Day Seven ~ Friday, May 8, 2009
and I start the day in an unquestionably perfect vacation way…
by eating slices of key lime meringue pie as part of our breakfasts.
audible is being called for the day. We had been kicking around
all sorts of possible ideas for our final days on this trip. At
one point we even debated the possibility… quickly laughed off
as being hysterical if we did it, but just too silly to actually
attempt after spending two nights in Key West… of a same day up-and-back
trip to meet some friends that were in Orlando.
decision is… we’re heading over to Naples.
going to be a great day of nothing for us. We’re going to look
at some houses… enjoy some driving around without any true destinations…
and we’ve mentioned even wrapping the day up by pointing the car
toward Miami and giving South Beach another shot.
drive begins with us moving along Alligator Alley… with a big
“route 75” and a question mark written in my notes next to that.
We’ve got plenty of sawgrass around us, gators in sight, and the
road meandering along the very edge of the water.
we arrive in Naples we decide to park and start in Tin
City. The stores are kind of neat, with us
picking up a few trinkets. And then we spot the shop for the Naples
all take part in a tasting, and it really is different and very
good. All four of us agreed that the sangria topped the list of
options. Tasting as a group, but making some selections individually,
at least one of us tried offerings such as watermelon, peach,
banana, orange and key lime wine. If you’re scoring at home and
fruit wines such as some of these sound interesting, for us the
watermelon, peach and banana were the best of what we sampled…
but we did have some differing opinions on good or really good.
Stick with the sangria and you can’t go wrong.
Riverwalk Restaurant is picked for our lunch stop, and overall
it’s a nice place. We are sitting right next to a marina… with
boats and pelicans all around. The clam chowder was pretty good…
but it was the setting that seemed to satisfy us as much as, if
not more than, the food. (Richard would later note in our “Best
of...” column that this restaurant was one
of his favorite places on the trip. Worth mentioning. But the
notes from the day show none of this being said during the meal.)
stop and pick up cookies at a Tin City bakery counter (I didn’t
write the name down, but an investigation seems to confirm it
was almost without a doubt The
Serious Cookie Company), and the chocolate
chip ones were really good. Then we drive out toward the Gulf
of Mexico, near Gulf Shore Boulevard and something in the vicinity
of 4th Street. (I think.)
window shopping in a way… driving past the houses and comparing
each one with the next for view and landscape and anything else
that comes to mind. We drive past the Venetian Village and then
head over to Marco Island.
a casual afternoon, all of it was alot of fun. Along the way to
Marco Island we saw some smoke in the distance. According to what
I found out later, there were some fires in the
now ladies and gentlemen… we are about to leave the region of
Naples… greet the return of No-no… and offer to you a wonderful
example of what not to do on an evening in southern Florida.
in a shorter sentence… stay away from Casa D’Angelo at all costs,
because it sucks. (Oh wait… sorry about that... maybe the people
in Fort Lauderdale have no clue what should qualify as even halfway
palatable, good Italian food. Hey… Del Vecchio’s is still in business
as far as I know. We thought they sucked too… early
on in this trip. But given the great food
we’ve had, I’m giving a pass to Fort Lauderdale and their tastes
when it comes to food. Many of these places were brilliant. In
our opinion… Casa D’Angelo sucks.)
to the story…
decided to head back to Miami after all… and Mi Luv U is pulling
us along the road past Coopertown Airboats. It’s a pretty astonishing
drive actually. To try and describe the scenery just doesn’t capture
the true realities of it.
the way we had heard the story… the government got involved. And,
as you can imagine just from hearing that phrase, it means things
are all messed up. But time marches on, and now it’s all messed
up in quite an amazingly strange way.
