The Phoenix One Journals Stories from the dawn of RoadTrip America
Turkey Day in Gatorland
Florida is bigger than the rest of the country thinks. Did you know, for example, that the distance from Pensacola to Key West is about the same as the distance between Chicago and New York City? At well over 800 miles, it's a fair piece even by western standards.
The billboards on Interstate 95 begin in earnest after Jacksonville. They rise from the marshlands announcing pecans, orange juice, adult toys, discount tickets, flea markets, time-share condos, Elvis shows, factory outlet stores and steak houses.
"Do you think foreign visitors know that ‘active leisure community' means you better look elsewhere unless you're over 55?" I asked Mark.
"Well," he said, "They'll get a surprise if they don't. Just like they will if they think ‘adult community' and ‘adult book store' are for the same kinds of ‘adults.' And look at that sign. ‘Lots and lots of lots.' You'd bust your phrase book English on that one."
The billboards were as thick as the palm trees by the time we reached Orlando, where state-of- the-art animated billboards announce everything from Disney's latest attraction to kidney dialysis clinics. We got off Interstate 4 at Highway 192, a corridor of tourist development second to none. The Gator Hotel boasts a large concrete alligator rising out of its asphalt parking lot. Nearby is Xanadu, Home of the Future, a white stucco-covered edifice that looks like an overgrown igloo with sliding glass doors.
We had reservations at Secret Lake, an RV park with instant telephone service, an unusual feature at such establishments, and one that we value highly. Fortunately, the name had nothing to do with reality. A monumental sign pointed the way from the highway, not too far from an attraction called Splendid China, a theme park full of miniature replicas of Chinese landmarks.
Thanksgiving. I'd thought that maybe it would be a good day to visit a Disney park, but that was before I found out that it's one of the busiest days of the year. I decided to roast a turkey instead.
The NicoVan is equipped with a combination microwave and convection oven. It's a perfectly adequate machine, but its dimensions are somewhat smaller than a conventional oven. I wanted the biggest turkey I could cook in one piece, which turned out to be a whopping eleven pounds. Even though it was only slightly larger than a chicken, it was more than enough for two humans and a dog. In fact, we're still munching on the leftovers. We had all the other traditional components, too: stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, key lime pie. Key lime pie? Well, we're in Florida, after all.
And we're still in Florida, still south of Orlando in Kissimmee (that's KisSIMmee, not KISSimmee, unless you want to sound like a tourist). Tomorrow we'll be getting ready to roll north to Pensacola.
November 30, 1997