SNOOK HAVEN

SNOOK HAVEN

By Duncan

Boxes are everywhere, in the garage attic and on the back wall of the garage with my car headlights almost touching the boxes. Time to downsize. Downsize, means through away my life. Wait, I can’t do that. These pictures are too important to me. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but come on, pictures are a visual diary of what I was doing, where I was and who was with me at the time.

1894-GREEN BODER

(DUNCAN FAMILY 1894)

A few of my personal family photographs go back as far as 1894. Well, just one picture goes back that far. You know the style, black and white, faded and everyone looking at the camera like they’re getting ready to face a firing squad.

NEW BYTH - WATERLOO FARM - 1820

(1820 BUILT HOME / WATERLOO FARM )

Then I have this treasured photograph of the house where my Great, Great grandfather and his 12 kids lived. (The picture is what was called the homestead back then. The Duncan family in the firing squad pose above 1894 lived in this home) I’m told the home/farm was built in 1820. The photograph was taken in the 1980’s when my father (George) made a trip with his sister (Agnes) to Scotland to find their roots. They say they found the homestead or farm or home in a town now called New Byth. The family called the home the Waterloo Farm, located in a suburb of Aberdeen.

So, here I sit on as folding chair in southwest Florida with a card table in front of me in the garage looking at boxes of old photographs and trying to understand how 14 people can live in a house, home or farm this small. Then trying to come to terms with putting these shots in the trash or saving them. Will my son Scott ever want to see them? I can’t toss them out. I just can’t!

So, in a different box, I found pictures of co-workers at Colonial Mortgage Company, the very first mortgage company I worked for. What a find. The snaps were still in pretty good shape. These prints were made in the early 70’s and are now about 45 years old I would guess. I decided to scan them and put a digital copy on my computer hard drive. After I had scanned each one and had them digitized, I decided to write an article about that period of my life to my blog. It was called (“Bound to Happen”)

I then decided to see if I could find anyone from that time period and see what they were doing today and if they were even still alive. Gary Steinhauer was a guy like me. A loan officer. In reality, we were sales guys who visited real estate offices and walked the aisles of cubicles asking for business of the agents sitting in them cubicles. The internet was not built yet, so real estate agents went into the office and worked the phones from their assigned cubicle. Some real estate operations had 10-15 agents, and some were larger and had as many as 40 agents in one big room. There were some very attractive mostly female real estate agents in those offices. Wining and dining is the norm back then. It was not uncommon to take several people to lunch and enjoy a stiff cocktail before lunch. Then why not have a couple of cocktails after lunch, depending on everyone’s schedule. The more you know about an agent, the more trust they have in me. Because I now knew more about them. So, stories of their family problems, marriages, and challenges in life would slowly slip out after a couple of adult beverages at and after lunch. Not only were we sales guys, but we also proficient with the rules and regulations of the Federal Housing Administration, Veteran Administration, Conventional mortgage lending and secondary markets. Not to mention the constant emotional and compassionate stability we offered as professionals to those who were in need of a sympathetic ear periodically. These “services” were, of course, free of charge. All I or any mortgage loan officer asked in return was the ability to finance their next real estate transaction. It was an interesting and fascinating profession.

I decided to Google some keywords like Gary Steinhauer, mortgage, real estate, home inspection company, Indianapolis. And low and behold, Gary pop’s up in Florida. Why he is just up the road from North Fort Myers in Saint Petersburg. My search says he is working for C-21 Coast to Coast as a Realtor. I look for a Facebook or a Linked-In page, nothing. So, all I’ve got at this point is a real estate connection. And you know how these real estate agents do it these days, “Leave your name and number.”

After a couple of days, I haven’t received any feedback from Gary. So I think to myself maybe I have the wrong Gary Steinhauer. Maybe he doesn’t want to talk. Maybe he doesn’t remember me. Maybe that period of time in his life was unpleasant, and he doesn’t want to go there again. Then I think, maybe he’s been a naughty boy and is in the Government Witness Protection Program and doesn’t want to be found. Maybe one of them very attractive real estate women are in need once again of an emotional and compassionate listening ear. Maybe he lost his hearing. Maybe he is in the hospital or a nursing home, or could he have died?

