Road Tripping in Florida

I promised my dad I would post about my Florida road trip when I got back (the Everglades don't have much as far as wi-fi service goes).

I have this week off, and thought it was time I explored the state I live in a bit. Monday afternoon I packed up Apollo (I changed Charlie's name after I gave him a nice cleansing and tlc) and headed south on 275. I have only been over the Skyway once, and that was at night. It was way more exciting during the day - almost like flying. I don't know why I like bridges so much, and especially the tall ones. It's exciting.

I realized after I crossed the bridge into Bradenton, that I was headed into uncharted Vega territory. I had never been that far south before. Anywhere. Every mile that I drove was the new furthest southern point I had ever been. I can't wait to go to Peru or Brazil so I can cross into the Southern Hemisphere! So anyway, I took my time like I always do - and stopped at an outlet mall to buy a veggie steamer. That's important. lol.
It got dark very quickly - I forget that it's the end of November because it's much warmer than I'm used to. But the sky still gets dark early whether it feels like June or not. I made it to the Everglades but wanted to be able to see them, so I figured I would try to sleep. I was on Hwy 41 and it was DARK. I sat on the hood of my car for a long time watching stars. There are 2 smaller meteor showers going on at the moment. One is almost finished, and the other is peaking tomorrow - so I saw a few shooting stars. It was so nice and peaceful. I'll have to do this more often. Actually, I think I'll go camping soon - camping in December! How awesome.

I woke up with the sun and started my drive through the Everglades. One of the first things I noticed was that there were TONS of birds. It was to the point of almost being Hitchcock creepy. The birds here have fascinated me since I first visited. They look almost prehistoric. Enormous wood storks and pelicans, strange swimming anhingas, herons, eagles, hawks, rails, nighthawks, gulls, sandpipers and cranes, terns and parakeets, cuckoos and kingfishers, grackles, mockingbirds and many many more. I turned just in time to see an entire flock of Roseate Spoonbills fly by. They are large bright pink birds. Its wonderful to see all these flying creatures everywhere. I think South Florida would be a bird watcher's dream.
I got to Shark Valley and paid my National Park fee. Pulling into the parking lot there was a huge gator sitting on the side of the road. That's one thing I don't think I'll ever get used to - alligators. They are so freaking creepy. I rented a bike (next time I'll pay attention to that little intuition that says "bring your bike with you" and avoid the $13 rental fee), and was told that the gators posed no danger unless I tried to feed them, but to still stay 15 feet away. I don't know how they expected that to happen when the bike path was only about 10 feet wide. But anyway...
It was a 15 mile trip to the observation tower and back. The 8 miles back were grueling! There was a super strong head wind and it was a constant struggle to keep peddling. I definitely got my workout for the day. My legs are still sore.There's only so much of the Everglades you can see before it becomes monotonous. I quickly tired of looking at grass and water; I stopped taking pictures of gators and birds. I did see a bald eagle, and a handful of different hawks. It was time to find something to eat, though. I continued towards my destination of the keys and found a Cracker Barrel (you know me and my road trips! gotta have some Cracker Barrel). I ate breakfast and filled my gas tank. By the way, I just had an oil change done and I spent a butt load of money on this special full synthetic oil called Royal Purple - it was worth it, because my gas mileage jumped to between 32 and 42 mpg! YAY for Apollo!

Key Largo was interesting. It's the first of the Keys and there are stupid tourist traps everywhere. Souvenir shops and such were dotted every couple blocks. I paid attention to the gas prices. $2.07 on Key Largo. Not bad. Crossing the first bridge was cool - the water was a beautiful greenish blue. It looked very tropical. But as I drove on, the Keys became grungier and less impressive. The few local gas stations and shops were run down. Gas was climbing into the $2.40's. Then I made it to the 7 Mile Bridge. I have wanted to drive over this forever! 7 miles seems so long, but so short at the same time. At one point I let myself fully realize that I was driving on a strip of concrete in the middle of the ocean - I let it sink in, and it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. The old bridges were on either side of most of the new bridges and it was unnerving to see these things rotting and falling apart. Why don't they take the steal and melt it down to reuse it? Is that possible? It just seems such a waste to have miles of material in old bridges just sitting in the ocean.
I finally made it to Key West and the sun was setting (which gas was now $2.59, btw). I grabbed my atlas to see where I could drive to watch the ocean swallow the sun. I have been waiting to see this since 2001. On the very tip of Key West is a State Park next to the air force base. I made it there, paid my $3.50 and was told I had until the end of sunset. It was absolute perfect timing. I filmed the sunset so that if I ever felt like watching the sea swallow the sun again, I could. You can find it on my YouTube page (youtube.com/darkshines8).
The last week I've been mourning my relationship again. While I was sitting watching the sunset, I had this crazy idea to take off my ring and throw it in with the setting sun. I've been wearing the cheap ring that we bought for James the morning of the wedding - since he got his real ring sized. It's a constant reminder of pain. I wonder why I hang on so tightly. It's so hard to let go of what could have been. I took the ring off and found a small rock that fit the ring like a finger. I couldn't do it, but I'm not putting the ring back on. I made my journey to Key West and left part of my pain in the ocean with the sun.Now that the sun was down, I had just a bit of twilight to drive through the streets of Key West. It sort of reminded me of the little bit of New Orleans that I saw. It was pleasing to see so many people riding bikes and walking. But there was still a shit ton of traffic. Actually, considering the whole trip (even Miami), the worst traffic I hit was on Key West. Weird.
I made it halfway back through the Keys when I decided to stop at a parking area before one of the bridges. I had a major migraine and felt like I was going to barf if I didn't sleep. The stars were even better here in the middle of the ocean (duh). I saw a few more shooting stars and then tried to rest. Fishermen coming and going made me uncomfortable and I finally decided to just keep driving. I had to pee and needed to find an open restroom. I was reading to just pull off the side of the road when I finally found a gas station that was open. I was on Long Key. I drove 40 miles looking for a bathroom. yikes. I figured I would keep driving until I hit Key Largo since I knew there was a visitor center I could park in. It was 2am when I got there, parked, and slept until morning. On to Miami...

