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Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009, 07:47 pm
See America Right.



Bev and her mom are in Maine. Bev's sister, Audrey, is in Cleveland. I am in Ann Arbor. These are some of the chillier regions of the country. So it was that we met up in Ben's old stomping ground, Florida, for a week, to hang out at the trailer Bev's dad maintains in Cedar Key. Her dad's been down there since January, befriending his neighbors, fixing up his plane, and developing a scorching hatred of Simon Cowell, as FOX is the only station his television receives with his new, government-provided digital converter box.

On the plane, crunched into half of my seat by the contortions of the camo-clad minotaur beside me who'd decided to spend the flight twisted sideways, the better to mack on his fiancee, I read the Best American Comics 2008 anthology, which contained depressingly little that made an impression on me for a book edited by Lynda Barry. (The only real standouts were the familiar gems from Chris Ware and Alison Bechdel, a sophomorically hilarious skit from Evan Larson, and creepy historical true crime from Rick Geary.) I also started Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, which I wound up liking pretty well. It's a breezy, anecdote-driven workplace novel that's set in a turn-of-the-century ad agency, and that owes an enormous debt to Douglas Coupland's Microserfs (my favorite book). Despite its occasional over-clever strain to replicate Coupland's pop-spiritual electro-navel-gazing analyses, it's frequently very funny, and the way Ferris wields workplace layoffs with gleefully unpredictable Ten Little Indians fatalism certainly makes the book a better Microserfs for the Dubya decade than Coupland's own rancid JPod.

My flight arrived at the Orlando Sanford Airport (to the obsequious applause of my fellow passengers--do people generally do that?) about 10 hours before Bev and her mom's, so I retrieved the rental car and checked into the hotel (getting lost in-between, natch) so I could relax, read, eat a supper of Fritos, and watch The Amazing Race instead of stewing at the airport.

The space shuttle Discovery was being launched from Kennedy Space Center that evening, and I decided to toddle outside to see whether I could see anything from the Days Inn parking lot. There were maybe a dozen others standing outside when I'd arrived--mostly seniors, mostly folks who'd already witnessed a shuttle launch or two, I gathered. I'm not sure how far Sanford is from the launch site, but the liftoff did provide an impressive spectacle. A searingly white, oblong magnesium glow rose into the sky, leaving behind a ruffled vapor trail that burned orange to yellow to lavender, and hung in the air like a psychedelic jellyfish tendril. I leaned against a palm tree, listening to the hoots of my fellow spectators and the approving croaks of the frogs in the ditch beside me, and watched with something cheesily close to awe as the boosters-or-whatever fell away and the shuttle passed out of view behind an Outback Steakhouse billboard.

Without attempting to sound profound or as though this was some sort of mind-altering experience--I'm not and it wasn't--my chosen life situation isn't going to often afford me the opportunity to watch a rocket launch while reclining against a palm tree, so it was a nifty, novel moment, marred only by the uncomfortable sneers directed at me by those other spectators who happened to glance my way.

I then realized that, after taking a shower in the hotel room earlier, I'd blindly donned my Dinosaur Comics T-shirt that boasts a picture of an astronaut and the phrase, "Not all dreams can come true."

So I was the contrarian dick who apparently crashed an impromptu NASA party in a hotel parking lot while silently wearing some sort of inscrutably bilious anti-space program protest garb to mock everyone's elation.

Bev and her mom didn't have much nice to say about their long-delayed flight by the time I fetched them from the airport and we wended our way through the air compressors powering the cleaning crew's nightly rounds. In our room, Bev and I fell asleep in front of some crappy CBS procedural where Graham Chase from My So-Called Life took a bunch of hostages.

On Monday, Bev, her mom, and I drove from Sanford to Cedar Key, where Bev's dad, Audrey, and Audrey's kid were waiting. Bev's dad's trailer down there is surprisingly roomy and comfortable, decorated with dozens of whimsical tchotchkes that match his admirably upbeat personality. The trailer's wood paneling reminded me of the trailer from Raising Arizona, and I spent much of my stay wondering whether there was a subtle way I could scrawl the word "FART" on the wall. I also spent much of my stay seeing how few words I could get away with saying to Audrey's kid (technically my "nephew"). The highlight was when he stood up in front of the television, in better-door-than-a-window fashion, and I wordlessly jabbed a cushion at the back of his knees until he sat down on it and got out of our way.

