Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Home at Last

Yes! I've arrived. Safe and sound. I got in very late last Wednesday night, or early Thursday morning, however you count such things. Finally now, Monday night, Columbus Day, I can take a moment to tell you how I finally got back home.

After leaving Crestview, nicely refueled with my first espresso in days, I decided to take the Florida Turnpike home.

I usually avoid it. Not only would I prefer not to pay $10 or $15 in tolls, it's far more boring. More direct, too, of course; that's why they built it.

I knew I'd left Crestview late enough that the *boring* aspect wouldn't really matter, because it would be night by the time I got to the turnpike. So hopping over to I-95, or taking I-75 and coming over Alligator Alley - a drive I really love during the daylight - wouldn't help me out in the Scenic department.

Not to mention...by then, the drive to get home was pulling me along, and powerfully.

Okay. Turnpike it is.

The feeling of seeing the towns and roads I know like the back of my hand was wonderful. Here, in this state, which has its share of oddities - here, I am home. I love Florida, with all its positive and negative characteristics. I love heat and humidity. Flowers. Palm trees. Lizards. I've lived all over this state, and driven most of its highways and back roads at least once.

I drove.

Tallahassee, the state capitol. Construction mess, at rush hour no less. No biggie.

Live Oak, a beautiful and charming old town.

Lake City. Yes!!! Time to leave I-10 and pick up I-75.

Ft. White. Not a town that you really *pass by* if you're on I-75. You have to exit and drive the country roads for a bit to get to Ft White. I had a small mission to perform there.


Exiting off I-75 to Ft. White. Toney's Big Truck Tires!


Past the hamlet of Mikesville...


and the pretty little farmsteads...


...and kudzu.

It didn't work out; it could be that this one is *mission impossible.* But, hey. I can come back, you see? This is my home place, and I take day trips around here every chance I get.

Back on I-75.

Gainesville. Home of our flagship state university, UF, my alma mater. I lived here for two years, getting my four-year degree. Here is where my cat Babycat and his three siblings were born, born to my pretty little April girl in 1984.

Paynes Prairie. I think of Archie Carr and his descriptions of the wildlife he encountered walking Paynes Prairie on an ordinary day, and how most of that wildlife is not there any more, even though this is now a preserve.

It's 9:00 pm.

On the other side of Paynes Prairie is Micanopy, where long ago, I helped a friend buy 13 acres of land. It was both higher land with huge live oaks and also some wetlands, bordering the state park. When April had her kittens, one went to him. A truly beautiful cat, that was; my friend named him Arthur, because he was a king among cats. He really was, too.

I wonder how my old friend is doing, how his house project came along. Wondering if he's still battling poachers all the time, often unable to walk his own land without a shotgun for protection from illegal hunters trespassing upon his domain. And sometimes poachers are willing to become hunters of humans for the sole purpose of not getting arrested for poaching.

Ocala. Rolling hills, prize racing horses; picture perfect pastures, grass like velvet dotted with majestic live oaks hung with Spanish moss, tidy wood fences painted white. Elegant and gracious.

Wildwood. Here's where we pick up the turnpike.

And I wasn't on it more than a few minutes before one of the huge overhead signs, installed to display information during emergencies, flashed a message to us all.

Up ahead, the turnpike was closed in both directions; seek alternate route.

Grrr. If I'd known this, I wouldn't have taken the turnpike! I follow a big rig, knowing he's probably already gotten informed and rerouted by his dispatchers. The closure location wasn't specified, but that trucker may know; if he hasn't exited yet then I should be okay until the next travel plaza.

They have these plazas every so often, places to fuel up, eat, get your car fixed 24/7. Places to get info.

I pulled in to Okahumpka Plaza. First, I turned on the computer and checked my mapping program, seeing where the next exits and access ramps were.

