Sunday, July 12, 2020

Primo Cool Italian Bean Spread for Summer

Mab's come up with a creamy summer spread that's vegan and tasty. It's Cannelini Beans with Sundried Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives  and Capers, and fits the Jelinek OMS diet (whole food plant-based, low sat fats and oils).

It's a hot summer, we want to eat something cold. With this in mind Mab retires to her Maboratory and whips up these concoctions that fit the midday bill perfectly: they're satisfying but don't weigh you down, plus easy to make in the RV. She's a great scratch cook: give her a few ingredients and she'll whip up something good.

"I was thinking of Salad Nicoise when I made this - why I don't know, since they are nothing alike except for the olives & tomatoes.

Cannelini Beans (mash to a consistency you like - these mash easier than chickpeas)
Sundried tomatoes in olive oil w/ italian herbs (chopped up)
Kalamata olives, chopped
green onions, sliced
garlic powder
onion powder

"Serving idea: on bread with spinach leaves; also good with jalepeno or banana pepper slices."

She's come up with four of these summer bean sandwich spreads, including a black bean Tex-Mex and a Deviled Hamless spread with pinto beans. She's writing down the recipes and I'll post them and others that work in the RV.

We'll be taking them on the road soon.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Myakka River State Park - the best of FLA

(7 mi. east of I-75 on Atlantic coast, 12 mi. SE of Sarasota)

13208 State Rd. 72, Sarasota FL, 941-361-5511

Myakka River State Park Website 

As of July 1, 2020, some but not all amenities are open at this park. Call before visiting 941-361-5511.

Heading south from St. Petersburg on the way to surprise the parents in Labelle, Myakka River State Park is my favorite of Florida's gorgeous state parks. The wilds and the camping facilities here are a pleasure. Business first: the roads of the campground and campsite number 84 are well-paved and spacious all around, back-in, with water, electric and sewer, plus grill, fire pit and sun, shade and some privacy behind trees. Next-door was a nice, clean shower facility with I think laundry. All the facilities were top-notch. Because we had to stop for a new battery in Port Charlotte (a story that will definitely be told) we arrived at night. We're still getting the timing thing down. But no matter, the cool campground host helped us back into the spot (another thing we're still learning).

Next day, Mab took a walk that ended up being a 5K because the park road and the park itself stretch for miles. The entire park is 58 square miles. Along the way she spotted gators. Later we went along the large accessible birdwalk, beautifully built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, overlooking the river floodplain (looks like a lake) to see the sunset as well as waterbirds and nearby wild hogs. Make sure you check out the website, because there's a lot to do that we didn't even touch, like water activities, wheelchair-accessible wildlife tours by boat and tram, and a canopy walkway above the treetops.

Great moment that night: at the end of the day we went to unwind at a ranger program of Florida tall tales. It was held in a small cabin built by the CCC, so all around was tight, superb woodwork. The guys were goosenecking through the whole program, wanting to climb up there and eat the wood or something. A ranger and a volunteer read Dave Barry and other Florida writers.

Finally the volunteer got up to talk about Bertha Palmer, and Mab and I looked at one another. Earlier on a map I found a Bertha Palmer homestead located on the far side of the park, miles away. That was the name of someone we both knew of, a socialite in Chicago a century ago, who helped start a lot of the things that millions of people still enjoy today, like the museums. Potter Palmer, her husband, established the famous downtown hotel, the Palmer House. We'll check into it later, we decided.

That night, listening to the volunteer's story, it turned out to be one and the same person. Bertha Palmer was vacationing in Sarasota (I forget, but it may have been after her husband passed away) and bought some land in Florida. She started growing rubber and it turned into a big industry for the area. Eventually she donated the lands, which became Myakka River State Park. Then came the funny part. At the end they asked where everybody was from, and when we said Chicago they asked if we already knew of Bertha Palmer. Mab is modest, so I just had to tell everyone that she is an actress (retired) and on one of her jobs she researched Bertha Palmer, looks, personality, history, everything. So here was one of their visitors who actually played Bertha Palmer. What are the odds? They will never hear that one again, for sure.

