Tuesday, 21 July 2009
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Alright, after almost a year of silence and inactivity I am finally adding another entry to the blog. Lots and lots of things have happened since my last entry. I have been to Aruba twice, I had old school friends visit me here in Curacao, Christmas has come and gone and even more friends have come (in some cases making really serious self-mutilation efforts). Ah, and yes, the world economy seems to have decided that we all deserve a lesson and has gone into "defiant-shutdown" mode. This among other things has moved me to find a new job and so this will be my last Curacao-based blog entry. This however is the future. Let’s look back a few weeks first.

I have also been to Florida recently and let's make this the subject of today's blog.

Florida. How come you might think... Well, I had never really been to Florida before and a girl from Hotel school in Switzerland called Beatrix (Trixi) lives in West Palm Beach, Florida. Since I have come to Curacao we have been trying to organize a visit. And now finally it has happened.

And so I recently found myself at 5:30am at the airport here in Curacao to entrust my life to American Airlines to carry me to Miami. After the usual headache with Immigration, I was on the plane and then in Miami at about 10:30 in the morning. Now, I could fill days telling you what is wrong with American Airlines and Miami Airport, but let's better get on with it.

It was actually a Friday and my friend had to work and we had agreed that I would take the train from Miami Airport to West Palm Beach. Taking the train in America is always an experience.

To start with, in America it seems that taking the train somehow equals admitting defeat. It seems to say that you can't afford to fly or to own a car and let's just face it, if you don't own a car in the US of A you have reached Rock Bottom. More about that later.

In any case, after purchasing a ticket for $5.50 (which interestingly left me with 14 One Dollar coins) I was on the train.

The train, it has to be said, was reasonably clean and also reasonably on time and so we were off.

We were driving through some pretty rough neighborhoods initially but it soon got better and more resembled what I had in mind when thinking about Florida, i.e. lots of Condos, Boats and water.

After about 4 stops or so, the ticket conductor came. Now, let's pause here for a second.

I have taken some sort of train in at least 8 or 9 countries, admittedly all European. The majority had conductors. All of these conductors were pretty much the same: they all had some sort of uniform and all were checking the validity of your ticket. This conductor here (a rather attractive lady actually) did the same thing.

The very noticeable difference here was that she was wearing a Kevlar vest and carrying (if I'm not mistaken) a SIG Sauer handgun.

I had arrived in America.West Palm Beach March 09 065

While I was proud to see that the Florida TriRail has selected a Swiss-German firearm manufacturer to provide its employees with some firepower, I was wondering what sort of passenger is usually using the service making such a response necessary. I made a mental note only to use this train during daylight and also vowed to certainly have my ticket ready at all times.

Her (combat) vest was carrying all sorts of accessories from Pepper Spray to plastic hand ties and so she looked capable of not only dealing with ticket offenses but also with the aftermath of a terror attack. I'm still not sure if that is making me feel any better.

Eventually I got to West Palm Beach station where I got of the train my friend picked me up to take her back to the hotel where she works.  West Palm Beach March 09 074

The hotel is called The Breakers and is something else (www.thebreakers.com). It is one the grand old dames of hotels and has been around forever. It employs about 2000 people and has probably seen everything there is to see. The Saturday after I left they had an event (birthday party I think) and the price per person (and I swear this is true) was $930 plus tax plus 22% service charge. You get the idea….

After a quick tour of the hotel, I got Trixi’s car (interesting) and was off to do some shopping and kill some time. West Palm Beach March 09 075

Driving around West Palm Beach you would not get the idea that the economy is in any sort of crisis. In fact, you would think it could not be healthier. The yachts as well as the amount of high end German cars was more than impressive (seriously, why would you ever drive a Lexus?) as was the amount of ah, somewhat “restored” ladies in the shopping mall.

I’m pretty useless when it comes to shopping but I did find a very good bookstore (something seriously missing in Curacao) and had some decent pizza (also not so easy to come by here) and was pretty happy. It was surprisingly cold (cold as in only 16 to 18 degrees Celsius or so) and windy, but armed with my books I managed to pass the time before it was time to head back to the hotel and then to my friends home.  West Palm Beach March 09 009

After a quick stop we were off to a place by the ocean whose name I have forgotten for dinner and drinks and later on to some sort of Irish Pub turned Club or something which inevitably led to some rather serious inebriation. West Palm Beach March 09 015

As such, the next day began a bit slow. Unfortunately, there was really no time for slow as we were off to a Spring Training (i.e. Pre Season to you and me) Baseball game. Trixi’s boss is a bit of Baseball nut and got us the tickets. We were off to see the Boston Red Sox play the Florida Marlins. These things can start rather early over here, so we were on the road by 9:30 or so. After a quick lunch (which maybe not surprisingly) involving beer, we were at the ball park around one. Things were going slow and there was not all that much to see at this point so I am very ashamed to report that I fell asleep. I was blissfully dozing away, even during the national anthem and I would like to apologize for that.West Palm Beach March 09 021

Anyway, the game was a rather rained out affair with many breaks, very few actual starters on both teams and very few runs scored, but I can now say that I have been to a Baseball game…West Palm Beach March 09 023

The next day Trixi and me were off to Miami Beach for purposes of sightseeing etc. After milling around for a while we had lunch at a place at the ocean (again) and while this might not mean a lot to many of you, we were sitting at the table next to Arne Sorensen! I did not muster the courage to go up to him and ask him for a picture, but I sort of sneaked a picture of him and his bowtie pasta.

