Why Fishing isn’t called Catching

A few weeks ago, while meeting with our Representatives in Tallahassee, I noticed a photo of a group of fishermen next to a large shark hanging in the hallway on the way to the Senate offices. I stopped in the crowded hallway, looked closely at the picture and then down at the legislative agenda I was carrying. The picture had reminded me of something I learned years ago when my friends and I would go “fishing” from the top of the New Pass and San Carlos Pass bridges.

I said “fishing” and not fishing because we didn’t actually expect to catch anything. Late in the summer night at the top of the bridge the tropical breeze was wonderful. There were no cars, no bugs, no noise and the moonlit view was spectacular. The tackle we fished with was only meant for extremely large fish, so the quiet of the evening was rarely interrupted. Yes, everything was great… until the night that we actually caught something.

That evening, my friend Billy and I were sitting on our coolers at the top of the San Carlos Bridge, our fishing rods leaning up against the railing, when to our surprise my reel start clicking rapidly. The line was spooling off fast, so I picked it up, checked the drag and set the hook. Luckily I was braced against the concrete railing because whatever it was on the other end of the line was big and fast and it slammed me right up against the rail. “WHOA… WE GOT ONE!” yelled an amazed Billy. Then, in the distant moonlight we saw something jump from the water. It was a large shark and for the next 10 minutes, as Billy shouted encouragement, I attempted to stop its run for the ocean. When I finally did start making progress and retrieving line, Billy suddenly got quiet and looked over the railing to the water, far below us. “Hey Nelson! How are you supposed to get him up here?” I glanced over at him. “How am I? What happened to we?” I looked around. Nothing but a lot of bridge both ways, with light poles and other obstacles mounted on the railing every thirty feet or so. I shook my head. We were prepared for “fishing”… just not for catching.

So we began to walk to the west, periodically handing the rod and reel to each other around the light poles and other obstacles while the powerful shark tried to pull us into the water. Once on the Fort Myers Beach side, we planned to drag our catch onto the shore and cut the leader near its mouth, letting it go. Our chaotic journey down the bridge took thirty minutes. The “R rated” version is much better, but here’s just a sample of what it sounded like. “Get over on that side… NO! THAT SIDE!” “OK, OK…GEEZ!” “Now put your foot there.” “WHAT?? Oh, I don’t think so!” “OH FOR… Look… Reach around the sign. Now take it… TAKE IT!” “OK, OK, I’ve got it, I’ve got it! Let go. Let go! LET GO!!” “ARRGGH…I CAN’T! YOU’VE GOT MY FINGER!”

By the time the shark was near the beach, we were worn out and by the time we got the fish onshore it was dead. Billy and I stood there looking at the seven foot, 200 lb. black tip shark. “It’s dead? What are we going to do with it?” Billy asked quietly, obviously feeling as guilty as I was. I looked around at the beach. “Well, we can’t leave it here and it wouldn’t be right to just shove it into the water.” Then I saw my truck. “I know where to take it!”

Five hours later it was daylight and I was in front of the Everglades Wonder Garden with a stinking dead shark in the back of my truck. I knocked on the side gate and Lester Piper came out wearing a butcher’s apron covered in blood. “Yeah?” he growled. I showed him the shark and asked him if he was interested. “Naaah… I ain’t interested in buyin’ stuff like this. It ain’t worth it to…” “No, No!” I interrupted. “I wanna give it to you.” He immediately became a happier person. “OH! Sure, bring it on in here Ben Jr.!” On the way home, I decided that despite the adventure, my bridge fishing shark-catching days were over.

Apparently some lessons remain long hidden until needed, because before my next meeting in Tallahassee, I went over our project notes a few more times. I wanted to be sure that we were prepared for catching… not just fishing.

