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The Annual December Trip | blog.deanland.com

The Annual December Trip

The Annual December Trip Whew! Back from the annual December trip, my trek to North Carolina by plane . . . from there to South Florida with the kids by car (this year with a side trip to Tampa on some business) . . . back up to NC in the rental car, and then back north to NY for not quite two days. My favorite part of this annual trip is to deliver the kids' Hanukkah present to them in person. I got them both loads of goodies, and have been gathering the gifts up since last Summer. It is always a pleasure to do this, even if it does mean extending the dates beyond when the holiday actially falls. But it is worth it, to be there and see their faces as they unwrap the presents! More Travel, New Year's Eve Tomorrow Susan and I pick up the annual bag of goodies (provisions from Mr. Kold Kuts, an Italian deli of great reknown, by which all others pale in comparison, plus a selection of beers from all over the world, hand-picked by Steve of Nu Way Beverages, a man who knows his way around malts and hops) and drive to Virginia to the yearly New Year's Eve party. My trusty 1989 Honda Accord has over 300,000 miles on it, and continues to provide reliable transportion.  It needs to be babied, coddled, and have frequent oil changes...and, gee ... we sure will miss this one when it finally goes out to that old car pasture in the sky. . . The ancient Honda should make the job with no trouble, as it has spent the past 12 days in the hands of Augie The Honest Car Mechanic, who tweaked, tuned up, replaced, repaired, and otherwise babied the old geezer of a car into good shape. Given the 300,000+ miles on it, we are beginning to consider this as the twilight of the car's usefulness. And I have my eyes on the new Accord, which looks like a suitable replacement for this one. Some people have their ego wrapped all around, into, and a part of their car. Not yours truly! To me a car is simply a means of transportation, and usually a mini-storage-unit, as well. I don't care if it is sleek, sporty, a performance vehicle, or any of those things that matter to people who give a hoot about cars. If it drives, handles well in the rain and snow,and has a decent-sized trunk, it is okay with me. And since I drive where there's snow, I like to drive a manual, not an automatic. Give me a stick, give me a high-milage vehicle, give me cup holders . . . and throw in a moon roof with a wind spoiler . . . and I am a happy guy. Back to the Annual Trip The visual highlight of this year's trip from NC to FL was seeing not only a restaurant named Tokyo Joe's Steakhouse, but also driving past the place's corporate headquarters. There we were, someplace somewhere near Brunswick, GA, and once again we stopped in at the reliable restaurant, Applebee's. Unlike many of the garbage-passing-for-aliments restaurants and fast-food-joints one can visit on the road, we prefer a reliable, somewhat trustworthy place. This Applebee's has filled the bill for two years thus far.

We saw not only this attractive restaurant, but also the corporate Tokyo Joe's headquarters, in a small building just a few thousand yards away, nestled between an Applebee's parking lot and the back end of Tokyo Joe's and Rascal's (Tokyo Joe's cousin!).

Tokyo Joe's Steakhouse is a little ways down the shopping center from the Brunswick-area Applebee's. Next year we will try out Tokyo Joe's. Such an attractive place from the outside. It beckons us! We drove past it in awe, and even used the trusty digital camera to shoot that picture of the restaurant's sign (above the main entrance) lit up, late at night. Very alluring. If the food is half as good as the signage and the whole general ambience of the place, we should be in for a good time.

