To Maine and Back....Sort Of.

This week, my Grandfather celebrated his 70th birthday. It was during a recent visit, that I was reminded of a road trip he and I took when I was a teenager. The trip was supposed to be a quick run to Maine and back to deliver a van he had sold. It was planned as four days of solid driving, with stops only to sleep. I should have known the minute we left, however, that this plan never stood a chance...

The trip began with my second ever flight on an airplane. The first as it turned out, was also with my Grandfather, and also involved delivery of a vehicle...a firetruck from Louisiana to Florida. The van we were delivering was located in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the plan was to deliver it to a dealer in Maine, who had another vehicle which we would be driving home. After aborting landing at what seemed to be the very last minute due to an aircraft on the runway, we arrived in Greensboro and crashed for the night.

The next morning began with a stop at McDonald's for my beloved Sausage Biscuit with Egg. I was happy to learn Pop Pop loved them as well, so I was confident I'd get plenty on this trip. The only drawback was that in my position as "Navigator," I had the duty of putting not only jelly on this sandwich, but additional butter as well. Yes, it looked as gross as it sounds.

We made our way through Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, up the New Jersey Turnpike, and eventually the Big Apple. This was my first experience seeing the skyline of New York, and it was the only time I saw the World Trade Center in person. We made our way across the George Washington bridge, paying the $5 toll, and eventually into Connecticut. Driving a giant conversion van through some of the largest cities in our country probably wasn't the best of ideas, but the old beast made it just fine.

The next morning we made the final push into Maine. Our destination was Machias, a small town right on the coast. We had to make our way along U.S. 1 North, and I thought it unique that I was so near the end of this famous road, where I'd also stood at mile 0. We stopped along the way at this log cabin which was also a diner, where I had an awesome patty melt. I might have skipped lunch had I known what was in store for dinner...

Upon arriving in Machias, the owner of the dealership took us down to the local pier. We found one of the local lobstermen who pulled one of his traps out of the water. Inside were the biggest lobsters I had ever seen. I picked out a 4 pound monster, and began licking my chops. To say the least, it was phenomenal, and took me at least an hour to eat. I spent the evening climbing on a point of rocks that stuck into the ocean, and thought that the area looked straight out of 1990 and President H.W. Bush's trips to Kennebunckport.

The next morning we set off for home, but we didn't make it far. As we sat in the McDonald's drive through, Pop Pop suggested that it was silly for us to come all the way to Maine, simply to turn around and come home. He suggested we visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and I naturally agreed. So as with Captain Picard changing course to a far off nebula, I whipped out my friend the atlas and started figuring out how the heck we would get there...

Cooperstown is located in upstate New York, and I quickly learned that there wasn't exactly an interstate from rural Maine to there. We would have to take a two lane road across Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, which would then dead end into Lake Champlain, requiring a ferry to cross into New York. This sounded really cool to me, and as the saying goes, I was more excited for the travel than I was for the destination.

We made it to Burlington, Vermont and Lake Champlain, and boarded the ferry to cross the lake.

I'm unsure why we had a pair of binoculars on a road trip to Maine, nor do I know what I expected to see on a freshwater lake...

Once we crossed the lake, the trip got a lot easier, as we were able to pick up Interstate 87 for a portion of the way into Cooperstown.

I wish I could tell you I remember anything about the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I don't. Don't get me wrong, I'm a baseball fan, and I know I found it interesting, but there is not one memory from the place that stands out in my mind. Thankfully we have pictures to serve as backup storage for our brain.
Mind you, this was before digital cameras, so I'm working with scanned photos from a disposable camera. And aside from my teenage awkwardness, I think they aren't bad...
And this one was for Dad...

With the Hall of Fame complete, we set off for home, but I should have known this was not the last of our detours. As we were making our way down I-95, the thought occurred to us that I-85 began in Virginia, and several hundred miles down her lay the promised land...Atlanta, and more specifically, The Varsity. We made a right hand turn onto 85, and I sat in bliss knowing the Varsity lay ahead, as well as disbelief that we were actually driving several hundred miles out of the way for chili dogs and onion rings...

