Don’t Look, Ethel!

Don’t look, Ethel!

Earlier today, on Facebook, a friend posted one of those memes saying, “The song that was number one on your seventh birthday defines 2021 for you.” The song that was number one on my friend’s seventh birthday? Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy. What the what?!?! I was a senior in high school when that song was number one! I was sneaking into R-Rated movies, and she was just seven years old?!? I felt old, but I also felt lucky….lucky that Prince was the soundtrack of my high school years.

But then, I couldn’t resist. I’m a sucker for notalgia, so I checked to see what the number one song was on my seventh birthday. The song that was number one? The Streak by Ray Stevens. I laughed out loud. Of course it was number one on my seventh birthday! I loved that song! I played the 45 single on my record player regularly, because I thought it was hilarious…with its laugh-track and everything. I didn’t understand all the references, but I still thought it was funny.

Streaking was a thing in the 70s. For a long time, I didn’t know if Ray Stevens made it popular with his song, or if he made the song because streaking was popular. You know…the chicken or the egg? I read recently that Stevens totally capitalized on the streaking craze of the 70s…smart move. If you’re familiar with the song, you know Ethel is a “character” in it. There’s a lot of “Don’t look, Ethel!” followed by things like “It was too late…she’d already been mooned!” At seven, I had no idea what “mooning” was. But back in the 70s, spectators streaked across the field at Major League Baseball games. They streaked across college campuses. They streaked through cricket games, soccer games…and unforgettably, across the stage at the 1974 Academy Awards ceremony. Streaking was big in the 1970s.

The summer of 1974, my whole extended family on my dad’s side gathered in Mexico Beach, Florida, for a big family weekend…all of us in one house. It was great fun. We went “scalloping” in St. Joe Bay. We went to the beach every day…getting shocked by the crosswalk button only once before we knew not to do it again. We laughed. We played. And the few of us who were 10 and under plotted to “streak” down the street. We were in a back bedroom, plotting our streaking event, but none of us really had the nerve to carry it out, so we decided to streak through the house where all our parents and cousins were. Silly, I know, but hilarious to a 7-yr-old. Years later, my mother told me she heard us plotting our event in the back bedroom, and she told my aunt, “Kelly will be the first one to run through here.” She was right. In fact, I’m not sure if any of the others participated in the “event.” I wrapped up in a towel and walked into the hallway, then dropped by towel and ran through the main room, where all the adults and teenagers were. Is there anything less exciting than seeing a 7-yr-old run through a room naked? It seemed funny to me, but I don’t think anyone else even cared. It was pretty stupid…but at the time, it was fun.

Ray Stevens had other funny songs, and I guess he still sings them at his Ray Stevens CabaRay in Nashville. I have to get there one day, simply because I am cool with anything that’s completely hokey and nostalgic. Maybe I can get my friend, Mary Ann, to meet me there to hear him sing some of our silly road trip songs like The Streak, The Mississippi Squirrel Revival, Ahab the Arab, It’s Me Again, Margaret, Gitarzan…so many politically incorrect songs! I hope he still sings them, because political correctness aside, they are hilarious!

So one silly meme on Facebook now has me listening to Ray Stevens on Apple Music…and laughing a lot as I sing along while running errands all over town.

According to that Facebook meme, that song defines 2021 for me. Next thing you know, I’ll be streaking through 2021! Bahahaha!

Two Friends on the Road, Part 4…The End of the Journey

*I’m writing about this trip so I can remember details later. Maybe you will learn something new!*

Two friends on the road, part 4.

So we left Miami…we didn’t want to, but we needed to start traveling in the direction of home…north on I-95.

At some point south of Vero Beach, we dropped off I-95 to get put gas in the car and buy more lottery and scratch-off tickets. We we were looking for manatees again…trying to find a them in a marina or inlet. We were obsessed. Well, I was obsessed. Mary Ann might have been humoring me, but I wanted to see more manatees. Using her internet search skills, Mary Ann found a place we might be able to see manatees near a power plant in Vero Beach. We found the power plant; we also found out quickly the road to the power plant was blocked. We got creative. Looking at the maps on our phones, we saw where the canal passed through a neighborhood. We went there. It turned out to be a canal behind an apartment complex, but we parked in the parking lot and walked down to a dock on the canal. It was dark, and I was paranoid about trespassing. Darkness + water + trespassing = fear. I kept whispering, “I’m scared.” After a little while we didn’t see anything and didn’t hear any manatees surface, so we left. Whew! I ran to the car.

