Tuesday, March 25, 2008

By Popular Request (Kinda)

Since a few of you asked for photos from my recent trip, I thought I would try to post a few. Remember, I'm not a photographer, nor do I have much success trying to creatively turn this into a photo-blog.

Anyhoo, see the bird in the picture at top left? I had discovered a seafood restaurant near Daytona Beach where I thought we could get a classy seafood dinner. Wendy ordered shrimp. Not long afterwards we were joined by this bird here. I thought the waitstaff would shoo him away, but apparently birds have special privileges under Florida health department guidelines. The manager called him Joey. I got another photo of him eyeing up Wendy's dinner. Apparently, Joey loves shrimp and later the manager threw Joey a couple raw shrimp from the kitchen.

Anyway, my family knows that these vacations I plan can turn into adventures. I mentioned in a previous blog how my wife and I hiked a nature trail on a rattlesnake-infested island near Clearwater. Towards the end, the trail got a bit muddy, as the picture here shows.

In case any were wondering, I did ask Wendy if she wanted help getting across. She said she could do it on her own. So I did the next best thing and took a picture.

Here is a picture of the Whistlestop Cafe in Juliette, Georgia, from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. The bigger picture is the cafe used in the movie set. The inset picture is the Irondale Cafe near Birmingham, Alabama. That cafe reportedly inspired the Whistlestop Cafe in the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe.

There seems to be a kind of a competition between the Irondale Cafe and the Whistlestop Cafe in Juliette as to which one is the REAL Whistlestop. Irondale' website is called http://www.whistlestopcafe.com/ and Juliette's website is http://www.thewhistlestopcafe.com/. Not much difference, is there.

Finally, below are a few more traditional pictures from our trip: the view from our hotel at Daytona Beach, the lighthouse I climbed, and the Detroit Tiger exhibition game we attended where our Tigers topped the Houston Astros.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hollywood, Hype, Reality

Many of you are probably familiar with the Jessica Tandy movie Fried Green Tomatoes, based on the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café by Fannie Flagg. Returning home from vacation on I-75 near Macon, Georgia, Wendy and I decided to take a ten-mile sidetrip to Juliette, Georgia where some scenes from the movie were filmed.

Most notable among those filming locations was the Whistlestop Café itself. It still stands, serving locals and tourists alike. So Wendy and I stopped in there to sample the fried green tomatoes for ourselves (very tart).

Now the diner looked old inside and out, much like a place that had catered to the village back in the early twentieth century, the period where much of the movie took place. A picture at the cash register celebrated the moment when the diner finally accepted credit cards (they still don’t take Discover). Another sign boasted that it had been run by the same family for three generations. Wow.

Although the restaurant could definitely benefit from an expansion and renovation with all the tourist traffic now in Juliette, it has obviously stayed in character throughout the years: one bathroom, two long counters that form a U at the cash register, an old shoe shine station taking up space amongst the modest number of tables, and an expansive front porch.

It was easy to see how this little corner kitchen of southern cuisine had inspired a now famous book and movie.

Or did it?

Doing my internet research later, I discovered that Fannie Flagg did not even visit Juliette, Georgia. She was an Alabama gal and the Irondale Café near Birmingham was the inspiration for the Whistlestop Café in her book. In fact, the Whistlestop Café in Juliette did not even come into existence until Hollywood came calling, scouting for movie locations.

Only after movie crews had turned an old store into a movie set for the diner did some entrepreneur decide to keep the set, make the diner for real, and benefit from the tourist trade (we waited over an hour for a table for lunch). Now all the businesses in town benefit, with tourists shopping here and there for Fried Green Tomato souvenirs.

This makes me wonder. While waiting for our table I strolled around the tiny village. A lawman sat in a rocking chair watching his “prisoner,” a young man prominently wearing prison stripes, painting a tiny building with a sign that read “county courthouse.” This sheriff kept up a lively patter with passersby, mostly tourists. I took a (poor) picture where you can see what I’m talking about, if you look right and squint a bit.

Now I wonder. Was this really a prisoner? He WAS really painting. But sometimes the lawman would stroll down the street, even disappearing from view, usually to talk to more tourists and leaving his prisoner. So was this tourist hype, or reality? I don’t know.

BTW, I’m still working on putting together a couple BETTER pictures of my trip. But I’m more comfortable writing than photographing. You can tell that from the picture my wife took of me below, on vacation, writing in my trip journal.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What You Need To Know

Going down the elevator at the hotel this past week, a hotel employee accompanying Wendy and I down noticed my Disney "Animal Kingdom" t-shirt.

"Did you enjoy Animal Kingdom?" he asked smiling. I said I did.

