It was back to Clearwater Beach in early December, and we flew on Allegiant Airlines (the other AA). I like the other AA because: 1) they fly directly to Pinellas International Airport (PIE)—it’s the Clearwater/St. Petersburg airport and 2) they are inexpensive. The direct flight element is great, especially when one only has a few days away from everyday life. PIE is a very easy in and out airport with convenient locations for rental cars. The airport is only about a 20 minute drive to Clearwater Beach. Allegiant is inexpensive because they are only one type of aircraft (MD80), they buy the aircraft used (you will think that you are on the other AA if you just focus on the interior of the plane), and they do not operate a hub-and-spoke transfer system. Every flight is non-stop, with no connections to be made. Flights are relatively full, and most “extra” items (e.g. baggage) involve an additional charge. I suggest that you pay extra for an exit row seat ($20), a great deal for flying comfort.

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                The flight to PIE was eventful, at least at the start. The manifest list of passengers and the count of folks who were actually on board before takeoff apparently did not match. So, the search for the missing passenger(s) began. Was she hiding? Was this a child who was incorrectly counted? No one knew. Four headcounts and 95 minutes later we were ready to go. I am not sure why a resolution to the missing passenger problem could not be resolved in less than 95 minutes, but it seems that it could not. The passengers were restless and some even used harsh language. I was mellow, just pleased to be heading south for a few days in advance of another winter in Omaha.

The beach was the same as always, although the temperatures were above normal and reached 85° on one of the days I was there. The tourist count was down. The population of Clearwater Beach declines between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Still, there were good sized crowds on the beach. There was a very cool beach soccer tournament, with teams from all over the area. It is so hard to run on loose sand, yet I saw skills and quickness that was truly impressive. Terry Bollea, AKA Hulk Hogan, was around a lot as well.

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Tourists flock to have their picture taken next to a life-size statue of the Hulk found outside his store on Mandolay Avenue. I have resisted the temptation to take such a picture, and will wait until the real Hulk Hogan and I meet on the street. Janet saw him in CVS, maybe I should hang out there. Anyway, the beachscape continues to evolve. Two more monster hotels are under construction, with other buildings on the way. Clearwater Beach is beyond recognition compared with the place I first visited in 1989.

Just to the east is the city of Clearwater, easily seen from several locations while near the beach. The Flag Hotel, formerly the Ft. Harrison Hotel, the iconic structure of the Church of Scientology, looms in the distance. Did you know that the church owns 67 buildings in Clearwater, and seems to be angling to own more? Imagine how the tax role is affected with 67 buildings off the books. Downtown Clearwater is pristine, but in many ways near dead if one tries to experience the night life found in the downtown area. In some ways it is like the inner city found after an invasion of beings from another planet—think The Day the Earth Stood Still. Did L. Ron Hubbard write this tale? While at the beach I decided to read My Secret Life in Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige, the niece of Scientology’s leader David Miscavige. I think that you will find it a good read, especially if you have seen the documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”.

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