Soon after leaving Vero Beach, we both said we were hungry at the same time and made our way toward Melbourne. Mary Ann found restaurant info, and we made our way to downtown…a charming area! We couldn’t believe our good luck…lots of restaurants, live music, and cute shops!

We passed a place called 716 East on Main Street, and it looked great…outdoor seating, twinkling lights, and live music. After parking, I checked the online menu and saw Mary Ann’s favorite, eggplant parmesan. It’s hard to find good eggplant parmesan, so she was psyched! We looked a little rough, having been in the car all day…both of us had on hoodies…very casual. As we approached the restaurant on foot, we realized we were underdressed. I even gave the hostess an out by acknowledging we likely didn’t meet the dress code. She smiled and seated us at the front of the restaurant…not hiding us…so I guess our attire was acceptable!

The cutest waiter came over enthusiastically and took our drink orders. He then wanted to make us aware of the menu items that weren’t available. We were there late, so we understood. I almost said, “As long as you aren’t out of eggplant parmesan, we’re good,” but I didn’t. He pointed to a couple of appetizers and told us about a couple of other dishes they didn’t have. As he pointed to the menu, I realized the restaurant wasn’t 716 East anymore. It was a different restaurant altogether, called Ember and Oak…a steakhouse with no eggplant parm! Mary Ann realized it at about the same time; I could tell by the look on her face as she scanned the menu. As soon as our waiter went to get our much-needed cocktails, we laughed and said, “It’s a different menu!” Thank God I didn’t make my remark about eggplant parm to the waiter!

Sometimes things fall into place. That’s what happened at Ember and Oak. Our waiter guided us in ordering, and we enjoyed a great meal in a lovely atmosphere. And the dessert? Cheesecake stuffed doughnut holes??? They had me at “cheesecake.” For more info on Ember and Oak, click here.

I booked a hotel reservation from the restaurant, so we went straight to the hotel and dragged our stuff in. Inside, we did our scratch-off tickets…a silly ritual at this point. At bedtime, I realized I had left my restless leg meds in the car. I was afraid to go to the parking lot, and Mary Ann was falling asleep, so I thought, “Surely I will be able to fall asleep.” About 30 minutes later, I realized I was wrong, but Mary Ann was asleep, and there was no way I was running into a dark parking lot alone. I didn’t sleep…at all…maybe dozed here and there…but tossed and turned. At 6:30, Mary Ann said something, and I said, “I haven’t slept all night.” She said, “I know.” Eek. Note to self: remember restless leg meds.

We got an early start the next morning and drove to a manatee observation area in Melbourne. No luck, but we saw dolphins frolicking across the way, so we drove over and watched them. Mary Ann spotted a manatee swimming into the inlet, even though he stayed mostly submerged…we could see his “wake” as he slowly swam in. We were way too excited about the dolphins and manatee. We laughed at how embarrassed our kids would be if they were with us! But they weren’t…and we didn’t care what anyone thought!

Leaving Melbourne in the afternoon, we got back on the interstate and continued driving north into South Georgia, where we saw a feral black boar on the side of the interstate! I saw it as we passed and said, “What was that?!” Mary Ann said, “It was a wild boar!” I have to say that was the first feral boar I have ever seen in person…and I’ll be OK if I never see another one. I had an uncle who used to hunt them, and I remember hearing stories about how aggressive and vicious they can be. I still can’t believe we saw one on I-95.

We stopped for the night in Savannah, because traffic was backed up on I-95 for 15 miles. We didn’t have the patience for that. We got up the next morning knowing we would go back to Charlotte after one silly destination: South of the Border!

Not familiar with South of the Border? I have written about it before…read about SOB (South of the Border) here. It’s a roadside attraction in South Carolina, on I-95. Mary Ann had never seen it. It was a rainy, dreary day, so I hate she saw it that day. The gray skies made it look bad. It’s more fun to approach it at night, when the neon’s glowing. The dim light hides the wear and tear. We arrived, and I think she was underwhelmed. We took pictures with some of the landmarks…the giant sombrero, the giant Pedro, the neon SOB sign. We shopped in the souvenir shops and found trinkets. Two things got Mary Ann’s attention: the jackalope statue and Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. As we were leaving SOB, she spotted a giant jackalope statue, which she found especially funny…and had to climb up for a photo sitting on his back. She’d hunt me down and kill me if I posted it, so you’ll never see it. On our way out, we stopped at the SOB gas station for a bottle of Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. If you’ve never had Blenheim’s, it’s real ginger ale…with a kick. Blenheim has been making it the old-fashioned way since 1903. You can read more about it here. I knew Mary Ann would love it.

