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Ever wonder why Chrysler went bust?

Ever wonder why Chrysler was in so much financial trouble that they had to declare bankruptcy? I just had my Jeep repaired at a dealership in Brandon, Florida near Tampa and understand why people had lost faith in Chrysler products.

This was an emergency or I would not have taken the car to a dealer. My last dealer experience with a Chrysler dealer in Palatka had made me wary. That time I had a steering pump problem. For those of you like me who know very little about mechanics, when power steering goes out it has to be one of three items: a hose, the tank or the pump itself. I had already had the tank replaced just a few weeks before so that eliminated one possible culprit. The dealership made me go through a diagnostic test so they could determine the problem. (I already knew it was the pump or the hose) They ended up replacing all three items including the new tank. Cost me $1,300.

So you can understand why I was leery this time.  But here we are sitting in Rustin, Florida researching a book that was already way behind schedule. So when the Jeep refused to start and responded to a jump from the friendly maintenance men at Little Harbor Resort with just a small ticking noise, we knew the starter must have been a goner.

So faced with having to get towed somewhere for repairs and not knowing any mechanic in the area we went with the dealership. Bad choice!

Oh, they were courteous and polite. Then they took several hours before they got the car in and checked it our.  When they called back the news was what I expected about the starter.  They also said one battery terminal was cracked and needed replacing. The estimate was shocking, over $900 but I had no choice. I needed my car back. We were paying $35 per day for a rental car. Plus Chrysler had told me if I didn’t have the work done there I was going to have to pay a diagnostic charge of over $130 dollars and my roadside assistance would not have paid to tow it elsewhere.

When I got the Jeep back and looked at the itemized repair statement, I really felt taken. Not only were the labor charges exorbitant, but the actual items were highly inflated.  It was only when I got chance to check out what a starter should have cost that I was really furious.

As you can see on the statement and warranty I posted here, the starter I got was a re-manufactured one with a three-year warranty. I paid $318.33. I priced one that would fit my car at a well known car parts store. A new one with a limited lifetime warranty sells for $129.40. Chry7sler’s charge was well more than double. And remember I got a re=manufactured one for that inflated price.

The terminal they bought cost $3.50 compared with $1.89 online. Again, I didn’t really shop the price for comparison, just checked a reputable auto parts place.  That leaves only two possibilities regarding the prices Chrysler charges; either they are very poor comparison shoppers or they just gouge their victims/customers unmercifully.

Now the labor is interesting. I can’t argue with the labor to put on a starter as I couldn’t do that job but I surely could and have put on new battery terminals. You just take off the old one, peel back insulation, cut off any corroded wire and stick the wires through the place between the two bolts that hold the wire and tighten it. Then just push it onto the battery post and tighten the little bolt. No big deal. I have done it on the road with just a pair of pliers in the past. The dealership charged a whopping $161 labor.  Boy, was Jessie James in the wrong business?

Note another interesting charge on the statement: Shop Supplies $69.95. What in blue blazes are shop supplies? A few rags to wipe the mechanics hands? Some Go-Jo to clean hands? I could have bought them a few Martha Steward towels and some imported perfumed soap for that price. And why should a customer pay for shop supplies anyway?  That is not my concern. I really don’t care if they wipe their hands on their coveralls.  Just think what old Jessie could have done with a shop supplies charge. Can’t you just see him charging the railroads for bags he needed to carry the loot away from the robbery?  He would have charged the banks he robbed for the saddle and bridle for the getaway horse.

So much as I love my Jeep, when it comes time to replace it do you think I am going to consider a Chrysler vehicle?  Yeah, I’ll consider a Chrysler just as much as Jessie James would have considered contributing to the Pinkerton’s retirement fund.




bat ter

Latest travels


I’m just finishing up on my latest book, Wild About Florida: North Florida. The last bit of traveling I did on this one was very unique.  One episode in particular reminds me of how like us the animals are.  Life and death is part of their cycle also.  One zoo I visited had a brand new addition to its family. Another lost one of its treasured family.

Harry, the brand new jaguar cub at jacksonville Zoo

New Years day 2009 was a very special day at the Jacksonville Zoo. Their four and a half year-old female jaguar named Zassi gave birth to a very special cub, the first jaguar cub born in the zoo since 1981. On April 13, 2009 mother and cub were released into the Range of the Jaguar. Martin and I were as excited as proud relatives going to visit a new baby for the first time.

Their award winning Range of the Jaguar now has the most jaguars of any zoo in the country.

Of course the jaguars are not the only thing that makes this zoo special. The zoo consists of spacious exhibits where animals enjoy a life in conditions that closely replicate their native habitats.

On the other side of the scale. I visited a great little zoo in Panama City Beach, Zoo World Zoological and Botanical Park. Here the other side of the coin comes into play. I was quite intrigued to see a orangutan and a yellow tabby cat sharing a cage and asked about the story. Here is what I was told:

Tonda and TK (Credit Zoo World)

“Tonda lost her life mate a couple of years ago.Since her loss, much like any human would react; she lost her zeal for life.She would spend her days lying on her island home with her head down and covered with her security blanket. The keeper staff tried to keep her entertained by providing her with a variety of toys which she would lose interest in quickly if she paid attention to them at all. Because Tonda is beyond child bearing age, it has been impossible to find a mate for her. After an extensive search for a new companion to no avail and her condition was not getting any better.Tonda’s keepers had to come up with some way to elevate Tonda’s zest for life. Enter T. K., Tonda’s kitty, the cat you saw.T.K. has the sweetest personality and the keepers quickly realized he would be compatible with Tonda.As the introduction process began, Tonda’s attitudecompletely changed.She is now alert and active; there is a new light in her eyes. A match made in Heaven, Tonda has found a new reason for living and T. K. is getting all the attention he loves and richly deserves.Tonda and T. K. now spend all their sleeping and waking time together.”
I was saddened to learn Tonda died on March 20, 2009, just a few days after I visited Zoo World, but feel I was privileged to witness such a beautiful friendship.
More about both zoos and so much else can be found in Wild About Florida: North Florida which will be out by the end of May 2009.

A Visiting Author

Today, I’m happy to welcome a visiting author.

Justin Sachs
Justin Sachs

Your Mailbox is Full

I’d like to introduce you to Justin Sachs who is the author of a new book, Your Mailbox Is Full and is the founder of the Creating Possibilities Coaching Program in which Justin helps teenagers to increase their grades, eliminate procrastination, and create balance in all the areas of their life.

1. What do you do?

I work with teenagers to increase their grades, eliminate procrastination, create balance in their lives, and overcome any obstacles standing in their way of success.

2. Tell us about your new book.

Your Mailbox Is Full is a book for teenagers, that teaches them the tools they need to become successful in school and throughout their lives. They learn things like goal setting, time management, living a healthy lifestyle, and modeling and attracting success.

3. Why did you write it?

When I was 14 years old I went to my first Tony Robbins Seminar and I was in a room full of thousands of adults thinking, “Where’s all the teenagers?” “Why aren’t other youth here getting these powerful tools and strategies?” It was with that realization that I found my passion: Empowering teenagers with life-skills and leadership development tools for success. That’s what my book is all about: Teaching youth the most powerful skills they need to know to create enormous success and fulfillment in life! Now, teenagers don’t have to wait until they are 30 or 40 to get these tools and strategies, they are available to them within Your Mailbox Is Full.

4. What makes you an expert in your field?

After going to Anthony Robbins seminars for 3 years, I began working for his product sales team and non-profit organization at all his events worldwide.I then began working for Mark Victor Hansen, the co-founder of Chicken Soup for the Soul Series, and learned even more about life-skills, writing a book, and supporting people in bringing possibility into their lives. I then read everything I could get my hands on from The Secret, to Jack Canfield, to Stephen Covey, to Eckart Tolle, among many others. I learned everything I possibly could about personal development and transformation such that I can now create transformation in others!

5. What type of people should read your book?

The book is designed for teenagers and young adults, but parents throughout the country are reading the book and loving every page! The contents of the book are limitless, this is the perfect book for anyone looking to take their lives to the next level, especially youth!

6. Are you on any social networks? Eg. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn

Yes, on or

7. Advice for Teens or Parents of Teens

Follow your passions and never give up on your dreams! If you have a goal, a vision, or a hope for the future, hold on to it, focus on it, and take action to make it happen! You’ll be amazed at how quickly your dreams will manifest themselves when energy is focused on them.

8. Favorite Quote

Every day, every week and every month, you must challenge yourself to continue to grow to new heights and to take your standards to higher and higher levels. ~ Justin Sachs

9. Favorite Theme Park

Walt Disney World of course!!!

10  How can we purchase your book? Learn more about you? Do you have a blog?

My book is available on my website: To learn more about my coaching services visit and be sure to check out my new radio show at

Scary Sadie’s Curse

Most people think a writer’s life is all glamour and fun. Well my friends, I’m here to tell you there are days that are just down and dirty. Oh, in retrospect they’re funny but at the time they make you wish you were a Wal-Mart greeter.

The salad bar Saddlebrook's  Dempsey's RestaurantA few years back I had one of those days. I was doing a combination book signing/information-gathering trip, zigzagging from St. Augustine to Tampa then back via the East Coast. I had set six book signings promoting my current book, Last Step. Now Last Step has nothing to do with travel. It’s a mystery romance about a mother’s quest to find the truth behind her daughter’s drug related death. However, since, authors aren’t all rich from the sale of their books; I’m also a travel writer. I enjoy the excitement of new places and love passing that information on to my readers. This trip was going to provide more excitement than even I craved.

Normally, with travel writing, you get comp lodging, attractions and even meals.Book signing tours are different. If you’re with a small press or print on demand, you’re on your own.

don CesarThis trip was a combination, I did get some lodgings and attractions comped in Lake Wales, St. Cloud, Sebring and Tampa. The rest of the time I was on my own so I decided to take my pick-up and slide in camper to save on expenses. Where I didn’t have comp lodging, I planned to boondock.  Besides selling books, and getting material for travel articles, I needed to locate interesting ghost stories for my new book, Finding Florida’s Phantoms.

Right from the beginning, the Florida book picked its own direction. I would hear about a place with a ghost. When I checked with local people I found no story there but learned of another story nearby. This created a lot of surprises but that was okay. In fact, most of these new places had never been written about so it was a “scoop” for my book.

Chalet Suzanne RestaurantBy the tenth and last day of the trip I had experienced the usual ups and downs. I had spent nights in fabulous places like Saddlebrook Resort and Chalet Suzette I had discovered lots of ghost stories like the long dead former owner of the Hunter-Arms who still supervised the maids, and the spirit on the third floor of Kenilworth Lodge in Sebring. I had found lots of good magazine article material like the Plant City Strawberry Festival where I parked in the front yard of a lovely older couple who lived near the fairgrounds and rented parking spots. Have you ever tried to sleep in a camper with the sounds of the roller coaster and carousel just two blocks away? Still even though this wasn’t exactly free, it was boondocking as I had no hookups or facilities. What I did have was walking distance from my main destination at a fraction of the cost of an RV park. Lesson here, if you are attending a festival or event that draws a large crowd, don’t be afraid to approach people living on the fringes that may have a large lot or even a unused space in their driveway. They may be happy to get a few dollars extra for that space they aren’t using anyway. This is one of the safest places to be due to all the event traffic and the property owners nearby.