Life is a lot more interesting when you get out there meeting people. Can't wait to hit the road again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Delta Blues Museum - Hey Hey The blues is all right

1 Blues Alley, Clarksdale, MS (an hour and a half south of Memphis), 662-627-6820

I can't believe I forgot to write this up – I love this place! We were in Vicksburg and ready to turn north for home, when the Mab came to me as if out of a dream, whispering in my ear, "Go down to the crossroads."

I was stunned and amazed. "Are you saying what I think you saying?"

She said, Puhlease! In Mississippi is a town called Clarksdale, and I saw there's a Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. Do you want to go?

Well, she knows that I'm a blues fiend from the southside of Chicago. I'd heard of the storied place of Clarksdale. What? I said, You really want to do this?

She rolled her eyes. I'm dense sometimes.

She'd read that a lot of big blues musicians came from here. It's the Mississippi Delta, after all, the birthplace of the blues. But the sheer number of these stars blew me away. I'd find that out later. From Vicksburg, we made a beeline north, following the river.

We drove past mile after mile of scrubby cotton fields, more than we'd ever seen. So much, that windblown cotton was strewn on the sides of the road like the whispers of early November roadside snow in Illinois. The plants themselves were thigh-high scrub bushes with snowy-looking leaves. Field after field, mile after mile on both sides.

Not only that, but then it sunk in, what road we were riding. It was US Highway 61 North. This is Highway 61. We are on the Highway 61, like from the Dylan song and album. So that's what's what about Highway 61. It's where the blues came from. It's the birthplace of rock 'n roll. Right here, under our tires, out in these miles of snowy bushes that brought all of the money and sorrow. Like I said, I'm dense. And up ahead, where Highway 61 meets Highway 49, is the fabled crossroads where you might meet the devil, sung about by Robert Johnson and all the people before and after him. Now those crossroads look like a busy intersection in Anytown, USA, but this place has history, it has roots. We put on the Dylan song to get us to Clarksdale.

The crossroads of Hgwy 61 & 49: where's Robert? where's Eric?

It's in the old train station in Clarksdale which Muddy Waters himself took out of town to Chicago and never looked back.

There's a long, completely safe concrete ramp leading in, but before I tackled it I had to check out the outdoor stage and performance space because I thought I saw a familiar face there. It was painted on the corner of the stage.


Sure enough it was a painting of Robert Plant, who visited along with Jimmy Page when they released their album, Walking Into Clarksdale. Plant is a major donor. I was going to like this place.

The place is a huge collection of memorabilia, costumes and guitars from the vast army of blues musicians who came out of these parts. The list of them is dizzying: Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Sam Cooke, W. C. Handy, Koko Taylor, Ike Turner, Junior Parker, and that's only some of them. My jaw kept dropping everywhere I turned. You can't snap pictures because of copyrights. No pictures of the shack that was Muddy Waters' childhood home, that now stands in one end of the museum. No pictures of Alan Lomax's sedan, outfitted with a recording rig in the trunk that he used to tape blues songs in the field that are now legend. No videos of the concerts that were running on the museum's monitors either. Sure makes you pay attention though!

The woman at the front desk was a Southsider too, and there was a cool dude who took me around to the school space in back where lessons were in session for the next generation of bluesmen (and bluesbabes? because one was a girl).

The entire place is flat and accessible. There's even a ramp in the back room so I could join the jam session. They make sure the blues is for everybody, baby.

We also saw a telegram from the Rolling Stones to Muddy Waters, which was OK but it told us something outstanding. We used to live in Westmont, Illinois, and we knew that Muddy Waters had owned a home there too. We never knew where it was, although once Mab worked with a photographer who said he lived in the place. Well, we found out the address from the telegram, and he lived on the same street as us! Yeah baby.

I think anybody would like this place. I was a kid in a candy store.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Be Careful What You Wish For

That Crazy Little Thing Called Hugs

Maybe I'm getting to be a softie, but lately I wish I was like everybody else. Not about the walking thing - there's plenty of other people with disabilities too - but about something simpler and more basic.