Horsing Around

I was in Tallahassee recently, when I noticed several men in business suits wearing cowboy boots.  I guess that’s ok…, but I’m pretty sure that boots were originally intended to be worn while riding a horse. And these guys certainly had not ridden to the capital or anywhere else for that matter.  I suppose if you asked them, they’d tell you the boots were comfortable and that they liked the way they looked.  Well… fair enough. But I think it’s also a way to pay homage to a particular lifestyle or tradition.  This got me thinking about some of the “old Florida traditions” that we hang on to or even romanticize about in connection with raising cattle, which has been a way of life for generations here in Florida.  As far as my family goes, I suspect that the “cracker cowboy” part of our family tradition may have ended with my father… and here’s why.
I know that many of you love horses and that’s just fine by me.  My mother loves horses too.  But me… not so much.  Although I am actually pretty good on horseback and I’ve got a lot of experience with them, those experiences have been laced with some pretty painful incidents.
I’ve been kicked, thrown to the ground, head-butted, bitten, stepped on and scraped off on trees by these… animals.  Don’t get me wrong, they are magnificent and powerful creatures and I really admire their stamina and beauty, but unlike a reliable and blissfully mindless jeep or ATV, they have a mind of their own.  A mind that delights in purposefully and without warning jumping sideways, leaving you like a flipped coin on your head, or on your tail, in the palmettos. They then stay just beyond your reach, pausing now and then to taunt you… leaving you to follow them like some kind of sand spur covered horse stalker.


They also demonstrate this equestrian sense of humor when you’re saddling them.  One of their favorite pranks is to simply stand on one of your feet.  They wait until you’re distracted, adjusting the saddle, then they casually side step pretending not to notice as you flail around, howling and shoving uselessly on their thousand pound bodies.  They will eventually let you go with an amused snort, but only so that they can set you up for their next “bit”.  As you chinch up the saddle (while standing on your one good foot) they swell up their belly so that despite all your tugging and pulling and putting your knee in their girth, the saddle will only get as tight as they want it to be.  The punch line generally comes about 15 minutes into the ride, when the horse exhales and you spin around upside down under his belly.  My dad used to stubbornly ride the horse upside down for a couple of hundred feet. I suppose it was an attempt to prove to the horse that my dad had purposefully swung around in order to inspect the trail conditions… with his face.

To my relief, we sold our last horse a long time ago, but periodically I still somehow get talked into going trail riding.  It’s actually something that many of you may enjoy and it’s a great way to experience Florida. The local outfitters are very competent and unlike me, they manage to keep well trained horses. But as my luck would have it, on my last family trip out west the outfitter had one horse that had ‘behavioral issues’.  As she was carefully matching up horses with riders, I quietly waited with my arms crossed for the inevitable.  “So are any of you experienced riders?”  Silence.  No one ever volunteers for this kind of mission.  Minutes later, I threw my hands in the air, finally surrendering to fate.  “O.k., o.k… go ahead and put me on “Psycho”.  Fifteen minutes later, as I rode upside down hanging from Psycho’s belly, I stubbornly stayed in the saddle, inspecting the trail with my face.


The family tradition lives on.

Campfire Lessons

There’s nothing more relaxing and thought provoking than sitting around a campfire in the night. On many a cool calm Southwest Florida winter evening my wife Lori and I will sit in our comfy deck chairs for hours and watch the flames in the fire pit calmly flicker in the dark. Of course, it took numerous trial and error experiences for us to finally figure out the right set up and despite what our stubborn smoky smelling friends think, for us a propane fueled pit is perfect. It’s clean, smoke free, easy to light, and except for the initial heart stopping explosion and loss of arm hair every time I light it… pretty safe when compared to your stock, wood munching, smoke following you no matter where you sit, burn the woods down campfire. I suppose that “burn the woods down” comment deserves an explanation and since the statute of limitations has likely kicked in and I was not an adult at the time, here it is.

In the mid 1960s my father and several of his friends were avid hunters and the area in east Bonita south of Bonita Beach Road that is now Hunters Ridge, Worthington, Palmira, Quails West and several other gated communities was one of their favorite pristine wooded areas to hunt. It was very old Florida, thick with pine flatwood and cypress swamp alike. I say that they were avid hunters, but I don’t actually remember them shooting anything but beer cans or an occasional watermelon, neither of which are exactly hard to hit with a shotgun.

One weekend my dad and I loaded his pick-up with the homemade canvas camper and headed into that wilderness with Robert Lawhon Jr., his son Joey and another fellow following in their jeeps. When we arrived at the camp, the first job was to start a campfire. Being wintertime, it was really easy work because of all the lighter pine and other dry wood laying around and so once the fire was roaring, it was agreed that one person should stay in camp while the rest of us went wandering around “hunting” until dark. The woods were thick and beautiful, with trails winding every which way, so it was pretty great.

