Having previously worked at ET, I already knew about the culture, including the media outlets ranking them as one of the top places to work, so I returned to the cubical life after a couple years of avoiding a desk job. The time I spent there was as good as I could've imagined; and the relationships I made with my co-workers may last a lifetime. Fast-forward 18 months: I'm resigning due to something I didn't anticipate. Rather than being discouraged by the news, I decided to pack a suitcase and head south. I wanted to get somewhere that wasn't snowing. I have family in Florida, and they've been inviting me to come down and see them for years... well, don't mind if I do.
I began my travels by stopping in Burlington, Kentucky where I played disc golf at Idlewild Park. If you've ever played this sport, this course has to be on your bucket list. Next I drove through Knoxville on my way to Pigeon Forge. The lights and glamour of Dollywood pulled me in. After dinner, I drove through Gatlinburg and stopped at Clingman's Dome (6,640 ft elevation). I parked and slept in my car at the top of the Smoky Mountains highest peak so I would see the sunrise in the morning.
The next morning I buzzed through Cherokee NC where I saw wild elk roaming the foothills. That afternoon I finally arrived at Hilton Head Island where I played a nice round of golf. After spending the night there, I made my way down the coast, stopping in Jacksonville and Daytona, before arriving in Orlando where I met up with my cousin Chanel. The next day I drove to my grandparents' house in Sebring and stayed with them for a couple days. Gramps is limited in his mobility, so I helped out with the yardwork by chopping trees and pullin weeds. The labor in Florida heat didn't kill me; in fact it felt good to sweat. Plus it felt good to help.
The next day I drove to St. Petersburg and just relaxed in the sun and sand. My homeboy Titus was also there for his sister's wedding that week. After a few hours swimming, playing, and hunting seashells, they went inside their room at Tradewinds while I stayed outside to watch the sunset. All the sudden I'm approached by a girl holding a clipboard asking if I wanted to be on TV. She explained that Jerry Springer is hosting a dating show Baggage, so I signed the waiver form and agreed to answer some questions. They asked me questions like "What's a dealbreaker?" and "Worst first date" which I may have embellished a lil bit, and then they had me hold hands with a Latin hottie so they could film our silhouette against the sunset. I made chitchat with the stranger while we were holding hands to ease the obvious awkwardness. They tell me the episode will air in January on GSN.
That night I ate dinner in Clearwater at Rumba Island, an open-air bar & grill with lively atmosphere. There I witnessed Indiana beat Miami, while wearing my Pacers gear. While I couldn't find anybody to high-five, plenty of smug smiles were on full display. What I still don't understand is the Pacers JV squad can beat teams like Chicago, Dallas and Miami but still sport a losing record? The worst possible scenario is if they barely make the playoffs and then fizzle out. Get yourself together!
Friday morning I spent most of the day at St Pete beach again before heading back to Highlands County. Saturday was gameday, so I met up with my cousin who's a Notre Dame grad and we watched football all day. Sunday Funday started after noon at some bar with every game on and then we migrated to Wall Street, a small group of bars along a single block. You show your ID once and then you get to bounce around all the bars within that gated area. I had my first "Loaded Corona" which is your normal Corona topped with a shot of Bacardi Limon. Wow! Not only did it enhance the flavor, it got me drunk quicker. After 4 of those, I was feelin great! The late games were less exciting (only 3 games) but the crowd was still steady, until we went to this tiny bar called The Hen House. Their bartender looked and acted exactly like James Franco, except he had super long hair. Things started to get a lil foggy at this point... but I do have memory of lightly conversing with a girl who had multiple piercings in her face and tats all up and down her body. I remember she was very touchy-feely with me and was also laughing at almost everything I said. By the time it sunk in she was hitting on me, she was leaving but at least I managed to get her name/facebook. The next morning when I sobered up I regretted not being more alpha in that situation. The good news she took my mind off that Colts loss to the Patriots - and the Irish loss to the Wildcats. Ugh.
Next, my plan was to visit Wet 'n Wild or some other water park, but the thunderstorms were rolling in and I didn't want to waste $50 so I headed back to my grandparents for a few days before heading to Palm Beach County. I played a round of golf at Abacoa in perfect conditions (mid-70s, slight breeze) but not far from perfect play. I started off grouped with a 2-some (father and son) and it was ugly early. I couldn't calm down from whatever was bothering me so I just jumped ahead of them and then played a couple holes by myself until I ran into a 4-some that let me pass through. A few holes later I reached a 3-some that invited me to join them. Two of the guys were in their 40s or 50s and were from out of town. The other guy looked like Pete Carroll and was a club member. I then started playing great, with birdie putts on consecutive holes - including a 151-yd shot that landed 6 ft from the cup. I always play so much better when I don't drink. Hmm.