We left SOB and headed back to Charlotte, and once we arrived, we drove straight to Ilios Noche, a restaurant I knew Mary Ann would love! In fact, it has been a week since we were there, and she is still raving about it! For info on Ilios Noche, click here.

We made great memories…and that’s what it’s all about! The journey is the destination!

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 2

Two friends on the road, part 2.

At the end of Part 1, we were leaving Daytona Beach, headed south on Highway 1. To see Part 1, click here.

After making a quick trip over to Daytona Motor Speedway for a photo op…just because it’s a landmark…we’re not race fans, we were moving south toward Merritt Island, where we thought we might be able to see some manatees in the wild. We were on a wild manatee mission.

Mary Ann actually swam with manatees four years ago with a friend in Crystal River, Florida. I hate I missed it, because her stories from that trip are quite amusing. Apparently, a big male manatee was partial to Mary Ann and decided he would be her boyfriend for the day. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say he almost drowned her as he held onto her leg!

I wasn’t interested in that type of encounter! I just wanted to see some manatees in person…in the wild! According to one website, there was a chance we could see some at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, so we headed in that direction. According to one website, we would likely see them from an observation deck. We drove deep into the wildlife refuge, but when we arrived at the observation deck, it was closed for COVID. What the what?!? I don’t understand the logic behind that, so I was really disappointed, but then we read that some people had seen them at a boat launch nearby. We drove down a long gravel road, all the while praying I wouldn’t get a flat tire! When we arrived at the boat launch, a few other cars were there. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any manatees, but we did see some dolphins and got some amazing pictures of the sunset, so it was worth our while! We also saw some Roseate Spoonbills, lovely pink birds in the area. To learn more about the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, click here.

Leaving the wildlife refuge, we headed south on Highway 1, stopping for gas and more lottery tickets and scratch-offs, and we also stopped at an ice cream stand called Frisbee’s…it was shaped like an actual ice cream cone! We didn’t even bother to get ice cream, because we hoped to have dinner soon…but we did get a photo!

Soon thereafter, we got back on I-95, and our next stop was Vero Beach, Florida. We were driving down the interstate trying to figure out a safe place to stop. Mary Ann was reading off the names of cities on the map, and when she said, “Vero Beach,” I knew it would be safe to stop there. I have a friend who has a home there, and I know she has high standards. As we drove into Vero Beach, it was approaching 9pm, and we were looking for a restaurant for dinner. Mary Ann found one that was open till 10…Waldo’s at The Driftwood. We called ahead to make sure we would be able to get a table, and we were thrilled when they seated us outside, overlooking the Atlantic! We both had grilled fish with roasted veggies, and I texted Linda, my friend who has a home there, and told her we were at Waldo’s. She immediately texted me back, saying, “Waldo’s is an institution in Vero!” I will say the place had character. It also has quite a history. We highly recommend a visit to Waldo’s if you find yourself in Vero. To learn more about Waldo’s, click here. I was driving, so I didn’t have a cocktail, but Mary Ann ordered something called Voodoo Juice that was served in a bucket! She drank it down quickly and then said her head was tingling! Yes, she had a little buzz, but we later discovered she was also having a slight allergic reaction to something in the drink! Nothing serious…an antihistamine took care of it.

We ended up staying in a local Hampton Inn that night. If we had realized The Driftwood was right there, we likely would have tried to get a room there, but we were tired and just took the first option we came across. Even though we didn’t stay at The Driftwood, I would recommend staying there at least one night if you’re looking for a little, local place…just because it’s legendary, and the location is fantastic. You can see info about The Driftwood here.

After a good night’s sleep, we had some coffee and called Linda to get some tips about things to see quickly in Vero Beach. We went to the beach for a little while, and we were impressed by the boardwalk! It truly is a lovely area. She also recommended we spend some time checking out the town and look at some of the beautiful homes, and most importantly, she reminded me her brother had died in Vero Beach four years ago. He was an actor and had just closed his show, Ring of Fire, a show about Johnny Cash, at the Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach. In fact, the theatre has one of his guitars on display as a memorial, and I was determined to get into the theatre for a photo of it. When Mary Ann and I arrived at the theatre, however, it was locked. I left Mary Ann in the car and walked around the side of the building, where I could see the guitar display through a window, and I was fortunate to see a young man working. Yes…I knocked, because well, that’s just who I am. He came to the door cautiously, and when he cracked it open, I explained to him why I was there. Lucky for me, a woman behind him heard me and said, “Absolutely. Let her in.” As it turns out, she knew Linda’s brother, Jason, and she said to me several times, “He was a lovely man.” I thanked her profusely, took the photo, and texted it to Linda. If you find yourself in Vero Beach when there is a show at the Riverside Theatre, get tickets…I hear it’s a beautiful theatre. See more about the theatre here.