I'm not a touchy-feely guy. I wasn't brought up that way. My family were not big huggers. In our working-class neighborhood I don't think most families were. Direct eye contact and a firm handshake was how you got around.

Times have changed. Guys hug guys, everybody hugs everybody. I think it's nice, but it has nothing to do with me, just like smart phones have nothing to do with me. Why? Because right before they both came in, hugs and smart phones, I done gone and got quadriplegic.

It's been years since smart phones became ubiquitous and indispensable but they're still as mysterious to me as Mr. Spock's tricorder. With hugs, I sort of tilt my head and study the way it's done, the same way I do with good dancing. (Raising hand. Terrible dancer. Still.) All the pieces seem to fold and fit together, like so. OK. Now I've got that stored away.

Your human rituals are most curious, Captain.

There are an intrepid few who try to hug me. These are sweet people, because it's hard to do. In my wheelchair I'm surrounded by a hive of switches and wires everywhere, and people don't know if they'll be hitting an ejection switch or messing me up positionwise or even hurting me. For the record, they probably won't do any of these, but what we're left with is a pantomime of awkwardness.

I give them so much credit though because at this point I go around like an iRobot. Everybody loves an iRobot. They clean up after you. They beep and squawk like R2-D2. Your cat can ride around on it. They bounce around the room like busy beavers, filling gaps in conversation. They can wear Groucho glasses like ours does. He's named Bob Roomba, after our friend, entertainer Bob Rumba, who also wears Groucho-type glasses. Me, I drive my wheelchair with a head array: My head presses on sensors in my headrest. People stare and wonder how's it moving - like an iRobot. I too run into walls. I too jerk back and forth like an iRobot, unless my headrest is in the perfect position. People stare at us in wonder, the iRobot and me, and stay the hell out of our way. Everybody loves an iRobot, but you don't hug one.

What the brave huggers are trying to do is puncture the force field around my wheelchair. There's a personal zone we all inhabit, and you just don't go traipsing into someone else's zone. I've got a big wheelchair, and it's got a big zone. My buffer is pretty large, I think it's the front-to-back length times the size of my large treaded tires raised to the power of the number of muted expletives overheard while wrangling the machine to go the way I want. I don't blame you people for keeping away. If I were in the same room with me, I'd hop on a piece of furniture.

Plus, truth be told, I was an awkward person even before the spinal column went wacko. Do you know that guy you come across on the sidewalk every five years or so who, when you go right he goes right, and when you go left he goes left, back and forth, back and forth? That was me.

Bob Roomba sees you.

In my buffer zone I observe you people with the hugs, and realize what related things I'm missing. Like goofing around with kids. Kids are the best. I get along better with them than anyone else. Kids like close contact play: chasing, hide and seek, making haunted houses, even reading to them you have to be right there with them. I do my best with what I've got, with jokes, noises, faces, but those are mind tricks and they see through those quickly. You don't form lasting bonds with mind tricks.
So for once, I wish to be like everybody else. If only for a day, a free trial.

There's a joke about a retired couple walking the beach in the morning and they find a lantern in the surf. When the husband picks it up, a genie pops out and says, "I'll give you one wish." Then the wife is horrified when she hears her husband say, "I want a wife who's 40 years younger than me." And presto, he turns 100.

Unfortunately, presto, now I am like everybody else. Nobody is hugging. And that's not the way I wanted this to go.

You can stay in the no-hug zone until the coast is clear but then I want you people out. Looks like you've got something good to look forward to.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Sunny St. Petersburg FL - murals and munchies at Love Food Café = many smiles

On a beautiful mid-February day, it was cool outside and besides we didn't have enough time to hit the beaches, but definitely wanted to see the Salvador Dali Museum and the murals all around this town. There's beaches all up and down the Sunshine State, right?

I don't know when it all started but there are dozens of murals everywhere (map) and even though I know they are everywhere around Chicago too, I simply never get tired of exuberant street art like this (another map).

We'd covered a lot of distance for a couple of days to reach St. Pete, and had another big day of driving ahead (to Labelle FL to surprise my folks), so mural-gazing made for a fun and relaxing day. All afternoon it sounded like we were watching fireworks: ooh... ahhh... what the... More often than not, the work is mind-blowingly creative. A lot of them are around the lively wheelchair-accessible tourist drag on Central Avenue, though we covered a wider area by staying in the car.

