Among us baseball fans, Lakeland, Florida, is known for the charmingly-named Joker Marchant Stadium, the spring-training home of the Detroit Tigers. My visit revealed a slight tarnish to the facility due to its new official name, which is Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, after the supermarket chain. But as I learned, Publix is headquartered in Lakeland and a source of civic pride and employment, plus I’m sure their financial contribution paid for necessary improvements.
You have to dig a little online to learn about Marcus “Joker” Marchant, the reason being his legacy stadium garners more publicity than the man himself. Easy enough to find out is that he was the first director of Parks and Recreation for Lakeland, and he had the visionary idea (way back in the 1930s) of his city entering a long-term partnership with a major league baseball team. I also found a photo of the guy wearing a cowboy hat. He looks like the love child of Lyndon Johnson and Cal Worthington. Yet unanswered questions abound, mostly concerning that colorful nickname. Just what kinds of jokes did he play, and when, and on whom? Was his moniker earned as a child, teenager, or adult? Perhaps he performed one simple, foolish prank in his youth—a joy buzzer for the teacher, vegetable oil in the apple pie, fart balloons in the sofa cushions—and thus the Joker was born, masking an otherwise life of propriety.
I like that phrase, “otherwise life of propriety,” even though, or despite, the grammar being not quite there.
As I drive by the stadium, I wonder if I could pull off the masquerade of pretending to be employed in organized baseball. I am dressed for the part—cruise-ship shirt, khaki shorts, scruffy hair and Jewish nose, all topped by my Miami Marlins baseball cap. I could be a mid-level executive in town to scout some future talent for the team, or to negotiate a partnership between the Marlins and the Tigers, or to….well, I abandon this idea pretty quickly.
I am here to purchase a used car. Which I do not do, because the car in question strikes me as a piece of cheapness and trouble that I decide I neither need nor want. Eventually I buy a somewhat nicer car in Orlando for a little more than I was planning to pay.
Buying a used car in Florida is not for the faint of heart. Neither is the drive back to New England.
In Walterboro, South Carolina, I am in need of Internet access for an online meeting. My cell phone can act as a hotspot, but I have exhausted the allowable data for the month. I pull into the McDonald’s, but their Wifi proves as indigestible as the hamburgers. The truck stops, from experience, are charging $1.99 for access that is spotty at best. Starbucks is free, but none are nearby. What to do, what to do? Off in the distance I see a gazebo, nestled in a grassy strip by a Red Roof Inn. The time is 2:00 in the afternoon and the motels here are deserted, because the motels of Walterboro are supported by the itinerant motorists of Interstate 95. No one stays longer than one night at the Red Roof Inn of Walterboro.
I park myself at the picnic table in the gazebo, and sure enough my computer taps into some lovely, free-flowing Wifi from the motel, no password required. I conduct my meeting in near quiet and tranquility, and I sparkle with a few witty comments that the client appreciates.
Every now and then—success!
One of my (many) weaknesses is Waffle House, a chain of fast-and-cheap breakfast restaurants throughout the southeast. I say breakfast, but they also serve hamburgers and other lunchtime fare, and they’re open 24 hours. But I never order anything but waffles, with coffee, and a side of sausage patties.
At the Waffle House of Staunton, Virginia, I ask the waitress if I should order the single waffle or the double waffle.
“You can get whatever you want,” she replies.
The waitress behind her, whom I think is the senior of the pair, says to me, “You can get whatever you want.”
I look at them both.
“That’s the opposite message of the Rolling Stones song,” I tell them.
They chuckle a little, but I’m not convinced they get the reference.
The Rolling Stones, courtesy of a CD I bought at Scratch and Spin, a used CD emporium in Columbia, South Carolina, are the official musical act of my trip. When I listen to “Gimme Shelter,” I pay close attention to the gospel stylings of Merry Clayton, whom the producer called in at the last minute and at 10:00 PM, and she showed up in curlers and bedroom slippers. Her story of that night, which you can read elsewhere, has a tragic end with which she apparently came to terms over time. When I listen to “You Can’t Always Get You Want,” I think about the Minnesota legend of the title being spoken by a Rexall drug store clerk, known to all as Mr. Jimmy, to an irate and astounded customer, Mick Jagger, in town for a concert. I also wonder why Jagger pronounces “get” as “git”, a word that, according to Monty Python, is British slang for someone who is unpleasant or contemptible. When I listen to a song called “Country Honk,” I wonder what it’s doing on the album.
As I cross the Mason-Dixon Line, I ask myself if I have kicked my Waffle House habit. On these recent visits I am noticing that the mini tubs of butter that they serve with the waffles contains not actual butter, but some butter-like substitute that is neither properly named nor defined. Ditto the maple syrup. I find the coffee to be drinkable but ordinary, and better roasts are certainly available elsewhere. As for the waffles…
I think I can live the rest of my days sufficiently without Waffle House.
The rain starts falling in Pennsylvania, and continues for the rest of the drive home. On I-78 I am stuck in thick traffic, and its source is not an accident on my eastbound lanes but rubbernecking into the westbound. In fact, it is the worst accident I have ever seen, and I slow down like everyone else for a sobering gaze. Six tractor trailers have crashed into each other, one overturned, one jack-knifed, the others strewn about the highway, blocking all traffic. Police cars and giant tow trucks and fire engines and ambulances have congregated. And traffic is stopped behind for 7 miles (I counted them). And I count my blessings, too. And pay attention to the road as best I can.
If Florida didn’t exist, would we have to invent it? As a country, I think we need places like Congo River Miniature Golf, which advertises real alligators in the little moats that you putt over. We need long streets devoted, I mean completely devoted, to either health care facilities or RV lots. (See Lakeland Hills Boulevard and Highway 92, respectively, both in Lakeland). We need real estate so battered by hurricanes and neglect that their condemned little huts will fall down if you look at them the wrong way. We need beach resorts and strip malls and Disney World and roadside stands that give away a *free* glass of orange juice with your $25 purchase. We need the great, accomplished artists, philosophers, and political leaders that Florida has produced, men and women like….um…well, give me a minute here. I’ve got some names on the tip of my tongue…er…DAVE BARRY! MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS! JANET RENO!!! See, I knew I could do it.
That’s all I got for now. I’m safely back home, in case you were wondering.