We set out early in the morning from Albuquerque. The sunrise was beautiful, magenta clouds above us and sun rays over the foothills. Flying high over the surface of the Earth, I stared down at the fractal patterns crisscrossing the landscape below. The branching of river networks and the topography of the snow-capped mountains were mesmerizing. Dotted here and there were little clusters of circles – huge circular fields where crops would be grown in warmer months. We flew to Tampa via Baltimore… can’t really complain when the tickets are free. Maryland was icy. The lakes had jagged sheets across the surface and the trees were barren. We landed but had no time to explore outside. We had to find our way to our connection to warmer climes. It was not far, though the moving walkways were an amusement for the child, and we walked on many more than were necessary. As we took off into the sky for the second time that day, we passed through a heavy blanket of clouds and could not see the ground for most of the journey. I read a bit and wrote a bit, and took some pictures out the window, though couldn’t quite get the beautiful frost flowers on the outside to work with the composition. Soon, I saw the gulf coast, slinking off in the far distance and knew we must be getting close to our destination. There were gaps in the clouds now, looking like layers of skin, and smoke from fires below reached up in long plumes to mix with the clouds. The sky was reflecting off the many lakes and waterways and we landed in Tampa as the sun was setting.
The next day, we took buses across two counties to visit the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. The 100x took us across the long bridge over northern Tampa Bay, and we got off the third bus about a half a mile away from the museum. It was as close as we could get by bus, I suppose. We walked the neighborhood. There were some incredible murals and smaller scale artwork, and many of the buildings themselves were quite lovely. After walking along the waterfront for a bit, we arrived at The Dali. The ‘Enigma’ rose up before us like a giant glass blob, and we wandered around the outside a bit before entering in through the exit doors. Once situated and ticketed, we went to a brief storytelling, pipe-cleaner Dali-mustache making class, then went up the spiral staircase to look at the artwork. Luckily, there was also a Frida Kahlo exhibit up in one of the wings, so we got to take a look at some of her works in person. The entryway to her work was adorned with floor-to-ceiling flowers. I learned quite a bit about her life from the exhibition, and admired the rawness of many of her paintings and diary entries. After the Frida exhibit, we went over to the Dali wing. There were many amazing works there; many that I’d seen lots of times in print but never in person. I particularly enjoyed some of his earlier works, which looked nothing like the surrealist painting style he developed later, and the room of photographs showing Dali, Gala, and the collectors of his work that later made the museum collection possible, Mr. and Mrs. Morse. The portraits of Gala and Dali in their ‘bedroom’ were particularly entertaining. The couple had their bed moved to some cliffs along the coast of Spain, and lay in the bed waving at the camera. Quite a life. The child finished up with the exhibition before I did, so we moved out to the balcony within the glass dome and watched people pose for selfies. Everywhere. Selfie in front of the Frida flower wall. Selfie in front of the reflecting globe with flower-headdress. Adjust phone for optimal angle. Selfie with balcony and glass in background. Selfie with spiral stairs behind. Always the same practiced expression. What an interesting world we live in. A strange juxtaposition, to see the self-portraits of Kahlo and the selfie-obsessed visitors; self portraits on quite different ends of the creative spectrum.
