Most people think of the destination when they contemplate traveling. What about how you got there? I want to tackle the quintessential American journey, the Cross Country Road Trip. I am looking forward to seeing Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and oddly enough the architecture in the South with the plantation mansions and ornate iron railings on the homes in the towns and cities. Maybe that is because of a friend at Bel Air Stairs & Railings who has gotten me to appreciate fine metal work. Oops, sidetrack. Back to the main story.
The show Antiques Roadshow is like going on a trip to multiple places around the world. Roadshow can be addicting, waiting to see if the painting that someone bought for $50 is actually worth $50,000. Then they immediately scan to the next objet d’art or piece of memorabilia or furniture and you are hooked all over again, wondering what are the details, how much is it worth and how much did they pay for it.
It is almost like smoking. They say smoking is so addicting because each time you take a puff, the nicotine affects the brain almost instantly and so you are constantly getting little mini highs with each puff. Each new item on the show brings its own little high.
Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area is a gem. There are the office buildings and hotels and restaurants and condos surrounding it that have replaced the old docks and commercial activity. There is a beautiful promenade around the entire area. It is great to walk around and enjoy the view. It is also a fun place to sail if you have a boat.
Museums and Stadiums
On the south side is the Science museum and also close by is Camden Yards where the Orioles play and right next door the Geppi Museum with lots of comic books and other memorabilia and the Sports Legends Museum.
Just a little further is M&T Bank Stadium where the Ravens play. This time of year it is also the site of numerous proms. You will see limousine after limousine lined up taking kids to their proms in the facilities at the stadium. They come from all around the area, not just Baltimore.
On the north side is the National Aquarium which has just completed a multimillion dollar renovation and installation of new exhibits including a kind of petting zoo for sea creatures.
Flipper Training School
At the time we took the Florida vacation, the TV show Flipper was one of our favorites. My parents found out that there was a facility where they trained Flipper and you could visit it. It also turned out there were 6 or more dolphins who played Flipper and they used different ones depending on what special trick was needed for that moment in the show.
Because I was tall for my age, my mother brought along a copy of my birth certificate on our vacation to show in case we got a hassle about whether I was young enough to get the kids discount. When she offered it here they laughed and said don’t worry. You should have been here this morning. We had a family with the father who was 6’7”, the mother was 6’ 3” and the 12-year old boy was 6’ tall and the 10-year old girl was something like 5’ 8” tall. We believe you.
They put on a show with the dolphins like you might see at Marine Land or an aquarium. Then they let the kids, one at a time, jump in and get pulled across an enclosure by one of the dolphins. We had worn bathing suits in anticipation. They gave us instructions about how to do it. They said to let the dolphin swim by you and you grab the dorsal fin and let it drag you. Don’t kick or try to swim. If you grab the dorsal fin high, it hurts the dolphin so only hold on right where the fin comes up from the back.
I was upset because a lot of the kids didn’t listen and grabbed high on the fin or tried to kick while being pulled. I made sure I did it just right. The dolphins skin was an interesting texture. I think I remember it being kind of rubbery. Anyway, a fun time and a high light of the trip since I was obsessed with things marine and Jacques Cousteau etc.
Sanibel near Fort Myers had a reputation as a beach that had exceptional shells that you could pick up. I understand that it is rather picked over these days. But we went there and did get some pretty shells and had a nice swim. Probably still have some of the shells someplace.
Tarpon Springs is a bit north of Tampa on the coast. It was a location where small boats went out sponge diving. The divers were using the old hard helmet type of suit with a hose going back to the boat, not Scuba. They were mostly older Greek guys. (At least they seemed older to me at the time as a kid.) We went out on a glass bottom boat and went over reefs and saw all the coral and sea fans and fish. Then watched through the bottom of the boat as the diver went down and collected some coral and sponges. Probably not allowed today. I wonder what kind of condition those reefs are in.
Weeki Wachee Springs is a bit inland and is the deepest natural spring in the US. Besides other attractions, they have a “mermaid” show which my father wanted to see. It is pretty incredible. There is a large room where one wall is glass and you can see the limestone walls of the spring. Girls (young women) dressed with fins to look like mermaids put on a performance under water while you watch. When they run out of air, they take more in from hoses that are bubbling air out constantly. At least that is how they did it when we were there. Apparently the current in the spring can be strong and they have to be good swimmers.
I believe from here we started heading back home but decided to stop and see a plantation on the Edisto River along the way. That is for next time.
