Susan rolled all the silver coins in our change jars and, just like that, our car rental was paid! When I picked up the vehicle, the rental company ever so considerately upgraded us to a Chrysler 300C, with the hemi. Hear me roar!
I've driven vehicles with automatic headlights before, but this car had wipers that sensed raindrops on the windshield and telepathically adjusted wiper speed based on the amount of rain that was falling. Clever beast. Not only that, it blew the doors off any American motorist who dared challenge the license plate from "Kwee Beck". Thankfully, its ventilation system spewed generous amounts of cool air, without which, our two dogs would have quickly shrivelled into Westie raisins.
We packed the 300C with our favorite snacks, beach chairs and dogs and set a course for the 401 west. We rolled into the United States at the border crossing near Thousand Islands. Some of Susan's work colleagues suggested this crossing as a way to avoid the tolls, traffic and construction common in big cities like New York and Washington.
It must have been the air in Pennsylvania; it does wonders for your vision, providing a sudden and noticeable surge in strength and acuity. I wish! The lettering on road signs in Pennsylvania, at least in the southbound direction of I-81, has been changed to a much bigger size. Gotta get the geezers to where they wanna go! I realized over the course of our vacation, that parts of interstate highways in parts of states, had managed to change their road signs to larger print. The changeover, I imagine, is costly and continuing.
The first leg of our trip to Cocoa Beach sputtered to an exhausted end in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
As we finally crossed into the state of Florida on I-95 early Sunday afternoon, I was extremely disappointed and dumbfounded to see cars from a variety of states parked at the BP filling station in Yulee, Florida. How could people be pouring money into BP coffers after what the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had done to the Gulf of Mexico and the American economy? Perhaps BP had been forgiven by Americans, or Americans could really care less about the environment, or BP customers in Florida suffer from short-term memory issues. The more likely possibility is that motorists we saw using BP pumps throughout our stay are the reason Florida does not have helmet laws!
At any rate, I never once turned our vehicle into a BP station.
Our hotel was right on the Atlantic Ocean in Cocoa Beach and we had opted for a "partial ocean view", which was suitably impressive.
Our smartest and prettiest Westie, Moose, is diabetic. That means every twelve hours she has to be fed and injected with insulin. The diabetes has also left her blind (see "Diabetic Moose" blog). Our other Westie, Spike, is just goofy, but dripping with loveability. The hotel we stayed at was one of the few to accept dogs at no charge. The staff are also very accomodating and are willing to clean rooms around the schedule of hotel guests and their animals.
The complimentary hotel breakfast was terrific and we made sure to ingest sufficient quantities of sausage, waffle, toast, orange juice, tea and bacon to offset the daily cost of our room. Plus, bloating ourselves provided added buoyancy while swimming in choppy ocean waters.
My son and I frolicked in the water for hours on-end, bobbing in the warm, salty waves as they gently lifted and dropped us.
Between frisbees and footballs, he would occasionally back flip into breaking waves, while I tried to dive over them. I must say, when my eyes were supersaturated with salt, turning to see my wife, who had the sun at her back, induced tears and ghastly squinting and if someone had so much as brushed a lit match against my salt-crammed lips, I'm certain it would have resulted in nuclear meltdown.
Our dogs met plently of other dogs at the hotel dog walk, which came complete with complimentary poop bags. We had a chambermaid exclaim at how our dogs were so beautiful! They became known around the hotel as "the twins". This woman says she was convinced the Westie on the television commercial had been computer-generated and couldn't possibly exist. Spike had his eyes locked on her carelessly held foil-wrapped meal and would have gladly provided her with ample proof he existed, while her lunch had never been there at all. She probably fills-up at BP.
Whew, it was crazy hot in Florida at this time of year, with temperatures well into the nineties. The weather people on television, when reporting the next day's high, would inevitably add, "but it will feel like 104 or 106 degrees". It is humid and sticky and if Florida had any shred of decency, they would change their license plate slogan to "The Furnace State" or, "Home of the Breathing Workout". I think the passage of a mandatory helmet law could, quite conceivably, result in high numbers of Floridians drowning in their own sweat.
