I ran a screen of partially pre-written posts last week because Xy and I were on vacation.
Herewith, a brief memoir of our week in Vero Beach, Florida.
We arrived (after driving thru Tropical Storm Barry) at the tail end of a love bug swarm. Supposedly these insects are prolific all along the Gulf Coast, but I’ve never been aware of them. What curious creatures they are. They fly around joined together, looking like a single bug with two heads. They don’t bite or sting, but they do dirty up your windshield.
Some say this was the biggest swarm in recent memory. Despite the lore that an active love bug season predicts an active hurricane season, we took their presence as a good omen. They’re called “love bugs” because they spend their entire adult lives copulating.
We did our best to emulate them.
We stayed at the Driftwood. In a world of cookie-cutter development, the Driftwood stands out as a unique place, dare I say an authentic place. (Edit: No, I dare not say “authentic.” That word is too much abused. But the Driftwood has character.) The first buildings were constructed in the 1930s in an eclectic beachcomber style, of driftwood and shipwrecks and odd bits of junk from around the world.
The genius behind the Driftwood is a local legend, a man named Waldo Sexton. He was a fellow Hoosier. Despite graduating from Purdue University (class of 1911), he seems to have turned out alright. He certainly left his mark on Vero.
For example, Sexton was instrumental in creating the McKee Jungle Gardens, which became a huge tourist attraction back in the 1940s. With the advent of the interstate highways and the opening of a certain amusement park in nearby Orlando, the Gardens fell on hard times. It was closed, sold off, and mostly redeveloped. However, a portion of the original gardens survived and has been restored as the McKee Botanical Gardens. Definitely worth a visit.
But we didn’t do much sight-seeing. For the most part we just played on the beach and swam in the ocean. Xy and I both love the ocean. When we weren’t swimming in it we were walking alongside it. We saw plenty of pelicans. One night we saw a large horseshoe crab in the surf, about the size of my head. We didn’t see any dolphins or sharks or manatees, alas. Then again, I don’t really want to see a shark when swimming in the ocean.
It was relaxing, refreshing, and delightfully boring.
Actually there were a few moments of unwelcome excitement. One night we were dining at the Ocean Grille (another creation of the prolific Waldo Sexton) and the restaurant was struck by lightning just as our entrees were served. No one was hurt but the thunderclap was frightening.
The other incident came later that night, about 3:00 AM, when someone knocked on our door. It was a very apologetic young man who claimed to be a fellow guest and was obviously in some distress. As his story unfolded, however, it became more confusing and contradictory. It seemed he needed gas for his car. You will marvel at my stupidity, O Reader, but I actually accompanied him to his car and we drove to the Seven-11 together. I wasn’t thinking clearly because I was half asleep, but my rationale seemed to be that I thought he was scamming for cash and I wanted to call his bluff. Sure enough, when I got ready to gas up his car, it turned out he didn’t want gas at all, just money. In the end I gave him $20, the only cash I had on me. He swore he was going to pay me back Friday. (Of course, he didn’t.)
But my encounter with Ellis from Connecticut did little to diminish my joy. This was our first real vacation since Katrina. I think we’ll have to make a point of getting away with more frequency in the future.
Vero got hit by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004. Walking along the beach one couldn’t help but notice that most of the buildings were still gutted and vacant, many under repair, others apparently just sitting there. I wonder if the beach would have been more crowded if all those buildings were open for business. In any case, the scenes of destruction and recovery made us feel right at home.
Postscript: Forgot to add one little geeky gotcha that may help somebody out. Upon arrival in Vero, I set my Blackberry to the Eastern time. Later in the week, we went to attend a nature walk and missed it because we arrived one hour late. How did this happen? Because the Blackberry is “smart” enough to shift all my calendar appointments one hour. It assumes that those appointments were made in Central time — which was true, except for that nature walk, which I’d entered in Eastern time before making the switch. So… beware.