Monthly Archives: February 2012

People doing good things, part II

We use Yelp to help us find good cheap local food while we travel. Here in the south, Jack’s on a constant mission for seafood, and his criterion is simply how close to the fishing dock he gets to eat it. We found exactly the right place in Cortez, FL, called the Star Fish Co. It was obvious the Yelp reviews were true when we saw the line snaking around the picnic tables and waited on the windy dock for an hour just to order.

While we stood there, a woman wearing a Wildlife Rescue t-shirt walked out onto the dock with a death grip on a pelican with one arm, her other hand clamped around his beak. Conversation stopped as she made it to the end of the dock and released the pelican into the water, then we applauded her and she smiled and gave a little nod.

“I’ve got two more!” she said with a wave and kept on walking. We made it to the order window and got distracted with our menu choices and missed the other two pelicans being released.

After we ordered we wangled a table out on the end of the dock to wait for our food. Wildlife Rescue woman came back out, this time with a small bucket of fish.

“Where are you rescuing them from?” I asked.

“They’ve all been in the hospital having surgery to repair torn gullets or stomachs.”

I gasped as I realized what she was saying. “From fish hooks,” I said, and the picture in my head wasn’t pretty.

“You’d be surprised how many people just rip a hook out instead of asking for help,” she said, and I made a mental note of the name of her organization, the Wildlife Center of Venice. She added, “I release them here because I know they’ll get a good meal. And they get welcomed back into the group.”

While we were talking, the 20 or 30 pelicans in the area flew up onto the dock and were gathering around us, focused on that little bucket and looking pretty annoyed with me for holding up lunch. Wildlife Rescue woman pointed at one of them.

“I think he’s blind in that eye.” His eyes were different colors, but I couldn’t tell which would be the good one. “I’m going to watch him, and if it looks like he’s losing weight I’ll take him in,” she said. Then she pointed at another fellow waiting none too patiently for the fish.

“And you! You were with us for about six months, weren’t you?” Even though I couldn’t distinguish one pelican from another, I didn’t wonder that she could. We hand fed dozens of squirrels back in our old life, and I could nearly always tell them apart.

The pelicans were starting to crowd us and I offered the obvious “I think they want your fish” and went back to our table to watch with a little envy as this woman about my age went about her work. She tossed fish to each one and observed carefully for any signs of ill health. She made sure the one with the bad eye got a couple of extra fish and gave a last long look at them all before she headed back down the dock.

“I’m on my way over there,” she said, pointing further down the waterfront, “and watch, they’ll follow me.”

Our food came and we started to eat. Wildlife Rescue woman disappeared through the crowded line at the Star Fish Company. A few minutes later the pelicans suddenly rose up out of the water and flew down the street. We watched until we saw her appear with another white bucket.

Not a bad gig, I thought. Then I noticed the streak of pelican poop splattered across my hoodie.


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You beg, you steal, you borrow

Waiting in the service lounge at the Naples Hyundai dealer, I’m contemplating what a $1,000 radiator might look like. I’m beginning to feel like Della Street, in a swanky restaurant, asking Perry Mason what they could possibly do to a cup of coffee to make it cost a dollar. Stay tuned, Della.

It’s getting hot in the Humble Hyundai. The air conditioning gave up in Pensacola while we were looking at an interesting catamaran with an even more interesting broker. While discussing the fine points of in-boom furlers I mentioned our good friend Danish born Willy (name withheld to protect a checquered past). The broker knew him well because he’d had a sail loft in Pensacola. The last of the hand made old timers. He wasn’t kidding.I spent many hours watching and helping him on hands and kness, on his loft floor. Spellbound spent several years right beside his loft in Fairhope Al.

We used to stay on his schooner on the Magnolia River right out in back of his cantilevered house. Every morning I would take one of his beautiful wooden row boats for a spot of rowing up the Magnolia River, which has the last daily delivery of the US mail by boat in the US.¬†At night he’d regale us with stories about when he was in the French Foreign Legion, and was told that the next evening he would be parachuting into Dien Bien Phu with over 75lbs of ammo and supplies and would probably not survive the jump, (breaking an ankle or a leg was the equivalent of a death sentence) only to be told at the last second that it had been over-run and the French were pulling out. Or beating up a guy trying to sell his daughter into slavery at a Medina in Morocco where he was on guard duty. He laughed about the day his time was up and he was turned out with a fancy gold watch, a new suit, and some gold coins. He had lost all track of time and didn’t know it was his last day.