My dad and I were about two hours out when he stopped and stood dead still. He sniffed the air and then turned and looked over at me with a raised eyebrow, a wrinkled nose and a frown. My young brain went to familiar territory. “Hey! It wasn’t me!’ I said defensively. He held his hand out and looked around, somehow not laughing. “NO… I smell fire!” Then he turned and looked up at the sky behind us. It glowed a bright, blazing red. “Holy… ” my dad yelled as he flew past me on a dead run back towards the camp.

When we finally got back it looked like the world was on fire! No one had thought to stay with the fire and it had quickly jumped out of its pit, consuming everything on the west side of the camp in the thick woods. Now the smart move would have probably been to get in the “non burned up truck” and escape with our lives. I thought this was a great plan and that there was never a more clear time to choose flight over fight! But the three adult men quickly decided that we had to put out the fire.

Soon we had all split up and with nothing but shovels and axes began fighting what was now a 20 acre fire… with three men and two twelve year olds. Long story short, I don’t remember much about the battle, but six long smoky, sweaty hours later the fire was contained! The rest of the evening until daybreak everyone stood watch over the smoldering remains. We stood together, dirty, hot, sweating and smoky… leaning on our shovels, looking at what was left of the woods. No one smiled or spoke but it had become clear even to my buddy and me. Since we were using this place to hunt and camp in, we were responsible for it… to take care of it, at any cost. No one ever said that… but you could see it in their eyes.

So tonight, as I watch the gas fire pit’s flames gently lick the air, I think about how my friend Joey had become a fireman in Bonita and I had become a Councilman and now Mayor of the area that we once fought to keep from burning to the ground. And as I get up to go inside for the evening, I bend over and shut the fire off. Perhaps that unspoken lesson of how important it is to take care of the places, people and things that are left in our charge, had sunk in.

School Bus Lessons

If you were a junior high or high school student in Bonita Springs In the 1960’s and 70’s, chances are you went to school at Cypress Lake High School in Fort Myers. Depending on where your bus stop was (mine was at the Dome Tavern) it was a good 45 minutes each way, basically adding an hour and a half to your school day. Because of this, it was next to impossible to participate in after school programs or sports. Not that participating in typical high school sports was in the cards for me, because my after school activity was working for my dad. But although I learned a great deal working for my father, the hour and a half on the bus every day taught me very little. The trip to Fort Myers was awful. It was hot, loud, bumpy, and boring, making it impossible to do homework or even read. Besides, most of the time everyone on the bus was either tormenting someone, (flicking the guys ears in front of them, focusing a magnifying glass on their neck or just bopping him in the head with their math book) or defending themselves from attack. There was never any of the real fighting or violence that you see sometimes on the internet these days, but some of the younger students did spend a lot of time stuffed under a bored senior’s seat or being passed around like a Frisbee at a rock concert. There was plenty of really interesting and bizarre behavior, so I spent a lot of time just observing the weirdness, pulling friends out from under seats and sweating. I don’t think you could consider this time well spent or constructive in ANY way… but you had to get to school somehow.
Six years of Junior High and High school added up to a LOT of time on the bus, especially for the poor bus drivers. Through the years I noticed that some handled the stress of the job a lot better than others. As a general rule the ones who tried to maintain order via vigilance and discipline, their eyes continually darting up to the big mirror, their sweaty faces red from perpetually yelling, emotionally melted down within a few months. Generally, their tour of duty would end with them pulling the bus over, quickly standing up (usually banging their head on the mirror) and facing the back of the bus. They would then stutter, shake and scream for a while before they flung the door open, got off and walked around the bus for ten minutes, hands waving as they talked to themselves. Some of us felt bad for them, but others just jeered. It was pretty awful. But then there was one driver who no one trifled with…

Billie Gunn drove us to school for three years, cigarette hanging from her mouth, never looking at the young terrified faces in the mirror as she drove at ten miles an hour over the speed limit, hitting bumps so hard that it flipped us all like pancakes and taking corners so fast that you either slid out of your slick plastic covered seat onto the floor or were crushed against the side of the bus by the two other kids in your seat. I’m not sure that she meant to keep order this way but we were all so busy holding on for dear life that we had no time for anything else. Then, as exhausted well shaken and stirred kids gathered their scattered books and made their way off the bus, Billie, with her cigarette still wagging on her lip, would pop the door open and with her gravely yet happy southern voice say “Bye Babies!” I think she actually cared about us… maybe even liked us! And despite having a bit of a lead foot, she was an excellent driver… tough and unfazed by anything or anybody!

