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Articles

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Eyes on the road. Concentrate.

How do people in big cities drive with all of the distractions? Massive traffic, streetlights, stores everywhere, and thousands of pedestrians. In South Beach, a lot of those pedestrians are even walking around in teeny bikinis.

Nothing like exposed skin to distract drivers.

Our distractions here in the Keys are more unique – everything from wild peacocks strutting across the highway to magnificent Wyland paintings on the sides of buildings. Even our bikini shots couldn’t be normal. Instead of sexy girls “exposing skin” and distracting us, we had Don Bailey, The Naked Carpet Guy.

Until a couple of months ago, one of the biggest distractions in the Keys used to be the iconic billboard with the Naked Carpet Guy sprawled out on shag carpeting at mile marker 95. Everyday, I’d drive by the billboard and know everything was all right because we had Mr. Don Bailey looming over us with his hand strategically placed, grinning at us as if to say, “life is great, if you have a sense of humor.”

I remember the first time I noticed he was missing. I had a car full of screaming kids, passing food to the hungry mouths in the backseat and adjusting the radio station all at the same time. Normal drive. Not distracted a bit. I even managed to answer a phone call from a mother of one of the kids, asking me where I was, so she could be home in time for me to drop her kid off.

“I’m at mile marker 95… OH. MY. GOD! I’ve got to pull over!”

The mother panicked. “Are you okay? Did you get in an accident?”

I couldn’t talk.

“WHAT’S GOING ON?”

“My Naked Carpet Guy. He’s gone. They’ve replaced him with a hammer.”

Now, you’d think the mother would be relieved her child wasn’t in a major car accident. But her reaction was just like mine… “Nooooo! They took down The Naked Carpet Guy? How could they? Are you sure?”

It was a disaster for the Keys. What’s next? Replacing Betsy, the giant lobster, with a giant tire? The Keys are known for their eccentricity. Having an enormous naked guy lying on a carpet is perfect for the Keys. Even more so, considering the carpet store isn’t even IN the Keys.

Since that horrible day, every time I see the neon green fence of Key Lime Products, I anxiously look up at the billboard and hope I will, once again, see my Don Bailey smiling down at me. I feel sort of like a little girl looking for Santa’s sleigh every night, believing, with all my heart, that he does still exist.

But, instead I see a hammer. Seriously? I mean, couldn’t they have at least replaced “my guy” with something with a little personality? I mean, didn’t the hammer people – CBT – learn ANYTHING from Don? Couldn’t they, at the very least, have a topless man holding the hammer? I miss my Naked Carpet Guy!

Honestly, I can’t believe I’m fighting to have a billboard of a Naked Carpet Guy return to the Keys. The concept cracks me up. I remember when I first saw it a couple of years ago. It irked me. I couldn’t quite fit it into my head. Who was this man? The picture was obviously dated a bit. Was he naked? Even worse, was he wearing a bikini? Why would a carpet business choose this to be their advertisement? Question after question after question.

I was so confused about the sign’s appearance in the Keys, I called Don Bailey Carpets to find some answers. Surprisingly, I was immediately transferred to Mr. Don Bailey himself. After five minutes on the phone, I was in love. His personality was as big as his sign, if not bigger. The man was a crazy, lovable genius.

Turned out, he lives in the Keys. Of course he lives here. He belongs here! He’s only here part-time, but still, he is one of us.

So, why did he take down his wacky billboard? Was he okay? How was business? More questions meant more answers. I called him and, again, I was immediately transferred to Mr. Don Bailey, The Naked Carpet guy, himself.

I not only got to talk to him, but he put Don Bailey Jr. on the phone too! I was floored – get it? This family is a hoot! They both had me laughing as they told story after story about how he made his millions, which isn’t just from carpet sales. Don Sr. said he and his brother also invested in warehouses years ago because they were so paranoid at their current jobs, “if we smiled the wrong way, we’d be fired.”

So, what happened to the billboard? He assured me he didn’t want the sign down. The contract expired and they weren’t notified. So, he’s the “first in line” for someone else’s billboard contract to expire and then he’s back up in the Keys! AND, he’s got a twist for us. When they put up the new billboard, he’s going to have a combo picture of his before and after pose! Yep, he posed again, at 76-years old, his hand still strategically placed and his “smile” as big as ever. I can hardly wait.

Until then, Jim Martz was finally smart enough to sit Don Bailey down and write about his life story. It’s already available through Amazon (Kindle Edition – the hardcover is due out sometime later this year) and it’s titled, “The Don Bailey Story: From Truck Driver to Multi-Millionaire.” I’m downloading it AND buying the hard cover to put on the dashboard of my car so I won’t miss a day without Don’s, um, smile.

p.s. Did you know that Mario Lopez even did “The Don” pose? Ladies, trust me, Google it! Thank you Don, if nothing else, for inspiring Mario!

