We went up to Gainesville this past weekend for the husband’s graduation. While there, we explored as best we could with the massive storm system moving through the area.
The husband has finally graduated from the University of Florida so this weekend we drove up to Gainesville for the commencement ceremony. Officially, his degree is a Master of Science in the Geomatics program that’s part of the School of Forestry and Conservation in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Florida. More layers than an opera cake, that.
He’s a good blend of coder, environmental science geek, cartographer, and statistician. He’s absurdly smart. Yet goofy.
There are not many things you need to know about this sleepy little town on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
One is that the two best restaurants are:
Cassariano — superb little Italian place with a few vegetarian things in the cute little downtown area.
Upper Crust Bakery — terrific breakfast spot
As for things on the water or near the water…The Crow’s Nest has a downstairs pub area that’s just the sort of dive-y little weird place the husband and I like to check out on vacation. The food cannot be called healthy, but after running my butt off at the hotel gym, I wasn’t feeling guilty about it. Also, Cigar City Jai Alai IPA on draft.
As for places to stay, I think I looked at all of them online before settling on the Ramada. Sounds mundane, but ended up being quite the score. It’s been recently remodeled so on the outside it’s the quintessential Florida vacation hotel complete with poolside bar and kids squealing in the shallow end. On the inside, it’s all Hilton-esque linens and decor.
Perfect relaxing getaway.
Oh, about seven miles from the Ramada is a little “park” where you can walk around in the swampy scrub lands until your face melts. If, however, you head off the main paths toward the creek that leads to the river, you’ll probably run across some wild boars who use it as a watering hole. My phone decided to reset itself around this time, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that baby wild boars are ADORABLE.way.
Not too much to see or do or explore nearby, so we mostly had to chill, which is not something either of us does well. My friend, who went with us, chills far better than I do. (She had entirely too many piña coladas while I was running.)
As a spring break getaway, we went camping with a couple of friends. One friend had been a tad obsessed with the idea of swimming with the manatees at Crystal River, so that was our first stop.
We spent the night at an Encore RV park. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t get cold in Florida. Sure, it wasn’t snowing (though I did camp in snow once) and the temperature stayed in double digits, but with only layers of our tropical-weather clothes it was chilly. Really really chilly.
Frankly, I wasn’t so sure about the whole swimming with manatees thing for a couple of reasons. A) Cold. The springs are in the low 70s (F) year-round, which might sound warm to cold-climate people, but I prefer swimming in bathwater temperatures. B) Nature. I’m not terribly convinced swimming with manatees is good for the manatees. A good tour might go a long way toward helping tourists understand the creatures and encouraging distance and safe interaction. We saw way too many bad tour operators, though, who encouraged people to approach and distress the manatees.
And in all honestly, I mostly hung out, floating in my wetsuit, making as few movements as possible because I was cold and didn’t want to bump people or animals. There was one little manatee that came right up to me, though. Stared at me like I was a weird-ass sea creature and nudged me like my orange cat does. I scratched him on his belly a bit, which only seemed to make him want to follow me. They feel like wet, slimy elephants. The slime is algae and the algae-covered ones are manatees that don’t migrate out to the ocean in warmer weather. Which means my little manatee buddy has become adapted to the tourists and that’s likely why he approached me.
The particular tour operator we went with turned out to be very good. He was very adamant about staying out of the sanctuary (something we noticed some other operators didn’t do). He also followed a pair of playing dolphins on our way back in so everyone had a chance to take pictures. For this, only our group tipped him. (Related: People, tip the tour operator. It doesn’t have to be much, but they usually aren’t getting a high wage and if they go out of their way for you, toss them a few extra dollars.)
After the manatee tour, we headed northeast and stopped for lunch at a place on the river that, without Google, we’d have never found. Good food and a couple of vegetarian options, though vegan would be pushing our luck.
(If I find the name of the place, I’ll come back and link to it.) Found it: Ike’s Old Florida Kitchen.
Then, we cut through Gainesville for air mattresses and a stop at The Devil’s Millhopper. If you’ve never been to the Millhopper, it’s worth a stop. The stairs are a great workout and the size of this ancient sinkhole is incredible. It’s also beautiful and a few degrees cooler than the city on hot days.
