Traditionally, every professional team sport in America routinely celebrates a season midpoint known as the All-Star game….except for football. And for the most part, these exhibition events typically showcase the finest talent of the league franchises, usually selected by fans and coaches to honor the athletes who have amassed the season’s best stats…except for football.
Instead, the NFL currently slips its All Star game (called the Pro Bowl) between the Conference Finals (which determines the winners of the AFC and NFC) and the Super Bowl. As for talent, after excluding football’s best players heading to Super Bowl LII (Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots), player selection for this year’s Pro Bowl has been determined by fans, players and coaches in equal parts.
Pro Bowl enthusiasm among hand-core fans has flagged in recent years, now that warm and fuzzy football has replaced hard-nose hitting on gameday. The NFL punted the problem to the Players Association, who conceded that members may voluntarily decline to play due to injury concerns. But the league tackled player indifference by raising the stakes and incentivizing competitive play, with $64,000 awarded to every player on the winning side, while losers receive $32,000.
Thankfully, only the Super Bowl remains, before football passes the sports mantle to hockey, basketball, and the Winter Olympics. Fortunately for me, a very laid-back sports fan, uneven internet access and poor TV service from coast to coast prevented me from following the colossal collapse of the New York Giants (3-13), a four-time Super Bowl champion, and a perennial contender.
Nevertheless, with the Pro Bowl temporarily relocating from Hawaii’s Hula Bowl to Orlando’s newly renovated Camping World Stadium…
I decided to treat Leah to a last day of football. However, neither of us was counting on a day of downpours.
Rain was a constant interruption throughout the game–from the moment we arrived for the opening snap…
to the time we returned to the parking lot with minutes to play, and the AFC squad advancing to the goal line for an eventual 24-23 win.
In between, there were a few things to cheer about.
And then there was football, too.
The Pro Bowl was a game of two different halves, with the NFC holding a 20-3 half-time lead, capitalizing on dominant drives over darkening skies.
Meanwhile, preparation for half-time festivities devolved into occasional swordplay on the sidelines,
However, sword order was eventually restored after Dancing with the Stars winner Jordan Fisher emerged…
and took the makeshift stage for ten minutes of coordinated music and mayhem,
eventually finishing with a flourish.
When the game resumed, it seemed as if a different NFC squad had taken the field,
allowing the AFC to roar back under increasingly sloppy conditions.
Naturally, the biggest score of the day occured at the concession stand, when food vendors raided my wallet for $32 in exchange for a cheesesteak, fries, Coors Lite, and a bottle of water.
But despite the puddles and the pouring rain,
we put on our game faces,
and managed to convince ourselves that all of this was time and money well spent.
when the sight of a 17-foot grazing giraffe (Aspen Zoe) craning over a split-rail fence caught our attention,
causing us to catch a second look.
The open field before us provided a perfect pedestal for oversized sculptures.
The allure of a hidden sculpture garden amid the cedars and firs of the Cascades was galvanizing, and had us hooked.
We felt magnetically drawn to the magical monstrosities, and compelled to turn into the gravel driveway for a closer look, sharing the parking lot with The Angel from Hell.
The gatekeeper was generous, allowing us passage,
and we were free to roam through Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Parkfor a small donation.
I turned to Leah, pointing to the bird…
“Check it out. Toucan get in for the price of one!” I mused.
“Your jokes are a bit rusty,” she retorted.
“True,” I countered, “but at least I beaked your interest.
We paused at our first fish-out-of-water encounter to admire the mechanical calculus of mashing a gearhead, cogs and sprockets together with a wheel here, and a drain cover there, and accented with a fan blade for a fin, and a saw blade for a snout, wrapped around an exoskeleton of grating.
“How many horseshoes do you think it took to fabricate the skin?” Leah wondered aloud.
We stepped around for a different perspective.
“Why don’t you ask the artist,” volunteered a robust woman wearing a calico print apron and approaching us from the porch. Indicating afar with her pointer finger, “That’s my husband on the tractor out there, just about finishing up the front yard cut. He’d be happy to meet-cha by the garage, cuz he loves talking about his art.”
Dan Klennert was hungry for conversation, and passionate about his process of collecting junk.
He walked us through the nerve center of his creative cocoon, where all things junk were separated according to subject and size, and stacked in stalls that reached to the rafters.
There are scores of “works in progress” scattered throughout the warehouse that originated on the whim and inspiration of a stray piece of driftwood, or the basin of a wheelbarrow, or the rotary cage of a lawnmower.
Dan is a junk whisperer of sorts. As he sifts through new collections of scrap that he regularly inherits from area farmers and ranchers, he gets a “tingle of inspiration” when he comes across something special.
“This here’s gonna be a whale,” Dan claims, showing us the sweep of the bough with the sweep of his hand. “And this eagle I got started on, I’m still waitin’ on the perfect piece that gonna be his wings.”
“I grew up in a small town called Crookston, MN,” he recalls, “and as a kid, I loved to draw. When I was seven, my family moved to Seattle. That’s when I started pulling my red wagon around the neighborhood, and collecting things from junk piles. I wasn’t much of a student then, but Friday was always my favorite day of the week, because Friday was art day at school.”
Dan became a mechanic by age 22 and learned from a foreman “how to glue two pieces of metal with a welder.”
“I found a way to put together the two things I loved most, scrounging and art,” confides Dan.