Like when you're watching fireworks, it helps to have some picnic along. Our picnic was carryout from Love Food Café, 2057 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL, 727-317-2034 lured by great reviews on Yelp.

What a lunch. The reuben sandwich packed a spicy black pepper-type kick behind each bite, and came with a side of dill potato salad. Mab's fiesta salad was the daily special with avocado slices, black beans and a lot of other good stuff. It and the potato salad tasted so fresh. It was packaged in cardboard cartons. So satisfying for $10 a plate, and we showed around our blissed-out post-lunchtime grins to the rest of the murals and then to the Dali Museum. Wonderful day.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg FL - Brilliant art & wchair access (& Janice)

1 Dali Blvd, St. Petersburg, FL, (727) 823-3767, $10-25.

5/24/20 Update: Still closed due to COVID. Call first, (727) 823-3767.

First I'm going to give you a name. Janice. Now remember that and read on.

If you like art, go. Here is the largest collection of the surrealist artist's work in America. Located on the marina waterfront of a city filled with incredible street murals, this building features a twisting belt of domed windows that bring to mind blue fly's eyes, definitely strange but not very interesting or evocative of the work inside. (Although there is a cool concrete spiral staircase that rises into the domed skylight. Of course Mab had to climb it. She sent me up alone in an elevator and I met her up top. It's the simple pleasures.) The building looks better on the website but try as we might, we never saw it from such a flattering angle. Maybe it's from a boat? No matter, what's inside will set you on fire - and the staff is exceptional too, as you'll see.

Dali Museum Event Image

The collection includes some of the most famous works, including several enormous wall-sized paintings, and offers a number of supporting resources like apps and self-guided tours. The museum was built in 2011, so it is modern and accessible. Someone with the museum followed up with us while we were parking and transferring, telling us about the museum and the half-price tickets starting at  5 p.m. on Thursdays, their late night. ($12 instead of $24 per person.)

Mab and I were in awe seeing the works we'd loved for so long, and what enhanced our experience and made it even more special was our tour guide, Janice. I've got no knocks on the other guides and I'm sure they're all sharp, but everyone, especially if you are in a wheelchair, call in advance for Janice's tour schedule. She is both a walking, talking art encyclopedia and a fairy godmother of accessibility. Not only was she incredibly knowledgeable after 22 years of doing this, even traveling with Dali's widow in Spain (this is definitely someone you'd want to buy dinner for), and renders all the background and mystery to these mindbending work. It's like experiencing The Da Vinci Code - Dali Edition. But then she also gave me in my wheelchair the prime spot of the tour. While she talked, rattling off info to the group, she would also be cueing me with her eyes, fingers, flashlight where to park for best viewing or where to maneuver on the way to the next painting. She moved the group along at my pace, or backed them off, or made room so I never got stuck at the back of the pack staring at other people's rearends. Afterwards it turned out she was parked next to us, and she explained that there was someone in her life who used a wheelchair. I don't know how she did it all but I've been in a wheelchair for 27 years now (holy crap!) and I can't tell you what how great this was and she was. How good? A couple hundred miles away we camped next to David and Nancy from Maine, totally cool people, and they're like, "If you're ever in St. Petersburg go to The Dali Museum and there's this incredible docent named Janice…"

"We know, we know!"

Disappearing Bust of Voltaire

The online collection will make for a good evening of quarantine viewing. 

Next blog, the murals of St. Pete and a sweet vegan lunch at Love Food Central.

Saturday, May 9, 2020


The Mighty Mab is training for the Big Virtual Climb, so we've been working out together, which probably sounds funny because I'm quadriplegic. But actually she works out, and I "gator." What's gatoring? Here's what I wrote about it a while ago:

A friend wrote me about an article I published.  Reading it, she was all pumped about getting back to the gym.  You bet I was flattered, and happy she was taking care of herself.  I may have thrown on some sweats and worked up a little sympathy lather myself.

