Category — The Conch Republic

Random end-of-vacation thoughts

I’ve just returned to Chicago having spent half of December in the Florida Keys.  I’m on laundry load #7, so all I am capable of right now is a random list of thoughts as I transition back into the real world.

1.  Reuniting long-lost siblings. I walked into the store with a lovely cream-colored Coach handbag which I had purchased earlier in the year.   I had no idea that the bag had been separated at birth from its siblings.  Clearly, screaming to be reunited with its gunmetal and black leather family members.  What could I do?  How could I possibly not succumb to begging from supple leather?  Not to mention the salesperson waving a 30% coupon off the already deeply discounted prices.  No one can say I don’t have family values.

Family portrait.

2. Vermin.  Fifteen day vacation.  Ten mosquito bites.  You found a way to bite me while I was laying out at the swimming pool.  (Couldn’t have been any other time because I slept in a hyperbaric chamber trying to prevent a sneak attack during the night.) When I rule the world I will find a way to destroy all of you itch-inducing, red bump making fuckers.  Oh, and the one that bit me on the ass?  He will be water boarded.

3.  Reclining bastards.  Do you asshats realize when you recline your airplane seat, you are shoving the back of your seat into my eye sockets and thrusting my tray table into my solar plexis?  Is a three-inch recline that important to your comfort?  Here’s hoping an air bag explodes into your ribs during your drive home.

4.  Thrifty car rental.  Even after I changed to a fourth car during my 15 day rental, you still didn’t get it right.  There was a warning on the dash that said, “oil change required.”  The warning would not go off, which means that it covered the space where the odometer should be.

When I tried to report it at the end of the rental, the attendant did not know the word “odometer.”  He kept pointing to the speedometer and telling me that it was working fine.  The highlight of my weekend will be filling out the customer satisfaction survey.  I will be using phrases like “douche bag customer service” and “Flintstone mobile.”  Or why don’t we skip all of this and go right to the huge discount you will end up giving me on my next rental.

5.  Miami airport.  My hate of this place continues.  Even the people who work there hate it.  How do I know?  They bitch about the place more than I do.

6.  A French street corner.  About 20 years ago, I bought a collapsible bag made from parachute fabric on a French street corner.  I spent the equivalent of $7.  This bag has served as my emergency second bag (translation: I went shopping) since that time.  It’s as light as a feather and collapses to the size of a paperback.  The French excel at croissants and street luggage.  I have proof.

7.  The best beach pillow.  A couple of years ago, I bought a back support pillow from The Back Store.  It didn’t work out so well for back support, but turned into awesome sauce as a beach chair or blanket pillow.  Another cool part is that it totally deflates and inflates automatically.  And the fabric is perfect for wet hair, etc.  It doesn’t absorb!  Don’t ya just love multipurpose stuff?!

Collapsible bag + beach pillow. Awesome sauce!

8.  Russell Brand/Katy Perry.  Russell filed for divorce today due to irreconcilable differences.  You entertainment types are relationship wimps.  My marriage lasted for four whole years and my ex was Satan.

Okay, so now I’ve gotta go take yet another load out of the washer as my tan continues to fade.

December 30, 2011   4 Comments

The Christmas Eve crab claw beating

For those who celebrate Christmas, more likely than not, your family has annual traditions and rituals they partake in.

For many years now, my mother and I have been celebrating Christmas at Rantopolis South in the Florida Keys.  The geography lends itself to some mighty fine seafood eating, including the coveted seasonal stone crab claws.

Boats pull up to the dock and minutes later you are driving away with a bag full of yummy.

We always place our order right after Thanksgiving.  We hope for the colossals, but settle for the jumbos if the former aren’t available.

But here’s the thing.  Although these puppies are beyond dee-lish, they are a super pain to crack open.

In the past, I’ve tried all sorts of things.  Tools that look like nutcrackers, long skinny metal prongs to get to the crab meat and brute strength.

