Tourist Attractions

When showing family the sights of St. Augustine the first time around,

there are so many tried and true options that abound.

Naturally, driving onto Vilano Beach becomes the main outdoor attraction,

where short legs wade long lengths across silky, sandy satisfaction.

wading out

The Alligator Farm is another familiar and likely choice,

where eager grandchildren are apt to rejoice…

Alligator lagoon.jpg

at a place where rescued reptiles and denizens…

Maximo (2).jpg

Galapagos tortoise1.jpg

albino alligator.jpg

savor a seasonal delicacy,

so good!

yum!.jpg

and feathered friends…

heron

are likely to take up full-time residency.

pretty bird

stork

The Castillo de San Marcos gunnery platoon…

soldier and kids.jpg

castillo model

provides a cannon blast from the past very close to high noon.

cannon blast

And Anastasia Beach State Park’s estuarine channel

egret on the shore1.jpg

offers a vigorous workout with a kayak paddle.

Carrie, Devin, Dan and bird

The Aikens, Grammy, and Kayak

Or how ’bout a free ferry crossing Matanzas Bay…

ferry crossing.jpg

to inspect Fort Matanzas,

inside out

and its cannon array.

Fort Matanzas gun station.jpg

Then again, not withstanding the two-hour drive to Kennedy Space Center,

Kennedy wall.jpg

there’s a universe of exhibits to explore,

a walk on the moon

ISS.jpg

and The World’s Largest Space Shop to enter.

spaceman and kids

But when summer’s heat and humidity just…won’t…allow…another…step,

and when it’s subsequently rainy–as most afternoons are likely to get–

the chosen activity must absolutely meet

the standards of two curious kids, and satisfy their sweet teeth.

hairnet family

Happily, such a happening exists for the young and the grown,

and can be found at the artisan chocolatier, Whetstone.

Whetstone greeting.jpg

The tour informs you of its elaborate process and technique…

chocolate process

But realistically, we came for the chocolate samples we could eat.

Yet unlike the follies of Lucy and Ethel…

our guide served five tastings,

and each one was special.

 

For seven days our family wandered throughout St. Augustine town,

with plenty leftover to experience for the next time around.

A Touch of Blue

After dry camping (no utilities or hook-ups) for three days at Mathews Arm campground inside Shenandoah National Park,

Hawksbill summit

the threat of rain, the need for groceries, and the desire to charge our tablets and phones drove us off the mountaintops to Luray, the valley town nearest the Thornton Gap park entrance, and renowned for its fancy formations. But having previously explored so many other holes in the ground over the past year, including Luray Cavern at an earlier time, the lure of Luray—after shopping at Walmart—now lay in the living shrine to The Dukes of Hazzard, as memorialized by Cooter’s on US-211 West.

Steer 01

Cooter's ext.jpg

For those unfamiliar, The Dukes of Hazard was a TV show from the early 80’s…

D of H cast pic

that followed a rash of 1960’s programming that satirized rural Southern living, and fish-out-of-water sensibilities beginning with the Andy Griffith ShowThe Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and Andy Griffth spin-off, Gomer Pyle USMC.

The Dukes of Hazard series popularized chase scenes with a Dodge Charger named General Lee that could catch air and outrun every Cherry Top….

Cooter's

and daisy dukes (short shorts worn by Daisy Duke).

Daisy Dukes (2)

With equal parts giftshop…

Confederate gifts

museum…

picture shrine

Cooter's Cruiser

fire truck

Boss Hogg Cadillac

fast-food fare, and live music venue…

Jamboree

Cooter’s has become the perfect one-stop Good Ol’ Boy stop-over. As Cooter is so fond of saying, “With free parking, free museum admission, and free music, if you’re not completely satisfied, we’ll give you your money back!”