I met up with my Uncle in Jupiter, who took me out for a couple nights showing me around town. We also watched HS basketball and soccer games and marveled over the lack of crowd size. Maybe I'm spoiled by LC (and IU) athletics or maybe Florida residents just don't get as involved in spectator sports. My Uncle reminds me of my mom and my grandpa, both in their looks and their mannerisms. He deserves much praise for playing a vital role in the community, and for chatting with me for hours about women, family, having wealth, performing service, sports, history, schooling and especially woodworking. I may have even helped him learn something when I showed him how to instantly Google "how to" videos from my phone. He still uses a flip phone but he only pays ~$35/mo. Even though I'd never buy Apple, I recommended the iPhone since it's probably best for beginners.
Next I made my way down the coast and across the Keys. I visited once before, about 15 years ago, but my memory of that was very spotty. The major event that stands out from that vacation was that I got to go SCUBA diving - without a certification. This time, I tried asking around to see how I could do this again, but everywhere I asked they told me it was a minimum 2-day crash course and $300. I wasn't in the mood for wasting that much time or money, so I elected to go snorkeling instead. The session I signed up for was re-scheduled due to "poor visibility" so we rescheduled for the next day. During the day, I visited everything I could find. The island was busy with tourists, but since its so small and I had my car, traveling around was quick and easy. One night I randomly ran into a former colleague. He was with his fiance and they were only there because they had to re-schedule their trip to Cancun due to her passport expiring. Its crazy when you see a recognizable face thousands of miles away from home. (OK, so technically not exactly 'thousands' but my car was already over 2k on this particular roadtrip - and ended up being 3.6k). I stayed in the only Hostel on the island, Seashell Hostel, for $45/night. My bed shared a room with a French couple, 4 German girls and a Korean.
On my snorkeling trip, I met a girl from South Carolina. We hit off pretty well and exchanged phone numbers. She tried to invite me back to her hotel but I had my own agenda that night and unfortunately it didn't include her. My hope was that I find a State Park camping spot (ie. Long Key or Marathon) and watch the sunrise the next morning. I was not having much luck finding anything suitable until I got Islamorada - the "sport fishing capital of the world". There I found a resort that was temporarily closed due to repair, which meant their parking lot was empty aside from some construction equipment. I parked my car in the back lot, tucked away from the main road (Overseas Highway) so I wouldn't be seen by anyone unless they drive back there. My plan was to chill in the car, but then I noticed some lawn chairs out on the beach, so I figured "why not". As I walked over there, I noticed there was also some hammocks. I thought "perfect!". Upon closer inspection, I found there was also a pool and hottub! Wow, my own private resort! I immediately took advantage of this situation by going skinny dipping in the pool and jacuzzi, despite both about 10 degrees lower than perfect (82 and 105, respectively) it didn't bother me one bit. As I lay in the hammock watching the stars and hearing the waves crash 20 feet away, I thought THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR. I used my backup phone as my mp3 player (because it has a 3-4 day battery life) and fell asleep listening to slow jams.
When I woke up in the morning the crew was just arriving but didn't say anything to me; I don't think they knew much English anyway. I snapped a few more gems before heading north. I ate a granola bar for breakfast during the drive to Ft Lauderdale and grabbed some Subway for the beach. After a couple hours soaking in the blazing sun I ventured further north to Delray Beach. I made a stop in Boca and the locals were ridiculously rude. Once I got to the beach I found this to be the biggest and busiest of them all. I played 3-on-3 volleyball and went swimming. Then I drove on A1A all the way through West Palm and drove about 35-40 MPH the whole time, gazing at the luxurious properties and houses. If I ever become filthy rich I want a house here.
After a late night partying, I did Thanksgiving in Orlando with my Uncle, Aunt, Cousins, Grandparents, and friends. The cable repairman was there for a couple hours to fix a surge caused by thunder while they were on a cruise earlier that week. We still got to watch football and the food was delicious; I contributed some pies. After most had left, we played Hold'Em for hours then gleefully decided we'd do it again in Vegas someday. On my way back home I stopped in St. Augustine, FL; Charleston, SC; Grandfather Mountain, NC; Lexington, KY; to name a few. I played a round of frisbee golf in Frankfort, KY and finally spent the night on the Ohio River near Belterra Casino. I lost cell service until I left the next morning and saw missed texts from Mom, Dad and Sis. Hopefully they understand I'm not attached to my cell, especially when on vacation. Living off the grid is an indescribable feeling. Part anxiousness - part bliss? However, causing your family worry/concern is undesirable. Currently examining options on next adventure.