You Don’t Just Attend a Jimmy Buffett Concert…You Pack for It!

Jimmy Buffett’s Welcome to Fin Land 2011 Tour kicked off this past weekend with a concert in Tampa, Fla., and my friends and I were lucky enough to attend. If you’ve never been to one of Jimmy’s concerts, you need to understand it’s not just a concert and you’d better be good at packing.

Prior to every Jimmy Buffett concert is an event that you have to see and experience for yourself. It’s a gathering of concert and non-concert goers aka Parrot Heads and Parakeets that literally starts 10 hours prior to the actual concert when the gates open to the venue parking lot. (The 1-800-Ask Gary Amphitheatre opened its gates at 10 a.m. and Jimmy started at 8 p.m.) It’s a pre-concert warm-up party that takes place in the parking lot where Jimmy’s fans gather to play his music, eat, drink, and, in general, be merry. But days before this pre-concert party begins you’re going to need to organize, plan, pack, and double-check your “To Do” lists. You’ll also need to clear your car of any items that take up superfluous space. You know…jumper cables, tire jack, spare tire, extra sunglasses, 7-11 Slurpee refill cups, instruction manual, and so forth. Trust me you’re going to need that space.

Think of the pre-concert event as a Luau kicked up about 100 notches and you begin to get the idea of what it’s all about and what you’ll need to pack. If it’s tropical, brightly colored, or has a parrot on it, you need to pack it. Have any extra hula skirts? Pack those. Have a kiddie pool…pack it. What about a blow-up life-sized doll? Dress it up and pack it. Beach chairs…pack enough for those in your party and a few extra for friends or new acquaintances. Or just throw your sofa in the back of your truck (a blow-up one will work if you don’t have a truck). Pack up your bar…and I’m not talking just the items in the bar, I am talking about the actual bar itself along with all of the alcohol, margarita glasses, shot glasses, stirrers, coasters, napkins and so forth. Got a boat…decorate it and hitch it up to your car. Own a golf cart? It’s a definite must-take if you own one. Be sure to charge it up and deck it out with palm fronds, a surfboard, or large shark fin and get it ready to go. Lucky enough to own an RV? Be sure to decorate it and stock it with plenty of toilet paper for all the new friends you’ll make wanting to use your bathroom.

Rex rocked his coconut bra.

In addition, you should pack coconut bras, blenders, tables, tents, table cloths, ice, appetizers, hamburger meat, cheese, condiments, eating utensils, rugs, party lights, multiple coolers, munchies, sunscreen, Segway, lifeguard tower, beach balls, blow-up beach toys, white sand (enough to create your own beach), palm trees, keg, yard games, smoker, charcoal, picnic table, bubble machine, sidewalk chalk, hammocks, pirate flags, key lime pies, Juicy Fruit gum, artwork, Piñatas, squirt guns, flip-flops, marinated chicken wings, cameras, lip balm, generator, stereo system with speakers, Jimmy Buffett CD collection (or fully loaded Ipod), cool sunglasses, shot glasses, temporary tattoos (if you don’t have the real thing), wooden deck, barbecue utensils, beach blankets and towels, shot luge ice sculpture, leis, kites, Tiki torches, beads, Karaoke machine, light sticks, skateboards, pogo stick, bicycles (two-wheeled, unicycle, or built-for-two), limes, outdoor fireplace, knife, rope, zip-ties, a port-a-potty, toilet paper, stakes, flashlights, duct tape, scissors, and, last but not least, coconut-scented candles. This list is, of course, not all-inclusive, however, it does include items that I’ve personally packed or actually witnessed at Jimmy Buffett concerts.

And don’t forget your hats. Decorated, colorful hats are big for this event…so big you’d think there was a Royal Wedding (possibly Hawaiian as opposed to English) about to take place. However these are not refined hats…anything but. Concert goers sport an amazing array of parrot hats complete with beaks and feathers, straw hats with a colorful array of tropical items attached, sombreros with the “moat” decorated like an ocean, shark fin hats, and colorful Panama hats.

Scott got leid.