Florida Vacation Part 4 – Everglades & Key West
We next headed to the Everglades (possibly Key West first, can’t remember the order). The land was very flat with lots of water on all sides. As we were getting close to the entrance to the park we saw a rattlesnake by the side of the road. Dave and I took out our simple cameras and took a picture of it coiled and looking at us. We teased Dad because by the time he got his camera out, checked the light, adjusted and focused his camera, the snake was slithering away.
We told the park ranger about it a few minutes later and he asked if we had gotten out of the car. We said of course not. He said you never know what people are going to do. Last week a guy with a new close up lens had tried it out on a rattlesnake and gotten within a few inches of it to take the picture. Not surprisingly, the snake bit him.
Along the road at one point was a sign. There was a little lump in the marsh a few feet high. The sign said it was the highest point in the Everglades. We also went on a fan boat, a flat bottomed boat with a giant fan on the back and went flying through the marshes. There were also raised wooden walkways through different terrain. It was fascinating because it was the first time I had seen tropical plants. Also, since I collected butterflies, there were a number that I knew of but had never seen before. Being a park however, I couldn’t catch any. I did add to my collection elsewhere in Florida.
Then we went to Key West. It is something like a 30 mile bridge to get there, but really it is a series of bridges from one key to another until you get to Key West. I remember just a few things from Key West, one a bit dumb. We took a tour bus of the town. At one point the guide pointed to a fairly small house and said the house had 7 kitchens. He paused and we were all trying to comprehend how this would work when he said, “Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen and 5 little Kitchens” Dumb, but I remember it 40+ years later. Then we split up. Dad took Dave and me to a small local aquarium. Mom wanted to go see the factory where they did the silk screening for Lilly Pulitzer clothes. She said it was a fascinating tour showing how they did the silk screening process. Being older now, I wish I had seen that instead.
From here we headed up the West Coast of Florida. Not sure where it was but we saw the place they had trained dolphins used in Flipper. We also saw Tarpon Springs and Weeki Wachi. Not sure what else we saw on the West Coast. Details coming in the next installment.
Picking up at Aunt Jo’s. There was a nice beach there and she said that when a hurricane had come along a year or two before it had move sand away from some rock outcroppings just off the beach that had been covered by sand. Now there were a lot of fish congregating there. Since my hero was Jacques Cousteau, I couldn’t wait to take my mask and snorkel and check it out.
I wasn’t disappointed. There were lots of fish to look at. Two I remember in particular. The water wasn’t that deep but I saw a huge fish. It was almost two feet long which isn’t that big, but it was also probably a foot and a half high and bright silver. The eyes and mouth were small for the size of the fish. I looked away for a second and then back and it was gone. I didn’t think something that size could disappear that fast until I realized it had turned and I was looking at it head on and it was only about half to 3/4 of an inch thick. (Vertical, not horizontal like a flounder.) I looked it up later and found out it was a Look Down fish.
The second fish was a sting ray. Ever since that day I have been in love with rays and skates. The way it moved was so hypnotizing. It was basically flying in water as it moved its “wings”. I followed it along as it moved and watched it glide past peoples’ legs that were standing in the water. I told one boy about it and he went screaming out of the water. I think I lost track of it at that point.
If I remember correctly we came down the east coast of Florida and went back up the west coast. We had to have gone through Miami and Miami Beach but I have no memory of it this many years later. From the map, Hollywood is nearby and looks fairly built up. I remember we were on a road heading to Hollywood going through a forest of southern pine. They were probably owned by a lumber or paper company since they were fairly evenly spaced. We were getting low on gas and we just kept going by tree after tree after tree fearing that we would run out of gas before getting back to civilization. We came to a small town that I thought was Hollywood. It wasn’t much more than a crossroads but we got gas. It must not have been Hollywood proper because a search on the internet says the population was about 65,000 at that time. Still not big, but way bigger than what we saw.
Next we went to the Everglades, followed by Key West. Will cover those next time.
I am a bit fuzzier about exactly what we did after South of the Border. If I looked back at the slides I would know. From looking at the map though I am almost positive that we next stopped and explored Charleston. Also thinking back, this must have been a full two week vacation instead of the 10 days we took on the boat.
Charleston & Savannah
I kind of remember the houses in Charleston being bright pastel colors but my memories might be corrupted from going back as an adult. Then we would have next gone to Savannah. I remember being fascinated by the Spanish Moss in the trees. Once again, no strong memories of Savannah at this point 45 years later.
