Friday, 23 December 2011

Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers.

As the Fellowship grew and more congregations were added, the General Council was called upon to meet fairly frequently. By this time the Fort Lauderdale, Florida congregation had grown to be a fair size, they owned their own property, and they had rooms for meetings and the like.

It was in February in the early 1980s that a meeting was called and Nigel - our Treasurer in Western Canada - and I had to find a way to get there. In the travel section of the Vancouver Sun I saw an ad for reduced fares on American Airlines so I went to a nearby agency to book the tickets.

The agent whom I saw was a gay acquaintance - and he had not heard of the discount prices offered by American Airlines! However, when he went online, he saw that I was correct. However - there was one problem - American Airlines did not serve Vancouver so we had to book the tickets out of SeaTac Airport in Seattle.

The flight was from Seattle to Dallas where we had to change aircraft. What made that interesting was the fact that the air terminal in Dallas was being renovated so we were forced to wait in a narrow corridor before we could board the second plane. Fortunately, there was a plate glass window opposite to where we were standing so we could watch the servicing of the aircraft that we were about to board.

We arrived in Miami near midnight and had to catch a shuttle bus to Fort Lauderdale where we were met by our hosts. I stayed with an acquaintance who lived on the west side of the city. While there was a public transportation system in Fort Lauderdale, I never saw a bus and had to rely upon others to chauffeur me around. As I had encountered a similar situation in Houston, I wondered if bus stop signs and benches were merely a part of the decor in southern US cities?

As my birthday falls in mid-February, I was looking forward to treating myself to a day on one of the famous beaches. The weather forecast - thunderstorms with possible tornadoes - squashed that.

The meetings came to a successful conclusion and we flew home via Miami - Dallas - Seattle (where Nigel had left his car) and a quick drive home.

A year or so later was another meeting at the church in Fort Lauderdale. This time I flew alone and on United Airlines through O'Hare Airport in Chicago. As the plane was making its descent into Chicago a flight attendant read a list of the gates where ongoing passengers were to go for the continuation of their trips. However - she left out one - my flight on to Fort Lauderdale. I had to look at the monitors when I was in the terminal, find my flight and then the gate. I was the last person to get on that plane - the closest that I have ever come to missing a flight.

At previous meetings I had become friends with Troy Perry's cousin, the Rev Lee Carlton, who was the District Coordinator for South Florida. The previous time that I had seen him he invited me to take a vacation week to visit with him and his partner in Fort Myers.

This time the location of the meetings had moved from the church to the Holiday Inn on 'Alligator Alley' on the west side of town. The Holiday Inn had a restaurant but another delegate and I opted for breakfast at a truck stop immediately across that highway - grits were served there! However, there were no traffic lights nor pedestrian crossings nearby so we had to take the risk of dashing across the two lane highway when there were breaks in the traffic. We weren't hit.

After the Conference I rode with Lee westward along 'Alligator Alley' to Naples and then north to Fort Meyers. At long last I was being given the opportunity of seeing the Everglades up close - only most of the route was across the saw grass plain - we did not see any part of the Everglades until we were close to the west side of the peninsula and near Naples.

On a visit to a gay bar in Lauderdale I met one of the members of Lee's congregation in Fort Meyers. Instead of staying for much of the week with Lee and his partner, I stayed at the home of the other man. He was a native of the area (and the Director of the County Art Gallery) so he was a very informative host.

He took me everywhere - including to the off-shore island of Santabel and one or two others. I was impressed by the large signs along the highways telling motorists that it was a 'hurricane evacuation route'. That was important to know if a hurricane was threatening that area.

My host parked his car near the wooden bridges that crossed the waterways and we walked over. This afforded me a magnificent view of the waterfowl many of which were far more exotic looking than those found in our northern climate. For instance, that was the only place - outside of a zoo - where I saw a flamingo.

One day Lee and his partner took me on a picnic to a small river between Fort Meyers and Naples where we rented a canoe. We paddled up this little river towards a mangrove swamp. We were laughing and talking as we paddled along and inadvertently startled three enormous turtles which were sunning themselves on large mangrove roots. When we came around the bend we heard the 'plops' as they dove into the cover of the water.

Lee was convinced that we would see the 'granddaddy of all alligators' when we reached the source of the stream. However - 'granddaddy-gator' was no where in sight. We paddled back to where we rented the canoe and, when we reached the large mangrove root, one of the turtles was back on its perch. Again it dove into the water as we approached.

We had brought a picnic lunch with us so we sat on a bench up above the canoe rental to enjoy the food. While eating we saw a medium-sized alligator swimming upstream - the trip was not a complete loss!

While I was there Lee had to make pastoral calls on a couple of congregations to the north and he took me along. The furthest north that we went was to Bradenton - a name that I knew from baseball's 'Spring Training' and - also - as the winter headquarters of one of the great circuses that used to travel around North America every summer.

Soon the vacation was over and I had to fly back to Vancouver.

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