WHERE I AM NOW
Greetings from Florilow Oaks in Bushnell, Florida. What? Where? A singles (mostly) RV Park that describes itself as outside Orlando. The description is accurate up to a point, that point being how you define “outside.” To me the term generally connotes a distance of 1 to 10 miles. To the copywriter for the park it is code for “the closest city is Orlando, which is about 60 miles southeast.” (This same copywriter wrote about the park’s “coy” pond. Seems there’s a body of water filled with teasing fish that act shy.) Here are some other “nearby” towns and cities for those who be may be familiar with Florida: Ocala (30 miles north); Gainesville (70 miles north); Tampa (60 miles south); St. Petersburg (70 miles south); and Daytona Beach (90 miles east). We’re also 15 miles south of a place called The Villages. Their copywriters describe the area as a “fun and affordable active adult community where everything you could possibly want, need or dream of doing in your retirement years is just a golf cart ride away.” Here we just call it expensive.
Ah yes, I seem to have entered the land of the golf cart. They are everywhere and used as transportation, although not necessarily on the golf course itself. More like a smaller, open-air Smartcar, only without any safety features, such as lights. I learned right away to keep my flashlight on when walking Missy at night and jump to the side of the road when I hear anything coming my way. Other than the nearby train, that is. Remember when I wrote that RV parks are nearly always near trains or other auditory annoyances? Sometimes I hate it when my observations are true.
THE JOURNEY – PART I
This is my second cross-country trip and rather than taking I-10 all the way from California to Florida, I opted to detour southward along the Gulf Coast. It turned out to be a great decision. From San Antonio I headed to Corpus Christi and from there traveled to Mustang Island, an 18-mile barrier island. One of my goals is to visit as many barrier islands in the U.S. as possible, in part because they are “foreign” to me. As someone who grew up in Chicago and then spent 40+ years in California, I had no idea of their existence. Yet more material for my “what I don’t know would fill books” reveals. In California we have the Channel Islands, which are so far offshore they’re considered, well, islands. Same for Washington State’s San Juan Islands. West Coast islands are accessible only by boat or plane. Barrier islands are so close you just drive over a causeway to reach them.
Mustang Island is simply beautiful. The weather when I was there in October was so hot and humid that I actually entered the Gulf water to swim. Now there’s another surprise: the water temperature. Entering the water was like getting into a tepid bathtub. Quite a contrast to the Pacific Ocean, where even in San Diego in August most people enter gingerly and once the waves have reached their tummy they finally work up the nerve to dive under. Once you’re in the water is fine, but I’ve seen even SoCal surfers wear wet suits in summer. Of course they are “summer” wetsuits, with short arms and legs. No one in their right mind enters the Pacific Ocean in the San Francisco Bay Area without a winter full-body wetsuit. I’ve gone into the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco as far as my ankles, and my feet have promptly gone numb.
Missy, who has romped on the beaches of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, really enjoyed the Gulf Coast. On Mustang Island she dug up sand crabs and, best of all, played with the large frogs that hopped around the RV at night. Well, at least they started off hopping.
What astounded me about Mustang Island was the vegetation: sheaves of grass as well as colorful morning glories. I first attempted to photograph the flowers at dusk and had to remind myself that they are called MORNING glories for a reason.
Not only are the grasses and morning glories gorgeous, but they grow in nothing more than SAND. Beautiful white sand. But still sand. How is that even possible? And oh that big blue Texas sky filled with large white clouds.
Following my GPS (when will I ever learn?) to leave the island, I was taken to a ferry that crosses the Corpus Christi ship channel from Port Aransas to the mainland. Much to my delight, the ride was free. It took all of 5 minutes. I noticed that the ferry service provides employment for scores of people, from the ferry pilots to the guys directing traffic. A local overheard me wondering why the ferry hadn’t been replaced by a bridge and he explained that the height needed to allow ships to pass under the bridge would require a span that would take vehicles past the commercial area — an idea vehemently opposed by the island’s merchants. I also read that it’s more economical to continue running the ferries than to build and maintain a bridge — and that’s before the cost overruns! I’m not being cynical; just realistic. I offer as proof the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The project was projected to cost just over $1 billion and take seven years. When it finally opened in 2013, costs had risen to $6.4 billion and took 17 years to complete. Contributing to the cost overruns were relocation issues for the double-crested cormorants and other birds nesting in the original bridge. Should a new Port Aransas bridge run into similar aviary challenges, I can’t help but think that Texas wouldn’t be quite as environmentally sensitive as Califonia. I won’t even go into the fact that since global warming doens’t exist, environmental sensitivity will become an oxymoron under Trump. I promise to restrict politics to Facebook.
While traveling the Gulf in Texas I stopped in Houston and Galveston. Did you know that Galveston is actually a barrier island? I certainly didn’t. As far as I can tell, neither does anyone else outside of Texas. Here are some other facts under the “Did You Know – Because I Sure Didn’t” column:
- Despite the extraordinarily quotable line uttered in the movie Apollo 13 by Tom Hanks/Jim Lovell, “Houston, we have a problem,” Mission Control is not in what I would consider Houston proper but rather in Nassau Bay, a good 30-minute drive south of Houston and about half-way between Houston and Galveston. “Nassau Bay, we have a problem” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
- To further set the record straight (and this I DID know), what Jim Lovell said was, “Houston, we had a problem.” Apparently, Tom Hanks also says this. That the line is recalled in popular culture as uttered in the present tense is either what is known as the Mandela Effect, meaning what we remember as a certainly turns out to be wrong, or a vast Hollywood coverup. The term “Mandela Effect” comes from people remembering Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the ’80s. Mandela, who died only once, actually passed away in 2013. I do recall Mandela dying severall years ago, but then again I also recall Tom Hanks using the present tense. Internet conspiracies posit that the movie has been re-dubbed but said re-dubbing denied. This may not be a case of mass nerd paranoia since the quote is featured in the present tense in the original movie poster. Ah, the things you learn from travel.
- Tom Hanks looks nothing like Jim Lovell. Not that Jim Lovell ever complained.
- The Mission Control many of us are familiar with was closed in 1985. That means the technology is so outdated — for example, note the red land line — that tourists can take as many photos as they want. Back in the day, NASA used multiple $3.5 million mainframe computers, each the size of a car. Although NASA doesn’t specify the size of the car, I think it’s safe to assume the agency was not visualizing a compact. Think Cadallic. With fins. Total memory capacity of NASA’s Cadallic computers was in the megabyte range, less than a USB stick or a WiFi router, let alone an iPhone. Something I recall from when I visited Kill Devil Hills, site of the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903, is that the time between the Kitty Hawk in December 1903 and the moon landing in July 1969 is 66 years.
- Understandably, the job of becoming a NASA engineer is highly competitive. But when the agency was first created the average age of those manning Mission Control was 26! Imagine being an astronaut and trusting someone in their early- to mid-20’s with your life. Talk about brave.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .