We'd visited Florida relatives and now, in this curiously warm, dry December, with our winter clothes re-stowed, we headed west. Florda is a state which is either completely full or completely empty. The elegant Tampa Bay bridge is just one of the many eyecatching structures in the cities which line the coast; we saw condominia and swank old houses and modest mobile homes (right down to the bottom of the heap: repossessed mobiles). One in a while we even got a glimpse of the Gulf through the buildings. Traffic in the built up areas is impossible, with Christmas shoppers and snowbirds adding to the normal daily business flow. We found ourselves wondering why Florida didn't adopt the San Antonio model, with frontage roads flanking the freeways. Instead the traffic lights multiply into the hundreds and thousands. Tampa Bay Bridge
Suddenly we found ourselves in a region called the Nature Coast. Situated around the elbow of the state, at the northeast corner of the Gulf, this area does not have the great beaches to be found elsewhere, and has been left alone by the developers. It still has attractions for those willing to travel by boat to see the wildlife in the sea and surrounding swampland.
Perry, Florida, where we spent the night, is so far from anywhere that USA Today doesn't deliver! Rather than drive 30 miles each way to pick it up, the hotel staff supplied us with the Tallahassee paper. We were happy for the change, but the hotel staff told us they receive lots of complaints from guests who need their USA Today fix. Oh, well.
Driving to Baton Rouge was a trip down memory lane; we lived there 1966-70 while Bob taught at LSU and Elsa went to library school. Things looked a lot the same and a lot different. The old plantation-style houses still face the Gulf, but now there are big new casinos. We tried the slots for an hour and were pleased to find the odds better than Vegas. We stayed off the freeway, driving through an odd mix of broken-down bayou towns surrounded by gleaming malls full of holiday shoppers. Baton Rouge has grown and spread out, but the old residential neighborhood off Highland Avenue where we lived for four years hasn't changed a bit, except that the trees are enormous! Florida's Nature Coast
Our old faculty friends are retired or will be soon; one chaired the Mathematics Department for many years, frustrated by the slow growth since the heady days of Sputnik and National Science Foundation Centers of Excellence grants. Nowadays they are prohibited from hiring any more pure mathematicians until they build up an applied mathematics group. The Louisiana state legislature has always suspected the university faculty of being lazy and underworked (they teach 12 hours a week - which represents 36 hours teaching load and another 24 hours a week on research), and currently is on a rampage about useless research done out of mere intellectual curiosity.
Our greatest pleasure was attending the Unitarian Church. Elsa had been active in selecting the first minister in 1969. The little fellowship has grown to over 300 members, and recently inaugurated a second Sunday service. We were welcomed by the community and greatly enjoyed the stimulating service and lovely music, as well as the chance to reminisce with old friends and make some new acquaintances.
Inevitably as we meet up with old friends and relatives and revisit dozens of old residences we find ourselves inquiring about the turns taken as we chose to change jobs and move around the country. What if . . . ? But then we are reminded of Satchel Paige's wisdom: "Never Look Back; Someone Might Be Gaining On You," and we decide that it's better to focus on the decisions yet to be made.