“I’ve got an idea,” I said to my husband a few months ago, “Let’s drive to Florida this year instead of flying.”
A journey south to visit my brother in Hollywood has become an annual ritual the last few years. We time it to be in late March in order to shave off a few of the more depressing of the early spring days Vermont is so noted for.
The thought of having a car at our disposal was inviting and besides, we would get to see states that we had only flown over in the past.
We packed maps and snacks, Starbucks Frappicino and sugarless gum. We hauled way too many clothes, simply because we could.
We spent the first night at the home of our son in Virginia. The next day we drove along, noting historic markers with familiar names and feeling good about our “getting to see more of America” mission.
And as 87 billboards promised in North Carolina we soon were at, and ready to pay homage to, the capitol of kitch, South of the Border, that mecca of poor taste, cheap gifts, and scary looking restaurants. After an all-too-brief visit where we resisted buying plastic dog poop, we were back on the road and that night prepared to find a place to stay somewhere in Georgia. Taking advantage of one of the many guides at the rest stops, we chose a Ramada Inn that was clean, very attractive and well staffed and charged $49 a night, which included a sumptuous breakfast buffet, and I’m talking sumptuous. It had a neat little sports bar and a restaurant that offered for dinner a St. Patrick’s Day special at $7.95.
The next day we awoke refreshed and excited with the Florida border within striking distance. Six hours later we arrived at our destination in the southern portion of the state, exhausted and with barely enough strength to slather our bodies with #30 sun block and hit the ocean. Vermonters on the beach! It was a glorious feeling.
Hollywood Beach is just a few miles north of South Beach in Miami and the two stretch the limits of fashion when it comes to baring some or all of the tans that are so carefully nurtured.
While one attracts nubile bikini-clad damsels in the company of overly muscled Vanity Fair types, our beach seemed home to paunchy, cigarette-smoking guys in Speedos (in this case should be called Speed Don’ts) and scantily dressed older women who obviously purchased their beach wear in stores with no mirrors.
But at our beach there were families: grandparents walking toddlers carefully along water’s edge and couples of all ages holding hands as they strolled the sands and gleefully discovered treasures in the pebbles and shells as each wave receded.
After too few days it was time to head back north. Our manic attention to sun screen had done its work and we both looked pretty much as pale as the day we had arrived.
On the way back, after finding several places with no vacancies, we got a room in South Carolina at a thoroughly crummy motel (that shall remain nameless) that charged $72 for a dank room that looked like it had just had half its furniture repossessed and smelled overpoweringly of Air Wick. The desk manager was thoroughly sullen. The “included breakfast” consisted of some pathetic rubbery rolls, lukewarm coffee and oranges too tough to peel, even with a Swiss Army knife. The oranges bothered me; after all, we had just driven through miles of fruit-laden orange trees. Hannafords has better oranges than that place did.
After another layover in Virginia we headed ever northward. At one point in Pennsylvania, a car pulled along side us and, at 70 miles an hour, the passenger rolled down his window and started shouting at us. “How do you get to Route 80,” he shrieked. We truthfully shrugged our shoulders and wondered aloud if the two guys might be up to no good. But by then we had lost them in the traffic and had no chance to write down the license number.
On one stretch of speeding multi-multi-lane traffic, we were nearly run off the road by a trailer truck that edged us deliberately toward the grass medium. I could think of no basis for the attack other than the Howard Dean sticker on the back of our car.
Back in Vermont we unloaded and fell into our blessed flannel sheets, snuggled under the down comforter and heard the cheerful hum of the oil burner. We had had our American experience.
Next year… we fly.