From there, we drove to Ichetucknee Springs Campground where we spent two nights. That campground is great. Just terrific and I’d highly recommend it. In winter months, it’s managed by Victor and his wife and they’re super-helpful. He’ll deliver firewood to your site and drop you and your rental kayaks off at the state park for a lazy river float.
The game room is old-fashioned goodness and the sites themselves are large enough and have plenty of trees so they feel semi-private. Oh, and HOT showers! Seriously, unlike the RV park, which ran out of hot water, this place had on-demand hot water. That, alone, makes them an awesome place to camp. (They accept cash only, but it’s worth the trip to the ATM.)
Look, Florida has some things going for it. We’ve got some great beaches that, despite BP managing to kill a lot of the wildlife in, still look good in vacation photos. Besides, less sea life means those of you afraid of swimming with fish have a lot less to worry about. Those of you who like eating fish, well, sorry. We’ll import some for you from Thailand. Anyway, we’ve got some good restaurants – with fish! from Thailand! We’re got some roller coasters and an mouse with an inflated head and ego. We’ve got a swap meet that is somehow a tourist attraction unto itself and a mall that’s…look, people, it’s a mall. I don’t get it. Night life. Chicks in bikinis. Sand in your shorts. Check, check, check.
What we don’t have is what one might call a “thriving economy.” Aside from tourism, our only other real industry was real estate. Specifically, developing more and more of the swamp; building roads and TGIFridays further and further west for all the people out in the swamp; fixing the roofs on the places along the coast; throwing up overpriced condos designed to look like warehouse lofts from the 1890s; sticking pools everywhere. And the real estate market here took a nosedive off the high board down at the swimming hall of fame while the rest of the country was still climbing the ladder.
So, if The Glades (and Burn Notice and Rock of Ages and…) want to film down here? Terrific. Awesome. Absolutely. Except, most of those film down in Miami-Dade. You know, cause it has a lot of glitz and glamor and models. I’m kind of over the glitz and glamor stuff. It’s all superficial and most of those models are of the scratch and dent variety.
Which is what I like about The Glades. They spend a lot of time shooting in dive bars and state parks and even did some stuff in Pompano. Pompano is about as glamorous as a trailer park. Sure, it’s cheesy. A lot of Florida’s cheesy. (Giant Mouse, remember? Swap Shop, remember?) For every model, there’s three dozen old ladies at Wal-Mart dressed in their Wal-Mart best. For every flashy drug dealer, there’s four dozen street-level teenagers in baggy pants flunking out of middle school. We have more swamps than golf courses. More wildlife than nightlife.
So, if for no other reason than they’re helping the local economy a little, buying burgers and renting stuff from local surf shops and paying local extras to hold warm beer bottles in the background…I applaud them. For showing another side of Florida (and doing it well enough to get a third season, unlike a lot of the “quirky FL” shows before – Maximum Bob comes to mind)…standing ovation.
(In other TV news, I finally got around to seeing the last season of In Plain Sight, and hell yeah to them not fucking up the relationship between the leads.)
In case you missed it, earlier in the week, my blog post about The Glades went up over at Criminal Element. If case you caught it and thought, that’s great, but I’d like to see more (MOAR?) pictures of Gibtown and its stand-in, I give you:
And photos from the real Gibsonton:
And for those wondering about the “Weeki Wachee and Tarpon Springs” references:
There’s been a ton of stuff in the Florida news the past month about a certain bill (SB6/HB7189) passed by legislature (and then vetoed by the Governor, which made the Republicans and Tea Partiers none too happy). Politically, the bill put Crist between a rock and a hard place — specifically between a army of rapid teachers, parents and students and an equally-rapid army of tea baggers party members. I mean, you can’t win a Senate seat in a state where you’ve pissed off the key players in education in a state that boasts three school districts of the nation’s 10 largest (and six of the largest 20 in the country). You also can’t win without the Republicans in a state that tends to be red everywhere except Broward County.
When the bill passed the legislature, bets were probably leaning toward Crist letting it slide — if not signing it directly, letting it sit idle until it passed anyway. I mean, he’s supposed to be a Republican. He’s supposed to be for screwing over teachers in favor of rich kids cutting salary budgets and slashing pensions for public servants so the state can afford more expensive corporate-created textbooks geared to more expensive corporate-created high-stakes tests. He’s supposed to be for keeping the poor down, ignoring the research that supports early-childhood education gains (such as Head Start and quality preschools of the kind rich parents can afford) prime kids’ brains during those critical years before first grade.
