Tag Archives: Clearwater FL
“Twas” an awesome Christmas. My son came over and he brought with him some amazing steaks. We cooked crab, salmon and asparagus along with the meat and had some laughs over dinner. Typically our Christmas dinner was spaghetti and meatballs, but this year we broke with tradition and had the fish and steak. Before dinner we headed down to Clearwater beach for a long walk. I was surprised at how crowded it was – thousands of stark white sun deprived tourists littered the beach, and as such, there was no parking available. For the record, Clearwater beach was once a magical place, as most of Central and Southern Florida, but thanks in large part to a clueless local governments and overpaid consultants, the pristine magnificence of the region has vanished. That is why my wife and I save up for a cruise every year or so and head to the Caribbean or Mexico to take advantage of their beaches where the magic still exists.
To distance ourselves from the tourists, we drove South to Indian Rocks Beach. We know a small street with available free parking about 50 yards from the beach. There was no sun out, the water was calm, no wind, quite a change from the last time we were here and the sand hurt the bottom of our feet as the temperature soared toward 100 degrees. We walked along the water for about a 1/2 mile, turned around and headed back home. A woman came up to me and asked if I would take a photograph of her family on vacation and I was happy to comply. Why me I don’t know, there were plenty of other folks walking along – perhaps because I was holding my professional looking Pentax or maybe I just appeared friendly and or safe.
After dinner we drove around in search of Christmas light displays, but with the economy still in the dumps and the “fiscal cliff” looming over everyone’s head few homes put out anything. I found it depressing. The three or four displays we did find were over the top with the home owners obviously making this a priority in their lives and possessing the financial resources and time to erect such elaborate exhibitions. In front of our home we have a Santa “family” that arises with hot air when you plug it in. It also lights up. At the time we bought it a year ago I thought $60 was extravagant at Wal-Mart, but it’s fun and I don’t believe being “dark” at Christmas. When my son was younger he took the time to light up our house, but he works a 60+ week and spends most of this free time attempting to recharge his batteries.
We all enjoyed watching the lousy weather up North and throughout the Mid West with the temperature here in the 70′s. I spent far to many years driving around in that mess wishing I were home for Christmas. And now I am and very grateful. I continue to read “American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld when I go to bed.
Photo credit: CHARLIE NEIBERGALL / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
I have groomed our dogs for many years. Cut and trimmed their nails, cleaned their ears, cut and shaped their coats, bathed them and brushed their teeth. I’ve cleaned my share of do-do from fuzzy little tushes. The older I got, the more my back hurt, the less I did. I think I’ve spent hundreds of dollars in sharp rounded edged scissors, electric Wahl clippers, flea and tick treatments, exotic doggy shampoos and nail clippers. After my last knee surgery I decided it was time to let a pro tackle the grooming work on our dogs. Finding the right person to do the job turned out to be more of a challenge that I realized.
I went into a local pet shop to give them a try. I wasn’t in for the full treatment, choosing instead to just have “his” nails trimmed. The dog’s name was Joe or as we sometimes called him, Joe Beagle. My son and I rescued him from a small truck stop in Hattiesburg MS about 11 years ago. Joe had one small weakness – birds. He would see one and lose his mind. When I took him for a walk – actually at about 40 pounds he would walk me – if even the smallest bird bird would fly low over us or land in a tree, off he would go with me praying his leash wouldn’t snap. Twice he had gotten away from me and it took hours to find him.
So I walked into the small local pet shop. The guy doing the grooming was somewhere in the back in a little room next to where the – bird – cages were. All kinds of birds, all different colors – parrots, finches, parakeets, canaries and a couple of cockatiels and a cockatoo. Joe walked calmly beside me, but I could see his large brown eyes shifting from side to side. The groomer was in the middle of another job and said I could leave Joe on the leash tethered to one of those cheap metal folding chairs. Are you sure about that, I asked. Yeah, no problem, customers do it all the time.
I lifted a corner of the chair, put in the leash and put it back down. Joe was breathing hard. His tongue was hanging out. I patted him on the head, say good boy and asked the groomer how long it would be to do his nails. Bout a half hour. Joe seemed fine with the situation. I walked out of the little room, past the birds, past the dog and cat food and glanced at the fish stuff when I heard the loud crash. Joe, metal folding chair in tow, tore out of the little grooming room and began his blitzkrieg attack on the bird cages. Mind you he doesn’t hurt the colorful squeaky winged creatures, he just wants to “play” with them.