A very helpful plaza employee was marking up a big notice about it all. The closure was between Minneola and Lake Apopka, west of Orlando. Exit on US 27, go south, then take Rt. 50 to the on-ramp there. He tells me it was a big messy accident - as the article explains, it looked like the Battle of the Big Rigs, aka, Biggest Monster Trucks Ever! - and the fireball fallout still wouldn't be cleared for quite a while.

Okay. Thanks. I went on, then exited at US 27. Yay hooray, they suspended the tolls for us! This has a huge impact on keeping traffic moving during emergencies. Call it a hurricane thing. Florida is very decent about that, it's a lesson from Hurricane Andrew. Don't screw around collecting your bits of toll road income when people are dealing with a disaster and traffic is way abnormal.

Of course, with all drivers re-routed, we crawled along for much of the detour. As we drove down US 27 and approached Rt. 50, it was glutted. The sign for Rt. 50 came up fast after we topped a small hill, and I was stuck in the left lane, in near-gridlock, surrounded by impatient drivers who didn't want to let anyone in.

I put on my turn signal and waited. Stopped dead. I wasn't going to drive one foot farther to hop to the head of the line. It's just not nice.

I saw a big rig behind me in the right-hand lane and had an idea. Would the trucker let me in? I turned my headlights off and back on again, to ask politely. The truck driver instantly did the same thing, signaling back to me. His lane opened up a bit and he let me in.

Ah, thank you, trucker. Thank you.

We exited. The signage was a bit difficult; there were more of the little hills and so forth that obscure them. The trucker was still behind me and we stayed close to each other, looking for the signs in the dark. In his cab, he's way higher than I am, so he can see farther; but this isn't usually a truck route, so he's on unfamiliar ground. Maybe we can help each other watch out for the sign for the turnpike entrance.

It jumped up way quick. I'd been in the right lane almost the entire time, but I'd just changed lanes to bypass a driver in the right who looked unsteady, maybe drunk. I had to hop back over pretty quick.

The trucker caught my signal just in time, and put his on too and braked. Yay! I love to be able to return those driving favors.

We got back on the turnpike, and flashed *bye-bye* with our lights, and I took off again.

Orlando. I lived there for a year, back in 1985-86. The place creeped me out. 'Scuse me, all y'all fans, but the only kind of mouse that gives me the willies is the Disney version. Erk. CanNOT stand it.

Long stretches of empty highway now, places where there's basically nobody around for miles upon miles upon miles.

Drive. Drive.

Yeehaw Junction.

Yes! To me, that's the place where I think: Almost home now. Crossing into South Florida, at any rate, not in North or Central Florida any more; 135 miles to go. It's around 1 am now. The turnpike closure threw my schedule way back, but I'll be all right.

Yeehaw Junction is an interesting place in its way. Some fun stories about that town.

WHOA!

In Florida we treat accident scenes with firm and specific laws. When I was growing up, Illinois law fiercely enforced their requirement that you don't move accident vehicles until the cops arrive. In Florida today, they're just as fierce about moving your vehicles to the side of the road, not blocking traffic, as you wait for the cops.

Here's another one: It's a meaningful courtesy to change lanes to move away from vehicles and/or people on the side of the road. People get killed that way all the time; there they are on the side of the road, waiting for a tow truck or cops or friends, or changing a flat tire, and a driver doesn't see them or drifts too close and hits them at 70 mph.

Now, it's a law. If you see emergency vehicles there, then you must change lanes, moving away, if it's possible to do so.

But what happens if it's a two-lane highway, and accident vehicles are on both sides?

A trucker and an SUV ahead of me have slammed on their brakes. We're the only ones on the road for as far as I can see. I brake too. I see them flashing their lights and signaling and moving to the right hand lane. But why? There are at least 2 cars on the shoulder there. I know the trucker is sitting way high and can see things I don't. That's one reason I usually follow their guidance. And I get the feeling he's trying to communicate to me, the way he's playing his running lights. But...all I can see are vehicles on the right shoulder.

I stayed left and slowed way way down. Going over a little rise in the road, so slowly, the rest of the accident scene suddenly came into view. Another SUV, but on its side, wheels still spinning, roof smacked up against the concrete divider.

