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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Totally St. Augustine #6 (July 24, 2014)

I’m Grumpy. Don’t make it worse.

In spite of my usually affable nature, I suspect I may actually be a closet curmudgeon. For Father’s Day my family gave me a T-shirt with a caricature of one of the Seven Dwarfs and a warning, “I’m Grumpy. Don’t make it worse.” My family might be on to something.

I looked up curmudgeon in an online dictionary. The first definition listed was, “someone who gets annoyed easily, especially an old person.” Methinks I’ve been busted.

As long as I’ve been branded a curmudgeon I think it’s only appropriate that I list some of the things that have annoyed me recently. I have a feeling I’m not alone.

I vote so I get a lot of political mailers. Got one yesterday from an incumbent county commissioner who listed awards that St. Johns County received from three separate news organizations and intimated he had something to do with it. Earth to county commissioner … you didn’t.

Speaking of politics, I subscribe to an online local “news” service that accepts paid advertisements from local candidates and then presents them as letters to the editor and/or news. The political disclaimer is buried in an “election information” paragraph following the letter or news. Only the thorough and motivated reader realizes what he or she just read is actually a paid advertisement.

At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I will admit to frustration at calling our local cable company (that no longer has a local office) with a problem and finally connecting with an agent for whom English is a second language. It seems that these agents have as much trouble understanding me as I do them because the cable company’s service technicians have missed two scheduled appointments with me in the last 10 days alone. I can’t wait to call them back to fight for the two $20 “missed appointment credits” that will undoubtedly fail to find their way to my next billing.

Here’s a peeve that can be summed up in one incomplete sentence: Bicyclists who ride the wrong way in bicycle lanes and/or completely ignore traffic rules, signals and signs.

Generally speaking, I like the supermarket where my family does most of its shopping. Nonetheless, I would like to make it illegal for cashiers to ask me either of these questions when I check out: Did you find everything OK? Would you like to contribute a dollar to (fill in the otherwise deserving charity)?

If I didn’t find everything OK, it’s now too late. And, although some might disagree, I think it’s inappropriate to be asked for charitable donations by a merchant simply because you have your wallet open. Perhaps the supermarket should install a booth where an employee could answer questions about grocery locations and also accept charitable contributions.

I could list my response to several other situations that would certify me as a curmudgeon but I’ve probably already qualified. And as one of our incumbent county commissioners has noted, “USA Today reports that St. Augustine is the second best place to retire in the nation.”

I’ll count my blessings instead.

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Totally St. Augustine #5 (July 14, 2014)

The simpler days of a Princess phone

My wife and I are beginning to succumb to societal, corporate, peer and dependent pressure to soon provide our rising fifth grader with a cell phone. Rather than debate the pros and cons of doing so, I thought it might be interesting to briefly explore how telephones, and their use, have so dramatically changed in the last 50 years.

A reader warning here: There was no painstaking research completed by this writer in the formulation of this column. I have relied primarily on my recollections and experiences with telephones beginning in the early 1960s. So if said recollections and experiences are not universally accurate, please cut me a bit of slack. I did, however, start off with an experiment. Having not dialed an “operator” in more than 10 years, I attempted to do so earlier today. We’ll discuss “dialing” in a moment.

I punched “0” on my cordless home phone and, after about 15 seconds of silence, finally got a busy signal. I tried this a few more times with the same result. Does anybody know when the demise of the telephone operator came about? Or does it depend on what phone company you use?

Speaking of dialing, do people under the age of 21 ever use that term when talking about the process of placing a call? If not, do they even know what we older folks are talking about when we say things like, “we’re gonna dial up the pizza place?”

I suppose there are enough old movies and television shows still being broadcast (we’ll discuss “broadcast” another time) that allow echo boomers and generation Z members to connect the dots when they see telephones containing dials and large finger holes. By the way, call me sentimental because I have a dialer app on my cell phone. And yes, I sometimes use it.

I can remember when pushbutton phones became all the rage during the 1960s. You could rent them from your phone companies (yes, just about all phones were rentals back them) and the fee was higher than for dial, or rotary phones. Your wiring also had to be able to handle the tones fabricated by pushbutton phones.

When phone service began transitioning to having customers purchase their own phones, the early pushbutton phones had a switch on the side or back that allowed you to toggle between rotary (produced rapid clicks) and tones. Again, to use tones you had to have appropriate wiring and pay extra.

Directory assistance (if you didn’t have a phone book) used to be a free service provided by phone companies. You could dial 411 or, for numbers outside your area, enter 1-(area code) 555-1212 and tell them what city you wanted.