I’ve had shells flying everywhere and near finger amputations.  (Trust me, blood is not a good sauce for these things.) And I’m not really interested in something that is going to harsh my vacation vibe.  Especially when they cost close to $30 a pound.

However, a couple of years ago, I had a stroke of genius.  A way to get to the crab meat easily without:

a. splattering the shell and meat everywhere

b.  a hospital visit

So, my friends, through the magic of You Tube, I would like to share with you the annual Christmas Eve beating of the crab claws.

Put towel on floor.  Place individual serving on crab claws into a slider bag.  Close slider bag.  Beat the crap out of the claws with a wooden mallet.  Serve.  (Don’t forget the mustard sauce.)

Voila!  No flying shells, spilled blood or trip to emergency room!  Plus it feels great to beat the crap out of something.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that your dinner wasn’t on the floor before you ate it, right?

December 26, 2011   Comments Off on The Christmas Eve crab claw beating

Four rental cars in 24 hours. Seriously.

Yeah.  Four.  Not making it up.

The story starts pleasantly enough.  I arrived at Miami’s Thrifty airport counter a week ago.  Lo and behold, they had my full-sized car ready.  A Ford Taurus.

Gasp.  Ready?!  You mean you aren’t going to pull your usual trick?  The one where you try to pawn off an SUV on me?  Wow.  I should buy a lottery ticket.

So, things were going well until midday yesterday.  We were a third of the way to Ft. Lauderdale from the Upper Florida Keys, when we hear chimes alerting us to the low tire pressure indicator.  We find a gas station with an air pump and my cousin,  the automotive electrical engineer, goes to work trouble-shooting the situation.

She adds air to the right front and back tires.  Low pressure indicator still on.  She moves to the left side and tries to do the same.  However, instead of the tires inflating, the air hose was actually causing them to lose air.  The deduction was that the left tires had faulty valves, which weren’t allowing inflation.

We figured that the problem wasn’t dire enough for emergency action, so we decided to continue our drive to Ft. Lauderdale and then deal with the car after lunch.

About four hours later we pull into the Ft. Lauderdale airport and find our way to the Thrifty return lanes.

Hi….there’s a problem with this car.

Okay, do you to switch it with a different car? 

(Really?  That easy?  You didn’t even ask me what the problem was?  What if I had a dead body in the trunk?  Still cool with my swapping it?)

Yes, that would be great.

Okay, let me get the paperwork.

He hands me my original paperwork with a few additional sheets added to the sleeve.  After I bitched a little more, I also received a coupon for 10% the next rental.  Finally I was asked what was wrong with the car.  He then wrote my answer on the windshield. (For a sec, I thought of starting a game of tic tac toe.)

So, off I go to the counter to negotiate the replacement vehicle.

The representative suggests a Crown Victoria as an option.  He asks if I want to see the car first.  Apparently, the low tire pressure affected my brain synapses and I decline.  He then gives me the keys to a car that resembled a  Blues Brothers police cruiser.

Seriously?!  They still make cars like this?!!  Unfreakingbelievable.   This thing had the shift on the column and a bench seat.  OMG!!!!

I drove it to the end of the row and then came back.

Excuse me sir.  I am sorry.  You gave me the option of seeing the car and I declined.  I am an asshat.  I should have taken you up on it.  This car is horrific, you have to give me something else.

With no other full-sized cars available (and my rejecting the ubiquitous SUV), I agree to go down one class to a standard.  He handed me the keys to a dark maroon colored Ford Fusion and off we went.

Within minutes I was being strangled by the seat belt and when I accelerated, the car sounded like it had tuberculosis.  Zero to 60 in three hours.  Peachy.  This was going to be my ride for the next week?!!  Sigh.

So, fast forward to today.  Driving down U.S. 1 this afternoon,  we hear chimes again.  And a low tire pressure warning.

OMG…seriously?!!  Is Thrifty trying to punk me?!!!  Am I in car rental Groundhog Day? Are Fords devoid of any quality control?!!