One year, I suppose because the trip wasn’t long enough, the school system rerouted us through Fort Myers Beach. Billy threaded the needle through heavy traffic over that dangerous bridge day after day until our luck ran out and she met an oncoming semi-truck in the middle of the narrow span. There just wasn’t enough room and the buses outside mirror vaporized on the side of the bridge. As she pulled over and stopped the bus, cursing under her breath, no one said a word. After she had sat still for a moment, she looked up in the mirror and said, “I’m sorry babies!” Then, she cried.

I suppose you never know what’s really in someone’s heart until they show you.

Hurricane Unprepardness

Yes, it’s hurricane season, and soon we may all be running to the grocery and hardware stores so we can buy canned food we probably will never eat and candles, stoves, tarps, plywood and generators that we will probably (hopefully) never use. Chances are I will be right there in line next to you, with cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew and Beefaroni that will sit in our cupboard until they are donated to a more worthy cause.

As we watch our favorite TV weather personality get a little too excited about the latest track and update… we will all, sooner or later, get to a point when we decide “THIS IS THE ONE” and begin to implement our own self crafted hurricane preparedness plan. For the most part, each person’s plan is different and wonderfully unique… everything from “I’m getting the heck out of here!” to those of us who are possibly a little “hyper-prepared.”

Being a marine contractor, I am particularly vigilant because I have barges, boats, job sites an office and equipment yard to secure and prepare every time a storm gets close. But everything we do is well-planned, straightforward and necessary. My personal plan however, tends to get needlessly creative.

My hyper-preparedness peaked in 2004 when hurricane Charlie, a bad little hurricane that was incredibly destructive, was approaching the 24-hour mark. As I studied the computer forecast, I told Lori (for possibly the twentieth time in the last ten years) “I’ve got a bad feeling about this one!” And I began implementing ‘the plan’. A couple of thousand dollars later we had enough food and water for weeks. Generators, pumps, ropes, tools and tarps crowded our house. Lori didn’t get it. “Sooooo… what are you going to do with that stuff?” “That’s the beauty of it!” I said as I continued to unload the extra 15 gallons of gasoline into our garage. “You never know what you’ll need!”

Now, what I thought was the coolest part of the plan was that I was going to park large frontend loaders, backhoes and dump trucks from my construction company in front of particularly vulnerable parts of the house. Our stand-alone garage got a huge dump truck parked in front of it because that’s where Lori made me move all the crazier emergency supplies to and because the doors on the garage were large and unreinforced.

Twenty-four hours later we were experiencing hurricane force winds. At the height of the storm the wind was from the north… straight at the dump truck protected door. “HA! Who’s crazy now?” I said to Lori as I tried to get a peek at the garage door by sticking my head out the door of our well protected foyer.“ Lori quickly replied. “You?” Then I saw it. Even though the huge truck was inches away from the door… the garage door was GONE! I turned and gave Lori the bad news. “I can’t believe it! The door blew in… it’s gone! It probably damaged the car and now with the door gone… the whole building could go!” All we could do is watch and wait.

After a few hours the storm had died down enough for me to go survey the damage. I grimaced as I looked behind the truck into the garage to find that despite all of the meticulous planning … I had forgotten to CLOSE THE GARAGE DOOR! Amazingly, nothing had been damaged! Well… besides my brain!

So, although you still need to be prepared and have your very own hurricane preparedness plan, don’t let the complexity of the plan bury the obvious little things. Or as my wife likes to say to me with a little smile whenever we get into the car after I’ve packed up everything we need to leave for a day or two. “Nice job honey! Did you shut the door?”

What Are Friends For?