St. Augustine & Oldest House
The next stop that I remember was in St. Augustine. I think there was some display about Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth. I also remember taking a tour of the oldest house in the United States. It is no longer the oldest house. They have built an older one since then. Actually, when we saw it, it was thought to be the oldest house in the US but they have since discovered it was built later than they realized. It is still one of the oldest in the United States, just not the oldest.
From there we went to Disney World. Wrong. At the time, Disneyland was still new and Disney World hadn’t even been conceived of yet.
A bit south of St. Augustine was Marineland. There was no way I was going to miss that since my hero was Jacques Cousteau and I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist. It was one of the first if not the first dolphin displays in the country and possibly the world. They put on a great show and we were amazed by how high they could jump and all the flips and other tricks that they could do.
From there we went to Cape Canaveral although at that point it might have been renamed Cape Kennedy since it was after Kennedy was assassinated. The tour of the space facility was impressive. The size of them was incredible and almost more incredible were the huge machines that wheeled them into place. The building that they worked on them in was humongous (is that a word?) I believe they said it was the largest building in the world by cubic feet. It was definitely the largest airplane / rocket hanger in the world. It needed to be high enough to hold the rockets and the doorway had to be high enough for them to get through. I wonder now how they dealt with a door that big. The tractors that moved them out to the launch pad only move 2-3 miles per hour so they had to plan in advance for when they wanted to launch so they would get them there on time. If bad weather was coming, this could be a problem.
After this, I think we visited Aunt Jo who was living there with Ilmo at the time. I know she lived in Panama City, Florida for a while but that is over on the Gulf Coast past Tallahassee. I am sure that we did not go there. But where she was I can’t remember. I do remember huge palm trees lining the street that ran along the water front and condos or apartment buildings along the side of the road away from the water. I will talk more about this next time.
When I was a kid, we always took our vacation on the boat. It was an inexpensive vacation. But it was also a lot of fun. In the 1960s we didn’t have air conditioning in the house so it was frequently cooler to be on the boat than in the house. Plus you could jump in the water to cool off. We would always leave on a Friday evening and come back on the following Sunday, so 9 or 10 days.
One year our sailing club decided to take a sailing trip down to the southern part of the Chesapeake Bay. Not as far as the bridge tunnel, but we did get to the Potomac. I think we did 2 full weeks that year but could be remembering wrong.
It is so long ago, I don’t remember a lot of it because one day on the boat can be kind of like the next. We probably got to the South River or West River on the first night. The next night might have been Solomon’s Island or there might have been another stop in between. I will never forget the entrance to Solomon’s Island though.
Mysterious Sand Bar
We had never sailed that far south before so we were using charts to make sure that we were in the right place and didn’t run aground. We thought we were in the middle of the channel but we saw what looked like a sand bar up ahead, right across where the channel was supposed to be. So we consulted with the chart and looked at the water and consulted the chart some more. We approached slowly and finally realized that it was no sand bar but sea nettles so thick that you couldn’t see the water. You could almost have walked across them. I have never seen anything like that since.
I was a teenager at the time. We had a couple of college age kids along too. We went to a local restaurant and sat outside at tables. The parents all sat together and the kids were all off by themselves. We had several cute girls in the group so we attracted some guys from the local marine biological research station. The college age kids and the biologists (they might have been in college too for all I know) started downing beers. They put down an impressive amount. When questioned they said there wasn’t much else to do around there. I remember a number of funny stories were swapped including one about a college fraternity called Groove Fi Groove.(It was the 60s remember).
The next day we left Solomon’s to go to the Potomac. Leaving was just as much an experience as coming. It was pea soup fog. You couldn’t see much more than a couple hundred feet. We were using the compass to make sure we were headed for the next marker. Then we heard a fog horn and it sounded like a large freighter. But we had no idea where it was and we didn’t know if we were in the channel or not. Scary! Not fun at all.
Today, ship design has improved so much that when a freighter goes by you, they barely throw any wake at all. They are much more efficient moving through the water. When I was a kid, they would put out 3 or 4 foot wakes if they were moving at all fast. You would really get rocked.
When it is foggy out, sound travels really well. (On the Bay, it is usually only foggy when it is flat calm. Not true in New England. It can be foggy and pretty windy.) We could hear the wake and the engines of the freighter. It sounded really close. We never saw it and it obviously didn’t hit us. But the thing we never figured out was why we never felt any wake. It is possible it was further away than we thought because sound can trick you in a fog. But, waves usually travel for miles. We are regularly rocked by power boats on the other side of the bay. Still a mystery to this day.