Truthfully, I was a little intimidated by Isaac.

First off, he’s a dude in an established female world. Sure, they started to add male names way back in 1979, but most of us still consider hurricanes to be largely a female gig. It’s hard to figure out a hurricane with a boy name. Sort of like meeting a giant man wearing high heels. Usually, these boys want to make a statement. Look at the mess Andrew made. Need I say more?

And who chose the name, Isaac? My sister was a teacher and she swore certain names of her students always indicated trouble. Like Devlin. I’m sure there are some sweethearts out there named Devlin, but, come on… generally speaking, the parents are asking for trouble when they pick that name. And people who name their dogs Killer or Shredder. https://www.viagrasansordonnancefr.com/ You’d better have a T-bone ready when you meet these dogs.

Names are important. Isaac sounds safe until you dissect the name and really look at what you’ve got: I-Saaaaac! Let’s face it, a little intimidating. Personally, I believe the name Isaac should only be given to football players, not to tropical storms or hurricanes.

So, I was worried.

But, we were lucky here in the Florida Keys. Our damage was minimal considering the big picture and I’m proud of the way we all responsibly prepared for the storm. Billboards were removed, shutters were in place and supplies were restocked.

And by supplies, I’m talking food. At least, in my house. Seriously, if you need a good meal, plan on staying with the Vandelaars during a possible hurricane. We were obsessed. On the day before the storm, my husband knew I was at the grocery store for supplies, and he called to remind me to buy a turkey AND all the works. Seriously, in his mind, the only way he can live through a storm is by cooking a turkey. We all have our priorities. Mine was to buy batteries. His was to cook a turkey.

Then my girlfriend, Julie, called and said she was preparing a pork roast so we could all have pulled pork sandwiches for days. Both of them made me a little paranoid, so I pushed the gallons of water to the side of my cart and threw a giant ham next to the turkey. Worried that I might have broke the bank and didn’t want to spend another $12 on toilet paper, I convinced myself we had enough to last a couple of days and I finally checked out of Publix. In retrospect, I think I should have chosen the toilet paper over the ham. “Hind”sight.

So, the night before Isaac was due to arrive, I unpacked my groceries and faced the next problem. Storage. I didn’t have enough room in the fridge for his turkey, my ham and the three cartons of eggs I also bought in a panic. My solution? I could make my famous egg dish for the morning after the storm. And, since I was smarter than my husband, I decided to prepare everything right away, while we still had electricity and water.

Between the cooking and the additional cleaning I did (so anyone needing refuge from the hurricane would think I was an amazing woman because my house was immaculate…) I had worked my hiney off, and I was exhausted. When my husband asked if I wanted to go out for dinner, I looked at him like he was an idiot. Duh. Of course I wanted to go out.

Somehow I managed to shove all of the food I had just cooked into the packed fridge and we hopped in the car for our “last” dinner out together. Gotta say, with the threat of a hurricane looming over our heads, we were actually nice to each other and we really enjoyed hanging with friends at the dinner.

The next day, my hubby cooked his turkey and he had a system. First, he’d put up one shutter, and then he’d go to the oven and baste the turkey. Then the next shutter and, again, baste. Shutter, baste. Shutter, baste. I’m pretty sure Rachael Ray would do the same. When all of the shutters were finally in place, it was time to pull the turkey out to cool down.

So, we’ve got a pre-cooked ham sitting in the fridge, a turkey cooling, and Julie’s pulled pork waiting for us when my husband asked if I wanted to meet some friends at a fun place crazy enough to stay open in a tropical storm – Category Three, in Key Largo. I looked at him like he was an idiot.

Duh! Of course I wanted to go out. Our kids were all going stir crazy from being locked up in houses with shutters down and we had an hour to wait before dinner.

(Note: the best part of the entire storm: Category Three’s Bourbon Bacon Brownie. No lie. Delicious.)

The next morning, when I served the egg dish, my daughter looked up at me. “Wow! My favorite breakfast too? Hurricanes rock!”

She was sort of right. There is a silver lining to this hurricane gig… especially when there is NOT an actual hurricane. I cleaned our house, we treated each other with genuine kindness, we ate like kings, my daughter got out of school and we hung out with great friends at great restaurants. What more could you ask for?

I might have to name my next dog Isaac.

