I hadn’t been motivated to write throughout the entire month of September. The trip’s over, I’m back in Hawaii, and I have six more states to write about. Let the freewriting begin!
PS: The title for this one actually has two meanings (and I don’t know if that was initially intended). “Recall” not only reflects a major event in Florida’s contemporary history, but also marks the first blog entry about my roadtrip that wasn’t written while on the road. These are the stories I’ll have to recall from recent memory.
August 5 – 10
Orlando, Cape Canaveral, Miami, Gainesville, and Tallahassee, FLORIDA
Florida is the site of some great memories, and some not-so-great memories. I could go on and on about the best part–the Kennedy Space Center with its awe-inspiring shows, wonderfully-detailed exhibits, and the GREATEST TOWERING ACHIEVEMENT OF ALL MANKIND on display–but that’s my passion, not yours.
Instead, I’ll try to recount for you the balancing act of impressions this phallic state had placed upon me.
Good Florida: I stayed with some extended family I’d never met before.
Family is and will always be the most important thing to me, especially when they live in a place you happen to be roadtripping through. My dad’s first cousin Auntie Tessie and her husband Uncle Gerry live lavishly in an Orlando condo and were gracious enough not only to share said condo with a couple vagabonds, but also to invite us to their Filipino mahjong club’s weekly dinner. We didn’t play mahjong, but we sure as hell filled up on that homemade Filipino food. Surprising it wasn’t the first time (remember Toronto?).
Bad Florida: Unless you want to throw down hundreds for theme park tickets, their ain’t much to do in Orlando.
We completely immersed ourselves in the retirement mecca stereotype of Florida and just relaxed. I just lounged around their condo all day, maybe writing a blog or two, but we didn’t and wouldn’t explore the Anaheim of the East. We did leave once, though. . .
Good Florida: We saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes at Universal City Walk. Best movie of the summer. Go see it!
That has nothing to do with Florida.
Bad Florida: We had our first weird Couch Surfing experience.
After spending a day in the happiest place on earth (the Kennedy Space Center. . . what did you think I meant?), we hightailed it to Miami. Ian found this lady named Ann on CouchSurfing.org who seemed pretty interesting: middle-aged hippie that played a guitar and was a masseuse. She was definitely a hippie–at least her cluttered house seemed to prove so–but she must have “experimented” a bit too much in the day because she didn’t quite seem all there. . . and not in an interesting way. She was just a horrible conversationalist. She’d never ask us anything, but when we’d throw out questions, she’d stare at us for a beat and then answer in as few words as possible. Talk about one of the most awkward breakfasts ever. I resorted to discussing the price of milk in Hawaii! She did not seem intrigued.
Good Florida: Our stay with Ann wasn’t all bad.
At least for me it wasn’t. Ann and I shared a musical experience. I brought in my ukulele and she, with her guitar, taught me how to play Jeff Buckley’s “Halelujah.” We played together for maybe an hour, not saying much, just discussing the lyrics and chords. I then showed her how to play Bruddah Iz’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and gave her a copy of the lyric/chord sheet I drew up while in DC. While Ann may not have been able to communicate with words, we were able at least to connect through music.
Bad Florida: When it rains in Miami, all the glitz and glamour washes away, leaving a decrepit, sad city.
We had scheduled a full day in Miami: walking around the University of Miami campus, swimming in the ocean, checking out South Beach. Considering our sleeping situation, we thought it best not to stay out and explore Miami’s infamous nightlife. No worries, we had many other stereotypes to look forward to: Cuban music in the busy streets, exotic food places, and a beachful of bikini-clad models.
Except, that wasn’t the case. Instead, this happened:
No random Cubanos in music-filled streets. No barely-clad ladies on stretches of beach. The rain washed all that away. We still walked around the campus, we still swam in the ocean, we still explored South Beach, but we did so in an empty, gray city. We saw Miami for what it was: a worn-down, second-rate beach town pretending to be a major city. To be fair, we didn’t explore actual Downtown, so maybe there’s some good city there. But this? This is just sad.
Good Florida: The rain eventually let up and we found a few doses of decency.
By the time we had driven from The U to South Beach, that rain had turned into a drizzle and the drizzle into just overcast skies. Although the beaches were void, the water was still there, so we dived right in. The water was satisfyingly warm. It lacked waves, but made up for that with a soft sand floor that stretched shallow a few hundred yards.
Because of the rain, humidity wasn’t as much of an issue as it was in the Mid-West and East Coast. By that time on our roadtrip, if we weren’t sweating gallons through our t-shirts, the weather was good.
We stumbled upon a welcoming, plant-filled row of restaurants that looked like what I had envisioned. Pedestrian roads, patio seating, colorful buildings. The works. Ian and I decided to return in a few hours for a Cuban sandwich place on the corner.
And the kicker? Meeting Yoji from TLC’s Miami Ink. I used to watch this documentary series about a South Beach tattoo shop every time I went home from college and abused my parents’ digital cable. The talented artists became familiar characters, the clients’ stories became touching stories. Yoji, at the time of the filming of the show, was an apprentice. When I ran into him outside the easily-recognizable tattoo shop, he was one of the main artists. I appreciated how kind and willing he was to pose with me.
