South of the Boarder

South of the BorderIf you are from or near the east coast and traveled south of the Mason-Dixon line or headed north from Georgia you will likely have seen signs for “South of the Border.”  I remember stopping there with my parents on trips to Florida and the Carolinas.  Back then, in the 1960’s it was a booming tourist attraction with humorous billboard signs north and south announcing it destination several hundred miles away.  With each passing billboard our anticipation grew.  As a pre-teen, it was exciting and fun when we stopped.

Gift Shop


SOB store

Turn the clock forward about six decades and the place is still there.  I was heading to Florida from Virginia, probably my last driving trip on this stretch of highway.  As I drove into South Carolina, I began to see signs for “South of the Border.”  I decided to stop and check out the place.  Over the years it had shown wear and tear.  It sure had a different feel for me now than when I was a youngster.  This time it looked run down and tacky.  Some of the fiberglass figures spread about needed repair.

PedroThe giant “Paco” looked like a sad image of the past.  For the most part, our society has moved on to more ethical treatment of diverse populations.  I think that it is going to continue to decrease in popularity for the millennials and their children.  There isn’t anything there to compete with the technology that they hold in their hands for entertainment.






My stop became a trip down nostalgia lane  It was still fun to remember what it was like, the excitement I had at the time and being with my family.  I bought a t-shirt with “SOB” on the front for “South of the Border.”  If I got the chance to stop again I would visit “South of the Border” to be reminded of the fun we had.

t-shirt store


What Good is Cold Weather in Florida? Manatee Watching

We visited the Manatee viewing area in Apollo Beach, FL the last week in December.  There were some manatee spotted about two hundred yards from the boardwalk.  The weather was still warm then, in the 70’s.

With the national cold snap, bringing snow to northern Florida and the ocean water in the mid 50’s we went to another manatee area in Homosassa at the Florida State Park.  Here we were able to see dozens of manatee relatively close in crystal clear water.  The spring in Homosassa runs about 73 degrees; creating a nice warm environment for the fish and manatee.  We some an excursion boat with people in wet suits attempting to swim with the Manatee.

Homosassa Springs




For Whom the Bell Tolls

The University of Illinois has had a bell tower with 15 bells since 1920.  It is part of Altgeld Hall on the north west corner of the central quad.  The chimes weigh over seven and a half tons with the largest bell weighing in at one and a half ton and measures five feet across.  There is a Seth Thomas clock that mechanically enables the chime to automatically strike the hours and quarter hour to the tune of the Westminster Chime.  This runs continuously day and night.

Large Bells
Large Bells
Set of Bells
Set of Bells

Bell Clapper

There is also a clavier or keyboard used to play many types of music from the alma mater to Christmas, to star wars themes etc.  It is fun to hear the mini concerts during the lunch hour.  Sue Wood is the current chime master.  She oversees students from a variety of disciplines who play the clavier each day.  The clavier keys are connected to cables that strike the bells when a handle is pushed down about four inches.  The longest cable runs 68.5 feet.

My colleagues and I took one of the last tours of the “performing room,” the place where the clavier is located along with a practice keyboard, music and chairs for visitors.  We were also allowed to climb the tower to see the bells.  I had done the same at Notre Dame in France, these were much smaller.

"Bell Ringer"
“Bell Ringer”

Return from Irma

After escaping Irma and returning home, it was heartwarming to see how the government (federal, state, and local) and private enterprise worked together to prepare for and clean up after Irma.  It was also rewarding to see people behave themselves when stress levels are high and gas in limited supply.

Heading back south, we saw convoys of US Army troops.  Some of them worked with local police blocking highway exits into areas that were flooded (around Savannah, GA).

We were very fortunate leaving FL on Saturday, before the hurricane hit our area.  Traffic moved freely and we had plenty of gas.  However, the return was much more frustrating, driving ten hours to go about 250 miles.  And with the people came some closed gas stations and lines at others,  but we made it back to the Tampa area without any problems.

We were very fortunate as was the area where we live.  We had a downed tree that leaned up against our neighbors house but there was no damage.  Some other trees were down in the neighborhood and that was about it.  I was told that we got somewhere between one to three inches of rain, far less than projected.  Our grass had not been cut in three weeks which is nothing compared to people who are still without power nearly ten days later in our hot and humid environment.    We are slowly getting back to normal.  Children started school after a week’s respite and everyone is back to work around the Tampa area.

Dancing with Irma

Irma was born off the coast of Africa.  As she grew is size and strength she immigrated illegally into the United States, other countries as well.  First coming to the Florida Keys then boldly going northwest into Florida.  She became a large and angry.  Not very friendly.

My wife and I originally intended to meet Irma, we live south of Tampa.  We stocked up on the recommended supplies.  Some of the shelves were empty but we were able to get what we needed.

Empty Store Shelves  Empty Store Shelf








At the last minute and with great pressure from a daughter, we left before Irma came for a visit, not knowing where we were going to go so we headed north.   Another daughter provided us with the Waze app which helped us navigate traffic headed north and a son reserved a hotel for us in Fayetteville, NC.