I did have to say "thank you" to him, though, when he plopped a half-eaten hush puppy in my lap, as I wasn't sure how else to react.

Around 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday, I awoke with my every muscle pounded into cube steak by the flu and could not get back to sleep, which was just absolute horseshit. I had a feverish reverie in which the United States government privatized sleep and I was lying in an insomniac stupor because I hadn't purchased sufficient sleep credits from my local slumber distributor (or accumulated enough promotional SiestaPoints from Jose Cuervo, which were also accepted). When she awoke, Bev fed me lots of medicine and I spent the day convalescing.

Once I got on my feet, at around 6:00 p.m., Bev, Audrey, and I went to retrieve pizza from the Blue Desert Cafe, which took an hour and a half for some reason. Bev busied herself by organizing the Trivial Pursuit cards that were sitting on the bar, while I busied myself by unintentionally Robotripping and staring blankly at the tabloid newsmagazines flickering on the cafe's muted television. ("What I'm taking from Entertainment Tonight is that the octuplets got kicked off Dancing with the Stars," Aud remarked at one point.)

We returned home, watched a Seinfeld rerun ("The Millennium") which made me wonder why I ever watched Seinfeld, and then Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which made me pine for Seinfeld.

On Thursday morning, Bev and I took the rented Sebring down to Silver Springs, which is essentially a zoo with theme park prices. It was alright. We fed graham crackers to some friendly giraffes, saw amusing fish from a glass-bottom boat, and giggled at a Kodiak bear who was merrily pile-driving a bucket, but the whole experience was still kind of a downer. The animals weren't neglected by any means, but neither did they seem as well taken care of as I would've liked. They seemed lethargic and vaguely sad. The experience was pretty well embodied by the ibis whose foot was hobbled by some sort of packaging material, pathetically limping around the food court to the accompaniment of a gung-ho MC who was distributing awards at an Amway banquet across the park. At any rate, Bev and I agreed that we weren't sorry we went, but the day hadn't left us particularly happy either.

We spent the night at the Riverside Resort in Homosassa Springs, which maintains a tiny, floating playground for monkeys called "Monkey Island." (Not related to the fabulous LucasArts game series, but cool nonetheless.)

In the morning, Bev and I hit the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. That one was great, particularly since we arrived just in time to watch the manatees eat breakfast. Manatees are amazing. We didn't see a single one that wasn't sporting a horrifying propeller injury that had been spackled over, but they all seemed perfectly, adorably content to gobble down entire heads of iceberg lettuce as they bobbed lazily in the water. We also saw a wonderful presentation by a volunteer who struggled to educate us about the burrow owl while wrangling an especially antsy example of the species. I blurted, "I love them!" at just about every exhibit Bev and I passed by. (Exception: the bobcat who violently snatched a squirrel from the tree in its pen. I think I booed while Bev chided me, "It's nature!")

Upon our return, Bev, her parents, and I ate at a restaurant called Seabreeze, which was pretty awesome. We sat by a window overlooking the gulf, spotting the occasional leaping dolphin, and observing the dock behind the restaurant which has evidently been ceded to a hilarious gang of pelicans. None of the animals I saw on this trip were as lovely as Cora, of course, but there were still dozens who stole my heart.

On our last day in Florida, Bev's dad took us to a yard sale at the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum, where Bev found a comforter and some mud flaps. I picked up a couple VHS tapes whose labels suggested they were someone's home movies, but which turned out to be a bunch of shows taped off Bangor's NBC affiliate in the early '90s. (Kind of a disappointment, but I did enjoy Cured! Secrets of Alternative Healing, hosted by Olympia Dukakis, of Too Many Grandmas fame.)

On the way back to Michigan, the Allegiant Air flight attendants blared into the loudspeaker for nearly a half-hour straight while hosting an in-flight 50/50 raffle. Very classy.

