Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alaska v. Florida

Lillian at Cocoa BeachYou really can’t get any farther apart than Alaska and Florida—unless maybe you just keep going south and head straight for Brazil—and there are a few differences that became readily apparent during our two-week stay. Well, one or two. Maybe three or four.

1. Terrain. Florida is FLAT. As in, if Columbus had landed there he may have had to rethink that “world is round” theory of his. When you’re coming from a place with 17 of the 20 largest mountains in North America to a land where a ten foot tide could put the whole state underwater you know you’ve hit the ultimate extreme. I guess flat has its advantages . . . perhaps one enjoys the privilege of seeing the weather coming from a great distance? Or to be able to scope out the largest tree for twenty miles? Knowing where the tallest tree is would be especially handy if that ten foot tide scenario ever came into play.

It does make freeway overpasses rather exciting—when you get to the top of the rise you’re just King of the World with that spectacular view. Heh.

2. Roads. However, don’t get too excited with all that magnificent expressway grandeur because it’ll cost you. Having lived briefly on the east coast I have seen a toll booth before (once) I'm not a complete hick but in Florida toll booths rule the world. Better have those quarters handy because you can’t go anywhere without a toll (heaven forbid you should need a ride to the hospital and forget your change).

From Miami to Orlando you hit four booths, from Orlando to Cape Canaveral will cost you $5.50 round trip then from Orlando to Ft. Myers you hit a couple more. Go to Sanibel Island and it’ll cost you six dollars in tolls, to cross the bridge to Cape Coral will be two dollars. From Ft. Myers down to Naples and over to Miami there’s one more. Amazing—you should have heard Andrew grumbling about the experience. We ended up paying around fifty dollars all told just in toll fees, though I have to say that they do keep those roads nicely maintained. Not a pot hole in sight *sniff.* Kind of made me homesick for a good old-fashioned, brain-jarring jolt instead of all that smooth, glossy comfort and well-lit driving pleasure.

One time we went out for an evening in Orlando and got turned around (no mountains means no landmarks so it’s anyone’s guess which way is north) and ended up accidentally getting stuck on the wrong road. We funneled into a toll booth, then another and couldn’t get off. When we finally did get off and got turned around and back home we’d hit a total of six toll booths—all by accident. ACK!

Cocoa Beach3. Water. Speaking of public utilities, let’s tackle the subject of water. In Florida they must be very eco-friendly or something because they make their own water I think, probably from underground plants that pump it up to the surface via manatee flipper action. At least that’s what it tastes like. However, before I am accused of too much griping and complaining they do have the definite orange juice advantage. In fact citrus in general makes Florida look pret-ty darn cool because it’s just wonderfully tasty. Seventy-nine cents a pound for oranges! No joke. And the oranges I bought peeled like a dream.

4. Air. Maybe it’s the whole citrus thing but the whole darn state smells terrific. Yes, you’ve got the ultra-clean mountain air up north and that’s all fine and dandy I’m sure but get off the plane and take a whiff of ocean breezes mixed with citrus groves and sun and you can’t breathe enough. I’m going to miss the warm, lovely smell. Sidenote: speaking of smells during one of our shelling expeditions Lillian picked up some clam shells that still had pieces of clam clinging inside and I didn’t notice. I put the bag aside in our hotel room, everyone got cleaned up and went to bed and it wasn’t until the morning when we were greeted with the aroma of day-old rotting clams that we realized the magnitude of our mistake. There isn't a smell on the planet that could be worse than that. Housekeeping loved us I’m sure.

Lillian at Disney World5. Cars. There isn’t a dirty car in the entire state of Florida. No lie, I think it’s a state regulation or something that you can’t go more than a week without washing your car because I never saw one dirty vehicle the whole time. Ever. In fact, cars there are rather swanky in general, you really miss the dirty, rust-ripened pick-up trucks of the mighty north (hey, I hadn’t thought of that, maybe the dirty Alaskan cars are practical—hides all the rust spots).

In fact, our last day we drove from Ft. Myers down through Naples then east to Miami and we pulled into a gas station at Pelican Bay in Naples to refuel. Out of the eight pumps available I counted a BMW, three Mercedes, a Cadillac and three Lexuses—or is that Lexi? We felt rather out of place in a lowly Honda Odyssey from Hertz. There goes the neighborhood. “Just passing through folks, just passing through.” While I waited for the car to fill I watched the guy in front of us rubbing some non-existent dust off his Lexus’s behind with a cloth—and with all the emotion he was putting into it I wondered if I should have asked him if he’d like some privacy, it seemed to be quite the sensual experience. Maybe we Alaskans are missing out on something.