The call went out for volunteers to help. It took three of “us” to restrain him. The other dog that was getting clipped simply sat on the table while Joe was subdued and the groomer did his nails. Did I mention that the other thing that drives Joe crazy is when someone – anyone even attempts to trim his nails? With birds hovering above, dry dog food spilling onto the linoleum floor from torn bags and the whole pet shop in a ruckus, a brave young female clerk held Joe’s snout closed so he wouldn’t munch on the groomer hands. The ten minutes it took to finish the job seemed like thirty, but it was done and I carried Joe back to the car.
Sadly, my Joe very unexpectedly passed away, about four months ago. Soon after, Little Dog, an Oreo colored Shih Tzu, and Shorty, a white Toy Poodle, both rescues from local shelters, came into our lives. Shorty is an amazing little dog. Highly intelligent, energetic, looks you right in the eye and is very low maintenance. The only thing you must do with him, like clockwork, at 11am every day is take him for his walk. He lives for that walk. It doesn’t snow here in Florida, but it rains a lot and heavy at times. Add in the afternoon boomers and what could potentially be dangerous lightning. None of it phases Shorty. The wetter he gets, the happier he is. He loves to jump in or walk through puddles and thinks of the lightning as spectacular fireworks displays. He’ll actually stop and look up to the sky to see the flashes.
From the moment I set eyes on him, he made me smile. He reminded me of a very small lamb. He was so fuzzy all over. He had a large ball of white fluff on the top of this tail. He had so much hair on his head and snout you could hardly see his eyes. When he snuggled next to me, it was as though he warmed up like an electric blanket. You could run your fingers through his fur and he would stretch into it as if he were getting massaged. In the morning this large ball of fluff just stand next to me staring as if he thought I was interesting. It had been a long time since I woke up with a smile.
So we had had Shorty for about two months. After he came out of the rain – we’ve had a lot of it lately – or after one of his pool adventures, his hair began to grow out fast. Some of it began to matte. I thought about trimming him myself and looked at some of the newer grooming equipment in the stores. Although money is tight, I believed a professional would do a better job. We knew a woman who we had worked with in the past and she had just moved into a new shop and would be available on Saturday.
We took our “lammy-kins” little soft fuzzball to her to get a wash, trim and cut his long nails. We parked in front of the store, went inside and was told – the owner was in the corner doing another dog – that it might be a good idea if we parked in the back. My wife and I though that was strange and we ignored the “suggestion”. We walked in the grooming area past the counter and was told the “owner” preferred that we remain behind the closed waist high gate. We ignored that instruction as well. We have been going to this women for about five years and had a most cordial relationship with her, not the owner, who said nothing – not a hello, hi there or welcome.
My wife gave her very specific detailed instructions about trimming my smile, Little Dog, our little cute baby lamb. The groomer said we he would be done in about an hour or she would call us. Again, the owner of the shop ignored us. We walked out the front where we had parked and went about doing errands. My wife was telling me about the troubles our groomer was having with the owner. She was told she could no longer work on Sunday’s or holidays due to the cost of keeping the air conditioning on and he wanted her to charge more, not to boost her cut of the pie, but his. He had just moved the shop from a cozy small place across the street to this very much larger space where she was the only employee. The owner worked elsewhere full time.
I listened and understood, but was anxious to retrieve Shorty. It was our first separation since we adopted him. This time we did as “suggested” and parked in the rear and went in through the back door. From across the counter I saw him, or did I? Was that him? I did not blink. I did not breathe. He looked towards me. He was secured by his neck to that kind of hang man post groomers use to hold dogs heads up. All I could think of was ugly. Oh my God, she destroyed my smile. In less than 45 minutes she obliterated and signs of my cute little dog. He went from little lamb to a pet Poodle of a Project Runway contestant. She made him into something positively Parisian. Audrey Hepburn would love this dog. She completely shaved his little tail so it now resembled a slightly bent finger giving the bird to someone. It was pointed right in the direction of the owner.
Was I speechless? Yes. Shocked? Yes My wife and I said nothing to each other until we got in the car. We blamed each other, her – the now evil groomer, the owner, the dog – what a mess. I was so disappointed. I now held in my hands a truly ugly dog. OK, I’m shallow. Sure it was the same dog inside, but he was so damn ugly outside. I now had to live with an ugly dog. How long is it going to be before he gets cute again? Our Shorty was now Ugly with little or no hair on him anywhere except his ears. I wondered if we could we return him to the shelter like one drops off an addict to rehab and pick him up when he is cute and fuzzy again?
