November 9, 2006
I ended my last Blog entry by saying we intended to be in Kings Bay for a week. Well, the week turned into five weeks. During the original week we found ourselves trying to cram too much into too short a time. So, we decided to extend our stay through the next round of appointments.
The five weeks went by relatively fast. Even though we did no tourist sort of adventures and therefore left me with little to report on, we did make the best of the time. In the recreation/exercise arena, Connie was able to attend a lot of aerobics classes while I spent a good bit of time on the golf course trying to get my game in shape. By that I simply mean to be able to drive, hit, pitch, chip and putt well all on the same day during the same round. I am getting closer, but…
We spent a good deal of time with our local friends, but mostly we just laid low.
Finally, on October 27, we got underway for Eufaula, Alabama, our stopover location on our way to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Eufaula takes it name from the lake that straddles the border between Georgia and Alabama. To get there we took Georgia State Route 40 through St. Marys and Kingsland to Folkston, Georgia then northwest to Waycross where we picked up US 82 for the mostly westward drive to Eufaula. Since I have taken to driving the speed limit and lower, the distance for this day’s drive was on the outer edge of my limit. However, the scenery and hills broke the monotony and the roads were good. We also did not have to deal with a lot of traffic. When all is said, it was a good drive.
We had picked Eufaula for many reasons. High on the list was the State Park Resort we intended to camp in. This park is very similar to Pipestem State Park and Resort in West Virginia that I raved about several months ago. The two parks share several amenities although Pipestem offers more and seems better utilized than Lakepoint Resort and State Park. The last few hours of our drive were through a rain storm. When we arrived at the RV Park it was still raining lightly, so when I registered the ranger told me to just find a site and return in the morning to complete the registration process. At first I thought that was a little strange, because it was not raining very hard at all. However, as we drove through the RV Park looking for a campsite we realized that her real concern was that there had been so much rain through the day that we might find it hard to find a dry site. We drove around until we found one that had drained well and we were able to setup camp pretty quickly. Others who came in after us found it a little tough to connect services without having to wade through water and mud. By morning you could hardly tell it had rained. As we normally do, we spent that first day just sort of exploring the area to see what we may want to do. We checked out the golf course and tentatively decided we would maybe give it a try on Monday. We also checked out where we would likely do some bird watching. Most importantly, Connie checked in with our friends, Frank and Shelly who live in Auburn to determine the best time and place for us to all get together while we were in the area.
Frank and Shelly are members of the Loons and Larks group that Connie has been chatting with for so many years via the internet. We had our first face to face meeting with them during our last tour in Kings Bay. We all attended a joint meeting of the Georgia Ornithological Society and the Alabama Ornithological Society. We promised then that we would get back together in the future. Well, that opportunity came during our stay at Lakepoint Resort State Park. Frank is a professor at a small college in LaGrange, Georgia. Shelly recently earned her PHD in Pharmacy and is heading a new program at Auburn University that will use Pharmacy as a part of the total patient care program. They share their home with thirteen cats of various breeds and sizes. They also share a passion for nature, bird watching and the environment. Connie and I drove to their home in Auburn for a Sunday afternoon get together that included good beer/wine, great food and non-stop conversation spanning a world of issues and topics. They are a great couple and we had a wonderful time getting to know them on a much more personal level than the chat on the internet allows. We did, however, eat way too much and at least one of us should have stopped drinking before he did. However, our drive back to Eufaula was mostly uneventful. We went up there in the broad daylight. We came back in the dark and I must say that the signs could be better. We were never really lost, but we did do some rather nautical navigating in that we tacked back and forth across the road we needed to turn onto a couple of times before actually making the turn. That maneuver was rather early in the drive, so we refocused our attention and had no further maneuvering problems after that.
We did do some bird watching while camped at Lakeside Resort, and we did pretty well numbers wise. There were no “what the hell was that?” on our daily lists, but there were also no new life birds for either of us. We did have fun and that is why we do what we do.
One day we took a drive to Fort Rucker, South and West from where we were staying. The drive was the best part of that trip. We traveled through some really pretty country with rolling hills and lots of trees trying to be in color. The base, like many Army bases was huge. We checked out the BX and Commissary and certainly toured the Class Six Store to make sure there were no great wine specials we needed to take advantage of. Finding no great wines, we made our way back to the campground via a pretty darned good little Mexican Restaurant in Eufaula. At least we could recognize the food at this restaurant and I don’t think any of the employees spoke fluent English. So, that too was a positive experience.
We wound up passing on the golf in favor of an early morning of birding and an afternoon of preparing to get underway. I was okay with that as I had pretty well worn myself out between all the driving and eating.
So, on Tuesday, the 31st of October we were underway on the final leg of our journey to Maxwell Air Force Base to attend the retirement ceremony of Captain Bill Hendrickson. For those who don’t know, Bill and I were company mates in Boot Camp in 1971. Following Boot Camp and Machinist Mate A School we went our separate ways. Bill went to Nuclear Power School while I went to a ship to await the next class forming at Nuclear Power School. Twenty years would pass before Bill and I would see one another again. That meeting took place in the Wardroom of the ship Bill was XO of. At the time he was a Lieutenant Commander and I was a Lieutenant. As I said he was the Executive Officer and I was a maintenance manager for the submarine squadron. We were unable to spend much time reacquainting ourselves during that meeting, but we did establish sight recognition so that when we next saw each other in the Washington, DC area a few years later we at least recognized one another. Our respective jobs in Washington did not afford us much opportunity to get together. That would change two tours later when we both found ourselves attached to Kings Bay commands. Bill was the Chief of Staff at Submarine Group 10 and I was the XO of TRIDENT Refit Facility. It was during these tours that Bill and I spent a lot of professional time together and even more time on the golf course together. Cheri, Bills wife of some 37 years and Connie became very close during this same period and we therefore socialized as a foursome a lot. Since then we have kept in touch via e-mail and the occasional telephone conversation. Bill and Cheri had taken the time to attend my retirement celebration in Kittery, Maine, so there was no way we would miss his. You see, Bill was the last man in our Boot Camp Company to leave active service. So, it was to be the end of a long era for not just Bill but for Company 098 from March to June 1972 at Recruit Training Command, San Diego.
We arrived on Tuesday afternoon. Once we got settled into temporary overflow accommodations at the campground on base Connie called Cheri to get the plan. As we had done during that last week I was on active duty, Cheri was busy making trips to airports and various other places to get their guests settled. She was also making last minute preparations for the reception that was to follow the ceremony and the party that would extend through the weekend at their home some 120 miles north of Montgomery. So, I called Bill to find out where he was in the preparations. He was still at work, but would be available for dinner. So, we invited him over to see our new home and then the three of us went to the Bonefish Grill for dinner and to catch up on the last several months.
We left the Hendrickson’s alone on Wednesday, knowing they were busy with family and other out of town guests. However, we were pleased to be included in the list of folks to share dinner on Thursday. Except for Connie and me everyone at dinner was family. Cheri’s mother, Perk and her significant other, Bill were there along with Cheri’s sister, Kathy. Connie and I were lucky to be able to get to know this part of the family outside the turmoil that exists on ceremony day. We all seemed to bond somewhat instantly. As it turns out that was good thing because the way the logistics turned out it made much more sense for Connie and me to take Cheri’s mother and Bill back to the base that night and then pick them up the next afternoon for the ceremony. By the end of the weekend we had another pair of close friends and a new destination to add to the places we need to visit.
Bill’s ceremony was a great summary of the highlights of his career. We got to see how others in the audience played into the Hendrickson’s lives and Bill’s career specifically. It was an upbeat ceremony and a fitting tribute to a great supporter of our American way of life.
Enough about the ceremony; what followed was an evening and two full days of partying. The reception offered the opportunity to get to know some of the other family members and former shipmates of Bill’s. I was finally able to meet Bill’s two adult children and I now understand why they wanted so much to be near them in retirement. They are wonderful people and they seem to know how to enjoy life. On Saturday Bill and Cheri sponsored a golf tournament at one of the two golf courses on the base. I should note that knowing about the tournament ahead of time and knowing which course it was to be played on, I exploited that knowledge by playing two practice rounds on Wednesday and Thursday. Connie and I were paired with Cheri’s brother and sister-in-law who live in Houston, Texas. My insider knowledge of the course did us no good whatsoever, but we had a great time getting to know our teammates. So much so, that we will be visiting them on our next trip through Houston. We took last place in the tournament, but who cares? We had fun and that is exactly what the Hendricksons had wanted us to do.
Although I am sure it had no impact on my golf game, there was an incident that occurred during the golf game that is worthy of mention. As we were teeing off on the ninth hole there was a bit of commotion behind us. Connie and Debby were at the forward tees and not immediately aware of what was going on. Bernie and I heard the conversation that was going on and as we turned to see what was up we saw a rider-less horse being chased by Bill and Cheri’s son Michael and a woman flat on the road with two other people attending to her. As it turned out, the horse the downed rider was riding took one of those giant sideways steps when the guy on the firing range yelled “Fire!” and about twenty people fired off several rounds of small caliber ammunition. Counting Connie there were three nurses on the scene. So, Connie decided to take care of the scared horse. She and Michael walked the downed rider’s horse and her companion’s horse back to the stable. Eventually the ambulance arrived and attended to the rider. Just for the record, she suffered a few broken ribs and a possible fractured thumb. Other than that, she was fine. She was certainly very lucky. She must have landed just right to avoid much more serious injury.
Anyway, as a result of the nearly continuous gun fire and the episode with the horse, Connie has decided that the event should have been called, “The first ever annual live fire and wild horse golf tournament”. I think that is a great name and I would like to see the PGA leaders play under those conditions.
