It’s very sad news. My incredibly wonderful uncle Leo has passed away. He has been married to my mother’s sister Beverly for 60 years. They were very much in love to his last day and Beverly continues to carry the torch for him and will forever. This is the kind of love that legends are made of. After a glimpse of this, it’s something to emulate and who would ever want to settle for anything less?
We want to celebrate that love surrounded by family so for the second time in a month, we are doing the I-95 drive to Florida. Unlike last month’s relatively short drive from Charlotte, NC to Jacksonville for a happy love event – my nephew’s wedding – this time we are almost doubling the distance to Fort Lauderdale. It’s been almost two years since we’ve been down and we are way overdue for a trip. Of course we would prefer it to be under happier circumstances.
My older brother meets us in Charlotte making the ride easier with three drivers. We hit the road just before 6:00am. My map app on my iPhone says it will take just under 12 hours in driving time alone but from experience and some lead feet in the car, I know it will be less.
Along the way we stop in Savannah and meet up with my newlywed nephew. (A Luxury Suite at a Bargain Basement Price) We are all just passing through so we converge at a gas station for a few minutes and swap some amore and Italian honeymoon stories. Next stop is Daytona where my father meets us for a quickly inhaled lunch at Chipotle Mexican Grill.
We want to spend more time but we know we are going to hit West Palm Beach at rush hour and need to get on the road. We send him home with a small gift from the heart – food from our favorite Charlotte Indian restaurant, Copper, and some packaged Indian side dishes from Trader Joe’s. His access to this cuisine is severely limited in his small town so this is a huge treat for him.
The clan is gathering at a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale at six o’clock for one of several family get-togethers. During the drive between Daytona and West Palm Beach I need to find us a reasonable hotel room in the Boynton Beach area. We will check in and then drive the extra 40 miles to see the family.
To my surprise, my usual go-to iPhone app, The Negotiator from Priceline.com has a huge area that it does not serve. There are no hotels listed between West Palm Beach and Boca Raton – exactly where we need to be. I bounce between a bunch of apps from hotels.com to Hotwire and nothing’s coming up. I’m not feeling the love at the moment and I’m really starting to stress out. Finally I resort to the old fashioned way, I start searching by hotel chains I know.
Because I have had success lately at Holiday Inn Express, I check the one in Boynton Beach first. It’s kind of pricey at $139 a night. It turns out to be much cheaper than the Hampton Inn or most other chains I check. I try Priceline to get a 4 star hotel in Palm Beach for $100…way under the accepted bids of $280 a night. No success. The 2 1/2 star hotels on the island for $60 sound a bit too risky so we skip bidding on those. My Hilton Honors card also gets me nowhere. Winter in the Palm Beaches is “The Season” meaning it’s a license to gouge.
I tell my younger brother about our dilemma and he thinks the Holiday Inn Express is a dump but promises to go by on his way home from work to check it out. I love that he will go out of his way to make sure his big sister will not end up in a ramshackle hell hole. He calls back and tells me it’s been completely renovated so I pick up the phone and dial.
The reservations person quotes the rack rate of $139 for the weeknights and $159 for the weekend nights. Not loving that answer, I start asking about discounts – what do I need to get one? She rattles off a whole bowl of alphabet soup of memberships. We find a match that brings the weekday rate down to $103 a night and $123 for the weekend. Just asking the question shaves almost $150 off our bill. That’s like a free night. When we check in, the front desk clerk never asks to see our membership card for proof to get the rate.
It turns out that my brother is partially right. The outside of the hotel has been refurbished but the rooms have not. While not updated, the room is clean and the bathroom is in good repair. We have a regular TV (not flat screen) which is fine but the air conditioner that is so noisy we turn it off at night. Also we are on the I-95 side of the hotel so traffic noise is a bit annoying. The hotel is full so our only choice is two double beds instead of a king. Whatever. It’s just a place to collapse from exhaustion.
Once we check in, we are anxious to get back on the road to visit my mother’s side of the family. We all spent our younger years in New England so the only fitting dinner is at Kelly’s Landing in Fort Lauderdale. Seafood, or more exactly shellfish, is king here.
This hungry bunch devours steamers (Ipswich clams for the uninitiated), little neck clams, quahogs, clam chowder and large “lobstahs” stuffed with breading and scallops. There are many toasts to Leo but not enough to do him justice.
The next day is tough to get through but the chapel is a giant bubble of Leo love and our broken hearts are somewhat mended by the warmth shown by friends and family. For the rest of the day we tell stories and reconnect with loved ones. We don’t want to be here for this occasion but we couldn’t be anywhere else. We love you Uncle Leo. We’ll miss you laugh and your easy smile. The planet is a sadder place with you gone.