Category Archives: 2021: St. Pete Beach

We All Have Front-Row Seats in the Short Attention Span Theater

Outbound, a few miles from Farmville.

Wednesday, Oct. 6 | Day 1: We make our second gas stop of the day south of Farmville, Virginia, at a quiet, rather forlorn Exxon station1 on U.S. 15. I’m thinking Farmville – sounds like it’s within hollerin’ distance of Mayberry in “The Andy Griffith Show” as we shut down.

We’ve come a scant 160 miles so far, keeping to old U.S. highways and county roads as the mission navigator2 planned. The pace is slower and the views are more rewarding. Farmville itself is interesting, as is Longwood University. We’ve hit rain but the bikes are running fine.

We were in rainsuits for the first two days.

I pay for gas at the pump and move Terra Nova and Linda’s Vespa in front of a blocked-off garage. Inside the store, I fetch the obligatory bottles of Mountain Dew (original) and Diet Dr Pepper for the flight crew3.

Mountain Dew and Diet Dr Pepper: Not an official, or even unofficial, sponsor.

Coming out, I glance through the garage doors, noting how both bays are empty of tools and relegated to storage. And that’s when I notice the pink sign, taped to the inside of the glass.

The sign in the garage window.

Rapid REVIVE! Training it says, and asks if its readers are interested in learning how to save lives. It lists free 10-minute training courses in the area, including one at Granny B’s Market on Abilene Road in Farmville.

The courses are sponsored by the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, according to the pink paper.

I just sorta stand there and read it, marveling at:

(1) Its rather cheery presentation, looking like a flyer promoting a garage sale (FREE Walk Up – 10 minute – REVIVE! Training) and its matter-of-fact tone (Are you a friend or family member of someone who uses opioids?)

The TV ad.

Not to mention use of the exclamation mark (!) and the REVIVE! program’s unfortunate harmonic proximity to the dopey “Revive with Vivaran” commercials, which advocated consumption of caffeine pills.

(2) My own inexcusable ignorance of the depth of the opioid crisis. I’m aware of the public health emergency declared in 2017 by the Department of Health and Human Services, and the number of deaths, and the lawsuits filed, and the Sackler family getting immunity from lawsuits.

But I didn’t know how far we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, that it was this bad, to the point where ordinary people are publicly encouraged to get schooled in recognizing opioid overdoses in friends and family members and administering naloxone. And that they’re learning this with quick classes in places like Granny B’s Market4.

A few statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services.

I can’t even begin to imagine what life is like for folks who have to know this, who are aware someone they love could die by overdose.

They take classes and keep Narcan close by and carry on. They may not have a choice, but they have a strength I will never know.

And then there are those unsung heroes on the front lines, preparing and teaching those classes, and distributing thousands of flyers in county after county.

Weeks later, after we return home, I take a basic online class from the Virginia health department and receive a 4 mg dose of Narcan and a pencil-case-sized pouch of overdose emergency supplies. I’ve started carrying them when we’re out and about. God knows if/when I’ll ever need to use them, but they’re there.

It came in the mail.

The thing is, it seems most of the nation has moved on from opioids and is now dealing with the pandemic, and Jan. 6, and the upcoming mid-term elections, and shouting matches over vaccinations, and everything else. We’re just not paying attention anymore. Maybe we’re just not capable.

Our short attention span lets us overlook the pink REVIVE! notices, even those fortified with bold type, capital letters and exclamatory punctuation.

But on the roads ahead, in dusty windows across rural America5, the flyers are still out there. And so are friends and family members and opioids.


1 – I shouldn’t be so judgmental. We were on Farmville Road, in a rural area, and the two garages hinted at ghosts of busy mechanics keeping cars on the road. And look at the triangular awning over the front of the station, on the left – jaunty and daring enough to suggest its designer was a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright.

2 – That would be Linda, of course.

3 – That would be us. Mountain Dew seems to fuel most of my rides these days, I’m afraid.

4 – Where the fried chicken gets rave reviews from Yelp commentators.

5 – And in Washington, D.C. (and no doubt elsewhere) as this article from the Washington Post shows – 10 overdoses with three fatalities in a single day.

Not Necessarily Haunted, but: Ghost Buildings Along the Road That Would be Perfect in a Ray Bradbury or John Steinbeck Story

Abandoned gas station in Georgia.

Friday, Oct. 8 | Day 3: We took leisurely passage to St. Pete this time, mostly on old U.S. highways or county roads, making it a slower, tramp-steamer-type of motorcycle ride instead of a supersonic rush down the interstate.

