Wild About Harry

It’s rare to figure out a way to go on vacation for next to nothing. Thanks to a couple of voluntary bumps my wife and I took on United Airlines recently and some hotel points, our family of four enjoyed a memorable week in Miami and Key West over winter break. Our first few nights were spent in Key West at a lovely hotel removed from downtown and across from a popular public beach. The kids swam and we met several East Coast ex pats escaping their harsh winter season. Drew, my ten year old, and I visited Truman’s Little White House, his primary residence of escape when Washington DC was getting overwhelming. The small house, then situated on a naval submarine base, has been lovingly restored and offers informative guided tours.

When not conducting the business of state, Harry enjoyed swimming, reading, playing poker and the piano, and had his staff participate in what he called “loud shirt” contests – he who wore the most outrageous tropical shirt won. Of course when Mrs. Truman and daughter Margaret came for a visit, a few things had to be put away. The custom made poker table had a top cover that instantly concealed what was underneath. The bar was generally closed down when Mrs. Truman was present, except for the President’s morning “heart starter”: a fresh squeezed glass of Florida orange juice and a shot of bourbon. Of course the President, who didn’t care much for fishing, nonetheless had to accompany the First Lady out on the water to indulge one of her favorite pastimes.

While the former President died when I was very young, his life as it was outlined by our guide reinforced my belief in just how much a man of the people he truly was, especially in Key West. He didn’t relax in a palatial mansion or private home far from the watchful eyes of the press or the public. He walked through town. He talked to people. He caroused with the press. He genuinely enjoyed the company of the servicemen and officers who shared this vacation home with him. Truly, he was exceptionally unique among other men who have held the office, but then again, those were different times.

I think the most touching story the guide told our tour group was about a small satchel the President always carried with him when traveling to and from Key West. The President never had it out of arms reach and never permitted anyone to carry it for him. His aides always believed the satchel carried important papers. While the contents were important to the President, it didn’t carry anything terribly important to country. It simply carried the President’s classical music records that he loved listening to in the evening hours as the sun set in Key West.

After my visit it was easy to see why our tours to this unique destination continue to sell out each January. I can only hope that someday, I might be able to wrestle the tour away from Mark so I can begin planning my return visit!

 

Great Scot!

In the world of social media, I’ve learned a “shout out” is appropriate to acknowledge a friend, when a good deed is done or when someone is worthy of attention. To this end, I’d like to offer at shout out to Carol, Beverly, Sue, Loraine, Amylou, Phyllis, Kitty, Maggie, Barbara & Eric, Susan & Wayne, Jim & Shirley, Hal & Bea, Bill & Beverly, Gail & Fred, Jim & Lora and the combined staffs of Sports Leisure Vacations and All West Coachlines, especially Diane, Kristin and Ken. They’ve earned it! They deserve it!

On Friday, February 18, this group of eager Sports Leisure travelers gathered at Sacramento International Airport to embark on the highly anticipated tour to Long Beach to take part in the 18th Annual Scottish Festival held aboard and around the venerable Queen Mary. I was excited to be the tour director. In fact, I cut my winter sabbatical short to get back here in time to take this trip. As Sports Leisure’s resident Scotsman, I even purchased a new kilt for the trip (bringing my total to four, one for each day of the tour).

A beautiful full moon shined down upon us as we all motored to the airport in the pre-dawn hours. Then it happened—that little thing that that only occurs at Central Valley airports built in the middle of endless rice paddies in the wintertime: The fog rolled in. No, “rolled in” is too kind and gentle a verb to use in this case. It stormed in like Sherman marching through Georgia. Immediately every flight was delayed, but surprisingly only one was cancelled. You guessed it: our flight to LAX would not operate.

This was the Friday morning of a holiday weekend. Even before the cancellation, seeing the writing on the wall, my office staff and I were looking at our options. In short, there were none. Every flight from Sacramento, Oakland or San Francisco to LA, Burbank, Long Beach, Ontario, Orange County or San Diego was sold out both Friday and Saturday. Either the tour would be cancelled or we’d have to drive.

Less than an hour later, our beautiful All West motorcoach—a familiar old friend, SuperCoach II—pulled up in front of the airport. Thus our 8-hour drive to the south began. Despite pelting rain and driving winds, our savior behind the wheel, Mr. Ken Sanders, got us there safely and just in time for our evening activities.

Despite fowl weather reports, the weekend was beautiful for the most part—just a couple of isolated showers. The Festival went off without a hitch. We enjoyed numerous outdoor activities under the southern California sun including a Venetian gondola ride and an ocean cruise. By trip’s end, the weather was so perfect we could have never imagined our next challenge . . .

Our plane originated in Hartford, CT that morning in the middle of a blizzard, then landed in Milwaukee during terrible storms. She finally and unceremoniously landed in San Diego to take us home nearly three hours late. So there will be no Shout Out to Southwest Airlines today!

I often say “travel is an inexact science.” Air travel is especially so, as proven by our misadventures this past weekend. But I have to ask why these great people signed up for the trip to begin with? Was it to fly back and forth and be on time? Or was it to spend relaxed time in the company of a great group of travelers, leaving the worries to someone else, perhaps enjoying a few surprises along the way? If the latter, I hope their expectations were met. We were even blessed with a beautiful rainbow as we began our ascent over the Grapevine, seemingly telling us everything was going to be OK. In addition to the shout out, I offer my sincere thanks to all my travelers for your patience, cooperation, great attitude and kind words expressed throughout our adventure.

I have just one more question for you: Where shall we go next?