It was March 17, St Patrick’s Day, when I rolled into Melbourne. I had spent the night in a Wal-Mart lot in Vero Beach. I felt very safe as there were people coming and going all night. The lot was between a Wal-Mart and a Sam’s Club and I parked close to the Sam’s side because they were closed at night. So the traffic in the Wal-Mart lot was more comforting than disturbing.

Next morning I drove into Melbourne. I had time before my 3PM signing at Books-A-Million. After checking the known local haunts I began looking for new blood. There was an Irish festival downtown that was as good a place to start as any. I learned of a coffee shop on the beach that was reputedly haunted so I headed there. I ordered tea and a muffin at Murray’s. The china was chipped and the service was slow. The owner was cooking inside. Since the place was packed and they were two people short, she informed me briefly, “Some people claim to have seen things but I don’t believe it.”

I asked if I could come back after they closed, around four, and talk to her. She agreed. If I knew then what would befall me, I would have accepted her disbelief and left, never to return. But, of course, curiosity drew me back after the book signing.

I was in a good mood as I approached her parking lot. The signing had gone well and I was heading home as soon as I left here. I pulled into the lot and all that changed instantly. Crash – the edge of my camper top hit a slightly overhanging limb. I had safely entered this same driveway just hours ago but the overhanging oak limb had just enough hook that it got you if you pulled in close to the tree side of the driveway. I had and it did! It slammed the top driver’s side of my camper like a giant battering ram. The force of the blow threw the camper backward. It popped the safety chains like they were made of paper instead of heavy gauge steel. I jumped out and surveyed the damage. My camper sat almost completely off the truck with one corner smashed into the dirt and only a few inches of one front corner still on the truck.

I rushed to the restaurant door and frantically pounded. I could see the owner and another person inside but she wouldn’t answer the door. My husband later suggested she was afraid I wanted to sue. I was just seeking help or even consolation and a Coke while I decided what to do.

As I turned from the porch, three men who could have passed for Hell’s Angels approached me. “What happened?”

“I was just pulling in and knocked my camper off.” My need for help was stronger than my fear of their appearance. I need not have worried. They were more like regular angels; abet slightly tipsy angels, than anything else.

Donald, Scott and Beef spent the next three hours helping me right the camper and get it reattached to the truck. As my guardian angels had been strenuously celebrating St. Patty’s Day, I had the added burden of being careful no one got hurt in the process.

After attaching it as best they could, my helpers queried, “What brought you up here anyway?”

I replied I was a writer looking for ghost stories. That elicited boisterous laughter. Beef replied, “Ma’am, there ain’t no ghost here. It’s just Scary Sadie’s curse. A woman named Sadie lived here before it was a coffee shop. When she had to move, she cursed the place. It was Scary Sadie’s Curse what got you.”

Needless to say, I drove the ensuing 140 miles or so home that night praying no one stopped me with my one working taillight and my very insecurely fastened camper. I guess Scary Sadie had finished with me as I made it home with no more mishaps.

For those of you who worry about boondocking, this should let you know you may be in more danger from other things, seen and unseen, than muggers breaking into your camper. Still, exercise caution especially if you are a woman alone at night in your camper. Never open the door for a stranger. Keep a cell phone handy in case anyone tries to break in. And do beware of Scary Sadie.

End of the Trail

Last day of the fam trip was Sunday. We made one stop en route to the airport. The Brown Vs Board National Historic Site. It’s housed in the old Monroe School building. Contrary to common belief this is the Black school not the white school the children  in the class action suit wanted to attend.

Monroe School
Monroe School

The museum was well laid out and really told the story well. One exhibit where you wlaked the guantlet of a narrow passage between film strips of chanting segragationists, large frantically barking dogs just barely restrained on leashes and crowds of news reporters, police, and just angry onlookers, comnveyed the terror the African-American children must have felt when they entered the  formerly all-white school for the first time.

The waiting at the airport in Kanbsas City was a nightmare. I had a late flight, 6PM, booked and was there by noon.  Once through security, there were no resturants or shops. There was free WI FI but it was very sluggish.

Finally back home, I wanted to sleep for a week but there were so  many things to catch up with.

Hope you have all enjoyed my trip vicariously. Do visit my next issue (Oct.) for some stories about this trip.

Following Freedom’s Trail

Today, I’m going to paste my schedule in to show you what we are doing here.

Of the places we visited yesterday, the Arabia Museum impressed me the most. All of them were interesting and a vital part of history but the hands on do it ourselves attitude of, Dave, our guide and one of the owner of the museum, won top exhibit for me. He and his family actually excavated the steam ship Arabia, set up the museum and are still working the exhibits consisting of one of the largest catches of 19th century materials ever excavated from one ship before. They did it all without any grants or funding and are flourishing today by doing all their own work. Hats off to the real American spirit.

Stature of a Buffalo Soldier
Stature of a Buffalo Soldier

The second most interesting stop on our schedule was the Trails Museum. This museum had so much memorabilia tracing the history of America’s westward expansion over the Santa Fe, Oregon, California and Mormon Trails.

The Buffalo Soldier Museum on Fort Leavenworth and the Anderson House and the Battle of Lexington were also interesting.

Lunch was Painies and salad at Mama Mia’s. It was served in the garden and very appealing.

Dinner was at Ophelia’s and quite fancy and delicious.

Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area

Travel Media Showcase FAM Tour

Explore the pre‐Civil War and Civil War history, culture, and landscape within the Freedom’s Frontier

National Heritage Area, an area comprised of historic and cultural sites in eastern‐Kansas and western‐

Missouri. Visit sites and hear about the stories and people that contributed to our national and individual

freedoms and learn from various perspectives. Hear from historians why the Border War still resonates

today, 150 years later.