I was surprised the pumps hadn’t been taken for someone’s petroliana collection.

It was better for Linda’s Vespa and my Yamaha1. The reward was scenic views, small towns, and a number of abandoned buildings – old gas stations, motels, diners, and other places ­– that were fascinating and depressing, in a scary story or science fictiony way.

The Interstate truck stop on U.S. 301 in Ulmer, South Carolina, was our first discovery (on Day 3).

The ghost town/ghost story comparison is inevitable, I suppose, though none of these really felt haunted. They were much more understated, like the John Steinbeck story, “The Cottage That Wasn’t There,” written and serialized in the New York Herald Tribune in 1943, during World War II2.

But walking into some of these places (taking nothing but photos) and seeing the rain damage, damp floors and mold also reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s 1950 short story, “The Long Rain,” in which four men crash-land on Venus, a planet of eternal rain, and try to get to safety3.

The roadside sign you can’t miss. It turned out the gas station across the street was abandoned, too.

We’re talking about buildings that used to be popular, once upon a time; you could envision them as set players in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road or part of the background in American Graffiti.

Stopping at these places wasn’t part of the mission profile, but that changed as I realized how many were there and how interesting they were.

I confess to breaking (to Linda’s exasperation) our ride protocol4 by simply pulling over and pulling out a camera whenever I saw something of note.

Out back at the Interstate.

Some reminded me of ghost towns we visited when living in Nevada:

I don’t know why such places attract me. Part of it is history, I reckon; I wonder about the people who worked and visited there, and what led to the abandonment. And whether the businesses and livelihoods could have been saved.

This was the Horne’s in Lawtey.

Take the derelict Horne’s restaurant/souvenir shop in Lawtey, Florida, for example. It appears as though the owners simply walked away from it, leaving counters and shelves stuffed with items, very much as the things left behind in Bodie long ago.

Items left behind at Horne’s.
Interior of schoolhouse in ghost town of Bodie, California.

The Interstate truck stop in Ulmer, South Carolina, must have been a thriving business until the construction of I-95 killed it.

Grass is reclaiming the parking lot.
Ray’s Place. The other side of the sign said (in faded letters) “The sweetest place to stop.”

And Ray’s Place in Sylvania, Georgia, looked like it was a nice place, way back when.

This BP station in Virginia must’ve closed fairly recently.

There were no spooky incidents to report, only silent rooms and broken windows and dripping rain.

I do wonder what we’d have done if we’d filled up at a strange little gas station and later met someone down the road (probably an ancient, wizened gentleman with hair longer and whiter than mine) who’d say:

“Oh, no, you couldn’t possibly have bought anything there. That place closed down years ago.”

Vespa Sei Giorni GTV, left, and Linda’s Vespa GTS.

1 – Sometimes I regret not taking my Vespa Sei Giorni instead of the Yamaha Super Tenere, though carrying all our stuff was easier. I’ll attempt to pack lighter for the GTV next time, definitely.

2 – A story that grabs the reader unexpectedly; during WWII, a British sergeant tells Steinbeck of walking at night in England from one outpost to another and seeing a house with its lights on and a little old lady inside.

He’s charmed by the scene and reaches his destination without incident but starts thinking of how the house should have blackout curtains since it’s wartime. It slowly dawns on him that the cottage isn’t actually there – it had been bombed by the Germans months earlier with only its walls left standing.

The story is in Steinbeck’s book, “Once There Was a War,” published in 1958.

The moss on the floor and holes in the roof of Ray’s Place reminded me of a wrecked Sun Dome.

3 – They’re trying to reach something called a Sun Dome, a structure with an artificial sun. The first one they find has been attacked and destroyed by indigenous Venusians, who punch holes in the roof to let in the never-ending rain. We saw a lot of rain damage ourselves.

The interior of the Interstate truck stop invited another Sun Dome comparison.

The story was part of the collection in “The Illustrated Man,” published in 1951 and “R is for Rocket,” in 1962.

“I don’t suppose we can plug up all those holes and get snug here.”

4 – That’s the duty of stopping with notice to your riding partner. Linda sometimes didn’t realize what I was doing until I dropped out of her mirrors and she was forced to turn around to look for me.

Exterior wall braces are often used to arrest decay. These are in Bodie.

5 – Arrested decay is a practice of preserving, not repairing, buildings by preventing them from falling apart with outside braces or other means.

‘We Seem to Have Reached the Age Where Life Stops Giving Us Things and Starts Taking Them Away’

“Brutal couple of years, huh, Charlie? First Dad, then Marcus.”

– Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones1

Saturday, Oct. 16 | Day 11: We bought the flowers, as usual, at the Publix supermarket in Dade City, though this time we carried them aboard Terra Nova to the cemetery down the street.

Flight-wise, our ride to St. Pete Beach, Florida, was much better this year than last. No U-Hauls were needed. We had no mechanical problems, other than a nail in a tire on the return route. More on that later.

Bungeed to Terra Nova’s rear rack.

On the road, there was plenty of time for reluctant reflection (inside my helmet) on 2021 as a year of loss, of both people and places.

My father died of COVID on Jan. 23 and my beloved Aunt Jo of the same on June 12.

And then there was Cyril Kúdela, the Eastern European cousin of my father and Aunt Jo, who died April 29 in Piestany, Slovakia2. Incredibly, he and Aunt Jo wrote each other throughout the Cold War, letters that kept the Petras family connected over decades.

Cyril, on his CZ Jawa motorcycle, with his two daughters Iva and Kamila.

And wise and kind-hearted Bob Russ, a colleague and old friend from my days at the Sandusky Register, died Jan. 23, the same day as my father. He was only 63.

On Linda’s side, Rich Stapin, the husband of her cousin Pat, died Oct. 5.

Our family house in Bedford Heights, Ohio, which my parents bought in 1959, was sold Oct. 12; I’ll never again step foot inside my childhood home.

The house on Eldridge Boulevard in Bedford Heights.

The sale was finalized and proceeds transferred while we were in Florida.

Which explains the necessity of our four visits to Regions bank in South Pasadena, Florida, thanks to miscommunication among Ohio attorneys and title company. Folks here at the bank were super-nice and extraordinarily helpful, especially Nicole.

We parked the bikes in Floral Memory Gardens, trimmed the grass around the headstone, and put flowers in the vase, as we did the year before, and for nearly a dozen years before that.

Emphasis on purple, her favorite.

And, after visiting the cemetery, we found the lot on Bahia Drive in Zephyrhills, Florida, where my grandparents moved in 1963, has a new mobile home on it, owned by strangers.

The lot stood empty after the original house was condemned and torn down a few years ago.

Linda and I had discussed buying the house at one point, but it wasn’t feasible. The owner abandoned it after taking out too many loans he was unable to repay and everything was locked up in legal disputes that continued until the demolition. Another childhood place gone.

The new house on the former site of my grandparents’ home.

We ended the Zephyrhills house-and-memorial-park duty by stopping for ice cream at Dave’s Treats3, the old Twistee Treat4 on Route 54, not far from my grandparents’ former place.

It’s a comforting part of the Zephyrhills ritual.

Time keeps moving but I still don’t know how to deal with loss. I think the only thing left to us is to remember and respect who and what we’ve lost, and to remind those still here that we love them.

And to be aware of what time we ourselves have left, keep moving forward, and live as fully as we can, with few regrets as possible.

Marlene and Linda, during her visit to Washington. We enjoyed showing her the District.

I was thinking of all this (inside my helmet) and I got a text the very next day, Oct. 17, from my cousin Joey that my wonderful cousin Marlene had died.

Marlene was truly a special person and I always enjoyed her wisdom, her outlook on life, and her company.

I last saw her in Cleveland on July 13 and was aware of her medical problems but I did not know how bad they were. Life is ruthlessly taking things away.

1 – The title of this report is from “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008). I don’t remember much about the movie but I’ll never forget that line, spoken by actor Jim Broadbent. It rings so true.

2 – The two sections of the family probably would not have known of the other’s existence had it not been for those letters. And Linda and I (and Aunt Jo) wouldn’t have traveled to Slovakia in 2006, our first of three visits.

Drahovce, Slovakia, 2006: Linda, Cyril, Aunt Jo, and Cyril’s grandchildren Linda and Ivo.

It was so good to see Jo and Cyril meet in person at last. We were on the side of the angels that day.

I’ve written about Cyril a few times; I admired him and though we visited him and his family three times, I will always regret not being able to know him better.

3 – The cone-shaped building is irresistible. And the ice cream there is always good.

4 – The buildings are 25 feet tall, according to the company website. They’ve been around since 1983, apparently.

And finally: In the top photo (from a wall in my workshop here at Starbase 8) that’s Dad and my brother Rob with Endurance at the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio. We’d gone there in the early 2000s to look at Indian motorcycles. On the left is Van Dale Yasek, the father of my best friend Van. Cyril, of course, is there, too.