Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea Buttons

Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea

Day 8 Sunday December 23, 2012
Fort Lauderdale - Port St. Lucie

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Our plan for the day was to disembark the ship, take the shuttle to the nearby Avis office, and then drive to Port St. Lucie, the home of Sue’s friends from her dancing days, Chris and Sandy Tisartas. We hoped to arrive at their house at around noon.

Sue at the dreaded Cupcake Cupboard.

I packed up all of my stuff, and then we took our last breakfast in the Windjammer Café. The Sky Walk was still closed.

Sue was understandably unwilling to entrust the ship’s personnel with our luggage. This meant that we would need to schlep our own suitcases, but I could manage the two big roller bags and the backpack. Sue said that she could handle the little red roller bag and however many other bags she had amassed. We therefore planned to take advantage of the “express disembarkation,” an additional advantage of which was that we would be allowed to leave the ship before the passengers who were using the porters.

It was not easy to negotiate the narrow hallways, but we transported all of our luggage up to deck #5. I hustled over to the Guest Services area to turn in the survey that they had left in our stateroom. I then joined Sue in the short disembarkation line. Royal Caribbean staff member scanned the key cards of each passenger exiting the ship. I went through without a hitch, but Sue’s key card triggered an alarm. She had to go over to Guest Services, and they told me that I should go with her. Sue thought that they might be providing her with some forms that she needed to file with the travel insurance company.

The even more dreaded Customs Office. The blonde in the foreground is the lady from South Africa.

Instead, the people at Guest Services told her that she had to speak with the agent who was operating out of the Cupcake Cupboard. After a few minutes of waiting there we were escorted by a very jolly Royal Caribbean employee from Guiana to US customs. We arrived shortly after a couple from South Africa who was evidently accustomed to getting special treatment at borders. They said that being from South Africa was always a red flag to customs. We sat there nervously for quite a while. The South Africans were finally taken to a back room, which was presumably where they kept the rubber hoses and the waterboards. The agent who escorted them told us (with a grin) “We will be with you shortly ... unless we have to arrest these two.” The customs official who finally did talk with us let us depart in short order as soon as Sue explained why she had not boarded the ship until the stop in Jamaica.

Outside it was quite chilly. I was not uncomfortable in a tee shirt, sweatshirt, and a jacket. It was admittedly still only 10:00 in the morning, and it was late December, but this was Fort Lauderdale, after all, and we expected better weather.

We were not the first people ever to wash a rental car. We parked the Cruz here to ask directions to Florida’s Turnpike.

We found the Avis bus amidst a plethora of shuttles. The bus was almost empty when we boarded it, but it was very crowded after it had made two additional stops. The Avis office that was our destination was located in a corner of the building principally occupied by the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The website for this location said in the “Preferred Service” section: “Proceed to the Avis rental counter. Show your drivers license and identify yourself as a Preferred Renter to the Avis rental agent in order to receive your preprinted rental document and keys.” I have many times been extremely impressed with the courtesy, speed, and service that Avis has provided. In this case, however, there was no Preferred line. There were just two guys who handled all of the people who had gotten off of the bus.

Things did not go smoothly for the people in front of me. A man from Brazil for reasons that were never made clear had two different reservations in two different names. So, for all intents and purposes he was two customers, not one. Behind him was a gentleman from Venezuela who presented the agent[1] with a reservation from Thrifty, not Avis. I was astounded when the latter rewarded the former’s incompetence by renting him an equivalent vehicle and matching Thrifty’s price, which was considerably lower than the standard rate at Avis.

My transaction was nearly as quick as it usually was at Avis, but it did not end with the agent just handing me the keys to my red Chevy Cruze, however. Instead, he went out to the lot, found the Cruz, and drove it to where we were standing. Sue and I made sure that all of our luggage was stowed in the trunk and then eagerly began the terrestrial part of our vacation.

Google planned this route for us, but we took I-95 all the way to West Palm Beach.

Back in Connecticut Sue had printed out driving instructions from Google Maps. We found our way to the turn for I-495 and only had to cut off cars across two lanes of traffic to reach it. Our plan then was to take Florida’s Turnpike, which is state road 91, to Port St. Lucie. However, for some reason, my navigator instructed me to take exit 10B, which was an entrance to I-95 north, instead of exit 8 as Google had recommended.

I-95 and the turnpike travel a few miles apart in parallel up the east coast of Florida. Taking I-95 probably did not cost us much, if any, time, but our directions to the Tsiartas’s place were from the turnpike, not I-95. So we planned to cut over at some point.

The drive on I-95 was very easy. The traffic was light, and there were plenty of lanes. The only thing that it lacked was scenery. After a while the drive became extremely boring, and I began to get sleepy.

Sue had already made one call on her cell phone to Sandy in which Sandy had agreed to leave the door to their screened-in pool open for us. A little later while I was driving something made her phone slip off of the seat. Sue searched for it as thoroughly as was feasible in a moving vehicle, but she could not find it.

