Friday, December 24, 2004

Ahoyhoy, camparinos. I'm down in Florida, and we got the DSL up and running yesterday. So, here I am. The drive down was mostly uneventful, except for the way the cold seemed to chase us down I-95 like a vengeful ex determined to have the last word in an argument. I had to take the dog out for a walk in a Red Roof parking lot in Fayetteville, NC at 4 in the morning, where I only discovered just how far below freezing it had gotten overnight *after* I locked myself out of the hotel, which was rather short of help. The same woman seemed to be the night bookkeeper, front-desk help, maid, janitor, and continental-breakfast caterer. I nearly froze off my unmentionables before I found the side-door with the room-key all-hours access lock. The dog didn't care - he had a coat built-in by a thoughtful if capricious nature.

I-95 is, in a certain, figurative sense, America's front driveway, which makes its reality a rather surreal let-down. The stretch between Richmond, Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida is essentially a vast swampy desert punctuated with stereotypically racist Senor Pedro billboard ads for the eastern seaboard's largest, tackiest tourist-trap, "South of the Border". Southern billboard rates must be rock-bottom cheap, because there were dozens, perhaps as many as a hundred of these billboards all along the highway throughout North Carolina - nine in the last mile leading up to the North Carolina border alone. As for the swamp, sometimes it seemed as if America was one vast marsh from the James to the St. Johns.

Florida, on the other hand, looks to be the world's largest sand bar. The part of it that my parents have picked to settle down in isn't nearly as flat as I expected, but rather is an undulating patchwork of very low, ossified sand dunes and wetlands, many of which have been drained into large ponds and lakes. It isn't as barren as it sounds, because the rain and moisture means that the sand is well-covered by lots of vegetation, but underneath it all - sand, sand, sand. This is grazing land which is quickly being overrun by the snowbird and retiree immigration. What land hasn't been built over for retirement communities is either under use by horse-breeders, or has been let go as woodlots for wandering herds of freerange cattle. This isn't orange-growing territory - that doesn't start for another county or two, southwards toward Orlando. There's a retirement community, called "the Villages", that starts a few miles to the southeast of here that is forty-five thousand souls strong, sprawling over three counties, and encompassing three dozen different golf courses within its borders. This retirement community is somewhat dwarfish by comparison, but it's still growing at the rate of one or two houses a day, every day, rain sun or showers.

The movers' truck showed up early, and they unloaded with commendable efficiency, which makes it all the more sad that they got into a serious accident not five minutes after leaving for their next stop. We passed them by on the way to lunch on Tuesday, the tractor-trailer jackedknifed across all the southbound lanes of traffic on the highway just outside of this retirement community. Some old duffer in a sedan had spun out in front of them, careening into the front of their truck, and breaking their front axle. Luckily, no-one was hurt, but the chances of them making the rest of their deliveries in time to get home for Christmas in the north is pretty slim. After that, Mom managed to start a fire in the kitchen while I was in the bathroom taking care of lunch, as it were. She had left a shipping box on the open range while she was unloading it, and had apparently spun the dials to "hot" as she set the box down. Much flame and chaos ensued, but the only damage was to Dad's nerves, as this had occurred while he was on the cel-phone with her. We wrote it all off as a decent fire-test for the many, many smoke detectors mounted way, way up the walls throughout the house. Took a while to get them all to shut off.

Dad flew in with Grandma to Orlando on Wednesday, and we drove down to meet them there. We're talking about him flying back up to drive the SUV back down here, as we couldn't find a buyer on short notice leading up to Christmas like it was. Anyone want a five-year-old Honda RAV4 with a lot of mileage, good condition?

Grandma's trying to settle in; she's 93, and she's been feeling every year the last few months or so. I've been trying to help the folks with her, but I can see it's going to be a challenge taking care of her, between the two of them. Oh, well.

My sister's going to be lapping me, coming down the afternoon of the 30th on a flight to Orlando, after I'm due to leave on a flight heading north from that same airport. She's a physical therapist, so hopefully she'll make some progress in getting Grandma situated; she's better-trained for this sort of thing than anyone currently down here, I suppose.

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