Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Jamaica Dogsled Team

A couple years ago, perhaps in response to the Jamaican Bobsled Team, Jimmy Buffett began his support of the Jamaican Dogsled Team. Being the great liberal that he is, Jimmy and his friends in Jamaica used rescue dogs to form the backbone of the team.

The Jamaica Dogsled Team is now training diligently for the Iditarod race in Alaska next month. The Iditarod is the largest and most famous dogsled race in the world.

If you are interested in supporting these Caribbean misfits in their quest for the dogsled gold in Alaska you can make a contribution by purchasing some Jamaica Dogsled apparel at their online boutique.

You can watch your most favorite dogsled team in action at the link below. Just remember to say "mush, mon" as they are running the race.

Bradenton Marauders Season Tickets

I just returned a bit ago from venerable old McKechnie Field in Bradenton, the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the summer home of the new Bradenton Marauders. The Marauders are a Class A affiliate of the Pirates and with the departure of the Sarasota Reds, they are now the closest minor league team to Sarasota.

I went to McKechnie Field this frigid rainy Saturday morning to pick out my seat for my season tickets to all Marauders home games. A season ticket is a huge bargain. I paid $210 for tickets to all 70 home games (simple math says that is $3.00 a game). Along with that comes two huge benefits. One is free parking (any parking is at a premium near this ball park). The other huge benefit is a pass identifying me as a Florida State League season ticket holder. That pass allows me to show up at any stadium in the Florida State League and I get free admission. When they made that promotion they probably didn't factor in people like me. Its going to be a money-losing proposition for many Florida State League teams!

The official time for selecting seats was 10:00 a.m. but I arrived at 9:20 fully prepared to stand in line in the freezing rain to get the prime seat in the ball park. On getting to the ticket window I learned that the Marauders had already placed me in a general area given the preference that I provided when I signed up for season tickets in January.

Before my arrival they had blocked out Sections 1, 2, or 3 for me directly behind home plate. As it turned out I was the only season ticket holder who wanted seats back there! Apparently everyone else wants seats behind the dugout which makes no sense to me. Maybe they all weren't catchers? To me there is no other seat on the field as good as the seat directly behind the catcher.

As my luck would have it, looking at the seating chart I was able to select Section 1, Row 1, Seat 1, and that is where I will be for every Marauders home game this summer! Life is good.

Opening day for the Florida State League is April 8, just 40 long days away from now. The Marauders first game will be against the Fort Myers Miracle. I'll have to check their roster to see if Chris Cates, the 5'3" shortstop from last year will be back. Chris played with more heart and more gusto than almost any other player I saw in the FSL last summer. For that reason, and out of respect for his determination, I refused to heckle him any time I watched Fort Myers play Sarasota.

So, despite the miserable rainy weather today there is one bright spot. I have, for me, the best seat in the house at McKechnie Field and I have it for all summer long. The only other thing I need is for the Marauders to not be nearly as abysmal as the Sarasota Reds were!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

February 25 in History

It was two years ago today, February 25, 2008, that I walked out of my US Fish and Wildlife Service office in suburban Washington DC and never looked back.

My normal work hours were 7:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during 9 days of every 10 day pay period. However in late 2007 I started sneaking out five minutes earlier every day each week. My plan was that by the time I retired I wouldn't even have to show up because everyone would think it was normal that I wasn't there.

By the time February 25, 2008, arrived I was leaving work at 2:30 p.m. and nobody paid attention. This was good.

At about 2:30 p.m., right now as I write this in fact, I told the guy at the front desk that I was leaving for a dentist's appointment and "I'll be back later." I walked out the front door and never came back. I wondered if someone would eventually notice that I was gone.

Federal personnel regulations state that nobody can take annual leave or sick leave during their last two-week period of employment. My formal day of retirement was March 1, but I left a few days earlier. I had signed out for "sick leave" for the four days I was out of there before I could officially leave. My thinking was "what are they going to do - fire me?" So I left.

On my last day in the office I wore a coat and tie which should have been an indication to many that something was up.

On leaving our building I said goodbye to Stan the rent-a-cop at the front desk and told him I would "be back later." The only people I told about my retirement were my supervisor, our administrative officer and our administrative assistant. Nobody else had to know.

From my office I walked south to the Ballston Metro station entrance (pictured above). There I took off my wrist watch, my coat, my tie, my dress shoes and my dress socks. I bundled them all up and threw them in a garbage receptacle.

I walked down into the Ballston Metro station for the last time wearing flip flops that I brought to work in my carry on bag.

The next afternoon February 26, I boarded the Amtrak Auto Train at Lorton Station in suburban Virginia and rode the train to Sanford Florida (near Rat World) and then headed south from there.