I quickly look at my watch.  4:50 p.m.  I’m about three miles from the Upper Keys Thrifty location.  Not sure if they close at 5 p.m. so I hit the gas.  More tuberculosis.  (After all this is the Keys.  People take their cocktail hour very seriously so I need to get there before they start hammering brewskis.)

I walk in and explain my current dilemma and the car rental events of the past 24 hours.  The woman behind the desk proceeds to tell me that this sort of thing happens all the time and and I shouldn’t be concerned.

Uh.  No.  I further explain the problem with yesterday’s deflation and I am not comfortable driving a car with a safety warning.

She tells me that if I fill the tires with air and then drive five miles it should adjust itself.  I was pretty sure that the next set of instruction were going to involve me clucking like a chicken, chugging a beer and running around the car ten times.

Instead of following her moronic instructions I politely explained why her theory wasn’t correct and proceeded to ask….once again….for a new car.

Is the current car filled with gas?

Uh.  No.

Okay, well, you are going to have to fill it with gas and the come back.

Sweet mother of god.  Thrifty is going to give me a stroke.  Off I go to the gas station and pump $14.81 worth of regular into this piece of asthmatic, under inflated piece of crap.

I return to the office where the attendant completes the transfer.  She hands me the sleeve stuffed with more paper and all sorts of “returned” notations on the cover.  She hands me the keys.

Can you tell me where it’s parked?

No, I’m not sure where anything is parked. Just use the keys and try to find the car that lights up when you push the open door button.

Fabulous.  As I try to find Car #4, I turn around and snap this photo of the seat belt choking Ford Fusion.

Tuberculosis on four wheels.

Rental car #4.

My new ride, is the last car in the row.  A lovely silver Taurus.  A smile crossed my lips as I realize that I would now be back to driving something comfortable.  I enter, start the car and find my self staring at the following:

Engine oil. Change soon.

Shoot me.  Does Ford make any vehicle that doesn’t display a warning message of any type?

The only one that would be appropriate is, “you are stupid if you buy or rent this car.”

P.S.  Did I mention that I left my Jawbone bluetooth behind in Car #1?

December 21, 2011   Comments Off on Four rental cars in 24 hours. Seriously.

The day of the iguana

So, we are in the Florida Keys, having a wonderful time during my annual Christmas break.  After an exhausting morning of suntanning (people, it takes a lot of energy to apply sunscreen and turn over), it was time to take a lunch break.

As I prepared lunch at the condo, my cousin was on the balcony looking out at the ocean.  She spots a “thing” sitting on top of a mangrove tree.  I go over to take a look.  The “thing” looked like a lizard to me.  (Helloooo…what do I know?!  I’m a city rat.  I can spot a drug dealer a mile away, but a reptile?   Sorry, not up on the various species.)

Cities have rats. Subtropics have these fugly things.

So, back to the lizard.  It seemed to be immobile.  Like it was sick or something and had crawled up there to die.  (My mother informed me that she had seen it yesterday and it made her gag.  That’s mom.  Huge lover of nature.)

We stared at it for a while and then it suddenly decided to move.  Sort of lumbering from the top of one tree to the next.  Okay, so clearly it wasn’t dying.  Maybe it had been suntanning, too.

When it made its way to the other tree limb, I could see its full glory. Orange spikey things coming out of its back, orange feet and an orange and black strip-y tail.  Oh, and it was big.  Like five or six feet, big.

Frankly, I’d prefer to run into a drug dealer than this thing.

Not knowing what it was, I decided to stop into the condo management office on my way back to the pool.  They’re used to me asking random questions.

Hey, sorry to bother you, but there is this lizard thing outside my window sitting on top of a mangrove. Do you know what it is?  Have you seen it?

You mean an iguana?  Uh.  Yeah.  They are all over the Keys.  That particular one parked itself outside my office for about six months and just used to stare at us.

Okay, so now we know what it is, what the hell does this thing eat?  (Please don’t tell me middle-aged women who are tanning by the pool.)

It typically eats leaves and bugs.

Awesome.  I’m home free.  This fugly thing isn’t interested in eating me.

