Saturday, July 30

Jacksonville Light Boat Parade 2021 Disappointment

There are times in life when you're glad you didn't invite family to come visit you. We've had a few of those experiences in Jacksonville, our latest being the 2021 Light Boat Parade. Our first and likely last time seeing the parade, even though all the locals have told us it's a must-see.

The boat parade is one of those local traditions we'd heard about ever since we moved here. Prior holiday disappointments had included the Christmas lifeguard chairs and the 4th of July at Jax Beach. But this isn't just a chair decorating/advertising event or a drunken college party. It was one of Jacksonville's true showcase events, like the Christmas tree at The Landing. Wait, that was also a local holiday disappointment--a tree in a half-empty mall thingy filled with homeless panhandlers.

But Jacksonville is bold, and we've moved past The Landing and toward a homeless park rather than a homeless mall. I didn't check out the local vendors at the park formerly known as The Landing because I was sure word had gotten out in the homeless community that a lot of folks with cash might be there. Also, I didn't need to buy a hot tub or beach-view art work painted in someone's garage studio. 

We chose a spot on the Southbank riverwalk to view the parade. We also brought our dog, which was a mistake, as the riverwalk was mostly full when we got there. Not realizing that you're supposed to bring chairs and huge strollers to block the walkway, we sat on a curb a little ways west of the DCPS building. We got there with maybe 15 minutes to spare, but we seemed to have some of the last public seats available. We felt like we'd made it. I might have even demanded high-fives from the fam.

But then nothing happened. We sat there until the official start time and we saw one or two boats cruising back and forth to get to a presumable starting location, but no parade. The guy next to me, who wore a walkie-talkie, came to sit with his family and said there was a delay, but his communication device never provided an update, nor did he (and his job there seemed to literally be to sit with his family).

Eventually, my daughter and I headed back to the car to get water for the dog. We figured if we missed the first wave across the river, wed at least see the boats up close on our side. But we got back to our seats and still no parade. In fact, families with young ones were starting to leave for their cars when we returned. The dog was restless, the kids were restless, and the wife was disappointed. We decided to walk the riverwalk further west in order to move and maybe see some boats sooner in the eventual parade, since it starts on the north side and then meanders over to the south. 

The people who'd been sitting for more than an hour did love seeing our dog along the route, probably because they were trying to entertain themselves and their poor kids. That kind of made it a nice walk. Plus, it was cool to see all the people who wanted to participate in a well-run community event. Too bad they were all as disappointed as we'd become. 

Based on our photos, I'd say the first boats that made the route along the northbank and back to the southbank arrived around 7:30, making it an hour-and-a-half wait for us. Much more for the seat-saving folks. I later learned that someone in city government whose sole task that day was probably to have the railroad bridge in the proper position had not done the job. That person was probably sitting in the crowd with his/her family and a turned-off walkie talkie. Speaking of which, the worker who sat next to us and had his own walkie talkie did not know why there was a delay and didn't receive a single communication while he was sitting there for an hour. You'd think somebody would have got on the horn and asked if anyone knew how to fix the bridge situation.

So we sat there a long time, which probably affected our expectations and subsequent disappointment. It was a parade of drunk wealthy people just as interested in showing off their boats as any light displays. Most of the displays were half-assed, and I know because that's how I do my own Christmas lights. At least all the rich folks were having fun on their boats, and that's really the point, right?

If you're new to the area, I guess you have to try the light parade at least once. I'm sure it won't start late for you. As for us, we had to leave early because the dog and kids were restless. And the wife. Me too, really, since it felt like we'd just witnessed the first awkward attempt at a mass public event rather than a yearly tradition pumped up by all the locals.

Lest I lament without suggestions, I would recommend the Girvin Christmas light experience. And we also did a gingerbread house/ historic house tour thing that wasn't bad in some half-abandoned part of downtown (I know, that's most of downtown). The Christmas lights put on by the Shriners is gone now to make way for apartments or a shopping center, but they were also borderline ok. If you like lots and lots of white lights on really old buildings, then St. Augustine is your jam for the holidays.

Monday, July 25

Should I Support the Duval County Public Schools Referendum Version 2022?

Even though my kids were attending a private school when the last referendum for Duval Schools came a begging, I voted for it because the schools were in need of maintenance and improvements. However, two years later and now two kids in a Duval County school, I have seen ZERO facilities upgrades. My kids' school has $24 million to spend, but this was the second summer in a row without a single brick being laid for the $12 million new classrooms to get my kids out of portables. I'm not sure if I can vote for the new referendum if the district can't spend the money it currently has to make schools better.