I went ahead and wrote the story “Bound to Happen” and sent another email to Gary with a link to the story. It wasn’t long before I received an email saying something like “Wow, it’s hard to believe you still have all those pictures. Beautiful memories.” Or something like that! One email response leads to another email and Gary even connected me with Ted Schlagenhauf, Gary’s high school buddy and a co-worker at Colonial Mortgage who is now living in Loveland, Colorado. It was then deliberated that we should get together for lunch. The only question was when and where?

Gary decided we should each meet in the middle. We were about two hours apart. He looked for a restaurant between Saint Petersburg and North Forth Myers. His email was saying half way for each of us is around Venice. Let’s meet for lunch at a restaurant called Snook Haven. I had never heard of Shook Haven and had no idea where Snook Haven was even located. I went on Google and found the place. Gary had chosen a restaurant that was a mile and a half off the main road. It’s tucked away on the banks of the Myakka River. The road to the restaurant if you want to call the road a road was nothing more than a mile or more of a two-lane gravel path. Looking at the Snook Haven website this place is what I would affectionately call “Old Florida.” It’s rustic. I’m going out on a limb here and say the restaurant appears primitive. This place looks like it’s for your hardcore motorcyclist, camper or fisherman, who wants to hang in nature, fish eat and drink beer. Pardon me while I belch.

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The Snook has over thirty different kinds of beer. Please understand this writer has never acquired the taste for beer. Pictures displayed on the Snook Haven website of the inside of the restaurant show dollar bills hanging from the ceiling in the bar with stuffed reptilians hanging off the walls. A giant alligator named Hank was hanging from the ceiling in the main dining room. The menu was mostly fried food and lots of BBQ items like BBQ chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket. Oh yeah, let’s enjoy Fried Gator Bites and smoked Fried Frog Legs. You could eat inside the restaurant or outside at picnic tables with the bugs and mosquitoes under the mighty oak trees with cascading Spanish moss.

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Gary apparently looked at the place online too. “Do you want to change the meeting place or do you want to still meet at Snook Haven?”

We decided, this place was going to be, if nothing else, an adventure. So, we both decided, “Let’s go for it.”

It was almost straight up twelve noon when I arrived at the point where I had to turn onto that nasty gravel road I was worried about. I stopped because there was a big sign showing the way to Snook Haven. I parked my 2007 Mean Yellow Pontiac Solstice turbocharged GXP with 260 horsepower next to the sign for a photo opportunity. Gary pulled in behind me in his brand new Soul Red Metallic 2017 Mazda Grand Touring MX5 Miata with 155 horsepower. We each got out of our machines and took our first photographs of our reunion luncheon.

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We began the ride down the gravel, dirt and dusty road. Gary laying way back as to not be driving in my dust. The road was like a washboard. The Hot Rod was bouncing, and shuttering so badly I had to slow down to about 2-3 miles an hour. Dust and small pebbles and stones made it a nightmare ride to the end of the road. I had the convertible top up so I wouldn’t get dirt and dust inside my vehicle. Finally, we arrived at the unpaved parking lot.

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NO DOGS

WELCOME TO SNOOK HAVEN

 

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We walked past the restaurant and looked around the grounds. We walked down to the Myakka River to get an eye on the tour boat and the water ramps. All very rustic on the River Myakka. I didn’t see any gators, but I’m told they’re out there, lurking under the water, just waiting for you to test the temperature of the water by putting your fingers in the water.

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We found a table on the inside of the restaurant and ordered our drinks.

“So tell me, Gary, where have you been and what have you been doing with your life for the last 45 years.”

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Gary, as you can see, is still a good looking guy. I can remember 45 years ago walking into restaurants with him in Indianapolis for lunch; he would always garner lots of attention from the women in the room. I know, because I would hold back and watch the expressions on their faces. He had the magic.