When I left Washington DC during the frigid afternoon of February 26 I was wearing shorts, a Jimmy Buffett t shirt, and flip flops.

Since that fateful day I have not worn 1) a wrist watch, 2) a coat, 3) a tie, 4) long pants, 5) underwear, 6) socks or 7) dress shoes. In fact the only close-toed shoes I've worn in two years are running shoes for when I go to the gym to work out.

My Federal Service was exactly 31 years, 6 months and zero days. I remember the first day I worked for the Service thinking that retirement was such a distant abstract concept and then what seemed like a couple days later there it was.

Life is much better this way.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Another "Only in Florida" Story

In late May 2009 I drove down 17th Avenue in Sarasota enroute to Ed Smith Stadium to watch a baseball game. The time was about 6:30 p.m. and it had just started to rain lightly. When I reached the intersection of 17th and Lockwood Ridge Avenue I saw a woman jogging on the sidewalk going east on 17th as I headed west. She was dressed in running shoes, socks, and very tight shorts - and nothing more.

Yup. That's right. She was out jogging topless (and in case you wondered, they were likely 34Ds). When I saw her I thought I had seen the craziest thing I'd ever see in Florida.

That was until tonight.

At about 6:00 p.m. on Sunday night I arrived at the intersection of Honore Avenue and University Parkway. A Volkswagen Beetle was stopped in the left most lane of the two left turn lanes. There was a space of about 3 car lengths ahead of this car with no vehicles in the space.

I pulled up in the right lane and because of cars in front of me I was stopped directly adjacent to the VW.

As almost everyone does when you pull up next to a car at an intersection, I turned my head to the left to check out whomever was next to me.

When I glanced over, I immediately noticed two things. First, this person had the passenger and rider side windows rolled down. The second thing I saw as I looked through the rolled down windows was the driver masturbating.

Yup. No kidding. He was wanking away like there was no tomorrow and he was totally oblivious to me seeing him. The look on his face suggested he was fantasizing about a sheep, but you never know.

The scene tonight immediately beat the topless woman running down 17th Avenue. I sincerely doubt anyone anywhere in this state is going to beat the Roadside Wanker and do anything more strange. Of course this is Florida so anything is possible.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Baltimore Orioles - Getting Off on the Wrong Foot in Sarasota

Pitchers and catchers for the Baltimore Orioles were scheduled to begin spring training in Sarasota yesterday, February 17. The rest of the players were scheduled to report this morning and according to the official information put out by the Orioles, their first team workout was set to begin at 9:00 a.m. today, February 18.

I dutifully drove over to venerable old Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota at 10:00 this morning expecting to get to know something about the new home town baseball team. However on arrival at Ed Smith we were all told to come back at noon because the Orioles wouldn't take the field until then.

What? They never consulted with any of their potential fans about this unscheduled change of plans. The person at the front gate told us all that "they will take the field tomorrow at 9:00." Yeah, right. That's what they said for today's practice also.

I guess I'll go back over there in a bit to see if I can watch them for awhile. It still rankles me that they just cavalierly changed plans without consulting anyone.

However, I'll show them! I'll become a Philadelphia Phillies fan. That's what I'll do. At least their spring training stadium up in Clearwater has Landshark Lager on tap in the left-center field tiki bar. Yup, that's what I'll do.


Wisconsin's Food Pyramid

Putting Things in Perspective

An old pilot sat down at the Starbucks and ordered a cup of coffee.

As he sat sipping his coffee, a young woman sat down next to him..

She turned to the pilot and asked, 'Are you a real pilot?'

He replied, 'Well, I've spent my whole life flying planes; Cubs, Aeronca's, Cessnas, flew A-6 attack aircraft in Vietnam, 747s for Northwest, taught 50 people to fly and gave rides to thousands, so I guess I'm a pilot.'

She said, 'I'm a lesbian. I spend my whole day thinking about naked women. As soon as I get up in the morning, I think about naked women. When I shower, I think about naked women When I watch TV, I think about naked women. It seems everything makes me think of naked women.'

The two sat sipping in silence.

A little while later, a young man sat down on the other side of the old pilot and asked, 'Are you a real pilot?'

He replied, 'I always thought I was, but I just found out I’m a lesbian

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Jamaican Bobsled Team - 22 Years Later

As shocking as it may seem, it was 22 years ago this month that the four intrepid bobsledders from Jamaica, mon, rocked the winter sports world by showing up at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. Beset with prejudice because of the color of their skin, and the fact that Jamaica isn't exactly what you would consider a prime winter sports venue, the Jamaican bobsledders set out to prove all the naysayers wrong. And had it not been for a faulty bolt on one of the skis on their sled, they likely would have at least gotten a medal for their performance.

