State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.

family

by Natalia

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).

Jacksonville's beach is underappreciated (this is what Damian's aunt told me to write, but it's actually very true): wide expanse of fine white sand, cool (finally!) ocean water, not very crowded and very nice waves. And it's possible to ride a bike down the beach at the low tide. We like it so much that we foolishly forget that the high tide regularly follows the the low tide and at some point we are forced to push our bikes through the suddenly wet and soft sand. On the way back we pass enticingly named communities: Hickory Hollow, Gately Oaks, Belmont Lakes, Kensington Gardens, Brighton Bay. The roads are quite well prepared for biking with designated bike lanes but riding (or walking for that matter) is not a popular activity here, at least judging by how close cars pass bicyclists.

With the family we have a chance to do things we rarely (or never) do by ourselves: watch Polish TV, discuss politics, reminisce. We exchange the family legends discovering new twists of the well known stories. It appears people visited with extended family more often in the past then they do now. Families were larger and, if they timed it right, one could have scores of first and second cousins in similar age. Perfect recipe for great vacations. And never ending source of fond memories.

Having arrived in US at the earlier, much harsher times, than we did, the family fits the immigrant mold better then we do. They are active in the Polish club, keep in touch with the countrymen, cook - or at least talk about cooking - Polish food and visit the old world regularly. We trade stories about coming to US but it's no contest. We had it so easy that we are actually a bit ashamed.

Conversation turns to our plans. At the moment we have none - just to start driving west again. We have a pretty definite idea what we'll see in the next few days, a vague notion what we'll do in the next couple weeks and none at all whether we want to return to Boston or to find a new home elsewhere. We plan to enjoy carefree existence for the time being.

spring

There is a fierce competition to use Florida springs: divers, children, manatees, tourists, alligators. Most springs we visit are part of extensive and well managed Florida state park system. Looks like no income tax policy here does not automatically translate into no public services. The springs are at constant temperature. Usually between 68 to 72 degree Fahrenheit (20 to 22 degrees Celsius). During the hot wet summer it translates to teeth shattering cold. But it must feel warm in winter and this is when manatees visit. Divers don wet suites and proceed to explore underwater caverns trying, in vain, to pinpoint the exact spot that the flow starts. Children simply make tremendous noise as some springs foolishly provide multilevel platform to jump to the frigid water. Surely a swimming pool closer to home would be cheaper option. Tourists board glass bottom boats to peek into the great abyss. Thankfully they quickly proceed downriver to gaze at alligators. Alligators. Swim with caution! is the exact wording of the omnipresent sign that is apparently aimed at those few alligators that can read and are stupid enough to approach the beach full of campers.

cigars

Watching cigars being made by one of a few remaining artisans in Ybor City I almost regret that I don't smoke. Unless one counts those rare drunken occasions, when it suddenly seems like a grand idea. But even then I fail to appreciate the effect. Perhaps I would smoke cigars, if they were still hand made luxury items. And if relaxing after dinner in a fine company over a cigar was a socially accepted activity. But it never really was, not for women anyway. Cigarettes replaced cigars and television filled after dinner time before women became formally equal to men.