Leah and I continued our tour of the property, where the playful…
and the whimsical…
intercepted with the spiritual…
and the carnal…
But it’s safe to say that Dan Klennert has found his Eden on earth. His four-acre niche has given him a place to park the variations of a mechanical mind that melds an anchor to a sprinkler to imagine a snail, as he earnestly nudges the nuance of ex-nihilo–creation out of nothing.
Yesterday marked a historic moment in our personal timeline, given the 10-plus months since Leah and I have actively roamed the continent in search of new adventures and discovery in our Airstream. And yesterday’s achievement–seemingly overshadowing all previous accomplishments to date–will most likely define all others to come for the duration of our travels. While this statement smacks of grandstanding and hyperbole, the relative importance of this achievement cannot be overstated.
First some background and a confession. I never wanted a truck to pull our Airstream. Afterall, when the trailer is off-hitch, the truck would become our daily ride. And driving a truck around town wasn’t my style…er, I mean, I was somewhat intimidated by driving such a behemoth.
I fought the notion that only a truck could safely tow our 7200-pound capsule, and actively researched the specs of all late-model SUV’s that matched the appropriate torque and towing capacity for our trailer: I weighed in on internet forums to glean the best information relative to our Airstream size; I emailed with others who made similar trips, under similar conditions with equipment modifications; and we attended New York’s Auto Show in April 2016 with every intention of narrowing our options.
But browsing through so many choices in one place only muddied the motoring waters, and raised the level of my unawareness. There were so many considerations: fuel economy, gas vs. diesel, storage capacity, safety, reliability, comfort level, audio, GPS, and of course, price.
After test-driving a Grand Cherokee, Audi Q7, Infiniti QX-80, Nissan Armada, GMC Denali, VW Touareg, and Ford Expedition, I was beginning to have serious doubts about my original premise: SUV over truck.
When all was taken into consideration, I manned up, and went with the Ford F-150.
To me, it was the smartest choice of all available choices.
“I’m so excited for you, dear,” Leah pretended. “But you’ll never catch me behind the wheel of that thing. It’s huge. All I can say is, ‘You’re on your own.'”
If a man is measured by the size of his truck, then Leah unwittingly hit the jackpot. However, her driving abstinence left me blue.
Over time, the F-150 ride felt like any other ride. My reticence and apprehension soon melted away in favor of a solid understanding of the technology I relied on to negotiate the truck’s box-like bulkiness through traffic.
Or so I thought…
A close encounter with a concrete sidewall in a cramped Philadelphia parking lot while attempting to steer through a narrow exit ramp left me as crushed and broken as the aluminum door panel.
While the front-end was willing, the back-end was not.
Fortunately, time, insurance, and $6,000 heals almost everything…except one’s memory and ego.
Even today, I believe that Leah delights in recounting my failure in Philly.
But that’s ancient history.
Time has lapsed, and 34,000 miles later–and true to Leah’s word–I can personally attest for every turn of the truck’s odometer. In the course of our travels, we have run into many couples who share the driving, and have discovered many women who drive exclusively for whatever reasons, but Leah seems to be the only one I know who tells me how to drive while never sitting behind the wheel, except to wipe the windshield…
Having been incapacitated by a sinus infection and subsequent flu for the past two weeks, and with laundry by my bedside mounting to levels exceeding the ground elevation of the state of Florida, it was time to visit the washing machines. Normally, in all other instances, for convenience sake, I would schlep the top-heavy wire basket to the truck, and drive to the laundromat, whether down the road, or around the corner.
But yesterday, I was in no condition; I could barely move. While I was languishing in my delirium, I thought I’d heard the F-150 roaring awake. The 5-liter V-8 was growling through its idling phase, and maching on my migraine. I momentarily managed to pull myself from bed, and peered through the broken velcro bonds of the curtains just in time to see the F-150 cautiously backing out, and lunging forward into the lane.
In disbelief, I gathered my senses, and texted Leah, “I’m calling 9-1-1. The truck is gone.”
Twenty minutes later, I was stirred awake by the ping of my phone with Leah’s response, “Yup.”
“Thank goodness,” I noted to myself, before returning to my coma.
Hours later, Leah returned with a basket of folded laundry.
“You took the truck,” I asked/celebrated.
“I did,” she remarked. “No big deal.”
And that’s where I left things–not even a mention about the 300 feet distance from the Airstream to the facilities.
Today, when I awoke, there was little improvement in my health–all my original symptoms were still firing like a well-tuned sick machine (see: Quarantine Capsule). After more than two weeks of feeling lousy, I wondered if this was the new normal.
“We’re low on milk and you definitely need another box of tissues,” exclaimed Leah.
“Looks that way,” I managed.
Incredulous, “I can’t believe you went through a box of tissues in one day! Anyway, I guess I’m going to Publix on my own, since you sure don’t look like you’re up to driving me there,” Leah volunteered.
“So, are you thinking about taking the truck?” I posited.
“I don’t think I’m ready to take the truck out in traffic yet. So, maybe I’ll ride my bike to the store, or just walk,” she confessed.
And that’s what she did.
I suppose my role as the dominant driver is as secure as ever.
For the past couple of days, while the world continued spinning on the outside, our heads and stomachs were spinning on the inside, so Leah and I felt it only right to isolate ourselves inside our thin protective layer of Airstream aluminum. However, yesterday, we broke the seal of our quarantine capsule long enough to scoop up the provisions scattered across the lawn of our RV dock dropped by the Red Cross airlift (just kidding)–only to button up again, and shamelessly drift back to our TV bingeing (not kidding).
