With everything opening back up I have not been able to get back to the beach for awhile from all the other distractions.
But today I made it.
Back to sea breezes, hot sand and the healing powers of the ocean.
Back to my long overdue reunion with my friend, the Beach
The beach corridor was lined with tropical flowers
… Yucca plants to keep you from straying off the path
More tropical foliage
all highlighting the way to the beach entrance
Running back to the ocean was like being a kid again, diving through waves, riding some waves, tossing the football in the waves, and crashing into some waves.
It was a good day.
So after spending some good time with my ol’ friend,
Ieventually headed back to my chair, my shoulders a little crispy, red flag wet hair, and a big grin.
And there on the edge of the water was a shiny coin.
A sand dollar put right in my path as I headed to dry off.
Now anyone who knows me knows how I treasure a ‘whole’ sand dollar.
Usually when the sand dollars make it through the surf its broken, or tramped on. And with all the other beach dwellers and small children roaming around its amazing that something that shiny was not discovered before me.
A gift from God?
A welcome back gift from Poseidon?
Something put there just for me?
The healing powers of the ocean did not disappoint.
And after another hour in the ocean a little bit later,
the ocean’s mighty powers did give me back some 20 years of my life.
(at least it felt that way)
But as all as all good things must come to an end, so must this day. I headed on back to the beach house..
Adios and vaya con Dios.
I had my ass in the water and my toes in the sand,
So late last Friday I got a knock on my virtual door. A young lady was going to rent one of my cars and was asking for a favor.
Despina Papamichail rented a car starting on Sunday but wished to receive the car late Saturday but the app would not let her.
I wantedtohelp but geez, it would be midnight.
She went on to say she is flying in from Europe and coming to play in a local tennis tournament.
It turnsoutshe was an International Tennis Pro from Greece, which instantly won a place in my heart, given my kids.
Now renting cars on Turo I have met a lot of nice people but never an International Athlete. This Turo renter was very matter of fact and polite in her messages so I was all in to help her out.
The fit and tall 28 year old from Greece was all that and more when we met for her to pick up her Mazda. She instantly stuck out her hand to introduce herself and then introduced her coach Ivana. Very professional, like the International traveler she was.
She didn’t realize it but she had it made at that point.
Mr. Hospitality kicked it in gear. Like another renter said that same week, “he would give you the shirt off his back.” And Despina was not going to lose this week. 💪
Needless to say I was excited meeting her and her coach Ivana and blurted out, “great, I can’t wait to watch you win the tournament and that if she needed anything just ask”.
I told her I had a 101 questions for her about being a travelling tennis Pro.
The tournament was an International event, with the LTPorganization. I later found out she was the # 2 seed.
Was she good?
She is the Greek women’s #2 in her country.
She canhonestly say she never lost to Serena. That’s how good. 💪
Yes she is good, and very determined!
Her first day came and went as she tried to find lodging in my town. Not an easy thing to do this time of year. She was impressive as she went about her lodging look. To her, it was business as usual on her business trip to Charleston.
She asked if I was going to watch her play the next day, since a large tennis tourney was all new to me.
I told her I couldn’t as I needed to work the next day.
But curiosity got the best of me on Tuesday and so I went to watch.
I got there and noticed she was up one set already. So I found a seat to watch my Greek renter do her thing.
She noticed me almost instantly, among the other ten people watching and gave me a quick smile thenwent back to work.
I watched long enough to see her lose her next set so I figured I needed to leave. I was bad luck for her. She ended up winning the match, 2nd seed and all.
So far so good.
The next day I messaged her and told her if she wins I will show her around the fine city that I live in, attractions and restaurants and all.
Well she won again. Her bad luck charm was not there to jinx her this time.
Despina was on a roll!
Itturns out tennis players of her caliper are always on the run. Real nomads. Their season lasts eleven months and do literally fly all over the world. That part seemed really enviable.
