Let me start by saying that I was always happy to visit new places and explore, but only if it was someone else’s idea. Normally, it was a family trip that my dad planned or a field-trip with school. More recently, I have had the opportunity (important word choice) to take a few trips with my dad to some amazing locations around the country. I hope I will be able to pass down this type of legacy in my future.
My current employer is pretty generous with their time off accruement and up until the last year or so, I never took more than a couple days off at a time. I was looking at my numbers and realized that even after two trips, I still had a whole other week of time left over. When I saw that, I decided to add a third trip for the year of 2018. I want this year to be the year of exploration and travel. I want this to be the year of networking and spreading a positive message in my daily life.
In the last few years, my vacations always seem to line up with some large stress in my life. One might think that each day before a trip becomes progressively harder to bear. There is much truth in this for me. I may speak on my past adventures on here at some point, but I want to start with my most recent road trip through Florida. As you may know, I live in Northeast Florida, about 20 minutes to downtown and 20 minutes to the beach. This sounds perfect, right? While this is all very factual, apartment living is not always rainbows and unicorns.
In an effort to get away from the noise and stress of yelling neighbors and car alarms, I decided a little trip to visit friends was in order. After living in Florida my entire life, I have gained some friends that live in various areas of the state. This particular trip was to visit some of my oldest friends that have been with me through some crazy times of my life. The level of trust and loyalty of these individuals is unmatched, second only to my immediate family. I emphasize this point as I have had friends that might be described in a similar manner, but that I no longer speak with anymore. Some of that is the natural progression of friends coming and going. For others, it was a deliberate choice from one or both of us. These people however, these people have made it through all of that and still check on me even with the madness that is adult life. I only have a few others outside the two I visited on this most recent adventure that fit that description.
We begin this journey with a leisurely drive from Jacksonville to Ocala, FL. There are several different ways to arrive to this centrally-located town. My favorite drive is gliding gracefully through the trees of the Ocala National Forest. Interstates are very boring and why not see some scenery along the way? Your southeast direction takes you through delightful areas such as Elkton and Hastings. The town of Palatka (where times stands still in many ways) is the way-point to change direction to almost due South through the Forest. When outside people think of Florida, they might imagine the crowded beaches of Miami or the theme parks of Orlando. When I think of Florida, I think of the trees and the green that they bring to the state. You might be convinced with all the condos, apartments, and millionaire mansions that the whole state might have sunk due to the amount of man-made objects. Luckily, that is a false perception as there are 11 National Parks and over 150 State Parks all waiting to be investigated by native and tourist alike.
Unfortunately for the trees, I was flying by them at about 60 mph in an effort to arrive at my destination on time. I was meeting my friend for my birthday lunch and I was hungry. Now, anyone that knows me knows that I really don’t enjoy navigating a downtown area in any city. Luckily for me, our meeting place was in the middle of historic downtown. (Just a bit of sarcasm there, if you missed it.) After traveling through small towns and a National Forest, a grid of tiny streets less than 200 feet apart was a bit jarring. My Google Maps app was able to keep up pretty well, but my brain took a few minutes to calibrate to my surroundings. After three circles around these mini city blocks, I arrived at the workplace of my friend. We have been friends since I was about three years old, so we pretty much just pick up where we left off every time. After a short visit, we went and picked up his oldest from preschool. She doesn’t really remember me from a couple years ago when I met her briefly. As an adult, working in an office and not having a lot of interaction with children in the past few years, this is an interesting first step into my trip. Young children have a language of their own and I haven’t been around young children in so long I have lost my translation matrix, if you will. My friend, being a father of three young children, easily translated for me. After lunch we toured the newly improved parish hall of the church he works for and explored the past of the building together. I love the little stories about the building materials and why they shaped the building this way at the time. My dad’s love of local history has rubbed off a little, it would seem.
My friend, most recently, had become a teacher at the attached private school next door. He explains the values and design of the small class sizes, teaching methods, and curriculum. The school builds in extra time to learn skills that require multiple versions of “hands-on” crafts and activities. The students learn not only about music and art, but the history as well. In the classroom itself, the students are encouraged to work together on projects and classwork. Outside the classroom, because of the small number of total students, one-on-one mentorship programs and highly-involved parents create a meaningful and productive community. The school has less than 150 students total and will never go over that number. As a person that went through public school my entire academic career, this seemed crazy to me. My sixth grade class had that many people in one grade, let alone the whole school. That is the whole point of this tiny school. My first chosen major was Elementary Education and this idea excited me. In an effort to see this in action, my friend was able to arrange a visit into classrooms of a sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade. I was impressed with the focus and excitement of the students. They were engaged and respectful, while asking provocative questions. I asked about the academic level of the students when leaving this K-8 private school. According to the records, many of these students go into public high schools and immediately test into the International Baccalaureate Program.
As if my friend had not already gain a large number of “cool points” in my head, I was also able to observe the private music lesson that he taught. I love watching people work, especially when they are high skilled and enjoy the work. My friend has a passion for music that is paralleled by his talent in the subject. He comes from a musical family and he embraced his own version of that in his life. He studied Music in college and specialized in Vocal Performance, which makes him doubly impressive. One of the reasons I enjoy his company is that he would never tell you all that. He would mention his college work and how he is using those ideas to complete is current work, but would never brag about his talent. He plays multiple instruments and keep learning new ones every time I see him. Interestingly, he would describe me in a similar fashion, but with the focus being my writing ability in my poetry, songwriting and in my various musings. I was speaking to a woman at the church service later in my trip about the talent and character of this friend of mine. She had only praise for him, much like I do, and I noticed myself saying something to the effect of, “I am lucky to have known him for so long, even growing up together.” I hope someone says that about me one day. Perhaps they already have.
I really want to capture my entire experience properly, so I am breaking this trip into chronological sections. As you might have noticed, this is only the first half of the first day. More to come soon! 😀