Category Archives: St. Petersburg

A Tale of Four Cities

Now that all the excitement of disease, death, and urine samples is behind us, it’s time to get back to the real purpose of this blog – FUN! We have a lot of catching up to do, so we had better get started.

As I mentioned previously, we left the Keys, and headed over to the Florida West Coast. Our first stop after driving through the much lauded and equally overrated Everglades was St. James City on Pine Island. You may ask why we stopped in this particular place when Sanibel Island was our destination, and all I can tell you is I let Stewart make the arrangements. Note to self: Google all reservations made by Stewart before departure. The Island was in a beautiful location right on the Gulf of Mexico, and the Intracoastal Waterway, however the median age was 63.2. The only thing that come to mind is they averaged in the ages of great-grandchildren who were visiting at the time the census was conducted. Even the biker bar had a handrail in the restroom with a raised seat.

Besides the mosquito and noseeum infestation, we were able to manage a bit of fun. One of the restaurants we returned to a couple of times was The Waterfront Restaurant and Marina. The food was delicious and plentiful. The fresh clam chowder was particularly good, as was the broiled seafood gumbo. The first time we at there, we sat in the bar as it was packed. Beer was 25 ¢ and served in a mason jar. As you can imagine, hot sun mixed with cheap beer made for an interesting group of diners and drinkers. A few locals entertained us with stories, some of which are just not appropriate to share on a PG-13 blog. The many stickers that graced the wall behind the bar were also good for a few laughs.

The biggest drawback to St. James City being Heaven’s Waiting Room was that Stewart and I are night people. We first began to think about food when the street lights were being extinguished for the night. Fortunately we were able to find one of the best meals we’d had to date at The Lazy Flamingo. Though they are known for their Dead Parrot Wings, we shared an appetizer of conch (pronounced conk by the locals) fritters that were moist and delicious, followed by grilled grouper sandwich for me, and a grilled fish platter for Stewart. We were stuffed to the gills, so to speak, but our very persuasive waitperson convinced us our meal would not be complete without a slice triple layer chocolate mousse layer cake. We didn’t want to let her down, so we dug in. When the bill came, the waitperson had deducted 10% from the bill because she liked us – not something that happens every day. (Note: I did not tell her I wrote a travel blog, which made it even sweeter!)

The third and final noteworthy place we visited that was Woody’s Waterside. Now, before I go any further, I think it is important that you know Woody is a dog. More specifically, a hound dog. His picture graces the wall behind the bar asleep with his tongue akimbo and paws wrapped around a can of beer. After eating there, I will be adding restaurants named for pets to my list of places to skip. In retrospect it seemed like a good idea as the parking lot was full, and compared to the geriatric biker bar, it was fabulous.

If you happened to read my previous post, you know about my experience with the less than competent folks at Quest Labs. Needless to say, I was extremely happy to see Pine Island in the rear view mirror. Our next stop was beautiful St. Petersburg/Madeira Beach. This was 180º from Pine Island. Though we had an inauspicious approach with GPS directing us into a cemetery, we ended up in this beautiful lush place on the bayou where Tampa Bay empties on its journey back from the Gulf of Mexico. Our campsite was surrounded by old growth trees and flowering bougainvillea bushes with the view of the water right across the path. Our three days there stretched into almost two weeks as we were reluctant to give up our corner of paradise. Then, the heat and humidity arrived. Florida in late April/early May is just no fun. There were so many wonderful restaurants and places we went during our stay in Madeira Beach that I couldn’t begin to mention them all. Instead, I will focus on a few standouts.

This was the first real sense we had of the West Coast versus the East Coast of Florida. There was decidedly a different feel here, more Southern than Eastern. The pace was slower, the locals and tourists younger and friendlier. We ate at a lovely place along the boardwalk in Clearwater called Britts’ Laguna Grill. We started out with a dozen raw oysters. They were so large and plump they actually took two bites a piece. Fortunately, we had ordered a couple of caramelized salmon salads. The dressing was made with fresh ginger, and was outstanding. The couple at the next table had smuggled in their dog. It was the cutest little thing tucked inside the man’s shirt. I tried to ask them about the dog, but they spoke no English, and I spoke no Portuguese.

