Two Friends on the Road, Part 3

Two friends on the road, part 3.

My friend, Mary Ann, and I took a road trip from Charlotte to Miami and back last week. I’ve written parts 1 and 2, and part 2 ended with our driving out of the Tequesta/Jupiter area of Florida after attempting to visit Joe Namath’s soon-to-open restaurant…and getting caught accidentally trespassing in the process. Eek!

Our next destination? West Palm Beach, where we needed to try a Cuban restaurant my friend, Linda, raved about. We left Jupiter, and in less than half hour, we were standing in front of Havana Restaurant, right on the corner of Dixie Highway (Hwy 1) and Forest Hill Blvd.

Imagine our surprise when we found the dining room closed. The takeout window facing Dixie Highway was open, so we talked with the ladies there, who told us the takeout window is open 24 hours, but the dining room was open 5pm to 11pm. It was 4pm, so we decided to order an early dinner and dine at one of the outdoor tables on the side of the building. We knew that by the time we finished our early dinner, the dining room would be open, and we could go inside for dessert. We had Tostones Milanesa, Ropa Vieja, and Arroz con Pollo. Wow! The flavors were perfect, and the portions were huge, but we still saved room for dessert…because, well, Cuban desserts.

A little after 5:00, we entered the dining room and were seated immediately. I’ve never been to Cuba, but it certainly gave me vibes I thought were Cuban. The walls featured posters and photos of Cuban singers and stars, many from a bygone era. We loved the atmosphere! Mary Ann had never had Flan, so she ordered that, and I ordered Tres Leches Cake, which I always love, and we both ordered Cafe con Leche. The coffee came first; if you enjoy a good cup of coffee, I recommend you try the coffee at Havana. But when the desserts arrived, we were absolutely overwhelmed! Mary Ann decided she loved Flan. I knew I loved Tres Leches Cake, but this one bowled me over. I can hardly wait to get back to West Palm Beach just so I can get that cake. For more information about Havana Restaurant, click here. We loved it. The servers were absolutely delightful, and the food was fantastic. Highly recommend!

Havana Restaurant’s Tres Leches Cake

We waddled back out to the car after eating too much, and decided we’d stop in Delray Beach for the night. We took the beach road, and as I drove, Mary Ann was searching online for a small, locally-owned place to stay the night. We found Atlantic Hideaway on 6th Avenue. Unfortunately, they had no rooms left for the night. Even though we didn’t get to stay there, we recommend it and will likely try it another time. To see info about Atlantic Hideaway, click here. After driving around looking for other small inns, we finally opted to book at the Courtyard…yes, I know…not a small, locally-owned place, but it was in a great location…and at that point, it was just easy. We booked on the Marriott app, where we also checked in and got a digital key. Parking was in a covered garage. We were thrilled with how large the room was…two king beds…and the whole hotel was remarkably clean and beautiful. I never thought I would call a Courtyard beautiful, but this one definitely was.

After getting our bags to the room, we went out to explore on foot. Delray Beach is a lovely town with lots of cute restaurants and shops. We didn’t need more food after Havana, but we enjoyed walking. We crossed over the drawbridge and visited the beach. Of course, we took lots of photos along the way.

We slept well, and when we got up the next morning, we spent a couple of hours checking out Delray Beach, resolving to return soon. It’s the kind of place I could live out my retirement…seriously, it could happen.

In the afternoon, we got back on A1A, driving south through Highland Beach, Deerfield Beach, and Pompano Beach. We knew Miami Beach was our southernmost destination, so we made a hotel reservation and dinner reservations while we drove…more on that later. We didn’t make any stops till we got to Pompano, and we were past due for some lunch, since we hadn’t eaten breakfast. We had just said we were feeling “lunchy” when we saw a sign for Great Indian Grill. We both love Indian food, so we took a chance and were so glad we did! The place was small…just three tables…but with only two employees, it had a friendly, personal vibe. The chef, Jay, took our orders, and offered suggestions. He suggested Chicken Tikka Masala as an appetizer and Lamb Biryani and Shrimp Curry for lunch. Yum! Everything he prepared was perfect, and we felt like he was our personal chef! In some Indian restaurants, the flavors can be overwhelming, but Jay prepared them in such a way that the flavors melded perfectly. Everything was delicious. For info on Great Indian Grill, click here. We thanked our new friend, Jay, profusely before getting on the road to Miami.

