TV sports, quiet T’giving, and Challenger memories…

Thanksgiving came…and went.


Not the kind we’ve been used to for all those years, but we made it anyway and had a nice day with friends who were nice enough to include us in their day.

The weekend that followed was pleasant and quiet and perfect for getting the outdoor “stuff” done before the cold and snows of winter arrive. Best of all, there was plenty of time to enjoy college and pro football and some Blackhawks hockey. Without a doubt, I managed to take it all in!

By Sunday evening, though, having had enough TV football and hockey for one long weekend, I happened upon a documentary from CNN titled The 80s-The Tech Boom. And though I don’t usually watch CNN, I realized that this program was made up of actual archival news footage and would be presented in an unaltered and honest fashion. So I watched and enjoyed the hour-long show.

It was fun to see again the “cutting edge” gadgets that would become staples in our lives right on up to today. Particularly interesting to me was the section on the birth of the personal computer and the cell phone. It’s hard to imagine that what was “state of the art” not all that long ago, is so cumbersome and awkward looking by today’s standards.

Seeing young and fresh out-of-the-box geniuses such as the two Steves–Wozniak and Jobs–and a seemingly still-wet-behind-the-ears Bill Gates and Paul Allen was quite amazing. Watching all of this from a 2016 perspective adds an extra-special realization as to how far things have advanced in such a short period of time.

Near the end of the documentary, the focus shifted to the technology involved with NASA’s Shuttle Program, where things were full speed ahead for so many years, until the January 1986 launch of the Challenger, another one of those memorable moments in time for my family.

On that frigid morning, I was teaching a high school English class at Astronaut High School in Titusville, Florida. (It’s not named Astronaut by chance, since the Space Center and Cape Canaveral are located nearby.)

Following our dream to live in Florida, the previous summer I accepted a job in Titusville, and Carolyn and I and our two young kids moved there in time to start the new school year.

Photo: ABC News

January 28, 1986,  began as usual, in a pretty normal manner for everyone in those parts. It seems as though most folks had become used to the regularity of the launches and had seemed complacent (?) in a way about the space program, although so many were employees of one of the many companies who worked for NASA in some capacity.

I suppose it’s human nature to take things for granted and not think too much about what could go wrong after such an outstanding long string of successful launches and missions. It’s not that folks didn’t care, it’s just that everyone thought that something terrible would never happen.

But on that cold Tuesday morning in Florida, terrible things certainly did happen!

I was first made aware of the explosion when one of my seniors, Danny, returned from one of his many trips to the restroom (to avoid class time, I’m sure!) with a serious expression and a tone that  instantly told me that he wasn’t joking around.

When he said, “The shuttle blew up,” I really hoped that he was, indeed, pulling everyone’s leg as he tended to do frequently. But he was dead serious, and I could now hear commotion in the hallways, as two girls nearly sprinted past the door in tears and panic in their efforts to get to where they were going.

It was one of those moments when everyone seems completely mired in the muck of trying to figure out exactly what has happened and how we should handle things. Soon, a school-wide announcement informed everyone that there had been an accident with the launch and any further information would be relayed at the appropriate time.

As so many others were doing, I hurried down the hall to the east side of the building where large windows provided  an open view out towards the Space Center and the Atlantic beyond. And it was then that I saw the brilliant blue sky filled with the snow-like contrails from the Challenger’s explosion, scattered and splattered in all sorts of directions. Anyone who has seen the famous photographs of this knows exactly what I mean.images.jpeg

I don’t really remember much else of the rest of the day other than getting home that afternoon and learning that our 3rd grader, Josh, and the rest of his classmates had witnessed the whole thing on the playground, as had Carolyn, daughter Laura, and my mom, who was visiting from Ohio. They had a pretty “up close and personal” vantage point along the river. It was my mom’s first time to view a launch.

That day certainly played a major role and turning point in our lives, one that would bring our time as residents of Florida to an end. But that’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say for now, though, that the reason I’m writing this from northern Illinois is all because of that terrible day in January 1986.