It’s been a week now since the debacle. I don’t look at Shorty much these days. I don’t smile when I see him in the morning. I’m embarrassed to walk him. I just feel terrible about the whole situation. And yes, the dog feels pretty bad about everything as well. My wife says to me to give him love – he needs it now more than ever. No I just can’t. I want my old cute dog back. I’ve looked on line to see if they sell a kind of long white fuzzy wig like thing that I can put over him until his hair grows in. No such luck. I walk him now at night so none of the neighbors can see us. My entire life has taken a turn for the worse – living with an ugly dog.
He wasn’t always ugly. We hadn’t had him that long. A few months ago we lost Joe, our beloved Hound/Beagle mix. Then we adopted Max, a very stubborn Shih Tzu, who we renamed “Little Dog”. To be fair, we felt he needed a friend. Over the last 25 years, we’ve always had at least two dogs in our home.
A couple of weeks later my wife went out to pick up a pizza and on the way stopped at a local animal shelter. When I answered my cell I heard barking dogs and I knew she wasn’t at the darn restaurant. She said she was sending me a photo of a toy poodle and to let her know what I thought.
He was so cute. Fuzzy with a large clump of hair on the top of his head, another ball of fur at the tip of his short tail. He resembled more of a little lamb than a poodle. You could hardly see his eyes and his ears were long and droopy. I texted back something to the effect of go for it. Beside a friend for our other dog, she specifically wanted a small dog to cuddle with while she was watching television or reading a book. Perhaps a Yorkie, Chihuahua or Pomeranian.
I had a little Poodle puppy named Henry when I was a kid. My mother let him spend his first night with me. When I came home from school that afternoon she had returned him. I was heart broken. She told me that she could never have something that looked like a rat walk around “her” house. I was never allowed to have another pet.
The picture of the toy poodle, the adoption place called him “Hollywood” or “Bozo” or something, was a little like Henry but even more cute. My wife constantly reminds me that I’m a curmudgeon that needs to smile more. Well, I looked at this dog and smiled. Later that evening she brought him and the pizza home.
Now here was the deal with this dog. He had been adopted out and returned three times. He’s about 15 months old. Nobody could figure out if he was housebroken. One person returned him because she said he was too much too handle, another reported that he constantly went around her home marking her walls and furniture. Someone else said he was too nervous. For sure, he was a bundle of energy.
My wife and I have rescued and adopted about 8 dogs and 1 cat since we got married 33 years ago. While we’re not experts, we feel we know dogs and how to take care of them. All our dogs had been emotionally and physically abused in their former situations and our goal is to provide them a good home in a safe environment. We migh have taken one back to the shelter because of a serious behavior or health problem.
While experienced with dogs of many breeds, we know that each dog is very unique. We felt that we would give “Hollywood – Bozo” who we renamed “Shorty” a little breathing room with us in bed at night. We knew he needed to feel loved and secure. That required we “temporarily” cage the Shih Tzu – Little Dog – until the morning. As a freelance writer and editor, I’m home during the day to watch them.
The first “cage” we purchased was made of heavy duty airline baggage handler proof canvas. We placed it right in the where the dog could see our bedroom lights. Being very quiet, Little Dog, very expeditiously and efficiently chewed through the material and “appeared” next to me at the side of my bed. He was looking straight at me – his eyes completely red from the moonlight coming through the blinds.
The next night we bought a thick black METAL wire cage. We put in water,a pillow, small blanket and a few biscuits. Little Dog walked in voluntarily and we “secured” the door behind him. He plopped down on the pillow and we went to bed.
About twenty minutes later it sounded as if James Cagney was angrily sliding his tin cup back and forth across the bars of his jail cell in Alcatraz. I decided to leave him alone. I slowly shut the pocket door to our bedroom and tried to ignore the ruckus. The noise eventually stopped and I was drifting off. The new poodle snoring tightly against my back.
I heard heavy breathing. Sort of like the noise King Kong made when he was sniffing Fay Wray. I opened one eye and Little Dog was sitting on the floor in front of me. Same red eye stare. I reached down and picked him up and put in the space between our pillows. He’s slept there every night since. Shorty continues to find peace against my back or behind my legs.
The next morning, I inspected the METAL cage. Bars were bent as if Superman had been trapped inside and escaped. Somehow the door was wide open. My wife was asleep and had no part in Little Dog’s escape. Meanwhile our new toy poodle seemed to enjoy just not being returned to the shelter again and was lying real low, avoiding being caged himself.
