Totally St. Augustine #13 (Nov. 10, 2014)

My ever-so-humble vacation

Just got back from a wickedly wonderful week at our Aruban timeshare. Well, it really wasn’t wicked, but as a writer, I have this thing for “alotta” alliteration.

People ask me if I took my tennis racket or golf clubs. Notwithstanding the fact that my tennis racket is a T-2000 and my golf clubs have been out of their bag only once, I left them home anyway.

What I took with me were a couple of bathing suits and a couple of koozie’s. When people ask me what I do in Aruba my standard answer is, “as little as possible.” And no wise cracks about how this doesn’t differ much from my usual routine.

My typical day in Aruba went like this: Arise at 5:30 a.m. and put on sneakers and shorts. Go down to the pool and reserve my favorite chickee (table with palm-thatched “umbrella”).

At 6 a.m. I would take a two-mile round trip walk on a beach pathway while listening to a recorded book. When this was done I would drink the free coffee provided by the timeshare and read the Aruba Daily newspaper at my chickee.

Then it was back to the room to make some more coffee, take a shower and wake up my wife and daughter in the process.

Next it was back down to the pool and beach. My in-laws were up even earlier than I, saving their favorite chickee on the beach. I could write another whole column on the dynamics surrounding the claiming of chickees.

Pool aerobics began at 11 a.m., which I would sometimes watch from my lounge at poolside. Even if I wanted to participate I’m not sure I was old enough. After a few minutes of entertainment I’d head to the room for an early lunch, which usually consisted of a peanut butter sandwich or the leftovers from last night’s dinner.

A full tummy often makes me sleepy so on the days the guy with the jackhammer on the floor below us wasn’t working, I would take a 60-minute power nap. Sometime between 1-2 p.m. I would meander back to the pool or beach. When the clock struck 4 p.m. I would return to the room, declare it “Miller Time” and fill my small canvas cooler with the “imported” Bud Lime beer for which I paid $50 a case. I then took up residence at my pool chickee.

A couple of hours later I would shower once again and put on a clean T-shirt and pair of shorts. My family and I would then meet the in-laws in the lobby to head off to dinner. We would return around 9 p.m. Some in our party might opt to go to the gelato stand or to a casino. I usually opted for bed where I dreamed about the next day’s activities.

On most days I had to find an hour or two during my busy schedule and help my daughter with her schoolwork. But I wasn’t going to let Common Core ruin my vacation. Plus, any time spent with my daughter is a gift from heaven.

This was the 14th straight year our family has spent at least one week in Aruba. Like most beautiful places though, for me it’s simply a nice place to visit.

Coming back to St. Augustine, our two barking and shedding dogs, limousine duties for my daughter, $15-18 cases of beer and a slew of “honeydews” is the life I prefer. Judy Garland had it right.

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Totally St. Augustine #12 (Oct. 18, 2014)

Curmudgeonly traffic tales

It amazes me when I hear folks complain about the “traffic” in St. Augustine. Have these people not lived or driven elsewhere? Sure, the major intersections get a little dicey at rush hour but, all things considered, traffic flows pretty smoothly in our hometown.

What is also somewhat amazing is that it’s possible to complain about problematic intersections to the government folks in charge and actually have them do something. A year or so ago, I emailed the traffic czars at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and suggested a few situations they may want to take a look at. One of these was the intersection at Old Moultrie Rd. and U.S. 1 South (near Watson Realty).

Motorists waiting to turn left from U.S. 1 onto Old Moultrie Road would often face the danger of running out of gas while waiting for a green signal. After “months of study,” an additional green left turn signal was added to the cycle.

I live near the Moultrie Square Shopping Center across from the Shores. I’ve actually driven my daughter to her dancing class at a studio across from Cobblestone Mall and gotten every traffic signal green. Uncanny, when you think about it.