Next problem.  How to prevent the no-see-ums from eating me.

December 19, 2011   1 Comment

The Xmas alligator, pelican and fusilli tales

Apparently children residing in the Florida Keys have been really, really naughty.  Instead of coals in their stockings (which would be bad enough) these children will be paid a visit by the Christmas alligator.

BTW, he has sharp teeth and powered head that moves back and forth.  His innards include a series of lights.  Or perhaps those are the remains of small children he has eaten.  I’m not sure which.

And then there is the red bow around his belly and the Santa hat.  (What? No smoking jacket and a pipe? Obviously not an upper class alligator.)

Clearly, he likes to perch on awnings, ready to pounce on victims passing below.

You should also meet its cousin, the Christmas Pelican.  If the alligator doesn’t gobble you up, then the Christmas Pelican will peck you to death.  Wearing what else?  A Santa hat.

Tis the season to peck you to death.

If that isn’t frightening enough, then meet the Christmas Fusilli. It’s been known to grow 20 feet tall and appear in groups of three.

Do those come with marinara sauce and garlic bread?

Faced with these three options, coal suddenly doesn’t look so bad.

December 15, 2011   2 Comments

The hell chronicles: part 1–the toilet

My sincere apologies Rantopolis readers for not having posted earlier in the week.   Blame it on Satan.

Yes, apparently, I was somehow transported into hell earlier this week.  That is the only reason I can come up with for the crap (literally, as you are about to find out) that has rained on me in the recent past.

About a week ago, I received a phone call from the management office that oversees my Florida Keys condo.  (Hi Jason. C’mon…you didn’t think I wasn’t going to write about this, right?!)  The call began with, “I’m sorry but I don’t have good news for you.”

Oh, great.  What is it?  A bed bug infestation?  A late season hurricane detached my unit from the rest of the building and it is now floating to Cuba?   A bunch of bikers spray painted “helter skelter” all over the walls?  What??!!

“Well, it seems the renters that were in there earlier today, flushed the toilet in the master bathroom and then checked out.  Unfortunately the toilet overflowed and dumped gallons of water into the master bedroom.  It’s reached almost to the external wall.”

And people wonder why I swear so much.

What did the fucking renters put down my damn toilet?!  A watermelon?!!

And don’t tell me they flushed the toilet and then suddenly they ran out not knowing that it was overflowing.  Last time I checked my condo wasn’t a changing station for the Ironman Triathlon.

Maybe they flushed a baby alligator?

I just cannot wrap my brain around how careless people are with other people’s property.  I now literally want to find them and pour the entire contents of Lake Michigan into their living space.

Lucky for them I do not know their name or address because I’d already be on their front porch with a hose.

When all is said and done, the bill for this shit-tastic experience will end up being close to $1,000.  Water removal, fan drying, industrial steam cleaning, etc.  (This doesn’t include loss of income.)

Did I mention they had to remove the baseboards because the water had seeped behind them and started creeping up the drywall?

In 21 years of owning this condo, I’ve never had a single issue with a toilet overflowing.  (And I gutted the entire place four years ago, so everything is brand new.)  And, the toilet seems to be fine after the fact.  So, there is only one thing that remains.

That is for me to wish this particular renter an eternity of bad luck.  Let’s start with the ebola virus and work our way up.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the Hell Chronicles.  (Yes, unfortunately, there is more.)

November 10, 2011   5 Comments

My choice for a Darwin Award

For those of you not familiar with the Darwin Awards, they are given annually to people who do things that are so stupid they defy all logic.  This one should definitely be a contender for honorable mention.

A few days ago, I came across an event that took place in March in the Florida Keys.  With a second home in the Keys,  I’ve seen or heard a lot of wacky things from the residents of the Conch Republic over the past 20 years.  However,  every time I think I’ve seen or heard the wackiest Keys occurrence ever, something new comes along to top it.

Enter Megan Barnes.

Beware. You are entering Monroe County.