Don’t remember where we went in the Potomac. Just one of the first creeks and then we started heading home. The first stop was Tangier or Smith Island. Everyone on the islands are related to each other. There are only something like 6 last names. They still speak a kind of Elizabethan english if I remember correctly although TV is probably changing that. But they have a reputation of being very insular and not liking outsiders. So the organizers of the trip contacted them ahead of time so that we wouldn’t get shot at when we arrived.
The channel is a bit odd because there are actually several islands and you can go right through. Normally the red buoys are on the right as you go upstream and the black or green ones on the left. That doesn’t work on a cut through an island. So they keep the buoys the same all the way through and when you come through one way everything is normal. When you come up the channel from the other direction, everything is backwards.
We all anchored and we had some of the local people coming by to offer freshly caught crabs. For sale, not as a gift. My parents bought some and had them for dinner. A bunch of kids came riding by in skiffs. We heard them saying they had never seen so many yachts. That was funny to us, because the boats in our club weren’t that big. Many weren’t much more than day sailers. In the years since, people have traded up and you might call them yachts now, at least some of them. Not true back then.
The local kids were just so comfortable on the water. You could tell they had been around it their whole lives. They played a game which we really enjoyed watching. One would sit in the very bow of the skiff and the other would be in the back steering. The one steering would twist and turn, speed up and slow down and try to throw the other one out of the boat. No one fell overboard but it was a lot of fun to watch.
I don’t really remember the rest of the trip. We might have stopped at Dun Cove on the back side of Tilghman Island. If I remember correctly, on another trip that is where my mother put us aground as the tide was going out. The boat ended up tilting sideways. We were stuck hard and had to wait for the next high tide and even then had to get the Coast Guard (Marine Police?) to help pull us off.
Oh, almost forgot. Each evening the boats would raft up together. The parents would always be on one boat drinking and the kids would be on another boat. We were telling stories and playing games and tricks on each other. One time a couple of the kids got one of the guys to close his eyes. Then they told him to draw a donkey in the air. Then they said to point to his nose. He said I don’t know where that is. They said, Just point. So he did. Then they had him point to the ears, the feet and finally his ass. While this was going on, one of the girls had opened her mother’s jar of cold cream. When he pointed to the ass, she moved the jar so that his finger went into the cold cream. It felt like shit to him and he jumped a mile. We laughed for quite a while.
Anyway, a fun trip.
Senior year of college I went to Puerto Rico with my roommates. One of the highlights of the trip was kayaking to the bioluminescent bay. The experience wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable if we hadn’t kayaked to it.
We started in a bay and went down a river through mangrove forests at dusk. On a side note, there are four types of mangroves, red, black, white and brown. We were kayaking through red mangrove trees. On the way in we saw termite mounds several feet high. They are marvels of engineering with built in air conditioning because of how they are built and how that causes the air to flow through them. We also saw several large iguanas hanging out in the mangrove trees.
Why the Bioluminescence?
Once we got to the bioluminescent bay the tour guides in kayaks explained all about how the bioluminescence works. The organisms that cause the bioluminescence eat the B-12 the mangroves give off and reproduce by meiosis, mitosis and another way. When it was dark enough, if you swished your hand or paddle in the water a blue glow appeared where the water was disturbed. This made kayaking back awesome because whenever you paddled the disturbed water would luminesce in a sweep past the kayak.
Touring the Bay at Night
It was definitely a new experience to kayak back in the dark. The tour guides worked around the pitch black by attaching glow sticks to the front and back of the kayaks and the glow stick colors informed us which tour group to follow. Going in we were the first tour group to get to the bay, however, on the way back we had to maneuver around several other tour groups in the dark. The river surrounded by mangroves was not very wide and in the dark we didn’t know which way it turned next. Between being entertained by the bioluminescence, avoiding other kayaks and trying to figure out where the river went I had an awesome memorable experience.
First Florida Vacation Part 1 – Or South of the Border
When I was little we spent every Sunday on the boat from spring through the fall. When we finished sailing we would head over to my grandparents’ farm, Rocky Beach and have dinner with them. As we got older, my parents invited different friends each weekend and sometimes my brother and I invited our friends.
Our vacations were always 10 days on the boat, from the beginning of one weekend to the end of the following weekend. We didn’t have air conditioning in the house, so even if it was hot out, it was usually cooler on the boat. Plus, we could jump in the water whenever we wanted after we anchored.