It must have just happened. There were no first responders I could see. Someone was using a flashlight to wave traffic on, and I saw two young men milling around the rollover vehicle, looking dazed and helpless and stressed.

This locale, between Ft. Drum Wildlife Management Area and Ft. Pierce, is completely unpopulated. The emergency crews have to drive a long way to get here, and if someone in the rollover car or the other cars was injured, that could mean the difference between life and death.

People react to emergencies in very different ways. Some folks can't handle them, which - luckily - most seem to readily admit. It doesn't much matter what your reaction type is. What matters is this: KNOW what it is, so you know whether to step in and help, or lead other helpers, or simply get out of the way.

I'm in the other category. For whatever reason, I was built for emergency work. I've noticed an exception to that, one that pertains only to traffic accidents: when it's not my emergency - not my vehicle or a friend's, but an accident where I have no role as helper or as crash victim - then it can really rattle me. PTSD time, looks like.

I take a deep breath and drive on. Soon I see the emergency vehicles, six or more, coming up the turnpike from Ft. Pierce. That's perhaps 20 miles away from the accident. I send up a prayer for everyone.

Breathe.

Ft. Pierce. I exit and pay my toll. The lady in the tollbooth didn't know the particulars of the accident yet, and asked me how far up the road the crash was. Not sure, maybe 20 miles or so. She said they dispatched rescue out of Ft. Pierce; it was far away, but still it was the closest location. We talked about how last year, they finally put an emergency station in the middle of Alligator Alley, because so many people died in accidents when the rescue crews couldn't get there quick enough. Time is everything when you're bleeding out, huh?

I drove on into Ft. Pierce. The turnpike and I-95 are so close there you could literally throw a rock from one to the other. Since I-95 takes me home, we switch over at Ft. Pierce. The FL Turnpike folks kindly put a sign up for the exit, explaining it something like this: Exit Here to I-95 South to Miami...[so you don't have to pay us any more tolls]

heh!

Ft. Pierce. This town is only 100 miles from home. There's a Flying J here, the only one in South Florida, and I should have gone there to fuel; but it's the only Flying J in my experience where the personnel are consistently rude and unhelpful. I don't like that, so I went to a Pilot station instead.

By then, my feet were in bad shape. I'd been driving for days and days and days. I can't properly elevate them while driving, so they swell up pretty badly; and I can't take adequate pain meds either because I don't want to drive impaired. So I was a hurtin' puppy, by then, and not as patient as usual. It's harder to speak gently when your teeth are gritted shut, clenched really tight - and that's before you even have to get yourself up and walk on those feet.

I pulled up to a pump, got out of the car, stood up, got my debit card out, ran it through the reader...and nothing happened.

?!?

Tried again, over and over. Reset the fuel handle. Nothing.

Irritated, I moved the car to another pump.

Same thing.

I looked all over for a button they usually put there, an intercom marked with a little blue wheelchair, where disabled folks can call the store clerk for questions or assistance.

No button.

I got back in the car, drove up to the c-store entrance, got out, cripped up to the door. Walking even one step was an extremely unpleasant thing to do just then.

I opened the door and stuck my head in the convenience store. The cashier was WAY inside, a good 50 feet, not really a walkable distance at the time.

There were a lot of people inside. This is a fairly high-crime area, lots of poor people around, and an adult store next door. I suspected we had Nasty Rules that Don't Actually Promote Safety at play.

I hollered: --EXCUSE ME! SIR! THE PUMPS AREN'T READING MY CARD.

Most officiously, he told me: --That's because you have to come inside to pay.

--SIR. I CAN'T WALK GOOD.

--That's the rules, you have to come up to the counter here to pay.

--NO I DON'T. I CAN GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. GOODBYE.

If it's a cash sale, I can understand this. People do fill up and drive off without paying, and most stations work off such a thin profit margin that a few gas thefts can really hurt.

With a credit or debit card, though, it makes no sense at all to go inside to pay. I can't pump gas until my card's been authorized. There's no difference between getting it authorized at the pump, or getting it authorized inside.

Maybe he's checking signatures or something. But I bet he doesn't even know how: just looking at the signature on the card tells him nothing, if he doesn't compare it to another of my signatures, one that's known to be accurate and not forged. And if my card is bad, stolen or something, he's not going to get any more info from me in person than the card reader at the pump. That asks for my pin or my zip code, just like the reader inside the store. Who cares where I input the info?

If they'd had an intercom button for people like me, so I didn't have to go through way more walking than I could handle, I wouldn't have been irritated. Dumb ineffective rules are bad enough. Causing me pain because of dumb ineffective rules is another thing altogether.

When we had the shipping business going, we spent tens of thousands of dollars on fuel at Pilot alone. They weren't my first choice stop, but they were okay. Now? No more Pilot fuel for me.

This was one of the few times I wished we were still in business. It would have been comforting to tell the jerk of a cashier that he'd just cost his employer a fair chunk of change in fuel sales. But to say so now? Naw. It's no fun to BS about stuff like that; the cheap thrill only comes if I'm telling the truth. And I no longer have trucks to fill up at Pilot truck stops.

Well. I have enough gas to get home. Screw Ft. Pierce.

I drove on.

a hundred miles
a hundred miles
a hundred miles
a hundred miles,,,


What feels like *home territory* to me starts at West Palm Beach. The huge I-95 construction project is still not complete - but at least it's not the horrid potholed narrow crowded work zone nightmare of the past several years.

Forty more miles.

Lake Worth.

Boynton Beach.

And around there, once again, the blue lights of emergency vehicles splashed the dark.

This time it was northbound. The center divider there is built high, with slats on top, presumably to prevent drivers from doing what I was: looking at the accident scene in the opposite lanes.

I have no idea what happened. There were maybe 20 emergency vehicles there already, mostly cops. As I drove on I saw another fifteen or twenty, mostly ambulances, tearing up the road to the scene.

I never did find any news on that accident, or the one by Ft. Drum. We almost don't even notice accidents any more.

Delray.

Boca.

Now it's not the towns, but the streets I'm counting down.

home

home

Hillsboro.

10th St./Sawgrass Expressway.

home

Sample.

Copans.

Atlantic.
I used to turn off there when I lived in Pompano Beach.

Cypress Creek.

Commercial.

Oakland Park...

home

home


It's almost 3 am. I go to my favorite local gas station to fuel up. It's $.23/gallon more than the Pilot was charging. I don't care.

home

I'm home.

Home.

I made it.

Thank you, everyone. Friends and family. That's a phrase that matters to me. I felt your support, holding me, comforting me all this long way.

I am home, safe and sound. Thank you.

12 comments:

betsye said...

Oh...yes, YOU ARE HOME...HOME, safe and sound...now, rest, heal, and, return... to the 'sweet and ordinary'...(smiles)....yet, beautifully 'technicolored' life and times of 'k'....

Happiest Tuesday, Sweet Lady

betsye

prettylady said...

Well, that's a relief. I kept thinking you were going to run out of gas 50 miles away or something.

I just woke up from a dream that I was walking around your garden. It was semi-lucid--I was walking and looking, not making it up. There were hoses all over, where you'd soaked the ground to revive the plants. I found your stump collection, and there were all these little decorative pieces with smooth oval crystals suspended with jewelry wire. Some things in the ground looked like artichokes. On either side there were wrought-iron fences looking into neighbor's yards, with big rolling lawns. Your garden was walled in like a courtyard.

Nancy said...

PHEW!!

Your travel stories are like riding in the car with you. I'm glad you're home, get rested and then go outside and update us on your garden.

did your/are your flame lilies blooming???

Granny J said...

Wonderfully told, k. I was in the right hand seat with you all the way! BTW, my Aussie bro graduated from Gainesville, way back when. Do mend, as fast as you can -- your garden awaits you!

