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Friday, March 01, 2013

Harry The Tour Guide Does Carabelle And "The Pinta and Nina"

Meet Jim - another trailing spouse - falling in love with the Panhandle.
Jim's Nikon could make even this 65 year older look better. I am talking about the Nina.

Whenever Lulu's school is interviewing new faculty - I am usually called on to entertain the trailing spouse. A problem in the academic world world seems to be - what to do with the husband or wife of a new professor. Usually when a professional couple is uprooted to move from one college to another - the career of one or the other suffers because usually a college does not need two professors at once from one family. 

In our case - when we moved to Tallahassee in 2004 - my professional career was over. After 33 years of teaching seventh graders - I was happy to have my sanity along with a nice monthly check and medical insurance for the rest of my days. Many times Lulu's bosses have asked me if I need work - thinking if I had HE a job SHE would stay. My answer was always - don't you understand what retired means?

Thursday I was called upon to show Jim around and make him want to come to live in Tallahassee. As Jim and I toured the area yesterday - it was like my own visit to Tallahassee 10 years ago. Jim is retired from the oil refinery business. He is a part-time professional photographer that shoots stock pictures for a firm in New York City. I was about to brag to Jim about my new $600 Sony camera - when he pulled his $5000 Nikon out of the bag. I felt like the guy that pulled a switchblade on Crocodile only to be upstage by his giant Bowie knife. Just compare the quality of my photo above with one of Jim's below it. 

Our day started at 9 AM with Jim picking me up in his VW sports wagon. We were going to drive the old highways along the Gulf to Carabelle. It would give us an hour to chat and also to show off the Panhandle's fantastic weather - wonderful landscape - and diverse historic spectrum.

Carabelle is a fishing town on the Gulf Coast at the mouth of the Carabelle River. It also has a harbor full of recreational boats. During World War II - Camp Gordon Johnson was here. It was where the Allies trained for the Normandy Invasion. The famous landing craft - the Higgins Boat - was invented and manufactured in New Orleans so this was a perfect place to practice while staying away from Germany's prying eyes.

Wednesday - there were two special visitors to Carabelle other than Jim and me. The replica ships - the Pinta and the Nina - members of Columbus's famous fleet that founded America - were also in town. They are a living museum as they travel around the world to honor that historic event.

First we went to Carabelle Beach - about 50 miles south of my house. It is a beautiful white sand beach with bath houses - picnic pavilions - and showers. As we pulled in your could see the dolphins arching by as if on cue. Jim opened the tailgate and grabbed for his Nikon - the sand - the sky - the sea - were all perfect for the lens. 

Right behind Carabelle Beach on the other side of the two lane highway is a very nice campground filled with modern "tin can" campers. In the 20s and 30s - northern snowbirds would pile their worldly good into the back of an old truck or station wagon - and head south for the winter with a truckload of can goods - and a Jack Kerouac pencil and tablet laying on the front seat. Today - these modern voyagers choose a $500,000 diesel pusher motorhome - with heat - AC - shower - satellite TV - even washers and dryers. Today's definition of adventure is a $500,000 camper towing a $50,000 SUV looking for a free place to park. 

But right behind the campground could be the site of one of Harry's greatest blunders. Lulu and I had the chance to buy our dream beach house really cheaply. One of my good friends had a beach house here for years. He and his wife would visit there for long weekends. It had everything one could want - a 200 yard walk to a nice white sandy beach - 3 bedrooms - 2 baths - a Florida porch - a 3 stall car port - fenced in large corner lot - even its own special water system for brackish water. At first it was $235,000 - then dropped slowly to $100,000. Finally one day - he came to my house - and offered it to me for $55,000 - he would hold a no interest mortgage - I would $1000 a month until it was paid off. There was no catch - this man is anal about taking care of his stuff. We drove down to check it out a year ago - it was very nice - but we did not pull the trigger. We had just bought our second property - and were timid. Lulu always said she would live on the beach even in a trailer. Well she had her chance - if she said yes - I would have signed. I regret it now - he quickly sold it to someone else - and it is her permanent home now. Jim was amazed that I passed it up. So am I. 

After that we went to the harbor to see the two tall ships. They were not as tall as one would expect. Each ship held about 25 men. Columbus had a small cabin below but the rest of the crew slept and ate on deck - there were no private quarters for them. These replicas were constructed in Brazil using only tools like those of the 15th century. The ships were equipped with a few things from the modern world like - diesel engines - radios - satellite GPS - and electricity. Still - I can't imagine plying the oceans today in these small rickety boats. Even when entering the harbor at Apalachicola - one ran aground and had to be pulled off the bar by the other - violently snapping a 3 inch diameter rope. 

Tall ships - mackerel sky - February on the Florida Panhandle.
Although the clock on the VW said 11:30 - my belly was saying lunch time. After a bit I realized it was set to Central Time. We pulled into a golf course clubhouse and were surprised to join a packed house of gray headed locals enjoying lunch. The place was spotless - the menu endless - and the food delicious. An hour flew by as we anticipated our next stop - the Fort Gordon Johnson Museum

Six years ago - the local high school was closed down and the town converted it to a World War II Musuem. During the war - Carabelle was a boom town. Thousands of soldiers trained for the war in Europe here. The classrooms are stacked with tons of historic artifacts - letters - pictures - and even a few military vehicles. The museum was well staffed by retired Seniors that just could not be more helpful. They added color and spice that is missing from many official museums. I actually think we had lunch with a few of them at the golf course.

That's Jim rummaging thru his VW camera bags.
On deck - we enjoyed the presentation with the schools kids.  I felt right at home .

Camp Gordon Johnson Museum has a few restored vehicles.

Lanark Station - like carrion left along the roadside.

After the museum we made the slow winding trek home. Route 98 winds all along the coast from Florida to New Orleans, Before the days of the interstate highways - it was very busy - lined with motels - fish camps - gas stations - and tiny restaurants. Now it looks a bit like America has passed it by.

Stonehenge for motorheads - now grist for the cameraman's mill.

At one spot is a monument that seems to be a cross between Stonehenge and Route 66. There is a row of old work trucks lined up in various states of weathering and erosion. Jim slammed on the brakes as if it were some kind of photographer's mecca. I love old pickup trucks and farm trucks. These were the trucks from the farms and mines where I was raised light-years away in the 40s and 50s. We were such poor dirt farmers - we could not afford a truck so we borrowed the neighbor's for a share of our crops. 

I could almost smell the gasoline you used to hand pump into the glass tank then into your Chevy.
Putnal Lanark Station was on the north side of the highway. It seemed to be a combination - garage  - filling station - restaurant - motel. Judging by the trees growing inside - the hand cranking register has seen only pure silver coins.

How many Model T's and Model A's has their oil and tires changed here?

Nothing says "The South of the 50s and 60s" than a rusted old outdoor hydraulic hoist lift complete with a waist high control lever that made it go up and down. I can just hear the sound and see it dropping as you pushed and held the lever forward - pssssst.

Reminds you of the Joad Family a bit.

By then the Central Time clock was pushing past 4 PM already - and my belly was signaling me that it was time to get home and send Jim on his way. 

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