As we made our way into South Carolina en route to Atlanta (properly pronounced Uh-la-nuh), Pop Pop said that we really needed to stop and see his sister and husband, as they lived not too far off 85. So we stopped and visited with them for a few hours, before heading back on the road. Finally, we arrived at one of the holiest of places....
During lunch, detour #3 was established, and that was a visit to another sister, just outside Atlanta. I enjoyed this stop, as their house was on a pond in the direct flight pattern of ATL, meaning I could watch the approaching planes while the family visited.

Detour #3 would be the last of our adventure, and we headed for home. In the end, the four day "up and back" trip turned into an 8 day, scenic road trip. I estimate a total of 25 Sausage Egg Biscuits were consumed, as well as the damage done at The Varsity. The more impressive total, however, were the memories that were made which I still carry with me today.

Happy 70th Pop Pop.

~Insert Dude-Like Closing Here~

Deej

Showdowns at Sawgrass

For the first time in quite a while, I was able to join my Dad, Uncle, and one of my best friends for a Sunday round of golf. As usual, when such a match is put together, an underlying competition was established. A few days prior, I suggested that my Uncle (I call him Goob) and I take on my Dad and my buddy Mike. In my opinion, this was the most fair set up, but my suggestion was denied. It seems Goob was feeling brave, and decided he and Mike wanted to take on my Dad and I. This was an ill-advised decision, as he was handed defeat at the completion of 13 holes. It was a great outing, and with the exception of the heat and a double bogey on a par 5, I had an awesome time. As I was walking to my car, I couldn't help but be reminded of two similar grudge matches I had with my brother.

A few years back, my brother made the move to Gainesville to finish his degree at U.F. Golf is the main activity that we often share together, so I decided that before he left I wanted to treat him to a nice round somewhere in celebration. After a fair bit of research, I decided that we would travel to Ponte Vedra Beach for a round at the T.P.C. Sawgrass Stadium course.

For those who aren't golfers, the Stadium course is one of the most famous in golf. Each year, it plays host to The Players Championship, the biggest tournament of the year outside of the four majors. Its best known for having the most famous finishing holes in golf, especially the iconic island green at the par 3 17th. The tour players may come each year to play for millions of dollars, but what Ross and I had on the line in our round to some is even more valuable...bragging rights...
The night before our match we headed up to Ponte Vedra, which is just outside of Jacksonville. We crashed at a Hilton Garden Inn, which looking back seems a bit odd as it was a requirement that one book a room at the Sawgrass Marriott in order to get a tee time. Regardless, we got up early and made our way to the course. After warming up with a bucket of balls, 90% of which were likely hit with a 9 iron in preparation for #17, we took to the first tee.

Having watched The Players Championship on TV for years, we both had the course memorized. The first is a short, very basic par 4, followed by a lengthy par 5 at #2. I was confident at the start of the round, as I perceived the starting holes to be quite easy, which would get me started on the right foot. I stood on the 3rd tee four over par, and thought the idea of this trip was a very expensive mistake.

I managed to right the ship, however, and having made a few pars along the way, our match stood fairly even as we made the turn. It remained so when we approached #16, which is the beginning of the famed finish at Stadium. Its a dogleg left, somewhat short par 5, which to me should have been a real birdie possibility. Instead, I sliced my drive somewhere across the Georgia border, and had to struggle to make my double bogey. My brother meanwhile was plodding along a couple strokes ahead.

We reached the infamous 17th hole, and for all the build up surrounding it, I managed to make a routine par. Quite frankly, if you remove the water from the equation, it really is a nothing little hole. If one misses any green from 135 yards, then in my opinion you probably deserve a one stroke penalty anyway, so why not make them all islands. But I digress...

Alas we reached the 18th dead even. It is one of the hardest holes in all of golf, and yet for some reason I felt like I needed to make birdie to win. I placed my drive on the right side of the fairway, but played too aggressive on my second shot, and tugged it ever so slightly left. The problem here....there is water all down the left hand side. I watched as my brother made it look easy with a par, and I stumbled with yet another double bogey. I had lost the match by 2 strokes....85-87.

What made the loss so difficult was that it had happened on such a big stage. This wasn't Sunday morning at Muni, or even a weekend trip to the courses at Disney. No, this was Sawgrass. One of the few courses that Tiger Woods hasn't managed to dominate. And I, the one with all the natural talent in the game, lost to my "self taught" little brother. This just would not do...