Our Fifth wedding anniversary was during our stay in Madeira Beach, and we had a full day. First thing we did was meet briefly with Tom Morris, whom I had ‘met’ on Twitter. There is always a chance when meeting someone who is only a virtual friend, that they will not be who they seem in cyberspace. In this case, Tom was the real deal. A true gentleman, kind and generous of spirit. I have a pretty finely tuned BS detector, as does Stewart, and no bells went off. Tom was in St. Pete’s giving a speech, and coincidentally, we discovered we were in the same town. This is known in tweetspeak as a tweetup. After his speech, Tom stayed to be interviewed for an Internet TV show. The producer and a freelance journalist were also Twitter folks, ProducerGirl and McMedia, aka, Sandi McKenna. More about Twitter later.

After taking a walk along the beach, Stewart and I decided to look for a place to eat. We stopped in at Crabby Bill’s. It’s been around for over 25 years, and from what we can figure out, Bill is crabby because he wants some good food and good service! There were very few people up on the roof deck overlooking the water, so we thought there would be no problem having a leisurely meal. I’m just going to leave it that if I don’t have anythi
ng good to say, I’m not going to say anything at all.

Later that night, after spending some time with Jeffrey and Emma, Stewart and I headed into St. Petersburg proper to see “I Love You, Man”. It was very funny example of a modern day bromance. One of the bonuses of traveling is seeing concerts and films in strange venues. The audiences are different, the feel of the place is foreign – even if it’s the same film showing in your own neighborhood.

There is this little gadget I have on my laptop that allows me to enter the city we’re currently in, and it pops up all the music in the area. While in St. Petersburg, I found out SEAL was going to be performing the following night at the Mahaffey Theater. We immediately bought tickets assuming we’d be in nosebleed seats. Instead, to our delight, we were able to get box seats right next to the stage. Apparently, they save these until the last minute in case some big shots decide to attend (the venue saves them, not Seal). We have both been to hundreds of concerts, and can say without a doubt, that we have never witnessed as masterful a performance as this. The energy in the room was electric. Seal’s connection to the crowd was almost intimate. The man is a masterful entertainer, a humble man who is grateful for his life, and a gifted singer. He had us in the palm of his hand from the first note. I’ve thought long and hard how I was going to explain this experience in words, and frankly, I’m stumped. It was just too divine even try.

One of the most unexpected treats we’ve had so far on this journey was discovering my dear old friend, Marta Rose, is VP Communications for Panama City Beach. Marta and I had been close friends years ago when we both lived in Santa Monica, CA, but had lost contact with each other until quite recently. One thing I always loved about Marta was her ability to connect with people and places in a very special way. She was able to show us around, and provide some local colour. We ate at the Boatyard, which was delicious, and Guy Harvey’s Island Grill, which was horrible. It was a shame, really, because it is perfectly situated at the end of Pier Park near the waterfront.

James Johnson, another Twitter friend lives in Panama City and was gracious enough to take us to a couple of really cool restaurants. The first one was Captain Anderson’s. It was an old local staple with a variety of delicious fish overlooking a dock with boats moored all along the backside. Next, we went to Ernie’s Bayfront Grill & Brewhouse. They have a great wraparound back deck that overlooks the dock – a coastal feature present at most establishments in this neck of the woods.

Did I mention it was Bike Week in Panama City Beach? Tens of thousands of Harley Davidson’s roared through the streets creating a cacophony of engine noise, music and general revelry. One of the things that really spoiled the dinner we had at Guy Harvey’s was the occasional biker who just had to rev his engine for effect in the parking lot. We were unable to hear each other, and the smell of exhaust was stifling. I did learn a new acronym, though. RUB, Rich Urban Biker, and there were many of these! The way RUBs were described to me was guys who have their bikes shipped down while they board their private jets, change out of their suits into their leathers, and paint on temporary tattoos for the week. As funny as this may seem, from what I saw, the description hit its mark!

One last thing I feel it is important to mention before we leave Florida is we spent three full months along the coastline from Miami down to Key West, and over to the west coast and up through the panhandle. Stewart loves to fish, and as I’ve previously written about even caught Emma while engaged in night fishing off our back dock. During all this time, with countless hours spent bridge fishing, dock fishing and bank fishing, money spent on bait, tackle and equipment, we did not have a single fish dinner that did not come from the grocery store or a restaurant. Stewart is a lot of wonderful things. A fisherman is no one of them.

(I realize this blog is really, really long, but it has been a while since I updated, so please bare with me.)