Jean said...

ahhhhh, thank goodness!
Rest, dear lady, rest.

...and, welcome home!

Jan said...

My sweet k...you really are, finally, home!

Did your car seem crowded? There were an awful lot of us riding along with you! LOL

Livey said...

So did the rocks make it?!

Dazd said...

Welcome Home!!!

pepektheassassin said...

Yes, welcome home!!! Glad you're back!

sue said...

Catching up with your homebound adventures... glad you made it back safe and sound. {{hugs}}

Mickysolo said...

Hope you slept with your legs elevated. We just drove from Atlanta to Toledo OH in one day and did the same thing on the way back a week later. Went to see my new grand daughter. Baby and Mom are great but my legs are a mess. An extra lasix helped.

k said...

Thank you, everyone. I am SO glad to be back. Home home home! Oh, LOVELY!

I've been resting some, and doing a little bit of yardwork - keeping the city citations at bay! - but mostly I've gone to town on paperwork issues like you would not believe. If you see smoke coming out of that cat's ears, that's why.

Betsye, it was a VERY fine Tuesday. And the days after just got better and better and better. The new posts will tell you why.

PL, you saw true things in your dream that I haven't posted yet. And things I haven't even finished creating yet, but have planned out just as you described.

The only difference from reality, really, is that the wrought iron is used everywhere except my fences (plain board ones, they are); and my neighbor's velvety green lawns are good old S FL flat-as-a-pancake lawns, with not a tiny rise among them.

I can't wait until I post some of my hanging things for you to see. Oh, such fun to come!

Well thanks Nancy! That means I painted my picture in words well enough to see it. And to my delighted surprise, yes, I was greeted by two open flame lilies, and buds on others. According to the neighbors, this is their first bloom for a couple months.

Old spent buds are EVERYWHERE. So they must have had a riot at some point.

Granny J, I didn't know that! Huh. So at least one of you stayed in Florida for a bit, then, after the Jacksonville stint. Of course, once he was done, he REALLY left. ;-) Now I'm curious about what he studied at UF.

Jean, it is so good to be back. I waved *Hello!* at you as I buzzed past in the wee hours...

HA! Jan, you are 100% correct: it really was crowded in there! When I say I felt everyone around me, supporting me, watching over me - I meant it quite seriously. The exact same way you would, I expect.

That feeling really buoyed me up, especially as I got toward the end of the trip, and my strength was running low.

Livey, me, the World's Worst Slowpoke, has finally answered THAT question in the post above. Keep your eyes peeled in case that one little orphan returns to Lake Tomahawk...

dazd, you were another one I was waving *HI!!!* to as I went past. It's amazing how many of my readers are exactly along my route home. home home home! I betcha can't tell how much I love to say that word lately, huh?

oh, miss assassin! Yes. I'm done a-gypsying, for the nonce at least. Each experience in its time and place...I loved my trip and I love being back home now.

sue, hugs right back to you, and so will the catching up, in a bit. I can't believe how long it's been since I visited your place, and I have a feeling it's been a bit rough lately - I do hope you're okay.

mickysolo, YOU know about that feet-and-driving issue like nobody's business. Boy oh boy. That's going to be a whole separate post.

I'm guessing you were probably better off to do it quickly, get the drive over in one day. I drove UP there in one day, but on the way back, it just wasn't in me. That made it worse, I think. But they're better now, back to normal size again.

And congrats on your new arrival! I can finally say I have some understanding of how that feels. I'm so glad everyone's doing well. We like to think childbirth is no big deal in these modern times - but that's not the case. So to hear mama and baby are safe and sound is wonderful news.

I have missed reading so many of your blogs these last weeks. As I blast through several years' worth of accumulated paperwork here, I'll be able to start catching up soon.

I MISS you guys. Badly. Bear with me. Soon you'll see my IP footprints tiptoe-ing through your sitemeters...