The next year I suggested to Ross that we make the trip again. Since I had taken the beating the year prior, I told him he had to pay his own way for golf. I'm sure still feeling a swell of confidence from the year before, he agreed. The game was on...

The trip followed the same pattern as the year prior, except this time we stayed at the Sawgrass Marriott, which was a nice upgrade from the Hilton Garden Inn. We both came into the round rather cocky. Sawgrass was old hat to us, and in our opinion there wasn't really anything special to it. We were gonna show the course who was boss. Sawgrass had a funny way of reminding us just who the boss really was...

Let's just say things didn't go well...for either of us. My experience was a little better than his, but not by much. The only memorable moment of the round came on the dreaded 17th. I led off with a 9 iron, which while the ball was in flight, I had a passing thought that it may actually go in. Alas, the pin was on the top shelf, and for those familiar with the course, my ball landed in the bank, and trickled back to the front. A good enough shot that I remember it still, but it didn't have anything on what I'd see next...

My brother has always hit his irons further than me, but I knew right off that the pitching wedge which was in his hand wasn't near enough club. Sure enough, shot number one kerplunked in the water. As well as shots number 2, 3, and 4, all having landed within a few feet of one another. Apparently Ross hadn't heard Einstein's famous quote about repetition and insanity. Finally, he moved to the drop zone to the left of the green, where he proceeded to plunk #5 in the pond also. In disgust, he threw a ball like a center fielder, and managed to reach the green. It was ugly, no doubt about it...

In the end, it is Ross that is still the champion at Sawgrass. He won the only real match we've ever had, as I have a hard time even calling our second one golf. I've got bragging rights on #17, but he's got me on score, and really that's the only thing which matters. One day I would love to return for another match at Sawgrass, but my gut tells me that day will be far in the future. It seems the folks at Sawgrass feel a recession is a perfect time to raise rates 300%, and effectively shut out guys like Ross and I. That's OK, after the first two experiences, I'm not sure what was so appealing about spending all that money to inflict such brutal torture on ourselves...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej

Lost, Alone, and Halfway Around the World

A few years back, I traveled to South Korea to visit one of my best friends who had taken a job there. It was perhaps the greatest trip I've ever taken, and yet it also provided the scariest moment of my life.

As I got off the plane in Seoul from 17 hours of torture, I ran through the checklist of steps Martin had provided before I left. First, I looked for a pay phone to call him. I found a bank of phones in the airport terminal, but I was quite certain one needed a doctorate from M.I.T. to figure out how to work them. At the same time, I was being hounded every two seconds by people asking if I needed taxis, phone cards, and who knows what else. This was my first time abroad, and I was starting to panic. It didn't occur to me to ask someone for help, for fear of being the stupid American tourist who can't work a pay phone. So I decided there would be no call, as surely Martin knew my flight had landed, and would time his arrival to pick me up accordingly...

My next instruction was to exit the terminal, and purchase a ticket from a kiosk for the bus ride to his town.

"Gwangju please." I asked in my clearly American, and slightly country accent.

"Gwangju." The attendant repeated.

There was a slight problem, in that the way I had pronounced Gwangju, and the way she did were quite far from one another. How did I know I had a ticket to the right city? What if there was another city with a similar name, and that's where I was going? The panic started to return, but before I had too much time to think about it, the bus arrived.

It was a four hour ride, and as Martin had told me before, there would be a rest stop at a mart along the way. I decided to try again to find a phone, thinking perhaps it would be a different sort. I found one, but this one looked even more complicated than the previous. So after buying a Starbucks bottle Frappuccino, I boarded the bus for the remainder of the journey.

The entire time I kept trying to work up the nerve to ask someone to confirm where we were going, but I never did. My first time abroad, halfway around the world, on a random bus going to who knows where in the middle of the night, and I'm too afraid to ask the guy next to me where the heck I am. Well the question was soon answered, as we pulled up to a "station" and began to disembark. I say "station" because the extent of this facility was a sidewalk and a street sign with a picture of a bus.

My last instruction from Martin was that he would be here waiting for me. The street was a wide 6 lane boulevard lined with buildings, and lots of bright lights. This photo isn't the same location, but if you replace the people with lots of cars it gives you an idea.


