17th Post November 2, 2017

cane toad

Giant poisonous toads are spreading throughout Florida, and you should probably keep your pets away from them. These invasive toads can grow to 10 inches long. When they feel threatened, the toads excrete a milky poison that oozes from their skin, which can be deadly to animals.

While down here in Orlando my wife, Dar, and I visited her cousins in Naples. Pat and Dave are from Wisconsin, but have bought a second, stunning home in a gated community. They were most gracious, to show us the cool places around Naples, especially the uber- rich estates in “Old Naples”. Our mouths were agape for the entire tour. So, what’s the deal with the ominous picture above?

When arriving back at their house after dinner, Dave and I took their little poodles, Sasha and Murphy for a walk. It was dark, so Dave had a flashlight, and was constantly searching the sidewalk and lawns along the way. He said to be aware of giant toads, and was pretty sure that we would see one, but none showed up, whew!

When we returned, Pat and Dar were waiting in the driveway. They had real concerns about those slimy creatures. Pat told us that little Sasha got to inquisitive on one of their walks, and was slimmed by a big one hiding in the grass. Dave came running back to the house with Sasha in his arms and immediately rinsed her eyes and face with warm water over and over. Poor Sasha was wining from the stinging frog saliva. Fortunately, she was okay within minutes of the rinse treatment.

Dave had to travel back to Green bay for a week of work. He is a senior partner at a very successful dental implant business, and close to retirement. So, until his return Pat is on dog walking duty alone. She texted us last night relating how she and Dave enjoyed our time together, and oh by the way informed us of the Coyote she had faced when she walked out her door, the big black snake that lives in her bushes, and reports of a wild bobcat siting in the neighborhood.

It just goes to show you, that you can pick the neighborhood, but beware of those pesky neighbors.

*****

I am really looking forward to next week. It is Disney week. We’ve reserved our “old goat” scooters and are raring to go. Dar has been diligently planning everything, as she always has. I am useless in that department, and wouldn’t have it any other way. She got us six days in the parks for the price of four, and all the fast passes and dinner reservations have been purchased. We will also be going to a performance of Cirque du soleil.

So, stand by for some hokey pictures in my next post. I can’t wait to enter the Enchanted Tiki room. It’s one of my favorites! I know, of all the fantastic attractions, this is still my go to happy place.

enchanted-tiki-room-00  enchanted-tiki-room-02

*****

Are you ready for the continuing travels of Dar and Woody? My wife has five cousins, John Smith, Jim Smith, Tom Smith, Earl Smith, and their sister Mary. The four men live in Oregon and Northern California, while Mary lives in Milwaukee near us. The next several legs of our trip will involve visits to the Smith brothers, so, catch up with us below as we leave Seattle bound for Portland Oregon to visit Cousin John.

*****

 

Creepy Antiques

Dar and I left Seattle and headed south. We had some friends and relatives in Oregon and California, so we planned to drive the Pacific Coast Highway as much as possible from top to bottom. Our first stop was John and Marilyn Smith in Portland, Oregon.

The trip was about 175 miles, and would take three to four hours with a couple stops. We wanted to experience the pacific coast as much as possible, as we planned to end up in San Diego at some time during our travels. This leg, however, didn’t allow us to take the PHC. Portland is an inland city, and we would have doubled our driving time if we took the scenic route along the ocean.

We could only visit John and Marilyn for dinner that evening, as they were planning to leave on their own trip the following day. We booked a room at the Paramount Hotel, Portland, as per John’s suggestion, and planned to meet them for drinks at 6 o’clock in the “Swine moonshine and whiskey bar” and then dine at the “Swank” restaurant. Both establishments are in the hotel, and looked fabulous on the website.

Our rental car was a small Jeep Liberty SUV. We thought this would be a good vehicle in case we wanted to get off the beaten path somewhere along the way. Interstate 5 seemed like our best bet according to our GPS, so we grabbed a quick lunch and left Seattle at about noon. Dar started out driving. She had a thing about driving first whenever we took a road trip. I think it was so she could sleep while I drove the second leg, but don’t push her on that little tidbit.

It was a bit gloomy out, so I checked my Accuweather app. Apparently there were thunderstorms last night along I5, and we might see some more weather as we drive south. The interstate was moving along fine for the most part, but it was getting darker and darker out. We had only gone about 30 miles and were approaching Tacoma, when the skies opened. A torrential downpour caused the traffic to creep along at a snail’s pace. Our jeep was holding the road okay, so Dar did a white-knuckle job, as she pushed forward.