This year I’m taking the easy route by using each letter in the word Thanksgiving and writing a short blip on the holiday in the Keys. Yes, this is similar to a segment we’ve all seen on Sesame Street, but work with me – it has been a couple of tough weeks for me and I’m desperate.

Okay, so this is what I came up with:

T = Toes… I’m thankful I can go barefoot over Thanksgiving. Heck, I’m thankful I can go barefoot in the Keys all year long.

K = Keys. That’s it. Just being here is something to be grateful for.

S = Sunshine without horrific humidity.

G = Gravy. I like gravy. Pure and simple.

I = Inside seating is no longer required. (See the “S” above.)

V = Vodka. I like Vodka even more than I like gravy. Pure and simple.

G = The Galley restaurant. I’d take a bullet for their fish tacos.

Did you notice some letters were missing? That’s because, even with this simplistic writing technique, I still hit a major roadblock. Fortunately, I have good friends and family around me with an amazing sense of humor and when I told them I’m missing ideas for H, A, N, I & another N, they truly came through.

Here’s what my brother wrote:

H = Heimlich Maneuver & Hippy (I got a little peeved at him with that last one ‘cause I figured it referenced my body type. When I cussed him out, he responded with a sassy, ”too bad Thanksgiving doesn’t have the letter “F” in it… you obviously have a word for it.”)

A = Appliances, Arousal & Alcohol. What? Is it just me, or does anyone else find these random words sort of weird? He’s obviously got a lot more happening in his kitchen than I do, which is just icky to address at all, since he is my brother.

N = Naked & Numb. Done. I’m not allowing him to watch any more Sesame Street.

Warily, I read his creative answer for the letter I: Inbred, Insects and Indoor plumbing.

Now, remember, he quickly answered my plea for help by throwing some random words back to me, and, quite frankly, they are hilarious when you group them all together. I mean, a simple word like “appliance” next to the word “arousal” deserves a giggle, at least. Still, I called my older sister to discuss our little brother’s thought patterns. She assured me that I was simply feeling threatened because he is indeed, funnier than I am.

Fine. She’s probably right. Still, my original objective was to tie Thanksgiving in with the Keys and, though his word choice does somehow represent our lives here in a warped kind of way, we don’t want to admit this in print. Especially during a national holiday.

Thankfully, my daughter, Tiffany, went in the complete opposite direction of my brother. For the letter H, she used the word “Happy” and for the letter A, she suggested “Absolutely! I’ll have more key lime pie.” Although I was relieved to get a response from her with more of a “G” rating compared to my brother’s “R” / “X” ratings, I found them too Mary Poppins-ish.

Not that my ideas were any better. Apparently no one liked my T and they bombarded me with suggestions.

My sister, the biggest boat-barfer in the world, said she thought I should use TripTone for the letter T. She won’t visit me in Florida unless I promise to pick her up at the airport with a box of TripTone. She needs it to be officially in her system before we pass through the first tollbooth down to the Keys.

At least her letter specifically had something to do with the Florida Keys. She got an “A” for her effort.

Julie said my idea of Toes for the letter T was okay, but it would be funnier to say, “I’m thankful I can still see my toes, at least before the feast.” Clever AND with a rhyme.

My husband had a very predictable word for the letter T, which brought us right back to the “X” rating. I couldn’t use it, of course.

End result – I think all of us more than covered the entire THANKSGIVING word. Probably not my strongest article, but I have to say, one of my favorites just because I had family and friends help me work through it.

Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Taking a minute to reflect on what you’re truly thankful for and giving what you can to help others?

Oh, by the way… blending everyone’s unique ideas together actually did create a perfect description of the holiday in the Keys:

Toes wiggling free &

Happy while resting on reliable ol’

Appliances,

Naked without shoes or socks ‘cause we live in the

Keys with gorgeous

Sunshine for winter holidays that have lots of

Gravy and yummy food, which eventually result in the use of

Indoor plumbing (ideally) and maybe some

Vodka which also helps us ignore the only thing annoying here…

Insects… before we go completely

Numb from the heavenly fish tacos at The

GALLEY… with Lucy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m the type of person who really loves television, yet I don’t like to have it on unless I’m sitting down and watching a specific show. It annoys me to have it buzzing all day. My husband, on the other hand, LOVES to have every television on throughout the house all day long (usually Headline News.) He says he likes to know what’s happening in the world, but I know he has a major crush on my look-alike, Robin Meade.

Anyway, when I was asked to appear on Good Morning Florida Keys on Channel 19, I was thrilled. It would be fun to watch and maybe my husband would realize my uncanny resemblance to Robin and turn off the television occasionally, if you get my drift.

Wrong on all counts.

