End Of The Road For The Mayport Ferry?

It was not a huge surprise when the Jacksonville Port Authority this week announced that it could no longer subsidize the Mayport Ferry. Short of an extraordinary rescue effort, the shortest distance between two points connecting Florida A1A may be severed.

Ferry DockingJaxport took over the ferry operations in 2007 as part of the negotiations to acquire several parcels of land where it intended to build a cruise ship terminal in Mayport village. With the cruise business now low on the Port Authority’s priority list, it looks like the ferry is as well.

In operation since 1948, the ferry has seen declining ridership in recent years. The number of cars taking the shortcut across the river fell to under 300,000 last year, in part because of a substantial fare increase from $3.00 to $5.00 each way in 2009. But there are a variety of reasons for the decline. Completion of the Wonderwood bridge and expressway have reduced the time it takes to drive around to Heckscher Drive. But it’s still a long way over to re-join A1A to get up to Big and Little Talbot Islands from I295. And when the ferry goes out of service for maintenance, which any vessel seeing as much work as the Mayport ferry does needs regularly, there is no backup. The backup ferry (pictured below)  was retired a few years back, and so people are forced to make the drive when the MV Blackbeard is in dry dock. Once they get out of the habit of taking the ferry, many never return. A replacement for the backup boat would cost as much as $13 million by most estimations. So when the Blackbeard needs maintenance, there will continue to be interruptions in service.

Former Backup FerrySo the Port Authority says it can no longer afford to continue to prop up the ferry, and do the maintenance on the boat or the dock facilities. They say they will return ownership of the ferry to the city, which their contract to operate the service allows them to do. But Mayor Alvin Brown almost immediately said it would be very difficult for the city to operate the boat. Local activist who led the charge to save the ferry the last time it was threatened say that it will be a long and difficult lobbying effort to pull that off again. The state is facing a $2 billion deficit in its upcoming legislative session, and money for the ferry would be nothing but an earmark at the federal level. We all know there is no room for (most) earmarks in the federal budget.

By most accounts, losing the ferry would be a death knell for the village of Mayport, and a couple restaurants and other small businesses on the west side of the river would certainly struggle. With no drive-through traffic taking the ferry, businesses like Singleton’s Sea Food could lose a substantial percentage of their patrons. Safe Harbor seafood might make it for a while, but their retail business might certainly fall off with no drive-through traffic using the ferry. With no reason for people to go to Mayport, the village might well wither and die.

If it goes, I’ll certainly miss the ferry. A trip to Big or Little Talbot island, the Timucuan Preserve, Kingsley Plantation, Fort Clinch, or Amelia Island won’t be the same without the short ride across the river. Adding 20 miles to get back  to A1A for one of the most scenic drives in the state, particularly in a convertible, will mean we’ll go less often.

Ferry WheelhouseI hope the ferry will be able to make it. It’s one of the things that add character to our island, and as someone who has spent a lot of time on the water, I’m consistently impressed with the seamanship demonstrated by the ferry captains as they fight wind, tides, and current in a boat that is far from the most maneuverable on the river to slide it into its slip time after time. It’s never the same twice, and it was the rare ferry ride that ended in anything but a gentle nudge against the dock. And it was always a pleasure when BJ was directing traffic onto or off of the boat.

Councilman Bill Gulliford is holding a town hall meeting January 19th to discuss the ferry issue at Fletcher High School in Jacksonville Beach. I’d be there but I’ve already paid for a ticket to the Chamber of Commerce annual meeting that same evening.

It will be a sad day if the Mayport ferry is forced to stop its trips back and forth across the river. Add my voice to those who support maintaining the ferry, and hope it can be preserved. I’m not sure where the money comes from. City governments from Jacksonville to the beach communities are strapped for cash, and the ferry is a low priority. Like so many things in life, the Mayport ferry may be one of those things that “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

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Why Not A Moderate?

With the New Hampshire primary today (Tuesday), South Carolina on the 21st and Florida on the 31st, the nation is deep into its quadrennial process of selecting a President. With only token opposition to President Obama’s reelection (sorry, Darcy), even his failure to file a slate of delegates in  New Hampshire and problems with the Georgia ballot over birth certificate issues are unlikely to derail his path to the nomination.