We exited the highway in West Palm Beach for me to get a Diet Coke at McDonald’s and for Sue to look for her phone, which just had to be in the car somewhere. I went inside and was delighted to discover that all sizes of soft drinks were only $1. In addition to my beverage I purchased an iced tea for Sue.

It finally felt warm enough for me to doff my jacket. Sue still could not find her cell phone.[2] She actually considered asking the policemen who were parked a few spots away to call her number so that it would ring. We did find Florida's Turnpike after a few wrong turns.

It cost us $3.60 in tolls to take the turnpike. I-95 was right next to it; in some places we could clearly see the parallel universe just yards away from us. I had a difficult time understanding why the state needed two multi-lane limited-access roads that followed essentially the same route. Of course, one was a state road, and one was federal.

This was definitely Sandy and Chris’s house.

We arrived at the Tsiartas’s house at 11:10. We knew that Chris and Sandy would be at church until at least noon. Sue and I lounged by the pool until their return. I tried to work on the journal, but there was too much glare in the sunny part of room. Sue just chilled out and tried to make friends with the curious feline on the other side of the glass door. Up to this point Sue’s vacation had been pretty stressful.

Sue and Sandy by the Christmas tree that Sandy decorated in only six hours.

We had had no trouble locating Chris and Sandy's house, which was more ornately decorated than any of the others on their block. Even so, the outside of the house was nothing compared to the inside. Sandy and Chris boasted a world-class collection of battery-powered stuffed animals. They also had on display an incredible number of Christmas dolls and exhibits, almost all of which did something if you pressed their noses, squeezed their hands, made noise, or just made a movement anywhere near them. For example, Bing Crosby started singing to anyone who approached the front door.

Kozmo Johnson trying to figure out what made the train run in circles.

We were introduced to their new cat, Kozmo Johnson, who was extremely talkative. He let me pet him a little that first day, but afterwards he gave me a wide berth. Sandy and Chris had adopted Kozmo after he had been found in a cardboard box that had been duct-taped shut. Sandy speculated that he was afraid of men with grey hair; he avoided another friend of theirs who had grey hair. I might have still had my baseball cap on when he let me pet him.

This was definitely NOT a good place to sit.

We all went to a nearby Subway for lunch. By that time Sue and I were quite hungry, and even Subway sounded good. Afterwards, the three of them walked over to the nearby Publix grocery store. I had a lot more interest in basking in sunshine than in shopping for foodstuffs. I seated myself comfortably on an island in the parking lot, leaned against a deciduous tree, and read my book. That was a mistake. The area around the tree was crawling with fire ants, and two of them bit me before I wised up and relocated.

Sue bought me a fruitcake, some apples, and a bottle of caffeine-free Diet Coke at Publix. I generally ate an apple every morning for breakfast, I liked fruitcake more than the average bear, and I was positively addicted to Diet Coke, which I slightly preferred to Diet Pepsi.

Anyone opening the door to the Tisartas house saw these heavily decorated pillars.

The pillars from the other side.

As we drove back to the house I noticed that regular gasoline was $3.299 per gallon, which was more than thirty cents cheaper than it had been in Connecticut when we left.

When we had arrived back at the house Chris told us about the illness that had plagued him for the last several months. The doctors could not figure out what it was. He honestly thought that he might die before Christmas. Eventually he determined from talking to a cousin (I think[3]) that it was a form of candida. At any rate his health had markedly improved since he stopped taking antibiotics and had adopted a rather strict dietary regimen.

The snowman exhibit.

The piano actually played, and the snowmen on its lid danced. One of the Santas in shorts is in the upper left.

A brownout occurred in Port St. Lucie whenever the Tsiartases plugged in their tree.

Sandy and Chris put on a little demonstration of all of their new stuffed animals. One of them was a hillbilly with a predilection for kissing. The fact that he did not seem to care much about the identity of the recipient of his smooches was a little unsettling.

Try the Veal Marsala here.

Chris, Sandy, Gene, Barbara, and Sue's back.

Gene snapped this photo.

The Tsiartas house was even easier to find at night.

We wanted to take them out to eat, so Sandy made reservations for us to dine at Carrabba's with her sister Barbara and Barbara's husband Gene. Barbara had wrecked her ankle walking on the beach during Hurricane Sandy. She was still in a wheelchair two months later.

Many of us, including myself, ordered the Veal Marsala. We all thought that it was very good. This was a very nice time.

Chris and Kozmo Johnson were ready for Christmas.

Who suspected that Christmas trees could sing?

Of course the dancers inside danced; did you have to ask?



Sandy and Chris liked to watch silly movies at Christmas time. We settled on The Merry In-laws, mostly because it reunited George Wendt and Shelley Long from Cheers. George, who played a beardless Santa Claus, looked pretty good, but the years had not been as kind to Shelley (nor, for that matter, to me).

I made it to the end of what must be one of the worst Christmas movies ever. Sue dozed off in her reclining chair just as she wont to do at home when she watched old movies on TMC.

[1]  Actually I think that he might have been the manager or maybe even the owner-operator.

[2]  She found it in her very small purse. She had no idea how it got in there.

[3]  Chris is from Cyprus. His native tongue is Greek. Sometimes his English is a little hard to follow.