My dad met me at the airport and immediately thrust a folder into my hands, containing the latest in my grandpa's posthumous legal battles (this time against a property management company who claims that Grandpa defaulted on his lease by dying). Ah, life.

CURRENT MUSIC: Discography by Pet Shop Boys.
CURRENT MOOD: Sketchy.
CURRENT SONG I WISH I'D WRITTEN: "Fade Into You" by Mazzy Star.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
troubleagain

I didn't know you were going to be in my area.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 12:18 am (UTC)
disclaimerwill

I didn't know that was your part of Florida! I thought you were closer to Miami, for some reason... Dang! (Not that I would've made for good company with my ludicrous demon flu, of course, but shoot! My geographic memory is horrible.)

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
troubleagain

About an hour from Orlando. :-)

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 12:30 am (UTC)
disclaimerwill

Well, hell. Sorry about that! I certainly would've let you know I was headed your way and brought some treats for Sunshine if I'd realized I'd be by! My apologies.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
troubleagain

Sokay. It's more important to me that people have a good time while visiting. Which. Well, it doesn't sound too much like you did. Or at least not as much as you should have.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
disclaimerwill

Heh. I did have a really nice time down there, flu aside. We just spent lots of time relaxing, which doesn't make for much of a story, so I skipped those bits. :)

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
sprig5

My family went to Homosassa Springs in the late 1980s, where I fell in love with the manatees. I remember seeing them chow, and I think there was this building where you could walk downstairs and watch them through a window. In high school I was moved to make a ceramic manatee in art class, but really i didn't give it the details it deserved. As for the poor squirrel, I remember squirrels coming up to practically take treats out of your hands in that area, so maybe the squirrel was complacent and got caught. I'm glad to hear that state park is still a place I'd want to go.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
disclaimerwill

Yep, that building is still there! We had fun watching the manatees through the window:



And yeah, the squirrel probably wasn't being as vigilant as it should've been. I just tend to root against the carnivores is all. :)

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
sprig5

yay! the window! i have never seen squirrels as tame as i did there. one practically crawled up my leg.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)
sprig5

i do b'lieve he's munching romaine, not iceberg. an upper middle class manatee.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
troubleagain

Romaine has more nutrients, so yeah, they get more of that.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
sprig5

I see. Fantastically written post, BTW, C.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
disclaimerwill

Thank you! And it's interesting to know that they're eating romaine, since Bev kept wondering how iceberg lettuce would provide them any sort of nutrients at all.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
troubleagain

They do get a variety of "greens."

http://www.seaworld.org/animal-info/info-books/manatee/diet.htm

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
disclaimerwill

That's a nifty page! Thank you very much for the info!

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 07:48 pm (UTC)
sprig5

wow-- didn't know there are african manatees as well. interesting.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 05:53 am (UTC)
destroyalltacos

I own that Dinosaur Comics shirt too, and I have always vaguely worried that it would raise the ire of, if not NASA enthusiasts, then someone who just doesn't like the message in general.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
disclaimerwill

I've found that if you wear that shirt the day after wearing the Pictures for Sad Children shirt that reads, "It is difficult to be alive," people do start to get annoyed.

(Also, have you seen this on the Topatoco site? The print itself doesn't seem as specifically geared to you as the example they isolated for that post, but it seems like you might be able to use it for something...)

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)
fflo: yay

great post, oh accidental contrarian dick! love that, with the t-shirt.

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
startoucher

Sean and I saw a nighttime shuttle launch while we were in Orlando last November, and it was seriously one of the coolest things I've ever seen. But I'm pretty sure I was wearing my John Lennon t-shirt that night, commemorating a man who was all about peace and love and harmony rather than being a contrarian dick, which I believe makes me better than you.

;)

Sun, Mar. 29th, 2009 11:42 pm (UTC)
cosmicben

Glad you got to enjoy my stomping grounds. I like Silver Springs, but I think you nailed it beyond any defense I could give. And it's great that you had some genuine awe-inducing moments on your trip - those are hard to come by.