The rain finally let up, as we went around Tacoma, but there were several squad cars with flashing lights ahead in the distance and now all traffic was stopped dead. Great, just what we needed, an accident. I checked my smart phone for any traffic warnings, and was shocked at what was reported. Due to extreme weather in the Pacific Northwest resulting in downed trees and mudslides, in the Olympia and Chehalis area, Interstate 5 was closed between South Tacoma and Chehalis.

“Shit, shit, shit!” I couldn’t help myself from almost blowing my top.

“Oh my God, what’s wrong now?” said Dar.

“The goddam interstate is closed ahead. They must be rerouting the traffic. We’ll have to find an alternate route.” I said

I was glad we left early. Hopefully we still had plenty of time to meet John and Marilyn for drinks at 6:00. I had absolutely no idea how to get to Portland now. As we chugged along at break-neck speeds of about 10 MPH, in spirts, I rerouted the GPS. The detour had us exit onto RT 7, and take that southwest to 507. This looked like it kind of paralleled the interstate, but I had no idea what the road was like, and it was adding at least an hour to the trip, oh boy!

The immediate plan was for Dar to continue driving to Chehalis, about 60 miles, and stop there to change drivers. As I was checking my phone to map out the rest of the route, a text came in. It was from John. His flight out tomorrow was cancelled, and the only alternative was for he and Marilyn to leave on an earlier flight tonight. Regrettably, they won’t be able to meet us for dinner. I texted back with a ‘no worries’ smiley face imogee, and explained briefly about our traffic issues.

“Well we don’t have to worry about the traffic anymore.” I said to Dar.

“Why not?” she asked.

John and Marilyn had to cancel on us. Something about their flight being screwed up, so we are on our own kiddo. Let’s relax and take in some of this beautiful scenery.” I said.

We arrived in Chehalis at about 3:00. The detour added about an hour to the drive so far, but at least the pressure of being in Portland by 6:00 was gone. We decided to stretch our legs for a while and checkout this beautiful little town. We weren’t ready for a meal yet, but a cup of coffee would do wonders. Google pointed me to a nice airy place called the Main Street Bakery and Café. We both ordered black coffee and split a fruit Danish and something called a Brooklyn Crumb cake, which was the Chehalis version of a cinnamon roll.

The short rest gave us a chance to reevaluate our route to Portland. My GPS showed that I5 was okay all the way to Portland, which would only take about 2 hrs. max, so we decided to hang around and explore for a while. Chehalis is the county seat of Lewis County, WA. It was founded in 1879 and currently has a population of about 7000 good citizens. There didn’t seem like much to see, unless you were into Antiques. Good for Dar, bad for me.

Dar did a search and found no less than twenty Antique shops. Think about it folks, that is one Antique shop per every 350 people. My feet were talking to me already. Luckily, most of the shops were located along the same street, Tower Avenue. Guess where we were headed.

We parked on Tower, and started walking.

“Okay Honey pick one.” I said.

The shops were lined up all along the street. There was Vintage & Antiques Mall, Up the Creek Antiques, Shannon’s Antiques, The Shady Lady, Spelunking Antiques, which I thought was a pretty cool name; on and on and on they went. How they could possibly all be in the same business, and make a profit was beyond my comprehension. There was, however a redeeming grace, benches. The wet weather had past, leaving a warm sunny afternoon, and most of the shops had a bench outside. Thank you, God.

“Why don’t we just stroll down the street, peek in the windows, and I’ll see what strikes my fancy”, said Dar

So that’s what we did. Strolled and peeked, strolled and peeked, strolled, wait a minute, I think we may have something here. Dar entered Up the Creek Antiques, and I plopped down outside. I must say that she picked a prime shop. Instead of a bench, it had several comfy old rockers outside underneath an awning that provided ample shade. Nice.

Across the street was a grocery store, so I popped over and bought an ice-cold root beer and picked up the local real estate rag that is outside every food mart in America. As I relaxed in my rocker paging through the ads in the warm sun, I became groggy and must have fallen asleep. When I awoke I checked my watch, and it was 3:00, I’ve been out for a half hour. Could Dar still be in the shop?

I reached for my root beer to take a sip and found a note beneath it.

“Hi Sleepy, I am checking out some more shops. Text me,” It read, with a line of ZZZZZZZs at the end.