It’s good to have close friends; friends who you can swap tall tales with, who accept you for who you are, despite my… I mean your, little quirks. But, apparently, everyone has his or her limit.

About 15 years ago I was telling some buddies of mine about the local Indian mounds that as kids, my brother and I used to explore. One in particular was right off of Terry Street near my parent’s home that they had built, just before Interstate 75 slashed through their property. A fill pit for I-75 was dug in the area and I had always thought that the mounds were destroyed in the process. Or were they?

My friends were now anxious to help me solve this “mystery”, so we grabbed our shovels and headed east of town. Immediately, we found a large 5-foot high mound just off the road. It was covered with a thick layer of palmettos and large pine trees and was obviously ancient and man-made. We each picked a spot and in the scorching July sun… we began to dig.

An hour later we were still hacking through palmetto roots when my father pulled up in his truck. He stopped and watched us for a few minutes and then finally said “What are you doin’?” I stopped digging and said, “We found that Indian mound we used to dig around in!” My dad sat in his truck, with the AC running, watching with interest. Thirty minutes later, as we dug deeper, my dad looked at his watch and said, “I’m going to get some soup!”

An hour later I was standing up to my neck in a huge hole, shaking my head. “Something’s wrong.” “You’re right… I’m having heat stroke!” said John, throwing down his shovel. Just then, my soup-loving father drove back up. “How’s it going!” he said looking rather unconcerned. “Not so good,” I said. “We haven’t found anything yet.” “I’ll be damned,” said my dad shutting off his truck. He paused. “You know who built those mounds?” asked my dad. “The Calusas?” said Chuck. “Nope…He did!” My father was grinning and pointing at ME! “WHAT!” I yelled with my hands on my head. “Yep, you were 8 years old when you cleared this property with a bulldozer and that’s YOUR trash pile.” My dad drove off, smiling. Satisfied that he had done a good days work.

After shaking my fist and yelling “farewell” at the back of my dads retreating truck, it became eerily quiet. (Uh-oh! I thought, suddenly remembering that I was outnumbered by possible “ex-friends”) I closed my eyes and turned slowly to face them and then, took a peek. They were both walking towards me like angry zombies, shovels in blistered hands.

As it turns out, they were equally unimpressed with my contribution to ancient history, my dad’s devilish sense of humor, and my apparent inability to remember where I’d left something fairly large. I had some explaining to do, but I’m proud to say that they have since forgiven me… but being good buddies… they have not forgotten.

For Whites Only

“For whites only.” I stood there and looked at the faded, crude, handwritten sign above the algae covered drinking fountain. As I looked around, the fountain didn’t really look out of place in the Fort Myers auto parts store in the 1960’s. Everything there was dirty, old and outdated. But that sign… I didn’t understand it.

As I watched the scenery go by on the long ride home back to Bonita with my father, I had a lot of questions. “What’s the difference what color you are when it comes to drinking out of a fountain? I saw the guys that worked at that place… what’s makes them think they’re so special?” My dad just kept his eyes on the road in front of him. “That’s just the way some people think and I suppose it’s their fountain.” I stuck my hand out the window and felt the warm summer air go by. “Well… it’s not right. I’ll sure never drink out of it!” My dad looked over at me. “Yeah? Well, I guess it just depends on how thirsty you are.”

Although my father was born and raised in the south, I can never remember him saying or doing anything particularly prejudiced. He basically put all people into two categories… people who owed him money (not good) and people who paid him money (good). So, my sister, brother and I grew up relatively free of any parental pressure to be prejudice. I don’t think this was an intentional lesson… it was more of a collateral one.

Decades later, prior to my son Nick getting his first tattoo, he asked me what I thought. I shrugged, “It’s up to you son, but people are going to judge you for what you look like, not for who you really are.” Nicks eyebrow rose, “But that’s not right Dad… that’s prejudice!” I nodded, “Yep… that’s prejudice, but generally, that’s what people do. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just telling you that when people don’t really know you, they instinctively fill in the blanks themselves.” Nick shook his head. “Well, that’s the problem of the people doing the judging, not the guy with the tattoo!” Then my eyebrows rose, “Yeah? Well… I guess that depends on how badly you want a job!”

