Making the Most of Florida

Doing my best to reign in my attitude.

Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.

We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.

It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.

I had spent 40 years trying to get away from Florida, with its backward politics, its unrelenting heat, and its cockroaches and snakes and fire ants. And yet, here I was, crossing the state line once again. To say I was triggered is putting it mildly. I was fighting a panic attack.

For most of my time in this particular state, I had been lonely, scared, depressed, and desperately poor. I always felt like I didn’t fit in. I was beat up a lot in school, unsupported at home, and underpaid at work. I didn’t want to feel that way again. Not ever. Even worse, I didn’t want Dear Husband to see the person I was back then. It would scare anyone but the most loyal and devoted human on earth, which, fortunately, he is.

Forgive the awful picture. I was freaking out.

We were here to visit friends and family, so I was doing my best to reign in my attitude and look at the positive things. We had only been back in the South for a few days, and already I had noticed a few of those positives that I had forgotten all about.

There were squirrels. Oh, how I miss those. I’ve only seen about 5 in Washington in the past 7 years. I was also looking forward to seeing lizards (actually, anoles, but nobody calls them that). Some of the roads are sparkly. There’s different and familiar signage. The trees are different. The birdsong is different. The stores are familiar and don’t feel foreign. The parking spaces are actually wide enough to park your car in! There seems to be more space in general. The streets are wider. The highways have wider medians and shoulders. There’s more space between businesses.

There’s kudzu everywhere, and most Americans don’t realize that it’s edible, if not sprayed with pesticides. (Here’s how.) That’s a shame, because no one in the South would ever go hungry again. On the other hand, for some reason Florida DOT seems to delight in using Oleanders in their landscaping. I get it: low maintenance, pretty flowers. But they’re also toxic to the point where you shouldn’t even breathe the air if you burn them, let alone touch the sap or ingest any part of them. And please don’t let your dogs near them, either.

Kudzu

I’d forgotten how many billboards there are. You can’t get away from the ugly things. And there are more junk food chain restaurants than you’d see in the Seattle area in a million years. There’s plenty of opportunity to eat unhealthy food in Florida. Oops. There I go, being negative again.

One of the first things we did was buy bananas. I wanted DH to understand why I find the ones we get in Washington State such a crashing disappointment. They must pick them when they’re dark green to travel to Washington, and the result is that they barely have any flavor at all. When DH ate his first Southern banana, he exclaimed that it tasted like banana candy. We ate a lot of bananas on this trip.

North Florida was bringing back a lot of memories. We passed Blackwater River State Park, where I spent a week in summer camp the one and only time I got to go. We passed Eglin Air Force Base, where my oldest sister was once stationed, and where I saw my first burning cross after Cubans were housed here during the Mariel Boatlift. Scary.

Eglin is also where I worked on the Youth Conservation Corps, which I wrote about here. I couldn’t remember where any of my work sites were, and that’s probably for the best. I was really proud of the work I did, and seeing it after 40 years of wear and tear would most likely be heartbreaking.

The Gulf of Mexico is beautiful. I’d forgotten how nice it is to gaze on a body of water and know it will be warm enough to swim in. I wish we had spent more time doing so. Our hotel was in Destin, and a friend of mine says Destin is the place God goes when God goes to the beach. But we didn’t see her anywhere.

We spent our first evening in Florida having dinner with my dear friend Vicky. It was so good to see her after 9 years! I wanted to introduce DH to grouper cheeks, but sadly that restaurant that serves them had gotten taken out by a hurricane. In fact, a lot had changed on this coast. Nature is never kind to Florida. Instead, we ate at Schooners in Panama City Beach. It was wide open, and we had an excellent view of the sunset over the water. We didn’t warn DH until the last possible moment about the cannon they fire off every night at sunset. We did want him to have the opportunity to brace himself and cover his ears, though.

