Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"One a day in Tampa Bay"

My nephew Michael is back from Iraq, so he and Jackie got married again. The first wedding was in Plymouth MA; the second was in St Pete Beach, FL. Y'all know how I feel about Florida, but I must say I had a blast. I saw a bit of the old Florida, a place with no Yankee or Russian accents. Cracker Florida. They are few and furtive: one can find Them still. They might be working for a gypsy roofer, crewing a shrimp boat, or stealing each other's wheels. Carl Hiassen and John D. McDonald have chronicled Cracker hi-jinks in fiction. Good stuff for those who prefer armchair encounters.

Mrs RR and I ate at one of Their eatin' places;Ted Peters' Famous Smoked Fish in nearby South Pasadena. It was a very good lunch. We had the mahi-mahi,smoked perfectly (not too dry), German potato salad and coleslaw. We used just lemon juice,no need for a salsa or such. The waitress slipped us a sample (Eddie Murphy was right: white people give each other things) of the smoked fish spread; it would make a tasty appetizer or sandwich. Alas, we were flying so we had to pass on the spread.

We saw pelicans, a treat. I enjoy watching them fly a loose sine wave a foot off the water, tuck a wing down and under, like those early defective Fokker Dr1's, and plop gracelessly onto the water. They come up with a fish 'bout every time. It was stingray mating season, so the front desk had handouts warning beach fans. The trick is to shuffle, rather than step the usual way in the shallows. The pain from a stingray sticking is intense, I heard.

St Pete Beach does not have the gamey elegance of Key West; it maintains a light sprinkling of cracker houses and first wave seaside resorts. Ours, the Grand Plaza Hotel, was comfortable and accomodating. Along Gulf Boulevard Street ( apparently named by the FL Department of Redundancy Department) there are still wee houses amongst the looming hotels and condos. I have an interest in vernacular architecture, and Florida still has some unique and interesting buildings.

A complex of buildings we visited in Sarasota was interesting: John Ringling's house Ca d'Zan, "the last of the Gilded Age mansions", and the museum built to house his art collection. And what a collection: Rubens, Velazquez, Titian, and Tintoretto, not to mention the El Grecos. We also re-visited, after 20 years, the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg. Dali proved "art is what you can get away with" years before Warhol said it: he became the artwork.

Milling around waiting for the wedding to start, I asked one of the wedding consultants how many weddings they do on the beach. I was told four a day. A much more joyous occasion than the "one a day in Tampa Bay" phrase I learned many years ago. The phrase came about because of the frequency of crashes at nearby McDill Field of young Lieutenants flying the then-new B-26 bomber. Things got so bad Congress bestirred itself from the usual idleness to hold hearings on the matter. They discovered what happens when you combine inadequately trained pilots with one very hot ride. The B-26 had to land at higher speeds than other twin-engined aircraft; hence, 'hot'. The 'Marauder' ( 6 ft. was added to the wing on B models after the hearings-- it helped) had high wing loading (98 lb/sq.ft.): it had a bomb bay as big as a B-17. Add in fuel weight and two big Pratt and Whitney's and you can see where the 98 pounds comes from. The B-26 had a rough start; it proved to be the 'safest' American twin with the lowest loss rate. The bulk of the aircraft were scrapped after the war.

The pelicans, thankfully, are still on Tampa Bay and the Gulf. They squat on poles, sine wave over the water, and catch fish. After the 'bustle bustle' of the wedding, it is good to sit quietly with the Missus,watching Pelicans backlit by the sun sinking into the Gulf.