Reality is these International pros are constantly looking for flights to their next city after the current tourny is over. Then there is the endless search for lodging in her next city, and transportation.
She speaks four languages, which would come in handy I imagine. Her coach, from Croatia, spoke four as well but the only language they shared in common was English, which was good for me.
Despina told me she had been a professional tennis player for eight years. But the eleven month season says she can only see her family for about a week each year. She is part of a wonderful family of seven where she is the youngest; and the shortest. She grew up on the coast of Greece and, at the age of 20,left paradise behind as she followed her dreams in tennis.
The next day tragedies struck on multiple levels!
First, since she didn’t know how long she would keep winning, she only had lodging reservations through Thursday. She had her next match Friday at 10. Her Turo car rental reservation also ran out for the same reason.
She needed to find new flights to her next destination, Poland, again not knowing when her tournament would be over for her.
Ontop of that, her coach, and support here in the states, was flying out on Saturday, win or lose.
Oh, and thru all this craziness she still found time to get a JNJ Covid shot.
Sobeing the host in the US I tried to help out. It was easy since I so enjoyed my time with Despina, a humble, polite, down-to-earth young lady.
She found a new place to stay. I drove her and her coach around to stay on schedule.
For a positive distraction, I toldher if she won the next match I would let her drive my convertible to the beach afterwards.
It was on!
Thenext day she showed up to play and won in two straight sets. I stayed far enough away not to jinx her till her match was almost over. She was good!
So I met her, got a really great, sweaty, celebratory hug from her and proceeded to the Mercedes.
Well done Despi! Well done.
I metthem back on the beach. Their next challenge was to check out of where they were staying and check into a nearby Stay America through the weekend.
The next day, the semi-finals the first thing I heard from the girls was that their new lodging had bugs in it.
So afterher semi-finals she would need to checkout and find a new place to stay……She said, “if she wins.”
I told her, “WHEN she wins” she could stay at our house so she wouldn’t have to stress about that and just focus on winning.
We just had our house sprayed for bugs I told her 😉
She was our newly adopted Greek now!
She was like family.
The next day she was on a mission! The semi- final she won in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2.
Did I tell you she was good?
And I learned how to say her last name as the CourtJudge kept saying, ” Advantage Papamichail” over and over.
So after her semi-final win she had to check out of the Stay America, return her rental car, take her coach to the airport, then move into our unused bedroom.
Did I tell you she was going to play in the finals the next day?
Is this crazy life the norm for successful tennis pros?
Well I was confident she would win in the finals and I tried to see to it that she would.
I didn’t know what was going on in her head, as far as the final match, but I wanted to remove any of the outside stressors or distractions.
We found a good Italian restaurant nearby so Despina could get a big plate of pasta the night before her final match. Afterwards we all went down town for some casual sightseeing and shopping. Hopefully a relaxing enjoyable evening for our Super Star.
Weasked her, ” how does she celebrate winning a tournament?” looking ahead to tomorrow.
She laughed and said,
The day of the final I drove her to the tourny. I was her own personal driver by now but also her new coach (promoted from ball boy), bag carrier and bodyguard.
I got her set up at the courts then left her to go on my weekly donut run to Fractured Prune for my family.
By the time I got back out to the final my tennis pro was losing her first set 1-6.
Not the beginning I hoped for.
What I just discovered the morning of her final was that she had played her finals opponent twice in the past, losing both times.
As Iarrived courtside and sat down to watch her final match. I heard a frustrated Despina tell the Court Judge to tell the spectators that were talking to shut up, or she will!
This polite, humble world traveler is a real lioness on the courts, fierce, competitive, never quits and relentless.
I took my seat strategically in front of her opponent’s coach so I could drown him out and have her feel my support. As the second set started she saw me as she took her position, gave me a fist bump and put on her game face.
As the match rolled on Despina seemed to be getting stronger. Her flustered opponent was frustrated as the momentum changed to Despina’s favor. Second set she won 6-3.
