Sunday, January 4, 2015

Don't Rush Me

And I have arrived back in Richmond, unwound from listening to the ocean daily and ready to start a new year.

It was a week of pleasures of all kinds. The ocean temperature never dipped below anything but comfortable, although one skinny Floridian dipped her toes in as we walked by, only to jump out proclaiming, "It's icy!"

To each his own, but in my experience, there have been times that the ocean has been far colder in July than it was that day.

Most nights, happy hour was spent on the balcony with a view of the surf while enjoying something bubbly and listening to new music acquisitions. Birdy was a terrific first listen but for this beat-lover, nothing topped Taylor Dane's greatest hits (who remembered she had so many?), which miraculously included a cover of Barry White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love."

But vacation isn't all sybaritic pleasures. All my geeky sides got indulged, too.

My history jones was fed repeatedly. There was a trip to Eldora House, a former 19th century vacation house turned museum on the shores of Mosquito Lagoon, meticulously restored and full of photographic displays of the small community of people who had populated the area, raising oranges and bees until a major freeze ended that idyll.

At the Sugar Mill Ruins, we saw the remains - half intact stone walls and huge metal pots - of an old sugar and saw mill that had been destroyed by the Seminole Indians (after all, it was on their ancestral land).

Arriving at the Mary Harrell Black Heritage Museum, set up in a tiny former black Catholic church complete with charming belfry, we found it closed up tight. To our good fortune, an older gentleman soon arrived and bade us come in. He turned out to be the husband of Mary Harrell who had died in August, and kindly invited us inside to look at the unique collection of photographs and ephemera of the local black community.

One day, it was a trip to the 1835 Ponce Lighthouse, a sturdy red-painted structure with eight outbuildings to house the story of the lighthouse keepers, a collection of lens used in it and other lighthouses as well as assorted other historical buildings, none quite as fascinating as the privvy exhibit.

But I'll be the first to admit that my attraction to lighthouses is getting to climb them and admire the views from above, and this one was an easy climb with the added bonus of open, screened windows on some levels. My only regret was that we were a few days too early for the monthly full moon climb to the top of the lighthouse.

The part of me that loves to traipse got its fix with daily walks on the hard-packed sand, so unlike what I'm used to on the Outer Banks. One gloomy day, we drove a few miles to Canaveral National Seashore where we discovered a pristine, barely-inhabited coastline covered in shells ripe for the picking. I did.

Less than an hour into walking, rain started and we headed back up the beach, leaving it to more intrepid surf fisherman and gulls.

Naturally, my appreciation for a good hangout needed to be addressed, too. Not one but two stops were made at the Sea Vista Tiki Bar, a rustic joint on the ocean, where I slurped back a Mai Tai and wings one day and Patron and a cheeseburger another.

When the rain had killed our Canveral walk, we'd taken refuge at J.B.'s Fish Camp, a sprawling complex that rented stuff like paddle boards and kayaks, but also had lagoon-side open air dining and, for busy times, the Drunken Clam Overflow Tiki Bar.

A walk up to Flagler on a cloudy afternoon resulted in a woman on a bike riding by, calling out, "You are two cute sons of guns!" like she knew us. She didn't.

One afternoon,  a walk up the beach took us to Chase's, right on the ocean, where we indulged in shrimp, both steamed and fried. Then we moved to the enormous bar where the guy next to me looked at me and told me that Donna Douglas had died that day and did I know who that was.

Pu-leeze. One Ellie May Clampett comment later and he was eating out of my hand. Not that I necessarily wanted him to after discovering that he was a displaced Chicagoan with three marriages behind him, who'd moved to New Smyrna Beach to care for his crazy mother...and that he'd been "into" raccoons for 42 years.

A little skeevy, right?

New Year's Eve was a blast, beginning with fireworks over Flagler, a nearby historic district, followed by dinner at the Riverview Hotel, a charming and historic 1885 hotel on the river.

What I hadn't expected was live music, so when we rolled in for our 9:45 reservation, the band was already in full swing alternating vintage R & B with classic rock. Think Temptations followed by Van Morrison. Luckily for us, our table wasn't ready, so we got glasses of Prosecco and planted ourselves by the dance floor to enjoy it all.

