We took this one in a parking lot we spent the night in. Fortunately we were there on a weekday, because the trespassers would probably be there on the weekend, when trespassing was not prohibited.

(for me) It’s easiest to move to our next location when there’s a carrot at the end of the stick. This time, it’s Tarpon Springs, along the East (Gulf) coast, home of Spongeorama (thanks, RoadsideAmerica.com) and the Sponge Docks. Before we could get there, Siesta Key beach called us in to take a look- so we did- all 67 feet of us. Remember that connected, the bus + van = 67 feet and handles like a semi truck with trailer. Backing up is not an option, and the van we’re towing will not tolerate rolling over curbs since the front tires are unsecured (they just follow along wherever they’re pulled). We headed straight for the beach, and our novice navigator TomTom pointed us straight for the mouth of the volcano.

[Turns out, this experience would just be getting us warmed up for the next week when we’d be passing through Bike Week in Leesville.] We didn’t have much choice once we became ensnarled in traffic that was destined for the beach on a weekend day. We foolishly did not unhook at any of a few wide shoulders we passed approaching the coast highway- we just thought we’d stay together and see the sights. Well, we did see the sights together, we blasted the truck horn in response to the ‘honk-your-big-rig-horn-signal’ (90 degree angle with your arm and pull down) from the college aged spring breakers a couple of times as we crawled along the heavily congested narrow roadways that provided no opportunity to even pull off and do some reconnaissance. We continued on along the highway until we were about 8 miles from the beach and parked this gypsy train at an empty college parking lot and unhooked. A quick online survey of the area revealed a nearby place that used to be the Monkey Farm, now the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary.

Although it kind of blends in with the turtles on his shirt, Henry's got a gator in hand!

They were scheduled to close at 4, so we hustled in and negotiated a reasonable price for our family to browse the animals in the heat of the day. With admission we received a few bags of snacks- a blend of dry dog food-looking chow, animal crackers and other tidbits to throw to the animals. This brought short lived excitement to the group until we discovered that everyone before us had also tossed the snacks into the cages, and being late in the day we didn’t even get a sideways glance from most of the residents. Of special Hollywood interest was Cheetah – one of the hairy chimpanzee stars of the early Tarzan movies. Still living, but possibly near the end of his time on earth, he showed some spunk as the volunteer chatted with him while she cleaned his cage out. At this location, we had our first opportunity to hold a juvenile alligator. Fortunately the scotch tape wrapped around his mouth was sufficient to prevent any human injuries as he was passed around the group to be held.

The heat was talking as we forced the poor little ones into this photo opportunity before we started our Greek lunch in Tarpon Springs.

We holed up for the night at Staples and set out for Tarpon Springs the next morning short 3 older family members that needed some quiet time. Wow! It is different having just 4 kids. We poked our heads into many of the shops, enjoyed a brief visit with the Dolphin Gift Shop owner amid his 70’s era shop complete with original hand lettered signs (very nice) and a dramatic sign spectacular on the roof. We left town with a Dolphin fishing shirt, and fudge that “wouldn’t melt in the sun” that was allegedly from an Amish recipe over 100 years old…. Our next scheduled event was to hook up with Kelly’s old HS friend and her family in Inverness, so we set out for the slightly inland community of Inverness, to the North. The Weeki Wacki Mermaids were naturally very interesting to me- having been an old roadside attraction and now a slightly aged, historically accurate attraction run by the state, until we had a bit of a falling out about what we should do next (see previous post: “It’s Hard”). We therefore headed straight for any open space at our final destination, contemplating the future of our trip along the way. It is very nice to have an ever changing front seat passenger on multi hour drives, which gives a lot of different perspectives. I get to feeling like a barber must feel, as he listens to a different voice in the same chair over time long and short term.

Don't you worry about us! For entertainment on slow days we can always step outside and feed the birds. One bird turned into about 50 within just a few minutes.