One might assume that there could be nothing to complain about when it comes to driving your car in St. Augustine. But those who would make such an assumption (and you knew this was coming) have not spent a lot of time around me. As a self-admitted curmudgeon, I’ve put together a short list of roadway encounters that would cause a lesser man to say some really bad words.

How about drivers who feel the need to leave about 17 car lengths between them and the car in front of them at stoplights? C’mon, the exhaust won’t kill you and it’s not tailgating when you’re stopped. Consider those behind you who are prevented from moving into one of the left- or right-turn lanes.

Did you ever notice that traffic lights that seem to remain red for an eternity when you are traveling in one direction always seem to cycle red when you approach them from a crossing direction? This has happened to me numerous times when traveling south on U.S. 1 at the intersection of SR 207. How the heck does that work?

How about bicyclists-turned-pedestrians at major intersections during rush hour who push the crossing signal buttons? They get across and are a quarter mile down the road before the scores of cars traveling in all directions are allowed to proceed. Someone needs to alert the authorities on this one.

Fine-tuning is needed to the system allowing motorists emerging from side streets, strip malls and driveways to get into the traffic flow. I try to be courteous to these needy motorists and am appreciative when others are courteous to me. But I sometimes get a little crazy when drivers ignore the line of trailing cars behind them to let someone in. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

Why does the concept of a three-way alternate merge flummox so many people? I encounter one each day when I drop my daughter at middle school. Vehicle from group A goes, then one from group B and finally one from group C. Then you start with group A again and repeat. Quit your texting and get in sync, guys.

I’ve got a lot more of these but I’ll close with another one that personally affects me on a daily basis. The traffic light at SR 207 for drivers crossing from Rolling Hills Drive to Holmes Blvd. has a green cycle that is much too short. And normally I get stuck behind someone who has fallen asleep while waiting for it to change.

FDOT traffic czars, have at it.

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Totally St. Augustine # 11 (Sept. 30, 2014)

Other duties as assigned

As I went online early this morning to take advantage of a fantastic sale on American Girl dolls I realized more than ever how my life has changed since I “retired” nearly three years ago.

My short stints as an adjunct instructor at the University of North Florida and as opinion editor for the St. Augustine Record aside, retirement has pretty much been a misnomer.

My LinkedIn page describes me as a “professional handler” for my 11-year-old daughter and that pretty much sums things up. The job I retired from had me making four or five 156-mile roundtrip commutes to Gainesville each week. My new job has me making 10 14-mile roundtrip commutes to Murray Middle School each week.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Friday’s and Saturdays I make (all told) 10 additional roundtrips of nine miles each to Abella’s School of Dance.

I’m putting fewer miles on my car but I’m spending almost as much time driving and waiting in parent drop-off/pick-up lines.

I retired a couple of years earlier than I had planned. With me working out of town, much of this child handling was taken care of by my wife. Trouble was my wife also had a full-time job making all this handling problematic. We ran the numbers and an earlier retirement for me was possible.

My new job is the best one I’ve ever held, even if I forgot to read the fine print in the job description. Listed under “other duties as assigned” were a whole bunch of things I had little or no experience doing. Number 326 on that list was “online purchases of American Girl dolls to support fundraising efforts for the St. Augustine Ballet.”

Number 57 on the list is “vacuuming the entire house at least weekly because we have a couple of dogs who shed enough hair to fully supply a medium-sized pillow factory.”

Speaking of those dogs, number 32 on the list is “to walk them around our neighborhood for as long as it takes to fill two plastic grocery bags with reprocessed chicken and beef byproducts.”

There are several duties relating to washing and drying clothes, but perhaps the most challenging is number 77, which states “regularly folding the stash of dried clothes both in the dryer and piled on top of the dryer.” I neglected to take the “folding clothes” elective while a student at the University of Florida.

At least 125 of the “other duties as assigned” involve the care and handling of my daughter. I must help her with her homework; ensure she is well-nourished; facilitate problems arising at school; and check to make sure she consumes her vitamin every morning.