We visited Seaside, Florida, where The Truman Show was filmed. That’s something I had always been meaning to do but never quite did. Like Celebration, Florida (which I wrote about here), it is a community based on the New Urbanism philosophy. Extremely planned, to the point of feeling a bit Stepford Wife-y. Multi-million dollar homes, immaculate shops with cute names like the Blue Giraffe, the Badass Coffee Company, The Surfing Deer, The Perfect Pig, and Pizza by the Sea. Everywhere you looked there were over-privileged teenagers wandering around with nothing to do. The real world will probably hit these kids hard, if they ever see it. Now there’s another overpriced town adjacent to Seaside called Watercolor. More of the same. Cool name, though.

The next day we visited the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. Think SeaWorld, only smaller. And with an albino alligator! We saw a sea lion show and a dolphin show. It was actually quite crowded, and few people were wearing masks. But it was the ultimate Florida tourism experience.

Then we did something that I’d really been looking forward to for months. We went parasailing! I had done this twice before, once in this very location, and once in Acapulco, so I knew what to expect. It was DH’s first time. We got towed out to the boat on one of those banana boat things. The water was choppy, so I had to cling onto it for dear life with my messed up wrists. That was the only part that scared me.

I highly recommend parasailing. Yes, you’re high up, but you don’t feel like you are. It’s like sitting on a swing. A swing that’s tied to a parachute and 800 feet of line, that’s being towed behind a motor boat, but yeah, a swing. It’s quite peaceful. And of course the views were beautiful. It was wonderful to enjoy the sunshine knowing that we were avoiding two weeks of crappy winter weather in the Pacific Northwest. As he was reeling us in, the captain playfully dunked us in the water as we were nearing the boat. That’s a traditional part of the experience. Refreshing!

We also visited some of the kitschy tourist shops full of plastic sharks and seashells from China. They kind of made me nostalgic, too, oddly enough. Except for the Trump bumper stickers for sale. I could have done without seeing those.

On this Florida leg of our journey, we also got to visit DH’s sisters, who both live in the area with their husbands. It was a pleasure to break bread with them and see their lovely homes. We spent the bulk of our time outside, because we didn’t want to expose anyone to any virus we might have picked up on the airplane.

From there, we went to see one of my oldest, dearest friends, Steve, along with his wife and grandson. I had arranged to meet them at my very favorite place in Florida, Ichetucknee Springs State Park. I wanted to show DH the most beautiful place in the state. That, and I wanted to avoid Jacksonville. I had lived there for 30 years, and for 30 years I struggled to leave. It would be entirely too triggering to go there. Not now. Not yet.

About two hours into our journey, our last hotel called to say that DH had left his laptop behind. Fortunately, his sister was able to pick it up and ship it ahead of us to a FedEx store in Asheville, North Carolina, where we’d be several days later. Crisis averted, but it gives me the opportunity to hit you with a Public Service Announcement: ALWAYS check all the nooks and crannies of your hotel room, even those you think no reasonable person would store stuff in, before checking out!

DH got to meet Steve for the first time as we rafted down the river, past turtles and cranes and cypress knees. The water is not as turquoise blue as it once was, but it did not disappoint. It was a quiet, lazy float. Some of my fondest Florida memories are from this place. Since Ichetucknee is far from the tourist trail, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. (That’s not the case in summer, though, trust me.) Toward the end of our float we punctured our raft on a cypress knee, and I spent the rest of the time trying to hold the hole closed as we slowly sank into the cool spring water. But that, too, is part of the Ichetucknee experience. It kind of made me smile.

Since this bit of paradise is in the middle of nowhere, there weren’t any hotels, so we rented cabins in a campground. Had I known that Steve’s wife is deathly afraid of bugs, I would have made another plan. Not that the cabins were infested, but we were, after all, in the woods. It kind of felt like I was the architect of her torture, and I still feel bad about that. But it was good to have some heart to heart talks with Steve, who gave DH some very high praise, so that made me feel good. His wife liked him, too, and I think that surprised her. Like she herself said, though, she’s seen some of the guys I used to date.

