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On alternators, shark bites and tipping

Jackie Carpenter, Managing Editor

In yet another “How I spent my summer vacation” story that’s full of wild adventure, I think I should warn you that you’ve heard a lot of this before.
There was the national media craze this summer about those hungry sharks biting humans off the coast of Florida, and, more locally, the debate about whether to tip food servers and how much. Then there was the one about our alternators, which, you may recall, went out on our trip through the mountains to South Carolina and again after we got there a couple of journeys ago.
This time, Virgil picked me up at the back door of this building in our gray Chevy Lumina when I got off from work on a Friday, when our two-week “vacation” officially began. We had planned to go to the bank to get some travel moolah, then get gas (while it was still about $1.28) and a few groceries. We stopped about 1/10th of a mile into our journey.
“Whirrr, whirrr, whirrr,” the little engine said. “Oh, ?!!#@,” Virg said, bashing his forehead against the steering wheel. Yep, it was the alternator. Different car, same trip. But this time, we were practically in the parking lot of our buddy, John D, so an overnight repair and a measly $200 later, we were good to go. Except we didn’t take the Lumina. We used my car, an Olds Ciera SL, the same one that gave us so much grief the last time. We took it anyway, because the engine sounded OK and the air-conditioning works better, quieter.
Some 2,400 miles later, when we returned to the homestead at Elizabeth, the Olds was still purring. We were cool and had the same alternator we’d left home with two weeks earlier. Love that car. Anyway, back to the good stuff.
We stopped in Cookeville, Tenn., for a couple of days with the grandson, then to Jacksonville, Fla., to spend some time with one of Virgil’s sisters and her husband. No adventures, just rest and rejuvenation. However, the story about a particularly bad shark bite in the Atlantic Ocean, near Daytona Beach, and the heroic rescue had captured national attention.
Guess where we were headed. You got it.
Along about here, I must tell you that, in large part thanks to National Geographic and a little common sense, we felt no trepidation. We have a lot of respect for wildlife, we aren’t surfers, and we had no intention of invading any of the shark’s known feeding grounds. I was much more interested in palm trees, seafood and beach shells than ocean swells. My man was more interested in big, juicy, medium-well steaks, beach 4-wheelers and, well, white bikinis (not mine).
Once there, we got a great ocean front efficiency, complete with kitchenette, living room, big TV, a huge bedroom and another TV, a couple of closets, two full bathrooms and a balcony overlooking the water (excuse me while I brag, but those off-season rates did apply), and the local newspaper was free each morning. We settled in quickly, headed for the sand and surf, and skipped the nightly news.
The next morning, we could see from our fourth-floor balcony a black fin circling in the water, quite a ways out. Also, there was talk on the ABC Morning Show about yet another surfer who’d been bitten on the foot. He had been in the water at New Smyrna Beach, a few miles south of Daytona (hence the media’s reference to “near” Daytona, a beach that is more well-known nationally than New Smyrna, unless you’re a surfer). That’s where hungry sharks have gathered to feed for years. Surfers have also gone there for years because the waves are irresistably big.
The incident was news mainly because earlier this year a shark bit a youngster’s arm off, and the kid’s uncle somehow wrestled the arm from the shark’s mouth. After nearly dying from loss of blood, the child is now recovering.
Several surfers attacked by sharks while we were in Daytona repeatedly told the TV audience they knew the sharks were there, and they still have no plans to quit surfing there. (Sounds a little like we smokers who, even though the dangers are known, continue.)
We were curious about New Smyrna Beach, so we drove down to see what it was like. Along the way, we spotted a medical clinic with a big sign out front encouraging one and all to come in for treatment, including: “Shark bites.”
When we got to the beach early that hot afternoon, the surfers were having a blast, and we saw no TV camera crews or black fins in the water. (When sharks are present, their fins are visible, so there’s ample warning if you just give more than a passing glance at the water.) Later that night, though, we heard the beach had been closed once again. Another shark bite.
In the meantime, the shark (Virgil thinks it was a dolphin, but dolphins jump, not just circle) disappeared from our beach and never returned. He was a lot farther out than we would ever venture anyway.
We suspect that shark bites are normally routine. I think anyone who ventures into the water where hungry sharks are known to feed sooner or later will be bitten. And the news would not have captured national media attention had it not been for the child with the mangled arm. By the time we left Florida, the headlines said 17 surfers had been bitten by sharks, but their wounds weren’t life threatening.
The surfers’ curious flirtation with the sharks led one Floridian to write the local newspaper that she hadn’t been so embarrassed since the presidential election, when so many residents didn’t know how to vote.
Hey, at least they tried.
Remember the letters and calls about the tipping controversy not long ago? The same thing was going on in Florida when we arrived, and the arguments for and against that appeared daily in “The News-Journal” were the same as we read here. Only the names and addresses were different. I was amazed.
One letter published Aug. 22 especially caught my attention because I didn’t remember reading this argument before, so I thought you might be interested, too. Andrea Finn of Ormond Beach wrote:
“I was outraged by Cecelia White’s letter. My daughter is a food server at a very popular, always crowded restaurant in Daytona Beach. She worked for five years there while earning her college degree. Here are the hard facts:
” — Tips (for tax purposes) are calculated as a percentage on their total gross food sales for that evening, whether they earned that amount or not.
” — Food servers pay Social Security, federal income tax and Medicare based on that percentage, whether they received that amount or not.
” — They suffer verbal abuse from customers who treat them as lower-class servants. They also come home with swollen feet and ankles and bruises from falling on wet floors.
“Ms. White’s remarks are an insult to food servers everywhere. If all restaurant patrons were like Ms. White, the hard-working, underpaid servers would be on welfare because they couldn’t afford to pay to serve Ms. White.”