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So, in a nutshell, he grew up on the east side of Indianapolis, and he and Ted Schlagenhauf went to Howe High School together. Ted also worked in the Indianapolis office of the Colonial Mortgage Company. Ted was transferred to Colonial Mortgage Cleveland, Ohio at some point. Ted and family are now living in Loveland Colorado. They like to ski apparently. Isn’t it cold in the winter there?

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So, back to Gary. Gary was married to a very attractive centerfold type woman. They were divorced at some point and then decided to remarry. Then they divorced one more time and then ended up living together for years and finally realized, It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” I didn’t press him on his marriage.

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After leaving Colonial Mortgage Company, Gary started a home inspection business with one of his sons. In addition to the Home inspection business, Gary was pitched an offer by a former Colonial Mortgage Company employee who worked in the commercial loan department. The question? Would he Gary come and work for him? Lowell had started video game business. You know, the black and white television screens you put money in to make them play the game? Then, of course, the idea was to sit at the bar and play “pong” on this video screen hopefully for hours? As the guy keeps feeding the machine with coins. Gary’s job would be to sell the video machine concept to anyone who would allow him to place the machines in their place of business. The pitch to the bars was, “Let us put our device in your bar, and we (the company) will maintain them, and you will receive 50% of the money they generate.”

The corner bars, of course, were the primary target. Some places did very well with the machines. Other places not as well. The establishments which made a lot of money with the video displays wanted more of them. Gary was in and out of all kind of businesses. But the neighborhood corner bar was the primary place they were most accepted. The video display industry was coming up with new games and improvements like color, and sound effects and Gary began to worry.

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While all of this is happening Gary decides to buy a boat. The timing of this purchase is a little unclear to me, but he buys a 47 foot Harbor Master. A nice size boat.

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It’s parked on Lake Monroe, a reservoir of water in Bloomington, Indiana. He uses the boat as a weekend retreat and lives on the vessel from time to time during the week when he works the bars in southern Indiana.

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DOWNTOWN BEDFORD INDIANA BAR

Gary is making his rounds and ends up in Bedford, Indiana. He walks into a small bar in downtown Bedford. The place is empty except for two people (A man and a woman) sitting at the bar having a drink.

She looks up and asks, “Can I help you?”

Gary says, “Yes, I’m looking for the owner.”

“Why?” She responds.

“I want to talk to the owner about making the owner some money.”

“We don’t have any money to buy anything.”

Gary sits down at the bar and begins. First, asking if she is the owner. She is the owner. The other guy is her boyfriend. The more they talk, the more the conversation turns to her problems owning and operating a bar in downtown Bedford. She would like to sell the bar. Her kids are milking the bar dry, and she wants out!

“Do you own the property?” Gary asks.

“No, we rent the building from a landlord.”

“So, you own the inventory and the furniture?”

“Yes!”

“What about the liquor license?”

“Yes, of course, I have one.”

“May I ask, would you consider selling the bar?”

“Yes.”

“What would you be asking for the bar?

The woman lifts her drink slowly to her lips and says Five Thousand Dollars.”

She puts her drink on the bar and turns away from Gary gets down from her stool, walks around the corner of the bar to the backside. She puts her hands on the bar and leans into Gary and says,

“I was offered sixty thousand dollars for this beautiful barback behind me with its mirrors and fancy woodwork. I plan on selling it to the guy in Chicago.”

“It seems to me you want out of this place as fast as possible. Right? I’m thinking about making an offer for the bar myself. I would be willing to buy this bar, only if the fancy barback stays, the furniture stays plus the remaining inventory, and you can prove a liquor license.”

“You want to buy my bar? How soon?” She says.

“I’ll close the transaction next week for three thousand five hundred dollars.”

“No way, I’m not selling this place for a mere three thousand five hundred bucks.”

“This is my business card; it has my phone number on it. You think about it, and when you’re ready, I have cash, and your problems are over. Your kids will no longer be draining you dry. You will be free to start a new life. But my offer is only good till next week.”