In the 1980s, home phones began transitioning from corded to cordless. At first, answer machines, caller ID software and speaker phone options came as separate pieces of hardware. As time progressed, all of these embellishments were built into a single piece of telephone equipment.

Car phones were around in the 1960s but were extremely rare and I haven’t the foggiest idea how they worked. They began to proliferate in the late 1980s and early 1990s as people adapted their portable “bag” phones for use in their automobiles.

In the mid to late 1990s the cellular revolution began taking shape with portable phones shrinking in size. Flip phones became popular and with the advent of iPhones and their ilk, phones started doubling as email, texting and gaming devices, cameras and Internet browsers. As I write this, some new feature is undoubtedly being formulated and/or introduced for the cell phone user.

As phones have become more complicated, certain aspects have become simpler. Long distance used to cost extra. Calling overseas used to be prohibitively expensive. You used to be able to charge a phone call to the person you were calling (with their consent). This was termed a collect call. You could call someone “person-to-person,” and if they weren’t available, you didn’t pay for the call. If they were available, you would pay extra. Operators would assist with collect and person-to-person calls. Maybe that’s why I got a busy signal when I tried to dial one earlier.

The jury is still out as to whether we will get our daughter a cell phone as she enters middle school. The cellular companies have run the numbers and what is fairly certain is whatever plan we might choose will not be cheap. If only our daughter would be happy (as my younger sister was) with a pink, pushbutton Princess phone. Not a chance.

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Totally St. Augustine #4 (June 29, 2014)

Altruistic deals at The Attic

With apologies to The Eagles, “there’s a new store in town … everybody’s talking ‘bout the new store in town.”

And what’s so special about this new store? How about a large stuffed animal for 99 cents? New or gently used logo apparel for 99 cents? Some pretty neat DVD titles for $2.99? Even an antique violin where the asking price is $150?

The new store in town is the Haven Hospice Attic Upscale Resale Store located in the old Mikee’s building just a few storefronts down from Planet Fitness on U.S. 1 South. And the really cool thing is that every cent of the store’s net proceeds goes to support unfunded hospice care and programs in the St. Augustine community.

The local Attic is one of five operated by Haven Hospice with the others located in Gainesville, Orange Park, Chiefland and Lake City. It opened in March and word of mouth (and large billboards on U.S. 1 and state Route 207) have brought a steady stream of customers who have discovered a shopping experience a notch above what one ordinarily expects from a “thrift” store.

The inventory depends largely on donated items that are scrupulously screened before making their way to the sales floor. Many of the items are new with the original tags still attached. If cleaning and/or refurbishing are necessary, a group of volunteers makes it happen. Many shoppers have commented that the Attic more closely resembles a consignment shop than a thrift store.

“I want to sell items that, given the opportunity, I would unhesitatingly purchase for my own family,” said Pam Strickland, Attic manager. “Whether you’re shopping for furniture, housewares, clothing or jewelry, you’ll probably be able to find something that fits your needs at the Attic.”

Haven Hospice is always seeking dedicated volunteers to provide support, companionship and assistance to patients and families in St. Augustine. Haven Attic volunteers make a difference by sorting donations, stocking the floor and making friends. Through their hard work, patients and families benefit throughout the Haven Hospice community and those who have challenging economic circumstances have an affordable place to shop.

Haven is also currently looking for volunteer photographers to help with the Haven Legacy Project which involves taking hand portraits of patients, families and friends at no charge to them.

Haven Hospice provides care to individuals diagnosed with a life-limiting illness as well as supportive services to their loved ones. Physical, medical, emotional and spiritual care and support are provided during the last stages of illness for the patient and during bereavement for the family and loved ones.

For more information on volunteering at the Attic Resale Store, please call Kathy Furney at 904-810-2377 or go online at www.havenhospice.org/volunteer to begin the application process.

The Attic is located at 2497 U.S. Hwy 1 South. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The store is closed on Sundays. Donations are currently being accepted at the store Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Please call 904-417-1337 for more information.

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Totally St. Augustine #3 (June 18, 2014)

Dance Dad

Those who know me well most likely guessed that it wouldn’t be long before I finagled a mention of my 11-year-old daughter in one of my Totally St. Augustine columns. Actually I exerted considerable restraint in waiting until this, my third column. As a professional, however, I am required to make the content of my writing something more than simply a public display of the fact I am uncontrollably smitten with my daughter. Patience, readers.

