Dark Roads And Distant Lights

NoirFloridaRoad

So much of Florida is simply and without question, beautiful.  The beaches come to mind.  The wetlands of the Everglades are near the top of the list.  The seemingly endless forests of the Ocala National Forest are a reminder of what Florida once looked like before Disney, Developers and Big Sugar got their hands on so much of the natural and unique beauty.

But, there’s a dark side as well.  This witching hour come at dusk, when the shadows lengthen and the details of the roadside becomes dim and indistinct.

I drove north, through The Villages, where we visited a friend, Nancy, who grew up a few blocks from where I did in Owego, NY.  I drove north, on roads that paralleled I-75.  We grazed Ocala.  We drove toward an RV park in Fort McCoy, near the middle of the state.

This was not Sanibel or Captiva Island.  This was a strange and unfamiliar country that got slightly more menacing as we sought our campground.

The roadsides lost a familiar clarity.  The houses looked a bit more run-down, some had sad Christmas lights still blinking in their yards.  Every mile or two, a gate at the head of a driveway, or a house, flew the Confederate flag.

I wanted to get settled in our site.  I wanted to collapse on the bed and play a few Scrabble games.  I wanted to nibble on a few vegetables and a cracker or two with a slice or two of Irish Cheddar.

Instead we drove along what seemed to be an endless road.  Our GPS was giving us contradictory commands.  My own confidence at map-reading began to falter.  Were we lost?  Did we miss a turn?

What about gas?  I hadn’t seen a station in what seemed like hours.  When you’re in an unfamiliar landscape, time can stretch and become distorted.

We finally located our RV park.  I don’t like to hear Interstate traffic when we camp…that would most definitely NOT be the case here.  There was no traffic noise at all.

A security guard was supposed to meet us at the gate-house and check us in.  There was no one there.  We followed the directions to check ourselves in.

We were listed for Site #50.  I was distracted by another RV in the exit lane.  The guy seemed upset:

“They knew we had to leave early.  I’m locked in!”

Indeed, there was a cable across the exit drive.  I went out to help him.  His RV was larger than mine.  He was traveling with a blonde that I could barely see through the smoked glass of the passenger side.  I helped him unhook the cable and I pulled the orange traffic cone to one side.  He drove off.

Now, when I hear someone express interest in leaving “early” I think that they mean 6:30 am.  But, it was 7:45 pm!

Why was this guy leaving at this hour?  Where was he going?  Where was he going to spend the night, which had already started?

“Is there something going on here?” I asked myself.

The security guard drove up.  I told him we were heading to Site #50, but I couldn’t make out anything more than a small dirt road.

“I need some direction to #50,” I said.

“Oh, you won’t like #50,” he said.  “There a ditch in the middle of it.  Take #22.  You’ll like it better.”

We took Site #22 and we did like it.

A few campers had fires.  People laughed in the darkness.  I settled in and felt hungry only for a few veggies and a piece of cheese.  I made a few plays on Scrabble but found the WiFi signal weak and uneven.  I gave up.  Mariam wanted a bottle of cold water, so I slipped on my shoes and went to the ice cooler in the car.  The moon, full only a few days ago (on Christmas Night), was Waning Gibbous.  Orion was bright and directly over my head.  It was a cool and pleasant night

I stood in the large mown yard and looked at the moon.  In a few hours it would be December 31.  I thought of my days in Florida, my sailing, my new friends and my new experiences.

I thought about my family.  Brian in New York City, Erin, in Washington State.  My grandson on Erin’s knee reaching for his dad, Bob.  I thought of my faithful readers of this blog.

And, as lonely as I feel at this moment, here in the middle of somewhere in Central Florida, that I wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year.

So, Happy New Year.  I love y’all.

SpanishMossTree

The Left Arm Sunburn

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.

–Bob Dylan “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”

Some things I want to remember.  Other things I would rather forget.  Right now, I’m remembering very clearly a certain morning twenty-five months ago when Mariam and I drove along Marin Blvd. in Jersey City.  We saw a sign for the NJ Turnpike so we made a left and headed west for a few miles.  The next sign was for I-95 North–we made the right turn and then, after a short distance, we turned left and drove west into the hills of New Jersey on I-80.  We were beginning our road trip to Orting, WA–my new grandson Elias was waiting to see me for the second time.  I wrote blogs about that trip.  Many of you read them and, hopefully, liked them.

