The lure of Florida is undeniable. The gentle sway of palm trees caressed by warm breezes, the playful chatter of tropical birds as they flitter amidst lush undergrowth, the piercing wail of a police siren as a drug bust goes down...ok, bad example.
So Shrangi-La it ain’t. You have to admit, though, there’s a lot to like about a place with year-round warmth and drive-thru liquor stores.
The desire to relocate is even more pronounced once one turns 60. Heeding what must be a genetically programmed need to escape wind chill and lake effect snow, hordes of seniors annually heed the siren call of the Sunshine State.
One such senior who decided to trade her snow boots for flip-flops was my Great-Aunt May.
A sweet lady, she’d lived in the same house since before television was invented. First with my uncle then, when he passed, with a psychotic parakeet that flung himself against his wire mesh cage whenever I’d visit.
Eventually, when “Tweety” went to that Cuttle Bone in the Sky, Aunt May started to believe all those infomercials exhorting her to leave the Rust Belt. After all, Wilfred Brimley hadn’t steered her wrong yet!
Energized, she tossed her dizzying array of medications into luggage she’d owned since the Cuban Missile Crisis and sold her home to my cousin for a sock of ribbon candy. Thus relieved of her financial burdens, she joined the geriatric land rush, never again needing to worry about breaking her hip on icy sidewalks while shopping for milk, peppermint lifesavers, and lottery tickets.
When I didn’t hear from her after a few days, I began to worry. Even though she traveled with her close friend, Eleanor, I fretted some lunatic had slipped a Mickey into her Metamucil at a roadside Denny’s or Eleanor’s beat-up Chevy mini-van (aka The Menopause Express) had struck a possum (or is that opossum?) and cartwheeled into a mangrove swamp.
After a few nervous weeks, I finally received a letter. Printed on rose-colored stationery from someplace called La Ciruela Pasa, it read:
Aloha from the Sunshine State! As you can tell, your Aunt May has finally landed where it’s nice and warm. It must be terrible for you way up there in the Winter Wonderland. I hear it’s going to be 65 degrees over Labor Day weekend where you are. Ha! Ha!
Our trip was quite an adventure, starting when Eleanor’s car began acting up near a place called South of the Border. Wow! I didn’t know Mexico was so close to South Carolina!
A very helpful man called Ernest fixed us up real nice. He didn’t look Mexican, although he did wear a shawl over his coveralls. He told us we needed a new transmission, tires, rear disc brakes, anti-freeze flush, something called a Johnson Valve Realignment, computer diagnostic, front-end alignment, CV joint replacement, lamb skin seat covers, new bearing grease, and BOSE speakers.
I thought all we needed was gas, but “Ernesto” convinced us that, for only $4,500, he could make our “death trap” safe to continue. Shows how much I know about cars!
Eleanor was skeptical, but once he threw in one of those cute pine tree air fresheners, she realized it was the safest thing to do. Thank goodness for that helpful amigo! He really “primped” our ride (is that how you kids say it?)!
Luckily, the South of the Border gift shop had all sorts of goodies to send to our friends in El Norte. Eleanor and I picked up plenty of back scratchers, cedar jewelry boxes, frogs-smoking-cigars figurines, Chinese handcuffs, pecan log rolls, and sacks of boiled peanuts. They’ll make great Christmas gifts. Oh, shoot, I let the cat out of the bag! Keep it a secret-shh!
After polishing off an authentic Mexican meal of Velveeta on Doritos washed down with something called Mr. Pibb, we picked up our car from a smiling Ernest. Bidding “Adios!” to our new friend, we jumped back on the highway, a little late, but a lot safer.
Several hours later, we turned around at the Welcome to Virginia sign.
Following a good night’s sleep at the Emporia Days Inn, where they charged by the hour-how convenient!-we finally headed in the right direction. Thank goodness for the nice young men who helped us pack our car as we were leaving, although I had no idea there was such a thing as a $100.00 Motel Luggage Recovery and Handling Fee.
It was a beautiful ride down the highway. I wish you could have seen all the beautiful places we saw: lush pine forests, dense marshes, rolling farmland, and charming little gas stations with huge tin men dressed as lumberjacks holding tires standing in front.
And, let me tell you, that highway was immaculate, especially in Georgia. Why, I wish I had a dollar for every man in an orange vest I saw scraping some dead animal off the road. What public servants!