Keeping Score: Winter’s journey into Florida

  • The view from Chip Ainsworth’s seat during the Orange Bowl where Wisconsin beat Miami, 34-24. For the recorder/jayme golden

Friday, February 16, 2018

Good morning!

If Texas is tough and California is mellow, Florida is just plain crazy. Last week’s edition of the Palm Beach Post reported enough wackiness to fill a chapter of the next Carl Hiaasen novel.

In Boca Raton, a state cop working a detail on I-95 saw a car graze a construction barrel, swerve off the highway and land wheels-up in a ravine. The trooper found 29-year-old Ed Milkevic still in the driver’s seat, dead of a gunshot wound.

A few hours later, a man sped up I-95 driving in the wrong direction with his girlfriend in the passenger seat. He had killed her and two others, and when his car finally rolled to a stop after crashing head-on into three vehicles, a deputy shot and killed him.

Drivers were more upset about the eight-mile back up than the loss of life, but hey that’s Florida. As my late friend Jimmy Johnson liked to say, “Welcome to the tropics!”

It was in the mid-80s on Valentine’s Day in Sarasota, the mosquitoes were biting and the love bugs were swarming. The climate change from Dec. 28 was drastic. The highpoint of a cold trip south was buying a hardcover edition of “The Kid” at a Dollar General in Kingsland, Georgia. I bunked down that night at a Country Inn and was asleep before page 10 of Ben Bradlee Jr.’s 775-page biopic about Ted Williams.

The temperature hovered around 50 the next day in Jacksonville and the clouds that had persisted down the eastern seaboard finally lifted south of Daytona. The miles rolled on, the station was tuned to Willie’s Roadhouse and Johnny Bush was singing “Green Snakes on the Ceiling.”

My friends offered to put me up at their home west of Stuart in Palm City, a heretofore rustic enclave that had been transformed into a sprawling network of gated communities and 18-hole golf courses.

My hosts were Jeff and Jayme Golden and their teenage children Jayce and Jordyn. Their grandmother — Jimmy’s wife — lived a few streets away in a house decorated with nature paintings and statues of Buddha.

They put me in a room on the east side of their sprawling home, where the morning sun shone through the dense fog, and their bulldog Dandelion plodded down the hallway seeking another dog biscuit.

The visit began with an 80-mile trip south to watch the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. We were on the turnpike when Jayme turned and said, “Jayce tried flushing a lobster tail down the toilet. It cost $125 to get it out.”

He smiled, looked out the window and changed the subject. “There’s more high school football talent here than anywhere in America,” he said.

He’s right, every college football team recruits in the Sunshine State. UMass has ten Florida kids on its roster; Boston College has nine. More than half of the players on coach Lane Kiffin’s conference champion Florida Atlantic team hailed from either Palm Beach, Broward or Dade County. Imagine Minutemen coach Mark Whipple trying to do that in western Mass’s three counties.

Jayce checked his GPS and said we were a half hour from the stadium. We saw the lights glowing and orange towers beaming like lighthouses from the corners of the roof. The Goodyear Blimp floated under a full moon, and Latin music pulsed in the parking lot. 

Our club level seats overlooked the field where the Miami and Wisconsin players prepared to clash. The Hurricanes’ mascot, a bird named Sebastian Ibis, pumped up the orange-and-green clad Miami fans with a rowdy dance at the 50-yard line, and high-def screens showed ’Canes’ fans forming a “U” with their thumbs and index fingers. 

They were a stark contrast to the staid Badgers’ fans who wore red-stripped bib overalls and kept cell phones clipped to their belts. A beer-swilling fan eating a $12 turkey sandwich wore what appeared to be a recently skinned badger on his head.

Jayce sat to my right and a pair of fervent ’Canes fans were on my left, Tyler Sylvestri and Colleen Cook of Arlington, Va. She was a graduate student and he was along for the ride. “She’s much smarter than me,” laughed Sylvestri, who wore a Miami T-shirt that said, “Bitch, I’m a Hurricane.”

Sylvestri’s black wavy hair and dark-framed glasses reminded me of Elvis Costello. After Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw his fourth touchdown pass, he slumped in his seat and complained about the team’s bad defense. “We don’t have a lot of lockdown corners, just a bunch of (expletive).” 

He stood up and asked, “Want a beer, Chip?”

Thanks but no thanks, I replied.

Colleen wore straight blonde hair to her shoulders and smiled a lot. She told me that after the football game she’d be dropping off Tyler in Delray Beach and driving to Virginia.

“Virginia … after the game?” I asked.

She nodded, smiled and said, “I want to surprise my parents.”

Tyler was shuffling down the aisle back to his seat holding a Heineken and a Corona. He held both up to my face and said, “Take your pick.”

On New Year’s Day, I met Liz Spaulding at the airport, gave her the keys to her car and rented an Impala from Enterprise. A few hours later, I backed it into a tree in Jeff’s yard, breaking the blinker and brakelight.

“Which tree did you hit?” asked Jeff, who was helping me pick plastic shards of broken tail light from the driveway.

“That one,” I said, pointing to a cluster of ten-foot cabbage palms next to the circular driveway.

“That one?” he exclaimed. “I hate that (expletive) tree.”

The next morning I returned to the rental lot and showed the damage to an Enterprise agent named Jennifer. She got in the car — "I'll drive," she said — and guided us into the dented vehicle lane.

A worker scrawled “DX” on the windshield and a service rep asked for my insurance policy. I noticed that some of the dinged vehicles had chipped windshields and others had been scuffed or scraped. “White and gray are really hard to see, so I’ll stand back and look at an angle,” said the rep, named Corey. “A lot of drivers don’t say anything, but sometimes we can tell by the body language.”

"Right front bumper," was scribbled on a Dodge Charger’s windshield. I stooped to where a narrow 10-inch gash jutted along the fender near the right tire. “Just that?” I exclaimed.

"Anything longer than a dollar bill,” shrugged Corey.

This was my first accident in a car rental. The extra collision coverage costs nearly as much as the rental and sometimes I buy it and sometimes I don’t. This time I hadn’t.

Corey took what he needed off my policy, added $500 to my rental bill (to cover the deductible) and swapped me into a black Ford Fusion, a gas-and-electric powered hybrid that lists for $25,000.

It was a relatively painless experience. Travelers covered the claim which was under $1,000 (under the surcharge threshold) and notified me that Enterprise would refund $200 of the $500 they’d added to my Amex.

My cousin Bob Weiss met me at Bradley Airport on Jan. 10. Mike Townsley had replaced a frozen pipe while I was gone, and the house had survived winter’s coldest assault. I stayed in Northfield long enough for eight inches of snow to fall and subsequently melt off the deck, and drove back to Florida on Super Bowl weekend.

During the trip, I’ve stayed in Tequesta, Fla. and jogged on the trails in Jonathan Dickinson State Park, and drove across the state to Sarasota on Tuesday. Before leaving, I split a six pack of Krispy Kremes with Jack and Lois Phelps at their condo in Stuart, Fla., and stopped in Palm City to visit Jayne and give Jeff and Jayme a half-gallon of maple syrup from Williams Farm.

Jayme put it in the cupboard, thanked me and said, “We found a piece of your tailight. It was stuck in the tree.”

“Keep it,” I told her, “it’ll make a good Christmas ornament.”

Next week: State parks, a good motel and breakfast at Harry’s.


Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.