Immediately, upon entering, I felt out of place—like I was intruding—even though I’m a big fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band. Perhaps a combination of morbid obesity, and full-color body tattoos may have automatically disqualified me from fitting in. But like a train wreck that’s almost impossible to ignore, I could not be dissuaded from gawking at the regulars,

staff

who come to Cooter’s to: consume heart attack chili, “so good it’ll kill ya!”; show the young’uns all the neat merchandise that Pops grew up with;

D of H merch

take foolish pictures with cut-out faces of the Hazzard cast;

Leah as Daisy Dukes

or take a $10 ride…

Munzter High.jpg

on a monster truck;

climb aboard

 

and enjoy country music with a decided “red (political) and white (racial)” edge.

Cooter's Garage Band

Richie, the bassist got the party started with some tunes by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, but the mood got serious with a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the U.S.A. One-by-one, the crowd stood in obeisance as they sang from hearts solemnly covered by hands. Some of the crowd actually got weepy.

Richie acknowledged their emotional valor with some patriotic pearls, “We sure do love this country—finest country on Earth. But I don’t need to remind y’all ‘bout that, ‘cause this ain’t rocket surgery.”

Richie segued, “Now this here’s the part of the show where I like to ask our visitors where they’re travellin’ from. How many of you folks are from out of town?”

Scanning the room for volunteers brought a few announcements, “Pennsylvania…Maryland…North Carolina…” all met with applause.

Leah whispered, “Are we from New Jersey or Florida?”

“Well, besides the Airstream, there’s only one state I know where we own property,” I advised.

“We’re from Florida!” Leah called out. More applause.

Richie declared, “Then I declare, without even botherin’ to load all that data into GPS, that you people from Florida are the farthest guests from here today, and that makes you the winner!”

As if on auto-pilot from the other side of the stage, George on guitar intones, “Tell her what she’s won, Richie.”

“You bet, George,” affirms Richie. “She gets to pick our next song.”

[To Leah] “Any song, sweetheart!”

Leah panicked, “Quick, Neal. Give me a song!”

I felt like I needed to stand up for the Blue Team. “How ‘bout Blue Velvet,” I offered.

Richie, incredulously, “You mean that number by Bobby Vinton?” [singing] “She wore Blue Velvet, dah da dah, da dah.”

I felt like a contestant on Stump the Band.

Richie confessing, “I think that’s all we got for that one. Why don’t-cha pick somethin’ else?”

Pausing a moment, I suggested Blue Suede Shoes.

“Now, that song’s gonna be a part of our second set,” Richie previewed, “so gimme your favorite country group instead, and we’ll play a song from their songbook.”

“That’s easy. Play something from the Dixie Chicks,” I requested.

Richie didn’t expect the ambush.

Unfortunately for the Texas-bred Dixie Chicks, they were vilified by their fanbase when they spoke out against the Bush/Cheney Iraqi invasion, with some goons going so far as dispatching hate mail and death threats.

The still unforgiving crowd at Cooter’s became uncomfortably silent. People turned in their seats to stare, wondering, “Who is this interloper who dares to break the 11th Commandment at Cooter’s? Thou shalt banish the Dixie Chicks from all of country music’s memory.

Rita, the vocalist fronting the Cooter Garage Band put things in perspective. “It’s been ‘bout ten years since we did this, and I never thought we’d be performing it again, but we’re gonna play it for Florida, so please don’t hold it against us.”

The band launched into a stirring rendition of Some Days You Gotta Dance that even had the most ardent cynics tapping their toes and bobbing their torsos.

Not one to overstay our welcome, we left shortly afterwards in search of BBQ.

BBQ.jpg

Score one for the Blue Team.

Anatomy of an Email

I’ve been getting lots of political email lately. In large part, it’s been requests for donations coming from Trump’s 2020 Campaign for President, with rally words added to hype an emotional response, and misinformation intended to misguide the nation. It amuses me and terrorizes me at the same time.

It all started when my curiosity compelled me to participate in a Republican National Committee (RNC) survey at Donald Trump’s email behest:

https://action.donaldjtrump.com/listening-to-america/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=ET_16&utm_campaign=20180417_2585_listen-survey-welseries-2_donaldjtrump_jfc&utm_content=gop_surveys_button_take_bottom_other_all

I was game. I swallowed the bait and jumped down the RNC rabbit hole for a deeper look at the Mad Hatter’s tactics. Confronted by leading questions, I answered in a way that left no doubt about my disapproval of Trump’s policies, his absence of ethics, and his lack of leadership.
For instance, when asked at the end of the survey, “What else do you think the President needs to know about the real America? We’re listening.” I responded in chapter and verse about his controversial WALL:
Humpty Trumpty

Humpty Trumpty wanted a wall
And Mexican pesos to pay for it all
But all the Trump bankers
And all the deplorables
Couldn’t find ways to make it affordable.


I presumed that my straightforward responses would immediately disqualify me from any future Trumpian communication, but I was wrong. I received an immediate response:
Wow! I couldn’t believe I had just earned the right to take $6 off the purchase price of a MAGA cap as a reward for my participation and apparent support! Is this a great country, or what?
However, controversy continues to surround the manufacturer’s claim that the president’s swag is 100% proudly made in America. According to factory employees (who stitch the hat in Los Angeles) and an independent laboratory conducting microscopic fabric analysis, the hat components have been sourced and imported from overseas.
I decided to pass on the hat for two reasons: First of all, I disapprove of the messaging, feeling that America, despite its flaws, has always been great, and doesn’t need to be reinvented by a game show host who panders to white supremacists; and secondly, the hat doesn’t come in blue–only hot pink, yellow, camouflage, and red.
Again, I thought this was the end of things, until I received another blast from Donald J. Trump, forewarning me about my negligent membership status:

membership renewal

Imagine! The President of the United States, a self-professed billionaire–whose estimated wealth is dubious because of withheld tax returns–now counting on me…for a single dollar contribution to his campaign, and pressing me with a renewal deadline!

What a dilemma! Of course, I still wanted to track the Trump Big Top. But what if I didn’t come up with the money in time? Would I no longer be welcome inside the circus tent? I decided to wait.

The next day Eric came calling under the guise of FAKE NEWS:

Eric's email

Eric makes quite an argument for my dollar–defending Daddy from a CRUSH of criticism, and a chance to be on the right side of America. This was good stuff.

And then this arrived the day before the FEC deadline:

Are you still with me

…with another declaration of war against the media.

No doubt, being President of the United States is a demanding job that requires intense concentration and extensive hours studying the problems of the country and the world, followed by intense debate and policy development to secure America’s safety and enable continuing prosperity.

Yet, as of April 28, Trump has managed to spend 111 days of his presidency (or 22% of his time in office) at one of his organization’s golf resorts swinging a club, and costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in the process. In fact, there’s a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/trumpgolfcount) that’s devoted to Trump’s rising count. And this coming from a man who chided Obama, who spent a “tiny, tiny little fraction” of his time on the links compared to Trump.

We’ve also learned–from Trump’s own admission–that Trump’s day officially begins at 11am, after Executive Time, which essentially translates to TV and Twitter time.

So given Trump’s extreme schedule, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How on earth did Trump have the time to notice that “[my] name is no longer on [his] list of official Sustaining members?”

I passed on paying the dollar, rationalizing that there was no reason to contribute to Donald’s green fees.

March passed into April, and with a new month, it was time again to feed the political war chest, this time in the interest of national security–by parlaying an immigration crisis into a $25B resolution: building THE WALL.

Build the Wall

Considering I had raised my objection to building THE WALL the month before, receiving my financial support was unlikely. In fact, I returned the survey with a comment, petitioning the president to consider an idea more fiscally responsible and in keeping with his laissez-faire principles: privatization. I proposed that he reach out to the Walton family, a fine upstanding bastion of Republican sensibility, and convince them to build THE WAL-MART, a very long and skinny store along our southern border. By day, the Mexicans could buy American, and by night our border would be protected by Wal-Mart security teams. Imagine the savings!

Trump never responded to my idea. Instead I got this:

Real News Now

…an appeal to subscribe to Real News Updates, a weekly webcast hosted by Donald’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, wife of Eric Trump. Interestingly, no one was asking for money, just a commitment of my time to shower me with the real truth on Trump TV. However, after watching ten minutes of noise disguised as news, I found I didn’t have a nose for nonsense, as it reeked of propaganda.

