In my last post I closed by saying I was going to take it easy for a few days. Well, it was definitely a white lie I uttered there because at the time it posted I was sitting (not so comfortably) on the AutoTrain heading south toward the outskirts of Orlando. So I was taking it easy but only as far as leaving some of the driving to others. (I did most of the driving in Florida, and dealing with Disney-area traffic is FAR from easy.)
I haven’t been to Florida since 2009, as the last time I saw my parents they visited me in Salisbury for my 50th birthday celebration. Seeing that being a blogger isn’t much for making a man wealthy, it took a long time for the stars to realign and allow for a long-anticipated return…fortunately, both my mom and dad are hanging in there as they’ve both passed the 80 barrier since I last saw them. Since we also took a day to visit Kassie’s half-brother and his significant other, it made for a week-long trip that spanned the state from the little bump along the Georgia border north of Jacksonville where the half-bro lives through the town of Sanford (where the Amtrak station for the AutoTrain is) to the orange groves along U.S. 27 downstate where my folks retired to 15 or so years ago.
In most instances, it seems like life is pretty much back to the pre-pandemic normal in Florida. People are out and about dining and going through life without the face diapers, the only exception being the motel in Sanford we stayed in the night before we boarded the AutoTrain back. (Seeing Orlando-area traffic, that was the best decision I made. I would have sweated out a 3 1/2 hour drive to catch a train had I left from the parents’ place, but instead we stayed 5 minutes away and had time for a leisurely breakfast, albeit at an IHOP next door.) But this hotel had a manager who was more cautious, as evidenced by the tray of disinfectant we were asked to leave the room key cards in. (And no, I didn’t take a picture. You’ll have to trust me on this one.)
Otherwise, I’m struggling to recall if any of the wait staff in the restaurants we ate at had masks on. I could be wrong, but I don’t think they did. (Honestly, though, I think I would notice them having masks first.)
On the other hand, they go WAY overboard with this at Amtrak. Basically from the minute you set foot on their property to get on a train to the second you get in your car to leave, they want that face diaper on you. Some people can deal with that for 20 hours or more and get some sleep, but I belong in the other category where it destroys any comfort I might have. And just an observation: traveling in a trio is no fun when you’re the odd one out and sit with a stranger – a nice enough lady, but still someone I don’t know – and something of a bonus when the train is emptier and you have the pair of seats to yourself. I may have snatched 2-3 hours of sleep instead of being awake almost all night for the 16-hour trip each way.
Being that it was October, though, I think we hit a sweet spot of sorts in that there aren’t as many people at Disney and the other theme parks because school is in session, nor are there the snowbirds who come down in late October and early November. My parents share a duplex (two houses placed side-by-side with a common wall) with one such snowbird, who is expected back in a couple weeks. Thus, aside from Orlando and going through the torrential downpour I hit going into Jacksonville the first time, I enjoyed driving in Florida – nice roads, good signage and pavement markings to help me along, and real speed limits up to 70 on the interstates and 65 on the other highways. It meant the traffic flow was about 75-80 mph, which is good for getting through half a state. (Imagine U.S. 13 as a 60 or 65 mph highway and you have U.S. 27 in that part of Florida.)
One other thing I noticed (or didn’t notice) is that there weren’t “help wanted” signs everywhere. I think the people have pretty much gone back to work, although there are probably fewer places to work now since the CCP virus and our government’s overreaction caused so much turmoil in the business world.
But, except for dealing with Amtrak and somewhat higher gas prices, I really (and surprisingly) felt like it was how travel used to be in 2019. Hopefully the next time I go that way, things will be even better.
Oh, and one last thing: I think we got to see Florida Man. We were driving down I-295 in Jacksonville on the St. Johns River bridge and there he was on an untagged dirt bike, zooming down the center lane doing a wheelie, then shifting to where he was standing on it. Then he motioned us to go by him, probably so he could get a better shot on his GoPro camera he had on his helmet. Definitely Florida Man, and definitely nuts.