A few months later, I heard from her again.  What was I thinking, she said, I'm no gym-rat.  I really tried, she said, really I did.  Maybe she'd get back to some sort of exercise, the letter continued, but thanks, at least your words were nice.

I was a little bit bummed, a little bit let down.  But also relieved: how could I tell her I'm lucky when I can get myself to exercise!  (Wicked columnist.)

I'll never set work-out records.  Even though it's good for me, even though I feel great afterward.  It's just that physical exertion, like doing the taxes or visiting the dentist, is infinitely easy to put off.  For most of us, any old excuse will do. 

But I wonder if it's how you frame it. Like, you don't have to start working out. We don't have to begin exercising every day.  We don't have to get cut and sexy like the moody underwear models are.  All we have to do is move, today, right now.  We can just have a good time.  We can even gator.

When I was a kid, we gatored.  Walking along, without warning we would drop to our backs and begin shaking and convulsing.  Sort of like the players that toppled over in the very old electric football games, remember those?  Those games with the little sponge footballs, where the entire football field vibrates?  Those fallen players you watched spasming in front of you?  They were gatoring, like I used to do. 

Remember David Byrne in the Once in a Lifetime video, cuffing himself in the forehead?  Early mass-market gatoring.

Gatoring was funny, it was unpredictable, it was fun, it was necessary.  The weirder the place, the better.  Best of all, there were no rules, you couldn't do anything wrong.  You just gatored. 

At a stoplight, sometimes it were a time fer a-gatorin'. On the sidewalk, on the lawn, on the hood of my buddy's Camaro (LIE: He would have killed me).

Wearing our black tails, we gatored at the senior prom.  God, the people there hated me.  They stopped on the dance floor and scowled, like "you freaks are ruining our prom memories." But we were making perfect memories for us.

I didn't learn gatoring technique from a book, or rent a gatoring exercise video.  I just did it, because it came naturally.

Now it's 20 years on, and we don't gator anymore.  We're too stiff and serious to gator.  That is part of the problem with maturing, you freeze up.  You become inflexible, you calcify, upstairs and down.  You get fat.  Forgetful, too.  Everything scheduled.

But I was listening to one of my favorite radio shows, called "Brain Brew."  It's about exchanging ideas between entrepreneurs, inventors and other creative types.  One of their weekly segments is called The Thirty-Second Guru, where a guest describes his philosophy in 30 ticks of the clock.  The guru who caught my attention was a Scottish fitness consultant (I can't make this stuff up, people) who spoke like he had a caffeine habit--he made Billy Connolly sound like Lurch from "The Addams Family."  But what really got my attention was that he was talking about gatoring!  Not the word gatoring (he couldn't possibly be that cool), but the concept. 

He said, Right now, start flailing.  Do it for 10 minutes, no rules, just go ballistic, kinetic.  Dive on that couch.  Flap around.  Do your best Mick Jagger, or at least Joe Cocker.  Shake your tail feather.  Windmill your arms.  Hop up and down.  Tumble.  Scream.  Squirm.  Twirl.  Spin your head, Linda Blair.  Shimmy, shake, rattle and roll.  If your spouse might yell or make derogatory comments, or you'll be embarrassed, then wait until they leave: screw 'em, they're missing out!  Do it until you are laughing, then rinse and repeat.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is gatoring.

People don't exercise because it requires this huge amount of effort every day, getting ready, getting the motivation and energy to do so, taking the shower afterward.  Myself included.  We don't need to do all that.  We just need to be active.  We just need to gator.  It is so good for you, prolonging your life and making it better, keeping the sex drive going strong, all kinds of rocking things we don't even know.  Did I say yet that it's funny?

My friend would sometimes find someone to watch the kid for 20 minutes.  Then she would pay for a carwash.  While the car was going through, she would scream her fool head off, and gator like there was no tomorrow!  She can scream, too!  If it was especially good, she might go across the street to Dunkin' Donuts for a coffee and cigarette.

That's it!  And guess what?  Gatoring is part of the new food pyramid they released this week--it's true!  So, gator, baby!  Gator for your life!

Go Mab!