That was then.  This is now.

This time we turned south on I-95.  We’re off to the sands of the Fort Myers beaches.  Our road trip has truly begun.  This time, however, I won’t be seeing the highlands of Jersey from my rear view mirror.  Instead, I’ll be driving due south with the morning sun hard on my left.  It’s time to dig around for the SPF.  I once got a bad sunburn on that arm.  These are the rules of the road that hard-traveling ramblers like me must keep in mind.

Actually, when you’re driving along the NJ Turnpike, passing the airport on your right, IKEA on your left, there is a lot of things to keep in mind.

We’re heading through Orange where refineries still operate.  The power lines are everywhere.  There are enough EMF’s along this stretch of highway to blow out all the transistors in my GhostMeter.  This was once known as “Cancer Alley” because of the low quality of just about everything, air, water–you name it, that was a fact of life (and death) for so many Jerseyites.

JerseyOil

I must apologize for now for the low quality of the two photographs that will accompany this blog.  It certainly isn’t Mariam’s fault in any way.  It’s just not easy to snap a high-quality photograph from a window of a Ford Escape while blazing along the Turnpike at 59 mph.  (Maybe I’ll spice up the illustrations with a sexy poster from the men’s room of the steak house where we had dinner last night.)

There is a certain relief that comes with finally being on the road after almost a week hanging out in a Manhattan hotel and having dinner with my son and his girlfriend. (See the blog about the N train in case you missed something).  Wait.  Did I really just write the sentence above?  Let me rephrase that.  Does anyone who truly “gets” New York City experience ‘relief’ when leaving?  Maybe, but not me.

Anyway, we only drove about 217 miles today.  Not much, but enough to settle into our roles–driver & navigator.  And just long enough to develop a sore lower back.

We crossed into Maryland and approached the Chesapeake Bay.  I knew what was ahead of me.  I handed Mariam my iPhone and asked her to get ready to take yet another snap from her window.

We’re nearly there…

“Mariam, don’t drop my phone out of the window.”

“Mariam, we’re here.  Get a shot.”

I glanced for a nano-second to my right.  There was the wide mouth of the Susquehanna River.  It was emptying into the Bay.  I sat in silence and held tight to the steering wheel.  This river began its course as a small stream, on a quiet street, under large trees and lovely white houses in Cooperstown, NY.  It’s waters also flowed slowly and with dignity past my backyard, about a hundred yards from the house where I grew up.

I felt a strange bond with the great mass of water that I saw for the briefest moment off to my right.

Susquehanna

Do you see the narrow blue stretch of water?  I would have liked to have pulled over and gotten a nice photo, but the outcome of that would have led to a horrific crash and several fatalities, including mine and Mariam’s.  I didn’t think you, my readers, would want to live with that for the rest of your natural life.  Not simply for a photo of a river.

It’s getting dark now as I sit at this uneven black metal table, at site #614, here at Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park, Maryland.

I can barely see the carrot slices and plum tomatoes and blue cheese dip that is our appetizer for the evening.  It’s time to gather up these materials and think about dinner.  It’s time to straighten the bed and prepare my night’s reading.

Two hours from now, I’ll be playing some Scrabble on FB. (I welcome any challengers.)  I may have written a page or two in my journal–but I’m a little tired for that.

Four hours from now, I’ll be stretched out on the bed and listening to the gentle and soothing roar of the traffic on I-95, about half a mile away.

Sooner or later, I’ll drift to sleep and dream about four-lane highways, $1.99 gasoline, tomorrows Cold Brew at the next Starbucks, at the next rest area, in the next state.  Tomorrow we should pull into a site just across the North Carolina state line.

Florida is somewhere out there–at the end of this mad, intense and very fast highway.  I’m sort of a gambler and I will keep my sense.

So, here’s the vintage follies showgirl poster I sort of promised.  It will make up for the photos taken from a speeding red SUV pulling a cute little trailer.

VintageShowgirl

[There is a Halloween blog coming soon that can only be described as dark and very scary.  Please be forewarned. Take your meds and be prepared for any possible power outage.  Candles alone will not help you when this blog hits your email.  Please click on “Follow” so you won’t miss out on any of my future posts.  Please make a comment on FB so I know someone out there is reading me.  The road can be very lonely sometimes.  A final thought: Did you notice that if you rearrange the letters in BLOG you get GLOB?]