6. Taxes. I’m not sure where the money for the cars is coming from because there are plenty of taxes that eat up your cash. David wanted to buy an authentic alligator head and had saved up seven dollars for his most manly of purchases but every time he went looking for one he realized that he’d forgot about sales tax (not having it in Anchorage). I ended up stepping in and covering the tax for him but he still never had quite enough for that authentic gator head. Darn. He ended up buying a bag of teeth instead, which seemed amazingly barbaric to me but then what do I know? I come from a state that shellacs moose pellets and sells them as tie tacks. I guess I can’t pass any judgment there.

Spencer and an Alligator7. Wildlife. Speaking of the whole moose v. alligator issue maybe Alaska and Florida are more alike than you’d originally think. Yes, our wildlife is different—you can’t get much more diverse than moose and alligators but people come to Alaska looking to see moose. Me? I hate them, they eat my trees and bushes, leave droppings in my yard and close down the school playground when ever one happens to wander through. I would bet that Florida and its alligators aren’t much different. We came to see gators and stopped at every spot to gawk at the lazy beasts with the rest of the hordes of tourists. “Look! There’s one!” Such excitement. But I’d be willing to bet if you lived in Florida the sight of alligators has lost its thrill. They don’t really do much, just kind of lie there all day and if you found one where it didn’t belong it would be a hassle to get rid of it. Tourists love them but I bet the locals are less-enthusiastic. Just a guess. And that pretty much sums up the moose issue here as well. Do you think Australians feel that way about kangaroos and koalas?

8. Languages. We flew into Miami and when we got off the plane I could have sworn I’d ended up in Havana. Oh yes. Signs, announcements, radio stations, magazines, everything was in Spanish. It was a little strange, though not unpleasant. Then wherever we went we heard all sorts of other languages: German, Norwegian (at least I think it might have been Norwegian), French, Italian, Portuguese and plenty of Aussies and Brits with their cool accents as well. I had no idea Florida was so popular with the UK and European tourists—I mean they’ve got Euro Disney why would they travel all the way to Florida when they’ve got the Happiest Place on Earth right there in their midst? I’m joking here, just in case there’s any doubt. Anyway, it made for quite the cosmopolitan feel and actually Anchorage is a little like that. We get quite a few foreign tourists through the state and with it being an easy air hop to Asia (relatively speaking) we get our share of Asian tourists as well.

9. Beaches. Well regardless of having Euro Disney Europe doesn’t have beaches and sand the way Florida does. Alaska has nothing but muddy, silty, clay stretches that try to pathetically pass themselves off as beaches but you’d never take your shoes off and run your toes through the sand the way you do in Florida. I’ve been to beaches in Hawaii, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, the Bahamas and California but never felt anything to compare. Well done Florida! That certainly ought to compensate for that whole 2000 presidential election fiasco.

10. Food prices. If you have a national restaurant chain that advertises a value menu you can be sure that the value doesn’t extend so far north as Alaska. The “dollar” menu of the Lower 48 has mysteriously morphed into the dollar forty-nine menu. Stinks, I know. Anyway, it was terribly refreshing to go out to eat in Florida and find that one could pay for six meals and still have enough left over to eat tomorrow, though that bonus definitely doesn’t include eating at the theme parks. You would not believe the price of a hamburger some of those places—EIGHT DOLLARS!!!! Just for a hamburger. And not a GOOD hamburger. I mean there are states where you could buy a whole cow for that price and still have money left for the bun but not in the theme parks. It’s outrageous I tell you. If people think the IRS is a big bad scam they should start looking at theme park concessions—that’s where the real theft is going on.

11. Bugs. But with all the lovely warm weather and soft tropical breezes I was impressed at how few bugs I saw. Hawaii has spiders so big you can hear the bones crack when you whack them (if you dare) but not one spider did I see the whole two weeks we were in Florida. In fact, the only bug we saw was when Andrew got up one morning and looked over into the corner of our hotel room and squealed, “A BUG!” Whereupon he grabbed a fistful of toilet paper and pounced upon it in a style that would have made the Crocodile Hunter proud. Arms flying, tissue tussling and he came up out of breath, clutching his wad of paper and claiming victory over the six-legged intruder.

“What was that?” I asked.

“A cockroach!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

And we were on the fifth floor, who knows what’s crawling in the basements. In case you were wondering we stayed at the Hawthorn Suites on Lake Buena Vista which was only okay. The shower head was so “low-flow” that I would have had more water pressure if Andrew had stood in the opposite corner of the bathroom and flung water droplets at me using an eyedropper. But I digress. He wouldn’t show me the bug but flushed it immediately so there’s no forensic proof that what he captured was indeed a cockroach but are you going to be the one to do the autopsy? I thought not.

