Happy Holidays 1996

Thanksgiving Day take-out and a New Year’s Day breakfast at Denny’s Restaurants in Virginia and Marathon Key, Florida formed incidental bookends around an eventful holiday season.

It all started with Katie’s tonsils. Cathy decided that we should travel the nine hours to Blacksburg in order to help Katie recuperate in a motel room in nearby Salem, Virginia. So we made the trip and Cathy enjoyed her Denny’s take-out meal while I had banana sandwiches made from groceries from a Wal-mart superstore. For her part, Katie had Denny’s mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

The period from Thanksgiving to December 19 was filled with grading, exams, and more grading. I finished my first semester at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey well satisfied with the experience. I hope my students felt the same.

On Friday, December 20, after Cathy got out of classes at Cape May Technical High School, we headed to Blacksburg via Washington’s infamous beltway. We arrived at about 1 a.m. at the Hampton Inn in Christianburg, about 20 minutes from Virginia Tech’s campus. The next morning found us elbow-to-elbow with lots of other parents partaking of the free continental breakfast. On the way to campus, Cathy remarked that she’d never been in such a concentration of Virginians; I retorted that the group was struggling to achieve a combined IQ of 100 before we arrived, but I was just kidding folks. The morning temperature was 3 degrees Fahrenheit, but it was a gorgeous day. Katie graduated summa cum laude at the morning ceremonies. This completes the roster of honors graduates in our family: Alex, Bill, Katie, and Cathy all graduated with honors; I missed the cut by 0.06 quality points. We celebrated Katie’s graduation and her birthday during the day and at dinner at the Farmhouse Restaurant. Later in the evening, Alex, Phil, Bill, Katie, and Cathy and I all exchanged Christmas presents in our motel room. Tom, Katie’s friend, supplied a small Christmas tree (with lights) and his presence and presents for the occasion. There were an incredible number of presents in that room. My best present was the Professional Duct-tape Kit, complete with hat and two books. On Sunday morning, Bill and Katie headed for the airport at Charlotte, North Carolina, while Alex, Phil, Cathy, and I headed for the Baltimore-Washington Airport.

We all flew to Atlanta, where we joined together again for a flight to Tampa. We loaded our voluminous luggage into a rented mini-van and headed for the Bialas’ home near Clearwater. We arrived about 11 p.m. Bob, Marianne, Stephanie, Erin, Michael, Ryan, Bill (me), Cathy, Alex, Phil, Bill, and Katie formed a congenial party of twelve for the Christmas holidays. Bob and Marianne live very close to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico, so we spent lots of time jogging and walking near to the shore. One afternoon, Stephanie, Erin, Katie, and I had a nice couple of hours kayaking in Tampa Bay; near the end of the paddling, we were in the midst of a pod of dolphins. The weather stayed warm and beautiful for our entire stay from December 22 to December 26. We stopped at the site of the Madonna of the Windows on Christmas Day, joining many pilgrims. Bright and early the day after Christmas, the six of us loaded the van and headed south.

We drove down the west coast of Florida and then headed east on Alligator Alley and then south to Florida City. We stopped for some fast food at a Miami Subs Restaurant. For the next few hours we drove along the famous road to Key West. The day was warm and beautiful and the water views were incredible. We arrived at the Speakeasy Inn by mid-afternoon. Our two rooms were spacious and tropically decorated. Our location on Duval Street placed us on the most famous and action-packed street in all of Key West. Our feet would provide most of our transportation for the next several days. The most memorable aspect of all of our Key West stay was that every day was sunny and in the 80s. We ate at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Bagatelle, Blue Heaven, Turtle Kraals, Alice’s, and Crabby Dicks. The food was most excellent at Bagatelle and Blue Heaven and good elsewhere. We took an all-day back-country Mosquito Coast kayak tour among the mangroves off of Lower Sugarloaf Key. On the tour, we saw some nurse sharks, sting rays, and lots of birds. We enjoyed some snorkeling near sink holes at one point of the tour, and I lost my kayaking sunglasses. Another day we took a snorkeling trip out to the reef off of Key West. We enjoyed some beautiful reef scenery and fishes including some mean looking barracuda. At one point, five big ‘cudas surrounded me and chased me from their territory. I rented a kayak on another day for a couple of hours of exploring the ocean side of Key West. Many mornings I started with a 60 minute run; by that means and some long walks with Cathy, I saw most of Key West, especially the coast line all the way around. We visited Cathy’s cousin Ruth Ann at her home on Sugarloaf Key on one afternoon. Bill and I rented wave-runners on our last day and spent an hour of high-speed fun. For the first time in many years, I lay down on Smathers Beach to soak up some rays; an umbrella flying in the wind landed on my solar plexus to punish me for my sloth. We saw many pelicans and egrets, a reddish egret, a white ibis, and a couple of magnificent frigate-birds during our visit. The water temperature was 76 degrees which is as cold as it gets according to some natives. Meanwhile, the water temperature on New Year’s Day in Atlantic City was 39 degrees. New Year’s Eve was shaping up to be a real happening on Duval Street. We took an early tour and then retired to our quarters to watch Virginia Tech versus Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. All of us hit the sheets fairly early. We left Key West in a downpour at 5:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day. Most of the other people on the streets were returning from a long night’s reverie.

The rain continued throughout our traverse of the lower keys. Then the sun came out for the rest of our drive. We stopped at the aforementioned Denny’s on Marathon Key for the fuel for a long day of travel. We drove on to Miami International Airport; Bill and Katie continued on to West Palm Beach Airport. We flew to a cloud-covered Atlanta and then to a miserably gray and cold Baltimore (30 degrees).

We said our good-byes to Alex and Phil, picked up our car at Satellite parking, and headed for Cape May. We stopped at the Villas WaWa for hoagies and some essential groceries and arrived home at about 8:30 p.m., just in time for the beginning of Penn State’s glorious victory over Texas in the Fiesta Bowl.

It will be a tough act to follow, but we will give it a try next year.

William G. McArthur

01/02/97 (Revised 12/05/08)