Every time and anytime I’m around these two creatures, I smile. I’ve loved all our dogs, but these two “take the cake”. One is smarter than the other. Both are very possessive of my wife and I. Both, it turns out, are housebroken and once the poodle knew someone was going to put him out more than once a day, he stopped marking his territory indoors. They are good friends and interact well with each. Generally, they are low maintenance pets.
So this dual adoption worked out well. We’re about three months into it. Shortie – the poodle – his white thick and very curly coat is growing out fast. But he’s so cute, I’m reluctant to take him to a groomer. If he goes, he must return with his fuzzy self in tact, his soft poofy tail and his lamb like soft little curls on top his head must not be touched. I LOVE the dog just like he is. He makes me SMILE.
It’s not good to begin writing a restaurant review when your pissed at the place your reviewing. I’ve been eating at both Pickles Plus locations – now one – for many years. I was there today and when paying my bill, I was informed they were out of chopped liver. This has never happened to me. Pickles Plus chopped liver is one of the truly amazing joys of existing on this planet. I prefer it in the morning with my hazelnut coffee on an “Everything” bagel toasted. The fact that they had none left is bound to just screw up the rest of my week. If I wasn’t going out of the country for a week on assignment, I would be back there tomorrow asking when a new batch will be ready for “me”. Until then I will be cursing Joe Benedettini, the owner, and I’ll have to wait to return for my world to be right.
So, Pickles is a kind of an under the radar screen “NY-style” deli – you either know about or you don’t. It’s located at the Northwood Plaza strip mall at 2530 McMullen Booth Rd. in Clearwater. You can spot the Boar’s Head black and red umbrellas outside. Inside, I’m not crazy about the plastic tables and chairs, the old green carpeting or the leaky ceiling that, I see, has finally been repaired. I tend to eat outside more, until the Florida heat and humidity becomes so oppressive that it drives customers inside for cool air. There are couple of “sports-bar-ish” flat screens inside on either side, which nobody except the servers pay attention to. The deli was established back in 1989 by folks that merged their talents from New Jersey and Michigan.
There used to be a downtown Clearwater location, but since the various commissions and politicians destroyed the business section and the beach front of the place I so loved when I first moved down here – certainly nothing to do with Pickles, there is just the Northwood Plaza location. Personally, I never liked that downtown location. I felt the service was slow and wait staff poorly trained. My “regular” waitress, she always wore a Freeport Islands hat or something, doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Our waiter this afternoon, my wife was with me tonight, was a nice young eager man, but kept saying awesome or fantabulous or something like that either every time we made a request. I appreciate his, what shall I call it, passion and positivity, but a simple “your welcome” would suffice.
The speed – the power and most definitely, the danger, is what you feel when the cars pass right in front of you at 175 miles per hour. When the first cars passed me, for some reason, I was actually a bit scared. What if one of these powerful cars bouncing along and flying by – on what is a city street not a race track – crashes or loses a tire right in front of me? I calmed down after about the fifth pass, but remained “cautious.”
I had never been to an auto race before. It was my son’s idea to take his disabled dad that could barely keep up with him – bad knees and all. I had no preconceived notions about what it would be or should be like. I’ve seen a lot of movies, watched a lot of television and read a great deal about NASCAR and Formula 1 racing. But nothing can substitute being there in person. It is definitely a bucket list item.
Getting to the race site was easy, after all this is St. Petersburg, FL not Miami or much worse, NYC or Ontario CA. The beauty of living here is that you can go anywhere relatively fast and easy. That is as long as you don’t live close to US19 in Clearwater. With the ever-lasting indefinite road work going on there, it can take you 1/2 hour just to go 3-5 miles. But getting to St. Pete from anywhere in Florida is a quick trip on I-75 to I-275, by car. Of course, if you’re a VIP like team owner and industrialist Roger Penske, you fly in your “G” whatever into Tampa International or St. Pete airport which places you 15 minutes from the track and downtown. You can also get there by boat.
The winner of the race was Mr. Personality himself – Helio Castroneves in the Chevy – Penske – Shell car. It was his third St. Pete win. He was on the back of a Honda (the main sponsor of the event) pick-up going around the track smiling and waving to the crowd before the start of the race. To me, he is the Brazilian dude from Dancing With The Stars. He won that too. The vivacious Julianne Hough was his instructor/partner. I think he was the only driver who passed by that I waved to. Of course, that gave him the luck, skill and stamina he needed to win the race. Yeah right. Hey, he’s not a stiff kid – a robot of some corporate sponsor or scumbag like Tiger Woods. I like the guy. I waved. He won. A win – win situation if you ask me. By the way, he also is a three time Indy 500 winner.
