Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas 2011

(Continued from Santa and Me).

After Roger and I walked in Tallahassee's Festival of Lights parade with our former high school principal Senator Bill Montford on December 3, I submitted our photo to WCTV's "Pictures With Santa" album, and viewers have voted it "Best" by a large margin.

On the crisp, clear and windy morning of Saturday, December 10th, I drove to the corner of Bainbridge Road and Brevard Street and greeted Darius Jones and Godby High School students serving soup to the needy for the second year in a row. I introduced them to the Association of Godby Graduates and our mission to raise scholarship money, and the seniors were particularly interested.

An hour later, I brought my 2010 Halloween costume to Havana Florida's Holiday Festival and Lawnmower Parade, my second Christmas parade in a week, and my first twice-weekly parade since 1989. 

Havana's parade began at 1:00 pm, and I rode behind the Havana City Utilities truck near the front of the parade. I alternately rode and pushed my fire truck westward from 6th Avenue east of Highway 27 through the center of town and around the block twice. It was my first parade in Havana, and I had a great time.

On Monday, December 12, I entered my first-ever chili cook-off and won first place with a recipe that I have been making for my family for many years.

On Thursday, December 15, photos of my fire truck and me in the Havana parade made two newspapers outside Tallahassee, Page 3 of the Havana Herald, and Page 13 of the Gadsden County Times

My family and I enjoyed Christmas on Sunday.
It has been a good year. 

I had the opportunity to travel three times to Orlando, with my family, and by myself to visit old friends. 

My high school classmates and my grandsons Dylan and Gabriel and I celebrated our thirtieth class reunion together, and I attended several other reunions, as well as our annual alumni Hall of Fame induction banquet in the spring.

Including the Arti Gras and Springtime Tallahassee parades, I had a four-parade year, more than any year since 1989, when I rode with Dave the Cat in ten parades, in Tallahassee, Monticello and Birmingham, Alabama.

Softball was fun. We had a lot of player turnover from last year and it took a while to learn to play together again. Our last three games of the season were as good as any we have ever played. Adam's daughter Amber, who has been coming to our games since she was a toddler nineteen years ago, led the team in hits.
The kids and I went camping in Monticello, Florida.

Halloween was fantastic, among my very best, with ten costume contest victories as Tallahassee's Official Party Boat

Charlie and Rodney and their families are in town, and I am looking forward to seeing them all over the holidays.

Best wishes, and may you all have a safe, happy and prosperous 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Road Trip -- Northeast America 1999

Before the summer of 1999 ended, I went to Atlanta on July 4th and watched an Atlanta Braves baseball game that the Braves won in the ninth inning, and then in September, I undertook an international road trip with my sister Jennifer through several of the northeastern United States and Ontario, Canada.

I flew to Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, and Jenny and Adam met me and gave me a ride to their apartment, where we made final plans in preparation for departure the next day. I had a round-trip ticket from Tallahassee to DC, and a one-way ticket from Hartford, Connecticut to DC. I had booked stays in Holiday Inns in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.

I have always been an avid game room goer, and had yet to experience virtual reality games. I had heard that the Dave and Buster's in Maryland had a virtual reality game. Jenny and Adam and I went to Dave and Buster's that night, and I charged up my new Dave and Buster's card with $20 worth of tokens and asked where the virtual reality game was. They told us that it had just been rotated out, so I began spending the credits on my card in earnest at a game that served up tokens for winning, or so I thought.

After a while, I wasn't doing very well and had not won any tokens, which didn't concern me too much, as I had already missed out on the one reason I had gone to Dave and Buster's. When I only had a few tokens left, a game room attendant came by and refilled the tickets on the game. I hadn't paid close enough attention to notice that the game dispensed tickets, not tokens.

And dispense tickets it did. It had been out of tickets, and it required three more refill visits by the attendant before it was done giving me tickets. Jenny and Adam and I had armloads of tickets to return to the game room's coupon exchange counter, and I had enough tickets to purchase Dave and Buster's largest premium toy -- a giant plush Tweety Bird that I still have.

We returned to Jenny's and Adam's apartment at about midnight and there was a late night Tweety Bird cartoon special on TV, and I watched several, including the original few episodes before Tweety had feathers.

Jenny and I departed the next morning in her Mercedes van on my Grand Adventure, and our first stop was to Walmart and the Post Office, to obtain shipping supplies and mail my giant yellow bird to Tallahassee. There was no way Tweety could fly home with me.

We drove four hours to East Brunswick, New Jersey, where I had lived for more than eight years, to visit the house in which Jenny was born. Although it had been more than twenty years since I had last been there, the homeowners knew who we were. Alpine Court, the dead-end street where my brother and I had played kickball with Robert and Mark for years was much smaller than I remembered it.

We visited Welsh Park behind the houses and the baseball field on which I had spent most of my last summer in New Jersey. We went to the public library where Tim and Mike and I had spent so much time on the computer, years before computers were in homes. The small typewriter room in the library that had long ago been converted for computer use had been converted back to a typewriter room.