In actuality, we momentarily left the recycled air of the Airstream on Wednesday, to venture across the highway to the Urgent Care Center. My cold symptoms and sinus headaches were no better after a week in Mexico, so it was time for medical intervention. And Leah was now reporting symptoms of her own, and blaming me for sharing.
After taking a number and waiting patiently in a room full of sick people wearing yellow face-masks, it was my turn to to be treated…soon.
“Why are you here?” intoned Nurse Ratched, speaking through a yellow face-mask of her own.
“Congestion and sinus headache,” I coughed.
“May I see your ID and insurance card, please,” asked the intake operative.
I offered my Driver License and Medicare Card–my first time using it.
“Just so you know, you’re responsible for the $42 surcharge not covered by Medicare,” she alerted.
Offering another card, “But I have my supplemental insurance from EmblemHealth. This should cover it.”
“I’m sorry but your supplemental insurance is not valid for the balance,” she argued.
“No need for an apology. EmblemHealth is a bonafide payer. Trust me. They’re supposed to cover the Medicare balance,” I insisted.
Nurse Ratched seemed annoyed that she wasn’t collecting any money from me. She pecked some data into her computer monitor, and eventually provided me with a yellow mask and a pile of papers to fill out before being seen.
After an hour, Dr. B confirmed, “You’re got acute sinusitis. I’m treating it with a 6-day steroid pack, and an antibiotic, but only to be taken if symptoms continue after a week.”
“I guess I’m off the hook for your cold, since a sinus infection isn’t contagious,” I declared.
Usually, within the confines of a small park, there are self-appointed watchdogs who keep tabs on the comings and goings of all park residents with a perfunctory wave, but I don’t think anybody missed us, or even noticed when we returned from our brief encounter. We’ve survived here in relative obscurity since pulling into the Timberlane RV Park and Resort of Bradenton a few days ago.
Usually, after setting up camp, we’d walk among the giant coaches and 5th wheels to compare and contrast, wave to our fellow campers in arms, and find common ground: the office, the laundry, the social hall. But not here. And even if we were up to it, the freezing temperatures in central Florida have driven the most ardent RV residents into the hive of their own tiny houses, leaving us with little chance of introducing ourselves–all of us waiting for Florida’s Big Thaw and Saturday’s potluck dinner, scheduled for 4PM.
Thursday and Friday were true days of recovery. Leah lounged under blankets in the front of the Airstream (the bedroom), catching up on Shameless, while I stretched out in the rear of the Airstream (beside the dinette), streaming episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Occasionally, there were moments of silence and relief, but more often than not, the reflexes between us were too strong to hold back, and the Airstream would erupt into uncontrollable and otherworldly jags of coughing, sneezing, hacking, expectorating and farting. I wondered if our noises echoed beyond our asylum, and if the neighbors suspected if something inhumane was going on under their noses, like the tragedy in Perris, CA.
But then the cabin would go quiet, and I figured we were safe from watchdog surveillance. As gross as it sounds, the hardest decision during those two days was figuring whether to swallow or spit.
Now it’s Saturday, and recovery is on the horizon. Residents are already parading to the social hall with specialty, home-made, wrapped dishes in hand, in eager anticipation of creating new best acquaintances for another snowbird season.
I hope they like supermarket chocolate chip cookies.
It’s hard to imagine going away to a resort to relax, and then being sidelined because of a cold. But after a day of Ubers, planes, and transport vans, we finally arrived at Hacienda Tres Rios–north of Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya–for a week of fun,
and all I could muster was a trip to the hotel convenience store for antihistamine pills before I was ready to collapse. It seems that running around the continent for nearly ten months had compromised my resistance, and was now threatening to compromise my vacation.
Saturdays at the resort have always been a busy day of transitioning, as the staff warmly welcomes new arrivals with chocolate-covered strawberries and mimosas, while firmly ushering last week’s guests through the check-out process and out the door.
After checking in, we killed time at the buffet, waiting for our room to be ready. It was an excellent opportunity to people-watch and predict who among us would be the chosen people we see again and again throughout the week. Of course, it’s always the loudest guests who make a lasting impression, and this week would be no exception. Sitting at the farthest end of the room, three overweight, middle-aged woman were easily heard above the dining room din, kibitzing with the waiter, and on their way to getting shit-faced with yet another round of drinks.
Eventually, a bellman escorted us to our accomodations–a top floor room with an ocean view, or so we were told.
Standing on the balcony, I strained my eyes past the clearing where the last building stood, and that’s when I discovered the deception; the hotel had determined that the miniscule ribbon of gray beyond the mangrove canopy qualified as a view of the ocean.
But I was in no shape to argue. All I could think about was getting into bed with a small hope of shaking this nasty hand that was reaching past my scratchy throat and squeezing my sinuses. That’s when our next-door neighbors arrived, and headed straight for the balcony. I immediately recognized the drunken cackling and the pitchy singing. Standing on my side of the dividing wall, I peered around the other side unnoticed to have a peek, and sure enough, each one held a drink in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, confirming my worst nightmare.
“This can’t be happening!” I quickly re-entered the room, and shut the terrace door to keep the cigarette smoke from seeping through the opening. “With 272 other rooms spread out through the resort, this is where they’re staying?” I moaned in resignation.
“Well, not if I have something to say about it,” declared Leah.
She grabbed the phone, and dialed the front desk downstairs.
“Tell them about the smoking,” I coached, “because obnoxious is too subjective.”