To start with, I was immediately intimidated by Jenna Stauffer and Krystal Banner. Not only were they both intelligent and kind, but they could easily rival Robin Meade’s beauty. Ask my husband. Jenna was busy interviewing Mad Dog’s son, Nick Mandich, and even he was gorgeous. My confidence was wavering so I dashed into the bathroom and panic primped.

Their mirrors were a bit deceiving and I convinced myself I could pull this off, so I went back into the studio, clipped a mike onto my blouse like a professional, and my interview was underway.

My husband took a few pictures so I could post this cool experience on my website (www.janavandelaar.com) and I walked out, feeling pretty good… until I looked at the pictures on his camera. A chunk of my hair looked like Elvis Presley’s sideburn and when I asked my husband why he didn’t tell me, he shrugged and said, “I didn’t notice.” Of course not, HE WAS STARING AT JENNA THE WHOLE TIME. It was the Robin Meade curse all over again.

But, overall, I was happy with the interview and I wasn’t nervous at all. Jenna made the experience fun and easy. She’s prepared and she’s lovely. I was worried I’d twitch or even faint. But, instead, it was like talking to a girlfriend over lunch. Unfortunately, there weren’t any martinis involved but, still, very relaxed.

Here’s the thing… Jenna asked me to be on the show because of my column (Only in the Keys) for The Reporter. My entire television experience couldn’t have been more of an example of things that happen ONLY in the Keys.

1st The show is filmed “all the way down” in Key West. Any local resident, from mile marker 0 to mile marker 120, understands that anything beyond 10 miles is a stretch for us to consider driving. Maybe we’ll push 20-30 miles in one day. But, to drive from Key Largo to Key West is a lot to ask from a local. It’s worth it to be a television star though. So we did it.

2nd Next, like true locals, we packed in other appointments/chores that needed to be completed along the way, such as carpooling the children to school at mile marker 86. Since we rarely venture past 86, we celebrated and had a decadent crepe and delicious coffee at Bitton Bistro Café, mile marker 82. I considered this exceptional experience almost as special as being a television star… almost. Finally, my hubby had arranged an appointment at mile marker 81, and I ditched into their restroom to verify my looks hadn’t faded too much since that morning. (At my age, I need a beauty maintenance stop every 20 miles… especially since I was going to be on television.)

3rd As I confessed during my interview, my husband and I did our best to maintain “civility” for the rest of the LONG, remaining 80 miles. You simply can’t fight in the Keys – especially in a car – because someone (your priest, your neighbor, your soccer coach, etc.) will witness the argument. So, by mile marker 75, we “compromised” and listened to my music station since I was the star.

4th I had visualized driving up to a glamorous television station but it was deceptively understated. Though small and unobtrusive on the outside, it proved to be very professional inside with more electronic equipment than NASA. Again, typical of the Keys… tiny, yet powerful.

5th After successfully surviving the interview, my husband and I did what any “Keys” megastar would do. We had a Rum Runner on the water in Key West.

6th Now, all we had to do was wait a week for the show to air that following Tuesday morning. But, my husband decided to upgrade our AT&T service that same week. They came on Friday to hook us up. Unfortunately, they ran into a “snag” after they disconnected everything and we didn’t have ANY service until Tuesday night. The third AT&T tech was the only one who understood that, Only in the Keys, the addresses are not in numerical order, so the main “box” was out of range for this particular upgrade.

Why am I writing all of this? Because, I finally get on television and, Only in the Keys, can AT&T screw up the service for 5 days, which means I wasn’t able to record or watch my big television debut on my own television!

Television-less, on Tuesday morning, I forced my daughter out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and hustled her over to my girlfriend’s house so I could see myself on television. We all fell silent when we saw my hair, but ultimately cheered at the end result. They plugged my two books, they surprised me with fun pictures throughout the interview and I did not twitch. I was thrilled.

Finally, the 7th and greatest reason this experience was the epitome of life, ONLY IN THE KEYS? If you were lucky enough to see it air on Tuesday, you’d understand the irony when Jenna introduced her next guest right after me: Maya Montana… a mega star FEMALE IMPERSONATOR! And, even more typical of our life here, he/she trumped me in every aspect of the show. Talent, beauty (PERFECT hair and makeup) and even better boobs than mine.

When Jenna introduced Maya, my daughter, Goddaughter, girlfriend and I almost choked on our cereal. My superstardom squashed in seconds by a gorgeous female impersonator! This type of thing cannot be made up and yet it happens daily, ONLY IN THE KEYS… which is why we all live here and why I love writing this column.

p.s. Next time I’m on television, I’m calling Maya for tips.

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