Rookie snowbird observations

Posted on December 6, 2008
Filed Under Commentary, Travel | 1 Comment

            Here are some observations of a first time snowbird from Miramichi in Gulfport, Florida.

            For one thing, taking a scenic route that included coastal highways from Maryland south, it is 2,100 miles, 3,400 kilometres from Miramichi to Gulfport. Gulport is a town attached to the southern edge of Tampa.

            For the first time in my life, I was able to hit golf, balls, swim outdoors and attend an NHL hockey game in December. I took in the Lightning, Bruins game December 4.

            Ryan Malone, Wild Bill’s grandson and Greg’s son plays left wing for the Lightning. Ryan set up the first goal with an excellent pass to Vincent Lecavalier who needled it to Martin St. Louis who scored into an acre of net.

            That was it for the Lightning. Boston tied it up in the second, went ahead on a short-handed goal in the third and then scored an empty netter with a half second to go.

            I haven’t been at an NHL hockey game since son Tyson was a raving Patrick Roy fan about 15 years ago. NHL hockey marketing is certainly different than it was at the Forum then.

            For one thing, the Lightning have cheerleaders dressed just like the leggy, bosomy, hardbody cheerleaders at National Football League games. There are also leggy, teeny bopper rink rats wearing similar outfits and wielding snow white (handles and all) shovels. They skate out and scrape around the nets during commercial breaks.

            There is some kind of game or demonstation at every stoppage in play. People shoot at tiny holes in a cutout goaltender. Two teens, for concert tickets, get a chance to race each other, the length of the ice in giant, clear plastic balls. That is something to see. Makes you want to try it.

            The emcee picks an enthusiastic family in the third tier of seats and moves them down to the first tier. A young boy and a young girl are chosen to ride on the two Zambonis flooding the ice between periods.

            Lights and music constantly encourage fan support. I had never heard Hava Nagila, the Hebrew “Let Us Rejoice” folk song blaring from the sound system at a hockey game before.

            Every now and then a roar goes up at an unexpected time during a play stoppage. After awhile you realize that is a cue to look at the game clock and video screen which will be showing some especially cute kids in the crowd or a couple of busty young women doing the chicken dance along to the music.

            Food concession prices as are as high as the colesterol levels they produce. A bag of popcorn and a bottle of pop is $11.50.

            A youth’s Lightning sweater costs $100 PLUS another $100 to have Ryan Malone’s name and number applied.

            My seat, in the second tier, near centre ice, cost $80. Parking in the garage was $15.

            There are dozens of corporate box owners suites overlooking the tiers. In one I could see into, guests enjoyed slabs of perfect hip of beef and attentive bar service throughout the game.

            According to the Vermont snow birds sitting next to me, crowds are down dramatically from this time last year. They thought it had more to do with the team’s lacklustre performance than the collapsing economy.

            Even so, there were several thousand people at the game. There were many families with little children and many young couples including bored looking young women dressed not nearly warmly enough for a somewhat chilly rink.

            I am impressed and a bit surprised at how many people they can get out to a game in Florida.

Geezer stuff

          Is it Florida I have heard referred to as heaven’s waiting room? There sure are a lot of geezers here. At 66, I am the kid on my block. I see couples out and about who are so frail they have to lean on each other for stability.

            Please don’t think I am putting them down. I greatly admire the oldsters I have seen all over the world leaning on each other, limping on canes, pushing wheeled walkers, or in wheelchairs. They are the ones who refuse to give up and keep getting out and about to enjoy life.

            I have noticed too, though, that some people in wheelchairs seem to think their handicap gives them an excuse to drive the aisles of supermarkets and department stores like bad-tempered truckers.

            Geezer transportation and mobilization is big business here. Electric vehicles about half again as big as golf carts are legal on Gulfport streets. Golf carts themselves are everywhere. There are electric and pedal-power tricycles. I never dreamt there are so many different types of walkers and push carts.

            Store flyers promote lift chairs and even lift cushions.


          Christmas decorations are remarkably familiar. You can get a BC Christmas tree for $60 and up. The same lights and wire Santas, reindeer and trees are all available. You probably won’t find the lighted, wire, moving Christmas decoration alligator at Canadian Tire or Home Hardware.

            In this neighbourhood, there seem to be as many lighted boat Christmas parades as there are street parades. The Friday, December 5, St. Petersburg Times, lists 9 in the coming week.

            A Santa Claus parade in a local community was canceled yesterday. For much of the day, schools were in lockdown and people were warned into their homes as police closed in on a gunman. They were hunting him for a murder and chased his vehicle into the community. He leapt from his car and began spraying bullets from an automatic assault rifle at pursuing police. One of  his bullets hit, and killed, a man riding, with his son.

            Police spent hours searching the neighbourhood with dogs. They got the shooter.

            In the meantime, the mayor had canceled the parade. In condolence for the family of the victim, he did not call it on again when the crisis was over.


          Meanwhile, in Gulfport, downtown was a magic, fairyland picture of lighted trees and canopied kiosks on the main commercial street, closed to vehicle traffic.

            The town’s annual “Art Walk” and shop local promotion featured various arts and crafts including a machine to coat nuts with a cinnamon mixture. There was musical entertainment, and SNOW! The city department of public works brought in a seven-foot mountain of shaved ice. Kids by the hundreds took their turns being helped to the top of the mountain and sliding down on a collapsed cardboard box.

            Yes, I said seven-foot mountain. I’ve seen Miramichi snow removal crews scooping up banks higher than that before stores open.

            I don’t suppose the Historic Water Street merchants thought to bring in pile of snow to entertain the kids after the Parade of Lights last night?

            Oh, and there was a Celtic band playing in a little plaza that is like an outdoor food court. Those Irish are everywhere!


          Grayhound racing is a big gambling sport here. As a result there are a great many surplus dogs too old or not fast enough to earn a living. A volunteer organization has been set up to find homes for these reject animals so they aren’t summarily destroyed.

            At every local outdoor market, you see kiosks promoting dog adoption or fostering programs. That, in turn, leads to large numbers of grayhounds among the hundreds of dogs you see being walked every day. They are almost all very quiet, rather sad and wary looking animals. One gets the impression human affection was not a large part of their early lives. It is wonderful to see the bond they have with their new owners.


          It is great to be in Gulfport. At the same time, I find myself overwhelmed with an aching sadness every evening as the sun sets over Boca Ciega Bay. Michelle went home over a week ago for the Christmas season at her store, Edgewater Gifts and Gallery on Water Street.

            There wasn’t much point in me going at the same time. We don’t see each other during the retail peak anyway.

            Being here alone is an impressive reminder how much any pleasure is magnified when it is shared with one you love and how much of the flavour is missing when you are alone.

            Many of the people here are going back north for Christmas. I go on December 10.

            I can hardly wait to get home. I want to see friends. I want to visit and tease at the farm market. I want to light a fire. I want to see my breath and dress warmly. I want to hear Christmas carols in cold, clear air. I want to wallow in the company of my family around the Scotch Pine Christmas tree and squint at the lights to make them twinkle. I want to eat shortbread cookies and meat pie. I might even enjoy shoveling a bit of snow off the walk.

            I do need your advice on one thing though. I have such a lovely tan. I should be about the same colour as the turkey when it comes out of the oven. Do you think it would be okay to wear a tank top and shorts at Christmas dinner?



One Response to “Rookie snowbird observations”

  1. Clancy on December 6th, 2008 8:31 pm

    Wear the brightest Shirt and Shorts you can find David.

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