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Jul. 2, 2020
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Vinnie Mendes On the Water

An example or two of poetic justice

Several years ago, I had a sofa. It was Danish Modern, all teak and black vinyl and extremely comfortable, both for sitting and sleeping, until the cat tinkled on it! I tried everything I could think of to get rid of the odor to no avail. Finally, I bought a new sofa and put the old one out on the front lawn with a sign saying “FREE” in big letters. It sat there for two weeks and no one touched it. Then I had a brainstorm. I put a sign on it reading “$50.” It was gone the next morning! I hope whoever got it had a better sense of taste than of smell. I was simply happy to get rid of it.
 
More recently one of my neighbors had a Honda Shadow motorcycle dating from the late 1970s. He had owned it since it was new, and it was a thing of beauty, painted metal flake purple and in pristine condition, almost museum quality. The only problem was the motor would crank but would not run properly. 
 
He asked to borrow my motorcycle trailer to take the bike down to the repair shop. I helped him load it onto the trailer and off he went. The shop said they couldn’t get on it for several months, but if he would take the engine out and bring it to them, they could start to work on it right away. He went back home pulled the engine, which he put in the trunk of his car and left the bike sitting on the trailer in his driveway. 
 
Next morning, he received a call from a woman identifying herself as the dispatcher of the Suwanee Police Department. She asked if he knew where his motorcycle was. He said “Sure,” as he glanced out the window then said “Oops! I guess I don’t, but I bet you’re going to tell me.” She said it had been found abandoned on a trailer in a motel parking lot and was currently in the police impound yard.

The license plate had been removed from the trailer, but the thieves had neglected to remove the plate from the bike. Then there was the hassle for both of us having to go down to the police station with the paperwork to prove who we were and that we were the legitimate owners of the vehicles, then to the impound yard to get them. After that I got to go up the DMV in Gainesville and get a new license plate. However, it does make and entertaining story and gives me great pleasure thinking of the elation of the thieves as they drove away with the loot only to find out they had an unusable motorcycle and a trailer of limited marketability, since most people with motorcycles want to ride them, not tow them!
 
While I’m thinking of inept thieves, I am reminded of an incident several years ago when I was serving on a grand jury. We had a case come up where several guys broke into a medical office wearing ski masks. They were well organized, breaking down the front door with a sledgehammer and bringing along plastic garbage cans to carry off the loot. They took all the drugs, all the computers and finally all the security cameras.

As soon as they got inside, they had removed their ski masks, since they knew they were going to take the cameras! They did not realize that the videos were stored in a remote location! When the staff came in the next day, they called the police and turned over the camera footage. They also shared it with the local newspaper who posted it on their website! Within two hours a dozen people had ratted out the crooks, including the sister of one of them! As John Wayne said, “You can’t cure stupid!”
 
On the lake itself there is very little crime if you don’t count “boating under the influence.” Occasionally, you hear someone got their kayak stolen and we did have some fishing poles stolen in our cove but that’s the only thing that comes to mind.
 
However, several years ago, I had a friend who owned a little skiff with an outboard motor. One day he went down to take her out and found that someone had stolen his gas tank! He was mildly annoyed but was not going to let it spoil his day. He went down to the marine supply store, purchased a new gas tank, filled it up, and was out on the lake with only about an hour and a half lost. The following week he went down to the boat and found that someone had stolen the new gas tank! Now he was really annoyed! Since the price of gas was over $5 per gallon at the time, he figured the thieves were just after the gas! 
 
An old gas tank had been knocking around his shed for years that would not fit the current motor. He filled it half full of gas and added a bottle of Karo Syrup. (WARNING! Do not try this at home! Any sugar in the fuel is devastating to an internal combustion engine!) He left the gas tank on the boat and when he went down to check the next week, yup, the tank was gone. The greatest thing about this type of thief is that he pulls this kind of stuff so often that when retribution comes, he does not know where it came from! In other words, “Time wounds all heels!”
 