Here's what DCPS says the new money will provide: 
"65% of the revenue would be used to supplement teacher pay, 12.5% would be used for arts and athletic programs at public schools, 12.5% would go to charter schools, and 10% would go to pay increases for district staff."

To me, it looks like a total of 75% will go to teacher or staff pay/raises. I taught in the district for a year, and I'd say it's deserved, but as a parent with two kids in core classes illegally stuffed to the gills, I'd rather see more core teachers than more pay for gym teachers. If the referendum would guarantee reduced core class sizes, I'd vote yes and maybe even work in the district again.

I'm all for arts and athletics. However, I'd again ask if that means more teams and student participation or just new art tables and uniforms. My daughter just missed making a JV team last year for a sport that cut more than a dozen freshmen and could have had a freshman team. Maybe 12.5% more money would have made that team possible, but I don't know. 

I can unequivocally say that I can't support 12.5% of my extra tax burden to fund charter schools. These schools compete for students and funding while rewarding suspect for-profit companies that mostly prove that pilfering a district's best students results in good schools.

So there you have my opinion on the 2022 DCPS tax referendum. If I knew it supported core teachers, more sports participation, and better public schools, I'd vote yes in a heartbeat. I'd like to say I trust DCPS to spend millions of dollars wisely, but the lack of transparency in how or when the last referendum money is being spent leads me to believe this money may be better off in my own pocket.

Sunday, July 24

Jax Local Ad of the Week: Milano's For Easter

Milano's is no stranger to being the local ad of the week. Its Valentine's Day ad from 2021 was a classic, but this new Easter ad is also an awesome example of ads that don't quite make sense but do make you want some Italian food. Let's see if we can identify everything odd about this photo. 

Forks and knives
Part of the fun of eating pizza is getting to shove it in your mouth with your hands. This family, however, seems to be intent on eating pizza with utensils. It's borderline child abuse to be cutting up pizza into bite-sized pieces for the kids, but it's downright un-American for Mom and Dad to be eating it that way. Do they think they're dining with the Queen of England? 

It's perfectly OK for this family to have a kid without being married. However, parents who force their child to eat pizza with a fork and knife should be prepared for all kinds of badgering from the child if they continue to live in sin. I suppose it's plausible that Mom takes her wedding ring off to eat pizza, but that would make a lot more sense if she actually used her hands to eat it.
Fresh fruit
A basket of fresh fruit is a pretty good indicator that this meal is being eaten at home rather than in the restaurant. That's sort of odd, right? If I wanted to show that I made some good food at my house, I'd show my family enjoying a meal at our kitchen table (or even at the patio picnic table we never use), but I don't think I'd show us eating our home-cooked meal at the beach. Anyhow, there's fruit, but that's not the only odd thing...

Cut fruit
The oranges in the fruit basket are CUT! Nobody has any fruit on their plates, so the assumption is that this family cuts oranges and then puts them back in the fruit basket to spill sticky orange juice all over the other fruits until morning. Or...

Speaking of orange juice, that seems to be the drink of choice. Fresh squeezed, perhaps?
I have to assume that if you were to poll a million people asking them what their favorite drink with pizza would be, exactly zero would choose orange juice. While some beers are slightly orangy in color, I can't imagine a family that forces a kid to eat pizza with utensils and keeps a basket of fresh fruit stocked is going to pour a pint of  Brew Free! Or Die Blood Orange IPA for the little girl. So they all drink orange juice or maybe orange soda with cut-up pizza.

Weird salad utensil
I know it's hard to see dimension in a photo, but the salad utensil looks like a wooden spoon turned sideways. Or a wooden spear. Neither of these utensils would be great at serving salad, which might be why no one seems to have eaten any salad. It's possible this family eats super-healthy, so it might be salad and cut oranges for dessert.

Last supper seating
Personally, I enjoy sitting across from my wife. This was especially useful when the kids were little disasters throwing food and making messes. I could watch the chaos from my relaxing spot on my side of the table. This family, however, all sit on one side of the table, like in The Last Supper by da Vinci. I guess it's an Italian thing, but Mom has to reach over her daughter to get to the fruit, while Dad had to reach over her to get to the 'za.

Whole pizza still there
Speaking of the pizza, either this family served itself from the far side of the box (which makes little sense given their seating positions), or there's a whole pizza sitting in front of them as they each eat one single piece from another box? I'll give this one the benefit of the doubt and assume they spun the pizza around after taking pieces from the side not seen in the photo, but no one really does that. Also, the kid is eating s slice of pizza that has something green (spinach?) and what look like onions. Possible? Yes. Probable? No.

