I was back in Tampa/Clearwater Beach for a few days right after the New Year. Yes, it was warm and certainly more pleasant than the harsh, very cold environment of Omaha in early January. I never tire of returning to Florida, and each visit is marked by new observations in a place filled with anomalies and oddities brought about by the clash of cultures. The drive between Tampa International Airport and Clearwater Beach is about 20 miles and takes anywhere from 35 to 60 minutes to cover. The Courtney Campbell Causeway carries the traffic along State Road 60 from just outside the airport to the city of Clearwater. The water views on both sides of the causeway are very nice, sometimes spectacular, and offer the promise of the beach to come. On the left side, to the south, you can see St. Petersburg, and the control tower of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport. After “making land” the first time along a several mile, very ugly, commercialized strip, it is once again back on a causeway (Clearwater Memorial Causeway), across a bridge and through a roundabout to the main north-south artery, Mandalay Street. You have arrived at Clearwater Beach and the Gulf of Mexico.
The ugly commercial strip in the city of Clearwater noted above is not without its entertainment value. The drive includes a view of Clearwater High School (The Tornados, not the Sharknados), numerous pawn shops and tattoo parlors, and some very funky signs. My favorite sign on this visit, yes one sign, read “Advanced Hemorrhoid Solutions” and “Dentures”, a one stop approach to addressing problems at both ends. The first white settlers who made their way to Clearwater Beach in 1822 had no idea that they were laying the groundwork for advances such as this. Nor could they have anticipated the glut of television advertisements for sinkhole amelioration, prostate relief and cash for gold. Welcome to Florida and the twenty-first century.
Launch of the Space X Falcon 9 was scheduled for January 6, but was delayed by several days because of technical problems. It is good to have us up in space again, and launching from Cape Canaveral. I lived in Winter Park Florida from 1988 to 1990, about 40 miles as the crow flies (how does a crow fly, straight?) from the launch pad for the Space Shuttle (Discovery, Columbia and Challenger). I knew some of the details about the Cape from the time I lived in Tallahassee. When the U.S. shut down the Apollo program in 1972, the Cape was opened up for tours. I went on one of those tours, getting an inside view of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). I have never seen nor will I ever again see a more impressive production facility. It is 525 feet tall, 716 feet long and 518 feet wide, large enough to house a Saturn V rocket and an Apollo Spacecraft. During our space days, once pre-launch preparations were complete, the VAB was opened and the rocket and spacecraft was carried by crawler transporter (maximum speed 2 mph) to Launch Complex 39.
Now back to the time I lived in Winter Park. As noted above, I lived fairly close to the launch site. What I did not know when I moved to Winter Park is that I would be able to “feel” the launch. Yes, seconds after the engineers “lit the candle” at Pad 39A, the rumble at my home could be felt, not unlike an earthquake, but lasting a bit longer. Wow! This experience put a whole new meaning to the phrase “ready to rumble?”. The best launches from home were at night because in addition to the rumble I could see the rocket rise and flatten out its trajectory close to the earth’s horizon. It was a great show.
One last observation. As some of you know, the spiritual headquarters for the Church of Scientology is in Clearwater Florida. The church began its move to Clearwater in 1975, and today it occupies more than a dozen buildings and employs more than 1,200 staff. Recently, the church has questioned the expansion of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (think Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2) from Clearwater Beach to Clearwater and a serious feud appears to be in the making. As recently as January 4, 2015, The Tampa Bay Times published an article titled, “Church of Scientology works behind the scenes against Clearwater Beach Aquarium. “ How can an organization be against Winter? More on this one when I post after my next trip to Clearwater Beach, July 2015.