Everglades are a swamp. And, unless your family name is Disney,
the record doesn’t show many success stories of a person or group
taking over a swamp and building anything of great significance.
probably wrong on that… reaching for the joke and forgetting some
wonderful swamp-related projects… but bear with me on this one
folks. It’s the Everglades. Ok?)
some U.S. government officials thought they could dry up the Everglades
and turn it into some valuable, really primo real estate.
then changed their minds.
you check out
the Coopertown Airboat article, you’ll see
I talk about the Malaluka trees. That is part of this whole story
of drying out, filling in, not drying out, staying put story.
are in the middle of a day of driving that goes from alligators
in the water along the side of the road to huge homes on the Gulf,
and then we return to the wilderness. We’ve got turtles crossing
the road and we pass shacks that sure as heck look like someone
should be sitting out front playing a banjo. There’s water all
over the place… and yet, it’s the middle of a drought and there’s
no water in sight.
honestly it’s so amazing a collection of opposing images, changing
scenery and fabulous sights that the mind almost doesn’t register
any of it.
few turns and we’re traveling in the neighborhood of Coopertown
again… having left route 75 and maneuvered over to route 41. And
we decide to stop at the Miccosukee Resort. Well… I guess you
call it a resort. They
decision to stop was really based on four things. Number one…
they had this big sign nearby about free play for new player’s
club members. Number two… we saw the sign when we drove by the
resort before on the way to Coopertown, but then lunch and an
adventure to find those crazy CSI people led us away
before we could stop that day. Number three… now we start getting
to the really good reasons… Ellen and Terry were looking for a
rest area if one happened to show up on our travels. And number
four… I promised that maybe there would be ice cream involved
if the three of them behaved. (They did… but we played and ran…
no ice cream.)
reality of that resort wisecrack I made is this… it looked like
any of a number of hotel chains I could rattle off, except it
had the tribal emblem out front and a rather nice statue and water
feature at the entry. The word “resort” really doesn’t work, but
because they have palm trees, I believe they are legally allowed
to use it without embarrassment. And, since the only table games
are poker… and to my knowledge they can’t have official slot machines…
and… well… they call it gaming, but the gas station down the road
a bit probably could make a good case for offering as diverse
a collection of “gaming options” in state lottery and scratch
tickets as the Miccosukee do in video pull tabs and poker.
but all of us qualify for membership in the player’s club as new
accounts, that means free slot play… you know, if they had slots.
signed up for accounts, got our free play, and left with just
over $30 in cash we didn’t have when we arrived. (Terry won a
bit… I scraped by… Ellen and Richard used their free play and
ended at zero.) So… while I can’t recommend the Miccosukee Resort
& Gaming experience to you for any significant reason… I can
tell you that if they offer new member play to you, and you find
a decent machine, it could fill up your gas tank for the investment
of a few minutes.
yeah… the rest rooms. Umm… let’s just say I would keep driving
down the road to the next available option for that.
back in the car and cruising toward Miami. We’re planning on arriving
just after 5pm or so… and we are locked in on South Beach. This
time… as opposed to Sunday night’s casual drive around… our goal
is to get into the area, find a good place to eat, and perhaps
settle in for an evening of letting South Beach carry us in any
direction it wishes. We’ve got no place to be tomorrow, and we’re
willing to stay out all night if the fun sweeps us away.
wants Italian food for dinner. She claims she’s going through
pasta withdrawals. So as we begin to close in, Terry takes Mi
Luv U and asks about Italian food. We get a couple of options
and find they are fairly close to each other.
that’s when the SUV incident took place.
based on what we could see, what we experienced, and the visual
clues from our surroundings… we had arrived at the great end-of-day
rush on the day care centers.
I am willing to admit I know nothing about Miami. I wanted to
back then. I really wanted to spend some time there and see the
city. I still do. So you may tell me that there are no day care
facilities… or that they have special afternoon procedures and
I must have been seeing something else. And you may have a point
well, more appropriately… so be it. The truth is…
matter what road I turned on, we were brought to a crawl by slow
moving traffic. At one point, an SUV comes up along the driver’s
side of our car… literally no more than two inches between its
mirror and the side of our vehicle… swings out a bit to avoid
smashing our mirrors together… and then, without any sort of signal
or warning, pulls slightly ahead of us and swings hard right,
cutting us off.
driver pulled the car to the side of the road, moved about twenty
feet further up, flipped on the hazard lights and got out. She
then sprinted into the building. There were kids playing in a
yard at the building, inside a fence. As far as we could tell,
she didn’t want to pay extra for being late for the kids.
talked Ellen down from her conniption, eased her breathing, and…
still guided by Mi Luv U… turned on to another street.
a police-led motorcade came through, we think from some sort of
car show… or something… something useless and pointless… and trapped
us on the side of the road… and… and… and…
what does that taxi think he’s doing? Seriously… where is he going?
