My Life as a Traveler

Florida Sept 2010

Life’s a Beach, Remember?

Last full day in Miami. George is done with meetings, but Morgan is feeling a little puckish, and neither of them want to get out to do anything. We have a 4pm checkout (the benefits of Platinum Preferred). Hmmmm….. what to do? Let me look out the window — oh yeah, the beach! I’m going to invest twenty of my hard-earned dollars and buy myself and chair and an umbrella on the sand and park it.

Before you can say “where’s your swimsuit?” I am on the sand, requesting the nice young man who just got there to set up my chaise and shade tout suite. Now, this is not what I can normally do at the beach;  the boys just don’t groove on lying around outside. George is working in the room and Morgan is on YouTube or Facebook – heck, you can do that at home! But me, I’m in paradise.

I do feel somewhat interested in more than a trashy novel (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and so I bring my self-defense talk and my memory book. Yes, I can be productive even in paradise. I read through the talk some and attempt to break it down into reasonable bits to memorize. Then the ocean calls. Read and practice talk, swim in ocean. That’s my regimen.

Let me tell you a bit about my memory book and it’s author. Ron White was a speaker in LEAP camp last month. He is the USA Memory Champion. He can memorize 167 random numbers in the order given, in 5 minutes. He can memorize the order of a shuffled deck of cards in a minute and a half. He had us able to memorize the US Presidents in order in about 15 minutes. He is amazing.

What he does is use familiar places, pictures, and action to help you remember stuff. Try this: pick a room in your house and 5 locations or points in your room. I use my bedroom: 1. chaise sofa 2. nightstand 3. bed 4. dresser 5 George’s messy chair. Then make a picture of the thing you want to memorize, link it to the point in the room, and add action. So, for the presidents, I imagine a washing machine (Washington) on my bedroom chaise, rumbling around and overflowing with suds, cleaning my sofa (which really needs it!). There is a dam (Adams) made of books on my nightstand holding all the water back, about to break. There is a chef cooking while jumping up and down on my bed with the sun shining a light down on him (chef+sun=Jefferson). I picture a huge bottle of pills spilling over the things on my dresser (medicine=Madison), and a man rowing, not sitting in a boat, but in George’s messy chair, clothes trailing in the water (man+row=Monroe).  Now go through those pictures in your mind, but in your own rooms, and you’ve got the first five presidents memorized. Fun, huh?

For memorizing more stuff, use other rooms in your house (always 5 points per room), or points in your neighborhood or town that you pass by, or parts of your body. Create the picture and add the action, then review.  So, for my talk, I imagine the 5 parts of the first section in my living room. A story book open on the sofa with the letters spilling out (start with a story), a bunch of numbers fighting to see who will sit in George’s corner chair (statistics), a rapper on my tv (Right, Ability, and Power to protect yourself), 3 letter P’s bouncing over the 3 arches in my house (3 P’s of Protection), and someone sitting on my coffee table/ottoman on their knees with hands clasped making a big promise (what I promise to tell you in my talk). Not bad, huh? And it was all done laying on the beach and floating in the ocean. Love it! Look up Ron White at The book’s an easy read and he has 30 days of exercises on how to memorize lists, names, numbers… anything!

Morgan comes down and takes a dip, but he doesn’t stay to lounge. When it’s 2:30, I pack up my “work” and head on up to the room, take a shower, and finish packing. We check out at 4pm, but we’re not going home until tomorrow. Tonight we’re just moving to another Sheraton closer to the airport. This gets us another stay (toward the 25 times we have to check in to a Sheraton over the year to maintain Platinum Preferred status), allows us to return the rental car tonight instead of tomorrow, which means we can sleep in just a hair longer before we go to the airport for our 8am flight. It’s all part of a very well-thought-out plan.

The last thing we do after we check into the hotel but before we return the car is to drive to the concierge’s recommended restaurant, Tijuana Taxi. Spiced mahimahi fajitas and happy hour margaritas. You can’t go wrong.

Back to normalcy tomorrow, but for now, life’s a beach, remember?

Can You Canoe?

Who would believe that some of the most challenging mountain bike trails on the East Coast are 10 minutes away from Miami Beach? True! you can find them at Oleta River State Park, a gorgeous piece of property nestled along the inland waterway.

This is a great place. It’s Florida before development. Besides the mountain bike trails, they have a nice beach off the waterway, rustic cabins to rent (like camping), and canoeing and kayaking. Last time we were here, we rented the mountain bikes and went over some pretty gnarly trails. This time, we’re here for the water.

We didn’t dress for swimming, so we opted for a canoe rental. I promised the boy a mountain bike ride if we went canoeing first. Morgan got the forward seat and I anchored the back. He was fairly grouchy for some unknown teenager reason.

