January 30 – March 15, 2002 – This was the extent of my RV trip around Florida and it was the first and only time I’ve been there so far. Besides the sparkling beaches, I wanted to finally see Disney World, something I’d dreamed of since I was a little girl growing up in New Orleans. I was still traveling alongside my best friend, Don, then and we really had a blast here. I didn’t even have my own digital camera then and Don’s was a dinosaur model, so I have very few decent pictures, but I journaled about it all in Trip to Orlando.
January 30, 2002 – Our first night in Florida was spent at Anastasia State Park in Saint Augustine. Since they had no room in the main campground, we stayed in their dry camping area. I was stoked that meant we could camp right on the water, so I could care less about no hookups! This was my first experience having beachfront property as my yard and even if the picture sucks, my memory of it is still very clear.
February 2, 2002 – Don and I made our home near Orlando for a month so I could get temp legal assistant work in the downtown area. This gave me the needed income and put me close to Disney World. We stayed at Stage Stop Campground in Winter Garden and I loved watching the Anhinga posing and drying their wings across the pond.
From My Journal about Working in Orlando: Downtown Orlando has been nicer than I expected and while it is no Monument Square in Portland, it has a really nice sized little downtown retreat at Lake Eola Park. It has a huge multi-tiered fountain in the middle where you can rent swan paddle boats or just sit and relax. I like to go eat lunch there and feed the sea gulls and various birds who are really not scared of people at all. There are black and white swans gliding by the Pagoda and a cool amphitheater where they hold free shows.
Right across from the park is the Orange County Courthouse, a/k/a The Buzzard Building. I thought it was an appropriate name no matter what since it’s filled with lawyers and judges. 🙂 But the real reason is the turkey vultures who buzz around and nest on the tall window ledges, generally grossing out visitors. Apparently they’ve been trying to deal with them since 2001, including using water torture or electroshock therapy! I thought this comment in the article Vulture Culture was funny, too: “I’d be afraid to sit down and close my eyes,” says Matt Benefiel, the court administrator. “With 25 vultures hanging around, I wouldn’t want to look dead.” Goes to show, humor can be found anywhere and I had fun here in lots of ways, so I’m including this as a memory since it always cracked me up every time I passed it.
I ended up working for a totally fun, cool lawyer named Sly who told me I could work as much or as little as I wanted. She was so supportive of my travel dreams, and all the people here have been really great and friendly. I was the subject of office gossip, though, because every once in a while someone would stop by my desk and ask “Are you the lady who just travels around in an RV? Everybody’s talking about you – that is just so cool!”
After I left Orlando, I got this Inspired Comment from Sly: “Reading your journal is like sitting on your shoulder through this adventure. All adventure is not fun though, as you have found. But even in those darker moments, the courage you have to push on is inspiring. It is always such a joy to hear from you. It is funny how you just came here for a while and then you were gone. No real reason for you to stay on my mind, but you have. I find myself wondering how you are and what you are doing. You, my dear, are the epitome’ of cool. — Sly”
This kind of encounter with people like her always took away the sting of having to work and not just being able to be carefree and do nothing but explore.
March 2-21, 2002 – My mom joined us for part of what we called our Grand Tour of Florida, the first of many trips we ended up sharing. After her death in 2014, I did a page of Memories of My Mama that recapped all our trips and Florida was a particularly funny one that we giggled over for years when “Mom Mooned Miami.” She really was a hoot and a holler, as we southern folk say. Thinking about this story can still make me cry I laugh so hard – I can still hear the panic in her voice and I feel wicked because I thought it was so funny.
Meeting Mickey Mouse was a dream come true for the little girl in her, too. The little girl in me was thrilled that I could make my mommy this happy. She just kept hugging me with tears of joy in her eyes!
From my Journal: We saw the beautiful magic castle again and then headed out for the world tour at Epcot. That was truly a great day – my mom was like a little kid – her eyes lit up at Cinderella’s show. She was sure that was a dream that had passed her by and that she’d never see Disney World, so it was doubly nice to make a liar out of her and to see the universe prove again that you should never really give up on your dreams.
March 6, 2002 – Speaking of dreams, I had a date with a dolphin named Cosmo in Key Largo at Dolphins Plus. My fantasy had been to have some kind of a spiritual close encounter with a dolphin. It wasn’t that (at least on a conscious level), but it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Through some glitchy weirdness involving cameras, I only ended up with one picture of me in the water with them, but the trainer took pity on me and let me come back the next day to commune with them from the dock. So I’m glad I got this shot and even better memories of being kissed by Cosmo.
We visited the Coral Castle which we were drawn to after seeing it on the Travel Channel. It really was pretty cool – supposedly no one has even yet figured out how this one little man built this coral compound in the 1920’s. Each section of wall is 8′ tall, 4′ wide and 3′ thick, weighing about 13,000 lbs. How he maneuvered these massive boulders using very rudimentary tools is remarkable, especially the 9 ton gate which is so perfectly balanced that it can be moved using one finger.
We made it to the tip of Key West and enjoyed the crazy shows at Mallory Square and a beautiful sunset.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time in the Sunshine State. As much as I love the beaches, though, mountains are more necessary to me to be happy long-term, so I’d never choose this as a place to settle down (whenever that might be, I have no clue).