According to FloridaKeysNews.com which originally broke the story, “the Florida Highway Patrol troopers say a two-vehicle crash Tuesday at Mile Marker 21 on Cudjoe Key was caused by a 37-year-old woman driver who was shaving her bikini area while her ex-husband took the wheel from the passenger seat.”

Hey Oprah!  You thought you had it covered with your don’t text and drive campaign.  Apparently not.  We now need a national “keep your razor away from your hoo ha” and drive campaign.

While I get the concept of creating a clean work surface, if you know what I’m saying, I’m sane enough to know that a moving motor vehicle is not the place to attempt a depilatory project.  Don’t care if your tool is a razor, tweezers, wax, hatchet or weed wacker.  Deforestation should not be occurring as you propel a two ton vehicle in a forward direction.

Wish the story ended there.  Nope.  It gets more warped.  As in…very.

Apparently her ex-husband was accompanying her to Key West to meet her boyfriend.   OMG.  Seriously?!!!  So, how did that conversation go down?

“Listen ex-hon.  I need to meet Mr. Current Boyfriend down the road in Key West.  You wouldn’t mind coming along with me, would ya?!  And while you’re at it, could you hold the wheel while I do a little edge trimmin’.”

Had enough?  Sorry.  Not done yet.  Here’s more from FloridaKeysNews.com:

The day before the wreck, Barnes was convicted in an Upper Keys court of DUI with a prior and driving with a suspended license, said Monroe County Assistant State Attorney Colleen Dunne. Barnes was ordered to impound her car, and her driver’s license was revoked for five years, after which time she must have a Breathalyzer ignition interlock device on any vehicle she drives, Dunne said. Barnes also was sentenced to nine months’ probation.

So much for that message sinking in.

On top of that, you invite your ex-to accompany you and somehow you end up driving?!  Even if the judge’s sentence didn’t phase you, just think how much more attention you could have given to the job if you were in the passenger’s seat. Just trying to be practical here.

And I thought the guy who entered the Keys restaurant with a bare chest crossed the line.  Silly me.

May 11, 2011   2 Comments

Hot, lazy weekend in south Florida

Nothing is more exhausting than laying around doing nothing.  Which is pretty much what I try to do every time I come to South Florida.

As long as a coconut doesn't fall on my head, I'm good.

The only real mental exercise I  get is deciding:

a. when/what to eat

b. which alcoholic beverages to include with a.

c.  when to go to the pool

d.  which SPF to use

That’s pretty much it.  However, in between making all of these taxing decisions, I was able to harness a few brain cells to observe some random things over the last couple of days.

1. To the guy running down Las Olas Blvd (Ft. Lauderdale) yesterday at lunch:  Why were you wearing a bright green spandex body suit?  Were you trying to find your long-lost family of green beans?

2. To the guy sitting next to me at the oceanside restaurant at lunch earlier today:  It’s a shame that you have a girlfriend.  It’s hard to find a guy in the Florida Keys who is a professional and has teeth.  Bummer.

3.  To the guy that entered the diner shirtless on Friday:  Dude, you should never subject strangers who are dining to your torso flesh.  Eeewwww.

4.  To the guy wearing a full face mask at the Founder’s Park food/art festival earlier today:  I get that you are trying to minimize sunburn, but I’m guessing that when you try to remove that thing later tonight, it may have become laminated to your cheeks.

….and then there’s…

5.  Middle-age is when you decide you look better in a sun hat than in a hospital gown.  (Which is what you may end up wearing if you don’t wear a sun hat.)

6.  Cheeseburger in Paradise.  Thanks Jimmy Buffet.  That’s what I had for lunch.  I now have Onion Breath in Paradise.

7.  People cannot drive down here.  Within the span of 20 minutes, I drove by three really bad car accidents.  What is the problem South Florida?!  Heatstroke?!

With the temps currently in the mid-80s, writing  this has compounded my exhaustion.  The question now becomes do I have the energy to haul my ass off the couch and get  to the pool? Or should I fall asleep on the couch and then wake up in time for cocktail hour?