Wear and Tear This year the trip was more grueling than usual. Possibly due to my knee being in dreadful shape, possibly because the older I get, the more the flying and driving take out of me. The drive down from NC to Tampa was not so bad, although we did have a very slow-go getting from I-26 to I-95. We hit the southbound holiday traffic, and it was plentiful. That was the Saturday before Christmas, so the roads were packed with holiday travelers. We got a late start ñ the kids and I slept in, we took a trip over to Costco before leaving ñ and had no specific schedule, so we were not too worried. Weíd hoped to hit Tampa by dusk, but the traffic was heavy and the driving was quite slow most of the way down 26 and 95. For much of the way, we were actually going slower than the speed limit. This was a first for me, on an Interstate. The slow drive found us needing to stop for dinner instead of getting to Tampa in time for dinner (hence, Applebeeís) and then we stopped at a Hampton Inn to get a decent nightís rest. A reliable, clean, comfortable place --- a sure bet when on the Interstate --- as opposed to a back-breaking bed, smelly room, shitty shower sort of cheapo rest-stop.  We prefer these Hampton Inns, they are reliable and consistent. We generally look for Hampton Inns on these drives. They are reliable, clean, comfortable, and moderately priced. Some years back one of my broadcasting clients was a part of a conglomerate that also operated a number of Hampton Inns. He told me about the stringent rules the franchisees must follow, and the requirements and the spot visits from ìhome office spiesî to ascertain that various levels of comfort, cleanliness, and customer service are kept to the chainís standards. I am happy to report that the standards seem to be in force. Like I said, we like Hampton Inns, we seek them out on the highway. Getting to Tampa the next day was a breeze as we drive across the state on I-4. Once we were in Tampa we got a little lost, but found our way. MapQuestís directions were miserable. Yahooís seem better, for the most part. Any recommendations for online driving directions other than Mapquest or Yahoo are welcomed. Please advise if you know of a reliable source! We had a nice, albeit too short, stay in Tampa. Then we drove across Alligator Alley to the land of the Hanging Chad, Palm Beach County, FL. an ecological splendor to experience in the daytime, an ominous and foreboding nighttime ride. Alligator Alley (I-75) is a dark and foreboding nighttime drive! Like a straight line once one is headed eastward, with almost no rest stops, no signs of life, gas-food-phone-lodging, or much lighting. And, unlike the day before, almost no other cars on the road. It felt a bit like being in one of those movies shown on HBO or Showtime at 3:35AM. Both kids asleep in the car, no radio station worth listening to within earshot, and not much traffic, in the dark of night. I half expected to see the ghost of Ted Bundy, thumbing a ride. Or maybe Rod Serling. Or, worse, the two of them, along with Judge Crater and D.B Cooper. We got to my parents' place in the middle of the night. Said hello, hugs, kisses, brought our bags inside, and promptly went to sleep.

Delray, Boca, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth These are places I dread the thought of ever finding myself actually living in . . . I told the kids to kill me if I become like what seems to be the norm around these parts: disgusted, unhappy older folks, complaining, bitching, moaning, having arguments, and shaking their heads over just how bad everything seems to be. The lines at the restaurants are too long; as are the lines at the movies. The [other] drivers are crazy. The lights are too long, the lanes are too wide, the streetlights are too far apart, the sun is too bright . . . how can people do so much complaining? The kids and I had an interesting time on one restuarant waiting line. While their grandparents ran into a nearby grocery to pick up some things, we waited on a line to get a table at a nice little restaurant/faux deli. Everyone on the line was complaining. The wait was too long, an hour, at least, said the woman in front of us. Another woman complained that the hostess didn't take names, so how could she know how long people had been on line? I, for one, wondered what difference it really made, but kept my mouth shut. Meanwhile, the line moved rather quickly, and within ten minutes we were seated. Just as we got to the front of the line, along come my parents to join us for the brief wait. Good timing on their part! But man, oh man, all those disgruntled old people! At one point the kids and I were waiting for a parking pace, and we were entranced with an old geezer who took about three minites to unlock his car door, open it, and then sit in front of the wheel. We were quite transfixed by this guy. We counted out each movement he took: one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand . . . it took the guy up to twenty-three-one thousand to start the car after he'd closed the door!! But we got the space, and it was worth the wait, for both proximity to our destination, as well as entertainment value.