Leah asserted, “I’m calling from 1307. We just arrived, and already the cigarette smoke from the people next door is drifting into our room from the balcony, and it’s intolerable. So you need to find us another room.”
“I’m very sorry that you are being inconvenienced, ma’am” the desk clerk regretted, “but we are unable to accomodate you because of the volume of registrations at the moment. However, if you could be patient with us, we should be able to make other arrangements tomorrow after check-out time, when we’ve had a chance to review our room inventory,” the advised.
“What time, tomorrow?” Leah zeroed in.
“If you come to the desk at 9:00 am, we will be happy to help you,” she elaborated.
Meanwhile, a slurred rendition of Shape of You vibrated through the shared door between the rooms.
“Damn! I used to like that song,” I aired, “and now it’s ruined forever.”
The clatter of their high heels on marble floors resonated throughout the night, and imprinted on my sinus headache. As I lay awake in bed with a box of tissues by my side, I wondered how many costume changes they could go through in one evening, and cursed the day Ed Sheeran had become popular.
A new day for a fresh start, Leah and I packed the last of our belongings and shlepped our bags to the front desk. We previewed a room on the top floor of another building and unconditionally accepted the exchange.
Not too shabby–an ocean view with a whirlpool tub on our new balcony, and a chance to reboot our vacation. Ahhhh…
Feeling sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, Leah and I consulted the concierge to schedule enough activities through the week to balance my boredom with my recovery.
After settling into room 4302, we met up with Salvador, our trail guide who escorted us through the Nature Park on mountain bikes.
We wove our way around the mangrove forest through a labyrinth of sandy trails recognizing white, red, black, and buttonwood mangroves–the four distinctive varieties that flourish in this tropical environment. On the way to the many cenotes,
we identified a plethora of termite burls, several songbirds, a vulture and an iguana.
Of the ten cenotes on the property, we visited Cenote Tortuga;
and Cenote Orchideo…
where we were greeted by a small school of Garra Rufa,
eager to perform ichthyotherapy for free.
On Monday, we spent our morning with sales agent, Ricardo (At Your Service, Too), and our afternoon with Manuel, who guided us from Cenote Aguila,
down the Rio Selva…
to the ocean.
On Tuesday, we took a behind-the scenes-tour of the kitchen with Celia, the kitchen supervisor. She invited us into her casa to showcase the operation and preparation of all food within the hotel:
Celia’s staff works hard–six ten-hour days every week–and is committed to ensuring a healthy and tasty experience with fresh ingredients and a variety of international cuisines. She acknowledges us by placing her hand on her heart–a sanitary salute of sorts to thank us for the opportunity to serve.
On Wednesday, we travelled by hotel shuttle to Playa del Carmen,
for a stroll up and down 5th Avenue–a pedestrian marketplace stretching 20 blocks, and lined with fashionable shops,
eateries, tequilarias, t-shirt mills, modern malls, massage stations, tchotchke kiosks, tourist stands, Mom-and-Pop Mexicana, and pharmacias, etc.
By Thursday I was dying. After five days of dosing Sensibit D (an antihistamine decongestant), my body had betrayed me, turning my free-flow nose into a gripping sinus headache.
But that didn’t stop me from touring the Cancun Brewery with Leah and The Ed Sheeran Trio. Hiding behind the green wall of an unassuming building,
a shiny brewery has taken shape in the middle of Tres Rios jungle. According to Brandon, brewmaster from Michigan,
a Sunset Group partner bartered a warehouse, utilities and unlimited clean water in exchange for craft beer supplied to all Sunset Group hotels.
Additionally, production runs of Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, and Pilsner are crafted in short batches of kegs and cans to satisfy Riviera Maya’s thirst from Cancun to Tulum.
To some extent, I felt sorry for Brandon, as he was peppered with ridiculous comments, questions, and suggestions from my ex-neighbors, yet good-naturedly responded to everything that came his way. Then I stopped myself when I realized that here is a guy who otherwise, would still be living in Michigan, but instead comes to work in shorts and flip flops, and gets to drink cerveza for a living.
Adios, Cancun Beer.
Friday was a good day to lay low and do nothing in preparation of an early departure on Saturday.
Lounging by the pool, I reflected on the past week, thinking about the activities I’d missed out on: snorkeling at Yal-ku in Akumal; diving Santa Rosa reef at Cozumel; and exploring the ruins of Coba or Tulum. While all of that would have made for an exciting itinerary, it wouldn’t have made for a relaxing vacation, and maybe that’s what my body was really craving.
Every day discovering something brand new
The sun felt good on my face, as I moved in and out of consciousness–half awake, half-asleep–my body floating through a cenote abloom with fragrant orchids,
In the distance, a hypnotic song was playing–a lilting melody of love that grew louder and louder with every new verse–until I snapped awake. The Three Little Mermaids were at it again, wading in the pool with a drink, and killing me softly with an execution of Shape of You.
No matter. It was time to rise, and the perfect segue to a late-afternoon hot-stone massage we had scheduled as our reward for enduring Ricardo’s two-hour spiel (At Your Service, Too).
By evening, we were totally relaxed and ready to celebrate our mock 13th anniversary over a langoustine dinner and a special treat from the pastry chef.
It was everything I needed to forget about the miserable cold that plagued me through this vacation.
Many have asked, “Why on earth do you call it a vacation, when you’ve been on a vacation for the past ten months?”
To which I answer, “Who cares what it’s called!”
Come on now, follow my lead I may be crazy, don’t mind me…
Leah and I sat in beautifully hand-carved, yet wildly uncomfortable rattan chairs over a Mexican buffet breakfast that could best be described as Meh-ican. Sitting across the table from us was Ricardo, a familiar host and representative of the developer, who was writing upside down with his Mont Blanc pen, while presenting all kinds of facts and figures about the local hospitality game.
“40,000 hotel rooms in Cancun and 40,000 hotel rooms in all of Riviera Maya stretching from Puerto Morales to Tulum,” he regaled, “and here we are, at Tres Rios, right in the middle of this amazing paradise.”
Ricardo was finding his groove. He was flashing pages of a promotional real estate magazine and rattling off stat after stat as he actively drew a map of the Quintana Roo coastline on the backside of a resort brochure. For every detail added, Ricardo would reinforce his point by circling the Riviera Maya caption at the top of his masterpiece, until it resembled a paddleboard floating on a cartoon sea. With bold retraces and multiple underscores from his pen, he emphasized the unprecedented low, low prices that wouldn’t last unless we acted today!
Ricardo’s presentation was polished and professional, needing only one new breath of air every five minutes or so to sing the virtues of founding membership privileges, and the accorded rights and benefits granted to ground-floor go-getters who were willing to take advantage of a great deal when they saw one.
Ricardo has been honing his razor-sharp delivery skills for the past 25 years, having moved from Jalisco in search of an opportunity, and finding sponsorship with the Sunset Group, a controversial band of land speculators and developers from Mexico, who have since built four resorts from Cancun to Playa by selling timeshares to curious vacationers who couldn’t resist the notion that a Mexican vacation would fulfill their sun-starved lives.
Hacienda Tres Rios has become their biggest venture to date. Once an active Nature Park, the preserve fell on hard times after the devastation of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and ultimately closed. In exchange for the right to convert the dormant property into a resort, the Secretariat of the Interior secured a commitment from Sunset Group to restore the mangrove habitat and preserve the original eco-park concept.
Ten cenotes (some fresh water, and some brackish) are scattered throughout the property, with miles of bicycle paths carved into the jungle, providing access to swimming and snorkeling, while a short hike to Cenote Aguila offers a chance to kayak or snorkel down Rio Selva to the sea.
Subsequently, steps have been taken towards self-sufficiency: with completion of a mangrove and orchid nursery, a water desalination plant and inverse osmosis system, solar panel installations for sustainable energy production, and a local farm-to-table concept that cultivates flowers, fruits and vegetables for all resort restaurants. Sunset World has transformed Tres Rios into Mexico’s first green resort years later, and is now the standard-bearer of all future hotel development in the vicinity.
As members of a sister resort in Playa del Carmen, Leah and I were invited ten years ago to inspect the property at Tres Rios and sample the spa hospitality. We returned the same evening to enjoy a Mexican fiesta on the beach, but not before we were spritzed with organic mosquito repellant, which really seemed to keep the bloodsuckers away. It was great fun at the time, and seemed like an experience worthy of repeating.
Subsequently, Ricardo and I negotiated on a one-bedroom suite for a one-week share that for many different reasons has been visited only four times in the past ten years.
Today, the Sunset organization prepares to finance Phase Two at Tres Rios, promoting luxury interval ownership, and beyond (future development of single unit residencies, and a marina with ocean access), so Ricardo sits across from us, giving his all–dazzling us with his artful cartography and adroit calligraphy–with every intention of leveraging our single week of ownership into a one-month obligation, which will help to defray the cost of the elaborate June Quinceañera his daughter has been planning for nearly a year.
But Leah and I never had any intentions of upgrading. Never. We were there for the sole purpose of exchanging our two hours of attendance for an hour of spa treatments. While our massages are presented as a gift for our precious time, realistically, it’s little more than a simple lure that’s part of a much larger marketing strategy.
It was a monumental match of wills: Ricardo’s relentlessness versus our resilience. After an obligatory walk-thru of the newly appointed model apartment (which was roomy, luxurious, and fashionable) we moved through a display and awards room to reach an open conference room populated with small tables surrounded by high-back leather chairs. This was to be the setting for Round 3. While the chairs were more comfortable, the air temperature inside was rather chilly, prompting a request from Leah for a blanket before she bolted.
When Ricardo sensed that things weren’t going his way, he called for an assist from Patrick, his manager, who from gracious introductions revealed himself to be a 40-year old Irishman with a Mexican accent. The sales pitch devolved even farther after he further explained his unusual heritage: his Irish father met his Mexican mother while vacationing. They subsequently married; lived in Dublin until Patrick turned four; and under duress from his mother, his father returned to Mexico, where Patrick was schooled and his parents eventually divorced, although on good terms.
His father currently lives in Ireland, where he crafts granite fountains with Mexican stylings, and has sold one of his designs to Bono for his home on Killiney Hill. The conversation turned to our love of U2’s music, our mutual excitement of seeing them entertain live on stage, and Patrick’s fascination with my look-alike appearance to Bono.
Out of the corner of my eye, I knew that Ricardo was defeated. Unable to participate in our repartee, he sat silently and sulked, perhaps wondering if he could ever recover. I signaled to Patrick that we were passing on the offer, and just like that, the transaction was finished and so was Ricardo’s energy.
In a last ditch attempt to win the sale, he severely undercut his original bid. And like a Hail, Mary pass floating into the endzone, he threw in all kinds of extras with no charge to us, but we stood strong; we would not be swayed.
In the end, we shook hands as friends–Ricardo, the fallen gladiator, vanquished in the sales arena, and me, the victor with my wallet still intact.