I must maturely and compassionately understand how physical changes associated with my daughter’s progression through “tweenhood” might affect her behavior. I must punish her when necessary and make her believe that such is probably the most unfavorite part of my job.

My wife pitches in quite handsomely with many of the duties associated with my new job and does so while working a full-time job herself. I’m grateful for this but, more than anything, I think she’s after my job.

This column could be much longer but I’ll have to stop here because duty number 143 calls. I need to go online and purchase a couple more pink ballet tights for my daughter. Let’s see should I go to Discount Dance Supply or All About Dance? My work is never done.

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Totally St. Augustine #10 (Sept. 15, 2014)

How to save some cash

Reading this column may save you $33. At the very least it will probably save you $13.

Everyone who owns a car has to get his or her oil changed. Well, maybe you don’t have to, but not doing so will probably reap unpleasant “rewards” somewhere down the line.

Often I get the oil in my cars changed at the big box store most of us view as a necessary evil. I do this because I bought my tires there and figure I might as well get my oil changed when it’s time for a free rotation and balance. Usually the whole process takes 1-2 hours. During the wait I aimlessly roam around the store looking at stuff. Rarely do I buy anything.

The folks at the big box store are not overly concerned with customers’ time, and customer service doesn’t seem to be one of the specialties listed on the certificates of personnel posted in the auto checkout area. I won’t dwell on this but I will say that this failing often means it could take half a day to get your oil changed and tires rotated and balanced there. When I anticipate this happening I usually opt to get my oil changed elsewhere.

Enter the quick-service oil change joints. Often you can get a $10 coupon that will allow you to get your oil changed there for about half what the big box store charges. Pretty hard to believe, isn’t it? And if you’re female you can get your oil changed at a special price on Wednesdays that is still pretty good. How do they stay in business? Quite simply, upselling is their game.

While your oil is being changed they will visit with you in the customer waiting area and show you a dirty air filter. In years past it was usually the round air filter that surrounded the carburetor. Today most cars use fuel injection systems, negating the need for this filter.

Not to worry, later model cars have something called a cabin air filter, which works just as well for quick-change oil change folks.

A few months ago I was presented with one such filter when getting the oil in my wife’s car changed. The technician told me it was dirty and needed replacement. However today was my lucky day because he had the right one in stock and he’d sell it to me for $20 off the regular price of $49.99.

I asked him how much the filter would cost if I went to the big box store and he said that he had never priced them there but they usually cost $25-$30 at the auto parts stores. That was close enough for me so I gave the go-ahead for the filter to be replaced. I joked with him that I had better not later find out that the filters generally cost much less than that.

That same day I researched the subject and found out that they did. Several auto parts stores offered the same filter for about $17.

I called and spoke to the manager of the quick-change oil place. First he said the price included installation, which I told him was ridiculous because his technicians had to reinstall my old filter if I didn’t purchase a new one. After a few minutes of back-and-forth, the manager agreed to refund me $13. I was tempted to bring up the outrageous $3 shop charge supposed to cover rags and a squirt from a spray can of lubricant but I saved that argument for another day.

Then, a few weeks ago, I went to another quick-change oil place and had my own car serviced. Sure enough, the technician showed me the cabin air filter and said he had the replacement in stock for $49.99. I smiled at him and declined. He then noted that my vehicle (with 74,000 on the odometer) required synthetic oil or the warranty could be voided. I told him I had always used regular oil when having it changed. He then had me sign the receipt noting that warranties were voided because he installed regular oil. I didn’t ask him whether his business would pay for engine replacement if mine “blew up” and I had agreed to the installation of synthetic oil, which is quite a bit more expensive. Somehow I don’t think so.

I left the quick-change oil place and drove a ½ mile down the road to an auto parts store (across the street from the big box store) and purchased a high-quality cabin air filter for $16.49. It took me about 10 minutes to install, including the time to look up the procedure in my car manual.