GRUMPY, GRUMPY, GRUMPY! On that restaurant waiting line the kids and I had an interesting discussion. All these grumpy oldsters seem to have used up all or most of their allotment of Happy. This would explain the constant edginess and disgust with the ways of their world. Florida during the holidays means longer lines, more people everywhere, and a crush and a crowd. There are visitors, family guests, tourists, and so on. This is no surprise or change from the norm. Even on movie lines, the disgruntled mumbles, the bitching and moaning, the complaints! It is very disconcerting. Using up one's allotment of Happy is a dangerous thing. One is born with some Hapy, and it also develops and is nurtured (or not) by one's upbringing. There are cases in which a dysfunctional or problem upbringing can have negative impact on one's allotment of Happy --yet this can be turned around, overcome. The more Happy one has, the more Happy one retains and continues to enjoy. Those who don't utilize or enjoy their Happy tend to lose some of it, and they run out of it (or mostly so) after a matter of (or passage of) time. Happy can be bought, but inherent Happy, natural Happy, internal Happy, cannot, and is worthier and more self-regenerating. Purchased or rented Happy is usually more material and less organic. Organic Happy is the best, as it redoubles and multiplies. Some people think there is a use-by date on one's lifetime allotment of Happy. I think otherwise. One can have Happy until the very end. But one has to have had it, recognised it, enjoyed it and shared it in order to keep it fresh and available as well as regenerating. Too many of the oldsters we encountered this trip in Palm Beach County had run out of Happy. This cannot make for a pleasant life. All the more reason to find one's Happy, spread it, share it, make it a basic part of one's life. Without Happy one becomes, well, unhappy. Given this, is there even a choice to be made? It seems obvious that having and sharing one's Happy is the way to go. Sure, some of this is written with a sense levity, of whimsy. But those who lack Happy won't perceive the serious message . . . because it is written and expressed with a generous dose of Happy as part of the spirit. It is also wistful and compassionate for those who appear to have misplaced, used up, or just lost their Happy. One can attempt to share it, but some of those who are out of Happy altogether are not capable of receiving it, or of accepting it and making it a part of their person.

ACTIVITIES Every year we go to Boomers, an arcade. This year was no exception. except now we are going to reconsider some of these ritual-type activities. The kids are getting a little too old for these arcades and the overpriced prizes-for-tickets. Same goes for Wilt Chamberlain's, a restaurant/sports bar/arcade sort of establishment. We visited the Cheesecake Factory, Poppy's, Two Jays (but not 3G's), and some other area restaurants. We went to see Catch Me If You Can at a Muvico larger-than-life facility with some 24 or so screens. My son was unimpressed with a pretty good Chinese restaurant we went to, and my daughter didn't like the food there. My son thought the service was weird, and felt that our waitress was too much "in your face." I thought she was actually pretty sweet and and attentive; and I thought my daughter's dish (wor shu op) was excellent. And, for the second year in a row, we found a place with a no-sugar dessert for Diabetic diners such as I. This was sugar-free coffee ice cream. And at a Chinese restaurant! We'd read on the net about a chocolate facory and museum with a tour and interesting things to do. It turns out to be a shop where one can look through the window to see the workers in a huge kitchen, and also has gardens outside for strolling. Not quite what we'd wanted, but at least the kids and their grandparents got some nice chocolates while we were there. We played Scrabble, the kids enjoyed playing The Sims on my old laptop (the one for which we actually have to get an external monitor, as Sony still does not repair the LCD or honor the warranty). I spent some time on the phone, tending to business. Then we drove back up to NC. This time we could not find an available hotel or motel rooom anywhere in Northern Florida or Southern Georgia. Everywhere we went, they were booked solid. Not a vacancy in sight. So we dozed at rest stops. And drove straight through, back to the kids' place in NC. The next day, after a fair night's rest at their house, I caught a plane to NY and resumed my life. The best part was being back in my own bed, with my own pillow, and the comforts of home. Did a little work, got the car back from Augie The Honest Car Mechanic, ran a few errands, and now will have a little more work on Tuesday morning, then head down to Virginia for New Year's Eve. See you next year . . . have a happy, healthy, safe, and properous New Year!

This is what the New Year looks like in black & white.