Frank & JR USA Expedition 1993
On 13 June, I, Frank Gould, took time off from my AT&T/NCR career for a four month Leave of Absence from the Multimedia Business Unit in Naperville, Illinois, and to relocate my residence back home in Orlando, Florida. My good friend Richard Crocker came from Columbus, Georgia to help me move.
From 20 June until 26 June, I stayed in the South Florida area donating my time to Habitat for Humanity building homes for victims of hurricane Andrew. Below are pictures of the devastating damage to forests and commercial buildings. Power was still out in many areas while I was there.
Many housing sites had been donated by South Florida landowners to Habitat. Ironically, I was assigned to repair homes at Gould’s Field. I worked with several volunteer church groups, corporate groups, and college kids. By the end of the week, I was a group leader for several construction projects.
Our group focused on rebuilding the interior structures to meet the latest building codes established since hurricane Andrew. Even though the Habitat homes built prior hurricane Andrew withstood the hurricane winds, new codes were added to increase the home’s structural strength anticipating future hurricanes. Our hardest project was the first to be approved with the new codes. On Friday after two full days of sweat filled reconstruction in the South Florida heat, the inspector gave us the “thumbs up” for our efforts. We were jubilant.
During my time at Habitat I met several wonderful people from all over the US. For the most part, each person had volunteered in their home town through their church. They traveled to Florida and stayed at the home base in Homestead. In every case, they were good people who cared and donated their time to help others. It was a very positive experience for all.
After a week in South Florida, I returned home to prepare for JR’s and my trip throughout the US. I spent time collecting travel stuff and preparing JR’s Chevy Blazer for our long journey. During this time, JR was trying to get the same Leave of Absence from the Orlando Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau (OCCVB) where he works. A close friend of his was the General Manager of OCCVB who finally succeeded in obtaining a leave for him prior Federal Policy requiring Leave of Absence slated for August 1993. Unfortunately, it was a month after I started mine, but on 25 July 1993, JR and I started our expedition across the US.
We stayed our first night in Savannah, GA. The next day, we toured through the city and saw many old homes dating around the turn of the 20th century.
We then drove to Charleston, SC where we spent the night and toured the next day before journeying to Garden City, SC.
There we stayed with a long-term friend of JR’s Amelia Gentry and her family. Amelia is the daughter of the family who managed the Virginia House of Children where JR grew up. JR had been orphaned at age 5 and grew up there while his parents dealt with 6 kids and terminal illnesses, including Tuberculosis.
Amelia and her husband Bruce Gentry welcomed us and we stayed with them at Amelia’s uncle’s home on the beach in Garden City, just south of Myrtle Beach. It brought back memories of growing up in New Smyrna Beach. It was great to get out into the sun and play on the beach.
The house was a new 3 story, 5 bedroom home with a crow’s nest lookout at the 4th floor level. The crow’s nest lookout had a rocking bench that looked out over the ocean. Need I say more? It was great pleasure for both of us. We delayed our departure for 3 days to deep tan completely.
We then went to Asheville where I was for the most part disappointed. They had NY prices for such a small and typically inexpensive services. Things like $5.00 cover charges and $4.00 drinks discuss me in Southern bars. The next day we went to visit the Biltmore Estate and at $25.00 entrance, I was not interested in paying to view a tourist trap so we drove on to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We drove from Asheville to Virginia then took the interstate to Salem, Virginia. There we stayed again with Amelia, Bruce, and their family at their home. They live in an old two story house that they updated with newer amenities. It reminded me of my 1800’s old farm house on Princeton Street in Orlando. We stayed in Salem a few days until the weekdays when JR could take his Blazer into the dealer to fix a power problem we had affecting the stereo, wipers, and other features. It turned out to be a fault in the cigarette lighter that they replaced under warranty. JR and I left on Tuesday for Harpers Ferry, VA.
JR enjoyed Harpers Ferry while I spent most of my time in the hotel room. During the afternoon we arrived, JR walked around the old B&B where we stayed overlooking the river flowing next to and around the town.
Harpers Ferry has years of ante-bellum history in the US. It was an ammunition town during the Civil War and was captured several times by both sides. Later, it was a revolutionary and premiere town for a Black African-American college known as Storer College.
The following day before we checked out, JR got up early and walked through the town. He returned delighted with pleasure imaginating how it was “during its hey-day.” On our way out of town, JR showed me what he had seen including the antique sections of town that hadn’t changed since the Civil War. It is a very tranquil town and historical landmark for the United States.
We left that afternoon and stopped by Manassas National Battlefield Park, where the Civil War officially began. We took the tour and learned how the war was first thought to be a single battle with an anticipated quick fight.
The Union side was not prepared to fight and was actually hosted as a social entertainment event by the elite in Washington, DC. It turned out not be entertaining for the Union forces but brutally bloody and chaotic with Union enfantry shooting people on their own side. There were no common uniforms for the Union forces who wore garbs from several different wars. Therefore, they didn’t know who to shoot or not.
