We might not have Canada without them. And despite our border experience, Canada is worth having. For one Niagara Falls look much better from the Canadian side. Oh wait, we would not have Niagara Falls without the Great Lakes either. As it stands the lakes became a natural border between Patriots and Loyalists sealing the fate of Canada as a separate country. Canadian side of Ontario Lake is home to royalists who fled the land of the free as soon as freedom was won. Did they know something we don’t?
We slowly travel west towards Pensacola looking for signs of oil. Every orange boom on the water, every bit of dirt in the sand make us think it’s there. But beaches are clean as far as Panama City and the increasing number of for sale signs and foreclosures belongs to another man made disaster: collapse of the real estate bubble. We check out every beach afraid it may be the last oil-free one. At the local restaurants we are told to enjoy our oysters while they last. It’s like everyone is aware of some biblical disaster looming around the corner. We do find something on Miramar Beach. There is a notice that the beach has been affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and swimming may be hazardous to your health. Nobody pays any attention to that. No tar balls or oil sheen in sight. As everywhere else parents let small children bathe, teenagers try paddle boards, retirees sit on half-submerged beach chairs.
Another day, another stereotype out of the window. This time it’s personal. Personal space to be exact. We always thought that in many subtle and not so subtle ways Americans tend to keep to themselves with a good buffer of empty space around. They arrived after all on a continent that was scarcely inhabited, they are mostly descendants of farmers, their cities are awkward attempts at cohabitation: all that means that people will stay out of your way effortlessly.
You don’t choose your family. Well - by extension - you sort of choose your spouse’s family, but with all the hoopla associated with tying the knot screening the aunts and uncles is probably not high on the priority list. It should be though. Having your relatives conveniently scattered around the world helps should you decide to spend some time traveling. We take full advantage of that in Jacksonville. It’s the first time I meet this particular branch of Damian’s family (and let me tell you, his family has more branches that he can remember), but we hit it off rather well. They live in a well established suburban community that is close to everything: not that far from the beach, and acceptable distance from the downtown. One day, on their recommendation, we decide to ride our bikes 5 miles to the beach. It is really close on the local scale: covering 874 square miles (2,264 square kilometers) Jacksonville is the largest city area-wise in continuous US and the second largest in America. Anchorage, Alaska occupies over twice as much land, but something tells me biking options might be a bit limited there. Also, last time we checked, no relatives in Alaska (we are open to the idea of adopted family - volunteers welcomed).
We spend a day lazily driving along Florida’s A1A alternating between frightening developments, sleepy beach communities and millionaires mansions. Looks like a real estate bust came just in time: Florida was on its way to provide each and every citizen a chance to invest in an overpriced tiny condo in a carbon copy skyscraper located on a land that would be a usable beach if left undeveloped. We manage to spend some time on a beautiful, hauntingly empty beach, saved by virtue of calling it a preserve and charging $2 per person entrance fee.The wealthy residents of Jupiter Island donated 73 acres to form Blowing Rock Preserve in the belief that day sunbathers are better then subdivisions. We read that 5 out of existing 7 species of the sea turtle can be found here.
We start hearing Spanish. It’s Florida. It’s also St. Augustine, the oldest European settlement on land that is now continental US. The settlers happened to be Spanish and promptly built a Spanish city. Which Americans turned into cheesy attraction some 400 year later, after a brief stint as a Spanish-inspired winter resort for the wealthy. Before that the city changed hands couple of times passing from Spanish to British, then back to Spanish and finally to American hands. This is a serious history that can impress even old Europe. And it seems pretty normal to us. Cities that were not conquered, burned and rebuilt at least couple of times still feel a bit fake.