Prisoners and pelicans and bears — oh, my!

By Caitlin Kelly

Many people will never visit the bit of Florida where we just spent a brief five-day vacation. Its white sand beaches have the consistency of fresh brown sugar, but it doesn’t have, blessedly, rows of condo towers or huge hotels.

Tucked between Panama City to the west and Tallahassee to the east, closer to Alabama than the rest of the state, it’s called the Forgotten Coast.

photo: Caitlin Kelly
photo: Caitlin Kelly

Jose and I had each been to Florida several times, for work and pleasure. I’d visited Key West, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg. But we’d never been here.

My father and his partner rented a house — like most on St. George Island, set high atop stilts — and invited us; we flew on points, rented a car and drove the 90 minutes west from Tallahassee, sharing our small aircraft with South Florida University’s women’s tennis team.

The very day we arrived, carrying our usual pile of weekend newspapers, The Wall Street Journal ran a cover story on Old Florida, naming only a few historic towns, one of them the one we were heading to, Apalachicola.

The town is tiny, barely 2,000 people, but cars lining the main street bore license plates from Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, others, like us, desperate to flee winter for a while.

There are many small, one-storey houses and several enormous, beautifully-renovated ones, Victorian-style, with large windows and gingerbread trim, painted soft yellow or pale green, and clearly the second (or first) home of wealthy outsiders.

There’s a small, narrow bookshop, in a building from 1900 and a place selling home-made Turkish delight. You can buy a natural sponge or a jar of Tupelo honey, all very exotic to a Yankee.

It’s home to fisherman, whose daily catch of fish, scallops, oysters and shrimp made for a delicious, healthy change from the frozen lumps imported from Thailand that pass as “shrimp” where we live.

Can you imagine this many oysters?!
Can you imagine this many oysters?!

To reach the town, we passed Carabelle, Sopchoppy and Panacea, then saw Lake Morality Rd. — leading to a state prison. We also saw multiple road signs warning us of bears, then bears with cubs.

photo

In Florida?!

We also saw a neon-pink sign: State Prisoners Ahead.

Here are some of my images:

The biggest lichen I've ever seen: sponge-soft and hand-sized
The biggest lichen I’ve ever seen: sponge-soft and hand-sized
This lovely faded green seemed to appear everywhere; this is the door of an ancient barber shop in town
This lovely faded green seemed to appear everywhere; this is the door of an ancient barber shop in town

lizard

shadow

heron

shells

I loved driving across the causeway and having a pelican whiz past me, at eye-level, heading the opposite direction. The island is surrounded by marshland, filled with wildlife and birds: osprey, heron, pelican, bald eagles.

As we drove back to the airport, every pelican sat atop its own wooden pole at the water’s edge, and sunlight backlit the Spanish moss, draping from every tree.

Closer to Alabama than the rest of Florida, this region is definitely the South — with White Lily flour and pralines at the local grocery chain, named Piggly Wiggly, grits and biscuits for breakfast and hush puppies at dinner.

I stopped to photograph one of the town’s major industries — oysters — warned to stay far away from the loading dock by one of the workers. I felt like Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s film The Birds, as seagulls swooped past my head, diving into the growing mountain of discarded oyster shells dropping from the factory’s conveyor belt.

gull and oyster machine

We had poor weather — so cold one night we layered on multiple blankets — but it was still a brief relief to shed our hats, mitts, boots and coats for even five days, heading back to more bloody frigid winter for at least another month.

It’s too easy to forget how many other worlds are out there for the discovering. At the table behind us one night, a huge, burly fisherman, hands the size of plates, gently cradled his tiny baby, gurgling in her pink onesie. You don’t see that where I live, in manicured, overpriced, suburban New York.

Sunset, our last night. photo: Jose R. Lopez.
Sunset, our last night. photo: Jose R. Lopez.

How was your last vacation?

Or do you have one coming up?

The Perfect Wedding Dress

Cover of "Royal Wedding"
Cover of Royal Wedding

So…did you love the dress?

Anyone of us willing to ‘fess up to watching the recent Royal Wedding (hello, Grace Kelly!), knows that all eyes were on the prize — not the Prince, the dress.

As brides everywhere gear up for their spring and summer weddings, you can almost hear a chorus of shrieks and sighs over the color, style, fit, price and comfort level of that most iconic of garments, the wedding dress.

I was married May 31, 1992 in a gorgeous 1833 chapel on the Hudson River, in a day of record rainfall, wearing a dress made in about 1905, beige and white and black cotton, with a crisp cotton petticoat underneath. I loved my dress, which cost a big $300, as it was charming, comfortable, flattering and distinctive.

The marriage? Not so much. He was gone by our second anniversary and re-married within the year to a woman who attended the ceremony. Ouch!

There are few garments a woman will ever wear so subject to incredible public scrutiny and judgment, let alone meant to to carry her gracefully through such a  momentous transition.

I loved this true story about a wedding dress that traveled the world, from Florida to Massachusetts to New Zealand and back twice.

And this collection of moving personal essays , published in 2007 in Canada, about women and their dresses.

My next trip up the aisle, which I’ll get to eventually (after 11 years with the sweetie), I have no idea what to wear.

What did you wear on your wedding day?

Did you love it?

Gentlemen, what did your wife wear?

Trying On A Career — For $40

The Wannado City "sign" logo.
Image via Wikipedia

Here’s one way to spend your vacation — checking out a career. A new amusement park in Sunrise, Florida, Wannado University, offers kids ages two to 14 the chance to live out their work fantasies:

Step 1. Start young. How about two years old? That’s exactly what the creators of Wannado City in Sunrise, Fla., (just 25 kilometres west from Fort Lauderdale) have in mind. This unplugged theme park-cum-job training centre for squirts is an antidote to Florida’s pricier, flashy, family-thrill-ride hot spots. At Wannado City, kids from two to 14 years old can try on grown-up professions for size (and the costumes that go with them) from detective to doctor, firefighter to fashion designer.

Wannado – the size of three football fields – is laid out to look like a town, albeit a town that is blessed with only attractive businesses. There are no dry cleaners, notary offices or accounting firms. Among the 60 storefronts, there is a circus, flight-training centre, high-end fashion house and movie studio. For $40 (U.S.), kids can come in search of any one of more than 250 different jobs (and they go door to door on their own, but parents can watch over them in the “Eagles Nest” lounge). Once they settle in at the hospital, fire station or airport, they slip into uniforms and get some on-the-job training before they embark on removing a kidney stone, fighting a fire or flying a 747. Yes, there is an actual flight simulator.

A company called VocationVacations has been doing this for adults for years now. It’s an interesting idea, this, of trying on a new job or industry before the drama of actually doing it. In a recession where millions can’t find work they know how to do, and wonder what on earth — if anything — they’ll do next or instead, it’s a question many of us are facing.

About 15 years ago, I planned to move into interior design and went to study it full-time, but only after interviewing three highly successful women who had been working in various segments of the industry for a while. I learned a lot, and some of which really surprised me — one designer told me that being nice (!) was key to her success as so many of her competitors were hand-flapping divas who terrified their clients. Who knew?

What other job or career would you like to try and why? Have you made major career changes along the way? How did they work out?

Wendy's Employee Forgets The Mayo — And Customer Pulls Out Her Taser

Taser International unveils the new Taser MPH ...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Hold the mayo — and you’ll get Tasered.

No kidding.

Here’s a true story from Florida of a woman — and her pink stun gun — who threatened a Wendy’s employee after they left out the mayo and mustard from her order.

Pink, that’s important.