Thursday, December 01, 2016

In the Denver Public Library, remembering a Florida Thanksgiving

Convened with family on Thanksgiving and nobody mentioned Trump. Maybe it was Trump Fatigue Syndrome (TFS). Maybe we all were cognizant that if the subject came up, it would be like venturing out into the ocean in a too-small boat searching for Jaws. All hell would break loose. Trumpmania would batter the boat, eat one of the crew and close in for the kill.

It didn't happen. Maybe that's because my niece Erin, who was getting married on Nov. 21, urged all of us not to talk politics anywhere near the wedding. She had witnessed the post-election bloodletting on Facebook, Twitter and real life and wanted no part of that on her special day. We were all good do-bees that day, and it carried over to Thanksgiving Thursday at Disney.

The truce is over. But I will save my good shots for later as I have to catch up with the last two weeks. When last I posted, I was in the midst of Trumplandia in Kissimmee, Florida, the strip of Hwy. 192 that circles Disney World and leads into it. It's an endless array of  motels, fast-food joints and timeshare hucksters. Chris and I survived it, although there were doubts along the way. Once we got over to Daytona Beach, our old hometown, life took a turn for the better. We saw people we knew, imbibed some drinks, watched the ocean and eventually got into the wedding groove. My assignment, one that I had gladly accepted a year ago, was to fill in for my dear departed brother Patrick and give the bride away. I took the honor very seriously, even breaking the tuxedo out of mothballs for the occasion. I walked the bride down the aisle and handed her off to the groom, Michael. I did this in the name of all of my brothers and sisters, Pat's siblings, who were all in attendance, save for Pat and brother Dan, both deceased. I felt Pat's presence. He would have loved to be on hand for this day. He drank himself to death or, more accurately, drank himself into bad health and then caught a virulent strain of pneumonia and that's what killed him. We loved Pat. We also are angry at him. That sums up family life. Angry one moment, glad the next. My brothers and I had some of the craziest fights. But when challenged from the outside, we responded like the 300 Spartans at the Gates of Fire.

Pat's spirit was there. I look at some of the old photos, such as the ones we have from a backpacking trip we took to Colorado in 1975. He is young and happy and long of hair, and so am I. Over time, he changed. His brothers, for the most part, were able to leave the heavy drinking behind. He did not. He grew more aloof and somber. We talked often but saw one another seldom due to physical distance. I have nothing else to say about that.

I spent Thanksgiving with family at Disney's Fort Wilderness. Many of them camped while I went home to my sister's condo at night. I may have more camping experience that anyone else there. But it's a different kind of camping. We were always tent people. Sleeping bags on a pad on the tent floor. Cooking by campfire. You know, camping as it exists in the Rocky Mountain West.

Disney camping is more like Celebrity Camping. My friend Dave in Denver insisted that Celebrity Camping was camping out of the back of a car or truck. You might sleep on the ground. But you were equipped by coolers and beer and ice and music and food easily dispensed from a package or a can. This sort of camping was done in lieu of real camping, which involved planning and carrying things and erecting tents or other shelters. That kind of camping took time and patience. For Celebrity Camping, you just had to grab your stuff, throw it in the trunk and go, baby, go -- get out of Denver!

Disney Camping during Thanksgiving is part real camping and part Celebrity Camping. It takes planning to reserve a campsite a year in advance, put down a deposit on a gigantic camper and then actually plan the meals. Rent a golf cart, can't forget that, as each campsite has a charging station. You'll need decorations, too. One of my sisters said she often wondered who buys those giant inflatables at Wal-Mart. Wonder no more -- it's my friends and family from Volusia County, Florida. Also the guy from New York who comes down to Fort Wilderness every year with dozens of holidays inflatables, including a big one that recreates a scene from "Frozen" in a giant snow globe. He spends three months at Disney with his inflatable phantasmagoria. It even has a lighted walkway that encircles the exhibit. A group of campers come every year from Georgia and South Carolina to erect a teepee village. They are not Native Americans but former Scouters who got bit by the BSA's pseudo-Native mythology and practices, such as Order of the Arrow. The teepees, patterned after those used by the Cheyenne, were gorgeous, I have to say. I also wondered what the Standing Rock Sioux might think of them.

Many creative campers. Many Disney inflatables on display. Also, many banners and displays for favorite sports teams. Many FSU Seminoles and Florida Gators, as the two teams were set to square off in the upcoming Rivalry Weekend. I saw entire sites given over to University of South Carolina Gamecocks, University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and other assorted large southern public universities whose main function seems to be sports merchandising. Some of you may believe the stories about big-time college football and the NFL are on their way out due to mothers who won't let their babies grow up to be linebackers because they might dent their blunt skulls. Au contraire, mes amis. I personally witnessed the FSU/UF match-up. Each team fielded about 500 players and a quorum of coaches. UF itself arrived at Doak Campbell Stadium with a fleet of team buses, escorted by police. This annoyed swarms of tailgaters who were delayed, sometimes by minutes, from reaching their favorite keg. Tailgating is religion in the South. Actually football is religion and tailgating is a sacrament, if I may use a Catholic reference. The food and booze flow freely. Many toasts are made to the old alma mater. Many games of cornhole are played as it, unlike big-time SEC football, can be played successfully drunk. I myself witnessed several bean bags go into the cornhole when the thrower was imbibing.

My sister took me to the football game. She is a dedicated Noles fan, as FSU Seminoles fans refer to themselves. I am a dedicated fan of the Florida Gators, although I haven't attended a game in person since 1977.  The Gators lost that game too, also to FSU. If this keeps up, I may have to skip the 2055 game. They may be playing it on Mars by then.

I covered a lot of territory during my Florida trip. I sojourned to Kissimmee and Winter Park and downtown Orlando and Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach and Gainesville and Tallahassee. If you get a chance, visit the Proof Brewing Company's beer garden in Tallahassee's Railroad Square Art Park. Great beers, fun atmosphere and (of course) a cornhole court. I certainly liked Proof's La La Land IPA and its Mango Wit. Met the brewmaster, too, a big galoot wearing Florida Gators colors while he tended his vats. "Most of the beer here is brewed by Gators," he told us. I also recommend the Osceola County History Museum. Great displays and it's free. The beach, as always, is invigorating. Family is worth seeing again, especially if they buy the football tickets. Writers Block is a great bookstore in downtown Winter Park.  I would not recommend driving in Orlando during peak times, which seems to be from 12:01 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. Florida's voters don't believe in rapid transit so they are stuck with extremely slow transit from one place to the other. I did look longingly at the sleek Sunrail train as it pulled into the station. You can take the train a few miles in Orlando, and Amtrak runs up and down the east coast. But the Republican Congress has starved rapid transit in the same way it did Obamacare.

Right now I'm writing this in Denver's cool downtown library. I look over Civic Center Park. I'm waiting for the Christmas lights to flicker on at the Civic Center. We always liked that when we lived here. They have the Parade of Lights this weekend but not sure I want to venture down into the maelstrom to watch it. It's a family outing kind of thing. The Griswolds may be there.

See you soon.

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