We headed back to New Orleans, and spent two weeks at the Pontchartrain Landing RV Park. Of all the places we stayed, this was the most enjoyable. It was not the most scenic (we were for the most part in a shipyard), or the best facilities (no restaurant, game room or boat rentals), or the most centrally located (we were down a torn up road right in the midst of Katrina’s devastation), but it was STILL the best campground so far. It’s all about the people. This place had some of the nicest folks we’d met anywhere. The Property Managers, Nate and Dawn Garrder, were always available, kind and working hard to make this the best place to stay in New Orleans. The people working with them, like Jim and Bunny McElyea stopped by just to say hi and see if there was anything we needed. When Jim heard I had gotten good news from Kenner, he immediately went and found his wife to tell her. Bunny was by to share in my joy. We’ve been traveling for almost seven months, and this was the first time we even knew the names of staffers, nonetheless visited with them. They are doing a lot of work to make this place beautiful and fully functional for its guests. We will definitely be going back there.

16 May was our last Saturday night in New Orleans, and we didn’t want to miss one last chance to enjoy the fantastic music scene this great city has to offer. So, around 9:30 we headed over to Bourbon Street where you are almost guaranteed to find good music for free (or the very most, the cost of a beer). We walked around for a bit before we heard some of the best guitar playing either of us had ever heard coming out of Tropical Isle. The place was packed near the front, so we worked our way to the back of the bar area right near the stage. Right in front of us were friends of the bands, one of whom was a music producer out of Austin, TX. He started telling us about the history of the All Purpose Blues Band, and Billy Gregory, lead guitar, in particular. It seems Billy used to play with A Beautiful Day, and has been a New Orleans staple for decades. Their rendition of Black Magic Woman would have made Santana proud! When the band was through with their set, they came over and introduced themselves to us. Stewart and Billy quickly got into a discussion of calluses (Stewart had them, Billy didn’t). I was chatting with one of the other musicians, when suddenly Stewart grabb
ed my arm and starts pushing me. I was a bit surprised my gentle husband was manhandling me in this way, but decided to ignore him. When he kept at it, I decided maybe I should investigate what he wanted. At this point, his gingerly pushing became much more direct, with verbal instructions. “Move”, he yelled. “Let’s go”. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you, those are fighting words for me! When I asked him what the bleep he was doing, he yelled, “this place is on fire! Now, MOVE!”. Finally, I got it. I moved. Poor Stewart. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Unfortunately, it turned into a 4-Alarm fire with 70 firefighters working over the next couple of hours to extinguish the flames. Miraculously, no other buildings were damaged. The owners are planning on rebuilding, and the employees and band assured us they will find temporary work along Bourbon Street until the Tropical Isle reopens.

After we were certain everyone was out safely, and that they would not be playing another set, we wandered down the street to Famous Door, a venue we had visited previously. The same band, Rock Box, was playing. They did a good job covering everything from Led Zeppelin to Lynyrd Skynyrd. We stayed until they finished their set, then moved on to another blues club, where we heard New Orleans Levee Board Blues perform. They were world class musicians, but it was obvious they were playing to the crowd instead of playing what they loved. We were seated right in front, and the dance floor was empty. The place was about half full. I nagged Stewart until he finally gave in and danced with me. Within moments the dance floor filled up, and the band came alive. A group of young women gathered for a bachelorette party saw the crowd enjoying themselves, so they came on inside. The bride was up on stage dancing, her friends all donned wigs in colors ranging from pink to green to purple. By the time the band had finished two songs, there wasn’t an empty table or an empty inch on the dance floor. It was time to call it a night.

After all the excitement of Florida and New Orleans, we decided to bookend this segment of our trip with a return to my hometown, Dallas, TX. We arrived in Dallas on 21 May, and will be taking some trips throughout the state. More later…

Way to Go, Uncle Rex

When last I updated this little monologue about our odyssey through the US, I put out a request for places to go and things to do next. Stewart’s uncle, Rex Amack, came through with flying colors. In fact, he so enthusiastically stood up to the challenge that I am dedicating this post to him. So, cheers, Uncle Rex!

As I wrote about previously, we were debating the West Coast of Florida or Hilton Head. We intend to follow, verbatim, the trip suggested by Uncle Rex (UR). We left the Keys and headed across the Tamiami trail through the Everglades to Naples, Sanibel and Pine Island. Next, we stopped in St. Petersburg. We’ll be in St. Petes for awhile since it is a great central location for many interesting and beautiful places. Now, that’s what I call participation! We will pick back up the rest of UR’s itinerary after NOLA.