9:00am Depart Westin Crown Center

9:00am – 10:00am Travel to Fort Leavenworth, KS

10:00am – 10:30am Buffalo Soldier Monument, Fort Leavenworth

Nearly sixteen months after the end of the Civil War, Congress authorized the

formation of the two regiments of cavalry composed of “colored” men. On September

21, 1866, the 10th Cavalry Regiment was activated at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Under the competent leadership of Col. Benjamin Grierson, first Regimental

Commander of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, the regiment was trained, equipped and

began a long and proud history.

10:30am – 11:30am Brunch in Leavenworth, June’s Cafe

11:30am – 12:30pm Travel to Steamboat Arabia 40 miles, 1 hour

12:30pm – 1:30pm Steamboat Arabia ‐ 400 Grand Blvd. KC, MO

The Arabia Steamboat Museum is home to a true time capsule of frontier life in the

1800s. Museum showcases the recovered contents of the steamboat Arabia, which

sank in 1856 on the Missouri River.

1:30pm – 2:30pm Travel to Lexington, MO

2:45pm – 4:00pm Anderson House/Battle of Lexington

1861 Civil War battlefield featuring original entrenchments and the Anderson House

which changed hands during the battle.

4:00pm – 4:45pm Travel to Independence, MO

4:45pm Check‐in hotel, Holiday Inn Express, Independence, MO

6:00pm‐ 7:00pm National Frontier Trails Museum

The National Frontier Trails Museum is the only museum in the nation devoted to the

three great western routes: the Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails. Located in

Independence, MO, the principal “jumping off” point for all three trails, the museum


highlights the unique features of each trail and their dramatic impact on American


7:00pm – 8:00pm Dinner ‐ Ophelia’s, Independence, MO


8:00am – 8:45am Breakfast at Holiday Inn Express

9:00am – 9:45am Travel to Harrisonville, MO

10:00am – 11:00am Harrisonville

Tour 1835 cabin that survived the CW, furnished in CW era. Short 10‐15 minute play

Driving tour will include: Murals ‐ 1861 Jayhawkers raid on Harrisonville and 1863

Order #11 burning, Cole Younger, View Burnt District Monument

11:00am – 11:45am Travel to Olathe, KS

12:00pm – 2:00pm Lunch and tour Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm

Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm Historic Site is the only Santa Fe Trail stagecoach

stop that is open to the public. The farm was established in 1858 and the existing

home was built in 1865 and used as a stagecoach stop on the Santa Fe Trail. There

are three 19th century buildings as well as several 20th century and reconstructed


2:00pm – 2:30pm Travel to Baldwin City, KS

2:30pm – 3:30pm Black Jack Battlefield and Santa Fe Trail Ruts

Learn the story of the Battle of Black Jack from re‐enactors or docents in period

dress; you may even be introduced to John Brown himself. You will hear of the

historic battle of 1856 while walking through the actual battlefield, the site of the June

2, 1856 battle between John Brown and the Free‐State militia and Pro‐Slavery militia of

Henry C. Pate. Brown called this action “the first regular battle fought between Free‐State

and Pro‐Slavery men in Kansas.”

3:30pm – 4:00pm Travel to Lawrence, KS

4:00pm – 4:30pm Haskell Indian Nations University, Oak Hill Cemetery, Quantrill’s Raid

William Allen White once called Oak Hill “The Kansas Arlington” due to the number

of influential people buried here. Built in 1865 to honor Quantrill’s Raid victims, this

rural‐design cemetery is the final resting place for many Raid victims, several

Territorial‐period legislators, abolitionists including James Lane and John Speer, poet

Langston Hughes’ grandparents, Dr. Forrest C. “Phog” Allen, the “father of basketball

coaching,” and others.

4:45pm – 5:30pm Check‐in Holiday Inn, Lawrence

5:30pm – 6:00pm Travel to Lecompton, KS


6:00pm – 7:30pm Dinner and Lecompton Players

Tour Constitution Hall then enjoy dinner at Territorial Capital during Lecompton

Players performance.

James Henry Lane had a significant impact on Kansas history and is one of

Constitution Hall’s more colorful characters. He was part of a large antislavery

delegation that marched into Lecompton to protest the convening of the pro‐slavery

Lecompton Constitutional Convention in the fall of 1857. The nation’s eyes were

fixed on this site, waiting to see what kind of constitution would be drafted and

whether Kansas would join the Union as a free or slave state. Learn more about Lane

and the proslavery and free‐state forces in the area.

The Lecompton re‐ enactors portray Kansas Territorial characters such as John

Brown, Jim Lane, Charles Robinson, Clarina Nichols, Sara Robinson and Sen. David

Atchison. The play reveals the wide spectrum of personalities and opinions which

existed in Kansas Territory from 1854 to 1861.

7:30pm – 8:00pm Return to Lawrence, KS

8:00pm – 9:00pm Dessert and drinks at the Eldridge Hotel and stroll Downtown Lawrence


8:00am – 9:00am Breakfast at hotel‐ at your leisure

9:00am – 9:30am Travel to Topeka

9:30am – 10:30am Brown v Board Historic Site

The Road to Justice The story of Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal

segregation in public schools, is one of hope and courage. When the people agreed to

be plaintiffs in the case, they never knew they would change history. The people who

make up this story were ordinary people. They were teachers, secretaries, welders,

ministers and students who simply wanted to be treated equally.

10:30am – 12:00pm Travel to Kansas City International Airport

And Now the Finale

TMS goes barreling on. Meeting all morning beginning right after the 8 am breakfast with one morning break and then lunch.

John Percy from Niagara, NY Travel Board spoke  there and enjoyed it immensely. Wrote a piece partially based on my visit to Elmira, NY on the post trip and previous visits to Andersonville, GA. Elmira was the worst of the Confe3derate prison camps and Andersonville was the worst Union prison during the Civil War. Also wrote a piece about the night life in Niagara.

