Friday, December 4, 2009

You Know? Florida's Not So Bad.

Day one in Florida. Maybe it's waking up on a real bed, all my own, after a nights sleep where – for the first time I had nothing to fear (but this run on sentence) – and I didn't have to wrap my GPS around my wrist, nor did I have to safeguard my money, my possessions, or anything else – all I had to do was focus on the fine art of sleeping... Maybe it's that, but – Florida? It's not so bad.

I woke up bright an early at eight. Take that Jet Lag. I headed to make some breakfast, and then I focused on the fact that I was eating real, honest to god, North American breakfast food. No weird fish meal from Oslo, no cold cut sandwiches from France, or Nutella from Switzerland (mind you, I do so like Nutella – and I think I'll go have some when I'm finished typing here). No, my breakfast was eggs, and meat, and toast. Real mans food. I can feel my waist re-enlarging to fit the pants that have been slipping far too much lately.

After savouring breakfast, my parents took me around and showed me the things that there were to see. The sky was blue, the day was warm – 95 degrees warm – and I was ready to see it all, experience it all, take on the world one step at a time.

We checked out the beach, where the Gulf waves were pounding againt the shore, spitting spray at those who foolishly got to close. We went to a park where green grass spread out alongside the waterfront, where playground equipment provided great adventures for small children, a statue of some sailor whose name was familiar but whose history I couldn't recall. Apparently he came, and died, here.

Only one thing struck me as odd here. The place was deserted. There was no one. The playground was silent, the paths deserted, and the grass unoccupied by people lounging, playing, or otherwise entertaining themselves.

The reason? It was one in the afternoon, on a weekday. People would be at work, or at school. But wait – you ask – aren't a lot of Americans out of work? Shouldn't they be here to bring some delight to their day? Well yes, they should. But how would they get here? You see – the fun thing about this part of Florida (most of Florida from what I'm learning) is that there is no bus service out here. None. No way to get from A to B unless you have a car. And because this is a sprawling suburban landscape without any central area, there is no way to walk. Actually, there aren't even sidewalks to walk on were one to desire such a thing.

And in a land plagued with the elderly behind the wheels of oncoming cruise missiles, walking – well, you'll make your own choices.

But let me just explain for a moment that these are not just your every day elderly. These are the type who spend time watching infomercials, and thinking “Yes, this listening aid would benefit me, and make me look youthful due to its disguised design as a bluetooth headset. What could possibly prevent me from listening into those people across the field from me now? This is a most delightful purchase! (I have seen five people wearing this device. Five. Today.) So if this is the type of decision they make from the comfort of their own couch, who knows what transpires on the hot asphalt?

Our final stop was Fisherman's Village. If ever one was going to find a tourist area in Port Charlotte, this would be it. It's a quaint little wharf lined with shops selling every sort of merchandise for international tourists, instate tourists, and locals. It even caters to the geek crowd – you can buy your official Starship Enterprise drivers license here. The same store also offers a host of board games from the most well known, to some obscure favourites like Pit. And the once obscure, now ever so popular, Apples to Apples.

I made a note of the prices, and told myself I'd have to check back. Either one of those two games would make for some fantastic travelling fun.

This took the better part of the afternoon. And while one could only hope for Florida to be filled with many such delights, I had another more pressing thing to attend to. I had to get shot.

Well – I had to get shot twice.

Well – I had to get two shots. Although I only knew about one heading in.

So off to the clinic I went, appointment prearranged. As we drove down the highway, billboards advertising hospitals (yes – advertising them. This may seem strange to our non-American readers, but as medical practices are privatized here, they all compete against one another for your money.) “emergency wait time? 2 minutes!” The two was an LED number constantly updating to give the most accurate results. Though I would come to question what this number actually represented soon enough.

At the only clinic in the surrounding seventy five miles that carried the Yellow Fever shot, I grabbed the clipboard, filled out my information, and handed it back. Then the waiting began. Then the time for my appointment came. Then it passed.

Finally I was ushered into the “second waiting room.” The one that American comedians always make fun of, but that I had always assumed was – well, I don't know. The idea of moving from one waiting room to another... Is this what that two minute sign meant? Two minutes before you were shipped from waiting room A in emerg. to waiting room B?