 
 
 
 
Mendes has been sailing all his life and on Lake Lanier for the past 25 years. His family owns a marina/bar/restaurant so he has plenty of real life experiences to draw from. His favorite line: “You can’t make this stuff up.”





June 2020 column


Following in the wake of Mark Twain

Living on and around Lake Lanier we are all spoiled by the number of different things to enjoy out on the open water. We forget that the Chattahoochee River flows right through it, although about 150 feet below the surface, entering just north of Gainesville and exiting at Buford Dam. The “Hooch” meanders all the way from Helen down to Florida and it forms the boundary between Georgia and Alabama for the southern half of the state and part of the border with Florida. The Chattahoochee is a uniquely “Georgian” thing because once it crosses the border into Florida the name changes to Apalachicola.
 
A good excuse for a party in the fall is a “Fall Foliage Tour.” Once the leaves begin to turn, get a bunch of friends and a boat and just head north on the lake until you go under Clarks Bridge past the Olympic Venue and keep going. Pretty soon the shoreline will close in on you and the water will get shallower. When you start to notice a current, you’re in the actual river. Prepare to have your senses bombarded by fall colors like you’ve never seen driving a car or biking or hiking.
 
You don’t even need a power boat to enjoy the river. One of my favorite things to do on those hot, windless days of summer is get everyone I know with a canoe, kayak, dingy, stand up paddle board or even an inner tube and simply drift down the river. You’ll need a number of vehicles, at least one a pickup truck or car with a trailer. You drop the boats and people off at the launching ramp at one of the recreation areas below the dam. Then drive south to another launching ramp five or six miles downstream and park the truck and cars. Pile into one car, shuttle back to the boats and launch them.

Once you reach your destination simply pull the boats out of the water, toss them into the truck and head for home, stopping along the way to pick up the shuttle vehicle. I know this sounds a little involved but it’s definitely worth it. 
 
Don’t forget life preservers for everyone including the stand-up paddle boards. The river is still icy cold even in mid-summer which is really refreshing unless you wind up in it by surprise! (To check the water release schedule, call the Corps at 770-945-1466 to make sure they are not going to release a wall of water from the dam and capsize you. Of course that’s below Buford Dam.)
 
There are river maps available on line at www.nps.gov/chat/planyourvisit/maps.htm or at most of the recreation areas showing the mile markers and locations of all the ramps so you can’t get lost. (The mile markers are posted along the riverbank). 
 
It takes about four hours to drift five or six miles down the river. We usually bring sandwiches and beverages for the trip. (Don’t forget a garbage bag, keeping in mind, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”)
 
I can’t help feeling like Tom Sawyer 150 years ago drifting down the river. Since you’re going more or less silently you get a chance to see a lot of wildlife that otherwise would be frightened away by the sound of a motor. We’ve seen red headed hawks, egrets, great blue herons, and even a bald eagle! Not to mention all kinds of fish, snapping turtles, deer and racoons. 
 
You’ll also sneak a peek at the back yards of some of the “rich and famous” who are fortunate enough to live on the river. It’s hard to imagine that you’re in the middle of an urban, or at least semi urban area. This is an experience you won’t forget!

Following in the wake of Mark Twain

Living on and around Lake Lanier we are all spoiled by the number of different things to enjoy out on the open water. We forget that the Chattahoochee River flows right through it, although about 150 feet below the surface, entering just north of Gainesville and exiting at Buford Dam. The “Hooch” meanders all the way from Helen down to Florida and it forms the boundary between Georgia and Alabama for the southern half of the state and part of the border with Florida. The Chattahoochee is a uniquely “Georgian” thing because once it crosses the border into Florida the name changes to Apalachicola.
 
A good excuse for a party in the fall is a “Fall Foliage Tour.” Once the leaves begin to turn, get a bunch of friends and a boat and just head north on the lake until you go under Clarks Bridge past the Olympic Venue and keep going. Pretty soon the shoreline will close in on you and the water will get shallower. When you start to notice a current, you’re in the actual river. Prepare to have your senses bombarded by fall colors like you’ve never seen driving a car or biking or hiking.
 