On the Republican side, the national media has been almost obsessed with the “flavor of the month.” Each of the “not Romney” candidates has had his or her flirtation with being the candidate who can beat the former Massachusetts governor. And all the talk is “who is the true ‘conservative’ in the race?” They seem enthralled with who has the backing of the Tea Party.

But more important is, who can get things done?

The political parties have become increasingly polarized. Run to the right (or the left) for the nomination, and then to the center to win the general. The conventional wisdom leaves many voters wondering which candidate is the real candidate. The hard-line conservative or liberal who wins the nomination, or the more moderate candidate who might win the general.GOP elephant

Which begs the question … when did it become a sin to be a moderate in a primary election?

Most of us are somewhere in the middle. Is it possible that more people might turn out for a primary election if they thought there was a candidate in the race that appealed to them? So often, it seems, the moderates who will come out in the general election are voting for what they consider the least objectionable of two candidates because that candidate has expressed views they find distasteful pandering to the extreme of one side or the other to win the nomination. Is it any wonder why so many people say they have not enthusiastically voted for a candidate in years, if ever, maybe at any level.

In 1969, Richard Nixon called on what he referred to as the “vast silent majority” to support his plan to end the war in Vietnam. That silent majority still exists today. The majority of Americans who want to be involved in politics, but also have the priority of keeping the mortgage paid and the kids in school and food on the table and gas in the car. They want Washington, and Tallahassee (or insert your state capital here) and even city hall to do what they do and mostly leave them alone. They don’t turn out for primary elections because, if they’ve paid attention at all, they’ve heard a lot of far left or far right rhetoric and phony talking points that are absolutely as canned as they sound … and so what’s the point? It’s always for “the children” or “working Americans”, and, depending on party affiliation,  against “corporate fat cats” or “tax and spend liberals.” And both sides serve up a health dose of vitriol for the dreaded “Washington insiders” and “career politicians.”

The candidate that appeals to the moderate Republican is one who will be fiscally responsible and doesn’t want to impose his or her morality on the rest of the nation. I want a candidate who supports a strong defense, truly equal opportunity for all … including middle-aged white males who are trying just as hard, or maybe harder than anyone else to support their families. I’m a proud moderate Republican. I think there are maybe millions more like me, and it’s time we started voting in primary elections. I do, for no other reason than to tell whomever has run to the far right that we’re here, and we do vote.

I VotedThe good news, for me at least, is that the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2012 appears to be a moderate. To me, the rest of the field has been fairly weak, though some candidates had their appeal. Speaker Gingrich is almost always the smartest person in the room, but Governor Romney is the candidate who thinks most like I do.

The bottom line is, moderates have to stop being afraid to speak up when they disagree with the hard-liners. I can’t be the only one who is tired of being told I’m not “Republican” enough. If Republicans truly want to be a majority party, and not just “not Democrats” occasionally, it’s the moderates who will take them there.

Make room in that “big tent,” … you’ll be glad you did.

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I Love ‘Ya, Jacksonville

In a 1955 episode of “The Honeymooners” titled “Better Living Through TV”, Jackie Gleasons’ Ralph Kramden and his comic foil Art Carney playing Ed Norton discuss one of Ralph’s endless “get rich quick” schemes.

Honeymooners“We spend $200, we make $2000 and the profit is $1800,” Ralph says. “We can’t lose.”
“Can’t lose, huh? That’s what you said when you bought the parking lot next to where they were building up the movie house there,” answers Ed. “You said, ‘People going to the movies got to have a place to park their car’.”

To which Ralph replies “How did I know they were building a drive-in theater?”

To those who may be under the age of 40 or so, Ralph Kramden was the hard-luck bus driver with a heart of gold who was forever looking for a way to lift himself out of his decidedly lower-middle-class life. In episode after episode, Ralph reached for that elusive brass ring, which in episode after episode, he found it to be just … out … of … reach.

We’ve all known a Ralph Kramden in our lives. At times, most of us have probably felt we WERE Ralph Kramden. One of the reasons the show was so popular, and why it still resonates today (if you can find a place to watch it), is because that desire for a better life, to find out if the grass IS always greener, is actually true.

