Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cliff notes on the last 5 weeks

I gotta get this thing caught up or I'll always be behind. Here's my readers digest version of the last 5 weeks:

Week 2 and 3: (Dec. 07) Traveled to the Atlantic Coast of Florida for the first time. While working, I stayed in the Courtyard by Marriot in West Palm Beach. Using that as a home base, I visited Homestead (site of 1992's Hurricane Andrew), Miami-Dade, Delray Beach, Loxahatchee, Wellington, Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens, Singer Island, and Fort Pierce.
I quickly decided the Gulf coast would be home. The Atlantic Coast is full of New Yorkers, Jerseyers, New Englanders, and Virginians. It is much faster paced, people honk their horns every mile or so, whether they need to or not, there are tons of touristy sites with little to no parking, and rush hour is between 4 am and midnight.

It's funny how the locals refer to the two sides of Florida. The Atlantic is the "east coast" and the Gulf is the "west coast." If someone told me they like the "west coast" I naturally think of California. I like calling the two sides Atlantic and Gulf. It will make it easier on my readers too. I have also found myself using the term "the other side" to describe one from the other. So which is one and which is the other? Well, since I have taken to the Gulf side, I guess the other is the "other."

The west coast is a little slower pace, it's full or mid-westerners and canadians and people seem more polite to strangers. Within a week, I knew I'd call the other side, the west coast, the gulf coast, the sun coast . . . our new home.

However, I don't hate the east side. I love the area of Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens (PBG). There is a cool outdoor mall called Downtown At The Gardens. It has casual to upscale dining, lots of shopping, movies, artsy fartsy stuff and weekend nights have various live musicians playing throughout the mall. I like going to the sushi bar called RA. (pronouned RAW)

After going to OSHA instructors school for a week and spending another week tourning my east coast branches, I drove to Tampa to fly back to Phoenix for Christmas with my loving bride. I look forward to seeing all of my kids and grandkids too!

After a short 5 day stay, I boarded a plane back to SOFLO on December 26. My NOFLO counterpart forgot about me and left me stranded at the airport. Luckily, after a couple of hours I arranged for my company to send a driver to pick me up and bring me to my truck, which I had parked at our Tampa branch. I needed a hotel. I checked at a few around Tampa and found them all to be more than I cared to spend.

I drove from Tampa to Charlotte County that night, with no destination known. You see, the company had put me up for December but by January I was supposed to have a home base to work from. I only knew I wanted to be somewhere around Charlotte Harbor. I drove west on Interstate 75 and exited at Port Charlotte. I saw a brand new Sleep Inn, right off the exit. I was on my own nickel, so I wanted something cheap. It was late and there weren't many cars in the parking lot. You had to figure the place 90% vacant. I asked the desk clerk for her cheapest rate and it was $129 a night. Too much for the 8 hours I would use the room. But I needed a place to do some research for housing too. I asked her for a cheaper rate and she proceeded to ask me all these questions to try and qualify me for a discount. When I didn't qualify, she asked me what I had in mind. I told her I was hoping for something around fifty bucks for the night. She played with her computer some more and told me she could put me in as a Clarion Hotel employee and give it to me for $69. How cool is that? I'll take it.

That night, I took some heat from my bride for not having a better plan on where I was going to live. She was right. I needed to do something smarter than spend 69 dollars a night on hotels. I stayed up most of the night searching craigslist for affordable housing. The problem is that this is the tourist season in Florida. Short term rentals and going for thousands of dollars a month. I'm not talking about resorts, either. I'm talking about something in Phoenix I would expect to pay about 800-900 dollars a month for, going for 3k here. I found a bunch of room for rent ads on craigslist. They were between 400 and 600 a month. Some were furnished, some not.

I woke up early and at 8 AM eastern I started calling numbers and emailing craigslisters. By 11 AM it was time to check out of the hotel and no one had answered my calls or emails. GREAT...
I checked out, loaded my truck and asked the desk clerk which of the two local papers in the lobby machines would one be likely to find local for rent ads. After taking her recommendation I started parusing ads. One started "Bimini Bay Club." That sounded nice. It was a 2b2b condo and it was quite affordable. No answer on the phone. I called and called and called. Lots of brokers, lots of unaffordable units. I got a return call from a craigslister who wanted me to come see the room for 475 with no furniture. I headed out to Punta Gorda Isles. It was a really nice house, on a canal, 2 minutes from Fishermens Village. He had a pool too. The only problem was the guy was a little suspicious to me. He didn't own or even rent the house. He said a friend lets him stay there? He said he was a retired poker dealer and his 24 year old other room mate was a professional gambler. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but I also think he was . . . yeah. I just didn't get good vibes there. As I was looking for a way to politely run away, my phone rang and it was the guy with the Bimini Bay Club condo. YES!

It was actually a very nice unit. The complex doesn't exactly have manicured landscaping but there's a clean pool area and the unit is fully furnished; dishes, towels, utencils, pots and pans. It's everything I need, especially in price. I took it and moved in that day. The first night showed a lot of promise. It was very quiet. You'd think I was the only one there. I like it. I now have a Florida home. It's not exactly a liveaboard, but it's home.

The next morning I officially surrendered my Arizona citizenship by getting a Florida drivers license. Imagine my surprise when I discovered they listed my gender as female. WHAT THE HELL? Can you imagine how difficult that would be to fix if I hadn't noticed it for say, 6 months. Luckily, my mom was an English teacher and she taught me how to proof read. I caught it before I left the DMV.

I spent the weekend relaxing and growing some roots in the condo. It was really good to have a home after being a hotel rat for a month. I ended December with a 3 hour drive to DeBary, FL. My wife's brother, Jim, and his family make their home there and they invited me to spend the new year with them. We had spent a few weekends in Vegas together and they are great people. We played a word game with a bunch of their friends and made a early night of it. It was the first new year without my bride since we met 8 years ago. It was difficult being apart but we spent time on the phone and made the best of it.

On the morning of January 2, 2008, a cold front was moving across Florida. It was unseasonably cold. I left Jim's house at 4 AM, enroute to West Palm Beach. It was 34 degrees as I went back to work on the Atlantic coastline. The cold only lasted one day. By January 3 the low was back to the 50's and the high back to the 70's. I spent January 3-11 working Homestead, Miami, Delray Beach, Jupiter, Fort Pierce and back to West Palm.

Friday, January 11, 2008.
I'm heading back to the Gulf Coast. Not a day too soon. High today of 81. NICE.

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