You don’t even need a power boat to enjoy the river. One of my favorite things to do on those hot, windless days of summer is get everyone I know with a canoe, kayak, dingy, stand up paddle board or even an inner tube and simply drift down the river. You’ll need a number of vehicles, at least one a pickup truck or car with a trailer. You drop the boats and people off at the launching ramp at one of the recreation areas below the dam. Then drive south to another launching ramp five or six miles downstream and park the truck and cars. Pile into one car, shuttle back to the boats and launch them.

Once you reach your destination simply pull the boats out of the water, toss them into the truck and head for home, stopping along the way to pick up the shuttle vehicle. I know this sounds a little involved but it’s definitely worth it. 
 
Don’t forget life preservers for everyone including the stand-up paddle boards. The river is still icy cold even in mid-summer which is really refreshing unless you wind up in it by surprise! (To check the water release schedule, call the Corps at 770-945-1466 to make sure they are not going to release a wall of water from the dam and capsize you. Of course that’s below Buford Dam.)
 
There are river maps available on line at www.nps.gov/chat/planyourvisit/maps.htm or at most of the recreation areas showing the mile markers and locations of all the ramps so you can’t get lost. (The mile markers are posted along the riverbank). 
 
It takes about four hours to drift five or six miles down the river. We usually bring sandwiches and beverages for the trip. (Don’t forget a garbage bag, keeping in mind, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”)
 
I can’t help feeling like Tom Sawyer 150 years ago drifting down the river. Since you’re going more or less silently you get a chance to see a lot of wildlife that otherwise would be frightened away by the sound of a motor. We’ve seen red headed hawks, egrets, great blue herons, and even a bald eagle! Not to mention all kinds of fish, snapping turtles, deer and racoons. 
 
You’ll also sneak a peek at the back yards of some of the “rich and famous” who are fortunate enough to live on the river. It’s hard to imagine that you’re in the middle of an urban, or at least semi urban area. This is an experience you won’t forget!
May 202 column

 

Sticking to your specialty

In my opinion, nurses are some of the most competent and capable people around. They are right up close and personal with the patients so they can spot problems immediately and, in many cases, take steps to solve them. They also know when a problem is beyond their ability and are not afraid to call for help.
 
I remember one rainy day in the springtime when my brother Haik and I were sitting around the marina office drinking coffee. We couldn’t launch boats nor step masts because the brakes on the travel lift tended to slip when wet and stepping masts calls for fraction of an inch precision. The phone rang and it was a “Mayday” call from two nurses who were dating a couple of guys that kept their boats in the marina. We knew it must be serious because otherwise they would have called their boyfriends. 
 
When we arrived at the house, we found a queen size box spring firmly wedged into a bend in the stairwell. Haik crawled over the top of it and I remained on the bottom. We ascertained that it was so tightly jammed in place that it would neither go up nor down. At the bottom of the stairwell was an old cast iron radiator about two feet high. I told Haik that I thought if I stood on the radiator, put my back to the box spring and gave a mighty heave while at the same time he gave a good hard yank on the top. It would either move or it wouldn’t. What did we have to lose? 
 
OK, “On three, One, Two, Three.” THUMP, CRASH, CRUNCH! Next thing I knew I was sitting on my rear end on the floor looking up at the ceiling. After “You OK? Yeah, You OK? Yeah,” were exchanged, we ascertained that the radiator had just been sitting there, not connected to anything. I had knocked it thru the sheet rock wall and the box spring had moved about two inches, just enough to go through the sheetrock halfway up the stairs! At this point I gave the girls my credit card and told them to go out to lunch on us … and take your time.”
 