12. Good things growing. But while the bugs are mercifully low-profile there is plenty of other stuff growing all over the Sunshine State. Not only do they have trees there but their trees have trees growing on them. Talk about your over-achievers. Apparently it’s not enough to have lush, green tropical foliage you’ve got to have foliage ON your foliage. Wonder if I could get a bunch of chickweed to grow up the side of one of our scraggly spruce trees?

13. Geriatrics R Us. Right along there with beaches, shiny cars and delicious citrus you can’t talk about Florida without mentioning the old folks. As my Mom would say, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one—though I wouldn’t recommend it because I bet that would make them rather crotchety and irritable. No one retires in Alaska. Why? Well you do the math: 20 below plus 4 feet of snow plus 80 years equals two broken hips. Florida, however, is just ripe with the elderly—I’d never seen so many old people in one place since Cocoon.

In fact, while driving through Naples we passed a lovely stuccoed building with pilasters and fancy landscaping and all the trimmings. I did a double take because you know what the sign read out front? Social Security Administration. HA! No wonder it’s so fancy, you should see what the AARP’s local headquarters look like. Maybe that’s why Florida is so warm, all those old people with their heat turned up high.

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42 comments:

Robin said...

I haven't been to Florida since I was in junior high (and we won't discuss how many years ago THAT was), but I remember a lot of what you're describing. Did you notice how many of those old ladies were wearing gold lame sneakers?

nik said...

Hahaha....I am from Florida and I have plans on going to Alaska to visit a friend. I am going to have to do this when I get back! You hit it really good about Florida though..Nice job!

luvmy4sons said...

Okay. Loved that post! What a hoot! And every word of it so true! Hmmmm...Alaska....Florida...not sure which wins out, but I KNOW it ain't Ohio!

imadramamama said...

Every couple of years (when I was a kid) my family would make the drive from Ohio to Boca Raton to see my uncle and his family. I still remember thinking that it truly had to be another planet with all that Spanish moss hanging down from the trees.

And...ohhh...the fresh squeezed orange juice....

Jennifer said...

Ahh... it is so interesting to read about FL from someone else's perspective.

About the taxes... we let the tourists pay all of those for us! Especially when it comes to tolls, hotels and rental cars. There is no state income tax and property taxes are relativeley low (except in a few areas).

I don't know how you missed the bugs... we got 'em! And they can be big. If you were here in the summer and saw some of our genetically modified mosquitos you'd think a buzzard was coming after you!

Lis Garrett said...

HA! Wonderful post, Michelle! It's been ages since I've been to Florida, but your observations are right on mark. :-)

Sheila said...

I LOVE the little lizards in Florida. We used to have a gecko, and when the kids were in Florida with me we loved trying to spot all the little tiny lizards in the bushes. Aren't many lizards up here under the snow!

I know what you mean about clean cars, too. Cars just get so dirty in the winter up north when they spray the roads with salt and sand. Our blue van was so dirty before I washed it yesterday it was hard to tell its original colour. And I washed it not too long ago!

But in the summer our van is dirty, too, after all the highway driving. You have bugs plastered all over the front of it. That's even grosser.

Visit To Love, Honor and Vacuum today!

Babystepper said...

I'm sorry to hear you don't have lovely beaches in Alaska. There go our summer plans!

Just kidding.

Actually, the only beaches I've ever seen are in South Texas. Yup. That's it.

Maybe someday I'll visit the Med.

Yeah right!

Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

You're so funny. They have to wash all those cars all the time because of the salt in the air form the ocean, it eats cars like no tomorrow, as you would know in the winter if they salt up there... all those roads and all.....

Lissete said...

Tolls! Yuck. From Miami-Orlando we pay about $20 in tolls each way on the Turnpike.

If you would have come during Summer, I'm sure you would not have missed the bugs. The biting type. Skeeters are the bane of my existence! Cuts down on the enjoyment of our beautiful weather.

Oh, and don't tell anyone, but my car is (whispers) dirty! Shhhh.
Great post.

Sarah said...

Spot on! I got a huge kick out of this post. I actually read the WHOLE THING. Not that I ever skim, I mean. :)

Heather said...

That was too funny. I've only been to FL in September and there were all sorts of little black and red bugs flying everywhere.

And the lizards were entertaining to me.

My husband and I liked to savor our $12 beer at the theme parks. Gah!

Darla said...

Heh. My brother-in-law and his family go to Florida from Germany every year. Of course, that probably has quite a bit to do with the low-cost flights (he works for Lufthansa), the low dollar vs. the Euro, and the fact that they can stay at my father-in-law's house for free. :)

IKWYM about the value menus--even on post here, the dollar menu is about $1.30.