Willy learned his trade from his father and worked for Ted Hood, eventually supervising the bending on, tuning, and tweeking of Hood sails on Mega yachts. He’d lay down on the deck look up at the mast and order the crew to take up that turnbuckle and loosen whatever. “Ok…dhaats goooodt,” then he’d get up, smile and pack his bags.¬†Definately my most unforgettable character.

Well, miracle of miracles, on our way to Miami the air conditioner decided to cooperate and worked perfectly. Maybe things are looking up.

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People doing good things, part I

We rolled into New Orleans without a plan, and only a few hours to spend. We expected to just roam around the Quarter for a while, but at the last minute we took a labyrinthine detour to the Lower Ninth Ward to see how they were faring six years out. In August and September of 2005 we, like most people, sat glued to our TV as the horror of the storm and its aftermath sunk in. Going to the Lower Ninth was a pilgrimage of sorts, and we expected to feel the deep, draining sadness we’ve experienced at Gettysburg or Antietam. We didn’t expect to be inspired.

We knew things were looking up as we came off the bridge and were greeted by a new sign, “Welcome to the Historic Lower Ninth Ward.” PR? Sure. But there was pride in that sign, and money being spent.

Then we turned onto Tennessee St. and entered another world. This is the epicenter of the Make it Right foundation, the one founded by Brad Pitt, and my estimation of him soared for putting his considerable fortune and influence behind this project.

All around us were the most beautiful new homes, and there were crews up and down the streets building more. The houses were modest in size, and simple in layout, with the elongated shape of mobile homes. But each one was different, with a distinctive roof line, or railing or decorative facing. They were colorful and fanciful, and even more, substantial looking, and put paid to the notion that inexpensive doesn’t have to be cheap and ugly.

The levee is only yards away but these houses are way up on stilts and they’re ready for the next time luck turns against them


It was midday and most of the residents were at work, but we ran into a young man working on his car.

“Is one of these houses yours?” I asked.

“No,” he said, and pointed to an especially beautiful house with a grand staircase leading to the front door. “That’s my friend’s grandma’s house.”

He said he was there when the storm hit, and eventually ended up in Houston where he stayed for two years. We could see how much it meant to him when he said he was glad to be back. New Orleans does that to you.


There’s still plenty of work to do, and people were doing it. We felt awkward about taking photos of the building crews, being all touristy and all, but there were sounds of sawing and hammering for blocks in all directions.


We left the Make it Right area and drove just a few blocks over. And that’s when the deep sadness hit us. What was once a community is now a ghost town, still.


There are reminders of the weeks of horror everywhere.



There’s building going on in other areas of the Lower Ninth, not just in the Make it Right section. And we noticed that wherever there was a little church, houses were sprouting up around them. It reminded us of the way cities grew centuries ago. There would be a church and people would build near it. Then as each little village grew, it would connect with the next and pretty soon you had a big city, with churches anchoring the neighborhoods. The Lower Ninth is a lesson in history, archaeology and human resilience all wrapped up in one. We’re so glad we went.


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Letters from limbo

Ok, New Orleans is still my favorite town. I think, without getting too Psych
101 on everyone, it’s because it has that decaying decadence that appeals to my darker side. Without Marce I could very easily get lost here. It’s not an American City. Never has been. It’s an international city. Culturally, let’s just say it may be deep in the bible belt but you’d never know it.

We arrived at a special time while the entire town was decorating for Mardi Gras, what fun! Any town that reveres music as much as New Orleans does is copacetic with me and the cuisine is to die for.

We spent several hours with our new best friend, an old cajun who lives on his Privilege 39 in a hidden corner of a marina that has forgotten he’s back there. Some guys just know how to live.

Today we took the ferry from Dauphin Island to Orange Beach, completing a circle that we started with Spellbound in Fairhope, Alabama. We thought that after 6 months of serious construction we’d sail right out of Mobile Bay and circle Dolphin Island. It took a little longer and we never had the chance to see it by boat, but it still felt good to finally get there.

Ah yes yes dear reader, but what about the search? We’re still in limbo with no boat and no prospects leaving us without a real plan at the moment, other than patience, perseverance, and positive energy. None of these are my strong suit so we’re slowly working our way down to Miami for the Strictly Sail Show. We like boat shows, and we like visiting friends, so it’s a kind of plan.

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This time we mean it!

I can hear the band tuning up. The dulcet tones of The Blind Owl, the beginnings of that boogie beat are calling. We’ve been stationary too long. Yes we’re on the road again. Nashville, New Orleans, Miami for the boat show. Leaving Thursday we’ll visit the kids on the way and maybe even work in a day sail on a friends catamaran.
Tick tock, starting to really feel time pressure, this limbo has got to end.

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