Joanne Vero, who is the founder and driving force behind TMS, awarded pins to those exhibitors who have been at 5 events. She spoke about how special next year will be. The 10th TMS promises to be a treat for both exhibitors and journalists. Now the guesses are piling up as to where the event will be held. This is a tightly guarded secret that will be revealed at tonight’s closing dinner. I’ll end with that piece of news when it is announced tonight. But for now, I have to get back and finish up my appointments in a few minutes. I just have two more but have two blank spots in-between. Then up to the room to clean up and change for tonight’s big event.

I’m back down in the hall in front of the Chicago section of the Regency Ballroom by 7pm. TMS has provided us with a nice array of fresh veggies and dip. There is a cash bar for those who want drinks. I chat with different friends, and we all speculate about who will host the big 10 TMS.

Then at 7:30, Joanne and John Percy throw open the ballroom doors. We all rush in like a herd of lemmings headed for a cliff. The band on the podium to our left is playing “Sweet Home Alabama,” to the right, a large screen flashes scenes I am trying to recognize as belonging to one city. But which Alabama city is it? Joanne and all of the TMS staff are dancing with lots of energy. Joanne always has lots of energy. I have never seen the woman when she wasn’t in great spirits and bouncy. She is as bouncy as I have ever seen tonight.  Then as I come closer to the front, I see the placard in the middle next to the podium. It proclaims “TMS 2009 hosted by Montgomery, Alabama!”

That’s great! A surprise because they have already hosted one TMS.  I recall the last one hosted by Montgomery. It was in 2002. I enjoyed the ambiance of the city and got my first international article there. It was on a tour of the Hank Williams Museum where I met one of the original Drifting Cowboys, Lum York. I did an interview with him and sold it to London’s “Country Music People.”

The closing dinner
The closing dinner

After the dinner of steak, shrimp, a really unique grits and Gouda cheese with all the trimmings, a few of us take a cab to the Jazz Museum. The curator had told us that on Thursday nights, the Blue Room, a KC shrine to jazz and a part of the museum, opens at night with different jazz bands. The band is good but we were hoping the curator, Louis, would be there playing his sax.

By 10:00, we are all pooped and ready to head for the hotel and pack and prepare for tomorrow’s post trips.

Travel Media Showcase Moves on

Wednesday, this is the first full day of Travel Media Showcase. We started off with breakfast at 8 in the convention hall at the Hyatt. It was really good, or else I was really hungry. Both I think. At 9 the convention began.  My first meeting was with Huntsville in booth 201, 13 fast minutes where Charles, the Huntsville rep, both discussed what I would like to see in Huntsville and why I should visit.

Before we got nearly through, the bell rang, two minute warning to head for the next appointment. That was with Charleston in booth 211 but she had not made it here because of the hurricane. 15 minutes to run check my email at the computer station set up right there in the hall for just that reason.

Next meeting was with an email friend, Annabel from McAllen, Texas. I had been there, done that working on one of my previous books, Hosts With Ghosts. Enjoyed meeting her in person and we discussed what is new in McAllen.

And so on some of the reps are old friends from places I have gone. Some new friends from places I want to go.

We take a 15 minute break at 10:30 then back to the routine until noon when we break for lunch. Lunch was sponsored by Kansas Department of Tourism. It is set in one of the hotel ballrooms and looks really good. When it gets served it tastes good too. Entertainment begins with a duo singing Western music. Then while we eat, a photographer, Jim, speaks about the beauty of Kansas. He shows a lot of his slides. Great photography! He takes simple subjects like a thistle and makes it look like an oil by an old master. Well, he is an old master, of the camera that is.


After lunch, we head out for different tours of KC. I picked the “I Know That Name” tour. First stop is Hallmark which has its headquarters in KC. The visitor center is closed in preparation for its centennial celebration but they open specially for us. We get to see some of the original art and learn how Hallmark began. Joyce C. Hall began the company with just a couple of shoe boxes of post cards almost a century ago. Today, it is still a family owned company.

Next stop is Independence. The confluence of the trails the pioneers took out west so many years ago and the home of Harry Truman. His library and museum is a really study in American history.  Considering he was president during some of the most  dramatic years in modern history it is very moving.

The replica of the Oval Office in Truman's Musuem
The replica of the Oval Office in Truman

Next stop is a dual one, two museums at 18th and Vine: The Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The Jazz Museum is dedicated to the great musicians who flocked to KC during prohibition to prefect their art. The saying here is “Jazz was born in New Orleans but grew up in Kansas City.”

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is interesting as a sports museum but it has a deep underlying theme, the racial inequality that caused a “Negro League” to exist in the first place in this land where all of us are free and equal.

By 6Pm we were back to the hotel with instructions to meet in the lobby at 6:45 to board out respective buses for dinner. I had time to post yesterday’s blog and check my email. Then a fast change of clothes and down to the bus.

I choose barbeque because to me that represents KC. Several of my old friend and some new ones also opted for the barbeque. We are driven to Arthur Bryant, a local institute, and enjoy some real home style ribs, chicken, beef, coleslaw, baked beans and French fries. It is plain and simple but delicious. They did let me back in the kitchen to take a few pictures for an article in American Roads. Larry, the cook, showed me the pit where the meat is slow cooked.

Then we are driven back here to get ready for a good night’s sleep and a hectic day tomorrow. Already many of us are speculating about who will host next year’s event. My bet is Fort Myers but who knows. We will all find out tomorrow night at the closing dinner.