The story of this incredible journey was immortalized in the 1993 movie Cool Runnings starring John Candy.

It's a movie I have watched 64 times already so far.

This afternoon marks the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics in/near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, eh. As luck would have it once again the Jamaican Bobsled team is there competing. Although it would be fantastic if they won I don't really care if they do. In fact its a better story with them not winning. Still every four years the only story I care about coming from the Winter Olympics, no matter where they are, is the presence of the Jamaican Bobsled team once again trying to accomplish the impossible. One of these years they will.

To give them some much needed help, remember that the next time you are in the Montego Bay airport, mon, just after clearing the metal detectors, make sure you stop in at the Cool Runnings store on the International departures concourse.

All the proceeds from sales of Jamaican Bobsled Team clothing go to help fund the team on their journey every four years to win the Gold. I was last in the Montego Bay airport in 2007 and I stopped in the store and made a contribution (rather hefty one as my credit card will attest) purchasing Jamaican Bobsled team garb for friends and family for Christmas presents.

I love standing in that store because you're on the island where they came from AND the movie plays continuously from the time the store opens until it closes, each and every day.

Once past the store you come to the Jamaican Bobsled Team cafe but just beyond that is the Mo Bay Airport Margaritaville Cafe. As much as I love the Jamaican Bobsled Team, I do have my allegiances to support. After all it was in the Mo Bay Margaritaville Cafe that I drank my first Landshark Lager.

Regardless of the stores in the airport, its time for everyone to get behind the improbable Jamaicans who I hope again this year take the start of their first run singing "Jamaica We Have A Bobsled Team" just like they did in the movie. Yah, mon.

And serendepity being so serendepitous as it is at times, just today Air Jamaica announced a $138 round trip fare from Orlando to Montego Bay. Maybe someone is trying to tell me something?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 10 in History

Charles Darwin was born in England on February 12, 1809. He is best known, of course, for formalizing and publishing the theory of evolution which is a hell of a lot more fact than theory but we won't go there now.

In the Biology Department at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls we used to annually celebrate Chuck's birthday by getting excessively inebriated for no apparent reason other than it was February, cold, and Uncle Chuck wasn't alive to celebrate his birthday so we elected to do it for him.

On Monday night February 10, 1975, we celebrated Chuck's birthday at the home of my Plant Taxonomy professor Jim Richardson, himself a victim of arrested development and unable to accept that he was no longer a kid. To this day I can't remember why we celebrated the birthday two days early that year but we did.

Ruth, my now ex wife and I arrived at JR's house about 8:00 p.m. that evening armed with a fifth of excellent Cutty Sark Scots Whisky. This was back in my scotch days.

We drank and raised hell all night in JR's house. At one point a fellow biology student whose name I cannot now remember, came up to me, curled up in my lap, put her arms around my neck and made it abundantly clear that she wanted more than just a sip of whisky.

My ex wife who had Rottweiler tendencies (especially after filing for divorce) nearly beheaded this woman when she saw her sitting in my lap. Myself about three sheets to the wind saw nothing wrong with the scene - it was out in the open and I didn't even have my hand on her breasts (or did I???). Anyway, Ruth ripped into this woman like white on rice asserting her place in the hierarchy of things and at the time she was queen of the hill.

As the night wore on the amount of whisky in the bottle slowly diminished. By 4:00 a.m. on February 11, only perhaps one inch of Cutty Sark remained unconsumed. Only Ruth and I had been imbibing and Ruth wisely drank only about one inch of the bottle.

The rest was gurgling around in me.

By 4:00 that morning there was no way I could walk. Luckily we had come to the party with fellow graduate student Wayne Norling whose car was parked in JR's driveway.

To extract me from the house, I can remember JR taking my left arm and swinging it up over his shoulder. John Hudson, the Chairman of the Department and a member of my graduate committee took my right arm and swung it up over his shoulder. Together John and JR dragged me to Wayne's car.

I remember leaving their house. The next thing I remember was waking up with biting cold on my face and seeing headlights glaring on the highway and little yellow dots passing beneath me.

JR and John Hudson (and probably Wayne and Ruth) had tied me to the hood of Wayne's car like if you had shot a deer and were taking it home. Wayne and Ruth were in the car laughing their collective asses off. I'm laying on the hood not knowing that I was tied down - I thought they just laid me there!

Adrenalin kicked in and I suddenly became sober!! I remember trying to dig my fingernails into the hood of Wayne's car to keep from falling off. It was a hell of a ride. Getting me home, Ruth and Wayne untied me from the car and helped drag me into the house.