A nearby couple were having a ball when he told her she was staggering. "Maybe I am staggering, but I'm the entertainment!" she told him definitively. Before long she came over and told my date he needed to smile more. I flashed her my best and told her I smiled plenty. Gazing drunkenly at me, she grinned back, saying, "Oh, honey, that's lovely. Don't ever stop smiling!"

Shoot, I'll take a compliment from a staggerer.

The best part (besides bacon-wrapped shrimp and lobster tails) was the dance floor demographic, which swung from millennials to geezers, all of them in complete thrall to the music. Come on, who doesn't shake their groove thing to "Brick House"? I know I do.

So that you know, there were two Richmonders dancing until the band called it quits.

Almost as enjoyable was the night we stumbled into the less-than-a-year-old Third Wave, tucked away outside just off the main drag in a grove of tropical greenery and palms, many strung with tiny white lights. Nearby, a fire pit glowed on the brick patio while a pizza kitchen kept sentry over it all from the back.

It was one of those places where everything was magical (except, maybe for the Mulderbosch Rose arriving warm, but our server soon corrected that with a chilled bottle) about the experience.

Brussels sprouts may be ubiquitous these days, but elevated with honey, Pecorino, Calabrian chili and mint, these were anything but typical. Corn on the cob was swoon-worthy under basil aioli, herb crumb and Parmesan. White pizza with soprasetta salami and balsamic cippolini onions demonstrated the kitchen's chops.

Let's put it this way: we went back a few nights later for more South African wine, this time a Chenin Blanc, and another white pizza, savoring both while a guitar/mandolin duo played. Our server from the first night (Brooklyn-bound, he'd already told us) spotted us and came over to welcome us back.

Even my nerdy, reading side was satisfied with two books finished ("Bastard Out of Carolina" and William Styron's "A Tidewater Morning," a Christmas gift from one of my sisters) and one half finished (coincidentally, Styron's "Sophie's Choice" which I am enjoying enormously for the beauty of the prose, not to mention the '40s time period).

Beach week wound up Saturday as we headed north, stopping in St. Augustine for a morning walk on a beach so misty as to be almost ghostly when we began.

The day ended in Savannah, chosen after dealing with challenging traffic on I-95 and desperately needing a change of scenery. Walking into District Cafe, we were greeted by the Spice Girls "Wannabe" on the sound system and a late afternoon deal on two glasses of wine and a meat/cheese plate. Sold!

It was funny, the music hewed to the middle school years of the female serving staff - No Doubt, Deep Blue Something, some boy band - who seemed totally into it until one of the two 30-something guys in the kitchen was overheard asking plaintively, "Who picked this station?"

After a stroll along the fog-shrouded riverfront, dinner was at The Olde Pink House, a gargantuan place with a staff the size of an army, a good thing apparently because our bartender said they'd served 1800 people on Christmas Day and 700 yesterday.

All we knew was that they were willing to accommodate two latecomers who'd only been in town for a couple of hours. Oysters on the half shell were from Apalachicola, not at all salty, but tasty, followed by fried chicken livers with bearnaise sauce over cheddar grit cakes. A wedge salad, delayed because they forgot the bacon (horrors!) was our pretense at offsetting the delectable livers.

But it was when the monstrous bacon cheeseburger we were to share arrived that the couple next to us at the bar wanted to chat. They were on their way south from New Hampshire, having spent the previous night in Baltimore on their way to Ocala.

"Why fly when we can eat our way down the coast?" she asked, giggling after finishing her first Planter's Punch (light on the Grenadine). When I told her we were doing the reverse, just returning from a week in Florida, she said, "That's why you're so tan!"

For the record, I'm not tanned, in fact, I avoid tanning.

As if it was our final day reward, we sailed up 95 today without the usual traffic slow and go, collecting all but nine state license plates (M.I.A.: Idaho, North Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, Colorado, Utah) plus D.C., Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. Childhood road games die hard.

No one was more surprised than me to arrive back in Richmond to 70-degree temperatures, but I'll take it.

The last supper of vacation was five blocks from home at Graffiato's, where no one wore flip-flops and, despite the January warmth, there was no soft, salty air greeting upon walking out. That's okay, too, because vacation adventure memories abound, along with a few incriminating and/or fuzzy pictures.

Let's get this 2015 thing rolling, shall we? Ever the optimist, I can't wait to see what it brings.

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