This past weekend I was able to watch my daughter, Jenny, in a year-ending dance gala showcasing the talents of students who attend Abella’s School of Dance. The gala was performed at Murray Middle School where Jenny will be participating in the Arts Program next year. As I sat in the very warm auditorium (maybe air-conditioning was a rental upgrade) I thought about how fortunate we are in St. Augustine to have so many opportunities for our children to pursue dance education.

When Jenny was in pre-K in 2007, she was picked up a couple of times per week and transported the few blocks from the CPEEC to Sally Walton’s dance studio. That studio no longer exists but it’s safe to say that at one time each little girl in this town who was interested in dance received her first lesson from Sally Walton.

When Jenny began kindergarten at Otis Mason Elementary School, we were in the process of renovating our mainland home and found a condo on the beach that served as our temporary home (actually three condos, to be precise). While living on the beach, Jenny continued her dance education at the Dance Company, located near the pier. She danced there for a little more than a year before deciding she required the presence of at least one parent at each class to maintain her comfort level. Her parents’ employment responsibilities made this quite impossible.

So Jenny took some time off from formal dance training but maintained an interest by annual trips to Jacksonville to attend the First Coast Nutcracker. She then spent hours, make that weeks, make that months in front of the television screen dancing to a DVD of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s 1977 production of the Nutcracker. Of course she emulated Gelsey Kirkland in the role of Clara.

As Jenny was about to enter third grade we learned of a relatively new dance school in town. The previous December Abella’s School of Dance, in conjunction with the St. Augustine Ballet, had produced the inaugural St. Augustine Community Nutcracker. Jenny auditioned for the 2011 production and has been dancing with the company ever since. She has been together with girls in her age group for three years and the school has a family-like atmosphere. It is nothing like the cable-TV show, Dance Moms, which I have tried to avoid watching at all costs.

Before my daughter became involved in dance, specifically ballet, you would have to drag me, kicking and screaming, to a ballet or recital. Now I have professional ballet dancers as Facebook friends and assist my wife in her fund-raising efforts to support the St. Augustine Ballet.

Whether you choose Abella’s School of Dance, the Dance Company or another of the several dancing studios available for dancers of all ages in our community, I think we should take a moment to understand how lucky we are these opportunities exist. All of the youngsters I have met through Jenny’s involvement with dance fit my definition of “good kids.” Maybe the same is true for other endeavors but I’ll leave it to a soccer mom, a lacrosse dad or a skate-park aficionado to write about it.

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Totally St. Augustine #2 (June 9, 2014)

Who you gonna call? Leafbusters

One of my favorite things to do in this beautiful place we call St. Augustine is to take a quiet walk through my neighborhood. Sometimes I bond with nature and listen to the sounds provided by the birds, insects and winds ruffling through the trees. At other times I’ll plug into my iPod and listen to a good book.

My neighborhood is pushing 40 years old and is overrun with oaks, pines, palmettos and a variety of other flora I simply call trees and bushes. They produce an abundant ambience but also produce another commodity that is not as desirable. Leaves.

I’m pretty sure that temperatures aside, autumn is a year-round season in St. Augustine. There are leaves in the fall. There are leaves in the spring. There are leaves every time I set foot outdoors. And with the leaves comes something else that I wish would go away. The leaf blowers.

I have to confess. I recently went over to the dark side and purchased the smallest gas-powered leaf blower I could find. I was wearing out rakes and brooms at a record pace and had to do something. I found a refurbished 25cc model that weighs about eight pounds. Years ago I owned an electric leaf blower but found it no more effective or convenient than carrying around a box fan attached to multiple extension cords. I use my new gas-powered blower sparingly.

Professional yardmen (and women) have taken leaf blowing to new heights. Picture Dan Ackroyd in his Ghostbuster garb zapping ghastly ghouls. These leaf-blowing professionals roam the streets and yards of my neighborhood with massive backpacks concentrating hurricane-force winds into tiny wands. I’ve seen some with NASCAR decals attached and accompanied by a “3” or “24” decal. Even when idling, the “vroom” is capable of causing hearing loss.

“If you’re seein’ some leaves, fallin’ to the ground. Who you gonna call? Leafbusters. A ton of pollen, fallin’ on your head. Who can you call? Leafbusters.”

Of course the next step is for homeowners to emulate the professionals. We’ll need $700 leaf blowers to go along with our $2,000 riding mowers. Leaves will be blown from one side of the street to the other, and then back again. No leaf will be safe.

We will win a few of the battles but in the long run, Mother Nature will prevail. Even when a batch of leaves is picked up and discarded, a new crop will take its place. Leaves, like water, will rise to their desired level.

(Also available at totallystaugustine.com)

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