I bought Susan a pair of Uggs for her birthday on Wednesday, but then she outdid me by buying me an iPod Classic for my birthday. While we were in the store in Melbourne, we saw the Dyson air multiplier. It's a ring on a stand that acts like a fan by accelerating air through an "annular aperture". The pamphlet explains that it draws in up to 5.28 gallons of air per second, with airflow amplifying it 15 times. Cool device. I don't for the life of me understand it, but, cool device.
We signed up for a manatee and dolphin cruise...I dressed up as the manatee, while Susan dressed as the dolphin. Ben, the guide on the trip, says October is when the heat takes a hike and Florida's season of "paradise" kicks-in. We cruised through Florida's Thousand Islands Nature Conservancy, which is mostly lagoon and saw manatees, dolphins, ospreys and the endangered wood stork, who just stood nonchalantly in the park as we boarded the catamaran.
The hotel swimming pool was a definite highlight. Surrounded by palm trees, with water kept at a constant boil, it was a great way to decompress and desalinate. We did the ocean-then-pool-thing every day and, around suppertime, my son and I could make-believe it was our own private pool because we were the only ones in there.
I've read articles claiming the technology has advanced significantly and, for that reason, nuclear energy is making a comeback. As we were driving to the factory outlet stores in Orlando, we passed a nuclear power plant. I thought it was the St-Lucie plant, but it wasn't. Florida claims to have only three; Crystal River is closer to Tampa and Turkey Point is near the tip of the state, so I still don't know which one it was. They sure are big and ominous.
On Thursday night, there was a big thunderstorm. My son and I sat out on the balcony chatting, as forks of lightning flashed all around us and torrents of rain caused the pool waters to swell. At one point, we spotted a possum trotting along the hotel wall beside the pool in search of shelter.
Susan and I would walk along the beach in the morning, snapping pictures of various things. One morning, we managed to take a picture of a bird that our Sibley's Field Guide seems to identify as Haematopus Palliatus, or an American Oystercatcher.
Swimming in Destin along the Gulf of Mexico a couple of years ago, we were stung repeatedly by jellyfish. It mostly feels like annoying pinches. This time around, in Cocoa Beach, we were oblivious to jellyfish and by the second day, we had concluded, to our immense relief, they would not be a concern. On the third day, Susan finally came in the water and close to an hour after we'd been splashing and playing together, she let out a suppressed shriek. We looked over and saw a jellyfish of substantial girth floating through the waves. I think it winked at us. Until that moment, we had been on Level Two Alert. Given the drifting jellyfish incident, we had no choice but to promptly upgrade our Alert Level to 8 on our self-devised Jellyfish Alert Scale and, believe me, trying to frolic while respecting the criteria of our Level 8 Jellyfish Alert Scale is not terribly relaxing!
Ron John's surf shop in Cocoa Beach consists of 50 000 Ron John T-shirts and other knick knacks. Hansel and Gretel could have saved their bread crumbs and borrowed Ron John billboards to find their way back home. On the way south to Florida, you practically have to weave around them every 50 yards you travel along the interstate.
There were some unpleasant accusations directed at me by offspring and spouse. They, rather gracelessly, alleged I am a "closet clipper", obsessed with clipping my nails. I have confessed I am coming unravelled, with bits of skin on the sides of my fingernails constantly breaking free and causing me annoyance and discomfort. For the record, I continue to vehemently deny the charge and the case, to this day, in the eyes of the court, remains unresolved.
The trip home went as follows; Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. The first half of the drive home ended in Winchester, Virginia. We had lunch at Arbys in the Village of Whitney Point, New York. We did I-95 to R17, to I-66 to I-81, crossing at Thousand Islands. In Watertown, New York, we stopped at a store to buy some junk, including those wax candies with colored liquid in them. What an exciting blast from the past! When I was little, I used to buy those things, bite them, drink the liquid and eat the wax. Alas, it seems I was the only idiot who ate the wax. Susan recalled the candy, but claims to have never eaten the wax. My son just thought the whole concept was weird. Looking back now to when I was a kid, I do, too.
I often end-up associating a song with summer trips. The "summer association song" for our 2010 trip to Cocoa Beach, will be Katie Perry's "California Gurls"... and if I hear it one more time, I will voluntarily commit myself.