In high school: I was the Eddie Haskell of Winter Park High School. During my last week of school, I was at a senior breakfast and kept accumulating food that my classmates did not eat. I finally picked up my tray like an Olympic discus thrower and heaved it. That started a food fight of biblical proportions. The principal sent me home and mailed me my diploma.
First interview: I wrote for the Valencia Community College newspaper and interviewed the class president. I was very nervous and panicky.
College years: I majored in radio and television at the University of Central Florida. During that time, I did stand-up comedy at a comedy club in Orlando called the Funny Farm.
Entry into travel writing: I met the nephew of Gene Roddenberry, who created the original “Star Trek” television series. The nephew owned a travel agency in Winter Park. He told me I can live like a millionaire without being one. I didn’t want to be a travel agent, so I decided to become a travel writer. My first travel article appeared in 1992. Since then, I’ve written travel articles, human-interest features, and celebrity interviews for publications such as the Orlando Sentinel, Washington Post, Miami Herald, and St. Petersburg Times.
Across the USA: The United States has 3 million miles of roads. You have access to all those roads and don’t need a passport. You are plugged into life when you travel because you learn about people, food, music, customs, and cultures.
Memorable travel experience: When I began writing USA 101, the first place I visited was the Statue of Liberty. On the day before Thanksgiving, I rode the ferry out to the statue and realized all she symbolizes. I started crying. I knew I had a large responsibility to capture the essence of America.
Favorite authors: Charles Kuralt, Mark Twain, and David McCullough.
Exercise habits: I ride a bicycle around Mount Dora. I’ve also lost 25 pounds in the past six months on the 5:2 calorie-restricted diet.
Favorite cheat food: Rocky Road ice cream.
Nobody knows: In 1993, I convinced former Florida Governor Lawton Chiles to declare Andy Griffith Day in Florida. I’m also a member of the Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club.
Heroes: My high school teacher Joan Sennello and college teacher Mary Steffancin saw beyond my mischievous ways and helped me discover my talent for writing.
Pen to paper: Author of the best-selling motorcycle guidebook in the country Great American Motorcycle Tours and National Geographic’s USA 101: A Guide to America’s Iconic Places, Events, and Festivals.
In elite company: Gary has put his expertise in marketing, advertising, and public relations to good use, working with companies such as National Geographic, Walt Disney World, AOL, Harley-Davidson, and AAA.
‘Write’ on: Gary is a two-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers’ Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. He also lectures aboard the Cunard Cruise Line’s Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria ships.