Just got back from my first real vacation in 24 years

All images courtesy of Del Stone Jr.

It was my first real vacation in 24 years.

I’d sneaked in weekends here and there – three days in backwoods Louisiana, where the kudzu is thicker than the Cajun accents, or a weekend of schmoozing at a writers’ convention in Central Florida – but for the first time since my father passed away in 1998 I was leaving the homestead for a week to relax with friends.

The location was a small town called Blue Ridge in northern Georgia, just a white lightning run from the Tennessee border. My friends Richard, Joy and Sarah retired there after a work journey took them from Fort Walton Beach to Virginia, Alabama, and Colorado. I had visited them in Virginia and Alabama – Virginia was my favorite; sorry, Alabama – and now the attraction of mountains, and a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner, was too much to resist.

I was surprised by the amount of crap I felt I had to take with me – my pill organizer with my vitamins and prescriptions; the waist band I wear when I exercise; my pricey enamel-restoring toothpaste. When packing for the trip I promised myself I’d bring only the essentials. Funny how so much stuff has become “essential.”

I worried I’d become drowsy during the hours of monotonous driving on the interstate, but the opposite proved to be true. It had been so long since I’d dealt with finicky cruise controls, near suicidal drivers, inexplicable interstate backups, believing I could make it to the next rest stop before my bladder erupted like Mount St. Helen, and the terror of surviving traffic in a major, and I mean major, metropolitan area like Atlanta, that I remained in a constant state of high alert.

Atlanta taught me that indeed, I am growing older, because in the past I considered the hair-raising driving practices of many Atlantans to be merely irritating. Now, they scared the hell out of me. Bumper-to-bumper at 80 mph? Had I wandered into the Daytona 500? Was I winning?

Also, I managed to get lost and instead of taking the I-575 bypass around the innards of that crazed town I ended up in something called an “express lane,” which means I will now be receiving a ticket in the mail from the Georgia Department of Transportation because I don’t have the special Peachy Keen Pass required to drive on that road. So thank you, Atlanta, for further eroding my meager checking account.

Another driving terror awaited when I reached Richard and Joy’s neighborhood. I shouldn’t call it a “neighborhood” – it’s actually a beautifully laid-out development on the side of a mountain. Gorgeous houses are spaced about 300 yards apart on very steep inclines. Trees and underbrush have been preserved, unlike developments in Florida, where the land is graded down to the earth’s mantel and then trees from Mars are planted to replace the native trees felled by the bulldozer’s blade. Life in Blue Ridge is like living in a treehouse.

The problem lies in reaching those gorgeous houses. The road was a narrow two-lane with very steep inclines and stomach-wrenching declines, with practically no road shoulder and near cliffs approaching the edge of the asphalt – at least that’s what it looked like to this Florida flatlander who lives an average of 12 feet above sea level.

Oh, and another thing. It was cold. Of course it was cold. I was 400 miles farther north than my usual stomping grounds.

And because you’re in the mountains, you’re also in the low layers of clouds, which meant it was often drippy and wet. It rained the first two days I was there and remained cloudy and damp the rest of the time. But then, when I came back home it rained like hell down here, too, so maybe it’s just me. Maybe I attract rain, like PigPen in the Peanuts comic strip attracted dirt.

Blue Ridge appears to be a favored vacation spot for Floridians. I’d say a quarter of the license plates “hailed” from the Sunshine State, if a license plate can hail. That explains the crazed drivers, at least the ones not displaying Cobb County plates.

The Cliff Notes version?

1. Packed too much crap.

2. Big city drivers – scary.

3. Cold – bad.

4. Mountains – also scary.

I hope to get back there in the spring, when I won’t look like such a freak wearing shorts. Spring should be gorgeous. Summer, too. And because you’re in the mountains, it’s cooler. And fall, with all the leaf colors.

Now that I think about it, I chose the one season of the year when maybe it wasn’t so great to visit. I need to get back up there and see what the place really looks like.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .

Image courtesy of Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan through Public Domain Pictures.

When you are no longer able to say what you think, you are no longer free.