Haik scurried back to the marina for pry bars, a screw gun, glue and a stapler while I ran home for sheetrock, joint compound, tools and a few other things. We then carefully removed the cloth backing on the bottom of the box spring and pried the wood apart at the joints to make it flexible enough to bend around the corner. Then we repaired the holes in the wall, so no one could tell that anything strange had happened and placed the radiator back where it had been. (I’d be back the next day with sandpaper and paint to finish the job.)
 
Then we took the spring up to the bedroom and carefully screwed and glued it back together, so it was better than new. However, before we stapled the cloth to the bottom, we thought we’d add a little reminder of the experience. I had been working on a project that involved a lot of jingle bells and had several hundred left over. We strung a couple dozen of these on a wire and stretched it tight as a banjo string catty corner across the bottom of the spring. Then we replaced the cloth cover and properly assembled the box spring and mattress. It looked perfect, but whenever someone walked across the floor of the bedroom you could hear a faint “jingle jingle jingle.” 
 
About this time the girls showed up, amazed that we had gotten everything back together and demanding to know how we had done it. We told them that we don’t ask them how they perform their miracles in the hospital, so don’t ask us how we do it in the bedroom!
 
Now the Jersey shore is pretty desolate in the off season and there’s not much to do for entertainment except sit around in bars and tell stories. The tale of the “Flying radiator, flexible box spring and the tintinnabulation of the bells in the haunted bedroom” was one of the better ones and kept the gang entertained for months!
 

April 2020 column

Seasons bring change on the lake and beyond

One of the best things about North Georgia is the change of seasons. It’s a euphoric sensation when winter passes and spring finally arrives. 
 
Lake Lanier, populated for months only by bass fishermen and hardcore sailors, suddenly comes alive with every jet ski, pontoon boat, cabin cruiser and yes, even the occasional houseboat afloat. 
Up in the mountains when the weather gets warm enough to put the top down, the roads teem with sports cars, RVs, motorcycles and bicycles.  
 
I’m amazed at the number of bicyclists I see pedaling up the inclines. All I can think of is that what goes up must come down. It must be a white-knuckle experience to be doing 35 miles per hour downhill around some of those curves, with nothing between you and the road but two skinny tires and a thin layer of nylon shorts and shirt. They’re a lot braver than I am.
 
When my motorcycle riding buddies come in from out of town, we take them up the “Tail of the Dragon” on Hwy. 129 just south of the NC/TN border. It has 318 turns in 11 miles and is a motorcyclist’s dream … or nightmare, depending on your perspective. The speed limit is 15 to 20 mph most of the way and us old guys ride our BMWs or Harleys along at a sedate 25 mph thinking we’re badass, and all of a sudden, WHAW-WHAW-WHAW-WHAW, four rice burning crotch rockets (light, high powered Japanese motorcycles) streak past us at 60 plus mph. They may be out to prove something, but we call them “Organ Donors.”
 
Our British Car Club gathers for occasional rallies in the mountains. I especially like the old antiques because remembering them when they were new, I also understand how they work, as opposed to the new cars where I can’t do much more than check the oil. 
 
You’ll see a line of 20 to 30 vintage cars traveling the same route looking for clues on where to turn next. It’s a lot of fun solving the puzzles such as “What did St John say to the Romans?” and a few miles later you’ll pass a church with the sign out front telling you what he said. There’s always a good story or two coming out of outings like this.
 
One memorable time we had a competitor, Howie, driving an MGB. His copilot/navigator, Cody, had a new Alfa-Romeo. He was very proud of it and let everybody know. I guess he didn’t realize that anyone can plop down a credit card and buy an Alfi, but it takes talent to keep a 65-year-old car on the road. At any rate we were competing in a rally where everyone had a list of clues which they had to follow to arrive at a secret destination. The cars took off at two-minute intervals so it wouldn’t just be “follow the leader.” About halfway through we came upon skid marks in the middle of the road and about 100 yards later, a couple of MGs pulled off to the side. 
 