The final set the ‘wheels seemed to come off’ of her opponent. Despi was grunting with EVERY powerful return. Her opponent could only yell at the court, or the tennis ball, or the Judge. My sonic clap was there to drown her out and sound like ten of me, not just one.
Despina didn’t know how much I knew about tennis but I did know the scoring and as she went up 5-2 in this last set it was clear.
I willed her opponent into another double fault. 30-15. Then 40-15.
This is the feeling of Sports I thought, tennis or any sport.The build up. The excitement. The knowing that anything could happen at any certain time.
And I was into it!
Despina walked over to the fence where I was sitting to retrieve a tennis ball.
She gave a quick glance up to her fill-in coach /bag carrier.
I smiled back at her, just grinning like a fool, and I asked her,
“are you having fun yet?”
The next serve had Despina smash a backhand down the baseline, where her opponent couldn’t reach it.
And it was over!
Despi immediately threw both hands up in victory long enough for some photo ops, then turned and proceeded right to the edge of the court to celebrate with her US fan club and fill-in coach.
host and ……. Turo partner.
Her new good luck charm.
Itwas a great moment!
Afterwards I escorted her, as if I was her coach or bodyguard, through taking winning pictures to talking with tournament pros on her next matches in Poland.
After the photo sessions and congrats with the tournament staff we drove home to tell My family.
Everyone was super excited for Despina!
How can we help her celebrate her big win?
We Tried to throw our house champion in the pool
But some residents of the house were hungry, since they only had some donuts so far.
So I made a few calls and found a scenic restaurant that could seat all of us without waiting. I thought the place scenic, Shem’s Creek, not knowing our guest of honor grew up in a coastal town.
We celebrated with some yummy finger foods, lots of water and a special surprise for our champion……
again, well done Despina!
And so ends just another normal week in a foreign country for our 28 year old Jet-setter.
On the way to the airport Despina confided in me that she had not won a tournament in two years, given 2020, Covid and all.
I am feeling kinda helpful; and lucky and maybe special.
Lucky to be part of her crazy world, if only for a week. Infact each person in my family told me what a great week it was.
Special, as I felt so good to be the presence of such a great young athlete, and an even a better person. Words, Greek, English, or Spanish couldn’t describe all the respect and admiration I had for her.
I drove my new tennis star to the airport the next day. I parked at the airport for Despina to Depart and I looked at her and boasted, ” your best years of tennis are still ahead of you I think.”
I totally felt that in my gut, with her competitive spirit and boundless strength. Its not something I normally say. And in reflection now I wonder if they were really my thoughts or God’s
Afterwe parked at the airport and got her checked in.Despi still had a little time to kill.
But I didn’t.
I had three Turo rentals coming in during the next hour. So Despina helped me receive a car or two at the airport, including our favorite convertible.
I let her park it while I talked with my renters. Then we walked inside. I walked her to security. We hugged one last great time. Then my new Hellenic tennis pro friend flew out of our freshly enriched lives..
The cooking lesson was with one of Charleston’s celebrity chefs, Bob Waggoner
Chef Bob is by far more than just your average super chef.
He was trained under Great Chef Michael Roberts at Trumps (before The Donald) in Los Angeles.
He then traveled to France and worked under another dozen Michelin-starred chefs for several years, then down to Venezuela for a year to work under Jean-Paul Coupal.
In 1986 he returned to France as chef at the Hotel de la Poste in Avallon. Two years later, he opened his own restaurant, Le Monte Cristo, in Monéteau. In 1991, he closed the restaurant to join Jean-Pierre Silva at Le Vieux Moulin.
In 1994, he returned to the U.S. to work at the Wild Boar in Nashville. The restaurant received numerous awards.
In 1996, the Great Chefs television team showed up to tape Chef Bob for the Discovery Channel’s Great Chefs of the South series. This led Chef Bob to his own cooking show on PBS and later Turner South, in part because of his cooking but also due to his large personality we soon found out.