From Vero Beach, we traveled south a few miles to Fort Pierce. Again using the Roadside America app as a reference, we decided to visit the Fort Pierce Manatee Observation and Education Center. We certainly didn’t expect to see any manatees there, because it appeared the center offered kayaking tours for that, but we thought we’d make a stop anyway. The center, of course, was closed. Ugh. COVID. However, it was located on a marina, and there was a very nice gentleman there who told us he had just seen a manatee mama and calf in the marina that day. We were excited! It became our mission to find those manatees! We waited and waited. And then…we got lucky! The mama and calf surfaced together for air, and we ran along the footbridge to that part of the marina for a closer look. We were able to watch them surface several times and even got videos! I couldn’t believe how big the mama was, but Mary Ann told me the male manatee that molested her in Crystal River was much larger…yikes. I definitely don’t need to swim with manatees, but I was thrilled to see them! My husband and I used to hear them in a marina near Miami, but it was always dark, and we could never see them. At 53, I finally saw manatees! I was absolutely giddy!

Mama Manatee in Ft Pierce!

Eventually, we decided we needed to move on, so we got back into the car and on Highway 1, driving toward Tequesta and Jupiter. Any self-respecting Bama fan (me) knows Joe Namath lives in that area, and I had just read an article about a new restaurant he’s opening with a partner. It’s called Charlie and Joe’s, and I knew it was scheduled to open mid-January, so of course, I had to try to find it. Maybe we would get lucky and arrive at the Grand Opening, and I could finally meet Joe Willie?!? We Googled the location and drove right to it. There were lots of cars in the surrounding parking lots, so we thought we had arrived on the right day! I even checked my hair and makeup before we got out of the car! We walked across the parking lot and came to a sidewalk that had signs on both sides saying “no trespassing.” I thought that meant we couldn’t walk on the grass beside the sidewalk…right up till the cop stepped out of his car and asked if he could help us. Eek! I asked, “Are we trespassing?!?” “Yes, ma’am.” I said, “Oh my goodness! We saw the signs, but we thought they were for that area.” He laughed…fortunately. I thanked him for being nice about it, and we walked back to the car…after I got a quick picture with the sign for Joe’s new restaurant! I’ll meet him one day! For info on Charlie and Joe’s click here.

From the Tequesta/Jupiter area, we set out for West Palm Beach, because we were hungry, and Linda had recommended a Cuban restaurant there…more on that next time!

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 cast 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

Retro Road Trip

Retro road trip!

I’m 53. I don’t hesitate to tell people my age, because I don’t really care how old I am. I’m just happy to be here. At 53, though, I have accumulated a lot of life experience, and I have a lot of memories.

I don’t remember my parents ever being big on staying in little roadside motels, but I do remember a few occasions when we stayed in them in small towns. I remembering seeing lots of little locally-owned inns and motels in the late 1960s and 70s. There were lots of them lining the beach roads in the Florida Panhandle, a place we frequented. Panama City Beach was full of them, and a few are still there. When I was a little girl living in Spanish Fort, Alabama, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, there was a cute little locally-owned motel near the entrance to our neighborhood. Anyone who lived in Spanish Fort in the 70s (and probably the 50s and 60s) remembers the Spanish Fort Motel, and they likely remember the Malbis Hotel Courts too, which had a swimming pool shaped like the state of Alabama. I know, because when I was a little girl, locals would purchase “memberships” to pools at both places. We spent lots of hot summer days swimming there. Both places had great restaurants for breakfast, and they both were on old Highway 90, which was the coastal east-west highway before the interstate, I-10, opened. After I-10 opened, of course, lots of those little places closed. Hotel chains built hotels near the interstates, and travelers opted for those instead.

Lots of those little roadside motels are gone now. But in some parts of the country, you can still find them.

This week, I am going on a retro road trip with a friend. We are leaving the kids behind and hitting the road…in search of every cute, little, retro, roadside motel we can find. We aren’t looking for luxury. We are looking for cute, quaint, old-fashioned fun. We haven’t put a lot of thought into where we will go, but we know we have to go somewhere that’s actually open during the COVID pandemic. We know we don’t need to drive into snow. And we know we need to go somewhere that there are still roadside motels. So, we are headed to Florida.

