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The grass is greener on the beach

Published on: April 13, 2010



mitch02In Iowa there are approximately two people and 15 cows and pigs per square mile and the threat of being shot while behind the wheel is almost nonexistent. Assuming you are not behind the wheel of a mobile meth lab, that is. In Florida, the threat is pretty much omnipresent. You could be shot at anytime on virtually any road — and everyone knows it. Oh sure, Florida has the gigantic Oldsmobiles with the drivers barely able to see over the dashboard from the enormous, couch-like seat driving in the left lane with their right blinker forever and uselessly flashing; but for the most part, people tend to get out of the way of others hoping to move at a faster rate of speed. They do that because they subconsciously know they truly could get shot if they don’t get out of the way of the maniac that roared up behind them.


Leaving the gray sky of Illinois in the rear view mirror, I am heading home to my dream. Mitch Traphagen photo

There is no such fear in Iowa. That is a place in which the occasional murder still leads the evening news. If you should actually manage to get shot while driving in Iowa you could take some comfort in the fact that not only would your story lead the news but it would probably lead for the next several days while half the population tries to figure out how something like that could happen in Iowa and the other half says, “Hey, I know that guy!”
The very real downside of having no threat of getting shot while driving is that people in Iowa tend to drive — well, badly.
There are two primary threats to life and well-being on Iowa roads: deer and people pulling out from gravel roads directly in front of you as you hurtle down the highway at the speed limit. Both are cause for extreme, sudden deceleration. Both could land you in a ditch. Both could get you killed.
The reality is that I could use some extreme deceleration. Perhaps our entire society could use a bit of it. I really need to figure out how to slow down. I love traveling but lately my form of travel has been to rush from one place to the next, always in a hurry to get there and get back. As a result, I miss the local flavor of new places. Lately while on the road, I tend to meet people through fast-food drive-through windows. That’s not how things should be. There is so much to see in this country and despite what is shown on the nightly news, Americans are amazing, caring and wonderful — just as our forebears were. Inside of us, we are the same people that built this nation into the greatest on earth. But it is easy to forget that. It is far too easy to become cynical. Meeting new people at drive-through windows doesn’t necessarily help.
There is wonder in America and there is still so much to discover. It is awe-inspiring to drive from a northernmost state to a southernmost state during a change in seasons. I landed in Minnesota just a few weeks ago and there were still piles of snow on the ground. A few days of unseasonably warm weather took care of the snow and flowers and plants began to spring forth from the earth. But not even Mother Nature can rush the trees. They remained leafless, appearing lifeless. Despite a few appearances, spring had not yet sprung. But after driving just a few hours south, suddenly spring was in full bloom. Five or six hours further south still, the beginning of summer was well underway.
I’ve long since learned that the joy and adventure of traveling is in the journey, not the destination. The things I remember are always the mileposts along the way. But for me lately, the joy is indeed in the destination — traveling has involved moving trucks or visiting a mother recovering from surgery. In such cases, my goal is the destination. To go home. To return to Florida. What you may read about the economy and foreclosures notwithstanding, it is still a dream for so many.
Driving south last week through the Illinois farm country, a place without a drop of navigable water, I was passed by a late model Toyota with Illinois plates and the words “Key West Parrotheads” on the license plate frame. Had the driver noticed my Iowa plates, he probably would have felt sorry for me — that I was living somewhere in flyover country lacking even his kind of dream. But the reality was I was happy he even had a dream as I watched him exit into a nondescript farm town under gray skies. Yet I felt sorry for him because I was on my way to living his dream. I was headed back to paradise. A place of sunshine, palm trees and beaches. A place where life is easy and even the old people are somehow younger. Yes, it is also a place where life is occasionally cheap.
There is nothing funny about being shot at while driving; and the truth is that it does happen here and in other heavily populated states. After all, Florida is a dream and even psychopaths have dreams. But Nirvana is what you decide it will be and every place has problems if you look for them. It is human nature to believe the grass is always greener somewhere else. But summer is coming to Florida — a time when you can feel the air you breathe and the warm rain brings forth the greenest grass imaginable. Sure, there may be the occasional lunatic with an assault rifle; but the cows here tend to keep to themselves and I’ve yet to see a gigantic, slow moving farm implement pull out in front of me on I-75.
I’m going to the beach and I’ll think about the guy in a Toyota from Farmersville, Illinois; dreaming about paradise. No, he doesn’t worry about getting shot at while driving; but then I don’t much worry about that, either. Besides, the grass is definitely greener on the beach.