It's just not so easy anymore. Sure, the corals, Loggerhead turtles, Moray eels and big stingrays are still pretty. Getting back on the boat is increasingly difficult.
The ladder is crashing into my chest and then banging back into the boat as the waves bob the dive boat in the five foot seas. These guys follow the theory that you should climb the bobbing ladder with all your gear, including your fins.
Ever try climbing a wildly gyrating ladder with swim fins and 80 pounds of lead weights and SCUBA gear? It used to be so easy. Now at 65 and 40 pounds over-weight to begin with, I'm sort of limited out. I'm pushing 300 pounds up the ladder.
I drove over to Palm Beach yesterday with Bruce and Gordon. The dives were everything you could want, drifting along the reef in the Gulf Stream current at 60 feet. I'm just not sure that what I could do easily at 55 will be feasible at 75.
Maybe I'll try some beach dives or some of the Florida Springs that don't involve ladders. It would be embarrassing not to be able to climb up a ladder.
St. Armands is a high-end residential area on the beach in Sarasota. Just out of curiosity, I looked up the prices of homes here this morning. The top price was 10 million and the most humble abode was $500,000. Even so we parked on a street near the circle where every house on the block had a for sale sign out front. The owners may all be in a state of denial about prices. I'm not exactly sure what was in my salad, but it had a flower, avocado, bacon bits, chicken and corn.
This is Valentines Day number 42 for us, if you disregard the years we lived together in sin in the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury district during the Summer of Love.
They had a Ferrari show with about 50 Ferraris and other classic exotics today. This is a Lamborghini that parked near our table. We ate on the sidewalk. La Europa. has always been our favorite restaurant. In 1985 I used a credit card to buy a Mustang convertible and the credit card company asked me the name of this restaurant to verify my identity before they approved the purchase.
You don't see many Cheetahs on the street. This one was manufactured in the 60s, built here in Sarasota using Corvette parts.
My favorite was this new Dodge Challenger with the 6.1 liter V-8 hemi. I discuss buying one to tow behind the RV, but Mrs. Phred doesn't want to ruin the lines by adding a tow bar to the grill.
This is a lovely older model with clean lines that has held up well over the years. The car in the background, incidentally, is a 57 Thunderbird that has been restored with some attention to detail.
It was another lovely day for the annual pirate invasion, about 72 degrees F. and bright blue skies.
We started with a brunch with friends at the University of Tampa. I taught there for five years, They gave me tenure so I left. Teddy Roosevelt and his troops stayed here before shipping out to Cuba.
The University was a hotel built by railroad tycoon, Henry B. Plant, as the terminus for his railroad. The brunch is in Plant Hall. Most of the Alumni are dressed as Spartans and will take part in the parade.
We lived near the parade route and had a big party every year on the day. We had a small cannon to repel Urinators (they are the ones who sneak into your yard after drinking too much beer because they don't want to wait in line for a port-a-potty).
One day we failed to notice that Argie and Anne-Marie were putting the olive pits from their martinis in the cannon as the day wore on. Unfortunately, when we fired the gun, it caused the demise of our neighbor's prize parrot. Our relationship was never quite the same after that incident.
Only 141 arrests were made this year, mostly for drunkenness. The Fire Chief killed a pedestrian while hurrying to take his place in the parade.
The first parade I remember attending was in 1963. It was a relatively small affair. I drove my Harley to the parade and tried to pick up girls.
Some of the Gasparillas have not ended well. For example, there was the time we had to wheel Mike back in the drink wagon. Mike brings his vodka in Dansani water bottles. I bum several plastic cups of his vodka and grapefruit juice concoctions.
This year our friend Joey (a policeman) is retiring so he gets to drive the Chief of Police in the parade. We all scream "JOEY!, JOEY!" as he passes. I don't think he heard us with his siren going.
There are lots of Bead Hogs out there today. They will snatch the beads away from a two-year old. Jeff is a Bead Hog, but he doesn't make it this year. Jeff likes to throw beads into the tubas of the High School marching bands. This year the tubas all have cover on the openings, a clever countermeasure.
The cannon fire and musical floats make a continuous cacophony as the long parade winds on until darkness falls. The city immediately rolls out the trash wagons to clean up the tons of debris and disassemble the bleacher seats that they sell to the slightly more affluent.
About 500,000 spectators line the parade route down Bayshore Boulevard into downtown this year. When I moved here, in 1954, the tallest structure downtown was a big Early Times whiskey bottle atop a four story building.
Here are some Gasparilla highlights over the years.
1904: Tampa Morning Tribune society editor Mary Louise Dodge hears of the legendary Jose Gaspar and links May Day events with a New Orleans-like krewe of pirates. Fifty pirates, forming Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, invade the city on horseback.
1911: After it is announced that Tampa's population jumped 43.2 percent in 10 years - the largest increase of any city east of the Mississippi - a Census Celebration is held along with Gasparilla. Swashbuckling pirates arrive by ship for the first time.
1916: Pigs and chickens drown after falling off a schooner used for the pirate invasion. The animals were left aboard the borrowed ship and made fatal plunges into the water after lapping up grog spilled on deck.
1926: The good ship Gasparilla runs aground at the mouth of the Hillsborough during the invasion. Tugs can't free her. As she scrapes across the bottom of the river, she severs a telephone cable, putting Hyde Park out of calling service.
1927: A pirate shoots a 12-gauge, double-barrel shotgun at a blimp hovering over the parade. The dirigible makes an emergency landing at P.O. Knight Airport. Shotguns are banned after this; the krewe switches to handguns.
1929: Because of the gloomy economy preceding the Depression, 20 buccaneers can't afford the $50 krewe membership fee. They form the ``ex-Pirates'' for their own Gasparilla, where they dress in rags. The mayor gives them the key to the poorhouse instead of the traditional key to the city.
1991: Super Bowl XXV bigwigs and local black activists protest the racial exclusiveness of Gasparilla. Rather than open its ranks, Ye Mystic Krewe cancels the parade, planned as part of football activities. Instead, the first and last Bamboleo festival winds down Bayshore accompanied by a smaller-than-usual flotilla.
1992: Gasparilla returns with new blood. Groups such as the Krewe of Fort Brooke, appealing to men and women in the business world, and Grand Krewe De Libertalia, with its mission of ethnic diversity, add to the rejuvenated celebration.
2003: The number of krewes grows to 35, touching common interests from playing cards to riding horses.