After our fill in the museum, we went out into the gardens and I tied my admission bracelet onto the wish tree. It was covered in long garlands of multi-colored bracelets. We walked the labyrinth. Rather, I trotted along the white stone pathway trying to keep up with the child. The path circled around a small evergreen at the center, then you backtrack along, out again to the wish tree. A small, terraced garden was set up in honor of Frida, in the design of the Casa Azul gardens. We posed for pictures with the tree, the melting clock bench and the giant mustache sculpture before going back in to look at the gift shop. I decided I wasn’t going to buy anything, though the Dali painting leggings were pretty darn nifty. Still didn’t buy anything. We retraced our steps somewhat, getting back to the bus line, though we were hungry. I spotted an interesting looking brick building, and when we went to check it out, it turned out it was a restaurant, the Red Mesa Cantina, so we stopped for some food. I couldn’t finish my Cuban sandwich, so we packed it to take with us, but ended up forgetting it when I had a slight banana crisis and had to take everything out of my bag and wipe squished banana from the camera, and anything else that was inside the sack. The park where we paused was quite lovely, with Spanish moss hanging from the trees and a white egret prancing around with the child on the grass. It seemed to be home to many homeless folks, so I’m sure the forgotten sandwich was a blessing to someone. We eventually found the bus stop and waited in the sun for a while as we saw the bus just leaving as we arrived at the bench. When the next one came, we boarded and little dude fell asleep almost instantly. The large woman in a wheelchair directly across from us started talking to me, so I was answering her inquiries (“I hope to God that’s a little girl with hair like that.” “He’s a boy.”) until I started answering her and she gave me a look and the bus driver answered her instead, so I half listened to their conversation and the conversation Mike was having with the woman sitting behind him. The latter turned out to be quite comical, though I tried not to laugh, or at least to look away when I did. It involved answering the woman’s phone and telling the person calling that the lady was not there to take the call, that he didn’t know when she would be available, she’d just left her phone with him, etc. “I’m a lightning-rod for schizophrenics,” he tells me as we disembark at the transfer spot for the 100x. In all my planning for the trip, with lists and packing, unpacking, repacking, I’d forgotten extra memory cards for the cameras, and the one in the Nikon was the smallest, slowest card I have, so we walked into the shopping center to find some bandaids and memory cards. There was one of the big box office stores, so we went in and I found a couple larger cards, though they were still fairly slow, but I didn’t want to spend four times as much for the faster ones and figured I wouldn’t need faster ones for the trip anyway. We ended up talking with the cashier for a long time. An odd conversation about surveillance, old flip-phones, and conspiracy theories. By the time we edged out the door, we didn’t have time to get bandaids, so we went back to the bus stop. A man asked us if we were paying the bus fare in exact change – we were – and was frustrated that he couldn’t get change for his $5 bill. The bridge crossing was just before sunset, and the water in the bay was a beautiful blue tinged with pink on the crests of the waves. There were people swimming and fishing along the road, and lots of birds hanging around the water’s edge or diving in to catch fish. We got back to the hotel and ordered pizza and tried to do laundry at the facilities, though the soap dispenser was out, and we were told the best way to get soap would be to walk down to Walgreens and buy some. We ended up washing our clothes without soap. The pizza delivery guy turned out to be deaf and the fact that we thought it was so funny that we’d just seen a commercial for the pizza company as he knocked on the door was lost in un-translation.
The following morning, we were graced by a visit from my cousin, who lives an hour and a half away from Tampa, but this was about as close as we’d been for years, so she made the drive down to see us. We went to the Florida Aquarium, which impressed me greatly with its upstairs mangrove greenhouse with otters, stingrays, fish, and (many one-legged) birds, freely moving around the area. There were tunnels and caves with other sea creatures, a huge shark tank, a cute seahorse and sea dragon area, and an awesome kids zone, where you passed through sheets of mist with images projected onto them and there were all sorts of strange animals to look at, plus three Lego aquariums with shipwrecks, sharks, and kraken. We had lunch at a Thai restaurant (combo Japanese restaurant, which occupied the same open area in the building, but depending on what side you sat on, you’d be served from that particular menu – we accidentally sat on the Japanese side, so moved over to the Thai side, much to the dismay of the child, who decided that the corner at the table we first sat at was definitely the best in the entire place and was not thrilled to leave it) before heading out into the bay on a dolphin sight-seeing adventure. We did see quite a few wild dolphins. One larger group was hunting; another was a nursery group with a young dolphin swimming around with two older caretakers. I got a bunch of dorsal fin and tail shots, but the one time one of them actually fully jumped out of the water, I was on the other side of the boat. We joked that this must be like how we feel when someone gets excited about seeing cows on the side of the road in New Mexico, but it really was beautiful and peaceful to see wild dolphins relatively close up. We visited the mall – when in Tampa… - this mall had several bars and a huge kid play area in the middle, where we stayed for quite some time. Afterwards, we were dropped off at the hotel, upon which we took some goodbye photos and I revisited the conversations from the day for quite a while into the night. We walked down to Burger Monger, which turned out to be quite good, and carried back our food and floats to the room where I ate an enormous amount of fries and went to bed.