As we drove away, we remembered reading that a Goodyear Blimp Airbase is in Pompano Beach, so Mary Ann checked her phone, and we decided to make a quick drive past the hangar, in hopes a blimp would be parked outside. As we approached, we realized we were getting more than that! A blimp was outside, indeed…getting prepared for takeoff! We had no idea where it was going, but when it took off, it flew low directly above us! As it started to circle low around the base, I realized it was doing a fly by and was going to land again! What a treat to watch it take off and land! I’ve seen the Goodyear blimp countless times, but I had never seen it take off and land, so this was fun! Once we knew it wouldn’t be taking off again, we got on the road. For info on the Goodyear Blimp Airbase, click here.

The blimp landing in the background, and a man biking through my selfie!

We rolled into Miami with Will Smith singing Miami on the car speakers, and eventually switched over to Pit Bull…just to get the vibe for the 305.

As I mentioned earlier, we had made a hotel reservation. We opted to stay at Eden Roc, because it’s in mid-beach (not South Beach!), and because they have valet parking. There were other factors too…Nobu restaurant and Malibu Farm restaurant are both at Eden Roc.

Upon arrival at Eden Roc, we were greeted warmly by the valet and bell staff. Check-in was quick and easy, and our room on the seventh floor gave us a pool view and partial ocean view. We got cleaned up and went downstairs to Malibu Farm for our cocktail reservation before moving to Nobu for our dinner. Mary Ann had never dined at Nobu, but I have dined at several, so I knew it would be a fabulous experience. It most definitely was. Nobu never disappoints. In fact, Mary Ann has called me several times since, still talking about that Nobu meal. I’d love to list everything we ordered, but we let the server decide for us, so we didn’t know the names of everything…but it was fantastic! For info on Malibu Farm, click here…and Nobu info, click here.

We went to bed happy, dreaming of the Nobu meal we’d just had!

We knew we had one day in Miami, so the next morning we picked a couple of things we wanted to do. I have no love for South Beach, so that was off the table. We knew we wanted to visit Calle Ocho…you can’t go to Miami without visiting Little Havana/Calle Ocho. We also wanted to visit the Wynwood Walls.

So after a quick drive around the Art Deco and South Beach area, we drove west, across MacArthur Causeway to Calle Ocho, where we had another great Cuban meal at Versailles. It’s a a tourist trap, but there were locals there too, and frankly, the easy parking was a factor in our decision. To see more about Versailles, click here. We left there and took a few pictures in Little Havana before going to the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum of murals by American and international artists. It’s actually blocks of murals on building and walls, but now there is a part of the area that charges for entry. It’s $10 per person, and it’s money well spent. We spent about an hour there, admiring the murals and taking photos. We loved it. And of course, at the end, I had to go into the gift shop to purchase some postcards…it’s what I do. For more about The Wynwood Walls, click here.

We left there, driving north with no idea where we would stop. More next time…in part 4 of the series.

Two Friends on the Road, Part 1

Two friends on the road, Part 1.

I’ve recovered now. Wow. About 11 days ago, I embarked on a road trip with my friend, Mary Ann. We were long overdue for some fun, and frankly, we had discussed the possibility of a road trip without kids for years. It was high time we just got into the car and went. So we did. My husband stayed home with our 17-yr-old daughter, and my friend left her three kids with her mom…and off we went. We didn’t plan anything in advance. We didn’t have hotel reservations. However, because of COVID, we decided we needed to travel to places that were actually open, so we headed south…toward Florida.