Disappearing cabinets in ephereal bricks
If you look close at the background, this family meal gets really freaky. There's a fancy kitchen counter with a bottle of wine (or maybe champagne for mimosas). Then the brick backsplash. Then, right behind Dad's head, an upper cabinet exists and disappears into a brick wall. Is this brick wall in the real restaurant, implying the family is both at home and in Milano's? Are they stuck between two dimensions? Do they have a faux brick sheet hanging from the ceiling? Maybe it's some kind of empty tomb metaphor because this is an Easter ad. Wine into orange juice and extra slices of pizza. 

I can't explain it, but I also love this ad because of how complicated someone decided to make it. Honestly, I'm not sure I'll ever see another ad with this much strange going on that also looks perfectly normal on the surface. I just imagine the photo shoot filled with a bunch of artsy Gen Zers who have never had a family meal and never cook anything that can't be microwaved. This is what young people in the ad world imagine a family dinner to be, and the decisions that went into the ad reflect a society where families don't eat together or all the members are on their devices and not paying attention to what's even on the table. My family, for example, would have some napkins, parmesan cheese, and red pepper flakes, but these marketing pros settled on a fruit basket.

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Thursday, July 21

Another Year, Another Pitbull Story

I think it's been about a year since I wrote my last anti-pitbull article, so it's probably good that I saw my neighbor/attack-dog owner as a reminder that I don't like pitbulls. By association, I don't really like their owners very much. If you own a pitbull, you also don't like me because my opinion is that they should be turned in like AR-15s to either be destroyed or used in special military operations.

Anyhow, I saw my neighbors new pitbull, purchased or "adopted" after his other killer dog had already attacked our dog. And the new one looks like a pitbull you'd see in an actual pit, fighting other dogs. Whereas the neighbor feigned innocence with the other dog, saying it was a mixed breed dog and not a pitbull, the new one is 100% pure-bred trashy pitbull. Every so often I see a pitbull owner who also picks up a beagle or cocker spaniel or some other scared-to-death breed in order to seem a bit more civilized, but the folks who initially pretend to own a mixed-breed, harmless dog and then go out and add a giant pitbull to the household are really special. The thinking is that your other pitbull only viciously attacked another dog once, so it makes total sense to double the chances for another attack. Or a mean dog needs a mean friend. Or that you really like your dog even if it's a menace, so you should adopt another one?

I do understand that since the average income level of pitbull owners is lower than the rest of us, it would seem to make sense to adopt your next dog from the humane society. Of course, 90% of the dogs at the Jax Humane Society are pitbulls, so there you go. I actually wondered how many times the same pitbull ends up in a humane society for adoption. I mean, the people who had the dog from a puppy decided it was too much to handle, so I can't imagine some old lady with a kind heart will figure out how to control a six-year-old killing machine.

Also, this year when we went to the veterinarian, he was nursing a hand wound that would not stop bleeding. He volunteered that he'd been bit by a pitbull. Without us asking or assuming. He didn't blame bad owners (like some people do) or unwarranted reputations. He just said some breeds are worse than others. And he was right.

Always remember that everyone who does not own a pitbull judges you if you do. That includes your homeowner's insurance company. Owning a pitbull is like ear gauging or face tattoos: it probably seems really cool until most people are scared of you.

I know, that's the whole point. You have a small paycheck or other appendage, and you're compensating. It doesn't work. Get a hella hot girlfriend or stupid big pickup truck instead. Or a jet ski or Rogaine or new false teeth. You could even adopt a kid from Bulgaria or purchase Jaguars season tickets. There are all kinds of ways to prove you have some culture and a little extra spending money, but owning a pitbull is not one of them.

If you want to see the available pitbulls for adoption, take a look here. The list includes other dogs available, but it will mostly be pitties because those are the ones that people don't want but our city refuses to send elsewhere. 

Wednesday, July 20

Tag em and Bag em, Jacksonville

Moving to Florida, I noticed that more abandoned cars littered the roadway than other places I'd lived. At first, I assumed this was a result of more tourism, more poverty, or hotter weather. However, after living here for several years, I've come to the conclusion that we've got more abandoned cars because of policy as much as any other factor, and that policy should probably be updated.

I drive the same route every day, just like many of us who commute to work. I've noticed that the same abandoned vehicle sits at the side of the highway for several days, especially if it's just parked and not in obvious distress. However, these parked vehicles represent a major crash hazard if someone needs to swerve into the shoulder. I've even seen some abandoned vehicles on I-95 that didn't fit on the tiny shoulders and ended up in the traffic lane. I've seen plenty of vehicles right at on-ramps or off-ramps, too.

