Saturday, March 29, 2008


Thought a lot about infrastructure on this trip. Truth to tell, it's something I think a lot about, anyway. ;-)

Maintaining infrastructure really is a never-ending battle. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge was undergoing some kind of construction. Someone said it was for corroded cables or something like that. Along I-95, two of the rest areas I stopped at had no restroom facilities due to infrastructure problems. One was undergoing repairs for a broken sewer pipe, one had no water due to a water main break.

I talked to one of the security guards at the rest area with the broken sewer pipe. He said it had actually been leaking for months, and no one did anything about it. Finally, it got so bad they were forced to fix it. Wonderful.

I paid no tolls on the way down. I went the long away around NYC and Philadelphia, to avoid congestion (not least because of the I-95 bridge failure near Philadelphia). But on the way back, I was anxious to get home, and I figured the bridge repairs would be done. I took the shortest route...which meant lots of tolls. Good thing I had an EZ-Pass, or I might have run out of money. They charge $5 to cross some bridges. Good gravy! I think I must have paid $30 in tolls. All those cars and trucks, paying all those tolls...and they're still having trouble funding maintenance.

I stayed in cheap hotels like Lodge of America and Quality Inn. Basically, all I was interested in was broadband Internet access and a reasonable standard of cleanliness. I was pretty happy with my digs, but I was reminded of what someone at The Oil Drum said: poverty is inefficient. In Florida, there were billboards everywhere reminding people to conserve water because there was a drought. Yet the toilet in my hotel room ran constantly, no matter what I did.

I got a room with a microwave and fridge. (I highly recommend it. You can save a lot of money on food that way.) When I first entered the room, the fridge door was not closed. The refrigerator was running, and dripping condensation on the rug, but the door would not close. A little investigation revealed that a rack meant for holding cans of soda or beer was preventing the door from closing. I'm not sure why; maybe it was actually meant for a different model of fridge. In any case, I removed the rack and solved the problem. And tried not to think about how long the fridge had been running with the door open before I got there. I was seriously tempted to throw the rack away so they couldn't put it back in when I checked out, but I was afraid they would charge me for it, so I left it on top of the fridge.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Florida is for the birds

One striking thing about Florida is the birds. I'm not sure what they are, but they're not the kind of birds you see in the northeast or in Hawai`i.

I think these are brown pelicans:

They are very common by the water, and very large. They seem to like to hang out by bridges (where they are often nailed by cars). I saw them flying around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which is quite high.

I really love that bridge, BTW. It's magnificent. I ended up driving over it and back twice, going to games at Knology Park and Bright House Field. I was kind of disappointed it wasn't all lit up at night, though I guess it's better for the environment that it isn't.

I was surprised there wasn't an escort area, for people who are too scared to drive across. IME, this type of bridge is the worst for those who are afraid of heights. The superstructure is all in the center; it doesn't "enclose" the bridge deck. And it's very high in the middle with a steep ascent and descent, almost like a roller coaster. (I imagine so ships can pass underneath.) I'd expect at least some people to completely freak out trying to drive over this bridge.

These photos were taken by the shore in Sarasota, in a little park by the water. Not sure what kind of birds they are. Egrets?

I even saw some wild peacocks. Yes, peacocks. I pulled into the parking lot of an office building to turn around. In back, there was a big drainage canal. I looked in, hoping to see an alligator. No gators, but there was a flock of peacocks.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A different kind of bird

Last night, I was sitting at Knology Park, watching the Reds play the Jays. In the fifth inning, there was a loud double boom. I thought it was thunder, or maybe gunfire. But the people around me explained that it was actually the space shuttle.

They usually don't like to land at night, but weather had delayed the planned daytime landing. They decided to go ahead and do a rare night landing. The sound I heard was the sonic boom. There are actually two booms: one for the nose, one for the tail. Most aircraft are so small that you only hear one boom. But the shuttle is so large - over 100' long - that you actually hear the double boom.

Very cool.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Sunday

I went to Lido Beach on Sunday morning. I figured it would be a good day for it, since people would be in church. Just in case, I went really early. There was plenty of free parking, and there were still lots of empty spaces when I left around noon. You could park right by the entrance to the beach. Wow. Maybe it's just because it was Easter Sunday, but

Lido Beach is known for its bountiful seashells. Everyone there was gathering shells and sand dollars.

There were lots of birds on the beach, and also areas fenced off for breeding.

The birds were obviously very used to people. You could get amazingly close.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Lake Wales

The weather yesterday was dreadful. I figured the chances of baseball actually being played weren't good, and decided to drive two hours to Lake Wales, to see the Bok Tower Sanctuary. It's a sort of combination garden and nature preserve. At its center is a tower of pink marble, with a carillon in it. There are daily concerts.

I brought a rain cover for my camera, just in case, but it wasn't necessary. It drizzled a little - not enough to affect the camera.

The scent of orange blossoms and other flowers filled the air.

