ON, KY, FL - Where'd you go during Reading Week?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

  • alligators!


Written by andrea bennett

Spring break - woo!

What'd you do over reading week? Whether you played some necessary scholastic catch-up, flew to your grandparent's snowbird pad in Sarasota, or went winter camping in Algonquin, we here at the cannon want to know. Email your reading week stories to and we'll publish some of them. Deadline: March 7, 2008.

Okay, so I'm not a student anymore. And "reading week" sounds like it should be a little more studious than dollar drinks in Miami. Despite all this, I decided to take the week off work and accompany three of my friends (who are still students) to Florida. We drove.

We rented a Chevrolet Cobalt, which was red, not cobalt. Thankfully it got good mileage despite its misleading name (about 9L per 100 kms). See the end of the article for a breakdown of our gas expenditure. We rented the car for 10 days, from the 15th to the 25th, and had one person insured to drive. We put about 5000 kms on the car, and the cost totaled about $525.

We each had different amounts of loose change to contribute, so we decided at the outset to pool our money. It worked well for us. We also didn't have a very firm plan for the way home... which resulted in a little bit of tension. But what's a road trip without the bickering? We purchased something called a Bar in a Box at the Duty Free... 4 litres of assorted alcohol on the cheap.


day 1: Guelph, ON to Knoxville, TN
12 hours on the 401W to Windsor and then the I-75 S through Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Stopped at Tim Hortons twice.
Had lunch in Cincinnati, OH; immediately identified as Canadian. Saw a hairdo that looked like the Sydney Opera House, and some gold teeth for sale.
Ate a blackened grouper sandwich for supper in a pub in old downtown Knoxville. Mmmm. Bar tab: super cheap! (5 pints, gumbo, chicken wings, sandwich and homemade potato chips: $34). Made our first friend: Evan, our server.
Bought a vintage seersucker dress for $14 from a lady with a thick drawl who was talking to her friend on the phone.
Stayed in a Super 8, which cost about $64. Ali snoozed about 18 times and we just made the continental breakfast.

day 2: Knoxville, TN to St. Petersburg, FL
Approximately 14 hours via the 411 S through the Appalachians and the I-75 S.
Stopped at Eden'z vegetarian restaurant in Macon, GA and had a vegan buffet lunch. We told the server/owner that it was our favourite stop... deeelicious sweet potato pie.
It was Sunday, and the only person we saw on the street was an older fellow sleeping on a bench.
The 411 was slowgoing but beautiful - it went right through the Appalachian foothills. Katie loved the junky porches.
It seemed like we drove forever down the I-75, and then we ate a Waffle House. None of us had the waffles. Our server had the names of her two children tattooed on her neck. The tab was super cheap.
There is a tourist shop with a 13 foot taxidermied alligator somewhere before Gainesville. They also had discount tickets for Disneyworld and Busch Gardens. We stopped there and there were lots of dead things for sale, like baby sharks in jars, puffer fish, and baby gator skulls. We had a coffee.
When we reached St. Petersburg, I tucked in and my friends disappeared. They came back with less money, and harrowing stories of dollar drinks and attempted rickshaw theft.

day 3: St. Petersburg, FL to Myakki River State Park, FL
Via a bunch of crazy Floridian roads and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which was actually why we planned our trip through St. Pete.
We walked the streets of St. Pete before leaving; we had yet more eggs at the Lucky Dill Deli.
Manatee County made Meaghan feel very excited.
We went over Tampa Bay on the bridge and searched for a beach. Our search was fruitless until we decided to have a picnic instead; we packed watermelon.
Passed through Sarasota and went to the Winn Dixie. They did not have any processed soy products.
We got to Myakka River State Park via highway 72. It rained, but it was so warm we sat outside. The snowbirds hung out in their RVs and tent trailers, watching Seinfeld.

day 4: Myakka River State Park
No driving!
We woke up early and had coffee.
We saw: great egrets, white ibises, forster's terns, vultures, anhingas, pelicans, great blue herons, little blue herons, tricoloured herons, cattle egrets, limpkins, and a mourning dove.
Florida is a great place to go birdwatching. I brought my Peterson's Field Guide.
We took an airboat tour and saw several alligators.
We went on a Nature Walk and crossed the Canopy bridge, which gave us a great view of the park. The park was really busy and full of seniors and families from all over the place - the Nature Walk afforded us some peace and quiet.
I chatted with a Park Ranger who really enjoyed her job.
We saw a bobcat!!
No swimming in Myakka!! Too many gators!

day 5: Myakka Park to Port Charlotte, FL
Our campsite was attacked by raccoons and feral pigs overnight. I had to chase them away.
A bunch of driving. Florida roads are wide, multi-laned, and full of people driving with cataracts.
We finally bought sunglasses.
We swam at a beach in Venice! Finally! We drove to a less wealthy part of town and they had a public beach!!
Ali gathered lots of shells and Meaghan and I found a couple to treasure.
I coerced everyone into swimming and it was as amazing. We saw a fin!! It ended up being a dolphin but we'd already run for cover.
We ate seafood for lunch and headed to my grandparent's house in Port Charlotte, FL. My grandparents are snowbirds; they live in a gated pre-fab home community called Maple Leaf Estates. We're pretty tight and it was really nice to see them. Also, my nana's cooking is way healthier than Waffle House.
We went swimming in the community pool and watched the lunar eclipse.