Later that afternoon, we drove into Washington, DC, where we stayed with a friend of JR’s, Larry Turner, 3 August 1993. They had first moved from Virginia to New Smyrna Beach back in 1970. In DC, Larry Turner hosted us for two days while we partied and ate at several local restaurants.
We then drove to New York City and stayed with a business associate of JR’s. We visited with him and went out to several local establishments in the Times Square area.
Steve Trombetti, JR’s friend, lives on 49th Street in the uptown area of New York. I was familiar with the area because of several trade shows I had participated in over the years.
During our stay, I got to meet a friend of Steve’s who was the editor for the Microsoft System Journal. After about 2 weeks, I had finally found someone with whom I could speak computer-eze. Our stay in NYC was elite. However, I could never afford to live there like they do. Fun to visit, never to live…
After NYC, we drove to Ogunquit, Maine. This was a location I had wanted to visit but based on recommendations from way back in my past. I couldn’t justify a stay there, but Steve Trombetti highly recommended it to us. So, with his recommendation, we stayed a night there.
Then we decided to stay another 2 nights at our bungalow on the Atlantic ocean.
It was very cool at night and not a good place for tanning during the days.
I ate lobsters to the max and drove around the coast. JR relaxed.
After our three days there, we drove to Montreal where we conversed and met Canadians. JR and I played many games of Scrabble in the lobby of the guest house where we stayed.
JR said he liked Montreal most because the people were the most friendliest than anywhere else he’d visited. I enjoyed Montreal and thought it was a very contemporary and international city. But I was ready to get to the US West Coast.
We left Montreal for Toronto on a Friday morning, 14 August 1993. By the time we got there, however, the hotels we wanted to stay in were full so we drove through the night to Niagara Falls, Canada.
We arrived late in the night and got up the next morning to see the falls. We spent the morning walking around on the Canadian side then drove to the US and down to Cincinnati, OH.
JR had mentioned a few times that a tooth was bothering him. Because of this we decided to spend a couple of days in Cincinnati to get his tooth fixed. We drove around Cincinnati and up to Adam’s Hill. Adam’s Hill is an older section of Cincinnati up on a hill looking out over Cincinnati. It is similar to San Francisco with houses lining the steep roads winding up the hill. Many wealthy individuals had purchased prime property and invested money in restoring the older homes. Intermixed with homes were small shops selling local arts and souvenirs.
JR had his first and last experience with spaghetti from the local Skyline Chili restaurant. As I’d been told, one either loves or hates Skyline Chili. JR hated it. I enjoyed it. In sum, we both ended up pleased with our stay in Cincinnati. JR spent some time at a dentist who cleaned up JR’s tooth so that we could continue with our travel. I called a few people I was hoping to visit when we left Cincinnati. One friend was in Dayton, but she had sold her home too quickly and immediately had to find a place to move. Rob and Cathy in Naperville, IL, had company so we couldn’t stop there until 3 days later. So, JR and I changed our plans to travel west.
We left Cincinnati and drove to Saint Louis, Missouri.
Using our Bed and Breakfast guide, we found a room at an old home across the street from the closed down Falstaff Brewery. Our room had a large four posted bed in a wood paneled room with a fireplace. It was another great old southern home.
After our first night in St. Louis, 19 August 1993, I traveled down to Branson, Missouri, to visit Ken & Robin Clancy.
JR stayed in St. Louis and went out with the landlord of our B&B.
I took Ken & Robin out to dinner where they worked at Shorty Small. They told me how Branson was growing and more major entertainers were building theaters there. Robin told me that there had been rumors that Disney may open another theme park there. It’s a family oriented entertainment area without gambling. It looks more like Las Vegas because of the large and glitzy theaters. It also looked like Orlando’s International Drive. One two lane road through a myriad of theaters.
The day I arrived, Ken & Robin had just completed Ken’s adoption of Robin’s first child, Christian. For the first time, I got to meet their son, Kenny, Jr. and to see Christian since they left Florida in December 1992. Robin told me that I should bring JR back there on our way west, and we could all go out to a show. Since they worked for the restaurant, they could get free tickets to the shows, and they both wanted to see JR. After I arrived in St. Louis, I told JR and he accepted their invitation.
After JR’s third night in St. Louis and a morning visiting the St. Louis Arch, we traveled to Branson.
He was shocked at the drive on two lane roads through the Missouri mountains to Branson. We arrived in the late afternoon to watch Ken and Robin finish up installing their new carpet and living room furniture. They were glad to see us but weren’t ready to host overnight guests. We went downtown Branson and registered at the Holiday Inn Express. I went back to Ken & Robin’s house to pick them up for dinner. After talking with Ken, JR decided he didn’t want to see a show but instead just wanted to go to dinner at Shorty Small. We took a few friends of the Clancy’s and had a good time.
