21 January 2002
Another short weekend and I’m back in the air, this time to Winter Haven, Florida. Dad was to start his therapy this week and I had extended my time here a day so I could drive down to visit them on Friday. His therapy was postponed a week and he plans to drive up and stay with me as he has in the past. While I look forward to our time together I am concerned about the delay in his treatment, every hour can make a difference. I asked Betty if he would be ok to drive and she said yes, so if it’s OK with her, I guess it’s OK. My 6:10 AM flight is on an MD-80 it is one of the newer ones but still very cramped. While American has spaced the seats out to give you more legroom, the seats sit lower due to the smaller diameter of the aircraft; this results in my knees hurting from the improper angle they must endure, I’m sure Gail would love it as her legs are a bit shorter. Breakfast is another one of the bagged snacks with a pineapple/orange muffin and applesauce. I guess it beats pretzels. I wish I could sleep on planes since there is no entertainment on these miserable machines, so I continue to write my journal logs. My connecting flight in St. Louis was upon a 757, they even gave us headsets and let us watch some canned CBS TV shows. This is more like it. The trip was just over an hour and very comfortable. I landed in Tampa and preceded to baggage claim, my bag was the second one off; maybe I should buy a lottery ticket, as it seems to be my lucky day. I went to the Hertz counter and was informed that they had a Grand Marquis waiting for me, I put on my sad puppy eyes and asked if they had anything sporty, she looked and came up with a Mustang, still the only thing Ford makes that I enjoy driving. As she was preparing my paperwork she said, “It’s yellow, I hope you don’t mind.” I responded with “That is my favorite color!” I got more complements on this car, from total strangers.
I was booked at the Hampton Inn that I stayed at on my last visit, the only problem was that they had an event on Tuesday night and the travel agent was unable to book a nonsmoking room so I had one room for Monday night then a smoking room for Tuesday then a third room for the rest of the week. The man at the desk recognized me and asked if my father would be joining me again, I said yes and he found me one nonsmoking room for the entire week on the third floor where you get better reception for your cell phone. This Inn has complimentary high-speed Internet access, as well as the customary complimentary continental breakfast. I noticed on my way in that the Citrus Festival was going on almost next door to the hotel. A good friend of mine used to have food booths at the festival, I wondered if he still did. The next day while working with the nurses I read in the local paper that if you are wearing a t-shirt with a flag on it admission would be free Tuesday night to the festival. Dad was scheduled to drive up this after noon and I got off work a bit early. I started hitting some of the stores around the hospital for T-shirts for Dad and me. Having no luck I called his cell phone around 2 PM when he said he would be getting on the road only to find he was almost here. We met up at the Inn and then went out and found two nice patriotic shirts for $5.00 each. Regular admission was $6.00 so we saved a buck and got shirts to boot. We walked around the festival and I mentioned to Dad that I had a friend here but I couldn’t recall which stands he owned, or if he even still owned them. Dad talked me into stopping at the front office and asking (almost like stopping for directions, Gail will appreciate how much I didn’t want to do this). They knew exactly who I was asking about and informed us he had two stands here and directed us to them. At the Strawberry shortcake stand I asked if Greg was around and she called him on the phone. Greg came right over and chatted with Dad and I for a bit, as we discussed that I would be in town all week Dad suggested that Greg might be able to get me in to the festival the rest of the week. Greg dropped off three passes for me the next day. Dad and I continued to walk around the festival till we came to a tent that had a Dolly Parton impersonator (a female one) who really did sound quite good. I got nabbed by one of the barkers and was throwing darts to get a stuffed toy for Gail by the time I had one of medium size he had me up to $24.00 for a $10.00 toy. I gave up on the really big one. When I mentioned it to Greg he wanted to know where since this was against the rules, something about doubling. I didn’t want to cause any trouble and knew Gail was worth it anyway. Dad and I debated about eating “Fair food” or stopping at the Outback, which was on our way back to the Inn. We opted for the Outback, and had soup and appetizers. We both agreed on French Onion Soup, it is very well done here with a thick broth and lots of caramelized onions, topped with toast and mozzarella cheese. Dad ordered the Tasmanian Chicken while I had Coconut Shrimp. Dad’s chicken was strips of white breast meat breaded, fried and coated in a spicy sauce, served with celery sticks and Blue Cheese dressing. My Jumbo Shrimp was coated with a beer batter then rolled in coconut and fried, served with a marmalade sauce. We also shared a loaf of warm dark bread with whipped butter. Dad had water while I opted for an Outback Rita. It was an excellent ending to a wonderful evening.