Florida is not free.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .

Image courtesy of Del Stone Jr.

I give up.

I’m tired of the evil looks.

I’m tired of the snarky remarks.

I’m tired of the short end of the stick.

So I’m defecting to the other side.

I’m joining the opposition.

I am now pro-development.

Gosh, that feels better. No more underdog. No more David and Goliath. I’m hangin’ with the winners. I love the smell of asphalt in the morning.

But what can I, a lowly columnist, do to further the development of Northwest Florida?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve decided my role can be that of promotions guy. Rah, rah, sis boom bah, they came, they saw, they put up a parking lot. I’m all that.

Here’s my first effort. Let me know what you think:

“Welcome to the Asphalt Coast – make that the Emerald Coast (old habits are hard to break) – home of the world’s most beautiful beaches – hey you! GET OUT OF THE WATER! It’s bubbling with fecal coliform bacteria! You want a hideous disease to remember your vacation? We have lots of T-shirt shops but not very many hospitals, and we certainly don’t have the health insurance agents to treat a mob of idiot tourists with raging earaches.

“Why not take a relaxing, soothing walk along the beach – whoa, buddy! Not THAT beach. THAT beach is private property! You walk on this PUBLIC beach, all hundred feet of it, with all the other thousands upon thousands of tourists. Just walk in circles and try not to step on anybody’s head.

“And don’t walk so close to the water, dummy! You wanna get run over by a Jet Ski? The insurance on those things is through the roof!

“After your day at the beach, try one of our fine restaurants – are you MAD? Don’t get in your car! You’re not going anywhere! U.S. Highway 98 is a parking lot all summer! Find a spot in the gridlock where three cars are lined up side-by-side, and just leap from one trunk to the next, OK?

“Looking for the nightlight? Feel free to sample our many fine entertainment establishments – well, um, yeah, those are strippers. And yeah, those are underage drinkers. And, er, yes, we do have more bars per capita than Tijuana, Mexico.

“While you’re here, you’ll want to marvel over the wonders of the deep blue sea. Most of them you can find washed up on the beach, or hanging from a hook at a dock next to some lawyer from Birmingham who’s having his picture taken. Try not to let them bite you.

“Also, be sure to tour downtown Fort Walton Beach, where the lovely new medians will beguile you with their Olde Worlde Charme. You may even want to stop and visit the many pool halls, abandoned shopping centers, and car title loan centers. Or just relax and sit back with a police sting operation on crack dealers.

“Please enjoy your stay here at the Emerald Coast, where we go by the motto, Your money or your life.

“And remember: All of this splendor is brought to you by FREE ENTERPRISE, where we’re always looking out for your interests, if there’s a buck in it for us. And if there isn’t, well, then you’re the ones who’d better look out!”

This column was published in the Aug. 4, 1999 Northwest Florida Daily News and is used with permission.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .

Image courtesy of Flickr user Bryan McDonald by way of a Creative Commons license. https://www.flickr.com/people/28155182@N06

Gator growl: One of my long-held suspicions has been confirmed by researchers at the University of Florida.

This will come as good news for Steve Spurrier, and maybe not such good news for the unborn children of Gator fans – who will remain unborn, it seems, if the University of Florida remains in national championship contention.

Here’s a quote from a press release from the UF public affairs department:

“Some would say that for diehard Gator fans, seeing their favorite team in action is better than sex. Now, University of Florida researchers have scientific evidence supporting it.

“Researchers examining how people react to their emotions sowed subjects a variety of photographs while recording their physiological and subjective responses. People categorized as extreme Gator fans showed stronger positive reactions to pictures of Gator sporting events than to erotic pictures.”

Whoa!

Is that not a mouthful or what?

No wonder the stands at Ben Hill Griffith Stadium are always so packed. No wonder the seething, sweaty masses who pack those stands are cheering – and it’s a LUSTY cheering, I might add.

No wonder the seats are so. …

NO! I won’t do that. But NOW I understand why Florida fans chant, “It’s great to be a Florida Gator!” as they leave the stadium, not to mention why so many of them are smoking cigarettes. It IS great to be a Florida Gator.

