A genealogical convention is quite an intense affair, with lectures from eight to six, and speakers at lunch and dinner. What's more, the attendees have to choose from eight or nine different talks six times a day!
Genealogists are an interesting subspecies of mankind. They are industrious, accustomed to dark spaces, interested in minutiae, buzzing like drones in a hive. They wear sensible clothes, get to meetings on time, and turn off their cell phones, preferring to listen to PowerPoint presentations! They're courteous to one another, considerate of the handicapped, likely to volunteer, and are more likely to be old than young. Indeed the youngest people at the convention may have been the speakers, many of whom work in genealogical libraries, and the exhibitors, who are trying to make a buck. But they're not above a bit of clowning and acting, like the Texas genealogist who dressed up in cowboy rig and lassoed another genealogist, dragging him around to advertise the 2004 annual meeting in Austin.
Bob and Elsa decided to attend different talks at most of the hours, so between us we have been exposed to quite a bit of friendly advice and instruction on how to pursue our avocation of finding and describing family. There were half-hour breaks between talks, just enough time to find the restroom and see some of the 100 exhibits in the exhibit hall. Since we're turtles, carrying our house on our back, we didn't want to buy too many heavy books, but we did acquire some CDs and internet services for genealogy.
We felt we had just the right amount of knowledge to attend this convention because we were familiar with about half of the ideas covered but the other half were great helps to us in our studies. If we had tried this convention right after we started doing family history we might have been put off from even continuing! And if we had waited a couple of years more we might have felt we could have given many of the lectures ourselves! So it was just right. We came away with our batteries charged, and have a number of good ideas to improve the quality and efficiency of our work.
So we have spent a week in Orlando, but have not seen a single sight. Those of you who have figured out our sightseeing interests know that we're not terribly disappointed. As the number one tourist destination in America (at least that's what they say) Orlando is mostly new and plastic, filled with theme parks and resort hotels and chain restaurants and giant shopping malls. It's a great place to take the family, especially if you have enough money to go to all the attractions. We're interested in old historic things (we're getting kind of old and historic ourselves, we guess) but all the Crackers in Orlando seem to have been crushed to Crumbs. We'll be staying another few weeks in Florida visiting family and friends, and we'll be looking for back roads and neat sights. We'll let you know what we find!
It took us a while to get out of Orlando's suburban sprawl, but by sticking to the smaller roads we found ourselves deep in the central farmland of the state, where citrus orchards, lakes and ponds, and the occasional truck farm dot the landscape. The towns are generally small and shabby. Every now and then a civic building or a train station in pure 1930s architecture reminded us of the railroad boom days.
We took one detour to find a State Historic Park, which turned out to be the site of an 18th century trading post where the English traders had been killed by Seminole Indians. No buildings are left but there are nature trails. Finding the mosquitos unappealing, we decided to move along.
By lunchtime we had reached Punta Gorda, on the Gulf Coast. In true coastal town fashion, Punta Gorda offered shops and the River Cafe which served delicious crab cakes and pot roast with a tri-colored drizzle of sauce which might have been found in Santa Barbara, California. (The back room was filled with Chamber of Commerce women in scarlet straw hats and red, white and blue feather boas, proving once again that the civic organizations know the tastiest restaurants).
Fort Myers was, as always, a pleasant stop, largely because we spent the day agreeably chatting with June and Wes and wolfing down fantastic lobster salad sandwiches, with Georgia peaches for dessert. This city, active and flourishing, nevertheless has little pockets of undeveloped land, from Wood storks a vacant lot to parks. The houses are varied, with many of them on some kind of water, perhaps a canal or a larger waterway, allowing residents to enjoy boating in an informal and casual manner.
We took some back roads out of Fort Myers, angling southeast towards the everglades. We passed a long stretch of Florida boom land which had been laid out in streets decades ago; only today were there beginning to be one or two housing developments. Inktomi was a farm town, with migrant workers, strawberries, and citrus. We were enjoying the herons and ibis when we said, "What are those?" and returned to photograph some wild wood storks in a field. Another check mark in our Sibley, which has come out of the case in the back seat. Wood storks are officially an endangered species.
Soon our adventurousness led us to a turn by the State Prison in Hendley County. Left was the paved road, which headed back north, so we continued Palm Beach estate straight on the sandy road. Our four-wheel drive managed the occasional patches of loose sand or mud quite nicely. When we saw a truck parked in the road ahead we stopped to inquire, and learned that we had better go back and take the paved road, as the paths ahead all seemed to end up in everglades swamps. So we did, and found fields of sugar cane as we neared Lake Okechobee.
Our approach road to the Fairfield Inn in Palm Beach led south from Southern Highway along Florida A1A, where the enormous seaside mansions made us sure we had the wrong address. Just before we reached our motel we found the Four Seasons Resort and the Ritz-Carlton. But there it was, a lovely little location with a waterfront dock for yachts on the Intracoastal Waterway. Somehow we had made reservations for $59 a night, and we were upgraded to a suite. Meanwhile the desk clerk was quoting a rate of $139 on the phone. So there are some perks to being a frequent traveller!