Contributed by Alan Wyer
Pat and I flew to Melbourne, Florida full of misgivings following the 9/11 tragedy. Particularly as the last time we flew was when Yugoslavia was still one country.
Even before the fellowship of American Masons the friendliness was most evident. From the perfect stranger who, having taught me how to handle a left-hand drive car on the wrong side of the road at night, willingly piloted us to the hotel, driving off with a cheery "have a good stay."
The very accommodating staff were impressive throughout the stay. Our 8th floor mini apartment overlooked the Atlantic Ocean with Cape Kennedy in the misty distance. (The view still forms the "wallpaper" on my PC) The roaring surf on one side contrasted with the peaceful lagoon, inhabited by porpoise and pelican, that bordered Peter Lanes' property. Now that was a barbecue and threequarters. I have never tasted such succulent offerings. The company was pretty good too!
Masonically, it was a pleasant culture shock - a double initiation (one being a Lewis) immaculately conducted around the Temple by a totally blind Deacon. Why did we bother with black jackets and striped pants?? We were joined informally by the Ladies afterwards. A second masonic treat was the highly demonstrative Raising Ceremony followed by a pay-as-you-go meal halfway through the ceremony.
Other highlights were the organised trips to seafood restaurants. Boy ! can they dish up some super food. The laid-back approach of the owners to the air-boats on the everglades led to some determined words from Peter. No-one told me how noisy they were. They were a stark contrast to the peace and tranquility of the conducted tour of the local nature reserve. Handling snakes and scaly creatures was an unreal experience.
As unseasoned travellers, Pat and I were overwhelmed by the contrasts in every aspect of daily life. Getting lost in a shopping mall, alfresco dining, the absence of traffic islands, the flat landscape, the straight roads, the friendliest of people.
Contributed by Mark Griffin
Alice and Peter Lanes’ home
I arrived late, when the welcome party was already in full swing. It was difficult to adjust to at first, the heat this late in the evening, the springy wire-like grass (the lawn kind, not the kind you smoke), familiar f aces in outrageous Hawaiian-style shirts, the magnificent view over the lagoon with a splendid sunset in progress.
This was already unlike any other Ladies Festival Weekend. And then the ribald songs started. Even if I could remember the words, I certainly wouldn’t be allowed to publish them here! It was a very pleasant evening, great fun talking to friends in an “out of context” setting, friends you normally only ever talk to when you’re wearing regalia or in some plastic replica hotel ballroom, the sort that could be anywhere and nowhere really. This was the real thing, a sub-tropical paradise.
The hotel was perfectly acceptable, Peter had negotiated a good rate for us. Like most along this strip it was a large motel-style building, with suites complete with a mini kitchen. It was on the beach, and waking up to the rush of the waves was very relaxing. It is so nice to breakfast and lunch with a large group of friends, the whole atmosphere was one of complete relaxation.
Gary Dryfoos and the chair patrol The beach was fun, spoiled only by a ruthless and humourless patrol from the hotel that for whatever reason did not want guests taking hotel chairs onto the beach. They were a real nuisance but they bit off more than they could chew when they pushed Gary Dryfoos over the edge and he gave them an education in hotel/guest relations, at no charge.
The Lodge meeting and the festive board
Just to comment here that an American lodge meeting is an experience in itself, and Peter had arranged visits to two Lodges for us, meeting just a few days apart. As we had been told beforehand, the brethren came in all forms of attire, mostly shorts and entirely casual. We were dressed in f ull fig – they were putting on a show for us, so why shouldn’t we for them? The festive board was very different too, it had been prepared by volunteer brethren and their wives, very homely and very different to the catered festive boards we are used to in England.
The wildlife centre
One of the trips organized for us was an hour or so skimming over the everglades on one of those flat-hulled air-propeller-driven boats. It seems maintenance standards are a lot different to what we are used to back home, so hanging on for grim death as we scooted about wasn’t as reassuring as it might have been because you feared that whatever you were hanging on to was about to come away anyway. I think we all survived. Part two was a visit to a wildlife reserve where we got to walk round a boardwalk and get a close-up view of a swampland forest. This was very well laid out, with different species of tree and shrub clearly marked. Back in the centre we had the opportunity to handle some of the local critters, such as snakes, while being given a very informative talk.
One of the day trips was to the Space Centre, a huge, sprawling complex that takes a day to see everything and is very inspiring. There is “hardware” from all stages of the space programme up to and including a full-size replica shuttle, which, to be honest, was a big let-down. It was quite crudely made when you got close-up, and wasn’t full of instrumentation and equipment that would give you a sense of the real thing. Very poorly done. There was an I-Max cinema, but with the briefness of our visit there, it was a big chunk of time to commit. The gift shop is the best I’ve seen anywhere, a chance to spend astronomic sums of money if you got carried away – I didn’t.
The Red Lobster
The afternoon at the Red Lobster will never be forgotten. Except I can’t remember what afternoon it was, or even whether it was an afternoon, it’s a bit of a haze. I don’t think anybody actually got drunk, but there was such an atmosphere of camaraderie and good will that it was as if we all were. There was much laughter and even the waitresses joined in the fun we were having. When we left, they told us we were the most enjoyable group they’d ever had there. We even got around to creating an entirely new Order, complete with ranks, signs and words. It still meets sporadically whenever the nobles of the order bump into each other (we only have nobles in our order, straight in at the top, no messing about).
The posh restaurant and not-so-posh restaurant
Two other meals stand out. For one we went to a down-market family buffet restaurant. It was not a McDonald’s or whatever, but a nicely presented diner, with heaps of good quality food at unbelievably cheap prices. The other was the poshest restaurant in town, in an old Victorian house. Consequently, we were split into separate tables spread around the ground floor of the house. The food and service was outstanding of course, and while a lot more expensive than the diner, still a lot cheaper than we would pay in England.
We didn't need to do Disney World, Alice and Peter created a Magic Kingdom for us right around their own home. A truly memorable Ladies Festival.
Addendum by Gary Dryfoos
A group of nomadic beach scoundrels wanted $15 or $20 per day for use of the chairs already down on the beach.
When I attempted to transport one of the hotel plastic pool chairs down to the beach, Hotel's Own chair patrol squadron tried to stop me. I suggested that, given the size of our group and what we were each paying them per day for rooms, they might wish to re-visit their Official Chair Policy.
The following day, I drove to a local discount variety store and purchased my *own* hotel-style plastic chair. As I proceeded beachward, with my own chair, a Regimental Sgt. Major from The Hotel's Own confronted me again with Their Policy. I in turn presented him with My Receipt For The Chair.
There was no more foolishness about hotel chairs henceforth.