I awoke on the day of my birth and began to pack up our things, as today we were moving on – out onto the ocean on a huge ship. We packed up, and decided to try and take the bus down to the cruise terminal, as we’d not booked the hotel shuttle in advance and would have to wait hours for them to take us anyway, and no room to wait in. We hauled our stuff out – not much, really, considering the loads of suitcases we’d seen some of the other travelers bringing along with them – and walked up to the light to cross the street. We were almost run down by a man speeding through, making a right turn while talking on his cell phone. He had a sort-of panicked look on his face when he realized that there was a family in the crosswalk that he’d almost ran over, but continued driving anyway. We stared at his car as he drove away. We got across the streets – it was an odd intersection where we had to cross three times to get to the opposite side of the street – and got down to the bus stop. The bus came very soon, and Mike and the boy got on and sat down while I paid, and then asked if it was going to the cruise port. The driver said no, they were going the opposite way, so he gave us transfers and I herded my guys off the bus. Rather than die in the crosswalk, we decided to jaywalk – jayrun may be more appropriate – in the slight ebb in traffic flow and made it across the street to sit and wait at the bus stop going the other direction, ironically on the same side of the street as the hotel, so we risked our lives for nothing. I sat and thought about how sad it would be if we had ended up killed or in the hospital and not even needed to cross the street, but I suppose it would have been sad either way and am relieved that neither scenario played out. While we waited we saw two more very near accidents. People seemed to be in a very big rush on this Saturday morning. One woman tried to turn right from the left lane and cut off another car. They scraped only slightly, though it could have been much worse. The man driving the other car was irate. I’m pretty sure there would have been a fight had the other driver not been a woman. I started to feel less and less safe sitting on the side of the road and began sizing up the posts at the bus stop, strategically placing us behind the thickest one for maximum impact absorption. Mike had run down to the Publix while we waited the 30 minutes for the bus, he came back with some coconut water and juice and then our bus arrived. It was the same bus as we had tried to get on going the opposite way, just had made its loop around and was now heading the right direction. The driver looked annoyed, I laughed. He didn’t accept the transfer cards, just moved us back into the seats. I guess being a Saturday, the announcements for which stops were approaching were turned off, so we ended up missing our stop and got off at the next one. We had to walk quite a ways, and the kid decided he just couldn’t walk, so it was slow going, toting all our bags and the child. We walked by some decrepit parking lots with signs for ‘cruise parking’ and took a break on some benches along a busier road. We eventually made our way down to a bubble tea café and stopped to have some food and drinks. There was a massive blue baby shower in progress inside the small indoor seating area, so we sat outside and watched some musicians make a music video across the street in the bandstand. Food was slow to come out, and the one bathroom was almost in constant use. We finished up, then had to walk another half mile up to the terminal. There, we parked ourselves on one of the benches outside the aquarium (right next to the ship), and Mike went over to buy some flip flops at the Aussie store. When he came back, I was feeling like it was time to get checked in, so we headed over to the terminal entrance. All of the doors were closed, except for the one closest to the sidewalk. The guards hurried us over to the door, one looking at his watch. “It’s about ready to leave,” he said, though I knew we still had time. We got in and checked in with no line, almost the last ones on the ship. Our room was ready, so we went down and started unpacking before we went up to explore.