We took two days for the passage to Bradenton, because we can! Our goal is to post everyday so we’re not so long-winded but sometimes the internet stars don’t align and we do a 2 in 1, like today.
By noon they had the trees down to 20 ft trunks, 5 feet in diameter, ready for the mechanical claw and bucket master to collaborate on a slice and dice finale. The excitement was over, the driveway freed and with nothing frightful left, we hit the road around noon with Carolina in our minds.
In the 10 hour trek, we listened to Disc 1 of David Baldacci’s Last Man Standing, made a Spotify playlist of throwback twang, took a rolling consulting call, debated the health and brand of Harley Davidson in light of the trade wars, called 511 and honored the pilgrimage to South of the Border.
When you see a giant amigo looming in the distance, and billboards from 100 miles out, it’s a calling you cannot ignore. Actually, like us, you have probably ignored it every single time you passed north or south on I-95 at the North and South Carolina dividing line. This time we stopped.
The sun had set but the sky remained light. Nearly empty of cars and tourists, all the shops were eerily open with hundreds of buzzing florescent lights illuminating warehouses of Mexican Christmas decorations, trinkets from “around the world,” and vast amounts of blackpowder wrapped in colorful paper at Fort Pedro.
A menagerie of giant fiberglass animals stalked the parking lots and shop fronts. We ducked our head into deserted Reptile Lagoon where the lone, bored teenager behind the counter informed us that for eight dollars we could see alligators, crocs, snakes, turtles and other stuff in a room with blacked out windows. Tempting, but we passed.
The Sombrero Dining Room beckoned with steaks and seafood cooked on a real grill. We needed a place to stay and the near empty parking lot in front of the Pleasure Dome Motor Lodge was a good hint that there were probably vacancies. But then we noticed the abandoned carnival park across the street.
The bumper cars sat motionless. Carts on the dilapidated Ferris wheel hung precariously in the air. If Tarantino ever needed a location to shoot a new-noir horror film, this was it. Unlike the protagonist in a horror movie who ignores the advice of the audience and talks his newly married wife into staying just one night, we hightailed it outta there. As we were leaving we passed a family in a minivan arriving at SOB to just “check it out” and get a snack for the kids. Who knows if they got out alive.
Road weary, we stopped around 10:30 that night at the Hardeeville Days Inn, 10 miles out of Savannah, after booking online at the Days Inn website. What we found was an inclusive community of drug dealers and seniors, both converging on a $61 room rate for widely different purposes. Should have checked TripAdvisor. Our review – Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight!
The drive down 95 was mostly traffic jam free, but when we hit a patch, we ditched the highway for some errand or attraction. Gas Buddy is always an open app – we found $2.37 in Florence SC before filling up again in Florida at Costco for $2.45. If you are headed south, fill up in Virginia or South. Carolina as NC and Georgia are a whopping 30 cents more.
For fueling our own tanks we google “healthy food near me.” This time we detoured into downtown Gainesville, FL for lunch at Sababa, Israeli food delivered by two millenial guys known for their homemade falafel. Alas, the town shut their fryer down cause the hood wasn’t venting properly and they don’t have $20k to install a proper one. So we chose the national dish of Palestine – Musakhan – stewed chicken thighs with sumac and other delicate spices – and a Limo’nana – fresh squeezed lemonade infused with mint. Flavor Bliss – like nothing we’ve ever tasted and everything you want to eat again and again.
On a whim, and just because we can, we left G’Ville and followed a billboard to the largest planned community in Florida, The Villages. Arriving through the northern gate, we traversed south to the sales center. The Villages have become famous for their active lifestyle, 55+, sprawling complex of interconnected, themed towns. Gated entrances kept us from venturing into the interior unlike the dozens of individualized, designer golf carts which darted in and out. Smiling, sun tanned Boomers piloted their Mercedes four wheelers with a fierce purpose towards scores of golf club houses and recreation centers. Eventually we were rewarded with signs for a sales center as we passed through a meticulously detailed replica of a New England town which somehow had attracted every retail brand store in America.
At the sales center, Mark practiced the soft sell in a replica of a Victorian living room straight out of Pride and Prejudice. I am sure everything was not perfect. Somewhere someone had let their trash can overflow, or parked their car over the white line, but I’ll be damned if I could find the flaw. For an unbelievably low price per month, this could all be ours 24/7. You like golf? You can play forty (40) 9-hole executive courses a anytime for free. How about lap swim? Sure, they have 13 Olympic pools for that. If you just want to splash around, there are 41 of those kinds of pools too. Tennis on underground water-cooled TruHard, competition Pickle Ball, Polo (yes, that game with horses and also the retail clothing outlet) – got it. Sheri played Stump the Mark, and lost soundly. The Villages had thought of everything.
If you are not 55 yet, don’t sweat it. They are expanding rapidly and have acquired enough land to double in size. There will be new homes going up for the next 20 years. We toured two of the new home models on the high end of the price spectrum. Mark had already pegged us as big spenders probably based on our young age. He told us the story of the 50 something Taco Bell magnate who converted a 58 franchise faux-Mexican food empire into an active lifestyle down the street. We could totally relate. Mark guided us to the southern exit before waving a friendly good bye. We were ready to buy, then we started chatting with each other. Who were we kidding?
In the end, it’s possible that if you choose The Villages you might actually be living in a spinoff of The Truman Show. With their own newspaper, radio station and massive production company, the warm, secure and friendly hometown where all your retirement dreams come true might just be the next must see reality TV.
The Pursuit of Yes is upon us. Getting out of our 50 year bubble. Deciding to challenge the preferences we’ve built over decades and pushing boundaries to validate and accept what we know or to discover a new perspective we hadn’t seen or considered before. The road is beginning to show us life and Living in America.