 The policy seems to be to give these vehicles at least two days to be moved before they are towed away, but I'd say that they ought to be removed immediately if there's any chance an accident could be caused. And there's always that chance. The policy should be to give an abandoned vehicles owner until the next rush hour to move it or lose it. If your car breaks down at 7am, then it's got to be gone by 2pm. Or make it a blanket six hours from the time it's tagged.

Even the actual tagging of abandoned vehicles is pretty poorly done around here. Most vehicles that are well off the road or have been in an obvious accident receive an orange tag. A tag lets the rest of us drivers know the situation has been acknowledged by the authorities and we don't need to stop to help out. Every abandoned vehicle should be tagged as a courtesy to those of us who wish to be good Samaritans if needed. When I was in St Johns County on a recent weekend evening, I came across a vehicle that had run off of Highway 1 in the fog. I circled back in order to check it out (parking and exiting my own car in the fog), but no one was in the car. I later called to police department only to find out it was a known abandoned vehicle. That means I endangered myself and other drivers in the fog in order to attempt to help someone who was long gone. Yes, I could have called the sheriff from a safe location a mile away before investigating, but if someone had been injured behind the wheel, it made more sense to stop to see. And I probably wasn't the only passerby to check out the crash scene that had not been tagged to let us know there was nothing to be done. But if I was the only one who stopped, that's kind of sad and scary for those of us who might someday need someone's help. Moving cars as soon as possible, or at least tagging them, makes a lot more sense than what seems to be the current practice in Northeast Florida.

Gas Station T-shirts in Ocala, FL

My son and I had been in Ocala for a track meet, so we decided to eat downtown after the sporting event. We enjoyed the the restaurant and the art walk that was happening, but we eventually had to start the long qdrive back to Jacksonville. I used my GetUpside app to find a Shell station where I could get gas and some caffeine for the ride home. As we made a U-turn to get to our destination, we noticed a weirdly-busy Italian ice shop (Jeremiah's), but that was just the beginning of our trek into the Central Florida Twilight Zone.

The Hi Way Express gas station had seen better days. Initially, I tried the west side of the property to get gas, but those pumps had been cemented over, so I had to back in to an available pump. Since I had a 2+ hour drive, I decided to get some liquid energy after refueling the vehicle. My son was almost asleep already, so I locked him in the back seat, stressing that he honk the horn if anyone got too close. 

I entered the convenience store, and I wasn't really impressed by any particular element. It was small, and it had a small selection of drinks. I didn't even notice that some inventory went nearly up to the ceiling. I got in line behind some women looking for a specific ice cream flavor. This was humorous because no one should expect more than vanilla or chocolate at a gas station and because the frozen ice place next door probably had whatever flavor they needed. They wanted strawberry or key lime. Weird. But they were also seemingly buying their week's groceries at a gas station, so it almost makes sense.

Before I could make my purchase, another patron asked where the t-shirts were. The cashier pointed to the back wall and gestured up. He was right. T-shirts in square plastic bags all along the back wall. Black or white. The other patron, now seeing the shirts that I too had not seen earlier, began browsing. However, it didn't take him too long before he cut back in front of me to ask if they had brown t-shirts. The cashier responded that they only had black or white. No colors, including brown. Disappointed, the patron asserted that if the Hi Way Express carried brown shirts, people would buy them. At this point, the man went back to shirt shopping, leaving me to finally complete my purchase.

I couldnt help but ask the cashier why the Hi Way Express in Ocala sold t-shirts. The answer? "Because people buy them." I couldn't argue with that logic, especially while considering the other shopper currently in the store with me. I just had to wonder whether this gas-station-t-shirt-phenomenon was unique to this establishment, Ocala, or Central Florida. I've gone into lots of gas stations in Jacksonville without ever seeing anything similar. However, I have seen some Jaguars shirts and Duval Light shirts at a couple of places. Maybe plain t-shirts are sold in parts of Jacksonville where I don't tend to exit my vehicle. 

Yes, people in Ocala buy t-shirts at gas stations, but why? Does it have to do with the horse farms in the area? Maybe ranch hands use up shirts rather quickly in the Florida heat. Or lots of locals enjoy late-night tie-dyeing or silk-screening? Is the James Dean / Fonzy look? Does it have something to do with meth? And most importantly, would brown really sell as well as black or white?

If you accidentally find yourself in Ocala, buy a t-shirt at a gas station and send a photo to me. I'll try to remember to do the same next time I visit that part of the state, or if I happen to find t-shirts at a local dive gas station.

