Robin and I have just returned to Sarasota after a very temperate summer on Cape Cod. We missed the dregs of Hurricane Idalia that swept past us on its way to the Big Bend region and Tropical Storm Ophelia gave us a pass as well. Just as well since I haven’t stocked up on Dasani water and cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew since arriving home.
In one week, we drove from Cape Cod to Sarasota, tossed everything out of the car and flew from Sarasota to Boston and back again. We’re still dizzy, but we got a great tour of the country.
The three-day drive from Cape Cod to Florida took us through all the original thirteen colonies except New Hampshire and Delaware. We would have hit New Hampshire but it was the wrong direction, and we don’t ever need to visit Delaware again.
Getting out of the Northeast is job one. If there are roadways less hospitable than those in the Northeast I’ve yet to find them. No “Welcome Centers”, maniacal drivers (I’m pointing at you, Connecticut), highways with what feels like the original log underpinnings still intact (New York, my teeth are still chattering) and rest areas established before the modern toilet was invented (yes, Pennsylvania, I mean you).
The highlight of the Pennsylvania section of our route is just south of Harrisburg (State Capitol of PA, close your eyes and you’ll miss it). The rolling green hills of dairy farm gothic give way to the rude introduction of modern distribution centers with their acres of squat tan warehouses. Amazon, Walmart, Lowes; all the major players are here. Think something the size of Gillette Stadium filled with mega packs of Charmin or pallets of pineapple-flavored Spam.
After Pennsylvania, it takes about ten minutes to traverse the panhandles of Maryland and West Virginia (we drive I-81 to miss the physical and mental confusion of I-95 through our nation’s capitol) so we usually miss those Welcome Centers in favor of soldiering on to Virginia where they appear to be glad to see us with strategically placed rest areas, working toilets and dramatic landscapes.
Unfortunately, the distribution centers of Pennsylvania dispatch thousands of semi-trailers daily and I-81 is clogged with them. The steep grades of western Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains offer some breathtaking views of Civil War sites, but we have to keep an eye on the rear view mirror for any truck that might need the “runaway truck” lanes located at the bottom of steep declines.
The further south we go, the happier the states are to see us. North Carolina has a huge Welcome Center as we come down from the mountains into the Lake Norman area, just before they spew us into the multi-laned nightmare of the Charlotte area interstates. Best to avoid this area at rush hour, or anytime between 12:01 am and 11:59 pm.
South Carolina, great Welcome Center again, just before some of the most miserable highways in the country. Poured concrete roads with slits every twenty feet, so bump, bump, bump. I don’t care how nice Charleston is, it can’t make up for the rest of the state.
Finally, Florida, and a Welcome Center to beat all others. They really want you here and they aren’t shy about telling you. Just don’t bring any books and be prepared to wind your clock back to the 1950s.
The big surprise on this drive was what was missing: Trump signs. Since 2015, the western I-81 route has been lined with political signs. Trump, Trump/Pence, Trump/Pence with the Pence crossed out, and now, nothing. I don’t know what this means, if anything, but the landscape is unsullied so far.
By the time we reach Sarasota, we’re too zapped to notice that another 5,000 houses will be going up in the eastern part of Sarasota county and that a couple more high rise condos are nearing completion on the waterfront (at least we think the waterfront is still there—can’t actually see it anymore).
We had to unpack the Jeep and pack our suitcases to fly back up to Boston for a formal outdoor wedding in the middle of the expected arrival of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Lee. This does turn out ok although we did have to tie the flower girl to the tent stakes.
You might think that flying is easier than driving, and in general, I might agree, but the world of air travel is changing, and not for the better. At one point in time, Jet Blue was a wonderful carrier with comfortable seats, on-time schedules and fun snacks. Well, they were on time for our flights which was the only positive feature.
Apparently Jet Blue has purchased some new Airbus A321 planes which are called “narrow body”. I guess they learned about these from Allegiant, the low-cost carrier they’re trying to purchase. A narrow body plane has six thinly padded seats across with enough shoulder room for the aforementioned flower girl, but not you. If you are lucky enough to score an aisle seat, the beverage cart will get your toes every time. Jet Blue has also crammed most of the “extra space” seats at the front (everyone wants to get off first), so when you actually get to board with group A (which comes after wheelchairs, the disabled, people needing “more time”, active duty military, Mint and Mosaic members), there is no overhead space for your bag available before the twelfth row. And you paid extra for this. I guess Jet Blue plans to integrate Allegiant into its fleet by bringing Jet Blue down to Allegiant level instead of raising Allegiant to Jet Blue.
All in all, I think it’s time to stay put for a while.