I really don’t know how many times I’ve been down I-75 or I-95 going to Florida. Since I retired from teaching in 1996 I’ve been going that direction at least once a year if not more often. The central motivation is either seeking out salt water fishes or hooking up with a cruise ship.
Over the years I’ve observed a number of things that may be of some interest. So, what follows may be akin to a written invitation to come over to my house and see my vacation slides. Here we go:
- Florida isn’t called the “Land of the Outreached Palm” for nothing. Little, if anything, is cheaper in Florida. The only thing free may be a sun burn.
- If you stop at the first Florida Travel Stop on I-75 or I-95 don’t think the free orange juice sample is fresh squeezed. It comes from the same gallon cartons you’ll find in your local supermarket. It taste great but don’t do any research on how it is made.
- Speaking of oranges, Northern Florida is filled with roadside stores touting Indian River oranges to take home with you. They’re the places who by day-glo paint in 55-gallon barrels. I’ve not had good luck getting their offerings back home. Shelf life was not good.
- If you drive by a canal and think you saw an alligator lying along the bank, you did. If you’re driving along the Interstate and think you saw an alligator lying along the road, you didn’t. It was a blown truck tire.
- Florida, along with most of the South, is famous for creatures that have venom. Don’t go wandering off into the tall grass or Palmetto swamps without a snake stick and don’t handle saltwater catfish which have a venom in their slime. They are so abundant and easy to catch they are nicknamed “tourist fish.” So, if you do catch one, use a pair of pliers to shake the hook loose. If you get jabbed by their barbs you won’t be happy. Been there, done that!
- Florida’s turnpikes will get you around faster but they ain’t cheap, especially if you’re pulling a boat. However, you shouldn’t be going to Florida if you want to get around quickly. Use the back roads, meet some natives, and see what Florida was like before uncle Walt and his crowd moved in.
- Whether you’re interested in fresh water or salt water fishing there are few places better than Florida. Its coastal bays and estuaries are teeming with fish as are the great numbers of interior lakes.
- There is no escaping the infinite variety of insects making Florida their home. Dealing with them is almost more difficult than tolerating all the retirees from New York who winter over in Florida.
- Before Florida was a part of America it was populated by the Spanish. They were there first, the language and culture is heavily influenced by them, so get use to it. Florida is not a white bread kind of place. I’ve referred to it before as being a foreign nation where your auto insurance is still valid. Also, don’t let your feelings be hurt when you find out all those Latinos aren’t talking about you when they are conversing in Spanish with each other.
- Don’t expect to meet many older native Floridians. Like what California was in the 60s almost everyone is a transplant. On my most recent trip in November-December, 2011 I met the rarest of the rare, a young man in Key West who was a native to KW just as his father was.
- Don’t feel sorry for the Seminole Indians. They are not the impoverished tribal nations of the Great Plains. The Seminoles are a corporate business enterprise rich in major agribusiness properties and big-time casinos.
- If your primary mode of transportation is a Smart Car, reconsider driving it to Florida. There are just too many dumb cars between your home and there.
- Once you get past central Florida the tallest structures you’ll see will be man-made. Several of them will have signs out front saying Waste Management Services. Beware of the sea-gull droppings when nearing these places.
- If you’re south of Miami take some time to drive around the agricultural areas near Homestead. It’s where your winter fruits and veggies come from and very interesting to see tomatoes ripening on the vine in January.
- If you’re going into the Everglades at Florida City, be sure to stop at a fruit stand called Robert is Here. They are famous for the fresh variety of fresh whatever and especially exotic things not common in the North. They have a small zoo out back for the kids and nobody leaves there without getting one of their fruit milkshakes.
- If you are a social or political liberal and live in Ohio you are aware that most of your neighbors disagree with you and think you’re going to hell. But, they don’t erect billboards telling you such. In Florida they do. The Interstates are lined with huge billboards decrying liberal and their Satan inspired ideas.
- Florida professionals like billboards. If you’re not reading a billboard claiming you’re ruining America because you believe in Obama Care, you’re driving by one advertising a doctor who specializes in pain related problems, one who does or undoes vasectomies, one who can make your back new again, or a lawyer who’ll help you bring suit against any of the aforesaid doctors who totally wrecked your body. One billboard that especially caught my eye carried the statement, “Anal inspections save lives.” There was a picture of an attractive female proctologist along with her 800 number.
- As you drive south in Florida the coffee gets stronger. Especially as you approach Key West with its Cuban influence. If you’re going to Key West be sure to stop at mile marker 15 and have a cup of Cuban at Baby’s. Get yourself a Cuban café con leche and skip the artificial sweetener and go for real sugar.
- If you are visiting Key West, the last island you cross over before getting there is Stock Island. Hidden away on Stock Island is the Hog Fish Grille, one of the best Tiki bars to be found and serving the absolute freshest of local seafood. This is not where the typical tourist goes because the typical tourist doesn’t know about it. You may have to ask directions but it will be worth the effort.
- The first of the Florida Keys is Largo. Stop at a visitor center and get yourself a guide to mile markers. Everything along the keys is associated with a mile marker number. And, before you go any further, get your gas tank topped off. Gas won’t get any cheaper as you drive down the keys.
- A couple of my favorite places along the Keys highway are John Pennekamp State Park at Largo. Take the glass bottom reef tour but only if the water is calm. Bahia Honda State Park is a wonderful place to spend a few hours lying on the beach and playing in the warm tropical waters. Your kids will love it. If you like wild life consider the turtle hospital, the sea-bird hospital, and at someplace further down there is a pier where you can buy bait fish and hand feed wild tarpon.
- Like most places there are informational boards hanging over the Interstates that give traffic information and various alerts. We Yankees know about Amber alerts but Silver alerts may be something unique to areas of concentrated retirees. I saw a sign alerting drivers to be on the lookout for an elderly man, I presume with silver hair, driving a white 2006 Toyota Camry. Do you have any idea how many, possibly lost, old, silver-haired, men are driving around in Florida in a Camry?
- When you’re on your way back north you’ll have no trouble knowing when you’re leaving Southern Florida. My car’s GPS includes an altitude meter and as I got nearer to Tampa it began displaying altitude in something other that single and double digits. If you’re young and looking to invest in Florida property I’d recommend not doing so in Southern Florida as it will likely be underwater during your lifetime.
- A guessing game you can play anyplace, but works especially well in Florida, is guessing how old people are. You can just about figure a person’s age by how many steps it takes after they exit their car and are then able to walk completely upright. Takes me about ten steps so I figure anyone who’s in the eight to twelve range is close to my age.
I suppose this could go on forever but I just noticed the word count. I usually try to keep things under a thousand words and this is not close to fifteen-hundred. So, If something else comes to mind I’ll pick it up in Chapter 2. Bon voyage and don’t forget the SPF-50 and the bug spray.