My twin sons’ disdain for prejudice was first brought to my attention at a third grade parent teacher conference. The teacher was in near hysterics for what seemed like a solid ten minutes explaining how she was having such a hard time getting my sons to pay attention. “I’ll be talking right to them telling them what they have to do and right while I’m talking to them… THEY JUST START DRAWING PICTURES!” Both of her elbows dropped to the table and she cradled her head in her hands. “I mean… do you have this problem with them at home too?” I blinked my eyes a couple of times, shook my head and then said. “Uhhh… I’m sorry. What were you saying?” True story.

Anyway, once she calmed down, she told me that “on the plus side” when it came to who they made friends or socialized with Nick and Neil were oblivious to ethnicity or any of the usual learned social or economic prejudices that can begin manifesting themselves in elementary school. This was good news for two reasons… my kids were obviously socially well adjusted and relatively free of a problem that has plagued the human race for millennia and… I had just been handed an opportunity to get the heck out of that meeting! I slammed my hands on the table, smiled and stood up abruptly. “Well that’s FANTASTIC!” The teacher’s mouth was hanging open as I grabbed her hand and shook it. “Thank you so much for calling me with this great news!” As I turned and headed out of the door I called over my shoulder. “Come on boys… say goodbye to your teacher!”…. “Boys?… Boys?… BOYS!”

Standard Oil

At the Northwest corner of Terry Street and Old 41 is a building that used to be a Standard Oil gas station. It was my and my buddy’s favorite place to hang out after elementary school. We would each scrape up enough money to buy an ice cold coke and a package of peanuts, then sit together on the raised concrete stoop in front of the station and watch the world drift by while we goofed on each other, laughed and prepared ourselves for home. We just thought we were having fun, but our experiences there changed who we would become… in ways we could never imagine.

It was the fall of 63 and as I plopped down next to my friends it seemed like just another typical day after school. I ripped a corner off a package of peanuts, dumped a dose of salty deliciousness into my mouth and closed my eyes as I quickly crunched them up, chasing them down with the ice-cold tangy sweetness of a King Sized Coke. I swallowed, savoring the fizzy combination of flavors. “Ahhhhh…” I said looking over at my buddy Paul Fisher. As usual, he had immediately gulped down half of his coke, tore open his bag of peanuts and haphazardly poured them into the bottle, like he was loading a BB gun. I shook my head and wrinkled up my nose. “Man… are you strange!” Billy, sitting on the other side of him agreed. “Yeah, what the heck’s wrong with you Fisher?” Paul put his thumb over the end of the bottle, frowned and began shaking it vigorously. “Shut up!” Paul said without looking up. He held on tight as the coke went through a controlled explosion, spewing some of the soda and peanuts all over him. As soon as it stopped fizzing he tilted the bottle up, poured whatever the heck it had become into his mouth and then chewed calmly while he sat there staring straight ahead. “You guys just don’t know what’s good.”

Although the station was owned and operated by Mack Alverez, a fellow named Ted seemed to be there all the time. He occasionally pumped gas for people, but we couldn’t tell if he actually worked there. He mostly sat around telling bad jokes and attempting to freak us out by saying weird stuff.

This particular day, Ted, who was the oldest looking person I had ever seen, hobbled over and then just stood there hunched over looking down at us. We all stopped talking and stared at him. He had about three teeth, so it was always difficult to tell if he was grinning or sneering. (I think he was sneering this time.) As he looked back and forth at us, his freaky little fishing hat pulled too far forward on his head, he pulled out a tiny little pocket knife, opened it and made what were evidently meant to be threatening gestures at us. Then he turned towards me. “You want me to slice your tongue and run your leg through it?” Because he wore old bent up wire rimmed glasses that were about an inch thick and you couldn’t see his eyes, I really wasn’t all that sure he was talking to me, so I swallowed my last sip of soda and pointed my thumb at my chest. “What…You mean me?” He made a little lunge towards me and swiped the 2″ long blade in the air. “YEAH, I mean you!” I stared at him for a moment with a puzzled look on my face then shook my head. “Nope!” Then I turned towards Billy and casually motioned towards him with my empty bottle. “But I bet Billy would like that!” “WHAT???” yelled Billy, immediately jumping up. Paul started to laugh, which would have been fine except he had a mouth full of his special snack mixture and as Ted began making his way towards Billy a stream of coke and peanuts suddenly began “fire hosing” out of his nose.