What would you do?

April 3, 2011   2 Comments

Hey Florida, I have a bone to pick with you.

It’s cocktail hour on a Friday in the Florida Keys, so in the interest of full disclosure this rant is being fueled by Clydesdales if you know what I’m sayin’.

The subject of today’s WTF is Florida’s SunPass toll system and how the car rental companies are handling the new policy change.

Mind you, I was here just three months ago and using the tollway was pretty straightforward.  If you are a resident you can Speedy Gonzales yourself through the tollbooths via a SunPass transponder adhered to your window.  If you didn’t have a SunPass or were renting a car, you simply went through the slower cash lanes.


Well, apparently, not so simple anymore.  Here’s how the tale unfolds.

One of the most heinous airports in the U.S. is Miami International.  Navigating the streets around the airport has gone from challenging to impossible.  You see, the Miami airport peeps moved all car rental to a central location.  That may sound like a good thing, until you attempt to leaving the airport.  Roads are under construction and they interlace each other like an entangled bowl of spaghetti.  MapQuest, Google  Maps, verbal instructions that “it’s a peace of cake” to find 836 West are no match for the mighty Miami airport.

And that’s when I see the police lights and sirens in my rearview mirror.

Great.  It’s 10 pm at night and I’m being pulled over by Dade County’s finest.  I’m haven’t even been in the car for 10 minutes and I am totally lost.  I find myself grateful for being pulled over because I’m about to get a fresh set of directions.  (See…that’s me being positive.)

But first, I have to deal with Officer Friendly.

Me: Hi officer.  I just picked up this rental car and I am totally lost.

Him:  Do you know why I pulled you over?

Me: (inaudibly) Oh great.  I’ve been traveling for 6 hours already and we’re playing multiple choice.  What?  You don’t like my nail polish color?

Me: (audibly) No, I’m sorry, I don’t.  I know I wasn’t speeding, nor did I run a light, so I really don’t know why you pulled me over.

Him: Your headlights are off.  All that is on is a yellow glowing light.

Me: (inaudibly) Oh, that’s ’cause I’m an alien.  We always give off a yellow glowing light.  It’s to hide our third eye.

Me: (audibly) I’m so sorry…and really embarrassed.

Him:  Yeah, apparently your car doesn’t turn the lights on automatically in the dark.

Me: (inaudibly) That’s the least of my worries.  It’s got a crappy retro clock on the dash straight from American Graffiti. What braniac thought that was a good idea?  More importantly can you help me find the turnpike…say…before Memorial Day?

Me: (audibly) Yes, officer, I see that now.

After we go through the formalities of my handing him my driver’s license, the rental agreement, etc., he proceeds to give me instructions.  As an added bonus….and for this I was greatly appreciative…he tells me that the toll booths from Miami to Homestead are no longer manned.

Huh?!  I was just here three months ago.  Not manned?!  How is this going to work with a rental car?!

He explains that if you don’t have a transpoder, a camera will take a photo of your license plate and then mail you the bill.

Peachy.  What if you have a rental car?!

Never one to shy away from an additional fee, the rental car companies have now turned tolls into a revenue stream.  It turns out that each rental company has their own fee structure.  Budget, for example, charges you a flat $2.50 per day, up to a monthly max of $10, plus the tolls.  However, the tolls (called “tolls by plate”)  are also higher if you aren’t using a transponder.

So, basically the $3 or so I would typically pay each way from Miami to the Keys has more than doubled.  And I have to trust the car rental company to bill me back correctly?!


For those wondering why I simply don’t just get a transpoder, they’ve made that impossible for car renters.  When you get a transponder it has to be assigned to a license plate.  Great.  No way for a car renter to fix this mess.

Hey, Florida…isn’t tourism one of your biggest revenue streams?!  Yeah.  Thanks for thinking this whole thing through.

After all the aggravation, here’s the reason why it’s all worth coming down here.  Happy Friday from the Conch Republic.


April 1, 2011   3 Comments