July 4, 2016

Southeast: Miami & Orlando

This one is hard to write, because it's the very last one.  Florida bookends my trip down the United States rabbit hole.  I was there a year ago exactly, watching fireworks over the marina, internally twirling over the backpacking trip I was about to begin.  I expected to go to Spain and Chile and maybe Maine for a summer of sailboats, and I didn't yet know about the heartbreak of Allen, South Dakota, or how gut-wrenchingly beautiful Highway One is, or that at one point I'd wind up shin-deep in grapes.  I was naive and excited, and Florida was the first domino of the journey.  Fast forward through all of it, through tears and loneliness and awe and sickness and Bixby, and I was back in Florida, a last hoorah, the last stop before the road trip ended.

I drove, because I'm stubborn.  Because this is how it was supposed to be, and this way the Austin mishap only stole New Orleans from me AND I could see Brittany, my incredibly delightful friend from college.  So I loaded up the car again, leaving my ever faithful companion with my dad for the week (bye, Bix), and hit play on the seventh Harry Potter audiobook.

This actually turned out to be problematic.  The seventh Harry Potter book is the one in which George Weasley's ear gets blasted off, and when my own George Weasley the Hyundai Elantra was forced to relate the story of his namesake's accident, his own painful memories came flooding back, it was just TOO MUCH, and he decided not to stop when I told him to.  In normal human terms, I was driving down I-4 in the night and the rain and the traffic and I pushed the brakes and the car did nothing different so I pushed them again and still nothing happened and I considered pulling off the highway but we were on a bridge and there wasn't room for me between the cars and the concrete wall and I forgot to pull the emergency brake and then my lovely car ran into the back of a jeep.  Fortunately, all that happened to the jeep was a tiny little ding in its plastic bumper, but poor, poor George Weasley's nose was all kinds of smushed.  He is a faithful little bugger though, and the only things broken were the AC, my pride, and the very obvious and tragic crumpled hood - we were still a go to drive the rest of the way.

I have no pictures of Orlando.  All we took were snapchats, little mandala memories gone after ten seconds, so I have no physical reminders of what happened.  But - Brittany and her roommates and I were together almost the whole time.  We ate lots of sandwiches: sandwiches in tea shops with art on the walls, sandwiches dripping with brie in a shop with cheese grater lampshades, leftover sandwiches reheated in Brittany's oven.  We wept through the final Hunger Games movie on a rainy afternoon.  We spent a night downtown, a loud uber ride to cobblestone streets strung with lights and music and people swaying in high heels.  We watched Toy Story curled up in the living room, an homage to the DisneyWorld culture that permeates Orlando.  It was the girliest time I had spent in a while, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

And then Miami.  Miami is sort of my second home, and I've been enough that there are routines.  Mornings buying miniature muffins at the bookstore, evenings eating at our favorite Coconut Grove restaurants.  Walks with the dogs around the marina.  We went shopping and got our nails painted and hair blown out - crucial Miami vacation things.  Joy and Lewis and I went to see The Good Dinosaur, aka Lion King round two.  I stayed over Thanksgiving, so we spent one day cooking and cleaning and eating and eating and eating and watching football, except instead of sweaters we were in sleeveless dresses and shorts.  Joy and I went out for a night that began with wine and a cheese plate and ended with handstamps and slushie drinks.  And the boat!  Anna Carol and Greg got a boat, and we drove out to No Name Bay one afternoon and jumped in.  Swimming in Florida, as far as I can tell, is almost always bearable, but even in Florida, swimming in November is cold.  We did it though, dog paddled around the boat in turquoise water, raced storm clouds home past Stiltsville.

Because it just wouldn't be right for things to go smoothly, when I started home I found out a nail had lodged itself in my right back tire, one of the ones I'd purchased just before the road trip started.  I got the spare tire on with some help, and drove to a nearby auto shop, where they told me they couldn't patch it and I needed new tires for the front wheels anyway, so it'd be best if I just bought a set of four brand new tires.  It was more than I could afford, but the other option was abandoning George Weasley (NEVER) and taking a flight home.  So one late start and four shiny new tires later, I was back on the road, risking George's wrath and playing the Harry Potter audiobook.  We drove back up the same highway, one of the very very few times I'd had to double back on myself over the course of the trip.  I chugged all the way up Florida, blasted "Going to Georgia" through the peach state, and cringed through South Carolina, which seems to consist solely of sex shops, gas stations, and South of the Border.  There had been talk of a motel, but after spending close to $500 on the tire fiasco and being just a couple hours from home when I started to wear thin, I drove all the way from Miami to Chapel Hill in a day.  Home safe and home for good.

So that's it!  That's my road trip, that's my quarter life crisis, that's my great adventure.  The US of A I saw summed up in a series of blog posts.  Spacious skies, cactuses, poverty, snow, big horn rams, ziplines, amber waves, gas stations, waterfalls, religion, starbucks, bridges, racism, wine, purple mountain's majesty, love and hate and everything in between.

Happy America Day, y'all.