Shortly after, I received another exchange from Donald recruiting me for another purpose: defeating LIBERAL OBSTRUCTION…

liberal-obstruction.jpg

Here was Trump blaming the Democrats for his inability to get America’s work done. By the numbers, there are 1,212 presidential appointments requiring U.S. Senate confirmation, and 353 presidential appointments which do not require confirmation. As of April 27, 2018, 315 of Trump’s nominees have been confirmed for 640 key positions, and 129 are awaiting confirmation.

On what he called Trump’s “glacial pace in selecting nominees,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer posited, “If the President is looking for someone to blame on the slow pace of confirmations, he needs only to look in the mirror,” and suggests that the President should “roll up his sleeves and get to work rather than pointing false fingers of blame.”

Equally as astounding, was Trump’s White House personnel turmoil as diagrammed by The New York Times:

Trump tumult (2)

Even today, in the wake of Trump’s impending historic summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, there is no nominee in place to head the South Korean embassy, and that’s on Trump.

After a week’s time, I received multiple invitations to renew my 2018 Sustaining Membership and I ignored them all, but then an email arrived from Mike Pence that was impossible to overlook. He was offering me a chance to win dinner and a picture with him in North Carolina.

dinner-with-pence-e1525464357395.jpg

I checked my calendar to make sure I was available. I dreamed of the possibility of gnawing on BBQ ribs with Mike while listening to his sanctimonious defense of zygote life, his hypocritical defense of Trump as an adulterer, and his evangelical discourse of hysterical homophobia, as if he had been touched by St. Paul. I entered the contest…without a contribution…by discovering extremely fine print on the submission page that hyperlinked me to a free entry form, thereby sidestepping the requisite donation.

While I applauded my cleverness, no one called to tell me I’d won. I think I had Chinese take-out that Friday evening, and watched Real Time with Bill Maher instead.

A couple of days later, Donald reminded me that Melania’s birthday was approaching:

Melania

I have to admit, I was taken by surprise that Donald would turn up the spotlight on Melania when the world was wondering out loud about his sordid affairs with porn star Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels), and Karen McDougal, Playboy’s 1998 Playmate of the Year, only months after the birth of Melania’s son Barron.

It’s now undeniable that Michael Cohen, Trump’s consigliere paid $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels twelve days before the presidential election. Campaign election law violation? We’ll see.

I was happy to sign Melania’s card, hoping that it might represent even the smallest distraction from her otherwise burdensome existence, and perhaps put a smile on her forlorn-locked face.

Oh, how she shrinks from Donald’s touch as he ceremoniously attempts to lock hands during so many pomp and circumstance moments when cameras are rolling, and oh, how she spurns his pussy-grabbing fingers, sending a silent #MeToo message to her coterie:

 

And then instantly, the news cycle abruptly turned to former FBI giraffe, James Comey’s imminent release of A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. Naturally, Trump launched a preemptive strike that landed in my inbox :

Comey's book

…even going so far as to transmit a less than scientific survey to his ardent supporters one day later:

James Comey poll

Comey made the rounds of many a talk show, eager to tell his story, clear his name, restore honor to his bleeding Bureau, and peddle some books. But unlike Trump’s failed attempt to blunt free speech by trying to prevent publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, all he could muster this time around was a weak attempt to disparage, discredit and dismiss Comey as a liar and a leak.

Yet, for Trump to accuse James Comey as lying is no different from a cesspool telling a septic tank that it’s full of shit!

With Trump’s ascension to the White House,

Home of the Whopper

perhaps, the President’s residence should temporarily be renamed, Home of the Whopper.

Jimmy Kimmel put it best in his classic “mockumentary”, Trump’s 2,000 Lies:

 

Finally, Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and TrumPuppet released a final partisan report that the President had been expecting, and considered long overdue:

House Intelligence

Of course, Donald had a shiny new object to distract his core, but the real crime was the damage done to a one-time prestigious watchdog panel once charged with rooting out intel abuses, but now acting as the President’s personal pit bull. By shutting down the investigation and claiming no evidence of collusion by refusing to interview anybody who might have had evidence of collusion was like pulling the ripcord while still inside the plane.