Because there is no room for us and us alone in this spot already
and unless he think he can drive on the roof of our car then…
oh dear lord he is going to try and drive on the roof of our car…)
shift into reverse, use the two feet of clearance that I have
behind me to move and turn a bit, and then manage to pull out
of the way of the cab that the driver has now placed exactly where
I was. I have zero clue how I pulled it off, because it was all
instinct, action and reaction. If I had stopped to really think,
I would’ve been hit.
has her eyes closed, her fingers ripping my headrest out of place,
and her knees buried in the back of my seat.
again, we find we are being given reason upon reason to just adore
are essentially driving parallel to the ocean and a few streets
away from the actual coast. I’m looking for parking, but Ellen…
I think with her eyes still closed… is telling Terry and Richard
that she needs to see the restaurant before she can decide if
that’s where she wants to eat. So, we’re not parking since there
really aren’t any spots, and even the ones we are finding are
more than a half-mile from any of the restaurants. (And… you know…
if Ellen doesn’t like what she sees… that’s a half-mile to get
there, a half-mile back with nothing but a parking ticket to show
for the effort.)
passing both of Mi Luv U’s thoughts, we decide on the first one
and I make a u-turn. Heading back we cannot find a single parking
spot. Not… one… spot. At all. We’re starting to get fed up with
Miami once again… but realize it’s a Friday night we’re trying
to give it extra effort to make it work. Miami… we want to like
you… really we do.
decided I’m going to drop the three of them off and just find
a spot, when another cab cuts us off… and that’s it, Ellen’s had
it… so has everyone else… we’re gone.
day Miami… I will be back. You will have a chance at redemption.
Some day. For now… in my experience… you rank below Los Angeles
for friendliness to tourists, and they have none.)
wait… LA has In-N-Out Burger. Uh-oh Miami. that changes the rankings.)
we drive north, Terry is checking Mi Luv U every five minutes
or so to find out what new places we might be approaching. For
some reason I don’t recall, a place called Pizza Roma in Aventura
gets a nod from all of us. We pull off the highway… find it… I
drop Terry and Ellen off and go to park the car with Richard.
As I’m pulling in to a spot, he taps me on the shoulder and asks
if I think that’s the girls standing outside.
a moment ago when she said she needed to see the place before
deciding… well, she saw it.
she and Terry walked in and decided it wasn’t what they had hoped.
They scanned the menu quickly and were going to come out to discuss
it with us, but then someone behind the counter called out at
them with something close to “oh sure, just leave” in a really
annoying and sarcastic way, so they decided that was exactly what
they were going to do.
it’s getting late.
Luv U has Casa D’Angelo listed as an option for Italian food.
The parking lot is packed… the place looks clean… and we’re hungry.
We go in and see all sorts of awards and press clippings on the
of the signs are good… which we should have taken as a hint that
something weird was being put in motion.
we were really dressed as a “warm day spent in south Florida as
a tourist” group. Shorts… maybe even flip-flops for the ladies.
And most of the guests at Casa D’Angelo were in slacks and shirts.
We weren’t turned away… but immediately upon learning we had no
reservations, menus were picked up and we were quickly led through
the main dining area, between some really jammed closely together
tables, and virtually into the next plaza.
the food started coming out, it had no flavor. None. A sheet of
paper at least tastes like paper. This food had zero in it to
taste. Bland just doesn’t work as a description.
of us hated our dishes. Just didn’t like them. They weren’t cooked
well and they lacked anything appealing. Richard had ordered short
ribs that he thought were cooked just fine, but they too had no
seasoning. An order of zucchini flowers that we split was also
viewed in the same light… preparation looked good… but just nothing
we leave the restaurant I realize something that makes us feel
like we’ve been kicked in the stomach. Down the road… barely a
few miles… is J. Alexander’s. The quest for Italian food and something
we hadn’t tried blinded our search, and in the end… we got a lousy
Eight ~ Saturday, May 9, 2009
decided to try something a little different and unusual today.