day 6: Port Charlotte to Ft. Myers, FL to Atlanta, GA
Via the I-75 S and then the I-75 back north.
Part two of visiting the grandparents! Katie's grandparents live in Fort Myers. They made us a wonderful brunch and then we hit the road to visit Katie's cousins in Atlanta, GA.
This day is a blur... it rained forever and ever.
We ate at McDonald's... well, I had coffee (they did not have grilled cheeses). A woman accidentally got our fish-o-lets in her order and was not impressed.

day 7: Atlanta, GA
Atlanta has pretty great vintage shopping in its Little Five Points section. We bought lots of stuff at Rag-O-Rama. I also bought cowboy boots. Atlanta is also home to [adult swim], which produces Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Home Movies (my faves) among other cartoons.
For those that don't wish to see the sea directly, Atlanta has a great big aquarium.
We checked out the nightlife in East Atlanta, visiting a club called ESL (Meaghan asked them to play K-OS and the DJ obliged), a gay bar named Mary's (Meaghan got them to play Uffie and Peaches), and then a bar called Earl's that served really cheap PBR. Earl's had a lot of bearded hipsters and we made them listen to the Pogues.

day 8, Atlanta, GA to Guelph, ON
Via the I-75 N and then the 401 E through Detriot/Windsor.
I do not suggest this drive. It took 16.5 hours. It might well be good training to become a long-haul trucker or a pig going to slaughter.
I drank my weight in crappy coffee but parts of the ride were really nice. I love the Appalachians. Except for the blatant racism. I saw a billboard with a picture of the twin towers that said "Wake Up, America. Racial Profiling Would Have Prevented This." I also saw a white man shut the door of the gas station in a black man's face after holding it open for another white person. And the station attendant served him first, before some other people who were standing in line, speaking to each other in Spanish. I didn't do anything about it, which makes me complicit.
We stopped somewhere in Michigan and accidentally ended up in a Christian cafe... oops. Ali and I were baptized heathen in vats of liquor as children, so we felt pretty uncomfortable. Also, Christian rock is just plain bad.
I became somewhat belligerent on the 401 and started adapting songs so they'd be about doughnuts.
Home sweet Guelph!

Trip Recommendations:

  • Break up your driving! or insure two people on the rental car. yeesh.
  • Remember to fill up your water bottles when you stop for gas. Bonus: you get to taste-test America's drinking waters. We liked the mountain water best. Sulphury... mmmm...
  • Pack snacks. healthy snacks and some junky ones. Be ready to encounter long stretches of highway that feature unhealthy fast food.
  • Make a balanced trip-plan that includes some campsite or hotel reservations, and leaves some nights open.
  • Plot out your beaches! You'd think the edge of florida along the gulf of mexico would be one long beach, but it isn't. Vast parts of it are dirty or owned by rich people.
  • Think about group dynamics. My great-aunt Sheila was surprised that we didn't all murder each other by the time we hit Port Charlotte. Be ready to balance your needs and wants with those of the group.

Gas expenditure:

Windsor,ON......................$30.00 CAN
Cincinnati, OH..................$30.00 US
Knoxville, TN...................$25.00 US
Macon, GA.......................$30.00 US
Gainesville, FL.................$25.00 US
Venice, FL......................$25.00 US
Ft. Myers, FL...................$15.00 US
Ocala, FL.......................$25.00 US
Macon, GA.......................$25.00 US
Ooltewah, TN....................$30.00 US
Corinth, KY.....................$35.49 US
Monroe, MI......................$30.00 US
Cambridge, ON...................$25.00 CAN
Guelph, ON......................$ 6.43 CAN

Grand Total.....................$356.92 (mixed currencies...)

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  1. Posted by: j on Mar 1, 2008 @ 6:42pm

    "I didn't do anything about it, which makes me complicit."

    Only a social justice activist when it's convenient, eh?

  2. Posted by: on Mar 2, 2008 @ 12:48pm

    I wouldn't normally respond to this, because personal attacks don't really make for proper discussion.

    But this is a bit different. I realized, after I was in the gas station, what had happened. I stopped for a second but couldn't say anything - I was kind of frozen. And who's to say that the man behind me would have wanted me to speak for him?

    I'm not good in social situations all the time - particularly difficult ones. And it's much easier to theorize about anything than it is to realize it in human interaction.

    I was being honest about what happened. Racism is a complex process that involves a lot of gaps, silences, and silencing. Realizing where these silences occur, and being honest about them, is part of the process.

  3. Posted by: j_ on Mar 2, 2008 @ 2:32pm

    I understand. I apologize for my comment. It was out of line, and frankly, the way you wrote that in the original piece made it come off in a completely different manner than you've just explained it in your comment.

    It's just a touchy area for me, speaking as someone who grew up and lived in an area with a great deal of racial tension and experienced racism first hand against myself and others. I knew a lot of people who aligned themselves with blatant racists, who weren't themselves, but did nothing when incidents would occur or certain comments were said; and it hurt, a lot. Complicity with racism is one of those things that just arouses a great deal of anger within me.

    In any case, that's just rambling. Again, I apologize and very much regret that comment.

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