Over the past two months, I’ve received dozens of email communications from Trump and team–all designed to collect a dollar and a steal a soul–while observing a Republican Congress willing to embrace Trump at any cost. And although I was never interested in contributing a dollar, I was more than willing to offer my two cents.

That’s when I received this email:

0 = 0

I clicked on CONTRIBUTE OTHER AMOUNT, and was whisked to the secure Authorized Website of Trump Headquarters:

triple matched

By selecting Other, my blinking cursor filled the empty box in anticipation of a big round number. I entered $0.02 and pressed CONTINUE.

enter an amount (2)

Rejected! The campaign wouldn’t accept anything less than two bits. So here it is, Mr. President…two bits of advice: Stop lying to the American people, and resign before the real truth comes out!

Front End Smiles

The automotive industry has a lot to grin about, and they put it on display for all to see at the 118th edition of the New York International Auto Show, showcasing over 1000 cars and trucks from around the world at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City.

Javits Center

Conventional wisdom affirms that mid-week crowds are typically thinner than weekend crowds, but judging from the sea of people milling through manufacturers’ exhibits, the blustery New York weather seems to have driven most tourists indoors to gawk at gleaming metal and polished plastic.

Online ticketing expedited entry access, however, there was a brief hold-up at our security clearance gate when a customer refused to surrender his pen knife to a yellow-shirted official.

“But it’s just a penknife,” he asserted. “Do you really think I’m a mass murderer carrying a blade that’s smaller than your pinkie?”

Like his knife, he had a point! But the security supervisor poured acid rain on his parade and confiscated it anyway, overruling his protests.

Eventually, we safely entered the cavernous space…

welcome

only to overdose on a melange of oversized banners and advertorials covering all makes and models, with curtains of graphics and gargantuan walls of hypnotic lights coalescing into dizzying displays of one-upmanship.

Once we got our bearings, we targeted the pedestrian brands, for as much as this was an opportunity to regale in the glory of all the shapely models present (as well as the cars they were pitching), Leah and I were on the hunt for a new car. It was time to say goodbye to our Honda Civic Hybrid–who was showing her ten-year tenure after 130,000 miles–and “kick the tires” at a one-stop shopping venue like the car show with the notion that we might meet her worthy successor.

While navigating through the different brands, it became very clear that the array of chiseled lines and sculpted edges of each steel-coated body acts as a magnetic lure to onlookers, in the hopes that physical attraction follows the initial subliminal or emotional response.

Hence, each brand had its own legion of followers. Many were merely window-shopping. However, there were hundreds with more serious inclinations, who were infected with a seat-adjusting, knob-twisting, radio-tuning, steering wheel-gripping, and backseat legroom-testing fever that left long queues by the sides of the cars and trucks, as make-believe owners feature-fucked their way through the vehicle.

Of course, there was also a corps of car counselors available to cover all questions asked of them: “What’s the fuel economy? What’s the warranty? What’s the availability? What’s the cost? What’s the show discount?”

Virtual and augmented reality’s fingerprint was all over the show. Ford offered high-tech headgear tethered to microprocessing for a flight over an imaginary landscape of tomorrow’s transportation network. Dodge staged a roadster drag race challenge through a simulation windshield, complete with whiplash acceleration vibes synchronized and transmitted through the seat and steering wheel. Chevrolet incorporated dynamic movement and 360° engagement by throwing VR drivers up and down and around a test track with the wind in their faces. And Nissan employed a smartphone app and cardboard origami to build a viewer that thrusts the user through the internal combustion of their VC-turbo engine.

glasses.jpg

In keeping with the technology theme, auto companies were eager to email brochures, but almost always had oodles of glossy brochures for the taking, which made sponsor-driven shopping bags a hot commodity. Hyundai and Toyota were the giveaway gurus, providing popular blue and red totes for the asking…until there were none.

Such was our luck after accruing an armful of stuff that could no longer fit our coat pockets. After visiting a number of surrounding company information counters, Toyota reassured us of a mid-afternoon delivery. Fortunately, our good timing was rewarded with a couple of red handbags before they quickly disappeared. Yet we couldn’t help but covet State Farm’s flattering, complementary shoulder bags worn by many hands-free car insurance enthusiasts.

