IV. At Last, Tampa!
We were up early again on Friday morning, our excitement building. We were 380 miles from our last hotel before boarding the ship. With cooperative weather, we’d be there in seven hours.
We set out for the last leg along I-26, before I’d even had my coffee. Within half an hour we changed course to join I-95. There was still no hint of daylight as I merged. Traffic was, as yet, sparse. Only the clearance lights of a semi-trailer were visible far ahead as I settled into the lane. In the rear view mirror, I could see the headlights of another truck a mile or 2 behind.
A tradition we’ve kept over the years we’ve traveled that route to Florida is a breakfast stop in St. George, SC. This year was no exception. It was only 2 or 3 exits south of I-26.
Okay, we like the Waffle House. Call it a gastronomic guilty pleasure. Chris always orders a Pecan waffle and I like a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich, with a dill pickle and mayonnaise. And just because we happen to be in the South, I’ll order a side of grits. Not to do so would be a serious breech of shuttle diplomacy, in my opinion. That particular Waffle House serves the best grits. And the mayonnaise and butter packets have never tasted rancid. We discovered the place by accident a few years ago.
My mouth watered as the GPS beeped for the exit. Some things in the world make the Seahunks Pavlov’s dog. We drove carefully, observantly, as we made our way along Rte78 to the service road of the Waffle House.
Speeding along Rte78 had been a problem for the good folks of St. George a few years ago. They addressed the problem by dressing a female mannequin in a police uniform. They parked her behind the wheel of a police car just east of the I-95 entrance. Year to year, she’ll be on one side of the road or the other. To Chris and me she’s the same sort of symbol for St.George, as the Fisherman is for Gloucester. We always watch for her. She has gazed at us many times as we passed through. She always smiles welcomingly when she sees us.
The sun rose as we ate breakfast, revealing yet another overcast sky. I prayed that the sky could hold its water. We traversed the rest of South Carolina, on dry pavement, the sky threatening otherwise, all the way.
I didn’t think to check the time as we entered the state with three names. Some years ago, before I actually drove the route, a truck-driving friend had described driving through Georgia in a most unique way. He said: “If you wake up from a nap in the passenger seat and ask where you are, the driver says ‘Georgia.’ So, you go back to sleep. An hour later you wake up and ask again. The driver says, ‘still in Georgia.’ So, you go back to sleep. An hour later you wake up and ask again. This time the driver says, ‘GEORGIA!!!!” I didn’t know what he meant until I actually drove it. It just seems like it stays on your mind for a long, long time.
But, of all the states along the route to Florida, Georgia provides the biggest thrill when I cross the state line. Its air always provides the strongest salt; I can literally taste it. I-95 passes over a wide assortment of tidal basins and estuaries. And it’s always in Georgia, near Brunswick, that I see the first ships of the trip. Though they are 5 miles away, one or two, usually RoRos, are visible from I-95.
But, as we passed over the Turtle River on that Friday morning, no ships could be seen. Brunswick and St Simons were socked in by fog, which even obscured the tensioning towers of the Lanier Bridge being constructed east of I-95. The only boats we saw were a few fishing trawlers. I was too busy driving to be disappointed in the absence of something bigger. This trip was focused on another ship, loved but as yet unseen.
At 10:45 we entered Florida. Our early arrival left us time for lunch, of no distinctive character—thank you, Ronald M. And the weather was still holding, though a few clouds looked like the scudding remnants of a thunderhead.
We arrived at our hotel, 23 miles from the terminal, at 3 PM, leaving plenty of time for our exploration of the port. After checking in, we made our way back to the car. I had programmed each segment of the trip according to date. I brought up the routing program for Saturday.
Between watching the signs, and taking furtive glances at the GPS, I managed to exit one ramp too early. While we weren't exactly lost, I was mighty bewildered! No turn took us to a street with a familiar name. I finally pulled over, stopped the routing program and asked the GPS to point to the terminal.
In the course of my Sensation research, I had found an online photo album that showed a view of Channelside Drive from inside a car approaching the terminal. After a chain of spiraling lefts and rights, with a u-turn thrown in for good measure, I was finally looking at the scene depicted in that photo. The only thing absent was Sensation. I knew she’d be there the next time I saw that scene, in about 20 hours.
