When my in-laws asked what time we should leave, I said 7AM, and they laughed, and my father-in-law suggested 9AM. Then it was my turn to laugh, quietly, to myself. In my mind I thought 10AM, but I didn’t take that too seriously either. When facing up to a long journey, I like to get an early start. If left to my own devices, I would probably leave at dawn. But fortunately or otherwise I am not left to my own devices. I am subject to the devices of others. Years of experience have taught me that fixating on an departure time is a losing proposition, unless there’s a plane to catch.
In the end we rolled out at 9:45AM which was fine by me. All five of us fit into our Ford Escape Hybrid. As soon as we got on the highway we determined that Xy had indeed forgotten the Scrabble game, but we didn’t turn back. Soon we were crossing the twin spans. Soon we were driving through Mississippi. Soon we were plowing through that cool tunnel beneath Mobile, Alabama. Soon we were in the Florida panhandle.
And did we drive on in stony silence? We did not. We were rocking out to a mix of cover songs I’d thrown together. Here is a sampling of the music we enjoyed, ten tracks including tunes by Caetano Veloso, Cash Nexus, and My Summer as a Salvation Soldier. They are all covers.
We went 440 miles that first day. That landed us in the quaint burg of Madison, Florida. Actually I’m only guessing at its quaintness. In point of fact we never actually set foot in the town proper. We stayed at the Best Western, conveniently located near the interstate exit.
Since there were five of us in one vehicle, we made an effort to travel light. I did not pack, for example, any booze. It should therefore come as no surprise that Madison County is one of only five “dry” counties in the state of Florida. I always thought “dry” meant no alcohol whatsoever, but in this case beer and wine were legal. We were able to run to the truckstop across the way and pick up as much beer as we could possibly want. I noticed they had beverages with Smirnoff and Bacardi and other famous spirits, but upon closer examination, these all seemed to be malt beverages — in other words, flavored beer without a trace of vodka or rum. Weird. I made the highly questionable decision to pick up a big can of Sparks and an even bigger can of Tilt.
Man — chilling poolside at a hotel in a dry county in the Deep South drinking a damn Sparks. If you haven’t done this, you should try it some time. It really puts things in some kind of perspective.
Sparks and Tilt are examples of a beverage category of which I had been blissfully ignorant. They’re called alcopops, “malt beverages to which various fruit juices or other flavorings have been added.” In retrospect, I wish I’d remained ignorant. Those things were nasty. I also regret that we didn’t at least take a curiosity cruise through Madison. That hotel by the interstate is exactly the kind of non-place that I so intensely despise with every fiber of my being. The only cool thing about being there was the cow pasture out back. Persephone had just remarked a few days earlier that she’d never seen a cow in real life, so she was fascinated.
And the next morning, when we went out to visit the cows again, we got a special treat.
Yes, it’s an ostrich. Or at least I think it is. A big flightless bird anyway.
We were joined at the fence by another hotel guest, a farmer from one of the Carolinas. It had rained on Friday night, but he wondered if Florida was suffering from the same dry spell as they’d been having in his neck of the woods. He observed the quality of the grass, and the low level of water in a pond in the cow pasture, and he concluded that indeed they were having a drought here, just as we’d been having in New Orleans.
After breakfast at the hotel, we got on the road again. Only 300 miles to Vero. The drive was uneventful, except for one thing. We were on the Florida Turnpike, a toll highway with limited access; we were going to make a pit stop at a service plaza but I missed the exit. So we took the next next exit, which landed us right in the middle of Orlando. (The Mall at Millenia to be precise.) We ended up eating lunch at one of the most upscale McDonald’s I’ve seen. I was impressed by the sanitary door openers in the restrooms. These were little hooks that allowed you to open the door with your wrist so you didn’t have to touch the knob with your hand. Fancy. It’s always interesting to see how the other half lives.