As we moved through two levels of automotive mania, and contemplated the contours of carchitecture, it was reassuring to watch the happiness on people’s faces–their smile an irrational testament to the prospect of owning a new dream car–as they engage the navigation software to plot a course to the poorhouse.

Likewise, it seemed that the cars were grinning, laughing, howling and roaring back at them too. Gotcha!…

…with miles and miles of beguiling smiles!

April Fools PSA

While culling through the many comments attributed to my Epilogue post–recently featured on the WordPress Discover site–I came across one comment in particular that so startled me, I had to read it twice:

Screenshot (9)

I couldn’t believe my good fortune! Somebody felt so strongly about my post that they were willing to make me rich!

Yet on the surface, it all sounded too good to be true. I had to find out more information about this amazing opportunity before it slipped away. But how?

I thought about calling him, but not wanting to embarrass myself by appearing too anxious and maybe saying the wrong thing, I decided it was safer to dash off the following email to Harrison Wells instead:

Hi,

I got a communication from Harold Wood, who told me a story about a blank ATM card that could withdraw huge sums of money. Is this for real? Cause if so, it certainly sounds interesting.
What more can you tell me about it?
I have a bunch of questions, so the sooner you can get me answers, the sooner I can get my hands on this card!
1) First of all, it sounds a bit fishy, so is it legal?
2) Do I have to worry about where I use the card?
3) Do I have to worry about how often I use the card?
4) How much money can this card generate?
5) How long is this card good for?
6} How much is this card gonna cost me?
7) I got bills to pay, so how long will it take to get me a card?
8} What do you need from me to get started?
Thanks for all your help!
Regards,
Neal D
While, I waited patiently for a response from Harrison, I thought aloud, “How cool is it that he should have the same name as the founder of S.T.A.R. Labs from The Flash TV series.” I hoped he was as fast as The Flash when it came to writing me back.

Fortunately, Harrison didn’t leave me waiting very long, but his response was disappointing:

Date: 3/30/18 5:29 AM (GMT-05:00)
To: Neal <Neal_D@msn.com>
Subject: RE: ATM Card
Just got your mail I have answers to all your questions lets get started
Name
Location
Date of birth
Cell phone numberSent from my Windows Phone

It seemed Harrison was intentionally ignoring the answers to all my questions. He had eliminated the foreplay (the best part), and was going straight for my wallet. I felt let down–even betrayed. What kind of con was this anyway?

It was time to take greater control of the narrative…
Hi Harrison,
What’s up?
Before we get too personal, I think you forgot about that part in your previous email where you answer my questions first.
I am looking forward to your responses so we can get this party started.
Thanks for writing back.
Neal
Immediately after I dispatched the email, I began having second thoughts about my tactics:
Was I coming on too strong? Would Harrison continue to see me as an April Fool and valued patsy, or would he simply ignore me and concentrate on another dance partner who was less difficult and more willing to be be led?
Thankfully, he ramped up his customer service skills, and gave me short-hand answers to all my questions…
From: Harrison Williams <harrisonwells989@outlook.com>
Date: 3/31/18 3:17 AM (GMT-05:00)
To: Neal <ndl7@msn.com>
Subject: RE: ATM Card
Ok first thing its illegal
You don’t need to worry about where to use it
Yes you can only withdraw twice a week
It depends on the card you want
The card is durable for some months
$400usd
It depends on the encrypting of the card
Your information
Does are the answers to your question
Sent from my Windows Phone
Wow! Going down the list, I matched up the answers to my questions, and had a much better picture of the cost of committing a crime. For $400, I could risk it all and finance my next trip to Sing Sing, Leavenworth or San Quentin.
I immediately sent a public service announcement to my future self to serve as a reminder to ignore all blank ATM card invitations in the near future:
Dear Neal,
Let this email serve as fair warning… Any urge to get rich quick should be quickly dismissed and filed under scam spam.
Thanks for the heads-up, Harrison!

