Santa on the Bay

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We stood in line with the kids last night for over an hour-and-a-half to see Santa. We reminded Ann and Andy that last year they had declared that Santa wasn’t real and that they didn’t want to go to the mall to see him. This was different, Annie insisted, because here in St. Petersburg Santa and his sleigh were stretched out and brilliantly lit on the park along the waterfront. So, we took them. We were the last ones in line “guaranteed” to meet Santa; the others would have to take their chances. The wait was actually quite pleasant in the 75-degree breeze off the bay. Until, that is, we noticed the couple ahead of us, who had two young children. The man, who was quite heavy, had long blonde hair and a beard and was wearing shorts. From the top of his shorts was a plastic tube, which ran down a few feet to a clear plastic bag half filled with urine. The bag swung along for all the world to see as he walked.  (Photo deleted at Julya’s request.) We could only shake our head: Is there not a shred of decency left in the world? Must everything  be hung out in public?

It ended well, however. The kids enjoyed their moments on Santa’s lap. And Andy was amused when one of the attendants, a high school girl, commented that her aunt had two figures just like them, but they were never allowed to play with, or even touch, them. Even more evidence as to how special the two of them were, Andy pointed out.

The place we’re staying, the Gulfside Apartments, is a family affair. The mother runs the place with the help of two of her children. The other five have been showing up with their kids over the past few days. We’ve been invited to join them for Christmas dinner.

I hate to admit this, but on Christmas Day, after the very limited hoo-hah in our little unit, we will be off to see Anchorman II. For some reason, that ridiculous Ron Burgundy has got inside my head.

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas From Ann and Andy

Merry Christmas From Ann and Andy

We’ve been on the road now for five months. A little panic is setting in that we’re almost half way through the year. Life didn’t slow down as much as I had hoped leaving town. A day is still just a snap of the finger.

A surprising piece of news is that I finished the novel the day before Thanksgiving. On the trip I had been working on it during stays in places of more than a few days. I would write in the morning and Julya would edit in the evenings, and then of course we would argue about her changes. She almost always got her way. The way it was going I predicted it would take the month of December to finish, so we rented a place in St. Petersburg for a month.

The writing pace began picking up during our two-week stay in New Smyrna Beach in mid November. I was writing up to 5 or 6 pages a day, twice my normal output, and one day I realized I was closing in on the end. The day before Thanksgiving, I wrote the last word. I won’t try to discuss the array of feelings I experienced at that moment, other than to say one of them was mild depression. Julya decided it was it post-partum blues. The manuscript is now in New York with my agent, who is waiting until January 1 to send it out. I won’t try to describe the novel, except to say that my agent has decided to peddle it as a “literary thriller.” Slightly pretentious, I admit, but whatever works.

I was in Office Depot the other day wandering about as Julya shopped when I got a funny feeling that some piece of my life was missing. Then I saw the display of calendars. I should have bought one three or four months ago to start setting hearings and travel arrangements for 2014. Now, of course, I have no hearings or dental appointments or luncheons or anything else to put in a calendar. We only have a general idea where we’re going from one week to the next, and no one is counting on us to be anywhere. I kind of miss it, really.

Julya and I and the kids really like St. Petersburg.  The old people who used to populate it have moved down the coast to Sarasota and Fort Meyers. The city is vibrant with people of all ages, and has one of the most beautiful waterfronts I’ve seen in my travels. There is water everywhere here, and the temperature hasn’t dropped below 75 in the week we’ve been here.

By the way, around 50% of the novel was written in various Starbucks in Denver and up and down the east coast. Yes, we are both addicts. When we first show up in a town, we google to find the nearest Starbucks.  My favorite one is in the Mayfair area of Denver, run by my good friend Scott. IMG_0774 photo-4

Midnight in the Garden of Money

Midnight in the Garden of Money

As an author, I was interested by the effect that the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt, has had on the town of Savannah, Georgia. The estimates are that the book and the movie (directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Kevin Spacey) has increased tourist revenue by over 40%. The statute in Bonaventure Cemetery (The Garden of Good and Evil) that formed the cover of the book has since been moved to the city museum. Tour guides point out the places where the author ate, lived and partied. The house where the murder took place (home of Johnny Mercer) is a major stop on every tour.

I found the city to be quite enchanting with a rich history going back to the Revolutionary War. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my great-great grandfather encamped here after marching from Atlanta with General Sherman and 60,000 other Union soldiers. Frankly, I was a little put off by the attention given to the book, as if it were the city’s main claim to fame. Perhaps it’s authorial envy, but really, Savannah, get over it. You got a lot more interesting things to brag about than this book.

The first picture is the Bonaventure Cemetery, now missing the statute. The second is the Johnny Mercer house. In the window with the lamp is where the murder took place.

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Marching Through Georgia

Marching Through Georgia

Our first stop in Savannah was the Colonial Park Cemetery, on the edge of what is now known as the Historic District (every town over 100 people now has an Historic District). It was here that the Union army encamped after it’s long march from Atlanta, in which it torched a path 300 miles long and 30 miles wide. So it was here that my great great grandfather would have pitched a tent and rested for the first time in over a month.

Cyrus Baird served as a captain in Company E, 129 Illinois Infantry. In his diary he reported that he was “selected Captain by a unanimous vote.” He took a minie ball in the foot in Atlanta, and contracted a disease which resulted in his being sent behind the lines for several months.

You can search the Colonial Park Cemetery from one edge to the other for signs that the Union army encamped here. There are plenty of plaques honoring this or that Revolutionary War hero or grand poet, or describing the many duelists that rest under the earth here, but no mention of Cyrus and his blue-clad comrades. Various histories tell you that the Union soldiers desecrated and looted graves in the cemetery, even sought respite from the elements by crawling in the tombs. Others point to tombstones where the dates have been mischievously changed, so that, for example, the inhabitant died a year before he was born, and blame it on the Yankees.

