California is notorious for its car-based culture, but Florida is just as addicted to asphalt. Our elected leaders tend to be opposed to mass transit of any kind — the governor even rejected $2 billion in federal aid to build a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando.
So if you want to go anywhere in Florida, you've got to get behind the wheel. We guarantee you'll need a driver's license by building subdivisions without sidewalks and sprawling our homes all over the landscape, leaving them as far as possible from the mall and the grocery store.
This, of course, leads to a variety of stories about Florida drivers doing wacky things while behind the wheel to save time. I think my favorite is the one about the woman who, while on her way to see her boyfriend, asked her ex-husband — yes, he was in the car — to take the wheel from the passenger seat so she could shave what the newspapers referred to as her "bikini area." It did not end well.
Florida's requirement that we drive anywhere we want to go is also why we have so many elderly drivers on the roads doing 25 in a 45 mph zone with one blinker on, even though they can be a danger to every other motorist or jaywalking pedestrian. It also explains a phenomenon I have sometimes heard referred to as "Sudden Elderly Acceleration Syndrome." (Incidents of SEAS got so bad last year the Postal Service put out a PSA asking Floridians to please stop ramming into their post offices.)
How old are the drivers we are talking about? As of last year, Florida had 455 licensed drivers who were 100 or older. Between the ages of 91 and 100, there are 65,000. Maybe perhaps possibly it couuuuuld be that some of these folks shouldn't be driving anymore - but if you take away their car keys, they will be stranded as surely as if they'd been dropped on an Alaskan ice floe.
Sometimes driving in Florida can be maddening, as when you're stuck in one of the epic near-Disney Interstate 4 traffic conglomerations. Still, driving around Florida does offer certain pleasures - mostly in the form of keeping an eye out for memorable roadside signs. Since my job requires me to travel the state, I have had a chance to sample the possibilities.
In central Florida, I saw what I think of as the Ultimate Florida Combo Business. It had two signs out front. One said, "Pools Spas," and the other said, "Guns Ammo."
A misspelled sign is usually good for a laugh. This week the Interwebs were chortling over a road sign that misspelled Florida as "Flordia," twice. Turns out this was the handiwork of a contractor from Arkansas — one of the perils of outsourcing to another state.
If you delight in irony, as I do, you can also look for subdivision developments celebrating the things they wiped out - Cypress Lakes, Panther Trace, and so forth. My favorite, found on the outskirts of Naples, said simply, "Wilderness."
But my all-time favorite Florida road sign is one I spotted at a rest stop off Interstate 75 near Gainesville: CAUTION: VENOMOUS SNAKES IN AREA. I can just picture the reaction of tourists pulling in slowly, bound for the restroom, and then suddenly reading the warning it displayed: "ERMAHGERD, MARTHA, DON'T GET OUT OF THE CAR! THIS WHOLE STATE IS DANGEROUS!!!"
Craig Pittman is a native Floridian and an award-winning reporter who covers environmental issues for the Tampa Bay Times. He wrote this column for Slate.