I took my phone out of my pocket. That’s odd, the screen was blank and the power was off. Rats, it was out of juice. Great, I hope I can find Dar in one of these shops, or even better, I could ask one of the shop owners to borrow their phone. As I began walking down Tower Avenue the weather was taking a major change. A strong breeze had cooled things off quite a bit and the western sky was getting dark. I stopped into the first Antique shop next to “Up the Creek”, it was “Spelunking Antiques”, the one whose name I thought was pretty cool.

The store was quite small, about 14 x 20 feet, and there was no proprietor minding things. It was stocked from floor to ceiling with some of the weirdest crap I had ever seen. “Who buys this stuff” I thought to myself? There was a lot of old rusty iron thingamajigs with sprockets and chains and nuts and bolts just lying in heaps on the floor, and some shovels and pick axes were hanging from the ceiling. I banged my head on a bunch of chains that was looped over a bar of cold rolled steel which caused me to back up into a six-foot suit of armor that looked like it had been used by King Richard during the Crusades. What a wild collection of junk.

I noticed a sign against the wall next to a stairwell. It was a faded picture of a dusty old miner. He was wearing dirty overalls and a hardhat with a light on it, and was pointing down the stairs. The words on the sign said, “Don’t forget to visit our treasures below”. Totally creepy. If Dar was in this shop, that is where she was. She probably had the proprietor showing her around.

I walked over to the sign and looked down the narrow stairwell. It led to a lower level, so I carefully descended into the basement trying not to hurt myself on the collection of cleavers and machetes attached to the wall. The lower level was well lit with banks of neon tube lighting and it was humongous. There were rows and rows of shelving packed with all kinds of stuff. There were, lamps and suitcases and old dolls dressed as clowns, sporting goods, electronics from the forties, you name it and this place had at least five of them.

I noticed that the walls were very irregular, and made of stone. They looked like they were dug out years ago with pick axes and I didn’t see any windows. Perhaps this was a cave or abandoned mine? Thus, the name, “Spelunking Antiques”. I stood by the first set of shelves and politely shouted out.

“Hello. Hello, is anyone here?” I waited for an answer but none came.

“Dar, are you down here?” I shouted a little louder.

I heard a muffled noise but couldn’t make it out. It was coming from somewhere towards the back of the huge room. I really didn’t feel very comfortable. I have a terrible sense of direction, and the shelving units were too high to see over. I heard another noise. It sounded like a motor was stopping and starting, like someone was using a chop saw to cut wood. Perhaps whoever it was couldn’t hear me over the shrill whine of the saw.

I shouted even louder. Hello, is anyone there? I’m looking for my wife.

There was still no answer so I started walking towards where I thought the noise was coming from. The shelves were set up in a sort of zig-zag pattern, so I had to be careful not to knock anything over as I scurried past the displays. I kept hearing the motor noise, so I shouted out as I walked towards the back wall of the shop.

When I reached the center of the cellar I found an open area with an oriental rug and some old, turn of the century couches, chairs, side tables and lamps with fringed shades. They were arranged as if in an apartment, and there were several mannequins dressed in antebellum period garb. Several women were staged sitting on chairs with their gentlemen standing by their sides and a small girl was on the floor playing with her dollhouse. Their faces looked eerily real.  One of the gentlemen was dressed as a confederate general. He had his hand on his sabre and a scowl on his bearded face. Perhaps he knew I was a Yankee blue devil. Now I was really getting creeped out.

I heard a clap of thunder coming from upstairs. Great, a storm must be coming in. If only I could find someone with a phone I could text Dar and get the hell out of here. I stopped for a moment when I heard the thunder. I felt as if I was being watched.

“Who’s there? I said firmly.

I heard movement from behind me. I turned around abruptly just in time to see a black cat jumping down from one of the shelves. He was purring loudly and pushed against me with his head, asking to be stroked. His large jet-black fur felt soft and warm against my leg.

“Well, hello their big fella. I said as I ran my hand over his back.

“Are you alone down here?”

He looked up at me with his jade eyes and meowed over and over between his constant vibrating purrs. It was as if he was trying to tell me something. The cat pushed me again, and walked past me toward the direction of the motor sound. He stopped briefly and turned, as if to be sure I would follow him.  He skillfully led me around several more shelving units. There was another loud thunder clap. It startled me, and my feline usher, as he dove beneath a shelf and disappeared. So much for playing follow the cat. I was on my own again.

