Monday, January 9, 2012
With airline tickets being high priced in my neck of the woods mainly because they involve zigzagging through at least three airports to get to my destination and knowing that I would be treated like one cow in a herd by the airlines after paying such a high price, I opted to drive down to Florida again this year. This was a tough decision knowing that it was just myself and my daughter since my wife had to work but it was made slightly easier by the decision to carpool with my parents. It was a double edge sword. One edge is having two people to help entertain my daughter for the 15+ hour drive. The other edge is having to be in a small enclosed space with your parents for 15+ hours. The latter ended up not being bad at all even if we had to stop three times as often as I normally do for various bathroom breaks, purchase of stimulants, gas, etc. I tried to keep a vision of the picture above in my head for extra motivation.
We spent the first night at my brother's place in NE Alabama just down the road aways from some great BBQ. It was raining when we arrived and rained all night long so it was kind of dreary but it was also dark out so I didn't have to see the dreariness. The next morning we headed south to our destination of a beach in Panama City Beach, Florida when I finally decided that I'm not a big fan of Alabama roads anyway. I know and like some of its citizens. My dislike of the roads is especially true near the Gadsden area, it seems like there are tens of miles of nothing but strips of retail areas full of stoplights. In Iowa, you reach the retail area and everything is condensed into perhaps a half mile before you are back out in the residential parts of town if you compared similar sized towns. In Alabama, they just string it out for miles and miles and miles. I bet in that ten mile stretch of retail area, driving the same highway the entire time, I saw at least a dozen waffle houses, twice that many pawnshops and pay by the week loan places, etc. I never thought it would end. Just when it did, we reached Montgomery and it started all over again.
Another observation of Alabama is that it seems like every square inch of two-laned roadside is residential housing. Up north, there are lots of farm fields right to the edge of the road and you can sometimes go a mile without seeing a house but in northern Alabama especially, it was just a continual stream of houses unless you were driving through a retail area. It made me wonder how it developed that way so differently than what I am used too. I had a long time to think about it since all interstates lead to Birmingham and there really isn't much but two lane roads between where I spent the night and the beach where I was heading. About a third of my time driving from Iowa to Florida was spent driving the back roads and vast stretches of retail jungles of Alabama.
One interesting note was that I got to see the utter devastation left behind by the F-4 tornado that missed my brothers house by literally a stone's throw. Trees and vegetation are still pushed into massive piles and there is trash remnants everywhere but many of the houses have been rebuilt. It will still be a decade or two before all signs of that tornado vanish.
So after driving through Alabama and the desolate country of rural Florida, I was more than ready for some beach time when we pulled up to our rented bungalow for the week right on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. We carried our bags up the steps, threw them down in the hall and quickly opened up the drapes. What I saw sent my stomach hurtling south.