Originally, we had booked a five-night stay at a nice resort in south Florida, but then we decided to make this more of a retro adventure…a step back in time…and that’s what it will be. Plus, we felt like we would likely be more exposed to COVID at a large resort. Trust me when I say we are going to be careful. My travel buddy has already had COVID and still has antibodies. I don’t want to catch it, so I will be extra careful. But we want to have some fun and make new, silly memories.

Now don’t get me wrong. We don’t want to stay at any roach motels, and we don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to drug deals going down around us, so we have done a little research. And we will check reviews and ratings before we stop anywhere.

While we are on the road, we also will check out every cheesy roadside attraction we can find. All those roadside attractions the kids would grumble about? We are stopping! And we are going to take lots of photos! So stay tuned…the fun starts Tuesday.

I’m wondering if we should wear clothes from the 60s and 70s…maybe we will find some thrift stores along the way!

We are stepping back in time! Retro road trip!

***The feature photo is from a postcard from the Spanish Fort Motel. It features a photo of the entrance/check-in area.

***The photo below is a postcard featuring the Malbis Hotel Courts…and that pool shaped like the great state of Alabama.***

Daddy’s Birthday

“Tough row to hoe.” I’ve heard it my whole life. My daddy loved idioms, and “tough row to hoe” was one of his favorites, and sometimes he would say it as “long row to hoe.” Either way, it means someone is facing a difficult situation. If you’ve never been on a farm, you might not get it, but to “hoe a row” on a farm means you’re turning the soil in a row for planting.

Someone might say, “They have a long/tough row to hoe cleaning up the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.” You get it.

I thought of that just now, because I’m watching a news show, and one of the commenters said “tough ROAD to hoe.” That would have driven Daddy crazy. Who ever heard of using a hoe (the farm implement) on a ROAD?!? It is clear that commenter hasn’t ever spent any time on a farm.

Daddy’s birthday is today…his 81st birthday, but he is no longer with us. He died 2 1/2 weeks after his 68th birthday….pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about him before, and I’ve written about the misery we all experienced as he suffered. I don’t like to dwell on that, though. I like to think about the things Daddy taught me and the things we all learned from his illness.

For many years, on his birthday, I remembered the illness, the suffering, the sadness, but I am finally at the point that I remember happy, healthy times. I remember how he laughed…something I couldn’t recall for a long time. He did love to laugh, and he loved to tell stories. Most of all, he loved to tell stories that made us laugh.

And that’s one thing we learned from Daddy during his illness: laughter can cure a lot of ills. It can’t cure cancer, but it sure can make it easier. He said it. He wanted us to keep laughing with him as much as we could. We talked about old times. We laughed about old stories. My brother told his usual crazy stories. Having my then-two-year-old daughter and my brother’s then-eight-year-old twins around helped too. They gave him something to smile about. He loved those grandchildren. When we were growing up, he had to travel for work a lot, so he wasn’t able to enjoy us as much, but after he retired, he got to spend time with his grandchildren…and that brought him great joy.

Incredibly, we have a lot of happy memories from his illness. He turned 68 a few weeks before he died. His brothers and sister came over to Alabama from Florida to be with him on his birthday. He didn’t know they were coming, and when we awoke from a nap to find them standing in his room, he looked around and said, “Well, this is a motley crew!” We have laughed about that for years. In fact, I recently visited his oldest brother in a rehab facility (he broke a hip) in Florida, and I reminded him of that moment…and we laughed again.

But I have lots of happy memories of Daddy in general. When we were little and living in Brewton, Alabama, he would take us to the “candy store” on Saturdays. It was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s. In fact, now that I think about it, we only called it the “candy store” on Saturdays. The rest of the time, we called it “Murphy’s.”  Sometimes, he would take us to fly kites in a nearby pasture. I remember holding the kite string one time, and of course, I accidentally let it go. I can still see Daddy chasing it and catching it! He took us fishing at the pond in our neighborhood and cleaned the fish we caught. Mother would fry it up in the kitchen afterward. He helped us climb high up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. He rode a tandem bicycle with us. We had a lot of fun.

And when I was an adult, he helped me whenever I needed it. Heartbreak? Call Daddy. Bad day at work? Call Daddy. Stressed out about a test in college? Call Daddy. Sometimes, I just needed to talk. Sometimes, I needed him to “rescue” me when I had a flat tire or a car accident. And whenever I visited my parents, he always gave me WAM (walking around money) as I left. It was usually $20 or $40, but I was happy to have it, and he was happy to give it to me. In truth, we were always fortunate to know Daddy was our safety net…emotionally and financially.

