I can’t sleep. It’s 4:30 in the morning and I’ve been lying awake for two hours. Even a cheezy dime store romance from the KOA lending library (Why is it that the two times I’ve been in Tallahassee I’ve ended up at the KOA? What’s wrong with me?) didn’t help. The healthy shot of 151 I poured myself didn’t help. If this blog doesn’t put me to sleep I’m heading over to Facebook to play some stupid time wasting game.
Not working. It’s now 5:05 and all I can think about is everything of Florida I am not going to see in the next two weeks. There just isn’t enough time; there’s too much of her and not enough of me.
Picture Florida as a piece of orange slice candy. You know the ones I mean: chewy orange slices with a crusty sugar coating. You can’t eat too many; the flavor will overwhelm after one or two.
I’ve spent the past few days peeling at the state’s chewy orange center, and now I’m worried I won’t have enough time to lick at its sugary outer layers. There’s just so much to see, so many places almost no one knows about that I’ve yet to explore, and I really don’t have enough time to give them the attention they deserve.
Take today: we have a less-than-three-hour drive to Port St. Joe, where we will camp on the beach. Sounds great, right? Yeah, I thought so, too. Then we drove through Monticello yesterday and I realized that I really wanted to walk around the town and explore the idea of poverty juxtaposed with pre-civil-war architecture. I want to spend enough time there to make the place breathe for the people who haven’t been there.
So, OK, add an hour. If we leave our campground at 9 (this has yet to happen but hope springs eternal), we can still be in Port St. Joe by 1, right?
Not so fast, math wizards. Because there is still Natural Bridge Battlefield, which is only important because I just two days ago realized it referred to the river disappearing underground rather than some land formation arching over the river. So, OK, add another 30 minutes.
PLUS there’s Tallahassee, our capital and an awesome town even if it weren’t. We need to take a look there.
Wakulla Springs. That’s where Rico Browning worked his magic with Creature From the Black Lagoon; it’s where Tarzan and Cheetah frolicked. There’s a great boat ride there and a lodge.
Just hell. Oysters. Because we’re going right through Apalachee Bay. And with oysters come beer. It’s the law in Florida, in case you didn’t know. Indian Pass Raw Bar and Moe’s are currently vying for our dinner business, but who knows what we’ll drive by that I don’t already have on my radar?
And then we get to the park. The beach. The panhandle’s diamond gulf coast, except by the time we set up camp we’ll have about an hour to enjoy it. Then it’s sunset, dinner, bed, and time to do this all over again. All the while all I can think about are the people and places I’m missing.
Just bloody hell. These are the places that everyone visits, and I’m going because I want to go there; it’s totally selfish. But what about the other places? What about the Sopchoppy cemetery? What about Double Bayou? What about Blount’s Bay? What about all the little places with real people and real lives who deserve to be seen? They are no less valuable than the hairdresser who bought Moe’s; they are of equal interest as the people who narrate the tour down the Wakulla.
I am failing you, Mr. Kennedy. I am failing and I am sorry. I just don’t have the resources to do this on an extended basis. There’s too much of Florida to see.
Florida has too many riches; she simultaneously has too much chewy orange center and sugar sand coating. I love all of it and wish I could gather it up in my arms, weave it into some great lime and sand afghan, and spread it out over the state for the whole world to grab a corner and snuggle up.
The Florida Sleep. I would love it if everyone could snuggle under the blanket of Florida and rest, knowing that they would all meet at some point. But that won’t happen; the chances of a Miami boy meeting a girl from Panama City are slim, as are the chances of the two respective worlds coming to a mutual place of understanding.
What is my point here, I wonder after a few scant hours or sleep and even more hours of fretting? Do I want everyone to find the best oysters, or am I after something more?
Of course, I am after something more. Florida is more than oysters and sand. She is more than Disney and the Keys. She is salt and sun and citrus and pines, but she is more.
She is sleeping with your windows open in August and feeling like you could disappear in a pool of sweat.
She is watching the sun set over the shallow turquoise Gulf and knowing that you are home.
She is wading through the swamp, knowing that each step could invoke the wrath of a gator or – more realistically – a snake.
She is railing against big sugar and the oil rigs and everything else that threatens what you love, whatever that is.
She is Florida, and she is sunshiney and wonderful and perfect in all her flaws.
If only I could know I could show you all that, I would sleep. It wouldn’t be just any sleep.
It would be the great sleep, the one that bears the weight of our history and our future.
It would be the Florida Sleep.