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After Work: Road Trip: North Or South?

…There’s nothing like being lost if you haven’t yet realized that you are…

Dona Gibbs loses her bearings on Florida highways but finds joy in an unplanned detour.

To read more of Dona’s well-directed words please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

The second time I zoomed through the departure lane of the Orlando airport I began to sweat profusely, not just a ladylike glow. I was in a full- blown, full body sweat.

I cranked the car air conditioner up another notch.

I had made the wrong turn again and precious minutes were whizzing part. I wasn’t trying to grab a departing airplane by its tail; I was simply trying to get to a conference at a nearby airport hotel on time. Or least before the dessert plates were cleared.

Florida highway driving isn’t easy. In these parts, drivers jump into their vehicles and stomp on the gas. On the turnpike the speed limit is seventy miles an hour. Off the turnpike drivers seem to forget the speed limit is no longer seventy and keep a heavy foot on the gas pedal. Woe betides the driver who discovers she’s in the wrong lane to make a crucial left hand exit.

I saw the exit come and go. I saw the monolithic hotel. It was still ahead but now it was unreachable. Around I went. Then around again. Keeping the hotel in sight, I finally figured out how to make the right maneuver.

Ah, I thought, getting home will be so much easier.

A day later, that hope was shattered. On the outskirts of Orlando in search of a gas station open on Sunday I got lost again.

There’s nothing like being lost if you haven’t yet realized that you are.

I was cruising along at seventy, of course. The gas tank was filled. The sun was peeping through spring rain clouds.

Yes, I did see signs for Ocoee and Ocala. I thought I remembered a little about Florida geography.

And you, Dear Reader are way ahead of me. Or behind me going the other direction.

On I traveled. I started to see unfamiliar landscape. There were trees and orange groves where I might have expected a glimpse of a strip mall or a new housing development with maxi-mansions on mini lots.

Then I saw a sign to slow down for a toll plaza.

Hooray, I could stop and ask a real live person where I was.

“Am I headed south?” I inquired.

Her eyes were deadened by too many stupid questions and too many gas fumes.

“Yes,” she answered in a monotone.

“Thanks.”

I gunned the engine.

“Hey,” she woke up. “You’re headed north.”

The next exit south was some twenty miles further on.

Not a problem, I thought. I’ll just enjoy the ride.

And so I did. I drove further north. Why, I didn’t know Florida actually had hills. Here they were. The highway dipped and rose. I looked to my right. There were orange groves with real Florida oranges hanging from branches. On my right were beef cattle – Hereford, Angus, Brahmin crossbreeds—grazing, walking or hanging out under huge live oaks.

Except for the size of the grazing land and the orange trees it was starting to look like my own home state, North Carolina.

I allowed myself a big scoop of nostalgia.

And missed the next exit where I might have turned around.

We forget when we live in densely populated area that there might be other ways of making a living besides services. We forget that there are plenty of people who work to put orange juice in the glasses and steak on the table.

I grew up in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. There the hills gently rose and fell. On our small farm the Hereford cattle grazed and yes, the evil weed: tobacco flourished.

Ours was a small time operation. I would call it a hobby for my father, mother and even me. It never, ever made any money.

It consumed us. I rode the fence lines on horseback, spread out hay for the cattle and pellets for the pet sheep. My mother broke the ice on watering troughs in the winter and was midwife to cows and ewes. My father built fences, built barns, tilled, planted and mowed until the night came and still in tractor light he continued. During the day he worked in town as mechanical engineer.

I looked around. Yes, as I headed north the countryside was beginning to be very familiar.

I saw a service area on the left hand side. In the U.S. this is the “wrong” side, and probably why I had made my earlier mistakes. I pulled in right behind some good old boys sporting various articles of attire celebrating a University of North Carolina basketball victory

How could I get back to South Florida?

They looked at me in a questioning way.

How could I be so turned around? Why would I want to go back to South Florida when I had a Tarheel accent?

They pointed the way. I circled the plaza and off I went.

I found the source of my error. I wanted to head towards Osceola, not Ocala. It’s knowledge like this that separates the natives from the interlopers.

Now if I had a GPS, one of those clever navigational devices, I could have been guided each step of the way by a calm voice. A compass could have helped too.

But then, given my wonderful scenic trip back in time and memories, maybe my mistake wasn’t really a mistake after all.

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