But there is a metaphor here for Jacksonville as well. It seems like time after time our city reaches for the quick fix, rather than setting out a long-term plan for its future. If I read my Jacksonville history correctly, the city’s leaders have since consolidation been looking for something that will quickly boost it into national prominence. Plans have come and gone, and while each one made at least an incremental change, nothing has provided the sustainability needed for long-term positive growth. With every change in the administration or the city council leadership, each coming in with his or her own ideas and agenda, what might have been started falls by the wayside.

The Better Jacksonville Plan was something of an exception. The voter-approved plan has, for the most part, accomplished the goals it set out to achieve, but, at least in the case of the County Courthouse, at a much higher cost than had originally been anticipated. And now, the current administration and city council are struggling to find the money to pay for the increased upkeep and maintenance of the new facilities.

The LandingBut projects like The Landing, which was to have been a seed planted from which a revitalized downtown could grow, never realized its potential in part because the parking issue was left to be resolved ‘later’; it remains unresolved. We know about the Shipyards … the so-called “billion dollar mile” public-private partnership that turned into a money pit for the city before the economy finally pushed it off into the indefinite future, with the city owning the land and no buyer available to put it back on the tax rolls.

So what makes Jacksonville different from a city like San Antonio, which has a vibrant and thriving River Walk entertainment district? Or Indianapolis, which has few of the natural resources we enjoy here in Jacksonville, but has managed to revive its downtown? The difference is a plan which transcends political changes.

Both cities have been visited recently by Jacksonville’s business and political leadership. Indianapolis is a particularly good model, as they have a consolidated city-county government. The takeaway from the Chamber leadership trip to Indianapolis was that they set out a series of goals, determined that they wanted to be “The Amateur Sports Capital of the World,” and took the necessary steps to be that. It does help that they have the benefit of being the state capitol, and the largesse of the Eli Lily foundation and others to back them up, but foundations like Lily don’t just give money without a solid plan to on which to base their investments.

San Antonio also set out to create a vision for its future in sessions facilitated by our own JCCI. But even before that visioning project, San Antonio was a destination for conventions and tourists. I attended a convention there in the early 1990’s and was impressed with the number of restaurants and entertainment venues along their River Walk even then. If you’ve been to San Antonio, you know their river is nothing like our St. Johns.

Jax DowntownJacksonville needs to undertake such a visioning project, and once that vision is determined, take the steps necessary to bring it to fruition independent of changes in government. We have so much to offer that neither Indianapolis nor San Antonio can: a beautiful natural river in the heart of our downtown, the ocean and our beach communities, and Florida’s famously temperate winters. We should be a place people want to come, with a unique natural beauty not found in such Florida tourist destinations as Daytona, Orlando, or Miami.

Jacksonville has a great deal of potential looking for an outlet, but our piecemeal approach to achieving that potential has, time after time, fallen short. As Dr. Phil might ask … “How’s that workin’ out for ya?” Without a plan in place that can be sustained beyond the next election, we may eternally be Ralph Kramden … buying the parking lot next to the drive-in theater. Very well intentioned, but with that brass ring always just out of reach.

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(“Honeymooners” publicity photo Public Domain (L-R) Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, all others © Tom Patton)

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The Shot Heard ‘Round The Basketball World

I was a student at Indiana University during its roundball glory days. Coach Robert Montgomery Knight roamed the sidelines in a plaid jacket, and it seemed there was never a college basketball discussion that didn’t include a mention of the Hoosiers. Granted, I’ve never quite forgiven Coach Knight for winning a national title the year before I enrolled and the year after I graduated … but there was an NIT title in that span of 1976-1980 that at least gave me a taste of that basketball glory. I’m still among those fans who think Bob Knight pretty much hung the moon … 10 feet above the playing surface.

IU

But when I moved away from Indiana, it became increasingly difficult to follow the Hoosiers. Odd that some places didn’t understand the value of Hoosier basketball, but there you go. Living now in Florida, where the Gators have shown some basketball prowess but football is still king, it’s difficult sometimes to find even a box score in the Florida Times-Union, let alone be able to catch a game on television. The Hoosiers’ troubles over the past few years had relegated them to the back of the sports section, and only merited a mention when they played a nationally-ranked team.