I ate breakfast at the same Cracker Barrel, and filled my gas tank at the same gas station as when I left. Unbelievably, I drove to Key West and back on 6 gallons of gas!! 250 miles. Good job, Apollo!
I don't really know what I was planning on doing in Miami. I guess I just needed to see it, since I've never been. What a strange place. At first it really reminded me of LA. I couldn't tell if it was just because of the types of palms and the sprawling strip malls. But then I realized the light was the same as LA. And now I KNOW that strange white light that seems somehow brighter than anywhere else is due to the pollution. You can see the thick clouds of yellow over Miami from the Everglades. It's very sad. So that apocalyptic feel of white light followed me through the Miami area. I drove through South Beach. It seemed like an interesting enough area. I would definitely like to go back and explore when I'm not short on time. It was very surreal to see tall buildings scattered among all this water. And some of the architecture is stunning. Overall, I was fascinated by Miami. I've always had this contempt prior to investigation. But I'm setting that now.

I headed towards the freeway and got onto Alligator Alley (toll road through the Everglades). I was exhausted and feeling very sick. At the first rest stop I pulled in, bought some orange juice for my throat, and decided to nap before continuing on. I needed to make it back to Tampa by 8pm. It was 2pm. I really wasn't sure how long of a drive it was, but I know I needed to take care of myself. I blocked out the windows with my shades and fell asleep. I awoke at 4:15, feeling much better but frantic that I wouldn't make it back in time. I just resigned myself to being late and continued driving at my 70 mph cruise. I didn't hit traffic the whole time. I made it straight to Town and Country to meet up with Jen, Aimee and Nicole like planned.

All said and done, I really enjoyed my Florida tour. I'm resting today, and getting on a flight to Seattle tomorrow morning to visit Sarah! Thanks for reading :)


NKOTB are blogworthy

Has it really been more than a month since I've last posted??
I was apparently quite busy in October.

Anyhow, I just got back from the St Pete Times Forum where New Kids on the Block performed tonight. Yeah. I said it. NKOTB. I'm not ashamed to tell you I had an AMAZING time. Really.
It was pretty unexpected, actually. Christina had a pair of free tickets to the show in one of the private boxes. She asked Erin to go with her. Erin, unfortunately, had food poisoning today. I got to go instead.

As we were driving downtown, I was remembering the first time I saw NKOTB. My mom and aunt took me and 2 of my cousins to see them in 1989. I was 10 years old. We had nosebleed seats at the Bradley Center. I remember most of the show vividly. The crowd did the "wave" before they played. I was fascinated by that. I also couldn't believe that people actually paid to sit not only in the nosebleeds, but in the nosebleeds behind the stage. I have not been to a concert since then that was that completely sold out.
What I remembered most about the show in 1989 was that my ears rang for 2 days. My first bout of tinnitus was not because the music was too loud, but rather because there were 20,000 girls screaming at some deadly decibel. I complained to my mom during the show that I couldn't hear the music because they were all screaming. I really didn't understand why they did that. I mean, I totally thought Joey and Jordan were cute, but that was the extent of it. Why would someone pay money to scream for 2 hours?

Tonight answered my question. I now realize that at 10 years old, I was lacking the hormones that fueled most of those screams. Yeah. There's no shortage of hormones for me now. Actually, I'm pretty sure I discovered a new organ somewhere in my lower abdominal region that is activated by sexy boys dancing onstage. At one point during the show, Christina said her ovaries hurt. I totally understood what she was talking about.

The night started out with me getting goosebumps during the second song. I was a bit ashamed. I kept making faces at Christina and pretended to make fun of the girls around us singing along. Luckily I was able to outgrow my pride and drop the cynicism long enough to let the memories flood back into my mind. One of the many wardrobe changes put them all in 80s gear (complete with Joey's smiley face jacket). They were on a revolving circular stage set in the middle of the crowd on the floor as they played Tonight, Tonight. This was my favorite song from that album. I don't know what happened, but the thought of my two favorite 'kids' singing and dancing coupled with the visual stimulation suddenly overloaded my brain and I started freaking out. And by freaking out, I mean I was jumping up and down squealing like a 15 year old girl, grabbing onto Christina's arm like she was saving me from falling off a cliff... this lasted for about a minute. She was like, "that was super intense! I thought you were going to pass out for a minute!" I had become the girl I had always questioned - always judged. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I freaked out a second time during the night when Jordan Knight got to play his solo single "Give it to You." Holy god I thought I was going to implode. How is it that I actually think that they are still hot when everything they do and sing about - the way they dance and dress - would otherwise make me say "GAY! LAME!"?? Is it just that I have such fond memories of listening to NKOTB tapes? Or do they actually have some sort of special talent or rather power over us women? I looked around the venue at one point to see everyone, and I mean everyone, waving their hands in the air to "Hangin Tough." The crowd was on their feet. Everyone was dancing for Face Time. Even me.