The descendents of the Mayans are a happy people. Who wouldn’t be, with 300 days of sunshine per year, average temperatures of 75°F/24°C during winter,
and ocean swimming available all year round in turquoise waters that hover between 79°F/26°C and 84°F/29°C.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before money interests would step in to capitalize on a tropical paradise that was ripe for the picking.
Today, Cancun International Airport connects with 122 airports around the world, bringing over 5 million tourists to the Riviera Maya in 2017, and making Playa del Carmen and Tulum the fastest growing cities in Mexico.
But it all started from humble beginnings. Some say that Jacques Cousteau, the celebrated oceanographer first realized the potential of this area in the early 1960s. After anchoring the Calypso off the nearby island of Cozumel, he shot a documentary film that captured the wealth of sea-life thriving across the Palancar reef, the second largest coral reef biome on the planet, which resulted in an unintended flood of underwater activity from diving enthusiasts around the world, thus becoming the premiere scuba destination in the Western Hemisphere.
My earliest experience in the Yucatan Peninsula dates back to June 16, 1975, when I bounced across cratered jungle roads from Merida to Chichen Itza and Uxmal in a battered VW beetle, in search of Toltec truths once touched upon in college curriculum. This excursion/honeymoon–an elaborate anthropology and archeology tour arranged by a Mexican travel agency that rented cars and booked hotels–came with a fine-print disclaimer that later took on significant ramifications when our Bug broke down on the edge of a coastal clearing that became a colossal construction zone known as Cancun.
At first, the challenge of finding someone/anyone who could speak English was resolved after discovering the bilingual General Manager of the Sheraton Hotel (Cancun’s first and only hotel at the time) sitting in the town’s only restaurant enjoying his tamales. He negotiated a time for us to use one of two known local telephones connected to civilization–one in the restaurant, the other in the pharmacia–so we might call the Meridan agency to report our breakdown.
Several construction contractors were already patiently waiting their turn to call Mexico City for payroll and supplies, all the while drinking shots of tequila and trading gossip while their road crews were laboring 24/7 to carve the future streets of Cancun. The drone of heavy machinery and the scent of hot diesel hung in the humidity amid the occasional peal of electronic church bells tolling away the hours.
Eventually, our Sheraton translator secured a line to Merida, where we further learned that we were responsible for the VW no matter what. The car had to be repaired; it could not be abandoned, and no replacement would be available.
The new challenge was to identify a Mayan mechanic in the middle of nowhere who was VW savvy, and had a surplus of makeshift parts that could be gerryrigged to fix a transmission stuck in reverse. By now, the moon was rising over the mangroves, with little chance of making Akumal by daybreak.
The GM excused himself to network around the restaurant on our behalf, while we finished our simple meal, and to our astonishment located a local Mexican versed in lawn mower repair who offered to examine our 1965 Clasico.
Amazingly, we were on the road by 4:00 am, barreling through the dark night, charging toward our next reservation south of border, trying to make up for lost time, when I reflexively slammed on the brakes in just enough time, with just enough road to spare, and just enough tread to wear, to come bumper to bovine, narrowly avoiding a black cow lounging in the middle of a two-lane highway.
Steering clear of the cow provided an adrenaline rush that would last throughout the day, notwithstanding the bottle of Tequila we drained after finally arriving at the Place of the Turtles by dawn.
Once we checked into our room, we spent the entire day at the beach, watching in awe as leatherback hatchlings emerged from the sand and found their way to the sea.
That’s the moment I feel I fell in love with the Mexican Caribbean, and continue to return to this day.
Leah and I had counted down to the last possible day when we could tour Kennedy Space Center (KSC) while still parked at Melbourne’s Land Yacht Harbor,
an Airstream-only campground (with a sprinkling of some other brands–SOBs), mostly occupied by retirees and their vintage motorhomes,
At first, the weather on the Space Coast was uncooperative–cold and rainy–but we were determined to time our visit in conjunction with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch–the first scheduled launch of the year, where the rocket’s reusable first stage would attempt a controlled landing back at Cape Canaveral Air Force base. Of course, we were departing for Playa del Carmen on Saturday, so we had also run out of time.
With a break in the weather, we would make a day of it at KSC,
and apparently, so would thousands of other visitors. With the rest of the country seemingly paralyzed by meat locker temperatures the first week of 2018, we felt fortunate to feel the sun through brisk winds and crisp air.
After mapping our itinerary for the day at the nearby Visitor Center, we filed past the admission gate…
through a labyrinth of attractions dedicated to Mars exploration…
and a dedication to fallen explorers…
in search of an Astronaut Encounter…
with Heidi Piper…
a mission specialist, credited with flights aboard Atlantis in 2006 and Endeavor in 2008 to expand the systems and living quarters aboard the International Space Station. In addition to following her career from Navy to NASA, her presentation included factoids about the Shuttle and the shittle, detailing the water-recycling and freeze-drying properties of the squateroo.
Following a profound 3D IMAX film on space exploration–as only Captain Picard, aka Sir Patrick Stewart could narrate–we gravitated to the Orbit Cafe…
where freeze-dried ice cream was not an option on the menu (albeit, available at the gift shop).
From there, it was an hour-long queue…
with enlightening graphics along the way,
for the tour bus…
that carried us to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, with drive-by glimpses of the Vehicle Assembly Building,
and a launch pad along the way.