I looked down the street to my left...No Martin. I looked down the street to my right...No Martin. I decided to sit tight for a few minutes and see if he showed. Problem was, I'm standing alone on a sidewalk in the middle of the night, with tons of luggage. In my mind I was a sitting duck, and I needed to move. So I looked up and down the street for a refuge, somewhere I could ask for help, because now the fear had taken enough hold that I wasn't afraid to ask for it. I noticed a Best Western hotel sign a few blocks down, and decided that was my target.

Where the heck was I? Am I even in the right city? Where the heck was Martin? What if I'm clear on the other side of the country? All these were thoughts racing through my head. The Best Western sign was to me, like the green light on Daisy's dock was for Gatsby, a symbol for hope.

A few moments later, a tall, lanky, and clearly Western guy appears on the sidewalk ahead. I decided regardless of who it was, I was asking them for help. But there was no need for help, the stranger was Martin...I was saved. At that very moment I could have kissed the guy I was so overwhelmed with relief.

The days ahead were filled with lots of memories, and some awe inspiring sights. Yet I'll always remember the nervous start to this adventure. All because I couldn't work a pay phone....

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej

The Beach and the Mouse - Disney's Vero Beach Resort

As I'm sure my wife would tell you, I'm a bit of an oddball. You see, there are many things in this world that the vast majority of people enjoy, which I would rather avoid if possible. For example, I've never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and I certainly have no intention of trying one. In addition, if given the choice between any type of adult beverage, beer usually finds itself last on my list. But perhaps the biggest example of my going against the grain is the fact that I really don't like the beach.

There are many problems which I have with the beach, the first of which is I'm not really into the sun. Yeah, I'm appreciative of its life giving qualities, but beyond that, I'm not a fan of baking myself all day. In addition to the sun, I have issues with the sand. It sticks to you, gets between your toes, renders your previously comfortable flip flops into sand paper, and is just otherwise unpleasant. And finally, I don't like the beach because I don't like the crowds. I enjoy people, I work with people all day for living, but when I'm on vacation I'd just assume not see anyone, especially when they are mostly naked. There is one glowing exception to my anti-beach mentality, however, and it just so happens to be this weekend...


For the last 3 years, my wife and I have traveled to Disney's Vero Beach Resort for a long weekend of relaxation. This resort is the opposite of what most would expect from both Disney and the beach. When most think of Disney, they think of theme parks, long lines, and screaming kids in strollers with parents that went certifiably insane upon their arrival. In addition, when one thinks of the beach, often the first picture that comes to mind is something similar to Daytona. A sprawling span of sand, oddly enough with cars driving on it, and dilapidated strip motels serving as temporary shelter for teenage spring breakers. The beauty of this resort however, is that it is none of these things. The only reason kids are screaming is because they are having a good time, the parents are less insane as they've had a few pina coladas, and the beach is nearly empty, for the resort is surrounded by private residences as far as the eye can see.

Yes, Disney did this resort right, but the beauty is it has maintained its "hidden gem" status. Very few seem to know about this resort, mainly because its part of the Disney Vacation Club, and is not marketed to the theme park visiting masses. Sadly, the idea of a resort with no theme park was not a huge success, and the original plans for these types of resorts around the country were shelved. That is until recently when Disney began work on a new resort in Hawaii. Might be kinda hard to have a weekend get-a-way for that one...

One thing I love about this trip, is its the one adventure that my wife and I do the same each year. We visit the same weekend, we book the same room, we do the same things once we get there. But there is so much about this little weekend getaway that I love. I enjoy stocking our fridge for the week so as to not spend money on Disney food at Disney prices. I enjoy sitting on the balcony and looking for sea turtles in the ocean. I love getting up at sunrise to see if any came ashore and laid eggs. I'm a big fan of their passion fruit mojito, which yes is pink, but I'm ok with it. Its great to feel like I've gone to Martha's Vineyard for the weekend, and yet I'm only two hours away.

And so its time to begin our preparation. As usual, MJ is in charge of the food, I'm in charge of the drink. Our friends Sambo and TWiu (yes I have nicknames for everyone) are joining us this year, and it promises to be a great time. You know...maybe I'll just go barefoot, and that will solve my sandpaper flip flop problem...

Enjoy Your Stay