Arrival at Travel Media Showcase

The trip was a bit hectic. On the second leg of the flight, from Atlanta to Kansas City, I discovered that there were some other TMS people on board. We arrived in Kansas City late after a slightly bumpy plane trip. We could not land in Kansas City as there was a thunderstorm in progress so we diverted to St. Louis and refueled then returned. This time we landed.

Naturally, my luggage was one of the last off the plane. A TMS rep was waiting for us and got us safely on the shuttle to the Hyatt Regency Crown Center in the heart of KC.

Normally, we register that evening but it was too late to register.

Just barely had time to check in and run up to my room and do a quick change of clothes for the reception.

The reception was held at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It was jointly hosted by the museum and the Missouri Wine Council. The really good wine helped calm me down after the day’s frustrating flight.

Dinner was beef tenderloin and a nice Crème Brule for dessert.

Dinner at the Nelson-Atkins art Museum
Dinner at the Nelson-Atkins art Museum

The museum is fantastic. It is free and has many entrances in and out of the surrounding park.

Got back to my room but had to run down to the lobby to use the Wi fi. You could pay $10 per day to have it in the room but for the amount of time I would have to spend on iot that would have been a waste. My room has a lovely view as it is on the 24th floor.  Well tomorrow will begin.

I haven’t had time to download any pictures but will try to do so tomorrow

The Heart and Soul of Travel Writing

Today, I am headed for the airport and Travel Media Showcase. I thought this might be a good point to discuss what makes travel writing different from any other kind of writing.

Now matter how far you roam; successful travel writing is governed by what you carry within your soul not what you see with your eyes when you visit a place. If you are not searching for your own past, you cannot translate the beauty of white soaring columns of a Greek Revival mansion in the South to mere words on paper. You cannot capture the spirit of elation embodied in the Liberty Bell.  You cannot “see” what you do not have within you.

When I consider many of the places I have written about, I realize it takes more than what exist in the here and now to make a good story. You need something else In order to transport your readers to a night of harmony at Georgia’s Springer Opera House; you must have music in your soul.

When you visit the Space Museum in Cape Kennedy you need to see more than metal monsters that can face the unknowns of space and the massive VAB. You need to see the men and women who have given their life for this project. You need to remember the  Apollo, the Challenger and the Columbia missions that succeeded as well as the ones that ended in terrible tragedy.

Apollo Launch Pad
Apollo Launch Pad

The travel writer who seeks to tell of the Appalachian weaver of carver must value the beauty of handmade, one of a kind objects. When you listen to a mountain musician play at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, you must show your readers much more than one man with a fiddle. You need to go the roots of his music. See the lonely mountain settlers a century or more ago. Watch them gather on the isolated cabin porches for a sorghum harvest.  Listen as those illiterate but talented word weavers transposed the plaintive ballads of Ireland or Scotland to fit their new Appalachian home.

This spills over into the local color you put into fiction sometimes. My travel writing helped shape my novel, Kudzu, and bring the Appalachian culture to life so much more than if I had never written about these things for travel articles.

Spinner at an Appalachian Festival
Spinner at an Appalachian Festival

When you walk through The Harriet Tubman Museum in Macon, you cannot just see group of beautifully arranged exhibits. You must instead see the Black craftsman or artisan learning to create blending the processes learned in his native land with those of a culture that was alien to him. With this piece of pottery, he brought back a part of his village. With that painting, she showed others the rich life she had before

When I was working on my travel books, Georgia’s Ghostly Getaways, Finding Florida’s Phantoms Host With Ghosts and Wild About Florida more than ever before, I realized the importance of all that went before in shaping the scene the present day visitor sees. Many of the old homes, like Hay House in Macon would be interesting in a way to a certain group of people. An architect would be amazed at the construction. An artist would marvel at the wonderful works of art like the white marble stature of Ruth, So special it had its own room built just to showcase it. But add to that the story of William Johnson and his young wife Annie, who called the house her fairy palace. All of Johnson’s money could not bring back their children who died or restore Annie’s health. These are the things that make it a story. Not the fact that it is a magnificent American Castle that surpassed the White House in “Modern” conveniences in the 1800’s.

Hay House
Hay House

The Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville, GA is just an interesting old burial ground until you consider the occupants. Dixie Haygood who could lift a table with five men seated on it is was reputed to be a witch. Dixie preformed before the royalty of Europe’s and the rich and powerful of this country. In spite of her “gift”, she spent much of her later years in the state mental hospital and died at fifty-four. She is buried there in an unmarked grave.

Thomas Fish His wife and child died shortly after he returned home from the Civil War. It was his final defeat. He walled himself up alive inside the tomb of his dead wife.

With these stories, the old cemetery comes alive.

The Old Cherokee Capital of New Echota is just a historical re-creation until you think of the American tragedy of the Trail of Tears that wiped out one fourth of a proud culture.

When you look upon the printing press used to create The Phoenix, the only bilingual Native American newspaper ever, when you visualize Elias Boudinot, a Harvard educated Cherokee and its first editor, toiling late into the night to tell his people’s side of the story. When you sit in their council house and realize how similar to out own government theirs was, only then do you begin to feel the true meaning of this site.

And this is so with all of the places a travel writer visits. Until the writer recognizes the creativity of those who left their mark on this particular area, it’s just another place. It may have fancy lodgings, world class restaurants and tons of attractions but when you put it in the prospective of its history, its culture, the talents of the people who made this place different from any other spot on earth, it’s something else entirely.

That is what makes good travel writing. The creativity of those who lived and died in this place blended with the writer’s creativity into a story that comes to life. That’s what breathes a heart and soul into your travel articles.

