I was freed, freed at last from the tossing, turning, head churning Midnight Ponderings that keep me awake in the small suburb I live in just south of You-Picked-A-Fine-Time-to-Leave-Us, Ohio.
But, while I slept well on our 12-day, 3,200 mile road trip to Florida, there were drive-time ruminations such as:
Stealth unemployment: A man staying at our hotel in Central Florida said he had come south looking to relocate. He said his Pennsylvania town and others around it were dead. No one had jobs, people were relocating to where the jobs were and there was nothing to do. He was enamored with the night-life and bustling economy of Central Florida. I could identify with what he said when you consider the empty store fronts along Woodville Road from the mall to Great Eastern, but looks can be deceiving when you’re a tourist. Florida’s unemployment rate is 12.2 percent, higher than Ohio’s 10.9, due in part to a steady decline in tourism.
The new Big Three: The Big Three in the South are Toyota, Honda and Hyundai. These “foreign” car companies have manufacturing plants in Alabama and the overwhelming majority of cars I saw from Georgia, Florida and Alabama bore these badges. On the other hand, on a recent trip through the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin, the majority of cars were manufactured by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
Now that “American” car quality nearly equals “foreign” quality, regional loyalty may be more important in the decision buying process. That’s something the Big Three should take into account.
Memorials: Roadside memorials—those crosses and Drive Safely signs that mark the death of a motorist--were on every highway we drove. But, I was surprised by the number I saw on a straight, two-lane 55-mile per hour road running through Elgin Air Force Base in the Panhandle. No way someone should die on this tranquil, less-traveled road with wide and even shoulders. No way. The memorials on this silent stretch of road served as reminders of the dangerous instruments we drive and the tragedy they can cause.
Speaking of memorials, there seems to be a Martin Luther King street, avenue, boulevard or bridge in every town we passed through. Sadly, some of them were side streets that don’t do justice to his legacy.
Cheap labor: I saw numerous signs along the highways that stated “State Prisoners Working.” For some of you, this may bring to mind the chain gangs in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?” But, this throwback idea to put to work those who have sinned against society is still alive and a viable way to keep government cost down. Florida prisoners performed 6.5 million hours of work in fiscal year 2007-08 for a net cost savings of $57 million, according to the state’s office of accountability.
Efficiency over easy: One of my favorite places to eat when I visit Florida is Waffle House. Not so much for the food, but as a manager, I’m impressed by efficiency. At Waffle House, efficiency is built into the design of the restaurant, the code-system that allows grill cooks to prepare multiple customer orders at the same time and the employee teamwork that moves people in and out faster than any other restaurant I’ve ever been to, except the drive through window at a Tim Horton’s.
Wild Florida: Beautiful Florida is sugar-sand beaches, ocean and the smell of orange blossoms at night. Ugly Florida is pavement without end, tourist traps and traffic jams. The other Florida—the one less traveled—are the nature preserves that protect a unique wilderness that captivates us every time we visit. This time, we visited St. Mark’s River State Park, where the whooping cranes that arrived in the fall from Wisconsin led by a man in an ultra-light, had just left for Up North. We also stopped at Honeymoon Island State Park and Wakulla Springs, the largest, deepest freshwater spring in the world. At Wakulla, you can take a slow-pontoon trip through the jungle where the early Tarzan movies were filmed, where gators sun themselves, manatees swim nonchalantly and two dozen species of exotic birds make their home.