There in the middle of someone’s lawn was Howie’s MGB. Following the skid marks, we traced his path, back over someone’s patio where he and taken off one of the supports for their upper deck! 
Luckily no one was hurt but the driver’s door was damaged, and the car kept stalling out when he tried to start it. Within a few minutes several more MGs had joined the party and it was determined that he had crimped the exhaust pipe. 
 
As there was no cell service in the area, we were standing around discussing options to get the car towed back home, when Cody asked, “anyone got a cigarette?” Someone produced a pack of Winstons and a Bic and Cody put one in his mouth backwards and proceeded to light the filter! I asked him if he knew something I didn’t know or was he doing it backwards. He said” No Man, leave me alone, I really need this.” So, we all stood around as he smoked his way thru the filter as if that was the way to do it. About this time, a couple of locals showed up in a pickup truck and we explained the situation. They said, “No problem,” went back to the truck and produced a Sawzall (a high-powered saber saw on steroids). Within a few minutes they had cut off about six feet of the exhaust pipe and muffler and the car started and ran fine! 
 
Never underestimate a couple of rednecks with a Sawzall! After Howie left a note with explaining what had happened and his contact info we all took off noisily down the road with Cody holding the muffler on his lap with the tailpipe sticking straight up in the air muttering “If it was an Alfi it never would have happened.”
 
The really good thing about spring is that it prepares you for the coming of summer when the lake literally turns into a carnival. There are sailboat races every weekend and some evenings during the week, fishing tournaments, poker runs such as the “Pirates of Lanier,” not to mention all the boats that are just normal people out to have a good time on the water. Then we have the dozens of state parks around the lake where for a modest fee families can come and enjoy the out of doors. After dark there are fireworks displays both commercial and private, celebrating holidays, birthdays or graduations.

You never know what will come next and there’s always another story to tell!

March 2020 column

 

Good news, bad news on the boat

Years ago, there was a great radio/TV show with two guys constantly getting in and out of trouble. I was recently reminded of one of their episodes where they buy a fishing boat. Next day one calls up the other and says: 
 
“I got some good news and some bad news.”
“OK give me the good news.”
“The tide has come up.” 
“OK now give me the bad news.”
“The boat hasn’t.”
 
I kept thinking of this as I was manually pumping out my sailboat. There had been a bunch of rain for the last couple of weeks, and knowing I had a leaky forward hatch, I should have checked on her before this. But the holidays and family got in the way and when I finally stepped on board, she seemed a bit sluggish. I immediately checked the bilge and found the water almost up to the floorboards! I figured the switch for the automatic bilge pump must have gotten stuck, so I flipped it over to manual. Nothing happened, so I got to work with the hand pump. When the water was down to a reasonable level, I went to check the bilge pump fuse. The fuse block was covered with green corrosion. When I touched it, the whole thing crumbled apart in my hand! 
 
Knowing what the problem was, I hotwired the bilge pump directly to the battery and it came on immediately finishing the job of pumping out the boat.
 
A little bit of background here: the boat is a 32-foot Bruce Roberts “Spray” which I converted from a ketch to a schooner. She has twin roller furling jibs, with lazy jacks on the Marconi main and gaff rigged foresail and is a delight to sail. I bought the boat from a fellow down in Florida, who was a really nice guy, but a total nutcase when it came to boats. This one was built in 1968, and at some point, the cabin was gutted, and the interior rebuilt by someone who had flunked wood shop in high school. Then someone who had taken too many drugs back in the 1960s got loose with a paint brush and a bunch of fuchsia and chartreuse paint among others. This didn’t bother me because I was more interested in her sailing capabilities, just planning to use her as a day sailer here on the lake. 
 
Another strange thing: There were at least two 110-volt outlets in every cabin including the head! The wiring all looked new and very professional, so I hadn’t given it any thought. Now I realize that it must have been installed by an electrician used to wiring houses or computers or anything besides boats! He had put the fuse block in a confined space six inches above the two 12-volt batteries! (When batteries are charged, they produce some sulfur dioxide, which in a damp environment becomes sulfuric acid. This reacts with the copper in the fuse block to produce copper sulfate which is a crumbly green powder). 
 