The Life of a Travel Writer

Hard as it is to leave Martin, Romeo and the cats on their own, I’m hitting the road for six days. Martin needs to keep his own website,,  updated, handle any promotion and/or orders ( if we get lucky) for Wild About Florida, and most important, feed all the animals.  Tomorrow I’m off to Kansas City, Mo. Not to see the wizard. Hopefully my arrival won’t have anything to do with a tornado although Gustav may hit my birth city of New Orleans and Hanna may decide to hit my present home while I am there.  But I’m going for a travel writer convention, one of the biggest, Travel Media Showcase.

This is the 9th annual event. I’ve been to all but three.  Everyone sees travel writing as glamorous and fun. It is that but it’s also hard work as well.  for the next week, I will try to give all of you a glimpse into what happens at TMS and the fam trip directly after. For those who don’t know, a  fam trip or press trip is a media event where journalists are taken around the area to be publicized by a  public relations group or the area’s own convention and visitor’s bureau. As a journalist, you need to gather as much information and look for a different slant to write an article (or articles) about the place you are visiting. If you don’t write about it you will not be invited back.

A story I heard long ago when I first began travel writing explains fam trips perfectly.

“A man died and went to speak with St. Peter who asked if he wished to go to Heaven or Hell.
The deceased gentleman replied he would like to see a little of both to decide. St. Peter took
him in an elevator down to Hell. When they arrived, there was a huge buffet set up and sparkling
drinks  being served all around. A band was playing. The crowd was laughing and
talking and seemed to be having a great time.

St. Peter then took the gentleman up to Heaven where everyone was gathered around nibbling
on a plate of tiny sandwiches and sipping coffee and tea. Some of the residents strummed a
harp quietly. ‘Well’ St. Peter asked, ‘where would you like to spend eternity?’

‘Judging by what I have seen,’ the deceased replied, “Hell is more my kind of place. Looks like
lots of fun.’

‘Okay,’ St Peter replied, “I’ll send you on down and arrange for my counterpart to meet the elevator.’

And so he did. When the elevator doors opened, the gentleman was terrified by a frightening
sight, fires blazed, demons were poking people in the ribs with spears. It looked like his original
idea of Hell. He looked up at Satan who stood in front of him. ‘What’s going on? Yesterday I was
here and it looked completely different.’

Oh, Satan replied,’ you just visited in the midst of a fam tour.”

TMS Banquet Niagara

TMS Fam Trip in Arizona

I have been doing travel writing since 1992. In the past I was mostly published in Woodall’s Publications,Georgia Backroads,  Family Motor coaching Magazine and even internationally in London’s Country Music People. I still write for others but now I have my own exine, and have published several travel related books, Georgia’s Ghostly Getaways, Finding Florida’s Phantoms, Hosts With Ghosts and Wild About Florida: South Florida. I’m working on the Cental and North version of Wild About Florida.

Marine Science Center

A few days ago, we visited the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet, located in Volusia County, Florida. It only opened in 2002 and expanded to include the bird sanctuary in 2004. We had not been there before so this would be all new information for our book, Wild About Florida: Central Florida. We arrived at the Center just in time to join guide, Shari from West Virginia, as she led us on a tour of the Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Center. She was joined in the tour by her feathered friend, Priscilla, an American kestrel, who seemed to enjoy the human attention. The main aim of the bird rescue program is to return the birds to the wild. Many of the birds in the center can never be returned to the wild due to their injuries or because they have imprinted with humans.We were able to observe some of the recuperating seabirds through a one way glass.

The center holds an annual Wings on the Wind Festival in November. Since the center also rehabilitates sea turtles, they also have an annual Turtle Day in April. Usually, rehabilitated birds and turtles are released on those days if any are ready to go.

Shari and Priscilla at Marine Science Center

Shari and Priscilla at Marine Science Center

The day we visited there were just a few turtles in the rehabilitation tanks of the Turtle Terrace, a glass enclosed area where visitors can observe the rescued sea turtles, but the center is equipped to handle whatever is needed. They rescue and return “washback” turtles. Washbacks are small turtles that have hatched and made it safely out to sea for a few months but were blown back amidst the grass and weeds when the winds blow that debris back to shore. Between that, Redtide and injuries due to careless fisherman who allow lines and hooks to get tangled or swallowed by sea turtles as well as birds, the center stays pretty busy.

The exhibit area has a little of everything related to Florida sea and coastal area. A pair of young alligators, seahorses, sharks, fish and reef life to name a few of the exhibits. You can measure yourself against a model of a manatee. You might be visit during an octopus feeding or for the non-squeamish, a squid dissection. Is it a museum? Is it a classroom? Is it a lab? It’s all that and more. It makes learning fun for young and old.

On the drive to the Center, we had to pass the touristy section of Daytona Beach. I was disturbed to see almost all of the souvenir shops selling “live turtles.” Now I don’t usually visit this section of areas I visit so this may be common in other places along the beach, but to me it is reminiscent of the 50s and 60s when  live baby alligators (actually little (caimans) were sold to anyone with the price.  This was a terrible ecological practice and now is decried by almost all. To me the selling of the little turtles is similar. Now I’m not saying they should not be sold in pet stores to responsible owners but selling to tourist who are going to be driving or flying back home the turtles will not get proper care. Like the reptiles of the earlier era, those who do not die from neglect or mistreatment will eventually be turned lose in an area they are not native to and create problems similar to the boa, python, iguana and other exotic species creating now roaming the Everglades and south Florida. I would love to hear other’s experiences and opinions on this subject.

Marineland’s Blond Dolphin

I seem to have gotten into a circle of rare white animals in the past few days. Two days ago, it was white alligators at Alligator Farm Today we visited Marineland and spent the day watching dauphins and people play together. It is a toss up as to who had the most fun.Then we had the chance to see another unique pale creature.

Marineland is a truly unique place. It is possibly the only city in the country where the animals outnumber the people. It has a human population of eight and a dolphin population of 14. Then there is at least one well fed black and white cat. It is officially in Flagler County but at least a small part of the land is in Saint Johns County.