About the same time, the management of Great Chefs received a call from the general manager of the Charleston Inn, saying that they were in immediate need of a Great Chef. Chef Bob was put together with the Charleston Place Inn management, and the following week Chef Bob Waggoner became the new executive chef of the $1000 per night Charleston Place Inn in Charleston, South Carolina.
Our evening was marketed as a dinner party with 8 other interesting people. We were to create a 3 course meal, using fresh, local ingredients as well as the executive chef ways of preparing those items.
We mingled a bit at first, finding out about our other chef trainees and coaxed on with bottomless glasses of a French pink Champagne. Bob mingled as well and we all got to hear some of his stories in a very down-to-earth manner (he is a funny guy)
Bob had everything prepped for us
Here are the trays of ingredients for a duck entree in front of us. The ingredients for a sea scallop recipe were on the other side of the U-shaped prep table.
I want to tell you what these recipes are called but…..
I don’t remember.
Call it old age.
Call it my beginning of dementia.
Call it the four glasses of pink champagne that I had before we started prepping dinner.
And Yes, I don’t remember what the name of the pink champagne was either but it was good!
I guess I should have taken notes.
Thankfully I did bring my camera.
First we made a dessert sauce reduction using 2 bottles of wine and a handful of fruits and spices.
This simmered the whole night while we cooked.
Next Bob had us prep the sea scallops recipe using the ingredients he already prepped for us
Here are a few cooking tips he gave us.
1) When slicing, cut with the back end of the knife. Keep the sharp end on the cutting board
2) He uses Grape Seed oil as his vehicle for seasoning pans. It gives off virtually no taste and you can cook with it at extremely high temperatures.
Not hot temperatures.
Stupid Hot temperatures.
3) If you are in a sea food store looking for scallops ask for the ‘Dry Packed’ scallops.
He tells us most scallops come off the vessels and are put into a large tank where they are iced down but also some preservatives are added.
These can be seen when you cook the scallops and a milky white liquid comes out from the bottom. As you can see above there is milky liquid coming out of these puppies.
Its just fresh fresh scallops and some seasoning.
No off flavors.
We seared the scallops on Stupid Hot heat then sauteed the vegetables prepped for the sauce.
We finished cooking the sauce, laid it on our plates and placed some prize scallops on top.
Time to taste this treat we expertly made (thanks Chef Bob).
The second course was a fantastic Duck recipe.
I forget the name but its in his cookbook.
Well I have to be honest,
I can’t pronounce the recipe either.
It was in French.
We used some sugar snap peas, sliced onion, some fresh honey, blueberries, a kumquat, and about a cup of Cabernet.
We all stood at our amazing cooking stations, first searing the duck to hold in the juiced and then baking the duck with some duck grease (think bacon grease but better) to keep it moist and yummy!
We got to hear more stories and jokes while the product cooked.
Q. Why were we using metal spatulas on the high priced Teflon saute pans?
A. Because Mrs. Waggoner was not there to tell him he couldn’t.
The duck finished.
We dressed it and viola:
Our well traveled restaurateur prize winning host DID admit….
restaurants can / may charge $5 extra
just for drizzling the sauce around the side of the plates, like above.
Can you see in the sauce?
Cabernet, blueberries, a kumquat and some honey sweet onions.
Finally. we placed some fresh berries in a dessert cup. added some yummy vanilla ice cream over top and then the reduced dessert sauce of wine, cloves, and other ingredients that I cant spell.
So in the end, I made my wife a wonderful three course dinner including
” expertly” prepared dry-packed sea scallops as well as a nice tender slice of duck.
I made it for myself and she made hers.
But she DID have a fab birthday dinner overseen by a very talented Chef,
as well as Chef Waggoner.
and lots of wine.
Oh wait, that was me,
but she didn’t mind.
The dinner was a breeze.
The object was to please
my wife as she smiled and said
“car keys” please.
That’s it for now knuckleheads.
I’ll try to do a better job next time.
Until then be safe and show someone some gratitude.