We’re headed to the Monkey
Jungle. And I’m going to tell you here… right
at the start… this is one of the strangest, craziest, most unpredictable
experiences I’ve ever had.
Monkey Jungle is… well… it is so many things. Let’s see if we
can create some imagery just along the drive to get there…
you ever driven past a farm in April… May… June? You know… depending
on where you live and what’s being grown… during those days when
the crops are visible, but really haven’t filled in. Or perhaps
you’ve passed a field where the grass is growing high and dry.
The idea here is that the land is open… the meadows and grounds
are filling in with something. In some places tended… in others
a bit wild.
fields aren’t amazingly large. One… two… ten acres. Not gargantuan
and vast and unending openness. Instead… big but with trees… perhaps
a house or a pen with animals… in a sense with some sort of definition,
a field perhaps enclosed by a natural boundary.
you ever driven down a broken road? Maybe it’s dirt… perhaps it’s
paved with potholes… but it hasn’t been cared for in quite some
time. And of the few people that travel it, you believe they prefer
it exactly as it is.
starting to get the idea of where the Monkey Jungle is located.
In the middle of everywhere, it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s
near nothing identifiable. The drive to it consists of roads that
would create a feeling of being lost. It is, basically, exactly
where you would never expect it to be.
the place is full of crazy elements that defy expectations.
can purchase food for the monkeys, and deliver it to them in a
variety of ways. While walking in a cage… a path from exhibit
to exhibit covered in fencing that keeps the free roaming animals
separate from park guests… bowls hang from chains. If you even
look like you’re placing food in the bowl,. Monkeys will begin
assembling on top of the cage, waiting to pull the chain up… along
with the meal. In other places tubes and such provide the format
for delivering the food. And during your interaction with them,
you often find that they’ve already learned what you’re still
trying to figure out.
fairly diverse group resides at the Monkey Jungle… including King
the gorilla, parrots, and other assorted wildlife.
we had a good time. But there were different elements of the park
that seemed a bit off… and to this day, I’m not 100% certain why.
For some reason (or several), it just seemed wrong to be there.
In ways that I have never encountered before. Here’s one element
as an example… admission prices.
using any coupons, admission to the park runs $30 per adult. That
price doesn’t include the monkey food. We finished up our experience
in well under two hours.
gone to zoos all over the country… in fact, while I won’t say
I’m any kind of well-seasoned international traveler, toss in
Toranga and Featherdale in Australia, the Toronto Zoo in Canada,
and Xcaret in Mexico, and I’ve been to zoos and wildlife habitats
all around the world. I don’t recall feeling like I overspent
for an experience that was finished so quickly in any of them.
In fact, I know I’ve never felt that way before.
that a fair assessment? Probably not. Let’s play naïve… the
Monkey Jungle doesn’t have the business volume of any of these
other places, and caring for animals is expensive. The money probably
does go to the monkeys.
on instinct… something was off about the Monkey Jungle. All of
us had a good time there… all of us were glad we went… and all
of us have been talking about different parts of this experience
many times since our return home. But I doubt if we will be recommending
the place to our friends.
Charters and the Dolphin Research Center? Absolutely.
and J. Alexander’s? You bet.
Monkey Jungle? As a good way to spend some time? Eh… not so much.
quiz time… quick…
driving these roads to get to the Monkey Jungle… would you expect
to find a good Italian restaurant pretty much right around the
Capri Restaurant was the place we ended
up selecting on the fly for lunch… and a very unexpected good
time was had by all.
if you head over to the web site, you’ll see some pictures. And
you’re going to say that this place couldn’t possibly be serving
decent food when everything about it screams stereotypical-bad-Italian-design.
we though so too. But they are.
the corner from Capri is the Robert
is Here fruit stand. We spent some time here,
with Mumbles trying to figure out why we didn’t find a place like
this earlier on our trip.
kicking around ideas for the remainder of the afternoon… and there’s
really only one thing left.
back to the Keys.
Terry has seen these mailboxes she likes. She doesn’t expect to
get one, but they are all over the place in the Keys. Dolphins
and manatees. And she wants to price them and find a place that
can give her the costs with shipping involved. So far… most places
are either sold out or don’t ship.
this to a wind chime she loved, and the only “what haven’t we
been able to do that one of us wants to do” topic coming up results
in Mi Luv U swinging the car off for Key Largo.
turns out to be a fun, do nothing drive on a sun-drenched afternoon.
We’ve got The Coffee House playing, and we’re laughing and relaxing,
and the trip is just wrapping up in a very low key way. We don’t
find a mailbox… but end up with two wind chimes. I also find a
cute alligator to add to our unusual wildlife shelf at home.
time has arrived… we’re setting in the directions to the Ramada
and heading off for the last night of the vacation. (I’ll save
the Ramada story for tomorrow.)
decide to head to Flanigan’s
for dinner. There is zero reason for this. Basically we used Mi
Luv U to pull up local food options, started scrolling down the
list and tossing away name after name. Flanigan’s was the first
place we considered that not one of us immediately eliminated.
out to be a decent choice.
ordered garlic buffalo chicken strips that were just fabulous.
And all of us seemed pretty happy with our meals. Was it Chima’s?
No. J. Alexander’s… The Square Grouper… Carolina Ale House? Not
at all. But it was pretty good.
the way back to the hotel we’re dropping off the rental car. We’ve
confirmed everything about the shuttle from the hotel… both after
this errand and for the morning… and there isn’t any real need
to have the car available.
we ride back to the hotel, all of us are beginning to crash. Even
after some slower days near the end, there was an adrenaline rush
still going on. Now… a ribbon in place on everything but the flight
home, and none of us behind the wheel… the vacation’s over depression
Nine ~ Sunday, May 10, 2009
dropped the car off last night, and it’s travel day… so you’d
think there might not be much to talk about. I mean really… considering
that in Las
Vegas the fun of travel day was returning
the rental car… what could be left?
and gentlemen… I present for your consideration… the Wreck of
the One-Night Ramada Stay.
when we began planning this trip, there were several parts of
it being considered or developed at the same time reservations
needed to be made. One of the things Ellen and I spotted in our
efforts was that we could actually add an extra day to our trip
for very little cost… the plane tickets and car rental were working
out to the same total regardless of our choice of Saturday departure
times or Sunday departure times.
An extra day of vacation! All we needed was a hotel.
those parts that were in motion soon came into focus, and when
our original hotel idea collapsed, we were left still needing
a place for Saturday night. One of the hotels under consideration
was the Ramada… nice price… close to the airport… seemed about
as good as anything else we were finding. If not better.
the lessons learned about on-line shopping from hundreds of miles
keep in mind… we were staying here for one reason… to sleep. Really.
That’s it. We weren’t here for a week and setting up base camp.
We hadn’t chosen it because it was the hotel next to a national
park or monument or tourist attraction we were visiting. We didn’t
care about a bar or a pool or any type of convenience or amenity.
was a place to sleep. The price was right. The name was familiar.
A trifecta of singular purpose.
problems were discovered over time. If we had walked in and immediately
seen the showerhead, and the extension cord, and knew about the
air conditioning, then sure… maybe we would have argued more at
the front desk or tried to get our money back while changing hotels.
