Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oysters with Joel and Cesily

Six Very Large Gulf Oysters, originally uploaded by zuctronic.

Whenever I start planning a trip anywhere, I use tripit to keep track of my itinerary. I can check on addresses, phone numbers, directions, and other information from my mobile phone and it keeps everything in one convenient place. It also tracks how many miles I've traveled and can easily parse the emails from travel websites for details. All I have to do is email my itineraries to them, and they automatically turn them into TripIt itineraries.

When I booked my trip to Sarasota, TripIt informed me that my friend Joel would be on the Gulf Coast in Florida that very same week! This was an amazing and fortuitous coincidence because it had been ages since I'd been able to grab lunch with Joel. He just happened to be there enjoying "spring break" with his family. I've known Joel and his wife Cesily since 1996 when I worked at Office Depot in Milwaukee!

I've been pestering Joel for ages to give raw oysters a try. He respectfully waited until he had a chance to try them with me, so we chose a place in Venice, Florida named Markers IV, an oyster bar. The place was a pretty standard beer and oysters sort of place, not too fancy. It was perfect and the weather was again extremely pleasant for us.

We ordered a half dozen and when they came out I was shocked to see the size of these monsters. Two of them were the size of my fist! They were VERY tasty! I got a video of Joel sucking down his very first oyster. Immediately after he ate it he declared, "Actually, that's not bad!" and proceeded to have seconds and thirds.

During our lunch, Cesily mentioned that she had been watching Cash & Treasure on the Travel Channel earlier that day. They were talking about finding shark teeth in Sarasota Bay right off the coast from Venice. Then she recognized that we were coincidentally sitting right next to the boat that was used in the episode she was watching. When we left the restaurant, we noticed a shop next door selling shark teeth. The very same woman who was featured in the episode of Cash and Treasure was running the shop! Cesily mentioned to her that she was on TV that morning and she said, "Oh they're still showing that?"

Joel and Ces recommended that I check out Siesta Key on my way back, especially to see Siesta Beach. So I punched it into the GPS and started to head back.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cà d'Zan

Cà d'Zan, originally uploaded by zuctronic.

On the Gulf shore of Sarasota, Florida, a wealthy magnate of America's gilded age built a mansion in the Venetian style overlooking Sarasota Bay. The view from this site reminded the owner, John Nicholas Ringling, of the lagoon in Venice. This winter home of John and Mable Ringling embodies the expression, "They don't make them like they used to."

John Nicholas Ringling built his fortune from the most unlikely business. Born in Iowa to German immigrants, the five Ringling Brothers started their show in 1870, when John was just 4 years old. They began by charging a penny for admission to "The Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals" This ultimately became the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. By 1926, all of the Ringling brothers had died except John, leaving him the empire.

The Ringling Brothers' circus, the Cà d'Zan, and much of the architecture around Sarasota are from a time when the future was coming on fast. The Chicago Fire in 1871 and the equine influenza epidemic of 1872 (remember everything was horse-driven then) helped trigger a series of global economic crises, beginning with the Panic of 1873. What better way to distract the public from their money woes than a trip to The Greatest Show on Earth? John's circus travels took him around the Victorian world and he started to collect artworks from his travels. By 1929, John had purchased the American Circus Corporation, making him owner of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and every other traveling circus in America.

In 1909 at 43, old John had lived in the colder climes long enough to know that winter is no pleasant affair, so he and his wife Mable began spending their winters in Sarasota, Florida. In 1924 he commissioned the 30-room mansion that he called the Cà d'Zan, which translates roughly to The House of John in Venetian. It was completed by 1926, just in time for the collapse of the Florida real estate market.

In 1927, John moved the winter headquarters of the circus to Sarasota so he no longer had any reason to bundle up for the season. The writing was on the wall for America's economy, though. Bank failures were beginning to lead the country toward the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. The crash and subsequent depression cleaned poor John out. He was able to keep his home and his art collection, but he lost his fortune. His wife, Mable, died in June 1929 and in 1932 he was voted out of control of his own business. John died on December 2, 1936 in New York City. He left his home, his art museum, and his entire art collection to the state of Florida.

Who knew the Circus could be so lucrative? Well, I guess I could have known if I'd given it any thought before visiting this place. John and Mable had a good thing going here and I'm glad to be able to witness what's left of his dream. It isn't difficult to imagine the tink tink of silver on fine porcelain or the laughter of wealthy guests being entertained by the Ringlings. These ghosts are all that are left of an era marked by extravagance and luxury. Mr. and Mrs. Ringling, I wish I could have been there.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Just Married!