Apparently, this took the old man by surprise, because he began stumbling backwards… A look of horror on his face that even his hat, glasses and lack of discernible teeth, couldn’t hide. Neither Paul nor Billy got to see Teds reaction, because Billy was already half way home and Paul was in a panic… frantically trying to dislodge the jet propelled peanuts that had lodged themselves in his nose.

I don’t doubt that Paul and Billy remember this story differently, but Paul has had sinus and migraine problems his entire adult life. I’m betting they are peanut related.

Camp Notgonnadoit

The cool night air and the smell of fireplaces burning here and there this time of year makes me want to go camping… until I really think about it for a while. I know a lot of you still enjoy it, but I have to say that I am not the intrepid explorer that I was when I was say… 12 years old. Back then, laying on the hard ground, swatting mosquitoes in a tent packed with other wood smoked kids was actually fun, probably because we didn’t care about sleep, safety, comfort or hygiene.

We would all hop into my dads old four wheel drive pick up, head out east of town to the most isolated piece of dry ground in the water soaked woods that we could find. It was all “Lord of the Flies” from there. Staying up all-night; playing with fire and fashioning spears. The number one rule was “Don’t be the first guy to go to sleep.” Making life miserable for the guy who made that mistake was quite often the highlight of the trip. (Sorry about painting you red Ralph)

The last “boys” camping trip that I’ve been on was just a few years ago. My brother invited my friend George and I to join him and his friends at their camp near the North Canal. Of course by camp, he meant a circle of rocks with a fire in it, surrounded by completely bare ground (mud) and cypress trees with a few rusty nails and ropes decorating them.

When George and I arrived with our tents, sleeping bags, coolers, old guy medication, etc. it was just getting dark. We quickly set everything up and joined the other guys around the fire. It was fun being “young boys” again, sitting around the fire, telling stories, talking… laughing. Then around midnight everyone started to fall asleep… basically in whatever spot and position that they landed in. Soon, I was the last conscious camper, so I stood up, surveyed the body’s sprawled about the camp, stretched, yawned and headed to my tent.

And so began the longest night of my life.

I stuffed myself into the sleeping bag, breathed in the cool night air, listened to the deafening quiet and then closed my eyes. Just as I started to drift off… “SNNNOOORRKkEE!” My eyes snapped open. “PPPFFFLBUT-BUT-BUT!” I sat straight up and listened. “George!” I sneered in a whisper. I peeked out of the tent. Sure enough, the grotesque snoring was coming from his tent and not from some other stinky animal. I looked around my tent and gathered up everything I could find and then waited there with it pulled tightly against my head. “SNNNOOORRKkEE!” I could still hear him! After what seemed like hours of squirming, cursing, cramming socks in my ears and wrapping shorts around my head, I kicked everything off of me. I lay there with my hands clasped over my ears. Finally, I said out loud “That’s it!” I scrambled out of the tent, walked over and kicked my friends’ big feet through the side of the tent. “George!” “PPPPPFFFLBUT-BUT-BUT!” “GEORGE!” Nothing. There I stood at 2am with my fists on my hips, shaking my head. (How could he be dead and still be making that much noise?) I looked over at the truck. “Ah-Ha!” I whispered as I opened the door and crawled inside. I shut the doors, rolled up the windows and squirmed around, trying to get comfortable. Then I lay still for a moment; blanket over my head, listening as my ears rang with silence, until “SNNNOOORRKkEE!” I yanked the blanket down off of my face. “Are you kidding me!” I moaned. It sounded like he was inside the truck! I sat up and buried my face in my hands. “Oh for Pete’s sake… his poor wife… How could he still be married?”

At daybreak I was still leaning on the steering wheel looking through baggy eyes at the smoldering fire, my brother and all his friends. They hadn’t moved all night and were still sleeping soundly, sprawled in every direction around the camp. Then, just like the rising sun… it dawned on me, and I slowly started bumping my head on the steering wheel. When you’re all over age 50, it’s no longer the first one to go to sleep that suffers… it’s the last one.