After experiencing a multimedia simulation of the Apollo 8 lift-off,
we were giddy with excitement to witness the technology that captured Kennedy’s imagination and took us to the moon. But nothing prepared us for the enormity of the Saturn V rocket stretching across a football stadium-sized hanger.
Measuring 111m/363 ft long,
we slowly strolled the length of the boosters, making our way through the different stages suspended above our heads…
before approaching the grounded command module,
which dwarfed the Apollo 13 L.E.M. hovering above us.
Behind a bordering wall, the Apollo 14 capsule rested on a protected pedestal in a dimly lit room which seemed to heighten the drama.
We transitioned to a multi-sensory surround presentation of a space shuttle launch, culminating in a dazzling, thunderous lift-off that shook our core. When the exhaust plume cleared, the projection scrim rose for the big reveal…
giving all of us a true appreciation for the engineering wizardry that could shoot a glider strapped to a rocket into space,
and have it safely return to earth…flying a total of 33 missions and over 126,000,000 miles before retiring!
And how apropos, that the mission transport vehicle selected by NASA should feature an Airstream to introduce our astronauts into space?
Unfortunately, the SpaceX mission that we so wanted to witness was put off until Sunday, when a worthier weather window made the wonder more winsome.
This is how the launch looked to us from Mexico, where we streamed it in awe.
Sometimes things don’t always go as planned. And sometimes there are insufficient numbers of military acronyms to express the frustration that Leah and I felt as we searched in vain for Airstream storage in anticipation of a spontaneous week away to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
With the weather in central Florida turning colder by the day–not to mention the deep freeze that had tied up all the Northeastern states in an icy straight jacket–the thought of lounging on the Mayan Riviera, and sipping a Corona, while paying homage to Kinich Ahau left usas starry-eyed as Donald Trump during a total solar eclipse.
All that we required was a place to drop the Airstream, although more easily said than done. Leah and I initially made a round of investigatory calls after strategically determining that the best place to leave our Airstream would be somewhere within the Palm Beach vicinity, since we were flying out of Ft. Lauderdale and relocating to Bradenton. From there, it would take under four hours to cross Alligator Alley to our last long-term residence before making our move North beyond the winter thaw.
“Sorry, but we’ve got nothing here!” or “Unfortunately, we’re completely full!” were recurring answers from facility reps who bothered to answer the phone or conveyed the common courtesy of returning our voice mail.
“So now what?” Leah lamented.
This was an unexpected SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up).
“A small setback. I guess we should work our way South, and consider calling storage centers in Lake Worth,” I proposed.
After a time, Leah landed a reservation with Public Storage, the largest brand of self-storage services in the U.S., with more than 2200 storage rental facilities nationwide, and net sales of $2.5B. Like all short-term rentals, we would be charged a monthly rate despite needing only 10 days of parking for our Airstream.
Oh, well. At least we’ve secured a space!
Finally, a move-in reminder arrived to Leah’s e-mailbox:
Read our blog for ideas, inspiration, and organization from storage experts.
Looking forward to meeting you here, Your Public Storage Team
We picked up I-95 South from Melbourne, Florida, and drove 120 miles to Lake Worth on the morning of January 5, until we arrived at Public Storage two hours later. Typically, like all other arrangements we’d made thus far, Leah entered the office to complete the transaction, while I waited in the F-150 with the trailer coupled behind me. Ten minutes later, I answered a call from Leah through the console.
“What’s up? I asked.
“You’re not going to believe this,” she began, “but we don’t have a storage space!”
“WHAT? Are you fucking kidding me?” I answered, incredulous of our situation.
“I know,” she blurted. I could hear the venom in her voice. “Just a minute, I’m not finished with them!” she fumed.
We were no longer engaged in conversation. Instead, with the call still open, I was now listening to Leah’s explosive exchange on the other side with the center’s manager.
“This is bullshit! You’re telling me after my husband drove two hours to get us here, that even though you issued me a confirmation for a parking space, you’re not gonna honor my reservation?”
Asorny, the regional supervisor, responded, “Technically, the reservation didn’t come from me; it came through the reservation center. But with our new system, the reservation center has no way of knowing the individual site’s inventory levels. That’s why we encourage our customers to always inspect the site first.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Leah levied. “How on earth can you promise something you don’t have? Well, you better find us something elsewhere, ’cause I’m not leaving until you do!” Leah asserted.
Now speaking to me, “I’ll call you back.” And the phone went dead.
For the moment, we were holding steady at SUSFU (Situation Unchanged: Still Fucked Up)
Another ten minutes passed, and Leah, dejected, climbed into the truck.
“Not good,” she announced. “They called around, and there was nothing.”
“What did they say?” I was curious, although it really didn’t matter anymore.
“They said, ‘Sorry ma’am, but you’re on your own.'” lamented Leah.
At that moment, we crossed over to TARFUN (Things Are Really Fucked Up Now). I seemed as if I was flying a silver albatross that had lost its landing gear, and it was getting late in the day.
Suddenly, a tap on the passenger window by a tiny, middle-aged Hispanic woman took us by surprise. Somehow she inferred that we were desperately in need of storage. She reiterated in broken English about another nearby facility on Congress St. that would have space for us, but she couldn’t recall the name.
Without the name of the place, we couldn’t call ahead; we would have to see for ourselves. Given our situation, it was too good a lead to ignore, so we followed her directions, and easily located Easy Storage a mile away…
But they were full, which now placed us in the TARFU (Totally and Royally Fucked Up) zone.
