Though I’ve been to Florida many, many times in my life, I’ve seldom been to the west coast of the state. So, I figured I might as well spend some time out here to get to know the area. Boy, am I glad I did. So much to see and do here – it was a terrific, and fast paced 4 weeks. I’ve certainly learned that time flies when you are retired and traveling around the country having fun!
So, after only having been in Fort Myers for a day, I was summoned to return to Fort Pierce on the east coast to participate in the tournament known as the “Patte-De-Table”. I was called to fill in for my uncle Ray who was not able to attend as planned. This event is a full weekend long series of the card game “63”, where the 1st and 2nd place winners receive monetary rewards, and the last place finisher goes home with the trophy – a Patte-De-Table, or literally the leg of a table. While the game has been played within my family, aunts, uncles, and cousins seemingly forever, the official tournament, complete with trophy, began in 1976. Since then, there have been 21 official tournaments and ultimate awardees of the trophy – the recipients of which have been emblazon upon the brass plates at the trophies base. This year, my brother Don and I came in 1st and 2nd place respectively, while my uncle George was the table leg recipient. My cousin Celesta, who has proudly held and displayed the trophy since her loss in 2015, was thrilled that it would not be returning home with her. My other brother Dick who, like me was a tournament virgin, thought for sure the trophy would be going home with him. Luckily, that would not be the case. It was an absolutely fun weekend, and I was happy that I could participate. Much thanks to my brother Don and my cousin Louise for hosting this terrific event.
Now back on the west coast, I was able to connect with friends and family. I was happy to host my friend Susan (who I had visited recently in her hometown of Pembroke Pines on the Florida east coast) for a day of inspiration and reflection as she came out to visit me to learn more about my RV life and travel lifestyle. I showed her my abode, and we walked around the RV Park to learn about the other styles and benefits of other RV types. We then went out for a great lunch, then chatted more about the lifestyle. I’m thinking she may very well be joining us full-timers when her time is right. I sure hope so! I also hosted my aunt Evelyn and uncle George here at the RV. They stopped by for lunch when they were in the area to go to a Red Sox training camp game. It was real nice to have seen and caught up with them. My brother Don came out to the west and he and I went to visit and spend the day with my aunt Marge and uncle Ray. They have been avid campers and semi-full timers themselves back in the day, so they have a perfect appreciation for what this lifestyle is all about. In fact, they had many stories to share of their adventures out on the road. Truly wonderful to get to see them. Lastly, there were dinners on the east coast with family during the card tournament. It was great to have some downtime to spend time and catch up with aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, in-laws, and other extended family.
Touring The West Coast
There is a lot to see and do in the Fort Myers area. One of my day ventures was to visit the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Situated on the shores of the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, both Ford and Edison enjoyed their winter retreats. Edison established his domicile first, while Ford, a friend and admirer of Edison, would later build right next door. There were tons of facts and interesting anecdotes that I learned during the tour – way to many to share here. However, one that I found particularly interesting was the fact that Edison, being 90% deaf, would often times become bored at dinner parties since he could not hear to participate in the conversation. Though he had dinner bells at his left at the table that he could use to summon the dinner service, he also had a hidden little button under the table on his right that would secretly alert his staff that it was time for dinner. He would use this when he wanted to disrupt the conversation and move dinner along. Too funny!
The Ford estate was very nice, with beautiful landscaping. One of the interesting trees in his back yard was a Brown Woolly Fig – whose many surface roots only penetrate the ground by a few inches. It was noted that Ford only spent about two weeks a year at the home – usually only to join in celebrating Edison’s birthday.
We all learned Edison was a prolific inventor – having achieved over 1,000 patents worldwide. While he no longer holds the record for the most number of patents by an individual, he does still hold the record for longest run for achieving patents – he got his first patent in 1868 at the age of 21, and extended his patent run through 1933 giving him a patent span of 65 years. Amazing!
During his time in Fort Myers, one of his pet projects was to develop a method to create natural rubber. At the time, most of our rubber was imported, and many feared the wars would impact our ability to get much needed rubber. He maintained a full laboratory at his winter estate, and had a vast garden of plants and trees from all over the world that he used in his research. He was eventually successful in creating rubber from the Goldenrod plant using a form of vulcanization. However, mass production was impractical using this method. But, the lessons learned from his vulcanization process are still used today.
Lastly, the Banyan tree located just outside Edison’s laboratory is the largest of its kind in the continental United States. The tree (pictured at right – top right) was given to Edison in 1925 by Harvey Firestone. At the time, it was a mere four feet tall. Today, it stands 62 feet tall, is 32 feet wide, and its canopy covers upwards of 3/4 of an acre.
My next adventure took me to the town of Naples, FL. I took an early morning Segway tour of the town, then spent the rest of the day visiting places of interest. The gulf coast offers beautiful white sandy beaches, and crystal blue water. Absolutely gorgeous! After visiting the Naples Peer and City Dock, I wandered into town to an area called Tin City. This is several metal sided buildings with a collection of very cool eclectic shops inside.
Next, I payed a visit to the Naples Botanical Garden – an exquisite 170-acre tropical paradise. With three lakes and several gardens deigned by world renowned landscape architects, this place is breathtaking. In addition to all the terrific gardens, I observed lots of wildlife including gators, egrets, and even a hawk flying away with a fish that it had just captured from the water. So beautiful!
Lastly, I spent the better part of a day touring around Sanibel and Captiva islands. These barrier islands are accessible via a causeway that was built in the early 1960s – replacing the ferry as the means of access. Again, beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue waters line its’ shores. These islands are known for the vast quantity and quality of sea shells that roll up on shore – making this a popular destination for shell gathering.
In fact, so well know for its shells that it is home to the National Shell Museum. This museum was amazing, with a massive collection of shells of all types and sizes from all over the world. It included shells that were carved into a cameo, and a beautiful flower arrangement made totally of shells. Truly amazing!
I’m really glad I spent some time exploring the Florida west coast. Certainly lots to see, and even lots of places to enjoy dinner out. In fact, I discovered two of my favorite restaurants in the area – ones that I’ve not been to in many years. First, there was Sweet Tomatoes – a salad bar buffet type of restaurant that I was first introduced to back in 2013 when I was working in Utah. I’ve not seen nor been to one of these since. It’s kinda funny that I actually thought this was a local Utah only chain, but later found out it was started in California, and has grown to several states. Even funnier, the one that I went to in Utah is now closed – go figure! The other restaurant find was Cheeseburger Cheeseburger. I used to get to one of these on occasion back when I lived in Maryland. It closed many, many years ago, and I’ve not seen one since. Figured the entire chain had gone bust. But behold, I ran into one at an outlet mall in the area. Not only do they have great burgers, but their milk shakes are some of the best I’ve had. So, from a food perspective, this was a successful trip!
I’ve left Fort Myers, now working my way to Panama City Beach. I’ve got a brief pitstop along the way, and plan to be in the panhandle by the 10th of April. Will keep you posted with my adventures. Till then, safe travels!