So while watching the last of the Ohio State game on ESPN Saturday, and the up-next was undefeated Indiana against undefeated and #1-ranked Kentucky … well I knew what the rest of MY afternoon would be like. Christmas lights all hung, I settled onto the couch for what would arguably be one of the great games in college basketball history.

If you follow college basketball, you already know that the final score was 73-72 Indiana on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Christian Watford. By that time, Andie was home from work and I was grilling steaks for dinner, a benefit of living in Florida in December. She thought I was just pacing, and in a way, I was. So many times through the Kelvin Sampson era IU basketball had become difficult to watch, and the program had served up a lot of disappointment over the years since Coach Knight was let go. I fiercely wanted the Hoosiers to win, but knew that Kentucky was ranked #1 for a reason. Down two with 5.6 seconds to play and the ball, it was certainly not a foregone conclusion.

But Indiana fans know that down 2 and 5.6 seconds to play is an opportunity. And Watford took advantage.

WBIWAs a student at IU, I think I had the opportunity to be in Assembly Hall only once. My part-time job at the local radio station in Bedford, where I grew up, was to insert the local commercials into Indiana basketball games. So my path to Hoosier fandom came from being on campus during the week, and listening to Don Fisher call play-by-play … as he still does … on the Indiana University Basketball Network. The game I attended was Indiana vs Notre Dame. The Irish were heavily favored … and they never led in the game. That’s the kind of Indiana Basketball I was accustomed to. I do recall missing hearing Don call the game for me … but that’s another post.

So Saturday’s victory was special. The students pouring onto the court after the fantastic finish, which nearly left Dickey V speechless, was the result of years of pent-up frustration triggered by a three-point nothing-but-net shot with 0.0 showing on the clock. I felt like if I could have jumped through the TV screen to join them, I’d have been out there in that sea of red.

In the big scheme of things, a mid-season basketball win seems like a small thing. But for Hoosier fans who have waited for this moment, it was special. And honestly, we all knew it was just a matter of time.

After all, as the players and coaches said after the game … “It’s Indiana.”

Sig

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The Rest Of The Airshow

As is often the case, the focus of the local media coverage of the NAS Jacksonville Airshow this weekend was on the Blue Angels. That’s appropriate, given the celebration this year of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Naval Aviation, and the spectacular show the Blues fly. First "Aircraft Carrier" Landing by a Curtiss Pusher aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania in 1911On my “bucket list” is an opportunity to strap into the back seat of an F/A-18 Hornet and merrily lose my lunch pulling multiple “G’s” … one of the ultimate “E-Ticket” rides. About the only thing that would rival it would be a $200,000 sub-orbital flight with Virgin Galactic, or one of the other commercial spaceflight companies that will be coming along in the next few years.

That photo, BTW, is of the first-ever landing of an airplane on the deck of a ship … a Curtiss Pusher landing on the U.S.S. Pennsylvania in 1911.

But sometimes overlooked are the other performers that fly at airshows like NAS, or the Sky and Sea Spectacular out at the beach, or hundreds of other airshows around the country. The Blues are the big draw, or course, and an opportunity to see them should not be missed. But neither should the rest.

I accepted an invitation from some good friends at the Chamber of Commerce to attend Friday’s practice show. Driving out to NAS on a chilly, breezy, grey morning, I crossed the Buckman Bridge hoping the weather would lift enough to allow the performers to fly. As I topped the bridge, could see the edge of the weather pushing to the east, and I knew that we’d see some great flying.

And we did. I enjoyed very much watching the demonstrations by an F-4 Phantom, an airplane we were told by the show announcer would be ending its life as a target drone in a live-fire exercise. A real shame, really, because the thunder it created as it pulled up from the runway in full afterburner showed there is still a lot of life left in the Vietnam-era supersonic fighter. Also impressive was the A-10 Thunderbolt, … the “Warthog” which found new life in the “shooting gallery” of the first Gulf war, and will continue to fly for decades to come in close-air support.  “The Horsemen” flew formation aerobatics in a pair of P-51s, perhaps the most-recognizable airplane from WWII. No ballet is more elegantly choreographed.

But as a (admittedly not current) GA pilot,  the small airplanes and the pilots who fly them, are equally impressive. 