After another round of phone calls, we chased down two additional dead-ends which carried us to the far reaches of town, somewhere between Disheartened Drive and Discouraged Court.
Yet we soldiered on. A cold call to Storage Rentals of America at 7000 Military Trail in Riviera Beach seemed promising. Jim, the manager confirmed that a 10 x 30 foot parking space was presently available for a reasonable fee.
And so, back again, up I-95 North we trudged, only to discover that the available space beside the building would never permit the severe turning radius required to back up the Airstream. Jim knew it the moment he saw us drive past the office, but felt he had to break the news to us personally, despite my struggle to find a 50-foot parking spot on a nearby road away from traffic with limited turn-around access.
Not knowing what else to do at the moment, I assumed the BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again) position.
Resuming our way back to nowhere in particular, we passed Life Storage, and called them on a lark. We were transferred to RJ at Delray Beach, who guaranteed us a 10 x 30 foot space near the security gate for $141.00. It was worth a shot. Like a pinball in search of an elusive target, we bounced back to I-95 South for a date with RJ, who’d be expecting us with open arms.
We eventually arrived at the location at 4 pm, only to discover the office locked with a hastily written note taped to the door, declaring: “Back at 5”.
Leah was on the edge of tears. “I’m about to lose it,” she confessed. “We were just on the phone with this guy. He was expecting us.”
“And who goes out to lunch at 4, anyway?” I chimed in.
Cautiously steering around the unsecured cramped lot without noticing without any discernible space for the Airstream left me limp. I knew at that moment that we were approaching FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition) status.
A last ditch call to the Life Storage reservation center revealed that we had inadvertently mapped the tertiary location, when the full-range storage center was a mere half-mile away. I took a deep breath, and u-turned across six lanes of rush hour traffic to finally arrive at the bonafide destination.
RJ was waiting for us, and escorted us to the space. To his credit, the space was open and available, but tight, requiring the skill set of a neurosurgeon to negotiate the pass. However, before I panicked and pushed the FUBUSH (Fucked Up Beyond Unbelievable: Situation Hellzone) button, I would give it my best effort, because this was our last chance to ditch the hitch.
I’m happy to report that the angel who whispered directions in my ear delivered me to the promised land–helping me to navigate the back end of the Airstream between the Isuzu on the right…
and the Avenger on the left–
despite limited swing clearance from the front of the F-150.
When all the paperwork was finally completed, and the Airstream was left behind, Leah boarded the F-150, and we were on our way to visit a nearby friend in Delray Beach, who would listen to our recounted quest before awakening to an early morning departure the following day.
It was then that Leah shared the news:
“RJ wanted you to know,” she emphasized, “that what you did back there was some of the finest parking he had ever seen.”
That’s the moment I realized that we would never be selling this Airstream!
On our recent travels through Southeast Florida, I had occasion to visit with my brother Ron, whose wife, Natalie had given birth to their son, Benyamin Emmanuel Uriel nearly nine months earlier. Having been on the road for just as long, our paths had yet to cross, until now.
The name was a mouthful.
“The kid will definitely need to grow up being a speller,” I thought, although according to Ron, he’s already achieved Einstein status. Apparently, Emmanuel is meant to honor the memory of our mother’s father, while Uriel honors the memory of Natalie’s father.
“So what am I supposed to call him?” I needed to know.
Ron responded,” Natalie doesn’t like the nicknames: Ben, Benny, or Benjy. So I think we’re just going to have to call him Manny!”
As a new uncle, I eagerly anticipated my meeting with Manny, wondering how he would acclimate to new faces. But first, I had to spoil him with a new toy to also celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah.
A quick trip to Walmart proved worthy of the challenge. We discovered a learning toy with literally all the bells and whistles.
The playset mounted onto a rolling cart with a two-tiered volume control–loud and louder.
The moment I picked it up, the toy activated with a rendition of Old McDonald Had a Farm, causing me to sing along on the way to the cashier.
“Natalie’s gonna hate you for this,” announced Leah.
“She needn’t worry. This is a toy for toddlers,” I jested.
We arrived at Ron and Natalie’s house in Aventura, Florida just as Ron was arriving home from work. As I grabbed the toy from the back seat of the truck, I inadvertently initiated Mary Had a Little Lamb without any way of shutting it off.We walked through the garage to the house, arousing three barking dogs and a quiet bunny.
“I told you that toy was a bad idea,” scoffed Leah.
“Maybe you should leave the toy in the garage for now,” advised Ron, “because I think Manny might be sleeping upstairs, and Natalie wouldn’t approve if he woke up before his naptime was over.”
We waited downstairs in silence for nearly thirty minutes, while listening to muffled, upstairs conversation between Natalie and Svetlana, her sister visiting from Atlanta. Eventually, Ron emerged down the staircase with Manny clinging to his neck, followed by Natalie and her family.
“Can I hold him?” I asked with outstretched arms.
Instantly, Manny leaned towards me, accepting my cue, and I was hooked. I presented his present, now crooning about the Farmer in the Dell, and soon nothing else mattered to him. The phone receiver that hung from the playset became the perfect drum tool to bash the toy into oblivion, with banging so loud, we could no longer hear the singing.
The toy was a “hit”.
“Don’t worry. He’ll figure the rest of it out in no time,” I predicted, “and it’s supposed to stimulate his intellectual growth.”
“I think he likes noisy toys,” Ron interjected.
I looked at Leah and smiled. My official act as an uncle had been confirmed.
Here’s to you Manny…and many years of joy and songs to follow.