Gary and a couple of other investor friends ended up buying the place. Gary now had a boat, a home improvement business, he was still placing and servicing video game machines and now a co-owner of a small gathering place in downtown Bedford. The problem with the Bedford bar business was no one was gathering at the bar. It would take some time, money and ideas to make it profitable. Gary left a lot of the details of running the investment in Bedford to the two other investors. That is what they do. That’s why they were brought into the transaction. It was Gary’s regular custom to drive down to the Bedford Bar and check the books every couple of weeks to see if they were profitable. It was coming along as expected.

The video game business was now experiencing hard times. Competition with newer and more expensive machines was being built and placed in his current customer’s bars. It was no longer possible to compete with his old games unless he was willing to restructure with a mass infusion of cash and marketing effort to save his current customer base. So, Gary decided it was time to call the video game business quits. It was a sweet ride while it lasted.

Next on the agenda was a major life decision. The cold and harsh Indiana winter was in conflict with the warm balmy breezes of Florida. His brother was already living in Florida and was encouraging Gary to make a move. Gary had the sense he was missing out on life by not making a move and giving paradise a chance. Each year, as fall approached he listened to his brother more intently. So, what should and could a polished and sophisticated chap like Gary Steinhauer do? Move, of course; the next step was to do a little research. Gary had a boat. A 47-foot Harbor Master Yacht and he decided if he was going to Florida he wanted to take the yacht with him. Having a Yacht or a boat in Florida would be absolutely perfect. Why not figure out a way to move the vessel from Bloomington Indiana to Saint Petersburg, Florida?

47 foot harbor master

Gary had to decide whether to sell the boat in Indiana or take the boat to Florida with him. If he took the boat with him, he would have a place to live. He could live on the yacht! If he decided to take the boat he had no choice but to take the craft out of the waters of Lake Monroe in Bloomington Indiana, decommissioning the vessel, and place the yacht on a large flatbed truck. Then have the boat delivered to Paducah, Kentucky. Put the boat back in the water. The water at Paducah, Kentucky is the Ohio River. The Ohio River spills into the Mississippi River, and the Mississippi River spills into the Gulf of Mexico south of New Orleans. Now, this sounds like fun.

The trip down the river is twelve hundred miles and will take two to three weeks or longer depending on the weather to complete the trip. What will it cost to move a boat? Gary didn’t say. What does it cost to pilot a vessel twelve hundred miles down the mighty Mississippi? It works out to about a dollar a mile. In other words, it will cost twelve hundred dollars to pilot his Harbor Master from Paducah, Kentucky to Saint Petersburg. I forgot to ask Gary about the bar bill. Was the bar bill included in the $1200? Then, when he arrives at Saint Petersburg, the next challenge is to find a slip or a dock to park the yacht. Maybe “park the yacht” is not the politically correct boating term or the accurate nautical term, but you know what I mean. Then Gary has got to establish electrical and water connection and all the other things one needs to live permanently on a yacht in Florida.

Gary walked into the Gathering Place in Bedford and made his appearance once again. The other two investors informed Gary they didn’t appreciate him looking over the books and told him it was going to stop.

“What do you mean, you don’t like me looking over the books?” Gary asked.

“We are just fine sending you a check once in a while; you don’t need to see the books anymore.”

“I believe I do, and I will! If you want me to stop looking at the books, there is a way for you to do that. Buy me out! There’s a provision in the contract that allows you to do just that.”

The two other investors rebelled and indicated again they didn’t like Gary snooping around checking the books. So, a beautiful beginning has now become a heated sticking point. Their lawyer talked to Gary’s lawyer, and the two other investors ultimately decided it was going to be less frustration for them to buy Gary out than having to explain why his monthly check weren’t larger. Now Gary was out of the video game business and the bar business.

Gary has been living in Florida for about 18 years. The yacht has been sold; he has found a place he likes to live and is a Realtor with C-21 Coast to Coast in Tierra Verde, Florida. He has some minor health issues but seems to recognize what they are and has them under control. But at our age don’t your knees hurt a little too? We agreed we need to get together on a regular basis.