The squirrels were quite bold. (Not sure what kind of squirrels they have in Florida; they are a lot smaller than the gray squirrels we have in the northeast. Very cute.)

It's a very beautiful place. You can hear the carillon bells, even when you can't see the tower.

I recommend it if you're in the area. It's a bit off the beaten path. Not many tourists go there, so it's not too crowded.

It's an agricultural area. You pass fields of various crops. (Strawberries and tomatoes, among others.) There's a couple of big fertilizer plants on the way there, and what looked like a phosphate mine. The sanctuary itself is in the middle of a large commercial orange orchard.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Safe in Sarasota

I arrived in Florida last night. Took me two days of driving over 10 hours a day. Not very green, I know. Not sure flying would have been any better environmentally, but I wasn't willing to pay $600 for the privilege of being harassed by the TSA, crammed into a tin can like a sardine, and hoping my luggage arrived when I did.

I don't drive a lot normally, so spending two solid days in a car - a small, fuel-efficient car - was eye-opening. For the first time since I downsized to a Toyota Corolla, I really missed my midsized Ford sedan. The Corolla is so light it tends to be buffeted around by wind when you're traveling at high speed, even by the wakes of other vehicles. And when you're driving long distances on the highway, it really is a serious inconvenience to slow down. The speed limit is 70 mph on much of I-95, and going 55 mph means driving almost 13 hours a day to make it to Florida in two days, instead of only 10.

Driving through insane traffic and constant construction (I forgot the asphalt plants would be open down south - construction season hasn't started yet up north), I often wished I could have taken public transportation instead. Then again...there's nothing like the convenience of parking your car only five feet from your hotel room door. Florida, unlike many older cities in the northeast, is made for cars. There's plenty of free parking, people drive everywhere...and damn, it sure makes life easier, at least in the short term.

Thanks to Mapquest, I did manage to find my old neighborhood in Raleigh yesterday. It really hasn't changed a bit. It's an amazingly quiet, sleepy little street. It's funny, because in my mind it looms as this big, dangerous, busy street. Everything was recognizable...but so much smaller than I remembered.

Some things have changed. Notably, the shortcuts I used to take (to school, to the park, to friend's homes) have all been fenced off. People just don't want their neighbors cutting through their yards any more, I guess. Even the church parking lot, where all the kids walked to get to school, has been fenced off.

And nobody seems to walk to school any more. I was walking around the neighborhood just before school started, and instead of the scattered groups of kids I remember, it was totally deserted. Parents all drive their kids to school now, I guess. I saw a lot of SUVs disgorging kids in front of the building.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Halfway There

I am in Raleigh, North Carolina, roughly halfway to Florida. It was a terrible drive. No snow or ice as originally predicted, but there were torrential rains and fog so thick you couldn't read the signs even when you were right in front of them. It was really creepy, in a Stephen King kind of way. I almost expected pterodactyls to emerge from the mist.

It was exhausting, since it was so hard to see, what with the fog and rain and mist thrown up by other vehicles. Every once in awhile, it would clear just a little, and it would be like, "Wow! It's actually kind of fun to drive when you can see where you're going."

This must have been a really big weather system. I don't think I've ever driven all day and not gotten out of the rain. I kept expecting it to stop...but it never did.

The hardest part of the drive was the last bit. I thought I was home free...but I couldn't find the hotel. I overshot it, and had to turn around. Only it was one of those roads you can't turn around on. I ended up driving around in circles in strange neighborhoods. It got dark, and the rain got really heavy. I stopped and got directions at a drug store and a gas station. The first person I asked was no help. She said she had just moved to Raleigh from New York!

It occurred me, as I was driving around, that I have a lot of cultural knowledge, gained mostly via osmosis, that will be entirely useless if the end of the age of cars is truly at hand. For example: how to turn around on a freeway, what a beltway is, knowing what exit numbers mean, that odd-numbered highways are north-south and even-numbered highways are east-west, etc.

I spent part of my childhood in Raleigh (while my dad got his PhD from NC State). Tomorrow, I'm going to get up early and go back to my old neighborhood and see what it looks like now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Heading Out

Spring training, here I come. I am packed up and ready to head to Florida tomorrow. The weather is not looking good. There's supposed to be an ice storm tonight and tomorrow morning. Ugh.

I saw in the news that I-95 has been closed near Philadelphia for emergency repairs. Pretty scary. My first "real" job out of college was as a bridge inspector, and this failure looks pretty bad. They're lucky they caught it when they did.

I plan to go around it, through Scranton-Wilkes Barre. It will add about an hour to my trip, but I'll avoid the congestion around NYC and Philadelphia.

Flying would doubtless be easier, but this trip was sort of a last-minute decision, and I waited too late to get a decent airfare.

And yes, I did wonder whether going on vacation is a smart use of money. If the economy collapses, and I end up sleeping on a grate somewhere, I'll probably regret spending so much money to go down to Florida to watch grown men play a kids' game. OTOH, if we get hyperinflation, I'll be glad I spent it while it was worth something. And, well, this is something I really want to...while I can.