For those of you that don’t know, Arne Sorenson was the Chief Financial Officer for Marriott International and has recently been promoted to Chief Operating Officer and is very likely to succeed Mr. Marriott himself once he steps down. So out of a work force of over 300,000 I was sitting next to a guy at the very top of the tree. Cool ey? I will, on this occasion only, forgive you if you are not quite as excited as myself.West Palm Beach March 09 028

Anyway, afterwards we went for some more sightseeing and were then off to the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. It is another famous hotel that has been around for a while. It features in James Bond’s Goldfinger where the lady to be covered in gold is on the balcony watching the bad guy play cards at the pool.

I had heard that it is an absolute must see after a one billion dollar restoration (again, no kidding here)! And you know what: They were right! Even if you don’t know anything about hotels, this place will blow your socks off. It is awesome. Words can not do this justice. If you get the chance, absolutely go and check it out. Here are a few pictures to give you an idea. We had the absolutely most expensive sushi ever and 2 very good cocktails but it was worth it!

West Palm Beach March 09 064

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And with that the weekend was over and I was on my own. The plan was very much to take Trixi’s car and drive about 250 miles north to the Kennedy Space Center.  This is something I have wanted to do forever, especially with all the stuff they had going on with the anniversary of the Moon landing and so on. So, after dropping off Trixi at work and topping up the tank, I was off on my trip.

Now, I do not want to ridicule Trixi’s car (actually I do, but let’s pretend that I don’t), but I think it is fair to say that it has seen better days. There were a few non-essential bits not working, but hey, it was a car. It is a Saturn and no, I’m not very familiar with the brand either.

Well, I made it to the Interstate alright and I was cruising along when about 60 miles later a rather loud noise notifies me of a tire failure and imminent personal expiry due to losing control over a vehicle travelling at 80mph. As I am here to tell the tale the more awake among you will have probably gathered that I have managed to stop the car in one piece on the hard shoulder.

After surveying the damage I figured that it was not that bad and that it was fixable. I can see some of you with the ol’ No Way Wolfi can fix that himself look on your face…Now, those of you that know me a little better know that anything more complicated than changing a light bulb does become a bit taxing for me. Fair enough, however, due to September 11 and following unemployment I do actually have rather good tire changing skills and within minutes I had the car up, the tire off and I was about to put the spare one on, when I realized that it too had no air. Hmmpfff!West Palm Beach March 09 083

This did represent a bigger problem now as I figured out soon enough that my Curacao phone was not willing to co-operate with the US networks. What to do? Well, no other chance really than finding the next call station for the Highway Patrol folks. After quite a hike (it appears that they are 1.5 miles apart and that, of course, I chose the wrong direction) I got to this rather interesting device, which undoubtedly had saved many lives but was not immediately willing to save my day. You see, you open this hatch type thing and are presented with 3 buttons. One for the police, one for ambulance and one for Roadside Assistance. You are also informed via text and signs to press the relevant button for 10 seconds, that a confirmation tone will sound and that no voice communication will take place. Great!

So, for good measure I press the button for 12 seconds but do not get a confirmation tone. Okay, better try again and make it exactly 10 seconds. Nope, does not work either. At this point, a certain, ah frustration sets in and I really consider giving the damn thing a good bashing. You must understand that at this point I am quite dirty from changing the tire, pissed off about the lack of air in the spare tire, have just labored and walked in the direct Florida sun for a good half hour (i.e. I’m sweating like mad) and that most likely I will not make it to the Kennedy Space Center, because I have to walk another friggin’ 1.5 miles as this thing does not work.

After a short consideration I try the police button, but it does not work either. At this point I proceed to give the thing a good shake accompanied by some rather colorful expletives in a variety of languages. Needless to say that it is a complete waste of time and so, finally, I slam the hatch shut – only to be presented with the confirmation tone.West Palm Beach March 09 084

Upon re-examination of the little signs, I would have to admit that you could possibly gather this from the drawings, but you would obviously need to be quite a bit more alert than me.

Anyway, after walking back to the car in a now baking late morning sun, it is another 25 minutes or so until the tow truck arrives. The very nice dude driving it actually managed to inflate the spare tire and we put that back on so I at least escaped being towed. He also issued me with instructions to the next car dealer.

And with that I was off again, this time somewhat more cautiously. About 20 minutes later I was at the tire place the guy had described to me, however as it turns out, they did not have the required tire in stock. They gave me another place and this turned out to be the Tire Kingdom, which admittedly I did like better than Goodyear Stuart. After another 45 minutes or so I was the proud new owner of a tire and once the guys had put it on for me I was ready to hit the road again. It was 12:15pm. The guy at the Tire Kingdom estimated the time to Kennedy as another 2 and a half hours and as the last tour leaves at 14:30 (they take quite long), I was quite out of luck. There was no way I could push the little car to cover the distance. Also, I had spent most of my Kennedy funds on the tire.  West Palm Beach March 09 087

So, with a heavy heart I started to return back to West Palm Beach, this time opting to take the small road (for American standards) along the ocean. This was a really good idea and I was treated to some nice views along the way. Of course, there is also the usual sprinkling of gas stations and fast food outlets.

When I saw a sign for the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, I stopped on impulse to check it out. Now these wonderful people there try to save any animals that come into more contact with humans that is good for them, which basically is pretty much any. They specialize on turtles and the place is essentially a turtle hospital/rehab. Please do not mistake these turtles with the ones some people have at home. They are rather small. These here are massive. They have all been injured in one way or the other and they are trying to nurture them back to health. Again, pictures say more than words, so here you go….

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And with that I will leave you for today. I still have not figured out how to align these pictures properly, so if it looks funky, please forgive me. In any case, you have had enough to read and I have to go to the airport… I hope to be back here soon. There is certainly enough going on to fill a few more spaces… Take care and I hope to see many of you soon in person. 

Wolfi

Tuesday, 21 July 2009 17:58:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  |