C.J. Cregg: You guys are like Butch and Sundance peering over the edge of a cliff to the boulder-filled rapids 300 feet below, thinking you better not jump ’cause there’s a chance you might drown. The President has this disease and has been lying about it, and you guys are worried that the polling might make us look bad? It’s the fall that’s gonna kill ya.
—The West Wing, “The Fall’s Gonna Kill You” (5/2/01)
NEARLY ICKY IMAGE ALERT: If you’re my brother, don’t look at the end of this post. Maybe wait a few weeks and then come back. For everyone else, be warned that this post is long and rambling and, if I had any smarts, would be more than one post.
So my brother (the one mentioned in the previous paragraph) was recently injured in a fall at work. I told you a little about this a couple of posts ago. The fall wasn’t from a huge height, but it was a complicated one, enough so that Wile E. Coyote would be proud, I think. So, he had a broken pelvis requiring surgery and some interesting shenanigans in the rehab center that I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about.
When he first got hurt, his wife called me to tell me what had happened, and I don’t think she got more than a few sentences out before I started going through checklists in my head outlining what I needed to do in order to get down there. My brother, being pretty wise to how I think, had already issued a strict order for me NOT to come down, since there really wasn’t much I could do anyway. I took him at his word and stayed away, for a few weeks anyway.
As it happened, I’d already arranged for a visit to Beacon College, which is located in Leesburg, Florida. Leesburg is about an hour or so northwest of Orlando and just under two hours’ drive from my brother’s place. So when I set my visit date, I did it with an eye toward making it a long weekend so I could visit my brother.
Let me digress for a minute and talk about Beacon College: it’s a college which, like Landmark College (also mentioned not that long ago), is designed specifically for students with reading difficulties, with ADHD or who are considered to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. Their entire approach to educating students lies in determining how the student learns, how they process information, and then coming up with a plan of action that aims directly at that learning difference. The school itself is composed of several buildings in the downtown Leesburg area, such that you’re not entirely sure where the school ends and the town begins. Anyway, it’s a great school (and, if you’re interested, one of only a couple in the nation–and one of only 23 in the WORLD–with an Anthrozoology program) and worth considering if you suspect you’re smarter than your grades might indicate.
The folks at Beacon were amazing, and the 60-90 minute tour I’d expected turned into three hours of touring and some in-depth chat, and I’m hoping that they can pair up with my high school for some future project.
From there, I headed down to my brother’s place. I gotta say, I was pretty exhausted by this point, because I drove almost straight through from Baltimore to Leesburg, a 14-hour drive under the best of circumstances. I left around 8:30 PM on Tuesday and had no choice really but to stop in a couple of rest areas and do some catnapping (one of those catnaps was nearly three hours, in a gas station parking lot). So by the time I arrived at my hotel on Wednesday, I was pretty tapped out. I managed to get some sleep Wednesday night, but I don’t have the bounce-back skills I used to. I checked into the hotel near my brother’s house, then went to see what he was up to.
We had a happy little reunion, and ordered some takeout food from a place nearby. After dinner was a little more chatter, and he started talking about how he’d like to get out of the house for awhile, if I don’t mind. Hey, anything you want, amigo. We made plans for a couple of potential destinations on Friday, and I was back at the hotel.
Friday morning, I got to his place, and he wanted to visit his place of work. Now, getting him anywhere involves him using a walker to get to the car, and him using a wheelchair to get anywhere else once we arrive. I figure out a way to fit the wheelchair into my trunk, throw the walker into my backseat, and off we go…back to the Scene of the Crime.
Let me tell you something: they really like my brother over there at his place of work. I don’t think I’ve ever been greeted with that level of enthusiasm, anywhere (never mind at my job). He was chit-chatting with people before he even got out of the car. And in the office and the warehouse, it started to feel sort of like a scene from A Hard Day’s Night. I started to feel a little bit like the guy in It’s a Wonderful Life who does nothing but stand behind Mr. Potter and push his chair around. But it was pretty clear that they wanted him back as soon as possible, even if it was just part-time. My brother, being extra macho and whatnot, opined that he’d like to come back on a full-time basis if possible.
Our other destination was to see the water. That’s all; he just wanted to see the water. So from his workplace we headed down US19, and then a road called Alternate 19, which splits off from the main road in the town of Holiday and runs a little closer to the water. All the way down, we talked about how the area has changed since we were younger. I noted to him that there was a period of time where I’d constantly get lost because so much had changed during the year or so that would pass between visits. That actually happened to me on this visit, because I didn’t know that a road in his town had been completely re-routed to accommodate the expansion of a park.
As we got closer to the town of Tarpon Springs, he suggested that we make the turn down Dodecanese Boulevard, along the Anclote River toward the Sponge Docks. Dodecanese Blvd. is the heart of Tarpon Springs’ tourist industry, and hardly a day goes by that isn’t thronged with people who come to buy natural sponges, eat Greek food or just take a stroll along the docks to see the sponge boats doing their thing. You can even take a sponge-diving tour, where they give you the whole story of how the industry started in the late 1800s, and how the process of harvesting and preparing sponges hasn’t changed substantially since then. In fact, the Sponge Docks area hadn’t changed substantially during most of that time: the first time I visited was as a 12-year-old in 1975, and it was much the same until I was deep into my adulthood. Then along came a storm (I can’t remember which one) which, between the storm itself and the water surging up the riverbanks, pretty much wiped out the entire area. The town got a huge pile of money from the government to re-build, and nearly every building was restored.
One building survived the storm, and oddly enough it was very close to the river. That building is called Sponge-O-Rama, and it’s the home of a couple of free exhibits that will teach you about the history and heritage of the local Sponge Industry. This comes in two flavors: Flavor One is the movie they show you, that loops around about every fifteen minutes. The film is dated, they’ll concede, but they keep it around because it’s such good documentation of the stuff they do. This film looked old in 1973 and it’s not looking much better, having been transferred from film to video tape and now to DVD from the video, so you’re treated to scanning errors and color bleeding. From there it’s on to the Sponge Museum, which is a labyrinth of poorly-lit full-size dioramas set behind plexiglass that’s so old, it’s started to fog up and is harder to see through every year. This area looks exactly the same way it did in 1973, and I’m pretty sure that the only thing keeping this part of the building together is the termites holding hands. And yet…it’s so goddamn charming that I can’t not go there when I’m in town. Except this time, of course, because my brother can’t get out of the car without a hassle and this was just a side trip, anyway. So after a pass through the area in each direction, we returned to Alternate 19 and continued down another couple of miles to the Honeymoon Island Causeway. We drove down the causeway, taking our time, until we got to the point where, in order to proceed, we’d have to pay a toll. Well, once again getting out of the car and into the sand wasn’t on the agenda, so I turned the car around and cruised back up the causeway. At one point I found a break in the railings and took my car down to the beach itself (about where the arrow is in the picture above), where I backed up against the rail and we sat there, chitchatting and watching the water. After awhile we headed back up the road (waiting for a sailboat to come through the drawbridge) and hit the local supermarket to get stuff for me to make dinner. He’d found a recipe in Food Network Magazine he was hot to try, but since he couldn’t stand up long enough to cook, we figured I could do the cooking and he could help with prep. (Go to the link; it’s good stuff!)
So while he was up and getting ready to cut up some peppers, he said to me, “Hey, wanna see the scar?” I, being no fool, said certainly. He told me that he hadn’t even seen it because he figured it’d make him woozy. So if you’re my brother, don’t look! Here it comes!
Oh, and here’s some good news: he’s making his return to work, part-time, today! Go get ’em, man! They’re eager to have you back!