On our trip north we saw dozens of utility truck convoys headed south.  Right near our hotel over a dozen trucks were stationed by FEMA to head south when they got the call.  When the call came, sometime on Sunday, September 10, they went to Fort Bragg to pick up trailers filled with water, food and other supplies.  One of the drivers I talked with was from Chicago.  Below is a picture of a truck from CT.

FEMA Truck

Emergency Trucks











CT Truck







The Florida governor was giving updates every several hours days in advance of the storm.  He provided information of what was being done to help the people and what they should do to help themselves.  Based on what I heard and have seen, the state and federal governments were well coordinated in advance.  For example, during our exodus, every gas station we visited along US 75 and US 95 had all the gas we needed.  Some stations had short lines.

Because of rain in Georgia, problems around Savanna, and flooding in Jacksonville, FL, we are going to head back on Tuesday, September 12.  Early reports we have from our neighborhood are that there downed trees, one of them from our yard leaning against our neighbor’s house.  We were very blessed with the help of family and friends.


The Waning Days of Summer and Hurricanes

Labor Day is traditionally the “end of summer,” but clearly it is not the end of the hot weather, particularly in Florida.  We visited St. Augustine and New Smyrna Beach over Labor Day weekend.  The weather was cloudy but hot.  It was a nice day to be on the beach.  Many people took advantage of the long weekend.  Interestingly, Hurricane Irma was on the mind of local residents, even though it was 2,000 miles away and the forecasters were not sure where it is going to land.

Just two days after Labor Day, people are preparing for the worst.  Irma, now a category 5 hurricane is headed toward Florida, somewhere.  While I was in Sam’s Club, the bottled water supply ran out.  People at Home Depot were stocking up on lumber and other essentials.  Having moved from the mid-west, hurricane preparation is new to me.

So will the beaches on the east coast of Florida be hit or will the west coast be clobbered.  The beautiful picture from Labor Day may soon be a memory.  It will depend on Irma.

How Sweet It IS!

Summer has many “food seasons.”  For example, in early summer there is strawberry season.  By mid summer tomatoes are coming into their own along with cucumbers. Late in the summer is sweet corn season.  In each of the “food seasons” there are celebrations  in some communities focused on the harvest of a particular food.  The annual Urbana (Illinois) Sweet Corn Festival is one such venue that draws people in from all around central Illinois and then some.  If you love sweet corn this is the place to be.

The machinery is right out of the history books.  A steam tractor supplies energy.  A cornhusker takes on the tedious work of cleaning thousands of ears of corn.

What you get is hot buttered sweet corn that is out of this world.

This is real butter.  Even if you are on a diet, one ear of corn is worth following off the wagon.

How Sweet It Is!

But the festival is more than corn.  There are street concerts, food trucks and activities for children.  The Urbana Sweet Corn Festival has something for everyone. If you are in the area next August, you may want to add this to your calendar for a fun weekend.


What could be more fun on a beautiful summer evening than an exciting Cubs game at Wrigley Field?  The temperatures were in the low 80’s and high 70’s with a light breeze as the sun slowly set over the Chicago skyline.  People were getting off at Addison Avenue, walking from neighbor hoods and parked cars.  Vendors were selling their wears in the streets and sidewalks and bars like Murphy’s were packed with early arrivers to the game.

Sunset over Chicago
Sunset over Chicago
Coming to the Ball Park
Coming to the Ball Park
Sunset over Wrigley Field
Sunset over Wrigley Field





The Mariners started out with a home run and a run batted in for each of the first three innings. At the top of the 4th, the Cubs were down 6 to 0, a tough hole to begin the first third of the game.  Ironically the Mariners walked two cubs in the 4th and Rizzo struck out with three men on base.  At the Bottom of the 9th the Mariners were leading 6 to 3 when the Cubs came to bat.  No way could they pull this off, right!  Wrong.  The Cubs went on to win the game at the bottom of the 12th with a score of 7 to 6.

Cubs on First
Cubs on First
Rizzo Strikes Out with 3 Men on Base
Rizzo Strikes Out with 3 Men on Base
Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field








This was a fun event for family, grandparents and their grandchildren, young and old couples, and friends getting together for a good time.  It happens all over the US every spring, summer and fall.

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

My daughter and son-in-law gave us tickets for opening day of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and it was great.  There is so much to do, see, and experience.  Anyone traveling near Houston in early March should try to add this adventure to their travel itinerary.  There is something for all ages and at all times during the day and evening.

We started the afternoon at 4:00 pm walking the carnival. Here you relive your youth by winning a prize for your significant other, take some rides, be amused and of course, gorge yourself on just about anything you can think of to eat.

Funnel Cakes
Funnel Cakes
Turkey Legs
Turkey Legs

We watch small children ride sheep, “Mutton Bustin’.”  It was exciting to watch and a little scary for some of them.

Mutton Bustin'
Mutton Bustin’
Opening the Chute
Opening the Chute
Holding on for Dear Life
Holding on for Dear Life
Mutton Bustin' Survivors
Mutton Bustin’ Survivors

Walking into the concert, we had a nice view of the carnival.  My wife wearing cowboy (girl) boots which is normal footwear along with jeans and hat for the event.

Everyone is a Cowgirl/boy at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
Everyone is a Cowgirl/boy at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo