Wendy and Nils

Florida Story

     After years of living in various locations throughout the United States, I realized that my travels had almost never taken me south of the Mason-Dixie Line.  As the “You know you’re a redneck….” phenomenon swept the nation, I took a renewed interest in Southern values such as the Grace of God, Deep Fried Everything, Confederate Patriotism, Light Beer, Southern Hospitality, Gun Rights, Road Kill for Dinner, Country Music, Southern Accents, and Creationism.  I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go to the deep dark roots of rural Mississippi or anything, so I figured I’d start where I could blend in a little bit.  Florida was the call, and I’m not sure if it’s even a legitimate southern state, but we’ll count it and consider it a stepping-stone to the south.  A trip to Florida is more than a southern experience; it is also a return to Spanish culture in the United States.  Here’s my rant….. Although twenty percent of Floridians speak Spanish, we can’t complain, considering that it was a Spanish colony for 300 years before the United States took it over in 1819.  When a nation takes over another nation you get two things, control of land management and taxation.  It’s not that easy to force a language (such as English) on a culture.  Many people in the Alsace-Lorraine region of Germany still speak French.  Many indigenous people in the Americas still speak their native languages.  The Soviet Union invaded numerous countries, but the people of those nations did not adopt the Russian language. Canada was subject to British laws until it finally completely relinquished political influence in 1982, but they still speak French in Quebec.  Considering this international historical standard, it seems best to accept the language gap that we have in our nation, so I decided not to attempt to reform anyone to speak English while I was in Florida.  Instead I embraced Hispanic culture by listening to Ozomatli and salsa-reggae, drinking rum drinks, and wearing tight shorts and day-glow half shirts while rollerblading.  Anyway, here is the story of our trip…..

     I woke up early on Christmas morning to find that Santa Clause had not dropped off any gifts for me, thus reaffirming my hypothesis that all those years of misbehavior had finally caught up to me.  I can’t say why Wendy didn’t get anything from Santa, maybe she is guilty by association.  Dusty and Chinlee gave us a ride to the airport with a bit of help from my parents.  For the first time ever, I got a view of Cape Cod from the airplane, which was really cool, and I can now confirm that it looks exactly like they draw it on the maps.  We arrived to Miami in the afternoon.  We rented our car from a company called Global, whom I don’t think exists anywhere else on the actual globe.  Everyone from Global was celebrating a Felice Navidad, which means they offered us alcoholic beverages while we waited to pick up our car rental.  This gave me a happy Florida feeling.  We got a fancy sports car with a few dents and an illuminated check engine light, but it was no worries ‘cause the thing could easily outrun a cop car.  That evening we drove from Miami to Orlando at speeds in excess of 90mph locked in traffic as thought we were on a Los Angeles freeway.  We got to Orlando at nightfall, then we went out to Downtown Disney and ate at the most authentic phony Irish restaurant that I have ever visited.  Our hotel, The Buena Vista Palace, was high roller style with flat panel televisions and complimentary champagne.  At $100 a night, I would recommend it to everyone.

     The next morning we made our way to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, which doesn’t even compare to Disney Land in Los Angeles.  The boat ride in was really fun and all the tripped out scenic details that they don’t miss at Disney made me wish I still regularly smoked weed, but then again there was like a million kids running around everywhere and kids are kinda’ freaky when you’re high.  My annual Christmas illness/cold was really developing and I had a serious desire to just stick a few mini-tampons up my nostrils to stop the flow, but I decided it would be better to let my nose run/drip in as many public places as possible and really let this virus spread.  Anyway, one of our first rides was the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad/Rollercoaster.  All the twists and turns helped me forget about being sick, and just like a little kid, if you’re having enough fun you don’t really notice you have a cold.  Even though it was the busiest time of the year, we managed to go on most every ride.  The Disney employees provide amazing service.  I’ve never been to a place that you are so spoiled and where everyone is so nice to you.  They practically give you head to make sure you had a good time.  It made me want to move to Disney World and live there forever.  Anyway, we watched the parade and the fireworks and stayed in the park until midnight, and then we went back to our deluxe hotel for one last night.

     We woke up on the 27th and decided to spend the morning taking advantage of the hotel’s amenities.  We sat at the pool and ate free fruit and complained to the employees about things that didn’t matter, until they gave us coupons to have free lunch at the hotel restaurant.  We left late in the afternoon with the intention of purchasing two-day tickets for the price of one at Universal, but that deal was only advertised and not honored.  So we ended up spending only a half-day at Universal, which was fine enough.  The contrast between Universal and Disney was astounding.  The price was the same but the service was worlds apart.  Universal’s only intention is to get money out of their customers.  Their employees are not nearly as helpful, even when you give them money.  The park is much less attractive.  All that aside, the shows/rides were very cool and it was still well worth the trip.  That evening we stayed in a cheap hotel within walking distance from the park that looked as though it was frequented by drug users who were more than recreational. 

     Our next stop was the Everglades, but we had no need to rush, so we drove down the western coast of Florida stopping wherever we felt.  We saw manatees swimming near the outflow pipe of a looming power plant.  This is not the majestic crystal clear waters I was expecting to view these peaceful mammals in, but it was still a pleasure.  They were accompanied by sharks, who didn’t seem nearly as ravenous as they are portrayed in the movies.  Later, we passed a random sign on the highway marking an exit to a jungle sanctuary that we stopped at where they allowed us to feed cat food to flamingos.  As we continued south, we stopped for lunch in Sarasota.  It reminded me of an old persons version of Santa Cruz or Boulder.  The beaches were filled with fine grain white sand, and we stayed around to watch a beautiful sunset together.  That night we ate at an actual Irish pub, and had one of the best hot fudge sundaes of our lives at a very crowded ice cream joint.  We spent the night off the highway in Naples at a hotel that was reminiscent of the horror movie “Vacancy” which creeped me out and left me without much sleep.

     The following morning we hung around the mall in Naples waiting for some non-essential prescriptions to be filled, then we made our way to the Everglades.  Here we finally saw lots of wild alligators and birds with skinny long legs.  I can’t understand why the alligators don’t eat the birds and the day before I never figured out why the sharks didn’t eat the manatees.  We decided to go canoeing that afternoon, and we opted for the outfitter not recommended in the travel book.  The company mentioned in the book was run by wealthy hippies who seemed especially cautious and no fun.  We rented our boat from a group of locals who encouraged us to go into the liquor store and stock up on beer and beef jerky for our trip.  I took their advice, and then we headed out to “10,000 Islands” where we only saw about 10 islands and a fake alligator/floating-stick.  On our return, as the sun was setting, I saw a shark fin in the water.  Upon closer inspection, we discovered that it was a group of dolphins who were especially friendly.  We hung around with them for over an hour and then we made our way back to the docks.  The guy that rented us the canoe seemed to think we were a bit uptight, but when we returned and he saw that we had drunk all our beer, and I explained to him that I figured out how to fold our lifejackets and use them as beer holders he seemed to really warm up to us.  We splashed a lot while canoeing, and got muddy Everglade water all over us, so we decided to drive to The Keys and get a hotel room to clean up.  We stopped and ate at a beautiful restaurant on the beach in Key Largo.  Then we made our way to our hotel where the onsite bar was packed with locals and live music.  Our room was SMALL and cost over $100 a night, but I guess that’s New Years on The Keys.

     We spent the next day at Bahia Honda State Park and went swimming and watched kite-surfers flail in the wind.  We went to Key West that evening where I was very happy to realize that public drinking was encouraged.  We were surrounded by live music, good food and shopping.  We visited the southernmost point in the United States where we made a friend (Lyle) who told us about the good old days when you could drink AND smoke pot in public on the streets of Key West.  Considering all the distractions, we were lucky to get out of that town with any money left in our pockets.

     The next morning was New Years Eve, and we decided go on a snorkeling excursion to the Biscayne National Park, the nations largest underwater national park.  We reserved a trip with the tour company who advertised the cheapest rates.  This could have been a big mistake, considering that the boat held over 60 people.  Nothing ruins the tranquility of the open ocean more than Japanese tourists and fat Americans with spoiled children, but we lucked out.  One of the guides (Albert) noticed we brought our own gear.  Realizing he wouldn’t have to tend to us much because we were experienced, he mentioned that the big boat was overbooked, and that they wanted us to volunteer to travel on a semi-personal craft out the snorkeling area with him.  He told us we could bring beer on the boat, so I went and got a Bud-Light with Clamato… Yuk.  Anyway, six of us went out on his boat, which he drove about 40mph over big swells until we all fell out of our seats.  I was more scared on that boat ride than I was on the Mummy ride at Universal Studio, but it was all in good fun.  The fish were cool and we saw a manta ray and barracudas.  That night we ate at a local fried food restaurant and watched the New Years fireworks from a classy hotel in Key Largo.  Our flight the next morning was at 6:00am, so we decided to pull an all night-er.  We pretty much just hung around the bars and watched everyone get trashed and we took bets on which drunk girls were going to go home with which sleazy guys.  All in all, I was surprised to find that Florida was actually a fun place to go and I look forward to returning in the near future.

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