The next morning I awoke at 9:00 a.m. and spent the day doing a winter hawk population census/survey that I was doing along the Mississippi River south to Alma Wisconsin. I remember leaving home that morning feeling a bit like I had been hit by a brick but other than that I was fine. I completed the hawk census and returned home in late afternoon.

Today if I even thought of drinking two glasses of Cutty Sark I would be in the hospital.

It was a Charles Darwin birthday that I will never forget, and I think fondly of the silliness each and every February 10. Its too bad Chuck isn't around now to drink with us. He would have probably given me a Darwin Award for stupidity that night long ago.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Dangers of Tourist Season

Before moving to Florida I used to laugh when I saw this bumper sticker because I thought it was just locals blowing off steam. Now that I have lived here for 2 years I want to buy a gun and start shooting tourists - and the Florida economy be damned.

Two weeks ago while driving on Bonita Beach Road in Lee County I was unfortunately following Tommy Tourist and his wife in a 45 mile per hour zone on the road. This Tommy Tourist was sporting an Ohio license plate on his car. As usual, Tommy was not driving 45, he was doing more like 30ish which is fine as long as he was paying attention to the road. However this Tommy Tourist wasn't. He was busily looking down at the seat and making hand gestures to his wife/passenger. As he did, Tommy would step on the brakes further slowing traffic and then he'd speed up leaving those of us who were unfortunate enough to be stuck behind him watching Tommy zoom off toward the horizon.

This oh-too-typical scene continued for a couple of miles as I drove north on Bonita Beach Road. Suddenly, however, the demeanor of the driving experience changed. Rather than speed up and slow down, then slow down and speed up, Tommy stood on the brakes and came to a screeching halt in the middle of the road. Traffic was flowing at 43 miles per hour when Tommy did this.

And what did Tommy do when he came to a screeching halt? He picked up a road map and started reading it - smack dab in the middle of the God damned road.

It didn't matter that there was a large, flat, unoccupied, shoulder to the road. Nope. Tommy never thought to pull over there and read his map. He had to read it in the middle of the road.

Of course I laid on the horn and gave him a one finger salute as I swerved around him. Several other cars reacted the same as they came onto this oaf reading the map in the middle of the road. Tommy stood his ground however and kept on reading.

This morning while driving down South Harbor Drive in Venice, on my way to Caspersen Beach to look for birds, I encountered another nitwit from Ohio who did the same thing his fellow Buckeye did two weeks ago - stopped in the middle of the road to read his map.

It's bad enough that the tourists have to clutter the highways and back up service at restaurants and just generally make Florida a miserable place to be in winter when its "season." But when the myopic sense of responsibility to themselves and others, especially on the roadways, starts to endanger the safety of others, its time for the moron's to go back home.

I believe more fervently than ever now that if Tommy and his clan want to be here in the winter to enjoy the temperatures in the 70s and 80s, then they should be required to also be here in July and August when 95 degree days are accompanied with 95 percent humidity. And if they can't stomach the summer heat, then they aren't allowed back in winter. Seems only fair to me.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Happy Groundhog Day 2010

To me the two most important holidays in the United States each year are Jimmy Buffett's birthday (December 25) and Groundhog Day (February 2). Buffett's birthday is important because Buffett is "god". Groundhog day is important because its the only day of the year dedicated to a wildlife species.

Just for clarity's sake there is no species of animal called a Groundhog. The real name is Woodchuck (Marmota monax).

The star of tomorrow's celebration is "Phil" the resident of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This same apparently immortal quadruped has been prognosticating the onset of spring since at least 1887 when a group of Woodchuck hunters from Punxsutawney dubbed themselves the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and declared their furry oracle, Punxsutawney Phil, the one and only "official" weather-prognosticating Woodchuck. The Punxsutawney ceremony originated around the same time.

Punxsutawney Pennsylvania has a huge party each year to celebrate Phil's inevitable emergence from his burrow. As Bill Murray described it so eloquently in the movie "Groundhog Day" the celebration is "A thousand people, freezing their butts off, waiting to worship a rat." Despite having lived just a few hours from Punxsutawney when I was in Washington DC, I never made the trek up there for the annual party. I stopped in once during the summer while doing field work in that part of Pennsylvania, but all the locals said that Phil was on holiday in Belize that week so I didn't get to meet him.

Despite Woodchucks having a maximum life span of only 3 to 6 years, tomorrow will mark the 123rd year in a row that Phil has told us whether we have six more weeks of winter, or if spring is just around the corner. How this pot-bellied little rodent has stayed alive for 123 years is a feat unprecedented in the rodent world. My guess is that Phil gets extra special treatment from the local veterinarians who want to make sure he's around for many more Groundhog days.