It was the weekend, but we visited my elementary and middle schools, Irwin and Hammarskjold, and East Brunswick High School, where I would have attended had I not come to Tallahassee, Florida and Godby High School. I visited the high school track, where I had found the first coin of my collection as told in My Grandmother's Pennies. It was to the high school track bleachers that Mary Anne, Cyndi, Paula, James, and others in my third-grade class and I had walked on a field trip to view the erosion, and I took a photo of the walkway gate to East Brunswick High School.

Then we left East Brunswick and checked in at a Holiday Inn just west of New York. We would stay there twice. The next day, we drove to the City and took in my third game at the old, new Yankee Stadium. Like the previous games I attended in the 1970s, the Yankees lost. My friends who are fans tell me not to go back. The Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees would face each other only weeks later in the World Series, and I had visited both teams' games in 1999.

After the game, we drove to Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania, where my family and I had vacationed for several years in the 1970s. We ate dinner at what I called the "Barrel Inn" as a child, and the dishwasher was still working there from all that time ago. We checked into the Mt. Pocono Holiday Inn for the evening before making our trek across New York the next day.

It was a long drive from Mt. Pocono to Niagara Falls, and we made a slight detour to Ithaca to visit my favorite childhood author, Edward Ormondroyd, and his wife Joan, as told in Time at the Top.

We arrived at the Holiday Inn in Niagara Falls after nightfall and spent most of the next day at the Falls on both sides of the border. I walked around the town a bit and stopped into a convenience story where there was a large plaster-covered barrel on display in which a man and a woman had successfully gone over the Falls, and it had the accompanying video.

In the areas we visited, there seemed to be more hotels on the US side, and more shops on the Canadian side. In Canada, I had my chance to play virtual reality, and I bought a Cuban cigar -- because I could. We visited the Botanical Gardens.

Late afternoon, we took our leave of Niagara Falls and drove eastward to the recognized birthplace of American Major League Baseball, Cooperstown, New York. Whatever "in season" there was in Cooperstown, we had missed it. We stayed in a huge Holiday Inn, and seemed to be two of about half a dozen guests that evening. The parking lot was empty.

Cooperstown seems to exist for and because of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and we spent a few hours there looking at the memorabilia and photos. I purchased postcards of all the Hall of Fame members for whom I have autographs. We walked around to the neighboring shops in the little town and then drove east again to the Holiday Inn in New Jersey at which we had stayed a few days earlier.

My plan was to spend my last day of travel with Jenny the next day in Coney Island, New York, as I had done a few times as a child with my dad and brother. I had arranged for Charlie to come pick me up near Coney Island at the end of the day.

By this time in my story, Hurricane Floyd had traveled all the way from Florida to meet us, and much of the northeastern seaboard had closed down, including Coney Island. We had followed the news, and a few days earlier we had known that this could happen. It was very rainy, so I called Charlie and asked him to meet me earlier in the day at Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Being the Halloween aficionado that I am, and having dressed accordingly years earlier, I wanted to visit the land of the Headless Horseman, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. There wasn't a lot to see, but there were a couple of items of interest. On one of the roads is a sign that states that on that very spot, a capture had been made during the American Revolution that led to the discovery of General Benedict Arnold's treason.

We visited the grave of Washington Irving, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The caretaker's office has a map to the prominently interred citizens of the cemetery, and we were able to drive around to the various gravesites. We saw deer in the graveyard in the rain. We drove on narrow pathways which were actually on top of graves, because we could see headstones immediately adjacent to and with inscriptions facing the pavement.

We ate lunch at a nearby diner and then Charlie picked me up and Jenny drove home to Maryland.

Charlie took me to his house in Storrs, Connecticut, from which he has since moved. I stayed there for an action-packed weekend. We visited Charlie's workplace and went riding go-karts. We went to the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, a huge Native American casino that was being enlarged, even though hardly anyone was there.

Charlie and Laurel and I went bowling, and the next time I went bowling was with them in Tallahassee on February 12, 2004. We ate dinner in an old United States Post Office that was more museum restaurant than post office, with many of the original fixtures closed off by glass. We went to a party and played pinball.

We visited the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton and toured the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, USS 571, the Nautilus, named for Jules Verne's tale of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and another submarine named Nautilus from World War II. In the galley was an eight-track tape player.

All too quickly, my nine-day 3,000 mile road trip including a weekend in Connecticut was at an end. Charlie gave me a ride to the airport and we stopped at a yard sale along the way, where I filled the last of my suitcase space with a plastic 25-cent truck for Alicia.

My flights home were uneventful, but my luggage arrived two days later, personally delivered to my house by Delta personnel.

This was my most eventful road trip, and longest in duration and distance.

