Keeping Score: Chasing the sun

Published: 1/16/2022 2:29:18 PM
Modified: 1/16/2022 2:28:13 PM

Good morning!
On Christmas Eve, Liz Spaulding called with a request that I’d half-expected, which was to drive her car to the Palm Beach airport. I’d been driving her vehicles — first an old Outback and more recently a new Honda — for almost the last decade. This arrangement came about one day while we were waiting for our cars to be serviced at a West Palm Beach dealership.

Liz is a cautious woman, but the prospect of another pandemic-induced New England winter caused her to scramble to find a last-minute rental in Tequesta. She accepted her neighbor’s offer to drive, but when he told her he was having “serious misgivings” she went to the bullpen.

She had correctly anticipated her JetBlue flight would be canceled and had another request: “Take me with you.”

Usually I drive alone. It’s better that way. I only stop between fill-ups and tend to ignore what they teach in safe driving school. If she was willing to accept the risk, then so be it. I looked outside at the low, gray cloud cover and said, “Yes of course. Life’s an adventure.”

Five days later, we met at the Mill Deli and gas station in Gill and began our 1,400-mile journey down I-91 to the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Wethersfield, Conn., to I-95 into New York and over the George Washington Bridge onto the New Jersey Turnpike. We stopped at a Country Inn in North Carolina, in a town called Wilson, where NFL linebacker Julius Peppers was born.

The first half of the trip was smooth sailing, but after the stressful holidays thousands of snowbirds are anxious to get to their winter homes and flight cancellations added to the traffic volume.

The only option would have been to load the car onto the Auto Train in Lorton, Va. and ride the rails to Sanford which is east of Orlando. Deerfield’s John Carney called it a “17-hour horror trip.”

“We heard it was the way to go but the room was way too cramped for two people,” Carney said. “The upper bunk was hard as a rock and difficult to access. Our meal was delivered in a paper bag with wine in a Styrofoam cup. All-in-all not a pleasant journey we won’t be doing it again.”

It was inevitable that at some point the traffic would become bottlenecked in South Carolina and it happened 57 miles from Georgia. It took us two hours to reach the border where the road widens to three lanes. One hundred miles further we crossed the St. Mary’s River into Florida and the gray clouds parted and the brown landscape yielded to lush greenery.

Welcome to the tropics, as my friend Jimmy Johnson used to say, but we still had 300 miles to go before the gulfstream clips the coast with its warm temps and gentle breezes.

A car fire tangled traffic on I-295 so we scooted over to I-95 but a rollover had backed up traffic south of Jacksonville. We were parked in the passing lane when the dashboard flashed like an exploding pinball machine — “Brake System Problem,” “Collision Mitigation System Problem,” “Electric Parking Brake Problem…” If we’d been flying I’d have bailed out.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Liz. “It happened in Rockport and they said it’s a computer glitch.”

She had been good company and had tolerated my driving habits until about 200 miles from Tequesta when she touched my arm and said, “Slow down.” The speedometer read 98 mph.

We arrived in Tequesta under the cover of darkness, got a quick tour from the landlord and said good night. Every morning, I’d start the coffee, drive to Publix and buy the papers and jog near the Loxahatchee River in Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

The Sun Sentinel reported that the Fort Lauderdale City Council had voted to move a 100-foot tall rain tree to make way for a $500 million high rise apartment building. The Tarpon River Civic Association said no one knew the commission was voting that night, but the commission said it was on the agenda and posted on the city’s website, a typical excuse for a sneaky maneuver.

“It was one of the trees Fort Lauderdale swore to protect and of course they rolled over on that,” said Fort Lauderdale resident Chris Brennan.

Some like Liz (but not me) are bothered that Florida is a red state ruled by Governor Ron DeSantis and U.S. Senator Rick Scott and is the home of Donald Trump and conservative talkshow host Ben Shapiro. The Sentinel said that people with out-of-state license plates — particularly New York plates — were finding neatly printed messages on their windshields. “If you are one of those ‘woke’ people — leave Florida. You will be happier elsewhere as will we.”

The Palm Beach Post doesn’t have the resources it once did when it exposed South Florida’s rampant painkiller industry, corrupt county commissioners and inhumane private prisons, but it does have columnist Frank Cerabino who invented “Florida Man,” the zany character who stands for all things goofy in the Sunshine State.

Cerabino said his favorite column from 2021 regarded the cyclist who fell off his bike in a nature preserve and was bitten by an alligator. Cerabino defended with the alligator.

We didn’t dine out due to the pandemic, but Liz had discovered a hole-in-the-wall eatery called the American Gourmet that prepares outstanding dishes including red snapper with fresh string beans and asparagus with mashed potatoes.

My choice for dinner to go was in Palm Beach Gardens. I parked close to a dock where millionaires moor their yachts and walked into Carmine’s Gourmet Market. The store is owned and operated by Carmine Giardini, a butcher who moved to Florida from Connecticut in 1988.

Inside, Julius La Rosa’s 1950’s hit “Eh Cumpari!” was wafting over the aisles and Wagyu Japanese Kobe Beef was selling for $140 a pound. I filled a quart jar of chili con carne and drove across PGA Boulevard to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza for an Italian salad with gorgonzola cheese and returned to the condo.

My 10 days in the sun would be followed by a colonoscopy prep back home, a trade-off of sorts, and Liz dropped me off at a Budget agency in Tequesta. The rental was a Toyota Camry with 39,709 miles on the odometer and the radio was tuned to “Old School Hip Hop.” I didn’t know there was such a thing as old school hip hop.

Somewhere in the Carolinas, I passed a car with a bumper sticker that said “Are you following Jesus this closely?”

I stopped in Santee, S.C., and stayed at Clark’s Inn. The lodging was a throwback to before boxy motels with cookie-cutter rooms. It had a well-stocked bookcase and an old-fashioned lamp stand next to a comfortable easy chair. I read “New Iberia Blues” and listened to rain slapping against the parking lot pavement.

In Florence the next morning, I bought two Krispy Kremes straight off the conveyor belt. The GPS was insisting I get back to Hartford by way of Scranton, but I’ll use that route my next trip down.

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 at chipjet95@yahoo.com


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