Marshall and I were born in the 1930s. We were children during WWII. We went to college and married in the late 50s and 60s. Our parents exemplified the white middle class in suburban Massachusetts. They were Protestant, we were Jewish. We both lived frugally in modest homes. We only bought that which we could afford. They saved. We saved. We modeled ourselves after them. We each owned property by the time we were in our mid twenties. We worked and we saved for our kid's education and our senior years. We were living the American Dream; planning for retirement in our 60s. We planned on being vital and active. We planned on trips and the good life. However, we didn't think about the duration of the good life. It's about 10-12 years. What we could do at 65 was not necessarily doable at 75. We also didn't plan on the crash of 08 which ravaged our retirement investments and altered our dreams.
We did not plan to spend the cold months in Florida. Our previous winter vacations were spent on the island of Culebra, PR. ( A place where no one knows your last name and no one cares about your race, color or politics). But we realized that our age was against us and we needed to be near medical facilities. Climbing 50 stairs to our casita with groceries and jugs of water was more than we could handle. We could not survive a serious accident or health issue there. There was no medivac and chartered flights were nearly impossible to arrange. It was time to be stateside. And so, twelve years ago, feeling both reluctance and resignation, we bought a condo in Florida.
That was the beginning of our annual trek to the 'apartment with a golf course view'.... It is almost time to leave. We are not in a hurry.
- A widespread and variable junco with gray or brown upper parts and a white belly. Also called northern junco.
- 2. A Northerner who moves to a warmer southern state in the winter. Blond or bald upper parts with white bellies. Colors may vary according to race or national origin.
We leave from Here.
Last view: Side of the house as we turn out of the driveway.
"Fourteen hundred and forty five miles to go..." I say to Marshall as we turn out of the driveway. "Fourteen hundred and forty miles to go" I mumble as we cross the town line.
I begin my one mile check list. Did I remember to run the disposal before we turned the water off? Did I turn of the stove...unplug the toaster...check the back door... garage lights? " I'd better call Jean", I say to Marshall.
"Wait a while he says. You'll remember something else you forgot."(Jean is part of the cadre which is assigned to watch the house while we travel).
We are on our way. We will hate every mile and every hour we spend on the way. As soon as we leave the back roads of New Hampshire and cross into Massachusetts we feel a tug of remorse and homesickness. But we know that we are fortunate to have a choice of where to spend the winter months. For the time being we have opted for a warmer climate. In our "senior" years ...it has been Florida. We are officially snow birds. And from the end of October until the end of April we will move from our northern sanctuary to a warm city in Florida.
NO GOOD WAY TO GET THERE.
There is no good way to get there. We can ship the car and fly. Which entails payment up front and prayers that our car will arrive on time, free of scratches and dents. We have to make rendevous arrangements for the pick up at it's destination, which means staying by the phone for a couple of days until a dispatcher tells us where we will meet the transport. It is usually in the parking lot of a Walmart.
SECOND CHOICE: is the auto train which leaves from Lorton VA. (just south of DC). In order to get to the train, we have to drive on the beltway. We are both terrified of the traffic and the never ending construction requires constant lane changes. It makes Atlanta look like a child's game. Once we arrive at the train station, we grab the carry on baggage and give them the car. Two hours later we board the train and go to our 'room'. I will not share a public toilet...(yes I am a fussy bitch). I also get motion sickness. Trains rock! Good thing it is only for one night. We get a nice meal on white tablecloths, meet "new" friends, and we save 800 miles of driving.
Sounds great? Problem is one of us has to sleep in the 'upper'. We are not young. We go to the bathroom a few times each night. There are about 10 inches above your head in the upper...very hard to turn over and climb down. So, last time, we tried sharing the bottom bunk. WHAT A TREAT!
Please keep in mind. He snores. I toss and turn. I get motion sickness. Note the ladder to the 'upper bunk. The bottom is barely two pillows wide.
I am on the inside. Marshall is hanging over the outside. " Move, I say. I have to get out of here. I can't breathe."
"What did you say?" he asks. " I don't have my hearing aids in."
" I said, I repeat in an urgent tone, I have to get up and go. You'll have to move."
"What did you say?" he asks again. "Where are my hearing aids?"
"How do I know," I answer . "First of all I didn't wear them last and secondly even if I had, I can't find them in the dark. I can't see a damned thing without my glasses. Where did you put them? "
" Put what" he asks?
At around 6 AM there is an annoucement that breakfast is being served I am sick to my stomach. Marshall is hungry. We head to the dining car. I feel that I might throw up, so I grab a dry bagel and head back to our compartment which has already been made up. I lie down in the fetal position and stay tucked like that until we arrive in Sanford Florida. After de-training and sucking in some fresh air we wait for an hour or two for the car to be off-loaded.
I avoid our new best friends from the night before. Some relationships are not meant to last the night.
THIRD CHOICE: Is to buy another car and leave it in Florida. Still have to contend with flying. And we don't know if it will turn over when we get there. Plus...we would really pushing our retirement savings, given that third care expenses are not in the budget. I absolutely refuse to give up my personal vehicle in NH. It is a Jeep Wrangler. It is my freedom.
So, for now, this year, we upgraded our 8 year old family car and we are going to drive both ways. God help us!
The trunk will be filled to capacity. Everything has a place.We can reach in blindfolded and put our hands on the exact item we might need. My bigger suitcase fills the center, my smaller suit case is placed on top of the the big bag to the left. Marshall's only suit case sits on the top right. Canvas bags with shoes and jackets, are on the sides, easy to reach. The back seat gets overnight bags, computers, and the back pack which is our traveling pharmacy. These items are schlepped into the motel at night. My stuffed to the brim pocket book contains check books, jewelry, spare cash and IDs. I Never open it in public. Left a wallet behind one time. Never Again.
I keep small amount of cash in my jacket pocket. Better to lose a few bucks than your sanity.
Within reach of the front seat are snacks, maps, tissues and aspirin. Plugged in is mobile phone or ipod. The center console holds books on tape and writing materials. Passenger side floor has first aid, towel and bottle of water.
We head south west through Connecticut and New York State, and on to Scranton PA. Will avoid NYC. ALWAYS. The route we choose skirts most cities except for Hartford and Scranton. Decent views as long as we don't encounter fog or ice along the way.
We are pushed along by a herd of monster trucks who despise snow birds. We are easily imtimidated by their immense size and power. We play "pass each" other for hundreds of miles. We win up-hill. They win when they are on our bumper.
We will stop at McDonalds for the dollar menu items and obligatory bathroom rest. We will switch drivers every 150-200 miles. Music preference goes to driver. We installed XM so that we don't have to depend on Rush or NPR for entertainment.
I choose the center lane. Marshall prefers the right lane. I am terrified when he drives that he will exit in downtown Scranton and we will spend a half hour trying to get back up and onto the highway. "Right lanes are for exiting" I will say a hundred times. He will answer a hundred times. " I like them."
First night in Pennsylvania. Second night in Virginia. Third night in the Carolinas or maybe Georgia. We opt for the Hampton Inns. However we alway check the bed bug report. Tucked into my pharmacy bag are a dozen 99 cent nips of vodka. They are not for the bugs.
Fourteen hundred and forty five miles later we arrive at our apartment. We are happy that highway hell is over for the next few months.There is no elation as we park our car. We are exhausted.
It is a different place. The roadways are clogged with traffic. Young people blame old people for creating traffic jams. Locals detest the arrival of the snow birds, but businesses thrive due to our old dollars. Bars stools are filled by five on two- fer nights. 70s music stops at eight. When the Oldsmobiles leave the parking lot, the pick up trucks cruise in.
Home in Florida/pending storm at sunset.
View from the Lanai (porch) 2nd fairway.
As soon as we arrive friends will note our arrival and come by to welcome us back. They will note that we have a new car and my hair is longer. Chris, who lives three doors down will invite us over for a cocktail and suggest we all go out for dinner.
Over the next few weeks, friends will arrive from as far away as North Dakota. Some wait for Christmas..others hang on until the first of the year to make the wretched trip.
We will hug each other and are thankful that we have all made it through another year. We notice the changes in our demeanor and health. Those who are going to be alone for the holidays are invited 'over' to another identical apartment for a shared meal.
We will ride old bikes and play golf. We go to the gulf at sunset. Sometimes we 'dine' at the Lazy Lobster which requires reservations and sometimes we chow down at the Moose. The sunset is free. The beach is incredible.
Moose Lodge 2188...Anna Maria /Gulf of Mexico..largest membership of any lodge in the US...any wonder?
Marshall and Friends at sundowning picnic.
"Make new friends and keep the old...some are silver and the others are gold."
HOME AGAIN, HOME AGAIN,...... LICKETY SPLIT
Around the third week inApril, we will head home. We usually repeat the same packing routine, but usually choose the scenic route north through the Shenandoah. The red buds and azaleas are in bloom. No need to rush. The mountains are verdant and there is a promise of Spring in the air.
After fourteen hundred and forty four miles of driving we will cross the town line into Exeter. No one is waiting for us at the finish but we feel the excitement of the moment.
It is a wonderful feeling. We love coming home. Notes from kids and grandkids will be on the dining room table. Neighbors check lists will denote their regular care and vigilance.
I will unplug the trickle charger from the Jeep and get her out on the road for a quick ride to the grocery store. I will be free from the fetters of car pooling. I will note that bike riders have serious outfits and ride serious bikes. Joggers are fit and children are everywhere. I will feel younger.
Ponce De Leon never found his fountain of youth in Florida. There is a reason. It is not a place but a state of mind.