We had used an app called Roadside America before, so we decided to use it on this trip too…and using the app, we decided our first stop would be at the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, South Carolina. Crazy, right? It’s not an official welcome center; a gentleman built it in his yard, but it’s rather impressive. We knew when we had arrived, for sure. It’s shaped like a flying saucer and it casts a rather large shadow on the road as we approached from the east. Wow! Someone had spent a lot of time building this! I have to admit it was pretty amazing…an unusual photo op, to say the least. For a $20 “tip” you can go inside the massive structure, but since the sun was setting, and we weren’t sure the structure was “up to code,” we opted out of the grand tour. And soon, we were back on the road.

It wasn’t long before we were on I-95 south, and we stayed the course for several hours, till we decided it was time to stop…in St. Augustine, Florida. We got off the interstate and headed toward town, looking for a restaurant where we could grab dinner. We found a lovely place called Green Papaya, which offered Asian Fusion, but it was nearing closing time. We quickly ordered online and opted to eat it in the car, because we didn’t want to cause the staff to stay late. (My husband would be upset that we ate in my car…but he wasn’t there!) We were impressed with our ability to find a great restaurant, as the food from Green Papaya was just what the doctor ordered! If we find ourselves in St. Augustine again, we will return!

After dinner (in the car!), it was time to look for a place to stay. As I mentioned, we hadn’t made reservations ahead of time, and we wanted a small, locally-owned inn for the night. After checking ratings online, we headed toward a place called Magic Beach Motel in Vilano Beach…just outside St. Augustine. When we rolled into Vilano Beach, it was easy to spot Magic Beach Motel, because it was aglow in neon! It was exactly what we were looking for…a charming little beach motel from days gone by. (See feature photo!) For more info on the Magic Beach Motel, click here. Here’s where I should mention we purchased lottery tickets (it was at $950 million!) and scratch-offs every time we stopped for a bathroom break or to gas up the car. Scratch-offs added some mindless entertainment when we checked into the motel (and every hotel thereafter), and won more than we spent! We got a good night’s sleep, and the next morning, we decided to check out the area. We walked around the village, a tourist/beach area that boomed in the 1940s and 50s, situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Tomalato River. For more information on Vilano Beach, click here. I read there was once a drawbridge that directed traffic to the area, but when a new bridge was constructed in 1995, traffic was diverted away from the area, having a negative impact on the area’s businesses. It’s still a charming area, and it appears to be having a bit of a comeback, as a couple of hotel chains are building there. We strolled from the beach park on one end to the pier overlooking the Tomalato River on the other end. It was at the pier that we found the Bluebird of Happiness statue…another great photo op.

We had fun exploring. Lots of the old motels/restaurants are closed and falling into disrepair, and Mary Ann and I mused about what could be done to revitalize them…if we won the lottery! We also learned there is a Saturday flea market and a cute little Airstream shopping village on weekends. Too bad we were there on a Tuesday/Wednesday. We would have enjoyed it. Good info for next time, though!

We also learned the sign for Haley’s Court, an old beach motel, is an icon of the “beach tourism boom of the 1940s and 50s,”and it has its own historical marker, according to hmdb.org. When we drove into town, the sign was not illuminated, but the next morning, we were able to see it clearly. The sign is a great example of mid-century modern design.

After spending the morning exploring Vilano Beach, we loaded up and drove to The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine…a tourist trap, for sure, but a fun one. We had lunch at a barbecue spot there, and it was surprisingly good! The park itself is interesting and informative, having begun as a tribute to Ponce de Leon’s landing in the New World. It has since become an archeological park, after several Christian relics were unearthed, positively identifying the area as the location of the settlement of St. Augustine in the 1500s. In the park, we found lots of information about the history of the area and even a planetarium! To learn more about The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, click here. We didn’t feel any younger when we left, unfortunately.