Just like Mother, Daddy loved the happy faces of sunflowers. Most of my Mammoth Sunflowers have already bloomed this year, but there is one that’s holding out. Incredibly, one of my Evening Sun Sunflowers started opening today…the first of that variety to open. I’m in New York, but I called my husband in Charlotte and asked him to walk outside and see if it was opening, and it is…on Daddy’s Birthday. It made my day when he sent the picture of the bloom just beginning to open.

We have lots of great memories of Daddy. His laughter was contagious, and his sense of humor was awesome. His strength was unrivaled, and his love for his family was great.  I hope God lets him get little glimpses of his beautiful grandchildren. He would be so proud of them. And I remind them all the time that Big Ken (as they called him) would want them to enjoy life…sure, save for a rainy day, but enjoy today.

Happy 81st Birthday to Daddy in Heaven.

 

*****

True Friends Are Like Warm Blankets

True friends are like warm blankets.

This weekend, I spent three days in central Florida with a dear friend from college. We have kept in touch since we were 19 years old and students at the University of Alabama. We’re both 52 now…do the math.

We have shared a lot over the years…secrets, tears, laughs, good times, sadness, hard times…heck, we even have the same wedding anniversary, but she married five years before I did. We are true friends…through thick and thin. Oh, the stories we could tell! Stories of fun nights, bad dates, good parties, bad boyfriends, great experiences, terrible breakups, exciting jobs, sad losses, new babies, teenagers, and some stories of things that could only happen to us…or at least it feels that way. And we have shared some of those stories with our kids. They didn’t really seem to care at the time, though. In fact, they likely rolled their eyes, but one day, they will remember the stories we have told them…and they’ll laugh about some of them, and likely cry about others.

As for this weekend, we didn’t talk about old times a lot. We have covered that many times over the years. Of course, we laughed about some of the funnier things that happened when we were together, but we didn’t rehash it all. We talked about life as we see it now…33 years after becoming friends. We’re middle-aged moms now. We have a different vantage point now than we did at 19. We talked about things we have been through…things we have survived…and we talked about happiness. We talked about how, at 52, we know happiness doesn’t come from having material things. We are very aware that not worrying about how the bills will be paid can contribute to a peaceful, happy existence, but all the extra stuff...not so much. You can have lots of jewelry and fancy cars, but do those material things make you happy? We discussed that what makes us happy is experiencing life with people we love.

We know that for a lot of reasons, but mostly, we know it, because we didn’t sit around talking about material things at all. We didn’t talk about cars, jewelry, handbags, or clothes. We enjoyed talking about interactions with people. We shared stories about life experiences. It wasn’t about bragging rights. It was about sharing life events and how we handled them. We discussed painful experiences and what we learned from them. I’ve lost both parents, and she has lost her dad…we talked and cried about that a lot. And we talked about joyful experiences…things we did together; things our kids have enjoyed; stories of our children’s childhoods and our own childhoods…and more.

Did I mention we laughed a lot?

And while no one can “relive” their youth, we found ourselves absolutely slack-jawed while we watched Endless Love (rent it on Amazon here), a movie we were too young to see when it was a released with an R rating in 1981, but we both watched later on HBO. In fact, it had been so long since either of us had seen it that we forgot Tom Cruise and Jami Gertz had bit parts in the movie. And we had never realized before that a then-unknown Ian Ziering (of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) was in the movie. We also watched Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink (you can rent both on Amazon.com) and reminisced about seeing those movies as teenagers. And before you even think it…I know Sixteen Candles could never be made today with its sexism, underage/nonconsensual sex, underage drinking, and more…but it’s comedy, people! It’s supposed to be funny. I thought it was funny in 1984, and I still think it’s funny now.

During the day, we drove around the lovely town where she lives. We looked at historic homes, parks, flowers, and trees, and one day, we went tubing with her teenage son at Ichetucknee Springs State Park…quite the adventure! The water was refreshingly cold as we floated down the river…laughing and talking. She laughed at me when I would float off into the grasses on the edge of the river, and I laughed at her when she missed the entrance to the disembarkation ramp. We made new memories we will laugh about for years to come.

But what I enjoyed most was simply being with my friend. She knows who I really am and loves me anyway. Spending time with my friend was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. She’s comforting. She has been around for a long time. And she makes me feel secure. I came home feeling rejuvenated. I came home feeling content.

Sure, we are middle-aged moms now, and we have had a lot more life experience than when we became friends. We are, in fact, older than our parents were when we became friends. Wow…we really are middle aged.

She’s a keeper.

Lessons From The Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle. It’s a place I know well. It is a place that is near and dear to my heart.