NAS Skip Stewart Ribbon CutThe show opened with a routine flown by Skip Stewart in his Prometheus biplane, a modified Pitts S-2S which is something of a cross between a Ferrari and a muscle car. Stewart executed a quarter snap roll immediately after his wheels left the ground and gave us a low pass past airshow center in a knife-edge configuration … a testament to the abilities of both the airplane and the pilot.  Here, he’s about to cut the second of two ribbons suspended between two poles about 30 feet off the ground with the horizontal stabilizer of the airplane, which at this attitude becomes the vertical stabilizer. The picture really doesn’t do it justice.

NAS Wagstaff 2Also flying in the morning was three-time National Aerobatic Champion Patty Wagstaff. Patty is an inductee in both the National Aerobatics Hall of Fame and the International Aerospace Hall of Fame. Her Extra 300S airplane spends as much time upside down as right side up, at least when it’s flying. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Patty at a couple of aviation events, though she probably wouldn’t know me from Adam’s cat. At one point, one of the other spectators watching Patty fly said “I’d never get into that airplane.” My response was “I’d fly with her any day, any time,” and I meant it.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the base around noon to get back to the deadline work that was piling up in my inbox for Friday.

The Blue Angels deserve the accolades they receive. They are a among the most elite pilots flying anywhere, and what they can accomplish in those jets is a thing of beauty. But just as impressive is the caliber of pilots and acts that fly at airshows around the country every year. We’re fortunate that they came to perform here.

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AirVenture

I’m in Wisconsin. “What in the world are you doing in Wisconsin?”, I hear you ask. Well, here at the end of the day, I’m enjoying a Rocky Patel 1990 and getting set for a long day tomorrow, the first full day of the AirVenture show at Oshkosh. Nearly every type of airplane … heck flying machine … is represented here this week. For anybody with even a passing interest in aviation, Oshkosh in late July is the place to be.

Except maybe for the mosquitoes. But that’s partly what the cigar is for.

Today was pretty much a ‘look around and see what’s out there’ day. Not everything has arrived just yet. Late the week, Boeing’s Dreamliner … the new, all composite airliner Boeing has been working on for years will be stopping by.Paris Air Show The Wittman Field (KOSH) runway will be taxed by the appearance of the airplane, but it handled an Airbus A380 a couple of years ago, so I imagine they’ve well figured out that they can get the Dreamliner in and out of here. Still in all … it’ll be fun to watch.

I spent part of my day today talking to a guy who is here with his 15-year-old nephew who flew here in a 1946 Ercoupe. This is an airplane of which I have been a fan for a long time. Paul Kern, the father of an old girlfriend,  had one. Paul was one of my early flying influences, and who showed me the path that would eventually lead to my earing a pilot’s license. ErcoupePaul’s was a “newer” 1966 Alon Aircoupe with “Factory 3” controls. In the airplane I saw today, the ailerons are coupled to the rudders, eliminating the need for rudder pedals. It was designed shortly after the war to be an “everyman’s airplane” … easy and inexpensive to fly. But like so many of those ideas, it never quite panned out to what it should have been. I recall an afternoon with Paul in the Alon in which we flew from Bedford down to a little town called Sunrise in southern Indiana. His daughter, whom I was dating at the time, was on a church-sponsored canoe trip on the Ohio River, and we did a couple of lazy overflights of their encampment before heading back home. I’d love to be able to fly one again, but then, there are a lot of airplanes that fall into that category.

Being here in Oshkosh always gives me that feeling. There are few sensations that are like being in command of an airplane, no matter how small. Coming here, being around the airplanes and the airplane people, it touches a place that nothing else really can.

So, I’m in Oshkosh. I’m here to work, and work we will. But there is also a camaraderie, a feeling of belonging, something unique about what it represents. It feels right to be here.

This may be a rare, quiet moment this week. I’ve not written enough about anything. That needs to change. And this seemed to be a much better place to start than any.

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Pelicans

I love to photograph pelicans. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because something so big and ungainly and be so graceful in flight and photogenic when they’re not. Here are some captures I got at the marina today.

Pelican 1

At the fish cleaning station waiting for a handout.

Pelican 4

On the beach below the fish cleaning station … waiting for a handout.

 

Pelican 7

Ready for his closeup.

Pelican 8

I’d always heard they could do this, but never had seen it before.

 

Always fascinating. Next time … boats.

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