On Sunday we made that long drive to Oneonta, Alabama, to see the Hendrickson’s retirement home. Boy, what a great home Bill’s son Michael built with Bill’s money and Cheri’s design changes. Michael is a General Contractor and Bill will work for him in the home building industry. It was good that Michael’s company built Bill and Cheri’s home. This way Bill knows he has to stay on his toes to ensure he is not responsible for any loss in quality when he starts work. The house sits on a hill overlooking the golf course. However, it is far enough off the course and screened by enough native trees that they will see few golf balls in the back yard. The distance an elevation change also keeps the voices of the golfers from ruining the tranquility of the setting. You do hear the crack of the club head hitting the ball, but that is about it. I won’t describe the entire house, because it would take to long. However, there are some notable features that need be told. First, Bill and Cheri included in their design a mother-in-law apartment with a separate garage and private entry from the outside as well as an entry from an interior hallway. Bill’s mother, Bea, lives there and it is really a beautifully decorated home in and of its own. Bill also included a complete wood working shop with separate finishing space to keep the dust out of the sealers and stains. They have a huge walk in pantry with enough storage space to keep them fed for an entire winter. Other than that it is just your typical 5,000 plus square foot modern five bedroom house. The design is wonderful and the decorating superb. Cheri finally has space to display all the things she has accumulated over her 36 years of supporting Bill’s career. It is a proper place for them and we wish them well living in such a marvelous place.
Our motor home seemed a little smaller when we got back home that night.
We spent Monday recovering from all the partying and getting ready to get underway for our current location, Destin, Florida. Why Destin, you say? Because it is on the map and as it turns out it is a comfortable drive from Montgomery. We will be here for eleven nights total.
Tuesday was not only a travel day, but it was also Connie’s birthday. We celebrated by having a nice dinner at a waterfront restaurant called The Beach Walk Café. I surprised Connie by picking the restaurant and figuring out how to find it without her help. Well, I did most of that well enough. I remembered the name of the restaurant and I knew which way to drive to get to it. What I failed to learn was that it was in a hotel and therefore not easy to see from the road. I also did not remember to bring along my little note with the exact address and telephone number. However, with only two U-turns I found the restaurant and we wound up having a very different and delicious dinner. The service was good and since it was a Tuesday and not in the “in season” we did not have to compete with the rest of the dining room to hear one another.
As you know Tuesday was also Election Day across this great nation. Connie and I had participated in early voting before leaving the Fernandina area, so we were covered. I would like to take the next several lines to offer an opinion of the current process and state of politics in this country.
Connie and I watch a lot of television. Now that we have DirecTV we not only get the local area news and campaign ads, but we can also see what is going on in California and specifically in the Los Angeles area via the West Coast feed, and we can see the ads from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut via the East Coast feed. As we have traveled during this campaign season we have seen local ads in many districts in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. It has been my observation that this season has been far too heavy on personal attacks and way too lean on honest discussion of the issues. Unfortunately I don’t have much hope for improvement in future campaigns so long as we continue to finance campaigns the way we do.
If I were in charge I would make it a law that all media (TV, radio, newspaper) campaigning be paid for by the government. With the government paying for the ads there would be rules. Specifically, no ads would be allowed that were not a discussion of the candidates’ views on the issues. There could be no reference to the other guy and his supposed views. Such a policy could have many benefits. The most obvious benefit being that we would be able to learn what those seeking our votes really intend to do if elected. However, there are many other advantages. We would not have to listen to the half truths and personal attacks that have little or no substance. Probably the biggest benefit would be that with the loss of special interest group funding for campaigns, the cost to run for public office would spiral down to a level where the little guy/gal with great vision and ideas would stand a chance of making it into politics. With the taxpayers paying for the air time that too would be limited allowing for less saturation and more substance.
I know my idea is just a dream that will never come to pass because no one in the business of politics would want to give up what they now have. But wouldn’t it be nice?
As for the outcome of the election, I have mixed emotions. I have tried to keep this Blog politically neutral, so my only comment will have to be that the resignation of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was an appropriate outcome of the election. I only hope that his successor can make a difference that will be seen soon by the people in Iraq and by our troops who have given so much. Secretary Rumsfeld, in my humble opinion, is possibly one of the most dedicated and patriotic people serving in the government. However, I think he got it wrong regarding how to manage the Defense Department and more importantly, the war in Iraq, and his pride kept him from correcting his errors. He certainly has a lot of respect for the men and women he has committed to the war effort. He needed to go, but we all need to look at the whole person, not just his failings and remember him for his love of this great nation and the principles that have made it what it is. Unlike many who have worked their way up the political ladder for the purpose of personal gain, I believe that this man felt that he was a servant of the President and the nation and worked to do what he thought (thinks) was the right thing. I wish his passion had been in an area other than defense.
With that I will sign off for now and get on with having some fun in the Gulf Coast area of Florida.