Florida Winter

After a hard week (year) at work, it was time to visit my childhood home.  The morning of my travel day started very calmly as I watched some TV and packed the final items for the trip.  The first friction I experienced was when my Uber ride never showed up.  I assume this is a sign of less people wanting to give rides during this pandemic.  Just for a moment, I thought I could escape this reality.  Not to worry, however, I made it to our little airport. 😊

The drive to the airport showed me how busy the snow plows had been in the recent days.  Piles of snow on every corner of the road as tall as the car.  Winter does not mess around.  This particular day had blue skies and low humidity.  Perfect weather for a flight down to Florida.  While I waited for our plane to be ready, I observed the ground crews buzz around in their various vehicles. 

I love the highly detailed nature of air travel.  Everything is tracked from before you even arrive at the airport.  Security checks and boarding passes.  Crew and passenger manifests closely managed.  The flight paths of multiple aircraft simultaneously overlapping in a great mess of data.  I was impressed by how easily our CRJ900 jumped off the runway and turned towards the South.  It is always nice to have well maintained equipment. 

We quickly rise above the snow-covered farms of the Midwest and make our way to northern Georgia.  The ground turns from white to green as we approach the warmer climate.  My work friends were rather jealous of my Florida trip in the dead of Winter.  It is the stereotype for people from cold climates to visit Florida.  It’s just a trip to see my family for me.  😊

A few minutes after takeoff over snowy farms

 After a year of being “trapped” in my one-bedroom apartment, my level of homesick was well above anything you would call normal.  I don’t care how much you enjoy your Zoom meetings.  I really don’t.  Being in the presence of family and/or friends is better than 1000 virtual experiences.  Also, my grandfather, age 86, doesn’t really do well with anything other than in-person conversations.  I probably get that from him.

A few months back, I made a full travel list for myself.  It includes just about every state in the United States and a few locations around the world.  This is when I also decided that one trip home per year (minimum) to see my family was a must.  The plan is to visit 10 or 12 new places over the next eight years.  There are plenty of locations that are nearby and don’t require a separate budget.  I am excited to keep exploring the world around me. 

The flight from busy Atlanta to north Florida is a comfortable 45 minutes all in the same time zone.  As always, the plane was a medium sized plane with room for about 150 people.  The flight attendants were wearing their purple uniforms and black rubber gloves.  This combined with the black face masks made them look like surgeons in a science fiction film.  I was lucky to have a rather talkative and polite flying buddy on this short trip.  He is a nomad of sorts, living in one city or another.  He loves to travel and explore new areas.  He encouraged me to continue on my path of travel. 

My parents live a good hour away from the airport, so I decided to get a rental car and drive down.  I signed up for a small car.  I like small cars.  When I arrived, the rental company had already upgraded me to a fully loaded 2020 Chrysler 300S.  This is a larger car than I am used to driving, but I learned on a mini-van, so I adjusted quickly.  This was no mini-van.  I didn’t want to get in trouble on my way to my parents, so I took it easy, but I could tell the engine wanted to stretch its legs.  I later discovered this was the sport version of this car.  It has a 5.7-liter V8 HEMI engine with over 350 horsepower.  To put this into context, I have never driven anything with more than 130 horsepower.  The interior is just as impressive:  leather seats, double sun-roof, electronic controls for everything, and flappy paddles for those quick gear changes.  When in “Drive” the computer quickly finds it’s way through an 8-speed automatic transmission.

After a well-deserved sleep in the guest bedroom, we had a large breakfast together.  I always forget how comforting eating with others can be.  We did a lot of chatting out on the screen porch.  The weather was sunny with a high of 65.  I speak with my mom once a week on the phone, but speaking in-person is always more fun.  My dad recently discovered an excellent piece of photography history on one of his recent outings.  We explored this item and others for a while before heading down to Green Cove Springs to visit Spring Park.  The park is famous for its spring-fed community pool.  Over the years, there have been improvements, but my favorite part is going out on the long dock.  There is really nothing like looking out over the large St. John’s River. 

The spring and the pool
Spring Park Dock facing North

The afternoon included a video chat with my sister to learn about her new job.  She recently earned her MBA and was ready for something more challenging.  I have always been proud of her.  We went out to a local BBQ restaurant for my birthday dinner and it was amazing.  Other than the normal wearing masks idea, Florida is open.  There are a few exceptions, of course, but the place was packed.  There were about 15 or 20 employees buzzing around like before the pandemic started.

The next morning was similar to the first with more chatting on the porch.  I took the opportunity to visit my other favorite place nearby: St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church and Cemetery.  Years ago, we attended the church and my Boy Scout Troop was sponsored by the church.  I also attended Youth Group for most of high school here.  My reaction to the current status of the property can be found in my recent post: St. Margaret’s.  Luckily, I was saved by afternoon coffee with my dad’s good friend.  The two of them have been getting coffee once a week for years.  On occasion, I would join to enjoy some good company and silliness. 

The evening was marked by a homemade meal followed quickly by carrot cake from Publix.  I really do miss Publix now that I don’t live in the Southeast.  The subs, the carrot cake, and the well-organized stores.  We had one final visit with my grandfather before the end of the night.  He was watching a bowling competition and we chatted for a bit.  He then told me a few old stories from his days in the Navy.  I have heard all of them multiple times, but he knew that it might be another year before we would see each other again.  He has felt very trapped during this pandemic.  Like myself, some of it is self-imposed, but with certain people in Florida who don’t believe in vaccines, we can’t take the risk. 

I made my way to the airport the next morning for my flight back to Illinois.  The car performed well and the return process was seamless.  I got through TSA quickly and waited for another Airbus A321 to take me to Atlanta. 

The trip reminded me why I moved to Illinois.  It wasn’t because Florida wasn’t good enough or I didn’t have job opportunities.  It was because I knew that I wouldn’t grow in the ways I wanted if I stayed.  Perhaps I will return one day for a more permanent stay.  Maybe I will follow in my grandparent’s footsteps and create a new life here in Illinois until I have grand-kids of my own.

In the meantime, stay safe our there!

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