The news that Florida football is better than sex will force headline writers the land over to rethink their verbs.

BTW, the researcher who made this landmark discovery is a University of Miami grad, a school where football is better than murder.

This brew’s for you: For years I’ve been amassing a collection of American beer cans and bottles. I must have a couple of hundred. Now, I want to get rid of them.

But I know nothing about the collectability of beer cans. Do you? Give me a call at 864-0433, or e-mail me at [email protected].

I’m not looking to make money. In fact, if any charity or kids’ group would to clean up the collection and sell it, they can have whatever money it brings.

Redneck computer terms: “Reboot,” as in: what you do when the first pair gets covered with barnyard stuff.

Say what? Recently a letter arrived from the National Safety Council stamped “Air Enhanced.” Does that mean the letter was almost sent “air mail”? Did the mailman stand behind the airplane, waving the letter as the jet exhaust swooshed over him? Did anybody arrest this man?

I threw it in a receptacle that was “garbage enhanced.”

Headlines that didn’t work: “Prostitutes Appeal to Pope.”

Words that should be words: “Peppier,” as in” The waiter at a fancy restaurant whose sole purpose seems to be walking around asking diners if they want ground pepper.

This column was originally published in the May 28, 1997 Northwest Florida Daily News and is used with permission.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .

Image courtesy of Flickr user Joe Ross. https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeross/

Have you visited a Ford lately? Did you know Florida has two cities in the running to become the permanent home of the Mustang Museum?

We’re talking cars, not horses or airplanes.

I spoke to Chris Hoverman, chairman of the museum site selection committee, who told me Orlando and Daytona Beach have made it to a short list of 10 candidate cities after the committee, which met the weekend of April 19-20, whittled down a preliminary list of 25 potential sites.

The committee will meet with representatives from the remaining candidates in early June at a gathering at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. By late August, the 10 cities will be narrowed to those four that offer the best combination of features sought by museum supporters. A final decision will be made in the first quarter of 1998.

And what kind of features is the museum looking for?

Hoverman answered that question without hesitation: “We need land.”

About 30 acres to be exact – make that 30 affordable acres. “I’ve got cities that’ll sell me land at a million dollars an acre,” Hoverman said sardonically. Obviously a better deal is one of the goals.

But they’re also looking for location location location – with sufficient nearby attractions to draw about 300,000 visitors per year to the museum.

Would a 30-acre parcel in attraction-rich Orlando be a good draw? Hoverman answered with an unqualified maybe. It would depend on where in Orlando that parcel lay, he said. A site that was inaccessible or located in an undesirable area wouldn’t do the museum or Mustang fans any good. Hoverman also expressed a little bit of concern over the fact that Orlando is already glutted with attractions. But the weather in the Southeast is a factor in its favor, he added. And so is Florida’s existing tourist machinery, which brings in tens of thousands of visitors every year.

A deciding factor could be enthusiastic support from Orlando or Daytona Beach – either the cities themselves or local businesses.

Neither Orlando nor Daytona Beach is very close to Okaloosa County, so having the Mustang Museum in one of those cities might not make a huge difference to local folks. But if the museum goes to a California site, not many of the people who would put in a day’s drive could see it either.

Besides, it’s kind of a matter of pride that the museum be located in Florida.

I don’t know what you could do to help, unless you’ve got connections on the Orlando or Daytona Beach economic development councils or chambers of commerce. But we’ll hope for the best. The Corvette museum is out in the middle of nowhere (Kentucky). We’ll hope the Mustang doesn’t suffer the same fate.

Headlines that didn’t work: Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

Redneck computer terms: “Modem,” as in how you got rid of your dandelions.

Words that should be words: This week’s installment is “Frust,” as in the small line of debris that refuses to be swept onto the dust pan and keeps backing a person across the room until he finally decides to give up and sweep it under the rug.

This column was originally published in the April 30, 1997 Northwest Florida Daily News and is used with permission.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .