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Florida Rules - 10/14/2020

As some of you know, I just returned from a nine-day visit to the Orlando area. I have made this trip every year since my mother moved there in 2009, after my father passed away in 2008. It's a long trip for me - I usually fly out of Phoenix, then change planes in Dalla or this time, Charlotte. Then I get to Florida in the early evening, when I have to drive 45 minutes from the airport to one of my family's homes. This time, it would be the first time I had flown since the Pandemic, and I was nervous.

My early morning two-hour drive to Phoenix was uneventful. As I headed toward the terminal from my car, the first thing I noticed was that everyone was wearing masks, even outdoors. When I got to the terminal, I saw signs everywhere that masks were required at all times, no exceptions. There were also signs encouraging social distancing, harder to do in a surprisingly crowded terminal. I hadn't expected it to be so busy. There were Purell stations all over the concourse and in the bathrooms. I didn't see anyone not wearing a mask.

The big surprise came when I got to the gate, and the flight attendant announced that we would be having a full flight. I had thought that the airlines were still under a mandate to fly at reduced capacity, but nope - every seat was full. Because of the need to keep our masks on, there was no food or beverage service (although they did a service in first class). The story would be the same on all my flights - no empty seats, no food, no beverages. I slept most of the way on both legs of my flight. This time, rather than flying to the enormous and very nice Orlando International Airport, I flew into Daytona Beach. It is much smaller, and getting my bag and rental car was much faster than normal. And since I had decided to stay a couple of nights at the beach first, I only had about a 20-minute drive instead of the much longer one from the main Orlando airport to where my family lives east of Orlando.

The first thing I noticed was the humidity. It was cloudy, and rain was predicted, but the air felt damp immediately to me, and I could feel my joints swelling. Dampness is the worst thing for inflammation and is proably the biggest reason I retired to dry, sunny Arizona rather than near my family in Florida. It rained that night, and in fact rained at least a little (and sometimes quite a lot) the whole time I was there. I noticed how green the grass and trees were, even this time of year. I love the desert, but we don't have much grass or evergreens there. And the lakes! They are everywhere, from small ponds to large. I hadn't seen the ocean in 18 months, and I greeted the sight of it like a long-lost lover.

It's strange - I lived at the ocean for three years in New Jersey (probably the happiest time of my life), and in my 21 years in California never lived more than 25 miles from the coast. But since I moved to Tucson, I don't miss it. I feel much better in Arizona, and with the exception of the water, the air here can feel surprisingly like the beach - a light wind blowing through the palm trees at night can take me right to the coast, even though the nearest one is in Mexico, a five-hour drive away. I think I used to identify with the restless, changeable ocean, and now, I prefer the settled strength of the mountains and the desert, full of plants and wildlife that have adapted to the harsh conditions. They are survivors, like me.

I had expected Florida to seem really different from Arizona regarding the Pandemic, and I did notice some differences. For one thing, all the restaurants and stores are open again, although most still ask you to wear a mask when you enter. No one on the beach or at the hotel pool was wearing a mask. When I went to buy groceries, they weren't santizing the conveyor belt between orders, like we continue to do in Arizona. But everywhere I went, it seemed like people were obeying the mask rules and not making a big deal out of it. Which is as it should be, and I was glad to see it.

The hardest thing, and the biggest change from past years, about my trip was visiting my mother at the Oakmonte Retirement Village where she now resides in the memory care unit because of her demantia. She has lived at Oakmonte since 2009; she was the second resident in the independent living wing. I used to call her "The Belle of Oakmonte," because they used her in ads and she was involved in everything. She's also a former beauty queen from South Carolina, and even at 92 she retains her radiant smile. The onset of her disease was gradual until a fall in 2019 caused it to worsen. She still knows us, but she doesn't have many memories of her life and creates an alternate reality for herself every day. And on this visit, when we met we had to wear masks and sit six feet apart, and they only gave us 30 minutes. I didn't even get to hug her. I visited three times, and in our last visit her eyes welled with tears as she pointed out to me that this could very well be the last time we see each other. The truth is that she is probably right. The trip is more than I can afford on my current limited income, and I come home sick every single time (this time it appears to be just a cold, as I tested negative for COVID after I got back). I really need my low-stress, sunny, dry life in Tucson.

So I have left my family behind once again, maybe for the last time. I don'tlike Orlando very much. In addition to the eternally damp weather, it just lacks character, in my opinion. There are many beautiful neighborhoods, but few date from earlier than the 1960s. There is very little of historic interest there, and I love old buildings and ancient history. I always feel like time began with Disney World in Orlando, in the early 1970s. That's in the part of town that I see the least of, though. My family lives in the east, closer to the ocean and farther away from the tourists. But I'm much happier in the desert. I was so glad to see the sunset over the Superstition Mountains in Phoenix that I think I cried. Maybe I was happy to be home. Maybe I was missing my mama. Probably a little of both.

#Florida #Orlando #DaytonaBeach #Oakmonte #ItsNotTheHeatitstheHumidity

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