My daddy, his siblings, and all my first cousins grew up there. I was born there. My grandparents lived there. My daddy is buried there, and my mother’s ashes are there.

When I was five months old, my family moved to Brewton, Alabama, and I never lived in the Panhandle again, but we visited family there regularly. We also vacationed at the beaches along the gulf coast in the Panhandle. I learned a lot in the Panhandle.

This past week, I took my teenage daughter on a road trip through the panhandle. Neither of us had been there since 2007, and she had no recollection of that visit. I also showed her some places she had never been. She didn’t act particularly interested in all my stories, but maybe she will remember some.

Maybe she will remember my telling her about doodlebugs in the Panhandle. Nope, I’m not talking about VWs. I’m talking about antlions, insects whose larvae dig pits to capture prey. If you’re not familiar with them, this will be as confusing to you as it was to my daughter. But doodlebug pits look like tiny holes in the ground with a small crater around them. When my cousins and I were little, our Granddaddy showed us how to get doodlebugs to come out of what we thought were their homes. He told us to put a tiny stick down into the hole and stir it while saying, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out and get a cup of coffee. Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire.” After a few stirs and a few chants, the doodlebug would emerge! We thought it was because of our chanting, but as an adult, I know it was because of the stirring. I think Granddaddy was just giving us something to do, so we wouldn’t bother people, but we spent hours bothering doodlebugs…and we had fun and made memories!

I also learned about biddies in the Panhandle. Nope…not gossiping old ladies or hot girls (urban slang). Biddies…young chickens. I must have been about six or seven the first time I heard young chickens called “biddies” by my cousin, Patti. I think we were visiting her house when she suggested we go see the biddies. I followed her to someone’s barn…I have no idea who it belonged to. I don’t remember much about the biddies, but I do remember there were cats there…and hay. I also know my mother must not have known where we were. She would have been worried about snakes. I don’t think we stayed long, but I learned that some folks call young chickens “biddies.”

When my Granddaddy died, a family friend took some of the cousins to get a milkshake at cousin Patti’s other grandparents’ store in Sneads while the grownups talked. They didn’t have a chocolate shake, so I ordered a strawberry shake. I feel sure the folks at Patti’s grandparents’ store knew how to make good milkshakes, but on that day, I learned I don’t like strawberry milkshakes.

On the beach in Panama City Beach one year, when I was a teenager, I learned that tar sometimes washes up with the tide. There had been an oil spill in the Caribbean, and the jetstream pushed a lot of the tar into the Gulf of Mexico. I knew nothing about it, until I was walking the beach near the Fontainebleau Terrace and got some tar on my white sneakers. Had to throw those away…tar doesn’t just wash out easily.

Also in Panama City Beach, at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, I learned a Scrambler amusement park ride is a lot more fun when it’s enclosed in a giant building shaped like an abominable snowman with loud music playing and mirrors on the walls…and bright lights flashing. I also saw a chicken play a piano at Miracle Strip and rode the Starliner roller coaster.

Miracle_Strip_Amusement_Park

Miracle Strip Amusement Park in 60s or early 70s

And everywhere in the Panhandle, I learned that gnats will congregate around your eyes, your nose, and any cuts or scrapes you have. Natural springs are naturally cold (Blue Springs Recreational Area). And more info here. I learned that Spanish moss is beautiful, even though it’s not a moss at all…it’s a flowering plant. I learned about stalactites and stalagmites at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. In Quincy, I learned about a banker who loaned folks money to buy Coca Cola stock….eventually making them millionaires. Many years later, I became friends with that banker’s great granddaughters purely by accident, after meeting one of them at a party in Charlotte! From my daddy and his siblings, I learned what life was like in the rural Panhandle after the Great Depression. I learned about peach trees right outside the door whose limbs were used as switches. I learned about the one room schoolhouse in Bascom and Faye Dunaway’s being a student there. Yes, that Faye Dunaway…of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I listened to speculation about how a community called Two Egg got its name, and I ate as much pound cake as I could when I visited a great aunt in Two Egg. In my grandmother’s house, I learned what an antique sewing machine looked like, and I heard stories about my grandmother and aunt playing organ and piano at folks’ weddings and funerals…oh, one funeral story I’ll have to share another time. At the beaches in the panhandle, I learned how much fun it is to bunk with all your cousins in one house on vacation. And I used my first crosswalk button to cross the beach road in Mexico Beach when I was six…it was malfunctioning and shocked the stew out of me. On that same trip, I learned about wading out into a bay to catch scallops on the same trip. And I learned that fireworks are pretty on the beach.