The St. Pete race aside for a sec, I’ve got to mention NASCAR. The problem there is all the gas – tire strategy nonsense, the childish bureaucratic penalties for manly stuff like giving the finger to another driver or going to fast into the pits and the family-oriented goody-2 shoes posture of the middle aged white men that control the sport – it doesn’t interest me at all. Need I mention the incessant and annoying sponsorship of EVERYTHING? Watching NASCAR on television at home or wherever I am on the road, well, I usually fall asleep. Round and round they go, restrictor plates limiting the speed of the cars, all of whom are almost exactly alike. The only interesting about NASCAR is my “gal” – the talented Danica Patrick.
Now one might say all that about Formula 1 – Grand Prix racing as well. That’s Ms. Patrick’s old turf. But, so unlike NASCAR, they’re racing on the SAME street that I drive on. They go over the same bumps, lines, man hole covers and under the same traffic lights. That’s awesome. They don’t around a circle or oval, they go around city streets with turns and parking meters and fire hydrants. It’s just “more” real than NASCAR. And there I’m doing what I didn’t mean to do, make the comparison. I’m going to stop in all fairness to NASCAR fans, because I’m going to hold judgment until I “experience” a NASCAR race, like the Daytona 500, in person. I’ll just need an RV, some camo duds and a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ball cap to get in.
Let’s move on. Listening to and watching the race “mano a mano” was fantastic. To hell with ear protectors. You know who won the race. Let’s discuss what I would like to see changed to make the whole “experience” better for everyone and anyone that pays $50+ to get in the gate. First, I don’t want to and didn’t sit down on an aluminum hot “bleacher” in the hot sun for the pre-race stuff or the entire race. I was “attempting” to photograph the event, so just staying in one place didn’t interest me. Outside of the main “stands”, it’s like being outside Yankee Stadium during the playoffs.
The only way I knew what was going on was to follow – and it was hard to do in the bright sun – the Twitter feed of the race. So when Clay Aiken was singing the National Anthem, from my “position” at turn #3 – the Firestone crossover – all I heard were the birds and television helicopters. Now I quite honestly don’t have any desire whatsoever to see or hear Mr. Aiken do anything, so I wasn’t too bummed out. But, the hundreds of good folks and kids, would have liked to be part of it, as they paid good money to get in were yearning to be included. So, to the “operators” of the event, you need to put more PA speakers – everywhere. If the condos and apartments across the street don’t like the noise – screw them. They can put up with it for a few hours once a year.
Next on my list is the food. It was excellent. Kudos to the vendors. But the event “operators” – shame on you. When you’re at the supply house picking up those PA speakers, get some tables, chairs and umbrellas so – in violation of the American’s With Disabilities Act – people who have trouble walking (and everyone else) can SIT DOWN and eat. Does it make any sense for me to buy a gyro and drink for $15 and have to sit on a street curb? Right across from me are tables, chairs and cover for the volunteers who work the event. The “public” is not allowed in. Approximately 25 food vendors and no place for “us” to sit. Not very smart.
How about better signs? I guess I have one of those faces – my son as well – where the lost seek our guidance. It’s a curse. Yes, they handed out maps. So what? Rest rooms – porta potties this way – main grandstand that way – food there – souvenirs and displays that way. I wonder if their intention was to keep things secret? How ridiculous. If you’re going to open “acres” for the event – then for goodness sakes open it for all to enjoy – signs, tables, chairs, PA speakers and whatever else it takes to make people want to come and know what is happening as it happens.
From observing the crowd, you’ll sell more clothing merchandise, if you stop making the guys who should be wearing 3-5XL, walk around stuffed like Polish sausage into XL’s. I noticed the 3rd, 2nd place and winner get “real” Firestone hats with long bills. Do you hear what I just said? Long bills! Not the short child ones you put on all the promo hats for $29. Is this what America has come to? Overpriced balls caps with short bills? Give me a break,
I will be back next year, hopefully being able to get better “access” with a press or photographers pass. I hope to see some changes made. I’m “rooting” for Castroneves to win a 4th time. I would welcome Danica back in a second. We need more women in the cars, not on the sidelines. For more information on the event, here is their link, http://www.gpstpete.com/.