Since people are always drawn towards the rare and unusual in nature, when I had chance to see a one of a kind dolphin, I was thrilled. I was talking with one of the volunteers, Joan, when she mentioned Lilly Champagne, Marineland’s blond dolphin. When she offered to let us in the back area to see her, she didn’t have to ask twice.

Lilly shares a pool with Nellie, a celebrity in her own right. Lilly is a beautiful buff color. According to Marineland, she is the world’s only living blonde dolphin.

Lilly and Nellie (Blond dalphin and oldest dolphin)

Lilly and Nellie (Blond dalphin and oldest dolphin)

I found information about some light gray dolphins but no other blonde dolphin data. As for other light colored dolphins, Carolina Snowball was a popular albino bottlenose dolphin who lived at the Miami Seaquarium in the early 1960s. In the entire world, there have only been 14 recorded sightings of albino bottlenose dolphins. The first recorded sighting was in 1962.

According to National Oceanography and Atmospheric Administration there have only been two documented sightings of wild albino dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico area. One was seen Little Lake near New Orleans, Louisiana in the summer of 1994 It was observed for just a short time with a small dolphin group and never seen again. The second was a young calf seen with a large group of 40 or more dolphins just south of Galveston, Texas in September 2003. There has also been a reported sighting of an albino calf in June 2007, at Calcasieu Lake in southwestern Louisiana. This baby was pinkish and photographs of it circulated on the internet.

The chances that either young calf survived are not good. The survival rate for ordinary colored dolphins is only 17% for a first time mother, rising to 48% to 60% for second time mothers and only dolphins born to a third time mother stand an 80% chance of surviving. The lighter coloration of a blonde or albino would lessen its chances as it would stand out more in the water allowing it to be picked off by sharks or other predators.

Lilly has reached the ripe old age of 50 years.She has spent 45 of those years at Marineland which accounts for her survival. Her poolmate, Nellie reached an astonishing 55 years old. 20 to 30 years is the average lifespan of a wild dauphin. Although she no longer performs, Nellie is quite a celebrity. She had a track record many humans would be proud of. She was a television star and preformed in Timex commercials in the 1960s. She was awarded and honorary master’s degree from Jacksonville University. That honor was bestowed on Nellie at her birthday celebration on February 27, 2008 by Dr. Kerry Romesburg, the university president. Nellie was toasted with a round of “Happy Birthday to You” sung by the crowds that gathered to help her celebrate. Nellie took it all in stride and even squirted out the candles on her ice and fish birthday cake. Maybe when Nellie reaches her 60th she will receive a doctorate. I guess then she will expect to be addressed by her trainers as “Dr. Nellie.”

Hello World

Yesterday was a typical August day in Florida day, steamy, temperature in the 90s and humidity through the roof. I spent most of it tromping around Saint Augustine Alligator Farm, a well know zoo here in Saint Augustine that specializes in reptiles, gathering information and helping my partner in sweat, Martin, take photographs.  I was also doing what I do on typical days, researching my newest book series, Wild About Florida. I already have the South Florida version out and am hard at work on the Central and North versions.

Some of you may not think visiting a zoo of any kind of hard work. Think again. Don’t get me wrong. It is fun also but when I do something like this I am concentrating on learning what I  need to make my book interesting and unique, looking for interesting items that are not already common knowledge or online at the touch of a computer key. I want to find the human interest (sometimes animal interest) in it as well as dry facts.

Boy did I hit the jackpot yesterday. The Alligator Farm is well known for its white alligators.  Looking at the two beautiful specimens that are placed in a prominent spot near the entrance, I began speculation on the “why” and “where” of white alligators.

One of the Allligator Farm's white alligators
One of the Allligator Farm’s white alligators.

I had seen some of these extraordinary reptiles before. When I visited New Orleans, my birthplace, researching an earlier book, Hosts With Ghosts, I saw two of the ghostly looking reptiles: one at the Aquarium of the Americas and one at the Audubon Zoo. Now growing up in Louisiana and living in Florida, I’ve seen my share of alligators in the wild. they are a little scary looking.  When I first saw a white alligator, my initial impression was “He looks just like white chocolate!”

In researching the south version, we visited the Palm Beach Zoo.  They had Mardi on display.  He is on loan from the Alligator Farm. I recently learned that Silver Springs now has two of these beauties.  I’ll have to get there and see those soon. Seeing these two in Saint Augustine  triggered the old reporter in me: why, where, when. What is the story behind these rare animals?

Well, I found parts of the story at the Alligator farm and then dug up the rest. Here is it.

First off, there are two distinct types of “white alligator:” albino alligators that lack melanin pigment so their eyes appear pink due to the blood vessels showing through and leucistic alligators which have white pigment and blue eyes. The ones in New Orleans are leucistic and the Alligator Farm ‘gators are albinos.According to National Geographic News, there are an estimated 5 million American alligators living worldwide but only 30 are known to be true albinos.

The albinos were first discovered by Gerald Savoie, a commercial alligator farmer and trapper in Cut Off , Louisiana.  In 1992, he was surprised to discover that some of the wild eggs he had gathered produced albino alligators.

The leucistic alligators were first discovered in 1987 also in Louisiana by workers of a now defunct company that owned much of the wetlands around Lousiiana.

Neither of these magical creatures would survive long in the wild. their lack of camouflage coloring would make them easy prey for predators. Also the albinos skin is sensitive to sunlight and exposure to the sun would kill them. So those alligators at the zoos are lucky to be alive. And according to the legend, that luck rubs off.  The story goes if you look a white alligator in the eye, you will have good luck.

Just be sure you have something between you and the ‘gator. The white ones have the same number of teeth as the regular ones.


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