Speaking of NOLA. The type of cancer I have is called carcinoid. I have Carcinoid Syndrome, which means that it is throughout my body and causes strange symptoms like flushing and wheezing. I plan on living a very, very long time with this disease, but it does need to be tended. The leading Neuroendicrine tumour specialists in the world are in Kenner, LA, a suburb of New Orleans, at the Oschner Clinic. The doctors there have been kind enough to agree to see me. I have been having a lot of bloodwork done along the way, and let me tell you, there are all sorts of obstacles the medical community puts in the way of us wanderers, but that’s another story. My scan dates are 7-8 May, and my consultation is 12 May. I will let y’all know how it goes. Obviously, what they tell me will have some influence on our trip. Not much, but some. Please take the time to learn about this often misdiagnosed cancer. It is often misdagnosed. In fact, the symbol for carcinoid is the zebra. “Just because you hear hoof beats doesn’t mean it’s a horse. It may be a zebra”.

Stewart and I are frequently asked about the logistics of an adventure such as ours. How we get our mail? How do we decide where to go? Don’t we miss home? These are just a few of the many questions we are asked all the time. I’m going to devote a few inches of column space to sharing some of the creative ways we are traveling unencumbered.

Our mail is sent to us by our wonderful property manager, Alex Lay. He fields the calls for the water heater, the trees needing trimming, he deals with all the day to day issues that keep our California home running and us worry free. Our mail is sent to his post office box, and he bundles it and posts it to us wherever we are. For those of you who are interested, the US Post Office does provide a service for a small fee that does basically the same thing. The big difference the post office doesn’t look through your mail for junk and items that are better handled by them. Thank you, Alex!

We have two iPhones, and as of a few days ago, a second laptop. The variety of applications available – mostly for free – on iPhone is staggering. We use no fewer than 50 apps on almost a daily basis. Here is a brief rundown of a few:

~The Weather Channel – we use this to see whether the weather suits us somewhere before heading out.
~Maps – The GPS is remarkably accurate. We have had a few funny instances for example, when it directed us into a cemetery. Considering we were in Florida, aka Heaven’s Waiting Room, we found that appropriate.
~Pandora – for those times when there is no local stations other than Rush-types and Christian music. Before anyone blasts me, there is nothing wrong with it. It’s just not our cup of tea. (did I get out of that one unscathed?)
~Shazam – for those times when we know the song, but can’t think of the artist to save our lives. this app actually “listens” to the song and give us the artist and version within seconds. It feels like magic.
~ Notepad – for keeping track of what we do, where we go, what we eat, hear, etc. Much more environmentally friendly than paper, and easier to keep up with since my phone is attached by umbilicus.
~Social Media – I’m just going to bundle Facebook, LinkedIn, Palringo, Skype and Twitter all together here. Tweetie was the one and only app I ever paid for, and at $2.99 it was a steal!
~Have2P – Yes, I know it’s a funny name, but there is nothing funny when we’re in the middle of nowhere and nature comes calling. You gals know what I mean… I see you smiling.
~Public Radio – I can look up any NPR station that broadcasts and listen to my favorite programs. Since we tend to sleep most of the day and stay up all night, I have found a great station in Hawaii that allows me to listen to Morning edition late into the afternoon.
~Offleash – We’re traveling with two very active Wheaten terriers. They are great, but sometimes their energy needs to be released in a major way. this application uses GPS to find us all the dog parks in the area. We have used it countless times – even submitted one that was missing from their list – pay it forward.
~ Stanza – Through Project Gutenberg and others, there are literally thousands of books available free to be read by anyone with access to a computer. I downloaded, for example, Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons a few days before we went to see the movie so that I would have read it in its original before seeing the Hollywood interpretation. Though Brad Pitt was great, F.Scott Fitzgerald was better.
~ AroundMe – I needed a pharmacy today. I tapped the category, and in seconds a list of pharmacies complete with directions appeared. Granted, I still got lost since I failed to look, but it was there for me.
~ TakeMetoMyCar – We were in Key West, and by the time the day was through we had no idea where we had parked. Fortunately, I’d pressed the screen before we walked away that morning, and it took us right to the car.
~TV.com I know it’s a little screen on the iPhone, but when I was stuck in Peregrine without any wifi or TV signal, I watched CSI and How I Met Your Mother in a YouTube-like format. Very cool.
~i.TV – Speaking of TV, wherever we go this app uses GPS to determine our location, and then gives us the local TV and movie listings.
~Music Recording – 4Trak and GigBaby allow Stewart to record four tracks of music so he can play lead, rhythm, bass and slide resulting in beautiful music.
It’s his own mobile recording studio.
~YouTube – We use this primarily for comedy. Every once in a while A Susan Boyle singing I Dreamed a Dream or Adam Lambert singing Mad world comes along, and instead of being out of the loop, we get to indulge over and over until the tears stop flowing. Speaking of tears flowing, there was one particular Youtube video, Ed Needs Bob that led us to collaborate with Jay Koch in developing a new acronym to describe the sort of laughter that doubles you over and makes tears stream down your face. ENB is when ROFLMAO just doesn’t do justice to our fun.