We had seven in our packing group including myself and my boyfriend Don – a Jimmy Buffett concert virgin; a long-time friend from junior high school, Scott (he’s a great attorney if anyone is ever in need of one); my high school friend Rex and his wife Debi; and a Fraternity brother of Scott’s named John and his girlfriend Erin (another Jimmy Buffett concert virgin). Once on site, our group swelled by two with the addition of Erin’s cousin and her friend.

Rex and Debi flew in from New Orleans just to attend the concert and yes, their suitcases were jam-packed right up to the 50 lb. weight limit…not so much with clothes, but with items for the concert. We all gathered the night before in Cross-Eyed Mary’s Cantina, an actual bar in my friend Scott’s house, to review what we’d brought along and what we’d need to purchase before we headed to the concert. We mounded all our items together and the discussion quickly turned to what items were missing and whether or not we could transport it to the concert in only two vehicles, with us included.

Packing of the vehicles began early the next morning and virtually every cubby possible got stuffed with concert items. After a quick stop at Publix and a liquor store for additional supplies that necessitated repacking of a few items, we were finally headed to the concert grounds worried that we might have possibly forgotten to pack some necessary item. Now those of you that have ever taken children to the beach may think that you know what this sort of packing and unpacking is all about. But sorry…it just doesn’t compare. No arguments on this topic please.

After selecting the perfect spot to park and hang out for the day, we began the chore of unpacking the vehicles and setting up our site. Everyone’s goal is to achieve the perfect tropical setting in the grassy spots of a parking lot while securing as much shade as possible. Once set up, drinks were quickly blended and we took the time to relax and chill out after all of the exertion from packing and unpacking.

At some point throughout the day, it is crucial that you cruise around the parking lot (by whatever means you have packed to make this possible) to check out and gape in amazement at all the stuff everyone else has packed and set up for this event. This is very important as it is not only how you make new friends, but it’s how you start your expanded packing list for next year’s concert.

Don and I all smiles at the concert.

Amazingly, there are people who attend the pre-concert event that do not have tickets for the actual concert and who never even planned on attending it. They are there just for the pre-concert activities. You can readily identify these people as they are not hurriedly packing up when it comes time to head into the concert. They are idly sitting by, relaxed with drinks in hand, watching the parade of concert goers file by on their way to the amphitheatre.

“Fins” was popular with Rex and Debi.

The concert was fun, the weather was perfect and breezy, and the moon arose bright and full over the amphitheater. And, thankfully, we’d packed enough and then some for all of our needs (and were able to borrow from our neighbors the few items that we’d forgotten). We enjoyed the nearly three hours that Jimmy played on stage and sang along with our friends – the multitude of other concert goers – who had shared the packing and unpacking ordeal themselves. We let the music and accompanying videos and photos carry us away to tropical destinations as somewhere in the back of our minds we wondered how we could pack a hot tub to set up at next year’s event.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me

Don Welch aka Cap'n Donny Two-Swords

Shiver me timbers...it's Cap'n Donny Two-Swords and he's ready to invade!

For holiday breaks in high school and throughout college, I worked at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in an open-air straw market in Adventure Land. Guests flowed through the market after riding on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride and, at one time, the area also included a “Photo Deck” where guests could dress up in pirate outfits and have their photos taken aboard a faux ship’s deck.

The theme music from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride – “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me” – played on a loop all day long as I worked in the market and I am quite sure it was the background music in my dreams for a number of years. Anyone who’s ever been to the park can probably sing along to at least the chorus…”Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me….” But what is it about pirates and why is there such an endearing enchantment with them? “The Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, starring Johnny Depp, and its host of marketing products that include everything from video games to pirate costumes have earned millions.

The lyrics to the theme song that we so gaily sing along to spell out in black and white exactly what pirating is all about, “…We pillage and plunder, we rifle and loot. We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot…We’re rascals and scoundrels, we’re villains and knaves. We’re devils and black sheep, we’re really bad eggs…We’re beggars and blighters and ne’er do-well cads, Aye, but we’re loved by our mommies and dads….” Even as it spells out the immorality of a pirate’s life, it’s a gay song that sticks in your head and invites you to at least sing along to its chorus of ”Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me!”