I should have been suspicious when I bought this great sailing boat for such a low price, but now I know enough to dig a bit deeper and to thoroughly checkout every detail before I have my own “Good News and Bad News.”  

February 2020 column

Remembering my friends' trip to Jamaica

Wintertime on the Jersey Shore is really desolate, especially at my brother Haik’s marina. After all the  boats have been hauled out, their masts unstepped and the engines winterized, there is not much else to do. The wind howls down the beach and the waves crash against the seawall and its no longer a warm inviting place to be.
 
One winter my brother and his girlfriend booked a two-week vacation in Jamaica. He should have been suspicious because the airfare was so cheap. Then he realized that the plane was scheduled to take off from Kennedy airport at 6. In the morning! Since he had to arrive two hours early, and it was two hours away, this meant leaving home at 2 a.m. 
 
Our friend Tony and his girlfriend Susan decided to host a going away party. Susan would drive them all up to the airport at the end of the festivities. This made sense because Tony drank a bit too much. Susan was not a heavy drinker and tried everything to get Tony to slow down. She hid the liquor – he just bought more. She diluted it with water – he just drank more. Finally, she gave him the ultimatum: “It’s the booze or me!” Tony unwisely chose the booze. Unfortunately, he announced his choice on the night of the going away party. While everyone was having a good time and wishing Haik and his girlfriend Bon  Voyage, Susan was loading her belongings into a shopping cart and wheeling them out to her car. 
 
I’m not night owl so I left the party at about 11 p.m. The rest of this story is hearsay. When it came time to depart for the airport, Tony was passed out, so Haik loaded him into the back seat of his (Tony’s) VW Rabbit, covering him with a blanket. He and his girlfriend headed north, figuring Tony could sleep it off in the airport parking lot and then drive home. 
 
Things were going well until the headlights on the car started to go dim and the temperature gauge climbed into the red zone. Finally, the engine shut down right on the entrance ramp for the Verrazano Narrows bridge. The fan belt had broken. Just when Haik figured things couldn’t get any worse, it began to snow. When a police car stopped for them, Haik explained the problem and asked if the cop could call them a tow truck and a cab. The officer said that they couldn’t leave the car on the highway unattended. Haik replied, “It’s not unattended” and pulled back the blanket where Tony was snoring away! 
 
The travelers finally got to the airport just in time to see their plane lift off from the runway and head south without them. Since you cannot buy a one-way ticket to Jamaica, they had to buy two round trip tickets, hoping to be able to cash in the return flight when he got back. They finally got on another flight and made their way to sunny Jamaica.
 
Meanwhile back in the frozen north, where we left Tony, passed out under a blanket in the back seat of the abandoned car, a tow truck eventually came along and towed the car with Tony still in it, to the police impound yard. Tony woke up many hours later with a world class hangover. He was freezing cold and surrounded by an aura of whiteness. He was wondering if he was dead and finally realized that he was in his own car and it was covered with snow. Beyond that he had no idea where he was. He got out of the car and immediately two junk yard dogs showed up barking and snarling. He was able to climb up on top of a car and wrapping himself in his blanket began yelling for help. Eventually someone came along and rescued him. 
 
This was before cell phones and Uber but luckily there was a pay phone at the corner. He began to call everyone he knew to come get him, but the only one who answered the phone was Susan, his now ex-girlfriend who had moved out the night before. She must have been a really nice person because she took pity on him and drove all the way up to Staten Island to get him. I can imagine the atmosphere in the car on the way home. It was probably chillier inside than outside!
 
Once Haik and friend arrived in Jamaica things got better. Their hotel was palatial, brand new and right on the beach. A steel band was playing in the lobby/lounge area where there was a large rock sculpture which was obviously supposed to be a waterfall. Haik asked the manager why it wasn’t working and was told there had been a disagreement between the plumber and the electrician, and they had both walked off the job just before the hotel opened. Haik asked if he could have a look at it.
Now you don’t own a successful marina without knowing something about water pumps and electricity. 
 