Wednesday morning I got up early and went to work, Dad had a 10 AM Tee time in Bartow, and planned to head home after that. That evening I went to the Festival again and watched a horse show with the royal lippizans, an alligator show and some folk singers. Greg gave me a strawberry shortcake from his stand then introduced me to a new culinary item I had not seen before from one of the other stands at the festival; they take a candy bar and put it on a stick then freeze it, dip it in funnel cake batter and fry it. It makes a very interesting delight but one that is extremely filling. Greg’s partner Bobby works with the Citrus Commission and invited me to the Industry dinner on Thursday.
Thursday after work, I worked online from my hotel room till it was time to go to dinner, then I walked over to the fair grounds, the dinner opened with fresh oysters on the half shell, and steamed shrimp. I had three plates of oysters and four of the shrimp. There was an open bar and I met up with Greg after the appetizers, he introduced me to a couple Tom and Melanie, Tom is a Polk County Sheriff and Melanie is a police office with Lakeland PD. As we were chatting someone in the group noticed they were about to start bringing out the food so our group kind of moved to where the line would begin, there were hundreds of people here some were well established families in the citrus industry, such as the Ben Hill Griffins, the Adams, and the Harrisons. Other people had some connection to the Citrus industry. Dinner consisted of corn on the cob dipped in butter, grilled Italian sausage slices, baked potato wedges with cheese, grilled chicken and steak slices. In lieu of flatware we were given toothpicks to eat with. Everything was prepared well and the toothpicks made clean up a snap. I had no room for desert. I picked up some T-shirts for the boys from Greg’s display in the Orange Dome, from his soon to be launched web store http://www.everythingcitrus.com/ watch for it on a web browser near you. These shirts are scented with a citrus scent and have a reproduction of an orange crate label.
Friday I finished shortly after Noon and headed towards Naples to visit with Dad and Betty. I would have thought I was back in Seattle with the traffic but it seems there were lots of accidents today one small one just south of Tampa that held us up a while then about two exits from where I was to get off to visit Dad, the traffic just stopped. I later found out that this was a back up from Alligator alley where a 28-car pileup had occurred this morning due to heavy fog and the interstate had been closed for about 13 hours. I made it just in time for dinner. We went to a place just off Immokalee Road called Hickeys. Aunt Jean and her Gentleman Caller, Cy, accompanied us there and Steve joined us at the restaurant. Deanne had been sick with an intestinal bug and was unable to attend. We started with either soup or salad, Betty and jean had the minestrone soup while I had the Irish Potato soup, for entrées Betty had the Sirloin Steak Salad, a generous salad with more steak on top than most steak meals. Dad had the Fish and Chips, thick filets of grouper battered and fried with French Fries. Aunt Jean had Bangers and mashed potatoes, Cy, Steve and I each had Prime Rib, Cy had the queen size, Steve and I had the king size, but mine was about a full third larger than Steve’s. I told him that was because I was better looking; he replied it was because I had less hair. Dinner was great and we all had fun catching up on who’s doing what. After Dinner we went to the parking lot to watch Steve feed the scraps to JJ, his dog that was sitting in his car, while we ate. Then Cy treated us all to ice cream at P.J. Skinny’s, a store exclaiming that all the ice cream was hand made on the premises. Steve even shared his ice cream with JJ. Lots of people stopped to see JJ eating ice cream.
Saturday morning Betty made waffles with blueberries to put on top. Then we went looking for a slipcover for an old couch they wanted to use for their Super Bowl party. We found one at Linens and Things, and then took me to see the new Expo by Home Depot store. This is a Home Depot for the rich and famous, they had tubs carved out of stone with matching sinks and such. I want to come back when I have more time to browse. On the way back to their house we stopped by a fresh vegetable market, I picked out some great looking tomatoes and bell peppers (yellow, red, purple, and orange) and some Oranges to take home with me. Dad gave me a trunk that they had gotten from Betty’s Mom and no longer had a place for it, as I now had much more than I could fit in my bag this worked real well. We packed the tomatoes individually in bubble wrap and then stuffed crumpled newspaper around them to protect them in transit. If nothing else I’ll have some great salsa with the peppers tomatoes and oranges. It was tough but I had to say good-bye, but not until Betty made Dad and me a sandwich and packed me some cookies for my flight. I drove up to Tampa without any delays, checked my bags at the curb as the trunk would have been a little hard to handle. I like this, as I was able to go directly to my gate without standing in line again. The security check was smooth and quick and I had time to plug in my laptop and cell phone to charge them. My flight from Tampa to St. Louis was nice aboard a 757 and uneventful. The trip from St. Louis to Seattle was also uneventful and the boys were waiting up for me when I got home.