It was sweet, watching DH play with Steve’s 3-year-old grandson. But I’m still glad we don’t have children of our own. It wore me out just watching the little cutie. I don’t know how parents do it. Truly, I don’t.

One of the cool things about my Pokemon Go app is that it shows me nearby points of interest that might otherwise be overlooked. That’s how we came across the very old and neglected Ichetucknee Memorial Cemetery that is right next to the campground, lost in the underbrush. DH and I wandered there, looking at the tragic headstones from the 1800’s. One guy’s tombstone, below, says he was murdered, but I can’t seem to find anything online that describes the circumstances. And there were a lot of babies there who didn’t make it to their first birthday. It was kind of sad, tucking into our cozy cabin for the night, knowing that there were dozens of dead babies out there in the woods. To live in this swampy area of North Florida back then, without air conditioning or medical care, meant you were prone to endless numbers of diseases and viruses. Thank God for vaccinations, sanitation, and civilization.

We slept relatively well, despite the dead babies and the murdered guy and the squeaky, plastic-covered mattresses. We all went to the Waffle House for breakfast the next morning, and then parted ways. I hate saying goodbye to people I care about when I have no idea when I’ll see them again. It chokes me up just thinking about it.

And then, just like that, we left Florida. So simple. Has it always been that simple to leave Florida? No.

And I survived. Well, except for the chigger bites. Weeks later, I’m still trying to heal from them. I definitely do not miss chiggers. That’s what I get for wandering around untended graveyards.

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The Fantasy of White America

Que sera sera. For some.

If you want to know why so many white Americans want to Make America Great Again, all you have to do is look to Hollywood in the 1950’s and 60’s. Whether it’s Doris Day singing Que Sera Sera, or Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore singing Carolina in the Morning or pretty much every song from The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, or Thoroughly Modern Millie, we could easily believe that we lived in a world where everyone was slim and beautiful and joyful and ultimately safe.

We could be assured that all endings would be happy ones and that everyone was living the American Dream, even those outside of America. Based on this footage, it was a time when no one had to lock their doors, when everyone dressed well, children were relatively respectful, there was no crime, and no one ever had a single hair out of place.

Ah, nostalgia, with its rose-colored glasses.

Lest we forget, the 1950’s was the era of Jim Crow. It was a time when people were violently resisting desegregation. Rosa Parks had to remind us that she had as much right to sit in the front of the bus as anyone else. Polio was a thing. It was also the Cold War era, and a time when paranoia had us seeing communists in every nook and cranny. Children were taught to hide under their desks. People were building fallout shelters in their back yards.

The 1960’s brought us the war in Vietnam and the subsequent protests thereof. It brought assassinations galore. We had the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs and Stonewall. Civil Rights protests became even more radical and dangerous. Birth control was pretty much nonexistent. The vast majority of women did not have higher education or employment.

My point is that it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for the most of the population. There was poverty. There was domestic violence and substance abuse. There was discrimination.

Rest assured that this great America that so many seem to long for was only great for a privileged few, and to hell with the rest of us. What they long for is a time where they could keep their heads in the clouds and their high heels and polished shoes on our necks. They want to wear their pillbox hats and their pearls and their searsucker while we do the grit labor, keep our mouths shut, and know our place.

MAGA is a fantasy that cannot now, and in fact never did, exist. It’s a desire not to have to care about anyone but themselves. It’s a way to remain angry and discontent with the present. It’s a perpetual It’s-Not-Fair tantrum.

Unfortunately for them, the rest of America has grown up, and we’re not willing to play along anymore. Que sera sera.

Doris Day 111

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Be Careful What You Wish For

Nothing ever seems as awful in retrospect.

I understand why some people are longing for some rose-colored memory of what the past used to be like. A time when no one had to lock their doors and all the birthday cakes were made from scratch. A time when we were all content in our respective places, supposedly.