Within the hour he had not only gotten the waterfall flowing but the decorative lights worked too. The manager proclaimed him a hero, upgraded his room to a suite and gave him carte blanche at the bar for the rest of his stay!
 
While they were there, they got friendly with the steel band members who adopted them and included them in all the after-hours parties. These guys were all locals, so they got to see a part of the island life most tourists miss. The most bizarre one that comes to mind is the night they decided to go out cow-tipping. They never found any cows, but they found where the cows had been. Haik stepped in it up to his ankles. (Note: Never, Ever go cow-tipping while wearing flip flops!) At the end of the two weeks they had made a bunch of new friends and were ready to come home.
 


January 2020 column

Recalling a trip to shuttle launch

My brother Haik toured the Kennedy Space Center in the early 1980s and signed up for a pass to view a shuttle launch. About six months later the mail arrived with a pass allowing him one vehicle and as many people who could fit into it out on the Cape to view the launch of the Space Shuttle Colombia. This was back when we had a shuttle launch every few months and it was always a big deal but this one was really special because Sally Ride, our first female astronaut was one of the crew!
 
There was great excitement around the marina as people jockeyed for an invitation to be in the vehicle. When it finally came time to go all the enthusiastic “wanna-bes” had dropped out and it was just my brother, one friend and myself. This was when People Express was still flying high, so we boarded the plane, found some seats fairly close together and paid for our tickets. (It was very casual back before 9/11 and the TSA didn’t exist). I had brought a case of beer on board and was tossing cans to my brother and buddy when someone asked if he could buy a can. I told him I didn’t have a liquor license, but I would be happy to give him one. We were stuck on the tarmac for quite a while, so I passed out several more brews and became the most popular guy on the plane. Once the stewardess (yes, they liked to be called that back then) finally came down the aisle with the drink cart everyone was buying us drinks and the party had begun in earnest!
 
We landed in Melbourne and rented a Hertz car to tour around the area for a while and try to find some local night life. The Space Coast is dead compared to the Jersey Shore in the summertime. The hottest spot around was the Holiday Inn, where the sign out in front proclaimed “RIDE, SALLY, RIDE.” 

Finally, we drove out on the Cape, found a parking place among the thousands of other cars and took a nap until launch time. About 5:30 a.m. the preliminary count down began. I couldn’t believe how well organized the whole place was. Every parking space had a good view of the launch pad, several miles away across the water. There were restroom facilities, first aid stations, information booths, and a loudspeaker system giving a blow by blow of the countdown preparations. When the final 10-second countdown finished the Colombia slowly rose from her launch pad with a great roar and billows of flame and smoke! The three of us were jumping up and down on the roof of the rental car cheering!

Try to imagine the excitement. We watched the trail of smoke as she disappeared over the horizon. The ground was still shaking when an announcement came that she was 120 miles downrange and 40 miles high! Lost in our revelry we heard a loud thump and the roof of the rental car was six inches closer to the floor than it had been! Once the excitement was over and we had calmed down the three of us laid down on our backs on the seats and pushed up with our feet until the roof was more or less back to where it belonged, with just a wrinkle that ran all around the edge. I was sweating it, hoping that the credit card I used to rent it had the supplemental insurance that would cover the deductible. But when we turned the car in the attendant simply wrote down the mileage, checked the gas gauge and sent us on our way!
 
I keep that trip in my memory along with witnessing the birth of my sons, watching the America’s Cup races and a few other things as the greatest experiences of my life. 
 
A sad epilogue is that when we tried to buy some Colombia T shirts to bring back for the gang at the marina, they were all sold out. However, they still had some Challenger shirts, left over from a previous launch, which we purchased. It hurts to think that the only two Space Shuttles I have had anything to do with ultimately crashed.

 


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