Keeping Score: The road well traveled

  • A steel girder removed from the wreckage of the 9/11 attacks, mounted outside the Peter and Julie Cummings Library in Palm City, Fl. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Former Recorder staffer Josh Solomon now writes for the Stuart News in Martin County, Florida. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 1/10/2020 7:57:34 PM
Modified: 1/10/2020 7:56:54 PM

Good morning!
The Weather Channel refers to I-95 as Main Street, the 1,908-mile stretch of highway from Maine to Miami, and my first early-morning stop was to FanDuel off Exit 16W in New Jersey. 

The dimly-lit sports book was nearly empty and three clerks were laconically punching out tickets to patrons who needed a shave and a shower. A soccer match from London was the only live action, and someone at the bar behind me whooped after his team scored a goal.

“That guy’s been there about an hour,” groused the guy in front of me, nodding at a bettor with one elbow on the counter who was reading from a long list of wagers.

I glanced at my own picks and remembered how miserable I felt last year after all but one of my teams tanked. Stepping past the two bettors who were behind me, I tossed my picks in the trash and resumed the long trip to the tropics.

The road was clogged with grandparents who’d fulfilled their Christmas obligations and golfers who’d be checking into their three-month Florida rentals. South of Baltimore I peeled off I-95 and drove toward I-81 in Virginia, forsaking the shorter distance for the freedom of an open highway. 

The GPS took me past the James Madison University and Liberty University football stadiums and onward past towns named Hurt and Cure. I drove past rickety general stores and colonial homesteads and admired the panoramic view of the Shenandoah Valley.

After nightfall, a message from my friend Liz Spaulding appeared on the screen: “Are you still driving?? Text me when you stop please.” She had reason to be concerned because I was driving her Honda CR-V.

“Two more hours,” I texted, and she replied with a thumbs-up emoji.

I stopped for the night at Clark’s Inn, 98 miles from Georgia, and hit the road before sunrise for her condo in Tequesta. My realtor friend Paul White was en route from Providence and was taking the auto train from northern Virginia to central Florida. “I was going to drive thru,” he texted, “but I get nutty in my head all that way.”

The train was six hours late, which exacerbated his travel anxiety. “Did they give you any sort of refund?” I asked.

“Nah, only a few slices of pizza,” he said.

A Florida pleasure is reading local stories like the Lake Worth woman who called 911 after she heard someone yelling, “Let me out! Let me out! Ohhh! Ohhh! Ohhh!” The culprit turned out to be her neighbor’s pet parrot.

Meanwhile at the luxurious Breakers resort in Palm Beach, 74-year-old rocker Rod Stewart was arrested for punching a security officer who wouldn’t let him into a New Year’s Eve party.

Yesterday was the start of the Python Bowl sponsored by Bass Pro Shops. The object is to eradicate Burmese pythons from the Everglades, and nearly 3,000 have been captured and killed since the hunts began three years ago. “A few weeks ago I saw a raccoon for the first time in so long,” hunter Mike Kimmel told the the Post’s Kimberly Miller. “I’m seeing more fox squirrels and more gray squirrels. They couldn’t survive before with the pythons breathing down their necks.”

During my stay I reconnected with longtime friends, including Jeff and Jayme Golden who live in Palm City and are in the early stage of empty nest syndrome. Their son Jayce is enrolled at the University of Central Florida and daughter Jordyn was accepted at Rollins and is still waiting on the University of Florida.

We had prime rib and turkey for dinner, and Jayme put the leftovers in the fridge for when Jayce and his friends returned from whatever 20-year-olds do during school vacation in Fort Lauderdale.

After a wrong turn in Palm City I pulled into a library parking lot and saw an odd-looking monument, bent and twisted and mounted horizontally. The construction beam had been recovered from the World Trade Center, and the plaque was inscribed: “In honor of the heroes and in memory of the victims of the World Trade Center Attacks on September 11, 2001.”

“They auction them to help pay for the victims fund,” explained my friend Dave Beutenmuller, whose son is a Navy lieutenant commander.

The 69-year-old Beutenmuller had back surgery two years ago, but today is the second-ranked freestyle swimmer in his age group in Florida.

After admiring the million-dollar yachts named Gator Bait, Dock Holliday and Clamaholic that were moored behind Carmine’s Restaurant, I drove to Jayne Johnson’s apartment off PGA Boulevard. She wanted me to drive her to Sarasota next month to visit her friend who’d helped launch Reba McEntire’s country music career. “I’m going to tell him you’re going to write a story about him,” she said.

“No,” I replied. “Don’t tell him that.”

The previous day I’d spotted former Recorder staffer Josh Solomon’s byline about high-speed commuter trains on the front page of the Stuart News. I texted him and we met at a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop called the Blue Door.

He said he’d covered a Trump rally for young Republicans in Miami, and was investigating a local power broker’s shady business dealings in the Bahamas.

“Geez Josh,” I said, “you could’ve covered the same stuff in Greenfield.” He laughed and said that Roxann Wedegartner will be hard pressed to match outgoing mayor Bill Martin’s fiery temperament. “He was fun to cover. He gave great quotes.”

A few nights later, Liz and I had dinner with her friends Joe Mitchell and Carol White who live in western New York. Carol had worked at the Chautauqua Institution and has a lifetime membership to the 750-acre resort which attracts over 100,000 visitors each summer.

Joe’s an accountant who grew up in Wellesley, attended Stonehill College and ran eleven marathons — all in pursuit of qualifying for Boston. “I needed 3:20 and the closest I got was 3:30,” he said. “You’d think I could’ve found 10 minutes somewhere in those 26 miles — I could not.”

Before leaving for home I stopped at the TerMarsch citrus stand in Juno Beach and shipped home two boxes of orris, a type of mandarin orange that was originally grown in Israel, Spain and South Africa. It peels easily and is juicy and seedless.

“We planted them six years ago,” said store manager Jimmy Hayes. “This is only our third season but they’re giving honeybells a run for their money.”

At the Hurricane Grill I spotted a college student wearing a UMass hockey jersey, a stop the presses moment in Minutemen history.

The next morning Liz dropped me off at the airport and I began the stressful process of getting through TSA security. “What’s this?” asked the agent. “It set off the alarm.”

I pulled a Rice Krispies treat out of my pocket and his partner smiled. “Oooh,” she exclaimed. “Can I have it?”

During the flight to Hartford I read Paul Cerabino’s column in the Palm Beach Post, a tongue-in-cheek memo to hotel security regarding up-to-date photos of aging rock stars. Cerabino ended by poking fun at himself, or actually to both of us: “We are also including current photos of long-running newspaper columnists, who notoriously use mug shots in the paper that make them appear younger, and tend to get more cantankerous the longer they write.”

That’s why whenever I see Recorder photographer Paul Franz, I turn around and run.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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