I picked up famed visual poet Bob Grumman at his home, and we continued across the state to the quaint island nation (or nation of islands) that we call Miami Beach. There we spent a few good hours chatting with the Sackners about visual poetry, learning about their new acquisitions, touring their beautiful home filled with all kinds of verbo-visual art, and doing some research on visual poetry. We had a wonderful time. My only regret was that it was so short. I could easily stay there for weeks and not run out of books to read and art to reflect on.
But we had to go to dinner at the home of Cuban-American visual poet Carlos M. Luis and his wife Martha, who appeared to be competing with the Sackners for the honor of most gracious hosts. We had a long talk with Carlos about his work in the field of visual poetry, we all exchanged publications of ours. Carlos presented us with a few fine books of his visual poetry, and he gave each of us an original visual poem of our own choosing. I found so many of his visual poems beautiful that it took me at least ten minutes to decide on one.
Martha made a delicious dinner that didn’t seem to end. We began with a selection of cheeses, crackers, olives, and apple slices (coated with lemon juice to keep them from going brown, but this gave them something of the flavor of rosewater). For dinner, we had a green salad with tomatoes and just the right insouciant dressing, the best arroz con pollo I’ve ever had (and I’ve had it plenty of times) garnished with asparagus, and fried plantains that were sweet and tasty. Martha kindly made me fresh carrot juice, and we had wine, a guayabera dessert, and sweet Cuban espresso. After a long day without food, this was the best meal we could have hoped for.
We talked to Carlos and Martha about their careers in the airlines and publishing and teaching. About their children and grandchildren. About the art that covered the walls of their beautiful home. About their many travels and many homes.
And at the end of it all they encouraged us to find a hotel room for the night, so that is how we find ourselves tonight in Coral Gables, Florida.
And what happened with my family today? I’ve no idea. I miss them.