The present, for many of us, sucks. I can see why people would like to think that all of society’s ills could be cured by going back in some time machine to a period of former glory.

Nothing ever seems as awful in retrospect, after we’ve survived it. No one can truly remember the pain of childbirth, for example. If they could, we’d be a planet full of only children.

So many people wanted to Make America Great Again that they didn’t stop to think about the consequences. Now the past has rushed up to smack us in the face. We’re experiencing a pandemic not unlike the Spanish Flu of 1918 with no end in sight due to an utter lack of leadership, and 108,000 Americans dead at the time of this writing. We’re seeing unemployment like the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and are embroiled in riots like those of the 1970’s.

All those things were bad enough on their own. We get to go through them all rolled into one. Yay us.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired.

good old days

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Auld Lang Syne

Most of us have no idea what it means.

It always struck me as kind of amusing that many of us say goodbye to the old year and ring in the new by singing a song that we find incomprehensible. I mean, if you took a poll of 100 people, and asked them what Auld Lang Syne means, the most common answer would be, “Beats me.” And yet we sing it, with feeling.

The best translation I’ve found for Auld Lang Syne is “Days Gone By.” And that’s all I need to know, really. It’s a song about nostalgia.

Should we forget the days and people of old? No. We should appreciate them. We should be grateful for our past, because it has made us who we are today. We are the sum total of our experiences, whether they’re good, bad, or ugly.

Hard or easy, cruel or kind, we are here! We’re here, and we can look forward to the future. We build upon the foundations and lessons of days gone by and that allows us to reach higher heights in the days to come.

Life! What a gift! All of it. Even the not-so-good stuff. It got us here. We may have not had control of all of it. It might have been messy sometimes. But how we cope, how we plan, how we dream… that’s entirely up to us.

So let’s take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

http _www.janegoodwin.net_wp-content_uploads_2015_01_auld-lang-syne-400x224

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The Cinema and Brew

God, I loved that place.

Sometimes nostalgia hits me like a freight train. I hadn’t thought of this place in decades, but suddenly today this little chestnut popped into my head: The Cinema and Brew in Apopka, Florida.

It was a dingy little place, tucked into the corner of a strip mall. Nothing to shout about, really. One screen. Chairs with ragged upholstery surrounding sticky tables. A counter where you could order pizza, beer, popcorn, candy, and soda.

Not the best neighborhood. Someone I distantly knew was stabbed on the sidewalk out front once. God, though, I loved that place.

The minute I turned 16 and could drive at night, I was there every single week. If I remember correctly, it only cost a dollar to get in. The manager would get really irritated with those of us who couldn’t afford to buy food. That was his only chance for profit. But since I was quiet and never caused trouble, I never got kicked out, as many of my male friends did.

The movies were often really bad. Cheech and Chong. The Porky’s franchise. Most of the time I didn’t even bother to see what was playing until I got there. Because the whole point was being there.

It was a place to run into friends. It was also the place to hope for romance. I got my first kiss there. I also got my first unwanted kiss there. He had pizza breath and really awful body odor, and he took me by surprise. I made it quite clear that it would be a really bad idea to ever try that again. Hopefully he’s not aiming for a future in the Supreme Court.

It was also a place to go to get away from my dysfunctional home life and fantasize about being rescued. One time I was there by myself, and a really good looking guy came up to me and said, “Is this seat taken?” My heart was pounding. I said no. So he took it. Away. To another table.

Another time, a friend was supposed to meet me there, and she was running late. Finally I gave up on her entirely. So I’m sitting in the pitch black, watching the movie, and during a quiet scene, she screeches my name. It made everyone jump.

“Jeez. Over here,” I said. Everyone laughed. We all sort of felt like we were hanging out in a big living room in a low rent neighborhood.

I had forgotten how desperate I was back then. Desperate for love and friendship and acceptance. Desperate to get out of my circumstances. Desperately poor.