The other special thing about Groundhog Day is the exciting fact that several of the cable movie channels regularly have a "Groundhog Day" marathon, showing the movie over and over again on this sacred day. For tomorrow I've only been able to find one showing of the movie on "Bravo" but that might change. Assuming you are one of the 8 people in America who haven't seen the movie yet, you can watch a trailer here:

So, let me be the first to wish you a very merry Groundhog Day 2010. As the range maps for this species indicate, we don't have Woodchucks in Florida so its not as special a holiday here. However for those of you in the center of Woodchuck range I'd like to suggest, at a minimum, you drink a pint or maybe two of Woodchuck Cider to celebrate this important wildlife holiday. And watch the movie, of course.

Birds and the Spread of Brazilian Pepper

Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) is one of about a zillion species of non-native plants and animals that have been let loose on the landscape of Florida and are causing incalculable environmental problems for native fish and wildlife. You can learn more about Brazilian Pepper and its distribution in Florida at this link.

The 3-acre wetland that sits outside of my lanai is ringed with woody vegetation and unfortunately much of that woody vegetation is Brazilian Pepper. I started thinking about this plant a bit this morning when I saw a flock of maybe 200 American Robins gorging themselves on the abundant berries that are at their peak right about now.

Granted the berries provide a food source for American Robins and other wintering seed-eating species like Gray Catbird and Cedar Waxwing. However as the link above states, birds and other wildlife are a principal vehicle for the distribution of this species in the state. Every time an American Robin or another species eats a Brazilian Pepper seed and later takes a Cheney somewhere else, the seeds of the plant are being spread further afield and are likely to do more environmental damage.

The state of Florida maintains an Invasive Plant Management Section in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Their never-ending task is to provide funds to other agencies and groups to try to control Brazilian Pepper and a whole host of other non-native plants. The Section spends several million dollars a year on this almost pointless effort. And its almost pointless because every time some bird eats a seed and takes a Cheney afterward the task of the Invasive Plant Management Section just became more difficult.

Unfortunately this nonsense will continue and do so until all native vegetation has been replaced by invasives. That continues to happen because law makers refuse to clamp down on the importation of plants and exotic animals (think Burmese Python for instance). After all, nurseries bring money into the state and we can't stand in the way of someone trying to make money.

I'm just glad I'm going to dead in less than 30 years so I don't have to witness even more of Mother Earth being defiled in the name of greed and stupidity.

A Pleasant Sight in a Federal Office

This morning I visited the Sarasota Resident Agent office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. My visit was the first time since January 20, 2009, that I had entered any office maintained by the Federal government. For 8 disgustingly long years beginning on January 20, 2001, when anyone walked into any Federal office anywhere in the country they were confronted with a picture of Chimpy McFlightsuit smirking back at all who entered. In my old office building in Arlington, Virginia, we also had a picture of his crime-ridden partner Dick Cheney, the man with a permanent snarl. These pictures usually hung behind the rent-a-cops at the front door of most Federal office buildings.

Today, however, on walking into the FBI office I was greeted by the smiling face of the eloquent, educated adult who now adorns the White House. What a refreshing change of scenery.

I remember in 1981 when the Director of the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center was ordered by the Washington Office to hang a picture of Ronald "Darth" Reagan somewhere on the wall of the main office at the Center. Rey reluctantly put the picture up by the reception counter next to the front door. I stayed late that night and was the last person to leave the building. The next morning on entering the Center, Rey found the picture of Reagan laying face first on the floor and the pane of glass inside the frame was shattered.

Rey immediately suspected me (ME!!) of having caused the picture to fall off the wall. Of course I knew absolutely nothing about this unfortunate incident. Rey didn't believe me either, but said "Well, I take this as an omen and I'm not putting it back up." For the rest of my time at Northern Prairie that caricature didn't haunt anyone entering or leaving the building. Another of my fondest accomplishments in the Federal government.

Sometimes I wish I was still working for the Fish and Wildlife Service simply so I could walk in the office every morning and see Barack smiling back at me. Maybe when I need a fix now I'll just dart down to the local FBI office and hang out for a minute.

A Pirate on the Caribbean by The Boat Drunks

I just heard this song by The Boat Drunks for the first time on Radio Margaritaville. I thought it might help put some of you sequestered at a more northerly, frozen, latitude in a better frame of mind. It certainly did for me on the cloud-enshrouded "Sun Coast" of Florida this afternoon.

Enjoy! And stay warm.