Cathi said...

We've been back in California for a year now but my husband and I lived in South Florida for two years. The absolute hardest thing for me to get use to was the green tap water. The water came out of the tap a pale green color. The bath tub water was green, the toilet bowl water was green and when I filled a sauce pan with water, even a small amount, and the water had that green tint. Not just my house, everywhere. I miss Florida though. You are so right, the air, the beach, oh the beach, I loved the beaches with the clear warm water. Not so much the hurricanes and alligators in my backyard though. The drivers are so bad it's hysterical. We had a hit and run the first few days we were there. I loved all the different cultures, languages and accents and I enjoyed your holiday through your words!

Loralee Choate said...

I totally wondered if you were going to mention the plethora of elderly people. I have never seen so many in my life.

Kind of like the concentration of children in Utah!

I LOVED Florida. The water of the Gulf of Mexico was the nicest water I have EVER been in.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

Wow Michelle. You nailed Florida with this list. I was laughing and nodding with each item. (Except for the bugs thing. I think you just got lucky there.)

You could work for their department of tourism. Only you might be too honest.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh yes, Florida.

I live in Tampa and truly I know what you mean about the old people. It's very typical to be driving down the road to see a car swerving around the road and think "Gee, it's a little early to be hitting the sauce" and then realize that 1. It's an elderly person and 2. You can barely see the blue hair peeping over the steering wheel. Make an interesting drive home.

Scribbit said...

Well I hope too, that I don't sound as if I'm poking too much fun at Florida, we had a great time (as you can tell from the previous posts) and I could have sat on the beach another week and been very happy.

I got that impression, Jennifer, about the taxes and thought "it makes sense to have the tourists pay, they're going to come anyway and you might as well make the industry profitable, right?" Alaska does that to the oil companies :)

I'm afraid too, that Alaska is so duct-tape-and-dirt sometimes that it's fun to joke about a classier place :)

Mrs. Brownstone @ XBOX Wife said...

You have Florida pegged!!! We have driven to Orlando a few times, and we always joke that the plane tickets would have been cheaper than the tolls! The one thing you can get while driving through Florida is Sonny's BBQ! All of the Floridians might think it's no big deal, but the Brownstone family loves it!

And I am one of those people that would love to come see a moose in Alaska! Really, I'd like to just see anything in Alaska. Someday...

ashleyrae said...

I was just in Orlando two weeks ago (no bugs there either!) and my favorite part was the colors - vibrant green plants, crystal blue water, pale peach stucco, and intense sunsets bursting out all over the place. You forget about the colors during the winter. Ever since I've been home I just can't wait for spring to come. Too bad we're supposed to have snow tomorrow. What irony!

Library Lady said...

Well, I've never been to either, but I'd pick Alaska any day if I had my choice of trips.

Half my parents' Bronx neighbors live part of the year in Florida. My dad just snorts--"Who'd want to live there with all those old people?" Pretty funny since he'll be 87 next month!

Mrs Mecomber said...

Enjoyed the section about the Wildlife. Same thing here in new York State, although it's not moose nor alligators that the tourists gawk at with awe and fear... it's the politicians. Eh, they come, they go. but they mostly come. Like termites, we haven't quite figured out a fool-proof way to get rid of them and still satisfy the EPA... but we're working on it.

exer said...

This was a fantastic post. I'm the one in Alaska that one of the previous comments (from Nik) mentioned. She lives in Florida, me Alaska, so of course this post was pretty amusing for us. We are planning a 2 week trip with me spending a week there and her spending a week here in Alaska. This just gives us even more of an idea what to expect!

Daisy said...

I started laughing about the toll booths and then couldn't stop when I read the rest! Oh, the study in contrasts. I hope your vacation is going well. You'll feel good back in Alaska, too.

Library Girl said...

1. I live in Naples...You weren't even in the real swanky part yet :0 We have the prettiest fly-over you have ever seen. Even our "bad side of town" has landscaped medians!
2. That was not a cockroach, it was a "palmetto bug".
3. Did you smell the orange groves? or night blooming jasmine~yummy!
4. And best of all, since we leave at 7:00 am and we usually roll in around 9 every night, we never see old people!
I was driving my son from a baseball game in Everglades City just this afternoon. We were driving US 41 across the edge of the Everglades and I turned to him and remarked~for the first time in the 27 years I have lived here~ "You know, I really like Florida"
And I meant it!

nicholas said...

Florida cockroaches tend to be the size of Boeings! What is this compulsion to kill spiders, by the way, that women suffer from? They do us nothing but good, getting rid of countless flies and mosquitoes.

The very first time I visited Florida (Punta Gorda) I was amazed at how many old people there were. And as a consequence, the town kept old people's hours. I went to a local restaurant for dinner at 8.00pm (not an unreasonable time for a meal, I would have thought) only to be told that the kitchen had just closed. But now I have lived here for seven years, in a university town, so it is not geared to geriatric time, I have to say that by and large I really enjoy it. Not least because of the total absence of winter.

~*~Patty said...

Very enjoyable read from beginning to end. I'm wondering what your readjustment to Alaska is like. Just returning to N Va from a recent long week in FL took a long while to readjust and I thought I didn't mind the winters in Va. I have a great picture of a mint container at a restaurant on Sanibel Island, it just happened to be a alligator or is it crocodile head open with the mints laying in the jaw :)

high-heels and a sippy-cup said...

Thanks for the chuckle, Michelle. Coming from "duct-tape-and-dirt" Alaska,myself, it was especially fun to hear you joke about Florida. Loved that post!

Shelli said...

This was fun to read. I live in Georgia, but I've only been to Florida twice for very short trips.

Jody said...

Florida is most certainly unique. I used to live there, and would love to again one day. Nothing beats walkin gout into your garden and picking your breakfast off a tree.

Fliss and Mike Adventures said...

Oh yeah... you get the old folk down here (and sorry old folk) but they are very annoying to drive behind... as for bugs... I live in the bug area... dammed gnats... I don't drink my water errrr... we have a well and if you are lucky you get the taste of 'lime' in there... we do have those wonderful things called 'hurricanes'... oh... gotta love those... I do love the Spanish Moss though... and yeah... the orange juice... and everyone does seem to wash their cars each time they turned around... weird... I enjoyed reading this... will drop by again sometime...

pussreboots said...

Having visited Florida and Alaska both once, I'd prefer to revisit Alaska. :)

Happy TT.

Sher :) said...

M~ What a wonderful post! The pictures are beautiful and I'm glad you had a great time!
Welcome home. :)

Bahama Mama said...

This post really cracked me up. You are very insightful. I have never been to Alaska but I have a feeling I might prefer it. Just a note - I haven't found a hamburger in Nassau for less than $10 (most are $12) and this isn't even a theme park... give Atlantis a few more years though and it may be.

Damselfly said...

As a Florida gal (who has trees growing on her trees), I loved this: "In Florida they must be very eco-friendly or something because they make their own water I think, probably from underground plants that pump it up to the surface via manatee flipper action. At least that’s what it tastes like." Hysterical! Also, can you believe one time I had to pay $14 for a plain ol' sandwich?! And just so you know: my car is dirty. The trees on my trees are dropping stuff on my car.

I love the pictures of your very pale children (hee hee!), especially the one of the four of them at the beach. Glad you had fun!

PS As a resident, it makes sense to have a SunPass. This is a little device you keep in your car that automatically deducts money from your account when you go through a toll. That way, you don't have to deal with change. You just forget that the Department of Transportation is siphoning it from you....

elena jane said...

lol, i loved this...haven't been to florida in a few years....my friend down there calls it the land of oranges...but your line "Maybe that’s why Florida is so warm, all those old people with their heat turned up high." really made me smile!!
and i'm the one who looks for geckos...love them :)

gwendomama said...

#13? yea, i bet it was a cockroach.

A REALLY BIG ONE!

Stogie said...

great post.

Jane said...

Perhaps it's Lexii?

Trust me, Australians are just as blasé about their wildlife.

Face it, they fry up kangaroo & emu steaks, and they're the animals on our coat of arms!

And yes I am Australian, but I honestly never have tasted either - and not just because they are too expensive.

KJ said...

I love Florida, until August when the actual air you breathe is also drinkable. But I must say, having lived there 1 summer in college, they do indeed have bugs. Big, nasty, awful disgusting bugs. Cockroaches the size of Texas (er, Alaska) and scorpions and all kinds of things that make noise in the crazy grass. All those snakes have to live on something...

SeaBird said...

Haha! Having lived in Miami for nearly 10 years now I have yo agree with a lot of your observations! Although there are still some of us gringos who drive Odesseys around.

Thanks also for your advice a couple weeks ago re: my bread machine difficulties. I tried using abit less flour and took it out after the dough cycle to stick it in the heaven and it worked! Yeah!!

Trisha said...

Awww stop it - you're making me homesick. Everything you said was spot on - except, you only have tolls on the Turnpikes. If you're not on a turnpike, you don't have tolls =)

Unless things have changed so very drastically since last I was there (not terribly surprising, it's been about 7 years).