Back roads in central Florida are a nice alternative to risking life and limb on the Interstate. You can drive almost as fast, but the two opposing lanes impose a certain discipline, and there's no comparison in traffic congestion. After a family reunion on the margins of Disney World, I headed back to the Gulf coast through the orange groves of "Frostfree" and other colorfully-named places. Passing over Troublesome Creek, I wasn't far from Soggy Bottom. Had the Coen brothers (of O Brother, Where Art Thou? fame) been inspired or was this an echo of the 2000 hit comedy? In any case, a road works sign informed me that "State Prisoners at Work" were up ahead, but I detected no chain gangs.
My genial host in Sarasota marveled at my wanting to drive through what he called "cracker country," but it's all part of my "cultural learnings," as Borat would say. At least this rather pretty swath of the state has a real economy - though apparently based on a citrus monoculture - compared to the Florida coastline, where the part of the population not earning its living from tourism sells life's necessities (and a lot of dross too) to the other part that is dependent on the "snowbirds," that quaint expression describing the Northerners (American and Canadian) who migrate south for the winter. There were even rolling hills and lakes that didn't appear to be glorified swamps.
As with other parts of rural - especially Southern - states, there are lots of churches, some part of larger denominations like the First Baptists, others of various pentecostal evangelical fundamental persuasions. The percentage of "manufactured homes" (mobile homes to you and me) is very high, and the contrast with the faux-Spanish stuccoed condominiums and villas of urban Florida couldn't be more striking.
Borrowed CDs and NPR (for non-US readers, National Public Radio, the news, music, and culture network) provided aural diversion from the monotony of the orange groves, and no Deliverance moments were had, though I did see a few ramshackle dwellings with anti-social warnings about dogs. Urban or rural, Florida abounds in gun shops, and American flags. To the foreign visitor: the largest American flags fluttering in the breeze are not indicative of a government installation, but show you the way to a car dealership. You can still buy a little plastic gizmo to attach a flag to your rear passenger window, though there are far fewer of these than after the post-9/11 patriotic fervor.
My rambles have gone on long enough. Next: political learnings on things like the health care situation.