We started out trying to explore a small creek off the river in the mangroves, but as soon as we entered the trees, we were attacked (well, Morgan was attacked) by a humongous horde of mosquitoes. This made him even grouchier. We backed out of there as quickly as possible and headed for the open water and the little island that is part of the park, watching for manatees and dolphins.

With the summer sailing lessons under his belt, Captain Morgan was quick to point out everything I was doing wrong. Finally, I started getting the hang of it. We spent an hour and a half circling the island and venturing out near the boats going back and forth in the inland waterway.  We didn’t want to get off on the island because we weren’t sure exactly how many mosquitoes were waiting for us there as well.

It was nice to be out on the water, but now it was bike time. Even though I biked (and walked) over some rocky hills, hairpin turns, and 10-inch boardwalks last time, this time I got sceered. I felt sure that I was heading for an ugly fall. Maybe because I was tired of paddling in the canoe, maybe because I was hungry, maybe because … who knows? I just couldn’t make it happen happily. I followed Morgan on a couple of trails and let him go on his own on a couple more, then persuaded him to ride to the park restaurant for lunch.

After lunch, we were wiped. We returned the bikes after riding for 2 hours (minus 20 mins for eating), covered with sweat. It took half an hour to walk to the bus stop, then another 40 mins to get back to the hotel. Definitely another Subway night!

When George got back to the hotel, we sat on the balcony and watched the ocean as we ate our sandwich and salad. Good times.

Miami Spice

What a difference a day makes! After a night full of thunder and lightning, we wake up to a gorgeous sunrise over the ocean. From our balcony we can see the beach, the pool and hot tub surrounded by palm trees, and the boardwalk that goes all the way to South Beach. There’s a pigeon on my balcony that looks like a chicken. I don’t know why, but it made me smile.

This is a real treat for us. Usually, when we come to Miami, George likes to stay near the airport, close to the Airbus offices. I will either rent a car or take the bus to wherever we want to go, which is kind of a hassle if we want to go to the beach. Plus, there’s usually not a lot of fun action out in the airport neighborhood — well, not the kind of action that I’m interested in, anyway.  A couple of trips ago, Morgan got some sand in his eye that would not come out, so I took him to the hospital closest to our airport hotel. It took about half an hour for them to find a person who spoke English who could admit us. The girl who checked us in had a cheat sheet of Spanish translations to the English questions of name, address, insurance, etc. It was quite a revelation to go to a hospital in my own country and not have people there speaking English.

However, this time the Gods smiled upon us and I somehow persuaded George to stay on Miami Beach at the Sheraton Four Points, 43rd and Collins. Our hotel was built in the 30’s and was the place to stay in the 40’s and 50’s. The architecture is MiMo (Miami Modern). We’re just a couple of doors down from the newly renovated Fontainebleau Hotel, featured in James Bond’s Goldfinger, and where Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack used to hang out. This area kind of went to Hades in a handbasket in the 70’s and 80’s but is coming back. I like it. It’s not all flashy like South Beach, there are more families here, and it’s quiet.

Miami is a great food town. I love the diversity. You can find Kosher delis next to Cuban bodegas, next to Emeril’s. And we’re in luck this week. It’s Miami Spice. Many of the finest restaurants in town are offering special 3-course menus this week, showing off their most creative dishes. Lunch is $22 per person, but it’s a good deal because in these places, that’s how much the entree alone is. Yes, even at lunch. Since George doesn’t like to eat late, I trot Morgan down to 30th to the Palms Hotel, another old beauty recently renovated.

We are seated on the veranda – we can see the pool through the palm leaves. Paris Hilton (or her body double) came in behind us and had some salad with her Blackberry. Two French people who couldn’t speak much English sat at the next table. There’s a parrot or two somewhere beyond the palms; I can hear them. I have flower leaves for salad, delicious Cuban spiced steak on grilled veggies, and coconut tapioca pudding with mango sorbet and a long filo-dough cookie. It rains, hard, but we are protected. Definitely a fine lunch.

The other great thing about the Sheraton Four Points is that it’s right down the street from Subway. Since we all had big lunches, it was a no-brainer to hop over to Subway and snag some sandwiches for the guys and a salad for me. For all the eating I did this week, I do not think I’m gaining any weight because of the light fare for dinner. Hmm… maybe I should think about implementing a big lunch, salad for dinner program at home.

We’re hit by another shower on the way back to the hotel, but no worries, it’s all good.

Perhaps tomorrow we’ll get into the water by choice, not by rain.

Shopping and Salsa

Alas, all good things must come to an end.