From there, we revisited downtown St. Augustine in the daylight…and it was just as stunning by day as it was when it was illuminated at night! The town square! The marinas! The fort! The beautiful, historical architecture! It’s definitely worth a visit! To learn more about St. Augustine, click here.

On our way out of town, we visited the lighthouse for a quick photo op, and we drove past the Alligator Farm, a place I visited as a child and loved. We needed to get a little farther south quickly, so we didn’t visit this time, but it’s also worth your time. I love a good alligator farm. Having lived on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay in Alabama, I’ve seen lots of gators…fascinating creatures. You can see lots of other animals at the Alligator Farm too. To learn more about the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, click here.

As we drove out of St. Augustine, we made a quick stop at a food truck park and grabbed some macróns before getting on A1A to head south on the beach road. We opened the windows and the sunroof, cranked up the 80s tunes and cruised the beach road through Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, and Ormond-by-the-Sea. This stretch of A1A felt like old school beach road…we enjoyed it and put our toes in the sand at several beaches along the way, searching for Right Whales every time we stopped. Right Whales can be spotted off the Florida coast between the months of December and March…something I didn’t know before this trip… so we hoped we might be able to spot one. We didn’t, but it was fun looking for them…and we got to enjoy the beaches in the process! We spoke with some local folks along the way…asking if any of them had ever seen Right Whales off shore…none of them had, but they knew people who had.

At Daytona, we hopped off A1A to take advantage of a photo op at Daytona Motor Speedway…a landmark, for sure. We then followed Highway 1 south to Merritt Island. I’ll pick up with that stop next time. At this point, we were having a great time, and the fun continued!

Outside Daytona Motor Speedway

I’m Not Always Wrong…

Sometimes, our teenagers surprise us with rare compliments. They might not even realize they’re doing it, but we, as parents, hear it loud and clear!

With a Target just two miles from my house, I shop there frequently. I’ve lived in the same house for 19 years, so I’ve been through that Target parking lot countless times…sometimes three times in one day.

Recently, as I was driving to Target on a Saturday with my teenage daughter in the car, I entered the parking lot from the entrance that has a four-way stop at the top. At this particular four-way stop, I could choose the left-turn only lane or the right turn/straight ahead lane. It’s only marked on the pavement; there are no signs. But I’m very familiar with it, so I know the right lane is for right turns or going straight ahead, and the left lane is left turn only.

On this particular morning, I pulled up to the stop sign in the right lane, and another car was in the left lane. We reached the stop sign almost simultaneously, so it was our turn at the same time. I moved forward to go straight, and I thought he was turning left, since he was in the left-turn lane. To my surprise, just as we were clearing the intersection, the car from the left lane came speeding past me, clipping the front of my car as he scooted in front of me. And he didn’t stop! My teenage daughter was surprised too, saying, “Wow! Imagine a guy in a [luxury car] doing a hit and run!” I followed him, and when he stopped by the Target sidewalk, I put down my window. He put his window down and yelled, “I had the right of way!” I replied, “You hit my car! AND you didn’t have the right of way!” He argued with me for a second, but I suggested we both park our cars and offered to walk back down to the intersection and take a photo for him. He said he would walk down too. And he walked with me.

When we arrived at the intersection, he could see he was wrong. It is clearly marked on the pavement. He turned to me and said, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” I could tell he was embarrassed, but honestly, it was all I could do to keep from smiling. Heck…maybe I did smile. He had another state’s plates on his car, so I asked him how long he has lived in Charlotte. He told me less than a year, “but I come through that intersection all the time!” I said, “I understand, but I’ve lived here almost 20 years, and I’ve driven through this parking lot almost every day.” We ended up being very civil with each other, and frankly, the damage to my car was virtually nonexistent….a little brush mark that my husband was able to wipe away with some car wax when I got home. His bumper, however, was cracked.