Parody Paradigm

Dear Weird Al,

Last night, I took Leah to see your show at the Apollo Theater for her birthday, and she loved all of it.*

Leah at the Apollo

We highly approved of Emo Phillips as your opening act, and appreciated him opening up to us about his personal life. I never knew he was married and divorced. He mentioned that her name will forever remain nameless, but only if he can manage to be unseen at her gravestone with a sandblaster. Also, I didn’t know of his interest in playing chess with old men in the park, and how difficult it is finding 32 of them at once.

And then you took Apollo’s iconic stage…

Apollo Theater

with your long-time back-up band, and you guys were as tight as a vise grip. Whether it was your impressions of Bob Dylan in Bob, James Taylor in Even Worse, the Police in Velvet Elvis, or Gordon Lightfoot in The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, and many more…

set list

the crowd was enthusiastic, and all the applause was well-deserved.

Your stripped-down version of you, known as The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, neglected the familiar fat suit from Eat It, and you never donned a Reynolds Wrap hat from Foil, or a Jedi robe from The Saga Begins. Instead, you featured composed musicians seated on stools,

the band

playing original music from your library of clever parodies that we fondly remember from the 80’s and 90’s, and we loved all 100 minutes of it… although, we would have benefitted from cue cards on your rendition of Bob, for no other reason than to appreciate your insanity just a bit more:

Your twisted vision is a true testament to a society gone crazy on Crazy Glue, and koo-koo for Coco Puffs.

red Al

Your self-mocking and lampooning lyrics are delicately designed around intricate word puzzles that tell stories of ridiculous proportions, but still manage to make us smirk at ourselves with unwitting social commentaries about pop culture, religion and other uncharacteristic conventions of modern living.

Your wink-and-nod parodies–the product of a love affair mashup of music genres and sub-cultures–are at their best when you rip off the bandaid of political correctness and hypocrisy, and generously sing about the neurosis of our society.

With all sincerity, Weird Al, you are the court jester of a generation, and for that, I thank you.

Respectfully, Neal

P.S. I have dedicated a parody of my own to you–an homage of sorts, as a tribute to your talent and imagination that is rooted in a James Bond classic, The Spy Who Loved Me:

Nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Weird Al, you’re the best.

[It’s more fun if you play the audio and sing along]


Nobody doesn’t like butter.
Dairy is simply the best.
Starting out warm, straight from the bovine’s udder,

Baby, it’s a breast.


Whenever we’re beaching,

I can’t help from reaching
the strings to your bathing suit top.
I want to unbind them,
and simply remind them
of what it’s like to be there when they flop.

And nobody doesn’t like boobies,

cuz titties are always the best.
Your buttocks and legs, they only take second place.
Baby, it’s your breasts.

Whenever you’re nursing,

and people are cursing,
“You shouldn’t be flashing your breasts!”
They can’t stop their gawking,
while all the time talking–
Claiming it’s too lewd and lascivious.

Nobody doesn’t like butter

Soy milk just won’t pass the test
As for me, it’s always been half and half
Baby, baby, darlin’, it’s your breasts.

Baby it’s the breasts

Darlin’, it’s your breasts
Baby, like them best

Uh, uh, uh,

Oh, oh, oh,
uh, uh, uh, eyuh, eyuh
Uh, uh, uh,
Oh, oh, oh,
uh, uh, uh, eyuh, eyuh

*Special thanks to my son, Noah who arranged the “extra” of our extra special evening.

June 15, 2018 UPDATE

“Weird Al” just completed his 77th and last date of his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, and has released a compendium of snippets from all the cover songs his band performed as the encore of each concert.

Oh, the power of their versatility!

 

 

Every Picture Tells a Story

It’s happy hour in the heart of Savannah’s historic City Market, where the American Prohibition Museum is surrounded by bars, cafes and restaurants…serving alcohol–a decided irony for the two museum attendants who may be wondering whether they will ever attract any patrons, sober or otherwise.

unintended consequences (2)

 

*This photograph is a small part of a much bigger story about Savannah, Georgia…with pictures and words entitled L’Chaim–yet another irony, given the universality of the word when toasting with an alcoholic beverage!