Bad Florida: We returned to the Cuban Sandwich shop and it was so not good eats.
We were hungry and the small, open-aired restaurant/bar was quite an inviting establishment. The friendly waitstaff and manager welcomed us in with pleasant accents. I started off with a decent mojito, nothing to brag about, but that didn’t matter; I was eagerly awaiting my first Miami Cuban sandwich. And I got this:
Talk about the driest chunks of meat ever stuffed within two tasteless slices of bread. They got the basics of a sandwich–meat and bread–but seemed to leave out anything that would give it–what would you call it?–oh yeah, flavor. I had to empty half a bottle of ketchup onto that thing to make it edible.
Good Florida: We made a stop in Gainesville for the afternoon and I got to feast on Chik-Fil-A for the second time in my life.
I’d heard about this chicken restaurant before–mainly because of the college football bowl game–but had never been near any to try it. I knew they liked their chicken, but I was surprised to see that EVERY ITEM on the menu was chicken-based. No hamburger options. No fake fish. My first experience with Chik-Fil-A was in Columbia, South Carolina, and I was immediately enamored. When we came across another one in Gainesville, I couldn’t wait to feast again on juicy breast meat covered in perfectly seasoned and fried batter, resting thoughtfully between two fluffy buns. I got the spicy chicken sandwich for the second time and my taste buds did a happy dance. It wasn’t until I was near that last succulent bite that I was stricken with a thought: considering how family-oriented and religious this institution is, what is their official stance on the issue of gay marriage and homosexuality in general? I know, I’m probably the only one who ponders political issues at a fast food restaurant. Still, I was in a restaurant that is closed every Sunday, hosts family activities for the community, and trains all their young, white servers to walk around the restaurant and offer free refills. I’d grown suspicious and forced Ian to run a quick Google search for “chik-fil-a gay.”
Bad Florida: Chik-Fil-A hates gays.
Okay, so this isn’t a “Florida” issue, but I discovered it in Gainesville, so there. Ian’s Google search revealed that not only is Chik-Fil-A an opponent of gay marriage, but they openly support anti-gay groups “like Focus on the Family and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes” and have donated “more than $1.1 million to organizations that deliver anti-LGBT messages and promote egregious practices like reparative therapy that seek to “free” people of being gay. ” (Link) One of the best fast food discoveries of my life was tainted by blatant hate. So long, you delicious spicy chicken sandwich. Hopefully, one day we’ll meet again, but only in a hate-free world.
Good Florida: Ian and I met up with our college buddy Francisco in Tallahassee.
After spending an afternoon in Gainesville exploring the University of Florida, we continued on to Tallahassee and the FSU campus. It was there that we met up with an old acquaintance and UC Rally Committee alumnus Franco. He wasn’t a super close friend, but we’d hang out at the many, many sporting events we attended in college. Francisco is still a die-hard Golden Bear fan and it was funny and somewhat refreshing to hear him talk poorly about other schools in relation to Berkeley. I am and will always be a loyal Cal alumnus, but I feel I’ve lost the gung-ho (read: blind) Cal Spirit that Francisco so clearly possesses.
Bad Florida: We had to pay for a third (and, thankfully, final) motel
Francisco felt really bad that he couldn’t offer a place for us to crash. He really wanted to, but he was in between places the day we came, so he was actually couch surfing himself. We didn’t mind too much. After all, he made up for it. . .
Good Florida: Francisco gave us a tour of the Florida State University campus, including a stop at a new fast food chicken restaurant!
Not only did Francisco give us an insider’s tour of his new school, but he also introduced us to an alternate fast food chicken chain called Zaxby’s. As far as I know, Zaxby’s is a secular institution (they are open on Sundays) and they don’t hate gays. At least, not officially. They are an apolitical institution with a tasty chicken menu. Now, while the chicken itself wasn’t revolutionary in relation to Chik-Fil-A, their kicker was the bun: in place of a regular hamburger bun, several of their sandwich dishes had two Texas Toast slices! That’s right, succulent chicken nestled between two buttery, toasty, thick slices of bread. My fingers dripped with grease.
It was around this time I vowed to eat better once I returned to Hawaii.
After the delicious, hate-free chicken sandwich from Zaxby’s, we toured FSU’s hall of fame and discovered an awesome tidbit about their seemingly controversial mascot, the Seminoles:
Florida State University is actually supported by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. In return, FSU respects, teaches, and exhibits the culture and tradition of the Seminole people with help from the Seminole people. An FSU alumna friend of mine told me all about their close ties. You can learn about this special relationship here.
Bad Florida: The state is separated from Lousiana–and therefore New Orleans–by Alabama and Mississippi.
Not the two most welcoming states for a couple of young Filipinos from California.
Good Florida: The drive through Alabama and Mississippi was relatively short.
We made sure of it.
Up next: The New Orleans Post. . . as written by my Ate (older sister) Melanie!