We found our way to dinner that night the same way. I had programmed the route, but as we neared the house, the street names got a bit confusing. So, once more, I asked the unit to point to the house. Again, it was a matter of lefts and rights, but we got there--look ma, no u-turns--and had a great dinner with some of the folks who would travel with us. And shish-kabob and the evening were the third day.
Seahunks note: Chapter V will be the longest chapter yet. It is way beyond busy. Though it poses a significant editing challenge, I'll see if I can condense it any further.
CONDENSE? If you want condensation move to S. Fla. We don’t need no stinkin condensing…. We need to get to the ship. This is even better than I had imagined. I knew it would be a pleasure to relive this with you.
Do you need an agent… we can start with the hardcover… then the MOVIE…. starring Herve Villechaize as you and Gwyneth Paltrow as your Wife. Then it’s on to BROADWAY……. Looks like the Seahunks fan club is already being formed.
Jason If a grin is transmittable, and laughing is contagious, here’s hoping for an epidemic!
I absolutely agree, Jason... puhleeeeeeze don't condense! The long version is such a pleasure to read. Thanks, Steve, for the continuing story.
I think the Broadway version ought to be titled Seahunks! The exclamation point is mandatory, of course. The obligitory love triangle would focus on Steve's feelings of being torn between his wife and the ship. The highlight would be the elaborate song-and-dance number that ends with Steve swan-diving into the lettuce bowl.
I can see it now:
The original Broadway smash... Seahunks! starring Nathan Lane and Bernadette Peters... tickets on sale now!
Land Cruise, Britain and Belgium
Post Edited (03-03-03 10:54)
Now posting as MichelleP.
Jason, Herve Vaillechez died several years ago. Richard Dreyfus, I've been told, is nearly a double for me. And once when I was siiting in restaurant, a waiter thought I was the comedian, Gallagher(sp?). I promptly asked why there was no watermelon on the menu. And I'd rather see Lisa Kudrow play my wife.
Michelle, I think a better name for the stage production would be Finding Sensation, for reasons to become self-evident in upcoming installments. Thirty years ago, when the rest of the country was going nuts about Dolly Parton, I was more interested in Bernadette. I like that choice, though I haven't seen her for some years.
I think you should try to hawk this to Reader's Digest. You could
do an uncondensed version, one episode a month. Wait no,
a mini-series, whatever you do don't sell your rights away. You
know hollywood they would buckle to the censor's, go for at least
What?.... Herve is dead?.... I swear I saw him on tour with Elvis. It is Fantasy Island you know... OK, OK, I'll try to get Lisa Kudrow, but I must warn you, I don't recall the last time I spoke with her.
Lets get the book done first, than we'll talk.... GET TYPING... we have a deadline...got to go, I've got a publisher on hold.
Jason If a grin is transmittable, and laughing is contagious, here’s hoping for an epidemic!
Tampa Shmampa! Last hotel?????// Phooey! ! Breakfast at Waffle House........baloney. Get to the good stuff, I'm dying here. Whipped cream all over the bed, licking champagne from body parts, uh..........................whoa, am I still thinking of the same story???
Oh yeah, slip-n-slide acrobatics in the buffet food. C'mon Steve!
By the time I finish reading this story Alabama's new state motto will be "We now have electricity."
I've loved reading your story! Please don't edit too much.... I want to print them all out and bring them with me to read again - each installment back to back - when I leave for my next cruise on April 5th. I'm enjoying your adventure so much!
Before all these others want a piece of you, I think I was the first to suggest:
Date: 02-28-03 23:22
Just think of it this way, Steve - you're well on your way to writing a book ... and we are your eager readers who will recommend it to everyone else when it hits the book stores BUT now WE need to know. Do NOT leave us in suspense. Edit/smedit ... you can do that later.
AND - I don't want a piece of you ... I just want you to continue with this delightful story. On the other hand, if you'd like to give me the agent's 10% that would be okay. .
I cruise the Emerald Princess, Eastern Caribbean on April 16, 2012