The next morning we stopped to say goodbye to Robin before we drove to Oklahoma City. We spent a couple of nights in Oklahoma City, then went to Dallas for a night. Then late into the night, we drove to El Paso and stayed a night. The next day we stopped by a great outlet store called Saddle Blanket where we both purchased souvenirs.
The next day we traveled to Tucson, Arizona. We stayed at a great place called Hotel Congress, an old Western building dating back to 1919. The old hotel has quite a history of run-away gangsters and artists, is located at the beginning of the artist section of town, and is frequented by freelance artists, day and night.
It was listed in our B&B Guide as a youth hostile. The beauty of this place is the lobby and people. The lobby is painted with Indian and Western patterns and tile floors with suspended, artistic ceiling lamps.
The rooms are on the second floor with access by a staircase; there was no elevator. The complex included a restaurant with unique food and laid back servers. Some of the food options included Jalapeno and bean soup, meatloaf sandwich, baguettes, and their favorite, ice coffee.
We only stayed one night before leaving for the Sonora Desert Museum and Biosphere 2. The Sonora Desert Museum was very educational. We spent about 2 hours walking through the park and visiting the exhibits. I was very naive about desert life and learned a lot from the museum about the different ecosystems and symbiotic relationships.
Then we drove to Biosphere 2 where it had just finished raining.
As we learned, it was currently monsoon season there. A major storm had just passed through and knocked out their computer system and phones (sounded like Florida). JR wasn’t very interested in visiting Biosphere 2, but I convinced him that we should go ahead and see it since we were there. I thought the desert was always dry but I learned that during monsoon season, the storms continually circle an area and pour down rain. This causes wash-outs on the road which can also push cars off the road and even turn them over.
JR and I walked into the abandoned park, caused by the first rainstorm. We decided to take a tour through the older test laboratories to learn about the history before walking around the sealed Biosphere 2 facility. It had started sprinkling as we started the tour with 2 other visitors. By the time we got well inside the first building, the rain pounded so hard that we had difficulty hearing the tour guide. In fact, we ended up waiting about 30 minutes in the first section of the building before passing though a “breeze way” and into the next building.
After the rain slowed down, I followed the tour guide into the breeze way through a curtain of heavy clear-plastic strips. As I stopped waiting for JR and the other two, I turned to see where JR was. He had stayed behind to hold the plastic curtain open for the other two visitors. I saw him holding the curtains then turned around as the two walked through. Then I focused on the tour guide, but JR never walked up to where I was standing. Curious, I turned around to see where JR was standing, but he was not standing. Instead, he was sitting down on a low height brick wall lining the walkway we were on.
I was confused about why he hadn’t caught up so I walked over to where he was sitting. He had his right leg stretched out in the brick path and was starring down at his knee. As I approached, I saw his knee was cut and bleeding. I asked him what had happened and he told me he had fallen on it. As I looked closer at his knee, I saw that it looked like his knee cap was shoved up beyond where it’s supposed to be. He then informed that he thought he busted it. He was right.
I ended up spending 4 more nights at Hotel Congress, 26-31 August 1993, while JR was repaired in the hospital in Tucson. I got to know Tucson pretty well. I visited an American Indian reservation and mission near Tucson. I contacted our friends and relatives to let them know what happened. Then Tuesday, I took JR to Phoenix where he caught a direct flight to Los Angeles where friends picked him up at the airport. I drove on to Flagstaff and stayed the night.
The next morning, I drove to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, and stayed the night at a truck stop outside of Las Vegas. It was 31 August 1993.
On Thursday, I drove to Los Angeles and met up with JR at his friends, Craig and Jerry’s, house on the hillside under the HOLLYWOOD sign.
I spent the night to confirm JR was okay. Then I drove to Bakersfield, California, where a friend had suggested we visit. It was a dud and a waste of time, so I spent the night and drove back to LA the next morning. I stopped by to see JR, take some pictures, and bid him farewell before my trip home.
After my quick stop, I drove to Tucson and stayed the night again at Hotel Congress. Went the next morning to El Paso, Fort Stockton, then Corpus Cristi where I planned to stay a couple of days to recoup from the long desert drive before finally returning home.
I ended up north of Corpus Cristi in a small gulf coast town called Rockport, Texas. It was quite historical and interesting. The area had been founded by a Philadelphian engineer who married a local cattle rancher’s daughter. They built a revolutionary mini-mansion and settled the area. It never really took off but retained its reputation as a reclusive vacation spot, very much like the old New Smyrna Beach, when my family first moved there. After two nights at a B&B, I drove on to Slidell, Louisiana as my last night on the road before arriving in Orlando. The drive led me through the bayou about a week before the Amtrak derailment in Louisiana. I understood how remote and dangerous it was for those survivors.
I arrived in Orlando early evening on Friday, 10 September 1993, and I was glad to be home unscathed. My next objective was to find a place to live and restart my life in Orlando.
Below is the map of our entire trip.
This expedition covered approximately 27,320 miles.
To see a tribute to JR that I posted after this page, click here.