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Blue Springs Recreational Area and Park, Marianna, Florida

The coastal Panhandle looks different now. There are planned communities and high rise condos where beach houses and roadside motels used to be. The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park is long gone from Panama City Beach, but there is a new Miracle Strip located near Pier Park on the beach road. Shipwreck Island waterpark and Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant are still there, and even the old Fontainebleau Terrace is still standing…it was a beauty in its heyday.

A little farther north, along Highway 90 in Jackson County, one big difference is that most motel/hotel accommodations either closed or moved over to I-10 after it was completed through the area. Well, that and the Hurricane Michael damage that is everywhere from Panama City to Jackson County…lots of devastation. In Marianna, lots of the downtown businesses were damaged and/or destroyed. I have lots of memories there…getting my first Florida State University sweatshirt at Daffin’s, seeing the RCA dog on top of one downtown business, and watching Mary Poppins in the old movie theatre there. The theatre has been gone for a long time, but I remember. Say a prayer for the folks who are still affected by that terrible storm. Lots of people are still suffering, including my aunt, whose house in Panama City was badly damaged by the storm.

The Panhandle taught me a lot. All this, and I didn’t even mention Tallahassee, Destin, and other places yet! Whew! I’ll share stuff about those places soon. Big lessons from all over the Panhandle. Mostly, it taught me my aunts, uncles, and cousins are keepers. Maybe we need to plan another beach vacation for the whole bunch!

I hope my daughter will remember some of it…

***Some friends asked me about the planned communities along the Gulf Coast. You can find lots of rental information here.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

UFO Houses

Driving through Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach last week (lovely beaches on the Gulf Coast), I saw three houses that reminded me of spaceships, so I took pictures of the “UFO houses.” OK, I know…it’s not actually an Unidentified Flying Object if it’s a house, but it just doesn’t sound as intriguing to call it a “spaceship house.” So I choose to call them UFO houses. With all the attention Area 51 is getting these days, it seems fitting to talk about UFOs again anyway. No…I’m not planning to storm Area 51.

I’ve written before about how I love automobiles shaped like food. Well, I love houses shaped like spaceships too. And who knew I’d see more than one on one tiny little island on Florida’s Gulf Coast?!?

Last week, I visited the Alabama Gulf Coast with my husband, our teenage daughter, and one of her friends. After a few days, my husband stayed behind while the three of us went for a little road trip. Our destination on the first day was Panama City Beach, but I opted to take the scenic route. If you’re a teenager, you’d likely call it the “slow route.” My daughter moaned and groaned a little about it, but she perked up when we saw some things she’d never seen!

We were on the main road through Pensacola Beach, about three miles east of Three Mile Bridge on Santa Rosa Island, when I spied something I’d seen before but forgotten! If you are even remotely close to my age (52), you know our country was crazy for UFOs in the 60s and 70s. I was born in 1967, so I don’t remember a lot about the 60s, but I remember the 70s pretty well, and I remember all the chatter about UFOs. When I was a kid and saw the UFO house, it frightened me. My child brain couldn’t differentiate between the real thing and something that looked like the real thing.

Now, though, I’m fascinated by the house that looks like a UFO. According to Roadside America (an app you must have anytime you take a road trip), the “portable, prefabricated home design from 1968 is by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen.” It has survived numerous hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside, as it is a private home, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Doing a little research online, I found that these Futuro prefab homes were first sold for about $14000, but with the 70s oil crisis, the price of plastic went up, tripling the cost of the prefab UFO houses, and soon thereafter, no more were made. I also found there are at least 15 still in the United States and more in other countries. I found them in Idyllwild, California; Royse City, Texas; Milton, Delaware; Central Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; New Jersey; and even one in Frisco, North Carolina. Apparently, there are more of them than I ever imagined. I guess I’ll be planning a Futuro home road trip in my future. I hope my friend, Mary Ann, is up for that.

On youtube, I even found a video clip from a news station of the interior of a Futuro home! You can see it here.

So now, I’m obsessed with the Futuro homes and wondering if I could possibly talk my husband into retiring in one after our daughter goes off to college?! If not, there are some others on Santa Rosa Island that are not Futuro homes but still look a little like spaceships to me. See photos below.

If you’re as fascinated by UFO houses as I am, you can check out different ones on Instagram. I looked them up under #futurohouse, and I found several Instagram sites dedicated to them as well.

Of course, I know there’s not a chance my husband would even consider a Futuro house. If I could find one for my very own tiny vacation home, I’d be just as happy with that. If you hear of anyone who is listing one for sale, send me their number.