Happy lubricating!

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Totally St. Augustine #9 (Aug. 29, 2014)

Election “news” and other thoughts

I woke up this morning and read a totally outrageous lead in an online “news” story and then decided to make Tuesday’s primary the subject of this column. More about the online story in a minute.

I actively supported one candidate in this election and he won. Barring a major write-in upset come this November, Jeb Smith will make an excellent county commissioner.

This campaign was marred in its final days by the existence of what some described as “offensive mailers.” Several individuals, including me, speculated on the origin of these mailers. I do not believe any of the candidates themselves had prior knowledge of their existence, nor do I believe they condoned them. I still haven’t seen one of these mailers but I know enough about their content to state whoever circulated them should be ashamed. The saving grace of the situation is the mailers seemed to have had very little effect on the outcome of the election.

In an earlier column I gave a masked description of whom I voted for and made some veiled predictions. My success rate in both areas was underwhelming.

Of the eight individuals I voted for, five were victorious. I voted for losing candidates in one county commission race and two judgeships. I had predicted that I would have six winners, one loser and one candidate making a runoff. At the time I thought Jeb Smith would be in a runoff because I incorrectly assumed there would be a runoff if no candidate claimed a majority. That happened but the result didn’t generate a runoff.

A commission candidate whom I voted for and I thought would lose, did lose. And two judicial candidates whom I voted for and I thought would win, did not. The turnout was poor but it’s likely that a larger number of voting electorate would not have changed any of the outcomes. Still it’s disappointing to see so many potential voters fail to exercise their proxy.

I’ve had previous issues with the online “news” service referenced at the beginning of this column. I won’t rehash them here. But the “news” lead I read this morning awakened the sleeping journalist in me.

Let me state that I don’t have a horse in the race for St. Augustine mayor. I’ve met Mayor Joe Boles and am appreciative of his strong support for the St. Augustine Ballet. I have not met his runoff opponent, Nancy Shaver. I am not a resident of the city.

Here’s the lead from this morning’s story: In a race that could have been decided between the two candidates last night, had the field not been corrupted with a spoiler, political newcomer Nancy Shaver of Lincolnville shows St. Augustinians that there is hope for a more fiscally sound, resident-oriented, customer service driven community when she drew all but 29 votes as the man who has held the reigns at the City Commission table for the past six years.”

I’m not sure but I wouldn’t be surprised if even Nancy Shaver was embarrassed by this editorial commentary masquerading as news.

No doubt the line between news and commentary has been blurred in recent years with the advocacy roles played by MSNBC, Fox News and others. But most of what these operations present as news is just that, news, albeit sometimes slanted. What I read online this morning was about as far from news as you can get.

Congratulations to the winners in this week’s primary. And thank you to all those who were brave enough to put their names on the ballot in pursuit of public service.

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Totally St. Augustine #8 (Aug. 20, 2014)

The Big Apple: A nice place to visit

Just returned from a visit to the Big Apple and, as much fun as the trip was, there were things that happened which make me thankful I call St. Augustine my home.

The trip actually took my to my childhood home on Long Island. For the first 17 years of my life I lived in Long Beach, N.Y., a seaside community that was most recently devastated by Superstorm Sandy in late 2012. It’s a nice town, just under 30 miles from the heart of midtown Manhattan. My sister still lives there and we stayed with her during our four-day visit. I’ll refrain from making any “editorial comments” about the particulars of our visit and leave it to the reader to decide why I give the nod to my 31-year hometown, St. Augustine.

We had tickets to see Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theatre in Manhattan during the second day of our visit. Although it is possible to drive a car from Long Beach to New York City and park, it’s not something a sane person would attempt. The preferred method of travel is to take the Long Island Railroad. We called the 5200 cab company to take me, my wife, my daughter and my sister to the train station. It’s something my sister has done many times before with the fare being $5 for the short, 1.5-mile trip. We were charged $20 on this occasion because the hacks charge by the person. I vowed to call for four cabs the next time we are there.

