Vignettes From a Road Trip to Tampa
I never did get to sleep last night; as the plan was to leave as early as possible on a road trip to arrive in the Tampa metropolitan area sometime in the early afternoon.
For someone who packs light, it sometimes takes me a long time to ensure that I am packed and have taken care of everything before I leave on a trip; and I was finished sometime after 4:00 in the morning when I embarked on my road trip to Tampa.
Despite having no sleep, I was wide awake and ready to go. I ventured out into the crisp air in the dark of the night, started my vehicle and headed towards the home of a friend whom I have known for years and met through FlyerTalk — but instead of taking highways with limited access, I drove on back roads instead.
It is a shame that it was still dark outside. I would have liked to have seen the scenery — some of which I had not seen before.
An hour and 17 minutes later — not much longer than the time it would have taken to get there using highways, as it was the most direct route despite using back roads — I arrived at her home, which is located in a very small town with no traffic light.
She was driving; so she directed me on where to park my vehicle before showing me where to put my belongings.
“I thought we were traveling in a sport utility vehicle owned by your mother,” I said.
“This is sort of like a sport utility vehicle,” she replied.
The strong scent of “new car” wafted heavily in my face and almost knocked me over.
“This is your mother’s car?” I asked.
“No — it is mine.”
“When did you get it?”
“Well, I just put the license tags on yesterday.”
We headed out on the road. She received a telephone call from a family member who warned her to watch out for deer, which I almost hit myself when I was driving to her home earlier.
“Unless they venture out of that McDonald’s, we have already passed that area,” she replied…
…and so we were on our way. Road trip!
A Ticket to Ride?
Not long after dawn after being on the road for at least 90 minutes, she is driving in the left lane, not going much faster than other cars. Traffic was moderate.
Just outside of Valdosta, a black car belonging to the office of the sheriff of Lowndes County flashed its blue lights as it sat in the median of Interstate 75. The officer inside of the car pointed directly at my friend. “Was he pointing at me?!?” she asked, perplexed.
“I have no idea,” I said as I looked in the mirror on the passenger side and saw the headlights and flashing blue lights behind the car behind her car.
She pulled over until her car came to rest on the side of the highway — and sure enough, the black vehicle with the flashing lights stopped right behind her car. We were only approximately 15 miles or so from the Florida state line.
“Y’all know why I stopped you?” said the deputy — who looked younger than a college graduate and not much taller than the car itself — in a thick Southern accent as he arrived at the window on the side of the driver and asked for her driver license.
“No, I really don’t,” said my friend, who I can see was a little shaken as she handed him her driver license. “What did I do?!?”
“Y’all were speeding’. How fast do you think you were goin’?”
“I don’t know. I would say 73 miles an hour?”
“Y’all were doin’ 86 in a 70 mile per hour zone.”
“I was?!?” she asked incredulously.
“I pointed my speed gun at you no less than four times. I targeted you long before you saw me. You were doin’ 86. I am gonna write you a warning,” he said as he walked back towards his car.
She turned to me, visibly shaken. “Was I going that fast?!?”
“No,” I replied.
“Maybe my speedometer is not working properly?”
“I doubt it. Today is October 30. It is towards the end of the month. Maybe he has to meet his quota?”
Her brother is a law enforcement officer who has insisted many times that there is no quota system to meet for law enforcement officers. Besides, I thought I heard this officer say that he was giving her a warning, which I thought was bizarre if she really was speeding 16 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.
“He never asked for my insurance card,” she realized.
Five minutes later, the deputy handed her license back to her — along with a slip of paper with a warning not to speed — as he told her to watch her speed before he returned to his vehicle and left.
For the remainder of the road trip, she was referred by me with her new moniker of Outlaw.
Florida Welcome Center
I have driven on this highway multiple times in the past; but I was noticing things better as a passenger than I would as a driver. One of those things was a billboard for the welcome center just past the Florida state line.
“Do they really give out free orange juice?” I asked in slight disbelief. “The amount of juice is probably the size of a thimble.”
“They sure do,” the Outlaw replied assuredly. “We are going to stop and get you some orange juice.”
“Wait — what?!?”
What started as a question out of curiosity would up as a visit to the welcome center operated by the state of Florida. She parked the car. There were plenty of cars parked in the parking lot. There were plenty of people. There were balloons. We walked into the building; and they were having a mini-fair of sorts.
There was not only a tank of orange juice on the left side of the information counter of the Welcome Center; but there was also a tank of ruby red grapefruit juice, which I enjoyed a small cup — not a thimbleful; but not a regular size either.
I even made a new friend whose skin felt like hard rubber: a young alligator, its mouth taped shut with black electrical tape. It was at the insistence of the Outlaw that I pet it, realizing that I had never pet an alligator before.
Scratch another unknown item off of my travel to-do list.
I never realized I missed all of this whenever I crossed state lines. I usually try to drive to my destination as quickly as possible. Who knew?
Music in the Car
“You can put on some music if you want,” the Outlaw said to me.
That was music to my ears, considering how important music is to me — especially when traveling. I brought my portable electronic device — along with the necessary cables — and plugged it in. Because the car was new, she had never used the audio system before.
Although I was able to figure everything else out, I did not understand why the system rejected the playlists I had set up. It would play songs in random order; or list the songs either alphabetically, by artist, by album or by genre.
We never did figure out why that was the case.
Whether it was stopping for a drink at a hardly mobile service station in Lake Panasoffkee — translation: there was a combination Hardee’s restaurant and Mobil gasoline station at a place named after someone named Pana who sang out of tune — or having lunch shortly before our arrival in Tampa, it was fun to ride along with the Outlaw and not have to be subject to screening and being scanned at an airport security checkpoint, which would occur had we flown as passengers aboard an airplane instead. There was a certain freedom to stopping whenever we wanted — sometimes spontaneously — without having to be concerned about flight schedules. Seeing gasoline prices less than two dollars per gallon sweetened the deal.
In other words: there was nothing like embarking on a good old-fashioned road trip.
Now if I can only find time to get some sleep…
All photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.