Driving in Florida Traffic

Day two on the road. It was Sunday and few restaurants were open on Alternate 19. InPerry, Florida, I spotted Mamma’s Italian Restaurant. It was filled with cars, and I took this as a sign that it was frequented by locals, who always know best. The food was tasty and ample. There was even the hint of décor. It’s definitely a place I’ll be stopping at again – perhaps on the way back to Arkansas.

After eating, I stopped for gas. I’d already filled up a few miles down the road; stopped again to wipe the lovebugs from my windshield. For those unfamiliar with these small black insects, they link end-to-end for mating, and fly through the air. They seem to congregate along highways, and leave a resilient, sticky goo as they splat onto the windshield and bumper. It takes some elbow grease to remove them.

Western north-Florida is a pleasure to drive. It’s very rural and dotted with small towns. About the time one reaches Weeki Wachee, things begin to change. Traffic grows heavier; becomes worse the farther south one progresses.

When one says “Florida,” it conjures images of expansive swampland and sunny beaches. The reality from mid-state south is four to ten lanes of heavy traffic, rimmed by a mish-mash of businesses and sweeping parking lots. Yes, there are pockets of beauty, glimpsed between condos and hotels — beyond the confines of steel gates and chin link fences — but there’s the impression that the scenic areas are for the well-to-do, rather than the common visitor. For instance, in Dunedin, there is a long sidewalk that wraps around waterfront – beautiful and inviting. The other side of the street is lined with expensive homes. The public parking lot holds perhaps ten cars.

At one point during the journey, a group of motorcyclists – I’d estimate 20 in number – roared up beside me. No problem, except that, from the way they veered and darted among the surrounding vehicles, my guess is that at least half were under the influence. We stopped at a light. A cyclist in the adjoining lane strode the line, so when the light changed I couldn’t progress forward without injuring him. I sat for some time, until he decided to move forward — and into my lane.

They zigged and zagged between cars. I found my stomach knotting with each nearly-missed bumper. My blood pressure rose. Adrenaline surged. A young woman slowed her barely-a-motorcycle to a near-stop in front of me to urge a more-timid companion to shift between lanes. But he wouldn’t join her. Instead of moving on, she continued to block traffic. I’m ashamed to say that I finally lost it and blasted my horn. In all honesty, she seemed not to notice. In retrospect, I should have pulled off the road and let the entire lot of drunken motorists pass. Trying to drive amidst the roaring chaos was only matching the insanity around me.