Now that Thanksgiving has faded and the Christmas and New Years holidays lurk, I know that another anniversary of the sad event on January 28, 1986, won’t be far behind. And I’ll remember…

Florida fun keeps on comin’…


One Good Thing…

It’s time for the weekly  post of a feature I’ve chosen to title “One Good Thing.” Each weekend, I’ll post something about what has been good to—or for—me during the week.

It’s very easy to share what has been so very good during this past week as our Florida trip just keeps getting better.

Since my last post earlier this week, we have continued to log the miles—wonderful miles—and catch up with vey dear friends in Titusville and Naples, following our departure from Saint Augustine.

Just what the “doctor” ordered!

After leaving Saint Augustine Tuesday morning, we travelled A1A, following the coast and stopping for

From Joe’s Crab Shack-Daytona Beach Pier

lunch on the Daytona Beach Pier.

We were treated to splendid weather and tasty seafood and cold drinks, while we watched the beach walkers and others having fun in the sun and surf.

Upon reaching Titusville later that afternoon, and after the usual “updating” of our lives with Richard and Sandy, they drove us around the town, showing us how much had changed and how much hadn’t since our last visit. We lived there for a year in 1986-87.

We finished things off a while later with a visit to the new Playalinda MicroBrewery. The cold Bottomless Blonde Pale Ale certainly hit the spot, as we sat outside in the late-afternoon warmth and watched the traffic roll past.

Moving right along...

Wednesday we set off for another long jaunt southwest to Naples. Our original route on I-95 had to be altered not too far along as heavy traffic congestion–due to road work– brought us all to a standstill.

Refusing to accept that, at the first opportunity, we left the big highway and made our way through the interior of Florida, passing ranches, cattle farms, and various fishing and outdoor spots. Of course, it slowed our arrival in Naples a bit, but really not all that much.

Since this was an entirely new place for us, it was all foreign territory, but our friends, Bob and Martha, had provided excellent directions to their new condo off a wonderfully named street–Rattlesnake Hammock–so we made it without any problems. (I immediately became curious as to the history of that name!)

Something out of a work of art

Quickly settling in after having another grand tour of the place, we made our way to the beautiful Naples waterfront for dinner. We weren’t disappointed in the seafood and the harbor side seating.

Needless to say, it was wonderful to stroll out on the Naples City Dock, under a warm night sky, and dream about all of the large and glorious boats moored there.

Off to see the 'glades...

Thursday morning we decided to drive over to the Everglades National Park and hop on board one of the large boats for a 90-minute cruise out to the Gulf.

The Everglades National Park
On board to see the dolphins and other wonderful creatures

Dolphins appeared frequently in the distance and even followed playfully in the wake of the boat’s twin Yamaha motors.

There were also countless ospreys in their nests, cormorants, terns, and pelicans thriving in this marvelous tract of nature.

Fort Myers and Sanibel...

And then it was time to make the short trip up to our daughter’s in Fort Myers where we spent the night. She had to work Friday, so Carolyn and I adventured once more and paid a visit to Sanibel

Carolyn on the boardwalk with her friend’s condo in background

where one of her clients from her salon spends a good portion of the winter.

A couple of hours there and we were then off to the mainland once again to locate a place for lunch, which turned out to be the delightful Parrot Key Restaurant directly on a marina where charter fishing boats came and went.

On the way there, we passed a sign advertising an express boat to Key West. Oddly, my daughter and I had been talking about this the night before and thought that it would be fun to take the boat sometime. Over lunch, Carolyn and I said that we should look into it and “do it” the next day (Saturday)—if Laura was free to go along.

She was and agreed to join us. And our thinking was that what was a few more dollars spent to make this a wonderful part of our vacation!

And so we made our reservations and returned to Laura’s apartment to get things ready for our next-day excursion. We had to be there by 7 a.m., and would arrive in Key West three hours later. We would be back in Fort Myers by 10 p.m.

In my next post, I’ll have plenty to share about that part of our trip.

IMG_1479 2.JPG
The Gulf of Mexico beckons!
And that’s one good thing…