The Wrong Pair of Shoes

As I hurried home one evening from a Council meeting, I had a hundred things going through my head, none the least of which was trying to figure out if I had packed everything for the Orlando vacation that my wife and I were going to leave on as soon as I arrived home. Lori had the car ready to go, so when I got home we left immediately… me still dressed in my suit and tie. Although we were going to arrive late at the hotel, the plan was to have a good nights sleep, head out the next morning and then walk way too much, eat way too much and spend way too much money at the “House of the Mouse”.

After completing the three hour drive, we were checking in at the resorts front desk when suddenly it dawned on me that I hadn’t packed any shoes other than the black dress shoes I was wearing. Now, I know that I’m getting a little “long in the tooth” but I’m not quite ready to go out in public wearing short pants with black socks and black dress shoes… yet. “Is there a store open in the hotel where I can by some sandals?” I asked the clerk. She paused typing for an instant and motioned towards the map of the huge resort. We found the store just as it was getting ready to close and although they had mouse ears all over them, I found a pair of forty-dollar flip-flops. They looked comfortable, so we paid the nice young lady and went to our room for the night.

The next morning we got dressed in our tourist garb and headed out, hand in hand towards the “happiest place in the world”…. or at least a hundred yards down the long hallway to the elevator. After I pushed the lobby button I looked down at my feet. Lori was looking at me. “What?” she said. I made a face and wiggled my feet. “I can’t believe this but, I already have a blister between my toes. These shoes obviously aren’t going to work out.” She shrugged. “No big deal…There has to be somewhere in this place where you can find something better, right?”

We began by stopping at every little shop in the resort until we found a really expensive looking store that had beach apparel and other outdoorsy stuff. The closest thing that I could find that looked like something a grown man would wear was a pair of opened toed sandals made of black rubber. (No… they weren’t “Crocs”) They looked more like bedroom slippers but, they felt like heaven compared to the flip-flops that were eating my toes… so for another fifty dollars, my feet were happy, the offending flip-flops were in a bag and we were on our way to Epcot.

After we got off the bus we walked briskly towards that giant silver ball at the entrance, anxious to finally get started having fun. (Flip, flip, flip, flip…) Lori looked over at me and frowned. I looked down at my comfy, yet noisy bedroom slippers. Little repetitive noises make Lori crazy, so I curled my feet up tight like a bird on a perch as I walked and the noise stopped. But within 60 seconds, I was concentrating so hard on keeping my feet scrunched up that it was causing me to walk like I had mashed potatoes in the back of my pants. Lori, being like every other understanding and compassionate wife, started laughing at me, “What in the world are you doing?” she giggled. “Is there something you want to tell me?” “Oh, you’re funny!” I said, throwing my hands in the air. I relaxed my feet and kept walking. (Flip, flip, flip…) “See! I’m just trying to stop them from doing that!” (Flip, flip, flip…) “Well…” Lori said frowning down at my noisy feet as we walked. “Don’t worry about it, it’s not that bad.” Ten minutes later. (FLAP, flip, FLAP, flip, FLAP, FLAP…..) Lori stopped dead in her tracks in front of a dinosaur and spun me around like I was one of the other ten year olds at Disney World. “What!” I whined. She pointed at my rubber feet. “Those have got to go or we’re going to go!” I looked down. “But… They’re so comfortable!” Lori was already walking towards the giant souvenir store. “… and it feels like I’m walking around in bedroom slip-…” “Don’t care… Let’s go!” She said dragging me by the hand. (FLAP, FLAP, FLAP…) “Mannnnn…!”

In the store we found actual shoes… well, close to actual shoes. They were “Crocs” with closed toes, heels and of course… mouse ears everywhere. They were also comfortable, quiet and “only” 60 dollars. But all four of us; my lovely wife, me and both my feet, were happy for the rest of the day…all for just under $150. (Well, not including admission, food, lodging, travel expenses and Excedrin.)

To this day the shoes stare at me from a dark corner in my closet, reminding me that you can never be too prepared. But if you see me at the grocery store some day, walking rather oddly, it’s just me trying to get my moneys worth out of the wrong pair of shoes.