But what is the mystic of pirates that make them so appealing? Unless you’re a common criminal, you can’t really relate to their chosen profession and hold it up as something you’d like to emulate. Most parents try to instill a sense of morality in their children and therefore shun anything that is remotely akin to the profession of pirating. Yet each year, millions of parents throw pirate-themed birthday parties for kids, especially little boys. And, to this day, there are modern-day pirates that raise fear among sailors and shipmen throughout the world.

Again I ask, what is the appeal of pirates? Is it the lifestyle of getting to do what you want, when you want, to take what you want, and not having to worry about a thing? Or is it the traveling of the high seas and sailing into countless ports throughout the Caribbean with its warm, gentle breezes and inviting turquoise-blue waters? Or could it be that you don’t have to worry about matching or ironed clothes or even what your hair or teeth look like? Or is it the drinking and carousing with nary a worry of morals?

Most pirates possessed amazing gold jewelry and experienced what seems like an endless party of drinking and carousing. They also attracted saucy wenches – women with fiery attitudes and lose morals that hung around taverns and bars, seaside towns, or wherever pirates generally frequented. We all know that the wenches certainly added to the party in more ways than one.

One of Jimmy Buffett’s most popular songs – “A Pirate Looks at Forty” – also romanticizes pirates: “…Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late. The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder. I’m an over forty victim of fate. Arriving too late, arriving too late….” Attend one of his concerts and you’ll hear everyone loudly singing along to this song with some concert goers even dressed as pirates.

Ahoy Mates...let's round up some booty!

Cap'n Donny Two Swords on the prowl for booty.

My boyfriend Don and I recently attended the Gasparilla Invasion in Tampa. It’s an annual re-enactment of Tampa’s historic pirate invasion, the Gasparilla Flotilla, that celebrates the takeover of Tampa by the legendary pirate Jose Gaspar and his band of marauding Bucanneers. The story is that Gaspar captains the Jose Gasparilla, the world’s only fully rigged pirate ship, as it magically sails into the bay to takeover the city. A multitude of pleasure crafts intent on defending the city boldly sail forth to meet the ship. But quickly seeing the error of their ways, they join forces with the Captain and his Krewe’s flotilla. The colorful Gasparilla Flotilla then makes its way across the bay.

The Jose Gasparilla teeming from bow to stern and capstan to crow’s nest with swashbuckling pirates is a spectacular sight to behold. When the ship docks at the Tampa Convention Center, the Tampa mayor surrenders the Key to the City. With the key in possession, the jolly pirates launch a month of various victory celebrations including several Parades of Pirates throughout the city streets.

Pirates at the 2011 Gasparilla Invasion

A band of pirates including Cap'n Donny Two-Swords and Mary, his favorite wench (couple on the right).

Hundreds of thousands of people, many dressed up in pirate costumes, gather along Tampa Bay to see the spectacular invasion complete with blasting cannons and sword-yielding pirates. The parades feature multitudes of pirates and wenches throwing “booty”  in the form of beads and such off the parade floats. The parade became so raucous that a separate children’s parade is presented as well.

“Cap’n Donny Two-Swords” (aka Don) and I had loads of fun as we hailed other pirates and immersed ourselves in the pirate spirit and frivolity of the event. We amused ourselves by speaking popular pirate lingo to each other including, “Ahoy Matey!,”  “Shivey me timbers,” “You scallywag,” “You’ll be a walking the plank,” and our favorite, “Aaaarrrrrgggghhhh!”

To this day the “Pirates of The Caribbean” is still my all-time favorite ride at the Magic Kingdom. And every once in a while, for no particular reason, I find myself singing “Yo Ho, Yo Ho a Pirate’s Life for me”…it’s a sentiment that I hum as I allow my mind to wander to the mystic of pirates that sailed the Caribbean seas.

Who’s Up for the First Bite of Strange and Foreign Food?

I was an extremely picky eater as a child and I have to admit part of this has followed me into my adulthood as I can reel off quite a lengthy list of foods that I don’t like.

I’d say I was an atypical child in my eating habits. Of course, I didn’t like the usual foods that most kids typically don’t like including broccoli, peas, cooked carrots, mixed vegetables, liver, meatloaf, steak, tuna, and so forth. But add to this lengthy list of disliked items the additional fact that I did not want the food to ever touch each other on my plate. I also ate only one thing at a time until it was completely finished and moved on to the next item. And, if I wanted seconds on anything, it had to go back in the exact same spot as it was originally dished on to the plate.