Thanks, Jenny and Adam, Charlie and Laurel, Edward and Joan!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Christmas Car Wash

It was Friday night in late December 1979. Charlie, Rodney, several others and I had finished bowling at Seminole Bowl West, and went out to Mr. G's Pizza for dinner. We had three friends in town from Tampa, who were leaving the next day to go home and we were in no hurry for the evening to end. We were at Mr. G's until closing and then went to another friend's house where we stayed up all night and talked. The newspaper arrived at 5:30 am and we all looked it over. I was then unemployed, but a couple of months later I would begin working at Mr. G's for over two years, until shortly before it closed for good.

After bowling and pizza Friday night, I remember remarking upon what a great evening we'd had and our friends from Tampa agreed that it had been a lot of fun and said they wished they could stay longer, but  they only had enough money left for gas with which to get home. I had already spent all my money for the weekend as well, but at 6 am on a Saturday morning, the weekend was young and so was I, and I was ready to party some more.

Fall semester at Godby High School had just ended, and with it came the end of the numerous car washes that various school clubs seemed to be having every weekend. I often allowed myself to be talked into attending them because it got me out of the house. I lived in a three-bedroom house with my parents and five younger brothers and sisters.

I had the idea to call up Hardee's on West Tennessee Street at the corner of High Road when they opened for breakfast that day and ask the manager if my school club could schedule a car wash. In those days before the Internet, car washes were announced in the classified ads in the newspaper, and it was my reading through the paper that had given me the idea. When the manager said, "Sure, when?" I said "Today," and he asked if I needed a hose.

We arrived a few hours later and used their hose and brought another one and made $75 in about 4 hours on a cool winter's day. Our customers were amazed to see us washing cars so late in the year and business was brisk. One woman came back with another car after we washed her first one.

We reserved $20 for gas for our friends from Tampa and blew the rest on bowling and pizza again that evening.

It was the last school club car wash I especially remember. Several of us still stay in touch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Santa and Me

I purchased a Santa suit in the 1990s but have only rarely used it.

On December 7, 2001, I suited up and went to see Tallahassee's Celebration of Lights downtown. I parked my car a few blocks west of Monroe Street along the parade route. Before I had walked a block, I saw a man walking along who looked just like Santa Claus.

I knew I had to have my photo taken with him, so I flagged down a passer-by who took the shot. I had the photograph enlarged and hung it prominently with others on my office wall, the pictures of which I was most proud, a few Halloween, cat and family photos.

Santa and Mitch (l to r)

More than a year later, a co-worker visited and inquired, "Why do you have a picture of my dad on your wall?" I didn't know what he was talking about. He pointed to the photo with me in my Santa suit and said, "That's my dad." His dad was Harry Hughes, and was Tallahassee's Santa Claus. For many years, Harry had dressed as I was in the photo and ridden high atop a City of Tallahassee fire truck in the Christmas parade. It was then that I realized I had seen Tallahassee's own official Santa Claus shortly before he had suited up to ride. I sent a similarly sized copy of the photo to his dad with a note of thanks, and emailed a copy to his son after Tallahassee's long-time Santa Claus passed away four years later.

In December 2004, the Association of Godby Graduates partnered with the Godby High School Construction Class to build and ride a holiday float on an 18-wheeler truck and tractor trailer in the Tallahassee Festival of Lights parade. I played a svelte Santa Claus, riding in a sleigh at the very top and back of the trailer.

Tallahassee's Winter Festival and Celebration of Lights was last Saturday night, and I suited up and brought my grandsons Dylan and Gabriel to walk in the parade with Roger and Florida Senator Bill Montford. Bill Montford is still Godby High School's longest serving principal, and was principal while I was there. He is the first person I met after moving to Tallahassee. He will gladly tell anyone he has a coffee mug in his office with his and my photo on it. We have been friends for a long time, but it was our first parade together -- my second parade walking with a Senator.

Santa was invited for a group photo with the Deerlake Middle School Majorettes

Senator Bill Montford serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS), and is the Florida Senator from District 6 seeking re-election in 2012.

Roger Day, Senator Bill Montford, Santa Claus (Mitch)

We all walked along in the parade together passing out beads and candy and had a fantastic time. It was my first Christmas parade in seven years. We were float number 43, and I believe there were at least twice that many in the parade. When we finished the parade, Dylan and Gabriel and I walked the couple of miles north on Monroe Street to my car and watched the rest of the parade as it came by. Dylan and Gabriel would often patiently wait for me to catch up, because I was being slowed by well-wishers asking for Christmas gifts, and by the occasional hug from spectators of all ages.

Even though as a child I was never a serious believer in Santa Claus, I have as an adult gained an enormous amount of respect for all that the suit embodies and represents, and demands of the wearer, in return for nothing less than the unconditional love and respect expressed by so many for Santa's persona.

For the first time since 1989, I will be doing two parades in a week. On Saturday, December 10, 2011, I will be participating in my first parade in Havana Florida, in the annual Holiday Festival and Lawnmower Parade. Festivities are from 9:00 am until 7:00 pm, and the parade begins at 1:00 pm.

May your days be merry and bright -- Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!

(Continued in Christmas 2011)