 

Pictures of Home

For the past eleven months, I have suffered from an acute case of Restless Body Syndrome (RBS)–unable to stay in one place for more than an average of three to four days. And to my knowledge, there is no known antidote for this kind of wanderlust.

While there is much to be said for having a home with all the trappings of comfort and familiarity (for which I am grateful), I nevertheless feel a natural compulsion to feed my travel addiction–at times surrendering to the physical and psychological cravings of visiting someplace new on a regular basis.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of support groups around the country–known as RV parks and resorts–that are very accepting of those among us who are afflicted with RBS, and assuage us with electric, water and sewer, and occasionally, high-speed internet.

A ten-step program has been developed by self-help travel gurus to combat the irritation associated with RBS:

  1. Subscribe to Travel and Leisure, and National Geographic.
  2. Watch Amazing Race on CBS.
  3. Log on to Kayak, Trivago, or Travelocity.
  4. Smell a pine tree.
  5. Build a fire…outdoors.
  6. Eat a s’more.
  7. Lay in a hammock.
  8. Open and close a stadium chair.
  9. Take a brief cold-water shower.
  10. Follow Streaming thru America

Leading pharmaceutical firms have been quietly conducting cutting-edge research to advance a cure for RBS. And there is widespread speculation that a vaccine is being developed for the travel bug.

Additionally, Congress is contemplating passage of the Rio Grande Act, whereby an extremely narrow Wal-Mart will be built along the entire Texas-Mexico border for RBS out-patients to shop, duty-free.

Until then, I offer my services as your tour guide for a random retrospective of my many homes from March 2017 to present.

Towaco, NJ
Towaco, NJ
Ligoneer, PA
Ligonier, PA
Walmart, WV
Lewisburg, WV
New Orleans, LA
New Orleans, LA
San Antonio, TX
San Antonio, TX
Big Bend State Park, TX
Big Bend NP, TX
Grand Canyon, NP
Grand Canyon NP, AZ
Zion NP, UT
Zion NP, UT
Estes Park, CO
Estes Park, CO
West Yellowstone, MT
West Yellowstone, MT
Banff, Ca
Banff NP, Alberta, CAN
Corvallis, OR
Corvallis, OR
Klamath, CA
Klamath, CA
Hat Creek, CA
Hat Creek, CA
Quincy, CA
Quincy, CA
Las Vegas, NV massacre
Las Vegas Massacre, NV
Valley of Fire, NV
Valley of Fire, NV
Joshua Tree NP, CA
Joshua Tree, CA
Mt. Pleasant, SC
Mt. Pleasant, SC
Delray Beach, FL
Delray Beach, FL
Melborne, FL
Melbourne, FL
Bradenton, FL
Bradenton, FL

To be continued…

Football Follies

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…

camping World Stadium

Life is Amazing

I decided to treat Leah to a last day of football. However, neither of us was counting on a day of downpours.

the approach

Rain was a constant interruption throughout the game–from the moment we arrived for the opening snap…

panorama

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.

TV cameraman (2)

In between, there were a few things to cheer about.

cheerleaders

Cowboy cheerleader

And then there was football, too.

kick 3

kick 4

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,

preparing for half time

However, sword order was eventually restored after Dancing with the Stars winner Jordan Fisher emerged…

Jordan Fisher half-time talent

and took the makeshift stage for ten minutes of coordinated music and mayhem,

half time

eventually finishing with a flourish.

end zone pyrotechnics

When the game resumed, it seemed as if a different NFC squad had taken the field,

mascots1

allowing the AFC to roar back under increasingly sloppy conditions.

mascots

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,

rain puddles

we put on our game faces,

selfie (2)

and managed to convince ourselves that all of this was time and money well spent.

Designated Driver

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.

shiny and new

To me, it was the smartest choice of all available choices.

at the Jersey Shore

“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.

instrument panel

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.

accident 1.jpg

While the front-end was willing, the back-end was not.

accident2

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…

…until now.

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.

truck thru window

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.

Notes:

WPC–Variations on a Theme