The round-trip train ride was pleasant and without incident and cost about $75 for the four of us. As might be expected, Penn. Station was as harried as downtown St. Augustine following Independence Day fireworks. This situation exists at the 34th Street hub just about 24/7. While in the Penn. Station restroom I was privy to wash my hands next to a rather disheveled man who was drying his bottom on one of those high-powered hand dryers. He was hard at it when I walked in and when I left.

Having grown up in New York, I knew that you have to leave your Florida manners at the door when walking the streets of the Big Apple. You don’t engage with anyone. We were approached by costumed comic figures seeking a tip for the privilege of taking a photo with them. We kept on walking and hoped they would use some of the tips they earned to launder their outfits.

Before going to the Phantom musical, we opted for lunch at the American Girl Café on 49th and Fifth Avenue. It was most enjoyable and we earned lots of reward points on the $140 bill.

The Phantom of the Opera was all that it was cracked up to be and it’s no wonder that it is the longest running musical on Broadway. Again we racked up lots and lots of reward points on the $600 we paid for the matinee tickets. I was afraid to ask my wife how much she paid for the official program, which came with a silk rose.

It was wonderful to see my sister and also squeeze in a visit with a dear friend, who is recovering from a serious injury, during our time in the Northeast. The weather was fabulous (we missed the largest rainstorm of the year by a day) and the pizza and bagels are the best that can be found anywhere.

We invited my sister to visit with us this Christmas and watch her niece dance in the sixth annual production of the St. Augustine Nutcracker. She won’t need to take any cabs or trains and my guess is that she will like what she sees at Lewis Auditorium just as much as the show at the Majestic Theatre.

While I will not debate someone who suggests that St. Augustine is a nice place to visit, I believe a more accurate statement would be, “It’s a nice place to live.” And with all due respect to the Big Apple, it’s a nice place to visit.

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Totally St. Augustine #7 (Aug. 4. 2014)

Why voting is like growing a beard

Just finished filling out my absentee ballot. As a registered Republican from Precinct 304, I was able to vote for governor, state senator, two county commissioners, three circuit judges and one school board member.

I won’t list whom I voted for but I think it’s OK if I share some of my personal demographics.

Six of eight races had incumbents. I voted for four incumbents and against two others. The last time two of these incumbents were on the ballot, I voted for their unsuccessful opponents. Six races (with a total of 16 candidates) included seven women among the hopefuls. I voted for five men and one woman.

To my knowledge, I do not think any candidate for whom I voted was ever elected because of my one vote. I feel pretty confident my 42-year streak will not be broken this year. Why then do I vote?

There are two primary (no pun intended) reasons. First and foremost I believe it is the obligation of all citizens to exercise their proxy at election time. This pays homage to all those who came before us and made sacrifices to ensure that we are able to live in a free society that facilitates taking for granted our right to vote.

The second reason I vote is related to something called “the argument of the beard.” I learned about this argument in my freshman logic class at the University of Florida a few years before I was able to legally cast my first vote.

The argument goes like this: If you shave one hair off a beard it will not eliminate the beard. What difference does one hair make? Shave off another hair. You still have a beard. And another, and another and another.

At some point the beard will be gone even though you are shaving hairs off in “inconsequential” one-hair increments.

Individual hairs have meaning when it comes to beards and individual votes have meaning when it comes to elections. At least that’s my theory.

This year’s first primary is scheduled for Aug. 26. Absentee and early voting could mean many races will be decided before Election Day. Yet every vote is important and I urge those who are duly registered (and have a clue whom they’re voting for) to exercise their civic duty and cast their ballots.

In a future column I’ll report on how many of those who received my vote finished on top. I’m predicting six winners, one loser and one making a runoff. Readers should be warned, however, my voting success and my predicting prowess are historically both wanting.

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