My parents were the type that wanted their children to try everything and to clean our plates. Their thinking was that if you try something often enough that you just might grow into liking it. Unfortunately, my father was the one who dished up our plates and his spoonful always appeared to be a shovelful once it was placed in front of me to eat. Trust me, out of their five children, I was the one left staring at a plate full of food and making every attempt at sneaking it off to our  dogs.

There are actually a few things I didn’t care for (okay, HATED) as a child that I will now eat…spinach being one. I will also now eat an occasional hotdog or steak which I did not like as a child. I didn’t grow up eating sushi, but it’s by far my favorite thing to eat. I crave it and believe my childhood would have been easier if I had been born to Japanese parents who feed their children sushi instead of my parents who pushed the typical American fare. I truly like a lot of Japanese food including seaweed salad, tofu, edamame, smoked eel, udon noodles, and spiced rice crackers.

I recently had friends – Tamara and Felix – staying with me and we visited my local fruit and vegetable market. This small store sells quite an amazing array of fruits and vegetables and they loved it. Tamara actually wants to move here so she can regularly shop at this market. I am amazed that on almost every visit to this store, I encounter a fruit or vegetable that I’ve never seen before. On occasion I get adventurous and buy a new item that is out of the ordinary for me. If I see others purchasing the item, I’ll approach them and ask how to cook it and what it tastes like. I’ve found that in the world of fruits and vegetables there’s no standard response such as the catch-all phrase in the world of meats, “It tastes like chicken.”

Following our visit to the fruit and vegetable market, Tamara, Felix, and I also ventured into an Indian grocery store. It was actually not the first time I’ve been in one, and yet, I still amazingly perused row upon row of foods that I could not identify, imagine how to cook, or even fathom their tastes. Initially, we were the only white Americans in the store and everyone else appeared to be of Indian descent. At one point a very American-looking white guy came in and grabbed a shopping cart. I immediately wondered what he was planning to buy and assumed he knew about Indian food and was planning to purchase large quantities as he had a cart. Thinking I might learn something from this guy, I surreptitiously began to follow him.

This guy pushed his cart up and down several rows and at one point, picked up a large can of mangoes and intently stared at the label. He put it down and pushed his cart on to the next aisle and I casually followed along. He circled back around and picked up the can of mangoes once more. In the end, he placed it back on the shelf, abandoned his cart, and walked out leaving me to curiously wonder why he was in the store in the first place. Was he optimistic that he’d find something appearing not too foreign to prepare and eat? Were the mangoes too expensive or for some reason not to his liking? Or, did he simply pick up the mangoes after recognizing them from the picture on the can? I’ll never know.

My friend Felix purchased a few items, Tahina sauce (ground sesame seeds) a key ingredient in Hummus – a favorite food of mine. He also bought an odd-looking eggplant, fresh garlic with the roots and tops still intact (who knew you could buy it like that?), and a small cake about the size of a small biscuit. When we got to the car, Felix opened up the cake. We all sniffed it and didn’t recognize its odor as something that would be tasty. It smelled like an odd assortment of spices mixed together. Certainly nothing like a traditional cake would smell. Feeling brave and adventurous, Felix took a bite and deemed it tasty and safe to eat. So Tamara and I took small bites too. Well, surprise, surprise, surprise! The cake’s smell had nothing to do with its taste; and its appearance also had nothing to do with its fine, light texture. Felix compared it to compacted, spun cotton candy with finely chopped nuts and flour mixed into it. It was a perfect description.

So the next time you find yourself curious about different-looking food…take a leap of faith and take a bite of that strange smelling, spun cotton-candy looking Indian cake. You, too, might be pleasantly surprised to find that the list of foods you like has grown along with you. But if you don’t mind, will you please take the first bite?

Was Jack’s Beanstalk a Weed?