But instead we hadn’t jumped in the shower yet or experienced
the air conditioning… and we had returned the rental car by the
time several things became evident.
when those things hit us… we just wanted to go to sleep.
so… the list of fun…
returning from dropping the car off, we each head off to our respective
rooms. As I sit on the bed and reach for the remote to the television,
there is a knock on the door. It’s Richard. The air conditioning
isn’t working in their room. They had turned it on when we left,
thought the room would cool off nicely while we were away for
an hour or two, but have now returned to find their room muggy
and warm and… well… it’s not working. Ellen wants to know if we’re
having problems before calling the front desk.
call the front desk.
dilemmas here. First, if we want to have the unit looked over,
it’s going to be a while before they can send someone up. (Meaning
likely after we are asleep.) Oh they’ll note the problem. And
there won’t be any questions about damages or other mysterious
charges. Richard is just being told that the only people on duty
already have some work they are taking care of, and it will be
at least two hours before they can stop by. (And yeah… we found
that amazing. Told up front… don’t worry, you won’t be billed.
As if they knew about the problem, had a reservation they didn’t
want to cancel, and just hoped it would work out. Oh yeah… didn’t
want to lose the reservation… that brings us to…) Second, the
hotel is packed and there are no other rooms available. At all.
Full house, with everyone checked in.
arrives as we finish collecting the information and decides they
can open a window, hopefully cool the room down a bit, and just
don’t feel like staying up to have someone knocking on the door
to try and fix it an hour before they would have been getting
and Ellen leave. I grab the remote again.
doesn’t go on. I try removing the batteries and putting them back…
I try the front of the set… I try… oh heck, I’m tired, and this
room is hot and muggy with the air conditioning working … look…
it wasn’t plugged in.
really… the television set was unplugged. Along with everything
else along that wall.
I finally get it turned on, I go to adjust the volume, but the
volume button on the remote is broken. And then the channels can’t
be changed. The power button on the remote does work though.
shut the television off.
go to set the alarm and notice something kind of funny. I mean…
well… when was the last time you were in a hotel room where an
extension cord was being used for the clock-radio unit on your
I share all of that from yesterday with you now in order to set
up what actually happened on this day. Because Terry and I did
get to sleep last night. But for these reasons and others, we
weren’t impressed at all with Ramada as we drifted off.
any of these factors huge on their own? Maybe not. But I remember
going to Las Vegas way back in 2005 and staying in a quite that
had two fires in the span of a week. Were they small fires? Yes.
Explainable fires? Yes. (To a degree.) Still, there’s never been
a fire that I knew of in any other hotel I’ve ever been in.
broken air conditioner… items unplugged and television not working…
power for the room supplied by extension cords… we’re making a
list here. And eventually… lots of small things add up.)
wake up before the alarm goes off and decide to get in the shower.
As I open the bathroom door, I’m hit by a wall of air so hot and
muggy I felt like I was opening the door on a car that had been
left in direct sunlight for seven hours on a 110-degree August
day with near 100% humidity. (Not kidding. You know that feeling
when you dump the hot water and pasta into the colander in the
sink? Hotter than that. My glasses completely fogged over.)
I finally get to the shower, I find controls that just don’t make
any sense. They don’t start the water… they don’t adjust the tub
or shower… they don’t… well, I’ve never seen this kind of design
before. And while wondering if King and his friends came over
to the Ramada from the Monkey Jungle to do so contract work, I
notice that the showerhead is mounted about 4-feet off the floor.
you beginning to see what we went through? It was just one thing
after another. And if you aren’t convinced of it… one final note…)
go down to the lobby to meet the shuttle bus. There’s one outside,
that looks like the same one from last night, and we figure it’s
the one that will be bringing us to the airport. We’re still a
few minutes early though, and the hotel front desk is ten steps
away, so we decide not to knock on the door and wake the driver.
Or should I say, the guy sleeping inside the bus that we think
is the driver? About two minutes before we’re supposed to leave,
he stirs and opens the door.
we drive to the airport, a few turns and stops cause a can on
the floor to begin rolling around. It’s an empty beer can. Can
I prove anything? No. And I wouldn’t try. (Heck… the reason you
use these shuttles as a passenger is because you’ve been drinking.
Right? Seriously… go to Vegas and tell me I’m wrong. It could
have been a can from any of several people. But there wasn’t one
rolling around the night before when we were coming back from
returning the car. And we have this list that’s taking shape.
Sure… some of them are little thing… I’m just saying.)
at least the most annoying woman in the world and her party of
four aren’t on the plane home.