This whole thing was getting ridiculous. If Dar was down here, she would have answered by now. I decided to head back upstairs and see if I could borrow someone’s cell phone. BANG! There was another huge thunder clap that shook the building upstairs. Then darkness!

Oh my God. No no, not the lights. I was left in total darkness. I mean, dark, dark darkness. There was not a hint of light anywhere.

“What now,” I thought. I am trapped in a dungeon with a black cat and probably some psycho operating a chop saw. Not my idea of antiquing. I could feel myself beginning to sweat.

Keep it together Woody. The lights will come back on any minute. I stood still and reached out to see what I could touch. The last thing I remember before the lights went out was a shelf to my left with some dishes on it. I felt the shelf, at least I could steady myself, but I was afraid to move. I had lost all sense of direction and started to yell at the top off my lungs.

“Help! Help! I’m down in the cellar. You, by the chop saw. Are you there? Someone please help me!”

I was in full panic mode. I had to do something, so, I tried to feel my way out. But how? Suddenly something brushed by my leg.

“Holy crap!” I said.

Then I heard the loud purring. Cats can see in the dark, but I can’t see the cat. Besides, why would he lead me to the stairs, he’s probably part of this whole murderous plot. Oh boy, that was not the best thing to put in my head. Stay cool Woody. Just stand still and keep yelling until someone comes.

Wait. I hear something. It sounds like feet shuffling along the concrete floor. I can’t tell what direction it’s coming from. Who could it be? Maybe those weren’t just mannequins. Okay, okay let’s not get too weird. I felt around for the shelf with the dishes. I found it and placed one in each hand. I waited in silence. Again, I heard the footsteps. They were louder, coming from behind me. I turned and swung both arms, flailing my weapons in the air. I banged into a shelf and both dishes shattered.

I stood completely still and silent, trying not to breath too loudly. The footsteps were still there, with what sounded like something made of metal dragging on the ground. “That’s new”, I thought. Okay, so now general cranky pants is after me and dragging his sabre behind him to freak me out. Working! Then I heard the chop saw start up again, but it sounded much closer than before.

“Wait, wait. I have Dar’s car keys in my pocket. Does she still have that pen-light on her fob?” I reached into my pocket and felt the miniature flashlight.

It was dim, but helped me find my way in the darkness. The cat brushed against me once more, so I shined the light down on him. “C’mon boy, show me the way out of here,” I whispered.

I once again played follow the cat. This time he led me back through the store in a different direction. God, I hope he knows where he is going. It’s a cat, of course he does. He’s taking me right back to the mannequin apartment where the real terror is. So what will get me, the sword or the chop saw? Or maybe I’ll just stroke out and they’ll find me lying on the floor next to the little girl’s dollhouse all curled up in a fetal position.

That’s it. I don’t care anymore. I yelled at the top of my lungs. “Come and get me you son-of-a bitch, I’m not afraid of you!” I shined my light ahead, and saw the stairwell. Yes, the freaking stairwell, but the door was closed. Who would close the door? Crap, the damn cat led me to the back of the store. I stumbled up the stairs and pounded on the metal door. It was locked from the outside.

Then, the chop saw fired up again and the cat let out a blood curdling screech.  Suddenly someone grabbed my shoulder and started shaking me! “No, let go, please let go of me.” They shook me again, harder this time.

“Woody wake up, honey. Wake up. Time to go.”

“Whoa. Huh? Let me go. I said. Let me go.” When I opened my eyes, I never felt so relieved in my life.

“Dar, it’s you. Where the hell have you been? I tried to text you but my phone was dead. Are you okay?” I said in a high panicky voice.

“I’m just fine. she said. I was inside this shop for about 15 minutes. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Wait a minute? How did I get out here, and what happened to the storm? I said.

“You must have been having a daytime nightmare, silly, said Dar. Just sit there a minute and wake up.”

When I calmed down I told Dar all about it. She laughed at first, but surely understood how some of these antiques can weird people out. Some of it even seems a bit scary to her, and she had been an antique dealer for years. We both believe that there are spirits amongst us, so it wasn’t that far-fetched for me to conjure up the little episode I had.

“If you’re finished shopping, why don’t we blow this pop stand, and head on down to Portland? My turn to drive.”

We circled around the block and through a Starbucks for some coffee to go. As I was waiting for my order, a black cat ran in front of the car, my eyes followed it to the back of the Spelunking Antiques shop, where I saw a builder constructing an overhang. The sound of his chop saw sent a chill up my spine.

*****

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