I sat on a bench on the edge of the cemetery and tried to feel the presence of Cyrus and the other soldiers who had camped here. Cyrus was a small, wiry man, who fought in ten battles in the war. He wrote a diary describing his experiences in some detail. He showed very little animosity toward the South or toward the soldiers he was fighting. It was simply a job that needed to be done. Until he came to Columbia, that is. Sherman had spared Savannah (and later Charleston) from the match, but when he swung toward the capitol of South Carolina the soldiers’ attitudes underwent a marked shift. This was where the terrible war had started. The capitol of the first state to secede and kick off all the misery. A little retribution seemed in order. A strong wind blew the night they arrived, and Cyrus and his men tore open bales of cotton stacked in a barn and stuck chunks of the stuff on the tips of their bayonets. They set fire to the cotton, and held their bayonets up in the wind. Burning cotton whipped into town and the city burned to the ground.

I wondered what Cyrus would think now of the cemetery in which he and his men had camped. It is so well-kept and civilized with all of the brass plaques and wrought iron arches. He would be grateful, I think, for the many memorials and gatherings that are being held around the country to recognize the cause he and his comrades fought for. I suspect, however, that he would be greatly amused by the reenactments of the major battles in which he participated.

After the war, Sherman took care of the officers under his command. When U.S. Grant was elected president, Sherman suggested he give many of them plum government jobs. Grant appointed Cyrus postmaster of Lincoln, Nebraska. His wife wrote an endearing diary of pioneering women. The two had, among other children, a daughter, Mamie, who along with her husband Art Raymond had Ruthie, my grandmother.

Cyrus’ men so admired their captain that toward the end of the war they carved from a piece of cherry wood a long stemmed curved pipe in which the names of all the battles they had fought in together were cut. They presented it to him around a campfire in the last few weeks of the war. We have the pipe today.

The first picture is of Cyrus as a young man. In the second, a bit older, he and his wife are in a horse and carriage in front of their home in Lincoln.

 

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11,000 Miles And Counting

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11,000 Miles and Counting.

The speedometer says we’ve gone over 11,000 miles since we left Denver almost four months ago. We’ve spent most of the time in New England. Our last ten days in nearly-deserted Cape Cod were perhaps our favorite, although the two-week stay at a friend’s house on a lake south of Burlington, Vermont was right up there. We continue to head south, chasing the sun. We’ll end up in South America if we have to. The kids make it easy to meet an array of interesting people.

I thought I’d share a few things that have come to really annoy me over these three months.

1. Exit signs on the interstate that show gas stations, restaurants and motels at the next exit, when in fact they are sometimes miles away. You get off thinking you’re going to gas up and jump back on, and instead you wander about for 6 or 7, once 12, miles to the station.

2. Hotel clerks who answer the phone while you’re checking in in order to make a reservation for someone else. Put them on hold, for God’s sake, and finish up with me. I know the reason—the clerk knows I’m not going anywhere, but the caller could split. It still pisses me off.

3. Starbucks squirreled away inside Targets. The first time, the GPS kept taking me to a Target—I can’t remember where now—and I couldn’t figure out where the coffee shop was, until I finally wandered in to ask. I’m a devoted Starbucks addict, and it just ain’t cool drinking my poorly made Venti Awake Tea Misto Extra hot with 2% in the grubby corner of some Target store.

4. Hotels that advertise “Free Wi-Fi,” but provide a signal so weak it doesn’t make it out of the lobby.

5. Stale Raisin Bran and mottled bananas at the free motel breakfasts.

6. Towns that have parking meters at the beach.

7. Whoever put together a booklet listing all of the thrift stores and consignment shops within ten miles of our condo in Hilton Head.

My two favorite statements of the last three-and-a-half months:

1. “I like my women like my coffee: cold and bitter.” Made by a barista to a customer at a coffee shop in Lake Charles, Virginia.

2. “The floggings will continue until moral improves.” Seen on a sweatshirt on a fellow at the blueberry festival in Scalia, Maine. Wrapped around a skull and crossbones.

Biggest problem in the relationship? Television. I can’t go to sleep if it’s on. Julya likes to have it on while she’s going to sleep. Compromise: she turns it real low, and I hold a pillow over my head. Doesn’t work for horror shows or musicals.

We’ve learned we can find decent places to stay almost anywhere for 60 to 75 bucks a night, sometimes less. At Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, we found an ocean front room for $49 a night. Some of this is because it’s off season. I hate Priceline; they’re rigged so they can put you in smoking rooms without telling you. Julya is the best negotiator: she adds her conditions after the price is agreed upon: the room can’t be near the elevator, or the ice machine, and it can’t have a connecting door to another room. First floor preferred. I add that it should be as far away from the highway as possible, and not overlooking a parking lot full of semis with their diesel engines running all night. Almost all hotels offer free breakfast now, and we’ve learned to get to the breakfast room very early before all of the fresh fruit is gone.

Smartest move? Bringing the bikes. In spite of the problem with the Thule Swingout rack. (If any of you are thinking of buying this rack, contact me first). It’s a great way to tour small and medium size cities that are too big too walk. It’s easier to stop and talk to people, and you get a little exercise.

What I miss the most? Swimming. Hotels pools are too small and loaded with chlorine. The oceans and lakes are now too cold. YMCAs are only in bigger cities. Some health clubs want $20 a pop. I used to get some of my most creative writing ideas while swimming.

I refuse to believe that we’re almost one quarter of the way through the trip. If the creek don’t rise but the market does, maybe we can stay out for two years.