Just before they were, I'm sure, about to saw my leg off, or do some other terrible thing perhaps involving tubes and my butt, they informed me that there had been a mistake. Ha ha ha! I wasn't supposed to be here. No – I was supposed to be in another room down the hall. Silly them.

Yes – silly them, indeed.

Down the hall I met with a nurse, who asked why I needed the Yellow Fever shot. I told her that I probably would be outside the infected zones, but that I'd like it, just incase plans changed.

“Ohh...” she said direly, “well – are you rich?”

My heart skipped a beat. No, I am not rich. How terribly expensive was this going to be?! Back home it was only two hundred dollars. Was I about to get a surprise, now you're broke(!) wake up call? But still – I needed this shot. Much better safe than sorry. And so I braced myself, asking, “how much will it be?”

“Well,” she began – in all seriousness, “about a hundred dollars.”

“Oh yeah,” I laughed, “that's fine.”

One hundred dollars? That was cheaper back home. Am I rich? I mean – honestly – and then it hit me. She was very serious. For a lot of people here, one hundred dollars would be bank breaking money. The economy had collapsed. Houses around here could be purchased for thirty thousand dollars, and jobs weren't all that easy to come by before the collapse. One hundred dollars really would be beyond the reach of most citizens. And I realized really how lucky i was to have this opportunity, and be in a situation where, yes – one hundred dollars wasn't cheap, but for my health, it was a price I was easily willing to pay.

“Hey, I also heard there's an H1N1 shot?”

And before I knew it, pow, and then, pow, two needles were in me, turning me from my regular everyday self into a super immunized, ultra human!

I had been given the yellow fever, and the H1N1. I was ready to take on the world of viruses and come out on top. No swine flu for me, thank you very much.

And let me tell you, these two shots? Faster than you could have imagined. Never have I been injected with such speed and precision, and lack of feeling even the slightest prick. I need to somehow shrink down this mighty nurse and carry her around in my pocket, ready for all my future injection needs. Is that weird?

Next came the fun part – waiting to pay. This would take well over a half of an hour, as the staff looked around for hard copies detailing the prices. Of course, the computer system crashed, and there was no way to pull up a digital list – no one had just put the information on a data stick, or on the local hard drive. That would be crazy. But when the bill did come, it was an ever further shock – total price? Seventy Six bucks. Seventy six – two shots. Back home, the yellow fever alone would have been over two hundred, and the wait time for the H1N1 would have been more than it took to ask if such a thing was available.

Yes, I was ready for the world, once more. Take that, Africa.

On the return trip, I headed by the library. Aside from a creepy painting of a girl in a blue and white dress, who I'm sure as anything wants to swallow my soul, it was quite wonderful. No Amsterdam library – but then, nothing is. There were almost one hundred internet terminals, broken up into three areas – adult use, kid use, and student use. Once a week children 14 – 19 are even invited to come play video games all day.

I headed for the graphic novels section (or comics as they should always be known – don't be pretentious people. Let the art rise to the surface, don't try to trick people by renaming the form. Graphic novels? Pssh. A thick picture book is one of those.)

I grabbed Skim. This was a comic I'd wanted to read for some time, and to make matters more delightful, it's created by a hometown girl. Mariko Tamaki is a Toronto local, and was at the comicon at the Toronto Library last year. It doesn't hurt that she kinda-sorta looks like Jane Pinckard, one whom I may have already professed undying admiration for. Now, I say she kinda sorta looks like Jane Pinckard, and I stand by this – but a Jane that would kill you, steal your baby, tear away with it on the back of her bike, and then toss it high into the air, sending it through space and into orbit. So – like – more terrifying.

On my way out I popped by the used book sale. Fifty cents for a paperback? Yes please. I don't have to feel guilty, at all, for discarding these once I'm done reading them. And what's that at the bottom? A stack of National Geographics? Only a quarter?

I did what I always did – quickly flipped through them, and grabbed the ones with maps in them. Honestly, where are you going to find a world map for less than a quarter? I will head back later to see if they have another copy of that same issue.

Last stop? The IHOP. For four years I've tried to go to an IHOP - four years. But these Eggnog Pancakes? So worth it.

And then it was back home. Where I spent the next who knows how long making phone calls to all those loved, and left behind. Hello to you all. I'll be back soon. Well soonish. Well – I'll be back at any rate.


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