Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Burial at Sea Avoided

For someone who blogs about becoming a Florida resident, I have tiptoed mincingly around the subject of elderly drivers.  After all, some of my favorite people are elderly drivers.  Of course, I don't ride with these people, but they are favorites nonetheless.  Today, it's time to stop mincing tiptoes.

Witness one Joseph Schlesselman, who has been shuffling around this mortal coil for 89 years.  Joe fell victim yesterday to that bane of all elderly drivers (sorry, Joe, but 89 is certifiably elderly).  Joe's foot slipped off the brake and onto the go-pedal.  Could happen to anyone.  It wasn't even the prosthetic foot at the end of his wooden leg that slipped.  That's the other leg.  And he says the walker he uses was not in the way, either.

Praise the Lord, Joe didn't kill anyone or even himself or his bride, despite his determined efforts.  "Goodbye, this is it," he thought as the old Mercury Marauder, handicapped parking tag flailing about wildly from the mirror, bolted over the seawall and plunged headlong into the Gulf of Mexico, Schlesselmans, prosthetics, collapsible walker and all.

As the old Merc filled with seawater, several passersby dove into the tepid Gulf, bashed in a couple of windows, and snatched the Schlesselmans to safety.  Minor injuries were had by all.  The police subsequently returned to the Gulf to rescue the prosthetic leg and the walker.

Asked later by a news reporter about his escapade, Joe leaned on his walker and complained, "I thought cars were supposed to be safe."  He is upset not only with the Mercury folks for making three-ton behemoths that don't float worth a damn, but with the City of Dunedin, which apparently owns the seawall that caused the problem in the first place.  "Why," he asks . . .

Wait for it . . .

"Why would you put up a sign that says 'disabled parking' and not have barriers?"

While the reporter was no doubt struggling to maintain her last shred of professional composure, Joe followed up.

Wait again for it . . .

"If a disabled person is going to park there, something is going to happen."


Joe says he is going to think twice about parking in that same spot again.  Funny, but Joe never mentioned in the interview - or maybe the reporter was too overwhelmed with the situation to report it - how grateful he was to the people who risked their lives to save his wrinkled old ass.

And right now, at this very moment, while the gendarmes are dragging his Mercury out of the tepid, briny drink, Joe is running around - well, metaphorically, at least - trying to rent another car.

Hertz, Avis, if you're out there, RUN.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Paradise Found

Having visitors from the North is a fine occasion for ranking the best things I know about life in Pinellas County.  We managed to cover many of them in the past week or so.  In no particular order:

Boris Family Restaurant for breakfast.  Boris is a bear of a man who presides over this simple family eatery, and server Mary Ann showers us with attention every Sunday morning.  Eggs Benedict this nicely prepared are hard to find.  Thick, creamy Hollandaise that has never seen a blender.  I can feel my arteries hardening as I type.

Clearwater Beach, even in the driving rain.  Slashing, hissing, deluging rain.  Bummer, I know.  But there is something elemental about strolling through boiling surf, soaked to the skin but warm and in good company.  In a land of exquisite beaches, CB rains supreme.  (Sorry.)

Gulf Coast Po' Boys is a hole in the wall featuring the Louisiana delicacies for which it is named.  Sit outside and be treated like royalty for about 8 bucks.  I love this place.

Busch Gardens.  Eight roller coasters, count 'em.

Willard's Tap House has 40 beers on draft, with "no crap on tap."  These beers average somewhere north of 7 percent alcohol.  The Smith boys know what they like.  And they seem to know what a lot of folks like.  I'm working my way through the list for the second time, surrounded by those peerless tipplers who have long since tucked away their third or fourth rotation.  This is a happy place.

The Cajun Cafe on the Bayou sprawls along the bank of Center Bayou in Pinellas Park. When Paul and Rebecca are not hosting a music fest or beer fest or crawfish fest, they preside over the best Cajun vittles in the south - including, by some reports, the best that New Orleans can put up.  Not to mention a menu of 80 great beers - 80! - of which 15 are on tap.  No crap on tap here, either.

