Thursday, April 21, 2011

Florida 2010: From the Daytona 500 to Gatorland!

My relationship with Florida has a lengthy history going back to the early 1960s. My paternal grandparents, Ragnvald and Gladys, retired to Florida in '61 or '62, I can't remember the exact year. They built a house in Dunedin on the west coast and lived there until their deaths a decade later. My family and I visited once when I was 10 or 11. I'd never seen a citrus tree before,  we all got to climb a ladder and pick a grapefruit from a tree in their backyard. That impressed me.

The High Bank between turns 4 and 1
I spent about 3 weeks in Florida in 2010. I didn't plan it, but that's what  happened. The first visit I made in 2010 was with my son in February. We made a pilgrimage to Daytona Beach and the annual kickoff race of the NASCAR season, the Daytona 500. The experience was a major spectacle, made more so by the unseasonably cold weather, the world's most famous pothole which caused multiple stoppages, and a race that didn't end for over 7 hours.

Dan with the #20 car driven by Joey Logano
Florida is where the election of 2000 was stolen by the nepotistic collusion between the Bush family, the Republican Party and the misguided Supreme Court. Life in America has been off-kilter ever since. Florida is also the home of one of the funniest writers in the world, Carl Hiassen. He famously quips that as wildly irrational as any situation in his books can get, he has yet to fabricate anything. As a beat reporter for the Miami Herald, he swears that all he has to do is watch the world unfold around him. There's more material than any one person can ever use for storytelling.

Team Camo getting frenetic.
My second Florida trip was in October and was a strictly business affair. I went to a conference in Orlando where my sister-in-law lives and was exposed to all of the newest gadgets in my little world of card-based privileges for financial and access control. One odd experience was the night that we replicated an Iron Chef competition (sort of).

My final journey to Florida last year was in December. We hadn't had all of our children and those of my sister-in-law together in the same place at the same time since 2002 and now we had a grandchild and additional SOs, etc. It was a moveable feast that went on for more than a week and was quite grand. Good food, hijinks, and the chance to sample the fare and ambience at Pie-Fection, a new food venture by nephew Luke Fernbach. What a treat! If you're in the Orlando area and have a craving for the ultimate pizza pie, make sure you visit Luke. Tell him Dan sent ya.

Do you think that we did the Disney thing while we were in Orlando? Seems like that's de rigeur, right? Well, no, we didn't (actually, we did visit Downtown Disney on a chilly mid-week morning, but we didn't do the theme parks). The main attraction for the Ryder/Arnold/Fernbach/Bergeson bunch was . . . GATORLAND!!

Entering Gatorland
Our kids have talked about alligators for years. They kept salamanders and chameleons as pets when quite young and always were interested in crocs and gators. Gatorland covers hundreds of acres and has thousands of reptiles and birds. It's incredibly well-maintained and affords hours of fun at very reasonable rates. We were delighted to have had the opportunity to experience this odd assortment of animals and kitsch (be sure to take in the gator wrestling!) and recommend it to everyone.

I'm going back to Florida many times because there's so much natural beauty to enjoy. There's great entertainment and lots of  people-watching. There's also a passel of weirdness, but that's to be savored and recalled later for lots of great conversation. I recommend that you visit soon.

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