Still, a tiny part of me wishes I were going to the Cinema and Brew tonight, for old time’s sake. But like so many other things from my past, for better or for worse, it’s long gone.

Preview

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Nostalgia Food

About once a year, something will come over me and I’ll buy a can of sardines and eat them in one sitting. I don’t particularly like sardines. I don’t dislike them, either. It’s just that they remind me of my grandmother.

When I was little, not yet of school age, my mother would drop me off at my grandmother’s house before she went to work. She was in her 70’s. I wonder how she coped with caring for a small child day after day.

I do remember walking to the grocery store with her. I also remember being bored silly much of the time. And I remember her feeding me sardines, good Danish grandmother that she was.

It’s funny how food can transport you to another time and place. This is not the only nostalgia food that I eat. I’ve written before about my sister’s apple pie. And my recipe box is overflowing with recipes that my mother used to make. Mangoes transport me back to Mexico, and stroop wafels send me back to Holland.

When I was sick, my mother would give me ginger ale and ritz crackers. In the winter, since I was allergic to hot chocolate, she’d heat me up some apple cider and drop in a cinnamon stick. I’m old enough to remember a time when people still ate local foods only in season, so when the occasional orange would cross my path in Connecticut, it was an event. And as I’ve written before, I have a particular fondness for ice cream trucks.

Food does not just sustain us. It comforts us. It helps us maintain traditions. It defines families. It allows you to time travel. I’m adding sardines to my grocery list even as I write this.

sardines

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Pinball Wizard

I wonder how many members of the younger generation in my family have actually played pinball. I mean one of those actual stand-up, boxy machines with all the constantly breaking moveable parts, not some digital version thereof. I can’t even remember the last time I saw one, but they loomed very large in my childhood.

Thinking about pinball machines makes me feel 13 again. When my mother would give me a quarter or two, I felt like I’d won the lottery, and I’d race down the street to the game room to play. For a little while I got to escape my unhappy, stressful, dysfunctional life and go somewhere where I was, well, pretty darned good. I can understand why kids get caught up in video games.

I’d always do my best to choose a less sexist machine, one that wasn’t covered in images of scantily clad women. This wasn’t always easy, but I’d do my best. I was a feminist even then.

I could milk hours of entertainment out of a single quarter. I’d keep that ball in play, jiggling the machine just enough to manipulate its trajectory, but not so much to make the machine tilt. When the machine tilted, you’d sometimes have to get the manager to get it working again, and he’d sigh heavily before waddling out to do so. But that was greatly preferable to his reaction when you accidentally bounced the metal ball and it hit the glass and caused a hairline crack. (There’s no sound quite like it. CRACK. Pink, pink, pink…)

If you spent any amount of time at a game room, you’d develop a love/hate relationship with the manager. If he was in a good mood and the place wasn’t too crowded, he’d give you a quarter to play again when the machine malfunctioned. If he was in a bad mood, it was your tough luck. Sometimes he’d just give me a quarter for the heck of it. One look at my ragged tennis shoes and I’m sure he got a sense of how poor we were.

Sometimes I’d keep a single ball in play for so long that I’d desperately need to pee. That wasn’t a problem if a trusted friend was around. All you’d have to do is expertly balance the ball on the flipper, and then have your friend hold the flipper steady until you came back from the bathroom. But if no friend was in sight, you had a choice to make: biology or victory. It was very hard to pass up the opportunity to beat a rival’s high score.

If I was having a particularly bad game day and I ran out of quarters, I’d make the rounds of the neighborhood payphones to see if I could find any spare change. (And if the younger generation hasn’t played pinball, they’ve probably never robbed a payphone either.) This gambit was often more successful than you’d expect.

And speaking of biology, I have to say that even though I was extremely shy and a social pariah, I was at my most sexually powerful when playing pinball. (And if you think 13-year-olds don’t think along those lines, you’re woefully out of touch.) I’d stand there, my long thick hair flowing down my back, my cute little butt (I miss it!) poured into my skin tight jeans, wiggling as I manipulated this machine that was bigger than I was. It was a mating dance with a bing bong click soundtrack. It felt like all eyes were on me, but I would never know for sure, as I had to concentrate on the game.