The Turtle Deck at McGough Nature Park is an oasis of quiet charm off nasty Walsingham Road. No one can resist dropping 2 bits worth of turtle food into the teeming mass of armored reptiles, rooting for the little cooters and snappers, but fascinated by the stately Florida Softshells.

(Photo Credit: Robyn's Pond Turtle Species Page)

Taste of Punjab means great curries and friendly service.  And decent beer.  (You see the theme here.)

It is with considerable anguish that I barely mention Golden Bear Restaurant , the sponge docks at Tarpon Springs, the Museum of  Florida History, the amazing Cuban sandwiches at the Kooky Coconut, and a dozen more favorites.

Welcome to Paradise.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Kellan, the Lizards, and Ralph

It was a week of terror for the local critter population, large and small, while Kellan visited these past few days.  Being six and from Connecticut, Kellan was flabberbusted by the proliferation of brown and green anoles here in Tampa Bay.  "Look!  A 'NOTHER lizard!"  Darwin has made the tiny critters deucedly hard to catch.

It took five days for Kellan to nail his first victim, but after a short, steep learning curve, it was open season.  You can bellow "GENTLE, DAMMIT!" at a six-year-old till you drop of anoxia without noticeable effect.  Actually, the "DAMMIT" part only crept in after the first couple of enthusiastic captures ended with anoles winging their way to their lizard reward, however inadvertently.  I got so I could snap off a "G-D" without skipping a conversational beat.

The new owners of nearby Busch Gardens are masters of protecting their critters from my critter and his ilk.  Tall fences and moats and glass walls are generally effective against the most determined first-grader.  Languid gators, protected from Kellan only by a few feet of wrought iron, seemed to ponder vigilante retribution for their tiny brethren.  Kellan was ready: "Look!  A 'NOTHER lizard."  GENTLE DAMMIT.

I was relieved to move on to still larger critters and astonished to see several tons of bull rhino clambering over a big rock trying to get at our little boy.  Anoles have friends in large places, apparently.  I've never seen a rhino so frantic to get over a rock. Beady eyes rolled in their peculiar rhino sockets, accompanied by snorting and muted frothing.  A park rhino keeper witnessed the scene with jarring calm.

Me:  Why does your rhino want to trample my little boy?

Keeper:  Our rhinos are all very friendly and would not hurt your little boy, even if he were a vicious anole assassin.

Me:  How did you . . .

Keeper:  Actually, our rhino is not trying to charge your grandson at all.

Me:  How do you . . .

Keeper:  Take a good look at the rock Ralph is mounting.

Me:  Ralph?

Keeper:  Mounting.

Me:  Oh.  Mounting.

Keeper:  Ralph and that big rock are engaged.

Me:  . . .

Keeper:  Have a nice day.  And your grandson.

I looked again at Ralph.  GENTLE DAMMIT!  I steered Kellan toward the next Dippin' Dots stand.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Review of the Restaurant Incognito

We ate at a new place in Largo last night.  I had high hopes because I enjoy food of this particular, but nameless here, ethnic persuasion.  Local press reports suggested lovely cuisine by folks who have retailed ingredients and prepared foods of this ethnicity for some years.  I couldn't wait.

The restaurant took over the former location of a popular breakfast and lunch joint that featured outdoor seating on the bank of a bucolic pond, with turtles and egrets and babbling fisher-children.  "Would you like something to drink before dinner?" our apparently [ethnic] waiter asked.  "What do you have for beers?" I countered.  "[Ethnic] beers," he responded hoppily.

I too was hoppy when I heard this.  I am always hoppy to hear anything besides "Bud Light," the ethnic beer of Florida.  So I asked for what I know to be the pre-eminent beer of the ethnicity in question.  Some of my best friends are ethnic, so I pronounced the name of the beer correctly.   I thought our waiter seemed nonplussed to learn that I had even heard of [ethnic beer].  But then he butchered the pronunciation himself when he repeated it.  Uh-oh.