After flying the friendly skies with Sherrill and Quinn, a nice visit from George’s other brother Ralph, his wife, Sandy, daughter Vanessa, and Sandy’s mom, we say farewell and hop in our rented car and point the GPS toward Miami, where George has meetings next week.

But before we hit the big city, we have some shopping to do. The day before I went out with George’s niece, Amy, to drop her son Evan off for a weekend with a friend at the beach. On the way back, we stopped at the outlet mall and hit some of the shops. It’s Labor Day and the sales are going full force. Amy has a coupon, and before I know it, I’m the proud owner of four 3/4 sleeve length t-shirts and 2 pairs of pants, all for under $50. I’m very excited about the pants, because they are black jeans.

Let me sing the praises of black jeans for a moment. Warm on the plane and wherever you end up, yet cool enough to wear with a t-shirt in the summer (but you already know that about jeans, right?) The beauty of black jeans is that, unlike their blue counterparts, they can dress up to look like, well, almost like, slacks. Take them to the opera with a nice shirt and some heels and you are golden. Oh, I’ve been wanting these, but have never met any I liked in person. Until now. I’ll let you know how they fare on my next big trip.

We also went to the Bass store, where they had shoes 80% off, then 20% off that. Can you say, “almost free?” They didn’t have the ones I liked in my size, though. Boo. However, when I told George about the great sandal extravaganza, he wanted in on that action. So, since they were on the way (really!),  we made a stop at some different designer outlets that had a Bass store, and George was set loose among the shoes.

Normally, he buys shoes at Costco or BJ’s and his shoes du jour were flip-flops, which he did not like (it’s that thing between your toes!) How happy he was to get two pairs of good, supportive sandals and relegate the flips to Morgan. Oh, and they had the shoes I wanted in my size. Ahhh, then all was right with the world.

After piling our shoe boxes in the trunk, we set off across the state. Not across Alligator Alley, I-75, but right through (well, as through as you can get) the Everglades on the two-lane, Hwy. 41. Listening to a science fiction story about geeky pirates on a Caribbean island, we cruised by palm tree-lined swamp. Almost through, it was close to dinner time and we were getting hungry. And we wanted gator. Yes, alligator is food down there and it’s mighty tasty.

We pulled up to the Miccousoukee Indian restaurant, but they just closed. We were disappointed, yes, but when one door closes, another opens. Just on the edge of town, we found what looked like a huge BBQ party, with live loud music outside, and gator burgers inside. Wow! They even had a clown. How can you go wrong when a place has all that?

Food was good and cheap, beer satisfying, and the salsa music invigorating. We scarfed our burgers down inside the kitschy dining room, then went outside to watch the band and admire the couple dancing salsa or some combination of several Latin dances. The clown finds some friends to drink with and I try to explain to Morgan the value of learning how to dance like this couple for his future life.

As we enter Miami proper, we are welcomed by the drama of one of the best lightning storms I’ve seen in a long time.  We check into our hotel in a torrential downpour and just barely stay dry. We can see the lightning from our room crashing from the sky to the ocean. Nice way to welcome us, Miami!

Mi Sandwich Cubano in Florida

Hurricane, schmurricane! With Earl the hurricane a non-event, we have no problem flying out of Newport News to Philly, then to Fort Lauderdale. The flight was smooth, but can you believe that, even sitting in first class, for a two and a half hour flight, they only give you chips and granola bars to eat? I know, poor us!

We get in on time, catch the rental car shuttle, and stand in line to get our compact car. The line is long. However, there are some little machines, like the kind at the airport for checking in for your flight, over to the side. Sure enough, George can use the machine to check in and get the car. We set up a test: George goes to the machine while I stand in line. Who will finish first??? The winner: George on the machine! And, that’s after denying all the insurance, upgrades, and other folderol that the rental car companies want to add to your rate. Definitely try out the machine next time you rent a car. It spit out a piece of paper that was somehow accepted by the guy in the garage and they let us take a car and head out.

We’re heading to George’s brother, Sherrill’s place in Fort Myers, across the state on the Gulf side, and fire up the GPS. However, by now it’s almost 3pm and we’re starved. I feel like a Cuban sandwich – good and fast and truly local. I ask the GPS and it leads us to Mi Sandwich Cubano/Colombian Fast Food (huh?, Colombian Cubans?) Anyway, it fit the bill, the woman behind the counter spoke enough English to understand our order, and they had Colombian Survivor on the telly while we waited. Great place. Morgan got the Super Hot Dog, which had, among other things, an egg on it. Hmmm… he liked it!

Bellies, full, we got to Fort Myers just in time for dinner!