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As I said earlier, we found a table inside. I think I more or less decided I wanted the air conditioning and bug-free environment. The waitress was most attentive, but we were not in a time crunch and wanted to talk as you can see above. Gary ordered a beef brisket sandwich, and homemade chips and a sugar-free iced tea. I asked the waitress, what she would recommend if I was a visitor and was only able to come to Snook Haven one time in my life. She suggested the sampler.

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The green beans were excellent. The Beef brisket was acceptable. But the chicken was dry and overcooked to my way of thinking. The home made chips were tolerable. I ordered a soft drink. Table service was excellent; our waitress hovered over us until she realized we had not seen each other for 45 years and we were more interested in catching up on each other’s life than the lunch menu.

Snook Haven is a unique dining experience, to say the least. You’ve got to like the outdoors to enjoy this place. I realize this place has been around for more than 60 years. And I understand a particular demographic thinks this place is just the berries. Snook Haven started as a small snack shack back in 1948.

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I’m sure others have failed at making a profit from this place. I could go way back to the late 1920’s and the early 1930’s during Prohibition and talk about the illegal trade in adult beverage. From the Gulf of Mexico through the Port of Charlotte, they would bring their illegal trade up the Myakka River and transport their rum, whiskey and white lightning to Snook Haven, and from there they would carry their product by mule through the thick brush to the waiting thirsty. But, let’s not get sidetracked here.

Let’s look at more recent history. You see, in March 2006 Sarasota County purchased the two and a half acre site called Snook Haven for 2.6 million dollars. It was a justified expenditure as the property was deemed (by someone in government) a sensitive lands program purchase. Folks, that’s a million dollars an acre. That’s pretty sensitive to me. I’m not sure whom Sarasota County paid for the property, but they made out like a bandit in this transaction, don’t you think? And remember in 2006 the real estate market went deep in the tank. Someone liked someone a lot! Or the sellers timing was absolutely impeccable.

Now, Sarasota needed someone to run the store and generate income from this run down weary old building and produce a profitable business from it. Sarasota needs revenue from Snook Haven to offset the 2.6 million dollars they paid for this turkey. In 2006 Sarasota County and Sunrise Sunset Concessions entered into a ten-year lease agreement. The agreement calls for Sunrise Sunset Concessions to pay Sarasota County 12.5% of gross sales, up to $1 million.

In addition, the concessionaire (Sunrise Sunset) would pay Sarasota County

2% of any sales between $1 million and $1.2 million,

3% of sales between $1.2 and 1.3 million,

4% of $1.3 to $1.4 million,

5% percent of sales from $1.4 to $1.5 million.

In the contract, Sunrise Sunset also commits to spending at least $250,000 on improvements. Sunrise Sunset Concessions was selected over three other bidders. The County helped clean up the joint. They cleared a lot of junk and debris, and the Concessioner started scrubbing and cleaning and painting. Sunrise Sunset spent $100,000 on new televisions overlooking the bar. New ceiling fans and wall-mounted lamps. Plastic tables and folding chairs in the main dining area were kept keeping the previous atmosphere, which was called by the new management and partner Ken Hanson, “Cracker Grittiness.”

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Wow, “Cracker Grittiness” Snook Haven’s atmosphere will continue to be “Caraker Grittiness?” I don’t believe I have ever been exposed to that term “Cracker Grittiness.” I had to look it up.

The term “Cracker,” is used mid 18th century, making it older than the United States itself. It was used to refer to poor whites, particularly those inhabiting the frontier regions of Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia. It is suspected that it was a shortened version of “whip-cracker,” since the manual labor involve driving livestock with a whip (not to mention the other brutal arenas where those skills were employed.) Over the course of time, it came to represent a person of lower caste, class, rank, level, status or criminal disposition, in some instances, was used in reference to bandits and the lawless.

Now, before you go off the rails and call me names, or write me a scathing letter about that last definition, let me give you another take I found on the term “Cracker.” Dana Ste Claire wrote a book called “Cracker.” The cracker culture of Florida’s history. In the book, she refers to a Florida cracker as being frontier people who did not just live but flourished in a time before air conditioning, mosquito repellent, and screens.

