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Another Tale of Two Cities

Another Tale of Two Cities

    It was the best of towns, it was the worst of towns... and we sampled both the second-to-last weekend (plus a little more) in April.

    Saturday, April 21st, the Howards drove almost unerringly from home to Woodcliff Lake NJ, even though Map Quest proved again that computers don't always match reality.  The "Reverend" participated at 3:30 PM in a wedding ceremony at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Park Ridge.  You can read and see all about it, if you haven't done so already, by clicking your mouse on this hyperlink: Linda and Anthony's Wedding

    We stayed a mostly sleepless night at the Hilton at Woodcliff Lake, thanks to the bride's generosity, and drove away from the hotel at 5:45 AM, in order to get to Newark Airport for an 8:20 flight to Tallahassee.  With varying degrees of anxiety, we found the parking lot, eventually figured out how to get an electronic plane ticket, and finally persuaded the security at the gate that I wasn't carrying a bomb in my knees.  We arrived in Jacksonville on time, despite a three-quarter of an hour wait in Newark.  I'm surprised the air police didn't stop our plane for speeding.  Either that or Continental calculates delays in its ETA's. 

    We were promised a Dodge Sebring as our rental car; but when I put the key in the ignition I might as well have been in my own garage.  The rental was a Ford Taurus with Georgia plates.  We drove two hundred miles across the Florida panhandle, as barren a stretch as any I've seen in Utah.  The towns were small, the restaurants closed (Sunday), and the traffic along Rtes 10 and 90 sparse.  We passed two prisons and several herds of cattle, finally making it to our friends' home around 4:30 PM in the Killearn neighborhood of Tallahassee.

    That evening at the Spivey's and the next three days were the best of times.  Let me count the ways of Floridian hospitality.

    They shared their friends and colleagues with us.  Dr. James Smith (whose current project is magnetizing rats, at, let it be known, the Florida State University Mag Lab, the world's largest) and his wife dined with us at the Spivey's on Martha's pork chops.  When Professor Smith appeared at the front door, I thought it strange that Bob would grow a beard, until I realized Smith wasn't Spivey.  See for yourself, imagining the man in the white coat without a hairy chin.

      Bob Spivey, seminarian with CCRWH from 1953-56 at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, currently works at Florida State University as the Senior Associate to the President of the FSU Foundation.  Think fund-raising.  He taught religion at Williams College in the early 1960's, leaving that professorship to inaugurate and recruit professors for a Religion Department at Florida State. He served there for fourteen years before being called to be president of Randolph-Macon Woman's College, his wife Martha's alma mater, a Methodist-related institution.  There he switched denominational loyalty from Southern Baptist to United Methodist.  After ten years Bob left the college presidency to head up the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.  In quasi-retirement he and Martha returned to FSU in 1998, and to the state where the Spivey's three children and families reside. Bob has been ombudsman for the FSU Foundation since 2002 and, in that position, unofficial counsel for many in the administration of a university with 40,000 students. Much earlier in his career he co-authored a textbook for the teaching of the Bible in college, Anatomy of the New Testament, now in its sixth edition.

    Martha's curriculum vitae may not be quite so splendid, but Bob would be the first to note that through the years and the various posts he has filled, she made everything possible: the seminary education, the growing family, the Fulbright years in Germany, the gracious hostess for the college professor and president, the peerless chauffeur... the high school sweetheart whose life is even more tightly entwined with her Bobby than it was in the 1940's.  I spied them holding hands one afternoon at Wakulla Springs.  And when the hot tub wouldn't heat, guess who thought to check the circuit breaker?

    The Spiveys introduced us to Tallahassee's culinary delights.  Martha cooked up a delicious piquant (that fancy word means "hot") bowl of grits.  She also cooked up a tasty breakfast of English muffins coated with cheese and sausage. 

    If we expected Martha to delight our palates, Tallahassee, that best of towns, surprised us with Apalachicola oysters, twice tasted, once in a restaurant serving only oysters, and once on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico just to the south of, you guessed it, Apalachicola.  And at The Outback, whose founders were not Australians but FSU grads, we discovered Martha's favorite, the Bloomin' Onion. 

    We did occasionally get up from the groaning board.  We got a pro tour of the state capitol. 

    And a professorial tour of Florida State University.

    Including a top row venue for the football stadium (named after present coach Bobby Bowden) that seats 82,000 Seminole fans. I bought a baseball cap to commemorate the visit and protect my bald head from the Tallahassee sun.

    Not that we neglected our combined (Bob and Bob) 100 years of ecclesiastical vocation.  Dr. Spivey planned to take me with him on his Tuesday night visitation of a local prison, but the red tape involved in getting a Connecticut Yankee into a maximum lock-up was beyond time constraints and pastoral pull.  So we went instead to the university's Wesley Foundation building.

    No sight-seeing visit to Tallahassee could be complete without taking in Wakulla Springs State Park, the largest freshwater spring in the world, producing 200,000 gallons a minute, more than enough to keep the preying alligators plying its waters clean and hungry.

    I began this photo report paraphrasing Dickens about the best of towns and the worst of towns.  Let me explain.  Thursday morning at 8 AM we bade the Spiveys a fond farewell, promising to meet again along the shores of the Hudson River.  We drove to Jacksonville, reassured security I had no bombs in my knees, and flew back to Newark Airport.

    Newark  The other town.  Where we got lost.  Again.  The signage on the highways was nonexistent or misleading.  I now know why Governor Corzine's driver spun out.  It wasn't just the 91 mph.  He probably was looking at the signs and tried to turn around too abruptly.  Anyway, for every hour spent  in the air from Jacksonville to Newark, it took us two hours to find our way out of New Jersey.  Oh, we passed many familiar sights: the Pulaski Skyway, a memory from my childhood trips in Uncle Henry's car to an aunt's home in East Orange; a welcome sign for Bellville, where once I visited an "industrial park" in which the Methodists of our Conference invested and lost a few million dollars of pensions money in start-up companies making margarine from salad oil; and, at long last, a sign for the Garden State Parkway. 

    But these insults to my vaunted sense of direction could not diminish the afterglow of four days of southern hospitality, live oaks, and Apalachicola oysters.

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