Just Married!, originally uploaded by zuctronic.

I'll keep posting about the classic cars, but I want to break up the monotony a little as well, so we'll move on to the wedding... my next activity for the day.

The weather couldn't have been better for Kevin and Kristin's Big Day. I drove over to the hotel where Kevin and his family and the groomsmen were all staying. Everyone was nervous and worrying about the bow ties. Nobody was quite sure how they were supposed to be tied! We managed to get through it after Kevin learned by watching a video online.

I was recruited to be an usher, but I wasn't at the rehearsal.. so this was going to be slightly tricky. I drove to the Cà d'Zan and found a few people there. They had a cellist playing classical music and the chairs were set up on the lawn. When the limo arrived, I sorted out what they needed me to do. First I lit the candles, then I walked Kevin's mom to her seat, then Kristin's mom, then I sat down.

Everyone involved in the wedding looked absolutely their best. Amanda and Liz (Maid of honor and bridesmaid) looked stunning. The sun was up when the wedding started and it set while we ate dinner on the terrace. The venue was ideal, the view of Sarasota Bay and the sound of the water made it a perfect night. I spent a lot of time taking photos of the mansion and the grounds while the professional photographer shot up the wedding party.

For dinner there was a choice between beef and cornish hen. I had Kevin choose for me, because they both looked pretty good. He apparently chose the cornish hen, it was excellent. Deboned and stuffed with wild rice and served with a cranberry sauce, I ate the entire meal!

Afterward, we danced and then went to the Ritz Carlton where Kevin and Kristin would spend their first night together. The Ritz is an amazing hotel!! I took a few pictures from the terrace. We had a few drinks there and then I headed back to my hotel room after an exhausting day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

John Lennon

John Lennon, originally uploaded by zuctronic.
The Sarasota Classic Car museum had a few of John Lennon's cars on display. First up is the 1956 Bentley SI that John Lennon had custom painted for the Beatles.

John Lennon Designed Psychedelic Bentley

This Bentley was acquired by John Lennon and the Beatles' "Apple Corp". It was painted at John Lennon's supervision by the same firm that painted the front of the Boutique Building in 1967, at the height of the "psychedelic era". This Bentley was often parked in front of "The Apple Tailoring Boutique", owned by Beatles Apple Corp., on Kings Road in London. Lennon was known to frequent the 'after hours' clubs in this Bentley and along with other Rock-n-Roll celebrities of the day, including Jimi Hendrix, and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.
They also had a couple of John Lennon's personal Mercedes on display. First was his 1965 Mercedes 230SI:

John Lennon's Mercedes

This 1965 Mercedes Benz 230SL was the personal car of John Lennon, a member of the Beatles. The car was ordered through a British dealer, who delivered the car. It is equipped with right-hand steering and modifications to suit British laws. Lennon asked for an automatic transmission. Although not often fitted, his request was honored and the car was so equipped. In the rear seat, you may see an enlarged copy of the registration bearing Lennon's name and address. Although some 20,000 cars of this type were built, this one is unique.
And finally they had on display John Lennon's last car... his 1979 Mercedes-Benz 300TD.

John Lennon's Last Vehicle
1979 Mercedes-Benz 300TD

Manufactured by: Daimler-Benz AG
Place: Stuttgart, Germany
Production: N/A
Body: steel unibody--Daimler-Benz
Chassis: wh.base: 110 in.; lgth: 190.9 in.; wt.: 3635 lbs.
Engine: water-cooled I-5, SOHC
Disp./Power: 183.4 cu. in. / 110 h.p.
Suspension: Front-independent, coil springs
Rear independent swing axles, coil springs
Transmission: automatic to rear axle

The introduction of a turbochrager on the three liter diesel improved the performance. The wagon was introduced in early 1979, and featured an automatic rear load leveler. The sliding roof was standard on the wagon. Although owned by a celebrity, the wagon is completely stock with few options or accessories, the alloy wheels being the only obvious one.

Cost new: $23,900
Poor John only got to drive this car for a year before some jerk shot him in New York. They had a news story posted from the day he was killed:


Former Beatle JOHN LENNON Was Today Shot & Killed Outside His Manhattan Apt. Sources Said a Lone Gunman Fired Several Bullets Into Lennon's Chest, Causing Immediate Death. No Further Information is Available at This Time