As it turns out, they didn't have Z--- [ethnic] beer, so I ordered a different one, named after an astronomer.  Any beer named after a scientist can't be too Bud Light-ish, I figured.  Accurately, as it turned out.  A curiously complex Pilsener, with fruity malt flavors and good balancing hops from the appropriate continent.

Bread came.  It was almost warm on the outside, chilled at the center.  Uh-oh.

Judy ordered [ethnic beef dish].  I ordered [ethnic pork and mushroom stew] wrapped in an [ethnic starch blanket].

Have I mentioned that, despite the recent local press efforts, the place was empty except for a table of [ethnic] people who obviously owned the place, and a small gathering of their good friends and relatives, all speaking [ethnic]?  I was sad at the emptiness, but buoyed by the camaraderie of the family group.  Good [ethnic] restaurants are rare and should pack them in. 

The food took a long time.  Good food does not happen quickly.
O boy o boy o boy.

Ultimately, we gave up on bucolic and moved indoors.  Florida-bucolic in August is a bit of a challenge.  Did you read about the Russian who toasted himself recently in a sauna contest?  We Floridians are made of sterner stuff.  Beer, [ethnic] or otherwise, helps.  But we moved nevertheless because our silverware melted and dripped onto the deck.

Eventually, the food arrived.  Very good [ethnic] this and that.  But Judy's potato [ethnic dumplings] arrived stone cold.  You might think that with only two paying customers in the place, a new restaurant bent on making its bones would serve hot dumplings. After all, I might have been Anthony Boudain in disguise.  A good disguise.  We sent Judy's meal back.  (After all, I had mine.) 

To the restaurant's credit - I think - the dumplings and everything with them took a long time to come back hot.  My guess is that [ethnics] do not approve of microwaving helpless food - thank you - and actually prepared fresh dumplings.  They were good.

Remember the family-and-friends table out on the deck watching the bucolic turtles?  For the rest of the meal, they paraded in to our table to beat their [ethnic] breasts.  (Actually one of them had quite impressive - uh - never mind.)   One promised 10 percent off our next meal.  One offered 20 percent off this meal.  Then the chef appeared.  His name was [completely different ethnic name].  He bought me a beer, but he also could not pronounce the beer that they didn't have anyway.  Why didn't they buy Judy another glass of wine instead?  Old-country [ethnic] ethic.  I didn't mind.  I like beer better than Judy likes wine.

So.  Will we go back?  Maybe.  I like [ethnics].


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pull My Finger

Even my favorite grandson Kellan doesn't fall for this.  Yes, that Kellan, the fart-adept six-year-old.  But here I am, victim nonetheless.

This isn't really about fart jokes.  It's about buying a car.  Judy's old Acura only lasted 13 years, so it was time.  My plan was simple:  Honda Accord Sedan, alloy wheels, white.  Period.  This may be the most common car in the universe.  So it all came down to - - - price.

Now, I consider myself a bit of a sophisticate at price negotiation.  23 years of practicing law, 18 years of engineering, and a subscription to Consumer Reports all have made me an expert.  Or so I thought.  Here was my strategy:  search for prices on line, pick the best one, solicit bids on-line, and buy for something close to the on-line price.

In your dreams, old man.

Before I started, I read a depressing article on the Edmunds.com website by an undercover reporter who signed on to work for a couple of car dealers.  It described all the tricks of the trade.  Like designated salesmen who greet you as you get out of your car.  As they shake your hand, they pull, ever so gently, towards the door.  This allows them to establish control, among other questionable things.  But I knew that.  I was prepared for anything.

On a whim, I pulled into Autoway Honda out on Rt 19.  Steve Yeager greeted me as I stepped out of my car.  He shook my hand.  He pulled.  I grinned a wise grin.

