I flew to Florida a couple of weekends ago to see my boys. It was a quick trip, out Friday morning, back Sunday night.
Bret is 50 and Bart is 48, but they always will be my “boys.” Our gatherings can be hazardous to my health. You’ve heard the term “die laughing.”
I brushed a laughing-induced death this visit. Bret drove me by his apartment, where I suffered the first serious gasping attack of my trip.
When I walked into his place, the first thing I noticed was a fully decorated Christmas tree. I mentioned it looked like he’d gotten the spirit pretty early. It wasn’t early. It’s a prior year’s tree he never bothered to take down!
And it’s a real tree, not plastic, and amazingly still looks life-like in an “Egyptian” sort of way. Think how history would’ve altered had ancients learned they didn’t need cloth bindings and fluids for preservation.
Based upon Bret’s ground-breaking experiment demonstrating mummification powers of Christmas decorations, they could’ve wrapped Tutankhamun with tinsel, hung on some glass balls and propped him in a corner for all the ages.
We drove over to Bart’s shop. He has an air-conditioning business there in Bradenton and has put together a colorful organization, not unlike the TV show “Taxi,” although he’s definitely no Danny DeVito runt.
I enjoyed watching Bart direct his cast of characters. His logo is a bee but his clients never get stung so he’s built a good business. Additionally his shop reflects our Gardner comfort and simplicity genes.
I’m always happy see the boys but the catalyst for this visit was a poker tournament at the Hard Rock Casino. Saturday morning we headed over the Skyway Bridge into Tampa.
On the way, Bret mentioned that I might find this casino a bit lacking in the customer service and attitude departments. He claimed since the Hard Rock has a tribal monopoly on casino gaming in the area, they didn’t need to compete and it reflected in their operating vibes.
I figured the place was probably like all other Harrah’s properties. I was wrong. When I approached the counter to register for the tournament I felt like I did trying to get license plates decades ago. Back then I almost self-combusted under the weight of clerical disinterest. Flashback!
Finally, by waving a hand and making a couple of weird sounds I got noticed by a clerk who almost spoke English. All in all, it took me about 15 minutes to register for the tournament plus time waiting to get my drivers’ license back from the lady who’d forgotten she had it.
I wasn’t very impressed with the Hard Rock, but being the only casino allowed in Tampa, it’s clearly their way or the highway. That’s surely no new concept this year.
After the tournament, we headed to Derby Lane in St. Petersburg. It’s a dog track and poker room.
I won a little at the tables and thoroughly enjoyed waxing nostalgic recalling when Morehead City had pari-mutuel dog racing. Those are some days well worth remembering.
Otis Gardner’s column appears here weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.