I met a guy who used to live in Ocala, and while he couldn't confirm the existence of t-shirts at various gas stations, he did tell me that in his current state of North Carolina in similar neighborhoods people buy these t-shirts to wear until they get too dirty and then toss the shirts out instead of washing them. While it's hard to believe this waste, he seemed fairly confident in the explanation. Honestly, I hope even homeless folks wash these shirts and dry then on a park bench, even without soap.

Cambridge AICE High School Exchange Program

My family was sold on Cambridge AICE for our high school choice. It's similar to AP or IB in that you can earn college credit, but it's good for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship as well. It seemed like a win-win. However, with a program (or programme for the Brits) that's used at 10,000 high schools in 160 countries, I'm surprised that there isn't an established student exchange option. I also don't think it would be too difficult to initiate.

If schools are all teaching to similar standards, then students can transfer between those schools without skipping a beat. That's kind of the point when it comes to any national standards we have. We assume that a 10th grade English, chemistry, or trigonometry class hits all the same marks. AICE requires similar standards at all of its partner schools, which means that the main challenge of a semester exchange would fall with non-AICE classes. I know it might mess up some student GPA dreams, but non-AICE classes would just have to apply to general electives. Stuff like art or gym. Maybe a study hall.

I'm not sure about AICE semester vs full-year classes, but I'd think second semester would work best for an exchange: students would have a semester with their home-area teacher and then get additional guidance from an exchange teacher, having access to resources from both instructors for what should be a very similar test. 

It's likely schools participating in the exchange could be privy to the differences in expectations and adjust to the class that's being taught and students involved. Even if it's only a few schools that offer this, it should work. For example, Fletcher High School in Jacksonville could prepare AICE teachers to teach Americans and British kids, (allowing some Brits to get a little sun and beach time in their lives). 

I guess I'm disappointed that an AICE exchange program was never really a thing, leaving Amity and other programs to do whatever they do. Honestly, even if it was just a two-week exchange, I'd still be happy to have my kids participate. But since the idea wasn't really a part of the AICE philosophy from the start, it's probably not going to happen, unless enough AICE parents and students read and share this post and call for some kind of in-person exchange. It's really kind of the point of an international curriculum.

Monday, July 11

Hilton Honors Credit Card Paying For This Year's Summer Vacation

I wasn't sure I wanted to sign up for the Hilton Honors credit card, but I also didn't want to spend typical Hilton prices to attend my son's basketball tournament, and signing up for the card took $100 off my initial stay. I was offered 80,000 or 100,000 bonus points, too, but I didn't really understand what that meant or if I'd be able to use them for anything before they expired. Anyhow, I was saving some money and I hadn't signed up for a credit card in a while, so whatevs. But then, six months later, it was time to book our summer vacation, so I checked out the points and realized I'd accumulated around 120,000 points, good for three nights at Hilton lower-end properties, and I'd have to say that's a win.

Initially, our family plan did not include heading home to Wisconsin, so we were going to use the points for one swanky night out or else two nights down in Miami or Orlando. However, since we're just staying at highway hotels, the points got stretched to three nights, still saving us around $600 on our trip. That said, once I booked the rooms, I'm pretty sure the points were used and not refundable, and our family dog will cost extra at each hotel with no option of using points to pay for the four-legged guest.

We actually used a booking loophole that made our stay a little cheaper by accident. I booked the rooms through Hilton directly in order to use my points, clicking the button to say we had a pet. Then, when given the opportunity, I booked the room I wanted away from noises that might make the dog bark. Then I chose the digital key option. Even though all three hotels initially charged my credit card, only one of the three kept a pet fee on the books. Our plan had not been to avoid paying, but apparently booking online and completely skipping the front desk might confuse employees. Anyhow, the lowest-priced pet fee is the only one of the three we paid a month after the trip, so until Hilton fixes the app so that people who check the pet button are forced to check their pets in, that's how we'll roll.

I'd like to point out that we may never stay in a Hilton hotel again, since they are mostly pricier than the La Quinta properties recommended by pet-owning relatives, and my credit card points will likely never again approach 100,000 (or have Covid-rollover extensions). While I was able to save around $700 total by opening a new credit card account, it took some effort, unlike another card offer I've recently received to get $750 cash back for just using the card for a few months.

I can't complain about this credit card or the offer, but I also can't say that I'll be using my American Express card or stay in Hilton properties exclusively from now on. That said, if used well, the Hilton Honors American Express Card offers a generous bonus for opening an account.

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