Then as we got older still we started hearing stories about our classmates vacations and we got curious to see other things. (More me, since I was older.) So we (I) started pushing for going to see other places. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the boat vacations and have many fond memories but I wanted to experience something new.
So my father planned out our first non-boat vacation. Florida. We took off in our International Harvester Travelall. It was sort of a 1960s version of an SUV. Our first day was to be all driving and stopping for the night somewhere in North Carolina. We took the new North-South highway, Route 301 (sometimes called Route 3) that was being completed. In places you had to go back to the older slow roads. Route 1 was the original North-South highway but over time businesses had built up along it, there were lots of traffic lights and it was congested. Route 301 was designed to speed up traffic and commerce. The federal highway system with all the Interstates had been started yet. It might not even have been thought of yet.
Mom read a book for part of the way. We probably brought along a collection of books to read. We played road poker. My brother and I each had a side of the car. If we saw cows on our side of the car, we got a point per cow. Horses were 2 or 3 points, a dog was 5 points and a cat was 10 points. First to 100 won. Now on the interstate system you don’t see animals much anymore. We also played GHOST and probably other games.
South of the Border
As we were heading through Virginia we started seeing signs for something called South of the Border. The further we went, the more signs we saw. We finally got so curious that we decided keep pushing past our originally planned stopping point and go to South of the Border.
We got there and pulled in to get a room for the night. The motel was on one side of Route 301 and the restaurant was on the other. After checking in, we walked across the road to the restaurant. Fairly easy to do back then because it was only a single lane each way and there wasn’t that huge amounts of traffic. The food was good if I remember correctly. I probably had Maryland fried chicken which was a big deal back then. Everywhere we went in the South they had Maryland fried chicken on menus. Colonel Sanders and his Kentucky fried chicken franchise was just getting started and almost no one had heard of him or it back then.
Then we probably jumped in the pool and also got shuffleboard sticks and pucks and played shuffleboard for a while. It turned out shuffleboard was a big deal at most of the motels and my brother and I really enjoyed playing it on the trip.
South of the Border Revisited
Years later when I was headed south with my wife and kids, heading to Pawley’s Island, SC I planned a stop at South of the Border. We all enjoyed all the crazy signs on the way down. That was about the last thing we enjoyed. It was a big mistake. South of the Border had seen its day quite a while ago and was looking very seedy these days. Interstate 95 goes right by it now and you get off at the exit and take Route 301 a few hundred yards and you are there. They have added a lot of buildings and souvenir shops but the whole place is tacky beyond belief. The pool seemed dubious. I asked about shuffleboard at the office and they looked at me like I was nuts. I did find the shuffleboard courts where I remembered them, almost completely overgrown. The food was mediocre at best.
Too bad it has gone downhill so badly. Classic marketing campaign with the signs. They could clean up the place and do a great business. Until they do, we will never stay there again.
My daughter had this interesting set of comments about traveling. Normally I think of traveling for a purpose such as business or sightseeing. For those of you who are old enough, there was a movie when I was a kid called “If Its Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium” about the hectic pace set by vacationers and sightseers. She takes a different direction for traveling, slowing down, chilling out and introspecting. And she also had some fun while canoeing. Here is what she has to say.
I went on a 4-day canoe trip when I was younger and the two camp counselors dropped us off on a remote piece of land for a morning with a pencil and a notebook. We were supposed to reflect and have a deep introspection. When they first mentioned it I was extremely skeptical but it was a very moving experience. Not enough people take the time to sit down in nature and really reflect on themselves and figure out what they want in life. We tend to be too busy and too connected. Even today I look back and try to do something similar once a year, maybe in a kayak so I don’t need another person to maneuver. It is key to bring an old-fashioned pen and paper so you can sort out your thoughts and feelings. Anyway back to the canoeing. Make sure to go with a partner who doesn’t annoy you. On a hot day it is also fun to jump out and go swimming and then jump back in (without flipping the canoe) and dry off in the sun. If you are adventurous and your stuff is in waterproof bags and not likely to float away, you can try flipping the canoe on purpose and duck under and come up inside the canoe. Oh and if you don’t want to be miserable sunscreen is key! I didn’t reapply one of the days and was very burnt and uncomfortable the next day. Also when you choose your direction. Or destination think about which way the water flow is going so you aren’t working harder than necessary. Also you can stop paddling all together and drift. Basically there is nothing like floating down a river in a canoe with no destination in mind. If you ever get a chance to go canoeing, take it.