There are many, many more, but you get the general idea. On our (my!) laptop we have a TV tuner card with fits right into a slot in the side. If we happen to have access to cable, it just hooks right up to the card. If we don’t, I know the name of a good electrician (Stewart) who is quite skilled at working the antenna to get us a picture. When all that fails, Pat Bell, also known as @MickeyMouse1105, tweets me what’s happening on American Idol.

The final question regarding missing home is a bit more complex. We have three daughters and two grandsons who we miss desperately. But the reality at their stages of life (ages 29, 24 and 20) they will have about 30 minutes a week for their parents. Should we spend our time stationary in hopes they throw us a bone? We feel that home is wherever we are together. Peregrine is home, but we are each other’s “home”. We have gotten Skype, and have asked the girls to do the same so we can see them as well as hear their voices. If anyone wishes to reach us, our user name is ravenhouse18. Just give us a warning shout so I can put on my Chapstick.

We did a lot of going back to the same places we had already enjoyed in our final weeks in the Keys. Stewart and I cooked and brought in food while I was recovering, so there isn’t a lot to report other than the remarkable care he gave me, as always. There is one place in particular that is a standout, though. Hog Heaven. The food was excellent, and the live music was a real treat. They played reggae with various guest artists joining them for different numbers. the best part was they serve a full menu until 3:00 AM. As many of you know, we just get started around midnight!

Too much fun landed me in back pain hell. Fortunately, I had my iPhone to keep me company. I have gotten really fast on that thing. In fact, I actually prefer it to my laptop. It is fun to watch the auto-correct transform my thoughts into something completely different. Steve Jobs has a really good sense of humour. I am happy to report my back is healing nicely, and I’m back in the saddle, so to speak.

I would like to share the final day I had before being down for the count. Early Thursday morning – ok, it was around 10:00 am – we headed for Miami where we met Vopni (@talkative_mime) for brunch at a little place called Wagon Wheel West. great breakfast. In my opinion, breakfast is the meal most often ruined. The owner, Wally, was so excited when we told him we’d mention him in our blog, he brought T-shirts for the table!

Straight from WWW, we headed over to Whisk Gourmet. Unfortunately, we weren’t hungry, but we still managed to share a piece of the most heavenly chocolate cake I think I’ve had since my mom’s. We actually fought over the last bite! It was so nice getting to see Ryan and Alyson, my cousins. I hadn’t seen Ryan since he was about 14. Now, he’s all grown up and working for Amex. Handsome, too!

That night, Stewart and I went to see Les Miserables at the Actor’s Playhouse in Coral Gables. The playhouse is owned by Larry and Barbara Stein. Coincidentally, when I broke a tooth in March, Larry fixed it for me. He’s both a great patron of the arts and dentist. What a combination. The company included quite a few from the original Broadway production. When Valjean, played by David Michael Felty sang “Bring Him Home” there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. We were, of course, there in our flipflops, but who cares. Magic! Incidentally, another one of my cousins, Staci Schwartz, an accomplished actor, was a part of the Actor’s Playhouse until quite recently when she relocated to our nations capital.

Down in the Keys for the most part our choices for shopping are an outlet store or two, Wal-Mart (where I refuse to shop until they pay their workers a living wage), and Walgreen’s. Spending the day in Miami gave us the opportunity to stock up on much needed supplies. We (Stewart!) had broken a lamp at the home we had rented, and buying a new one seemed a better solution than reporting it.

I am at a stand still.There is so much more to write, but if I wait until I have it all written, I’ll never get this posted! So, I’m going to post this, and then get back to the more interesting aspects of our journey. Please forgive me for not being very amusing this go. Too much to say, too little wifi!