I fondly remember the fairy tale “Jack and The Beanstalk.” In the story, Jack’s mother throws magic beans out a window and one sprouts into an enormous beanstalk that reaches up through the clouds and into the sky where a giant lives with hordes of gold. Well, I am here to tell you that perhaps Jack’s beanstalk was actually a weed and that some of its seeds might very well have found their way into my yard and, quite possibly, your yard as well. Before I even finish typing my thoughts, I am sure these weeds will have grown at least another five inches and are quickly germinating throughout my yard and up to the heavens.

First, I’d like to know who makes the deciding factor as to what constitutes a weed and secondly, why are weeds are so bad? My neighbors and I spend a small fortune and invest quite a bit of sweat equity into eradicating weeds from our yards. In general, society has instilled in homeowners that particular plants are in fact weeds that are undesirable and should be killed and destroyed at all cost. Yet weeds are quite stalwart and grow where our tenderly cared for, gently spoken to, fertilized, and watered plants will not grow. But weeds don’t care if they are watered, if their tops are cut off by lawnmowers, if they are fertilized, or even whether they get any sun. They continue to grow and wage a war against all non-weeds.

As a child, I remember wandering into a field near our home and picking what I thought were beautiful flowers to present to my mother. As I matured, I realized the flowers I so lovingly picked for her actually came from plants that I now know are considered weeds. Who among us has not picked the seed head of a dandelion and blown its delicate seeds into the air while making a wish? Dandelions are weeds, and yet they delight us as we make our wish and blow their seeds off into the wind. There are some people that even eat dandelions and swear they are delicious and nutritious.

My mother considered Lantanas a weed and I now see them for sale at local nurseries and garden centers. They still have a distinctly odd smell that I remember from my childhood. So why are they now deemed as acceptable plants for our yards? How did they get off the list of weeds? Did a government official or some distant relative of the famous botanist George Washington Carver suddenly decide they were no longer to be categorized as weeds?

Somehow, I’d like to become part of the committee that determines what constitutes a weed. I’d vociferously lobby to have a vast array of plants that are healthy and sprouting throughout all of our yards removed from the “Weed” category. As a result, I am sure I’d become a hero for saving all homeowners the time, energy, and frustrations of battling with weeds. And, no longer having to fight the “Weed Battle” would leave us more time to pick dandelions to either eat or send our special wishes floating off into the world with their seeds.

Hello World…What is Normal Anymore?

Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns and green beer? Today’s normal is quite abnormal in the big scheme of things…even for a St. Patrick’s Day.

In 2004, I was one of the millions of Central Floridians that lived through three back-to-back hurricanes – Charlie, Jean, and Francis – that wreaked a combined total of $45 billion in damages throughout the state. We all prepared, endured, and cleaned up after each hurricane, continuously complaining about our damaged property and plight. During that time, our “normal” included no electricity, downed trees, roof damages, and severe ice cravings.

To say the least, these hurricanes were an inconvenience as they took each of us experiencing them out of what we considered our own personal “normal.” However, unless you actually experience a disaster firsthand, you can only surmise the impact from media reports and personal accounts. But the true impact of a disaster is felt not only in the physical sense, but also in the mental sense, as the stress of dealing with its aftermath becomes your new “normal.”

Since March 11, we have all been shocked and saddened at the destruction that has occurred and continues to occur from multiple aftershocks and nuclear meltdowns within Japan. Most of us keep updated on the latest events on this disaster via Internet and TV reports as well as through personal contact with loved ones in Japan. But, unless we are actually living it, I do not believe we can truly comprehend the actual scope of this destruction. And how do I know this? From relating my experiences during the hurricanes to family and friends who didn’t seem to think that downed trees, no electricity, and lack of ice was that big of a deal. Why? Because they weren’t actually living our “normal.”

What I do know that we can comprehend from the many images of Japan’s destruction is that the Japanese are handling their new “normal” with grace and dignity not found in most cultures. There is no public outcry or panic in their faces and no reports of violence, thefts, or vandalism – even after six days following the initial event.

Perhaps it would behoove everyone celebrating this St. Patrick’s Day to lift a glass of green beer to the future of Japan and its people. And, instead of ordering that second round, send the money you would have spent on trying to momentarily escape your “normal” via alcohol to the Japan relief efforts in hopes their “normal” will return faster than expected.