I will admit this season has been a tough one for me with ever-changing societal rules and work schedules. The need for a break in the depths of winter is nothing new. The plane from Chicago to Tampa was packed and for a moment I almost forgot I was a Florida native. It is hard to change your identity when you spend 90% of your time inside your house. I have come to really love the state that I reside, however, this is about my recent trip down to see family and friends.
When I was planning my trip, I found out that my friend’s sister was getting married, so I decided to kick off my trip with the big event and then decompress with my parents the following week. My travel day started early as I was catching the 6:00AM flight to Chicago to make my connection. I love how a 2.5-hour drive converts to a 30-minute plane ride. (Where is a high-speed train when you need one?) We left our tiny airport and boarded the tiny plane. From my window seat, I was able to view the northern part of my new home before we arrived above the clouds. Another passenger was not focused on the delights of the sky, but more interested in his large biography. He desperately tried to read by the small light the above his seat. Meanwhile, I observed the sky go from black to a grayish blue. The sun tried to make a wedge-shape through the thick clouds.
We arrived quickly to the monster airport of O’Hare. I like to describe it like a spider web of Terminals, concourses, and gates. We landed on an outer runway and made a slow taxi to the main part of the airport. Luckily, my connecting flight was only one concourse away, so I didn’t have to run through the airport like in the movies. I had not traveled through large airports recently and I was surprised at the amount of activity outside. Planes coming and going in every direction. I took it as an encouraging sign of a return of regular travel. Another sign was the two separate times I was offered a credit card while sitting on the plane. I cannot leave the plane, so I have no choice but to endure a poorly worded advertisement being read by the flight attendant. I think airlines were probably one of the early pioneers in making a large chunk of their profits from the financial services rather than their main business. Car dealerships are another well-known promoter of financial services. You may have noticed that just about everyone is in the business now. (You will be happy to know that I paid for all my flights with cash that I saved up beforehand.)
Flying into Tampa is beautiful as the plane swings out over the Gulf and then comes back to land. During the last few minutes of the flight, I was elated to see multiple waterways and canals separating neighborhoods. The wedding was in a smaller town about an hour away, so I had booked a driver ahead of time and it was worth every penny. They driver met me at baggage claim and then he drove me all the way to my hotel. I was interested to learn that this driver has his own regular clients with scheduled rides each week. The service I booked with is used to fill the gaps in the otherwise full schedule. I don’t see myself starting a driving business, but I love to hear stories of small business owners.
We got out of the messy Tampa traffic and quickly arrived at my destination. I was greeted by orange trees on both sides of the road. I met up with my dad to get some food after my long day of travel. (This is where I took my mask off as Florida is about 99% open now). He regaled me with the “interesting” stories of his recent retirement from teaching. The workplace politics of my job are quite boring compared to a local school system. We walked around the old downtown area and found some fun little shops. Dinner at Sonny’s BBQ seemed to confirm my arrival to Florida.
Wedding and Reception
I was still hungry after my travel day, and I took advantage of the large breakfast at the hotel. I have become accustomed to eating a large breakfast most mornings. After breakfast, we took a moment to catch up on the Olympics. Somehow, every time we turned it on, all we could find was curling. I don’t watch a lot of sports, in general, but I had a tough time getting excited about this one.
We took a few minutes to get into our suits. I had purchased this suit a few years back when I didn’t know what I future held or if I would need one for an in-office job. I love how the pandemic and working from home has basically thrown that concept at the window. Anyway, it is blue, and I like it. 😊
We arrived early to ensure that everything was going smoothly. My sister was a bridesmaid and was helping get last minute things on track. She is planning her own wedding later in the year. I was happy to see her fiancé again as my exposure to him has been limited up to this point. I saw a few adults that knew me as a child. They watched me grow up at church and were the ones that influenced my character the most in those early years. A good 15 years had passed, but it was like I missed one Sunday morning.
The church building itself is an excellent example of traditional Episcopal design with lots of wood and stained-glass windows. The service was formal and musical. Unlike in the movies or TV, the service was a full service, with a brief middle section of joining the couple in marriage. The priest did the literal “tying of the knot” with his stole.
There was a good bit of time between the service and the official start of the reception. This is completely normal, and I was happy to catch up with one of my priests from days-gone-by. 😇
The reception was typical with speeches, songs, and food. The music was a little loud for me, but I am used to quiet, so no shocking surprise there. I was able to catch up a little bit with my friend, brother of the bride, and his wife, which was nice. It is hard during a large event as there is a lot going on around you. I was glad to be a part of it.
At the end of the evening, I was surprised by a request from my sister’s fiancé: I am to be groomsman at my sister’s wedding. This will be the second time I take on this honor at a wedding. It should be fun having some extra time in Florida when Illinois will be on its way back to the cold and dark time.
We leisurely made our way to my childhood home. Stopping at small towns along the backroads is a tradition with my dad. Walking along the edge of a rather large lake, taking in the brilliance of the sun’s reflection, brought an internal peace that had been missing in previous weeks.
After a restful sleep in the guestroom, I awoke to a stark silence, bringing more comfort after the rather eventful weekend. I made excellent progress on my reading goals that morning. Speaking of reading, my dad just recently published a book of his own creation. (Find it here!) It has been a long project and I was even able to read the first draft a couple of years ago. This is part of a larger movement to get my dad into a position where he can give speeches and provide financial advice to groups of people. He participates in a local Toastmasters group and has been attending larger meetings of a speaker’s group. While my mom and I played card games one day, he was recording a podcast about budgeting as a creative person.
More recently, he took a job with a large investment firm, with the goal of being a licensed financial advisor. More interestingly to me, this will be his first “corporate” job in a long while. The security of the larger company makes me feel more confident in my parent’s future. I am not surprised to learn that even this new opportunity is part of the larger plan to have more background for future conversations, speeches, and books.
As you may know, I just passed my 10th year with a rather large insurance company. I like taking my risks with my hobbies and interests instead of my workplace. The only large exception was moving to a whole other state but staying with the same employer.
On a different afternoon we went to explore the thriving area of Avondale. This walkable section of the much larger Jacksonville reminded me of the small towns earlier in the week. Small shops and restaurants bordered the two-lane street. This was the second time in a week that I had been near a larger group of people without worrying who was wearing a mask.
It was a week of contrasts: peaceful and manic, beauty and harsh reality, past and future. My next trip down to my birth state will be much simpler with direct flights and a whole different person’s wedding. 😊