James M. Denham, Florida Southern College, Lakeland said of the book, “Ste. Claire’s work reminds us that Cracker culture and their ways offer positive legacies valuable for our present generation: self-reliance, self-sufficiency, honesty, and a simple, direct approach to people and problems.”

For over 200 years scholars have attempted to define the Crackers, but their name is as elusive as their nature, their character as tough as Florida’s hardscrabble countryside, and any real Cracker will tell you that’s just the way they like it. From the language, they spoke to the houses they built, from clandestine moonshine stills and cow hunting to “grits and gravy,” Dana Ste. Claire offers an interesting and revealing tour of Crackerdom.

Okay, if you decide to travel to Snook Haven for lunch or dinner chose your vest and wear it proudly. You are either the salt of the earth or a scoundrel. In addition to labeling the customers at Snook Haven, new manager, and partner Ken Hanson, who moved to Venice from Naples. He was an Aston Martin Sales Manager of luxury automobiles for the last six years. Ken is going to raise dinner prices on the menu at the Snook from $10.00 to $19.00. In addition, the salt of the earth can expect to purchase a bottle of wine from the expanded list of wines for $25.00 dollars instead of the $20.00 before Sunrise Sunset Concessions assumed control. Think it will work?

Wa-la. Snook Haven in Venice closes in May of 2012 because the operators, Sunrise Sunset Concessions just couldn’t cut the mustard with that $19.00 dinner and 25 dollar bottle of wine. Sunrise SunSet Concessions neglected the building maintenance, fell behind in keeping the kitchen equipment in tip top shape and stopped paying the rent to Sarasota County. In fact, it’s been reported they owed $41,000 dollars in back payments. I can hear the cry now, “Cut-um loose!”

Now Sarasota has the same problem all over again. They have a run down building on a nasty ass dirt road, in the middle of nowhere next to the alligator-infested Myakka River and needing someone to come along and buy into the concept that this place could make someone some money. So, a guy by the name of Mike Pachota says, I’ll run the place.

MIKE - SNOOK HAVEN OWNER

I’ll give the county, not just a percentage of the sales but good old cold hard cash of $36,000 the first year I run the place plus 7% of gross sales over 1 million dollars. In the following years 2 through 10, I will pay the county rent of $72,000 a year plus 7% of total gross sales. So the monthly rent on the building and boat ramp starting in the second year is now a solid $6,000 a month from our new manager, Mike Pachota the owner of Snook Haven for all intensive purposes.

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So a little general math tells me it will take Sarasota County 433 months or 36 years to pay off the 2.6 million dollars invested with rent only. When you pay your tab for lunch or dinner at any restaurant in Florida, you add 7% sales tax on to the bill. If one would factor in the 7% sales tax on a million dollars of business that gives Sarasota County an addition $70,000 a year. With $72,000 in rent and $70,000 in sales tax on a million dollars of Snook Haven business, the 2.6 million dollar investment is paid in 18 years.

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Okay, we have talked a lot about Snook Haven. I can sense you already know I’m not a fan of Snook Haven, the restaurant. But keep in mind, I’m not a sportsman, hunter, fisherman, outdoorsman or a Harley kind of guy. I tend not to like eating outside where there are flys and bugs, dust and dirt. I don’t drink beer. Yes, I drink. But, I’m more of a Scotch or hard liquor kind of guy. I’m not a fan of banjo music either. So, I hope you will be tolerant to my feelings about my experience at the Shook. If you feel it’s on your bucket list to embrace “Old Florida,” I say go, have a magnificent time. You need to experience it a least once. Would I go back? I’m an old guy, and I’ve learned over time to “Never say Never.” But, if it’s just me for lunch, I’ll pass. “Been there, done that!”

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About the author

Stephen A and Scott Duncan publish "ByDuncan.com" Scott photographs (Duncan Photography) and is the guy who keeps this site running. Steve (left) is a photographer (Duncan Photography) and writes to "ByDuncan.com"