Undeterred, I let Steve march me around the Certified Used Honda Corral.  We looked at cars in the 2007-2009 range.  They were labeled $16,000 to $22,000.  Sigh.  New Honda LX-P's list for $23,500, give or take.  I may have to buy new.  As many of the articles suggested, good used cars are at a premium.

Suddenly, Steve fetched up short and gasped.  He pointed a trembling finger at a bright-red price sticker on a car in the target age range.  "My God!" Steve exclaimed. "Look at that price!  That must be a mistake."  The sign said "$14,500."  We spent a moment or two discussing the special features of the tired old car.  It had mudflaps, taped-on pinstripes, and 45,000 miles on the clock.  Steve pointed out the pinstripes.  I was embarrassed for Steve.  (By the way, if you think I've changed the names to protect the idiots, you're way off.)  I eventually drove a 2009 LX-P with only 6500 miles on it.  Sticker price was $100 below the sticker price on a new car.

I left Steve with a handshake.  I pulled.  He looked at me funny.  I silently vowed to run Steve down if I ever caught him walking along the road.

So I executed my Internet plan.  I solicited bids for a white LX-P.  I got fewer responses than I expected.  One of them was from Gerry Spence at Tampa Hondaland.  He bid high.  I bid low.  We almost met in the middle, but he was at $21,500.  That included taxes, everything.  It included $400 for a new registration.  He was still too high. I said, "Sorry.  So long."

I waited.  Gerry emailed.  I ignored him.  I know how to play this game.  Sophistication is a rare commodity in this world.

Gerry called Judy.  "I really want to make a deal," he said.  I rubbed my hands in glee.  I returned his call.  He ignored me.  He knows how to play this game.  The hunt for the perfect deal was on.  I was breathing heavy.  So was Gerry.  Mano-a-mano, no?

Gerry called me back, and I was home. "It's a very good deal," he said.

I was beginning to believe he may be right.  I said, "OK.  You have $400 in there for a new registration, right?"


"I've changed my mind on the registration and will transfer the old registration.  That's $100, right?"


"So the price is $21,200 with the transfer?"


"I'll be there in an hour with my checkbook.  Draft up the contract."

Cutting to the chase, I had the keys to Judy's new car in my hand when Gerry's sales manager sat down in front of me.  "Mr. Newton, there's been a tragic mistake."  Okay, he didn't really say, "tragic."  But that was implied in his sad delivery.  He continued, "The paperwork was made out for $21,500 with a transferred registration.  That's the price."

I looked at Gerry.  He didn't have the decency to look embarrassed.  I left.  (I'm leaving out some theatrics here.)

The next day, while my blood pressure was still settling out, I drove to nearby Crown Honda, which had not responded to my on-line bid request.  I spoke to a sales manager, KK.  I told him the story.  I said, "$21,500, with transferred registration."  That was the deal I walked away from at Hondaland.  He hemmed and hawed, but briefly.  We shook hands.  The negotiation took two minutes.  The car is in the driveway tonight.

When I left, I shook KK's hand.  He didn't pull.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Finding My Way Into the Blogosphere

I am now officially part of the blogosphere.  I write this crap into my computer and people somewhere read it. I think.  Who ever knows?  All I can do is proofread and hope for the best.

Oh, but I have a gadget on my computer that you can't see that tells me how many people look at my blog.  I won't tell you what it says because I'm not altogether sure what it means.  It has graphs and hieroglyphics (thank God for spellcheck) and it says that 20 or 100 (on a VERY good day) of you see this every day.  Or maybe it's 3.

Anyway, I want to credit a guy in - I don't know - China, St. Louis, Milano - who writes a blog called Blogger Tips and Tricks   From now on, thanks to this great blog, every time you type anything at all into Google, my blog will pop up.  I have co-opted all the interesting Google targets in the universe.  If not, it's Peter Chen's fault.