I wouldn’t want to be 13 again unless I could spend the whole time playing pinball. Kids today don’t know what they’re missing.

Pinball-Hall-of-Fame-Machin

MY Reason for the Season

I’m not a Christian, but I do celebrate Christmas. I like the nostalgia of it. I like the Christmas lights that warm up a cold winter’s night. I like the music. I like the decorations. I like the food (perhaps a bit too much). I like to see how excited children get on Christmas morning. I just skip over the religious aspects of the holiday. For me it’s just about love and family and memories and a distraction from the winter chill. I don’t think that means I’m going to hell.

And before I get a bunch of angry comments from Christians to Athiests, let’s remember that the Christmas tree is a throwback from Paganism, and Jesus was a Jew whose birthday was most likely nowhere near the winter solstice, so people have been modifying this holiday to suit their needs, beliefs and desires for ages.

The other day I was going through a box of ornaments that I’ve collected over the years. Each one has a story. I remember where I was when I got them all. I have some that were made by my grandmother or my mother or my grand nephews. Some of them remind me of my travels. Others proclaim my heritage or the things that I hold dear. One looks like one of my dogs.

All these things make me smile. If that’s the only thing I get out of the holiday, then I’m getting quite a bit indeed. Sorry if that offends you.

ornaments
[Image credit: wallpaperstock.net]

A Monopoly on Memories

Okay, I’m horrified. I just learned that the Iron token in the Monopoly board game was retired in 2013. You don’t understand. I LOVED the iron! The iron was my favorite!

Well, I liked the boot, too. And the race car. And the top hat, because it fit on the tip of my finger as a child. But still… the iron? After 80 years, you killed the iron??? Hasbro, what were you thinking?

I’m devastated. I feel like part of my childhood just got assassinated. What’s next? Shall we burn Tony the Tiger in effigy? Will we confiscate every Slinky? Let’s just make Lite Brite monochrome while we’re at it.

Okay, maybe I’m overreacting just a tad. According to this Wikipedia article, a lot of tokens have come and gone through the years. Apparently there was a lantern, a purse, and a rocking horse until the 1950’s. The cannon is now gone, as is the man on horseback. The sack of money had a brief 8 year run, but was retired in 2007. And there have been special tokens that only showed up in special editions, such as the steam locomotive, the robot, the guitar, the helicopter, the ring, and the director’s chair. Also, over time, tokens have been made that were pewter, gold, plastic and wood.

So I guess I can’t really feel so proprietary when it comes to the iron. Life is change. But still, Hasbro, stop messing with my childhood!

Now I can’t get the song “In My Life” by the Beatles out of my head.

[Image credit: datavizblog.com]
[Image credit: datavizblog.com]

Tragic Nostalgia

As I write this blog entry, I’m watching video footage of the eruption of Mexico’s Popocatépetl volcano. It’s about 50 miles southeast of Mexico City, and I have been on its slopes. It has erupted about a dozen times since then, and it always brings me back to that long ago visit.

Although I didn’t reach its summit, I know I reached the highest elevation I ever have in my life, because the air was so thin I could barely function. That is something I never experienced before or since. I contented myself with taking in the view, which included her sister volcano, Iztaccihuatl. That was an amazing day, one for my bucket list.

Whenever Popo blows her top, I worry for the people in the surrounding villages. These people were very warm and welcoming to me. They made me feel safe and comfortable. It pains me to think that during times of eruptions, they themselves are far from safe and comfortable.

When a tragedy causes you to have feelings of concern mixed with nostalgia, it can be very hard to reconcile those contrasting emotions. During times like these I feel helpless. I also better understand why people take so much comfort in prayer.

Popocatépetl
Popocatépetl