The most amazing part of this episode? My teenage daughter, afterward, said to me as we walked into Target, “Imagine, Mom…you’re always right.” That was a compliment, but I’m not sure she realized she was throwing it out there. I wish I had recorded her saying that, but it was a missed opportunity. I then, of course, had to tell her I’m not always right. In fact, I might be wrong more than I’m right, but when I know I’m right, I know I’m right.

Of course, later that same day, we were shopping in a local boutique, and I held up a shirt that I thought was perfect for her. She looked at me like I had fourteen eyes and said, “Ewww!” I guess she knows I’m not always right.

***And just for the record, a lesson was learned…I should not have followed the driver of the other car, and I made sure my daughter understood that. I should have let him drive away after getting his license plate number.*** AND a friend who is a retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer later told me that if I had called the police, the offender, at the very least, would have received tickets for living in Charlotte for nine months and still carrying a driver’s license from another state…and not registering his car in NC. You need to do that within 30 days of moving here.

 

 

 

Thieves And A Stick Shift

My friend, Mary Ann, just sent me a link to a news story about some guys who attempted to steal a car from a gas station in Mobile, Alabama. Apparently, the would-be car thieves jumped into a car and tried to drive away while the owner of the car was inside the gas station.

But they failed.

They couldn’t drive a stick shift car.

To anyone under 30, this probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when I was growing up, lots of people still drove cars with manual transmissions. I know it’s rare today, but it wasn’t so rare back then. It was a life skill.

As far as I can remember, my family only had two cars with manual transmissions when I was growing up: a Volkswagen microbus and a Jeep. Maybe we had more, but those are the two I remember. My mother, back in the early 70s, decided she wanted a VW bus for road trips. She had never driven a stick shift, so Daddy had to teach her. Mother must have been 33 or 34. I still remember stalling out at a few traffic lights, but Mother mastered that life skill! She drove us all over the place in that VW bus. When I was 17, we got a Jeep, and that’s when I learned to drive a stick. My brother was barely 16 when we got the Jeep, but somehow, he just knew how to drive a car with a manual transmission. But then, there was that time when he was 14 and he got in big trouble because Mother saw him driving a friend’s car…probably a manual transmission…that’s probably when he learned.

My husband can drive a stick, thankfully. I learned that before we were married when a friend needed him to bring a car to him. We got into the car, and when I saw it was a manual transmission, I thought, “Oh, please let him know how to drive this car.” It sounds shallow, and I know it, but he was going to lose some masculinity points if he couldn’t drive it. Like I said…I know that’s shallow, but I just can’t help it. Fortunately, he got in the driver’s seat and drove away…without even thinking about it. In my mind, there are just certain things men need to know how to do: drive a car with a manual transmission, throw a ball correctly, and operate a chainsaw, to name a few (unless there are extenuating circumstances like a disability). It’s not like they are going to need those skills very often, but when they need them, they need them. And that day we got into that car, I would have been absolutely mortified if my then-husband-to-be had turned to me and said, “I can’t drive this car.” Go ahead…say I’m shallow. I know! I know it’s shallow, but it’s just one of those things I can’t get past!

Of course, in my daughter’s generation, there will be fewer people who know how to drive a car with a manual transmission. It’s likely there will be fewer people who know how to throw a ball correctly or operate a chainsaw, unless you can do it from a computer. I don’t even know how my own daughter will ever learn to drive a stick shift, because they are so few and far between these days! Maybe I need to talk my husband into buying a vintage VW microbus for road trips.

As it turns out, the almost-stolen car at the gas station in the news story belonged to a friend of Mary Ann’s brother. He left the keys in the car while he ran inside to get something. Lucky for him, the would-be car thieves couldn’t drive a stick. Lucky for him, he’s driving a car that requires a life skill those thieves didn’t have. Of course, if the thieves could drive a stick, they might be able to get jobs somewhere, and they wouldn’t need to steal other people’s cars. They ended up being identified by a video taken by the car’s owner, so now everybody knows they tried to steal a car and they can’t drive a stick!

Those thieves lost some masculinity points.

***To see the news story about the would-be thieves, click here.***