"What did you learn?"

I felt my jaw drop. Did NOT expect that follow-up question. It was as if a teacher had called on me unprepared. Dumbfounded, I could not think of an answer, though later I thought I could have said something about the giant bats they have in Africa.

But c'mon! When traveling, I'm in "need to know" mode. Directions, price of hotels, destinations, remembering what to pack . . . that's all need to know stuff. What I learned at Animal Kingdom three years ago? No.

Good information is crucial to a tourist. Here are a few examples of "needed to know" information from this past week that either I or a fellow traveler didn't get on a timely basis:

Number One--Wendy and I drove to Honeymoon State Park on an island near Clearwater, Florida, hoping to get some hiking in on the nature trails there early one morning. We had no sooner paid our $5 admission and driven on about 50 yards when a sign prominently warned: Eastern Rattlesnakes are common on the island.

Augghhh! I don't like sharing space with ANY snake, let alone poisonous ones. Why couldn't we have had that information BEFORE we gave them our money. Wendy thought they should also have told us that rain had formed ponds on the trail so large that we were forced into the tall grasses to get by, where we were certainly prey for a rattlesnake ambush.

Number Two--We headed to Ponce Inlet near Daytona where they have a museum and lighthouse--179 steps to the top for a gorgeous view. After paying admission, an informational video spoke about all the calamities that had befallen this lighthouse and its crew: Indian attack, earthquake, lightning strikes and deadly storms.

But they left something out--on purpose, I think. Something a guy in his 50s nicknamed Big Dave would need to know. About halfway up the strenuous climb to the top of the lighthouse hung a memorial to a former lighthouse keeper who died of a heart attack climbing these same stairs. Again, something I could have been told AT THE BOTTOM. Or better yet, IN THE PARKING LOT.

Number Three--While walking around St. Augustine, we were approached by an elderly man looking stressed. Did we have four quarters for a dollar so he could feed a parking meter? He had been trying to change this dollar in this part of town with no luck, maybe because it was Sunday and businesses were slow to open. Or maybe because people were saving their quarters for church.

He said his wife was being "held hostage" at the meter by the fort, which is run by the national park service. Didn't know exactly what that meant, but it didn't sound good. Fortunately, Wendy had four quarters for him. Oh, was he grateful.

Later, we toured the fort ourselves. While in the gift shop, a clerk announced, "You don't need to feed the parking meters today. The meter readers don't work on Sunday."

That man could have used this information sooner. We could have too. We paid $7 to park in a private lot.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

That's All I Can Stands

That's it. I've had it! We're under another winter storm warning here in southeast Michigan today with sleet, freezing rain and up to six inches of snow headed our way. I'm tired of shoveling. My snow shovel is so battered by scraping ice, snow and concrete that it resembles some medieval weapon that's weathered a war or two. I'm tired of slipping on the ice. I'm tired of wet socks. I'm tired of rubbing my hands together for warmth at work or at home.

So come this weekend, we're headed south. Daytona Beach is our first destination, but I've also reserved tickets for a Detroit Tiger spring training game in Lakeland. Our decision to do this came suddenly though effortlessly after a winter that has delivered as much snow as we've gotten in 15 years. When I told my boss the week I wanted off he replied, "That's coming up pretty quick."

You betcha! This time next week I'll be mingling with the spring break crowd on the Florida beaches. So this week I'm beating my spare tire into six-pack abs, dyeing my hair dishwater surfer blond and re-learning the lingo so I won't look out of place if the cameras from M-TV catch me poolside. "Party on, dudes. Catch my groovy wheels over there."

And . . . no dog either!! Yes, my wife and I plan to sleep through the night instead of taking turns letting the dog out at 2 a.m. for his potty break. I know that come this weekend our pet chin-pooh will be sitting next to our luggage in the front room, looking expectant and moony-eyed at us as we start loading up the car.

"Doogie dog can't go. They don't ALLOW Doogie dogs in Florida. You can't go. No." That's always my line to him when we leave him home: they don't ALLOW Doogie dogs in restaurants, malls, grocery stores, etc. I think they probably DO allow dogs in Florida, but he don't know that. A little white lie won't hurt a dog.

Next week my son Greg can throw on a coat and boots to hurry out into sub-freezing temperatures in the middle of the night when our dog starts barking up a fit like he did last night when he thought he spotted a stranger in the yard (it was a partially built snowman). Bub-BYE. Later!

Yes, next week I'll be riding manatee, feeding gators, wrestling octupi, counting seagulls--whatever Floridians do to pass the time in the winter. Catch me on the next installment of "Geezers Gone Wild."