There are a lot of debates back and forth. One of my favorites, aside from the factory comparison, is this:
You see documentaries on teachers that are successful with ANY students, so it’s time we get rid of teachers that don’t want to deal with kids and all the issues and peer pressures they face. (calls teacher’s lazy)
On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore a message like this one (please click this link and read this poem because it really sums up the argument many teachers made far better than I could).
The poem writer is one of the teachers the previous quote alludes to… She’s one of those teachers who spends her whole day, most of her night, parts of her weekends, her money, her energy, on her students and job. There’s no room left for a family of her own. There’s no room left for separate passions, hobbies, interests, and friends — the sorts of things that keep people re-energized to go back to soul-sucking, soul-wrenching work.
Some of those teachers, like Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers fame, end up divorced or single — much like cops, now that I think about it — due to the job requirements and pressures. (Interestingly, Erin Gruwell only taught high school for five years — from 1993 to 1998 — before moving on to a professorship at a local university.) Overall, teachers tend to be average or a little above and manage to stick with the profession for an extended career; they’re bad at their jobs and eventually move on to administration, school board positions, coaching or other positions outside the classroom or other careers; or they’re exceptional at their jobs but burn out early and lapse into one of the other options. Even Michael Jordan couldn’t continue his best-year performance for 30 years.
There’s another political cartoon out there, one with the desks labeled to represent the problems students commonly come to school with these days, problems my lead teacher constantly rails about. Because, while the teacher in the poem has her share of issues, she hardly sees the slices of humanity my co-teachers and I find marching through our classrooms.
Students in Florida come to school homeless — there’s even a link about it on the main page of the school district’s website. Students in Florida come to school addicted to drugs, selling drugs, doing drugs, passing out drugs, hiding drugs or half brain-dead because of their own prior drug use or their parent(s)’ prior drug use. Students in Florida come to school speaking a multitude of languages, come from a multitude of cultures — some of which respect education and some of which do not. Students in Florida come to school pregnant or avoid school because they want/need to stay home an
d take care of their child(ren) — there’s a school in the Broward district designed to combat this problem by offering onsite day care. Students in Florida have abusive boy/girlfriends. Students in Florida have parents/grandparents/foster parents in prison, cemeteries, drug rehab. Students in Florida have committed crimes. Students in Florida have mental problems, issues, disorders that interfere with learning, social interaction, focus, behavior, impulse control, and the ability to refrain from harmful choices. Students in Florida worry where their next meal or fix will come from. Students in Florida wonder where they’ll sleep that night. Students in Florida also have access to the same national news that shows their classmates shooting each other, transferred to jail for beating a homeless man to death, setting each other on fire, kicking each other, shooting pregnant girlfriends…
Some try, despite all these challenges. Some don’t, even with minor challenges (like parental divorce, for example).
They’re defiant, disruptive, and they don’t care who they hurt — even if it’s themselves. They’ve been given power beyond their maturity levels and they wield it poorly.
In my classroom, all these problems that are sprinkled throughout the district — throughout the country — become concentrated. They come to me lacking basic skills most of the time (most are afraid of fractions and more than a few never learned the multiplication tables), though sometimes they’re labeled “gifted” or have passed Algebra 2. It would not be uncommon for me to teach a sex offender in the morning and a rape victim in the afternoon. It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to tell a kid to quit rolling his paper into a “joint” a dozen times before lunch.
I do my best. I try to help the ones I can. When they come back, I try again.
I was a regional finalist for Teacher of the Year a few years ago (for the juvenile justice programs). On paper, I have the certifications (English and math for middle and high school as well as social science if I ever get around to paying the state for the privilege of adding that notation to my certificate — I passed the test months ago, but I’m unwilling to part with the $75). I’m working on a reading endorsement and an ESOL endorsement so I can teach juniors to slog through Dr. Seuss and I’ll know all sorts of exciting strategies to help the non-English-speaking students realize math is a universal language and their prior school was probably further along in the book.
I’m appalled that I can get in-service points toward renewing my certificate for “reviewing” pre-algebra (meanwhile, I’ve been considering taking an online calculus class because the slightly-more-interesting-sounding organic chemistry class only seems to be offered in the mornings (when I’m busy explaining decimals). I work with some very good teachers — perfect for the juvenile-justice populations — get run out of their jobs because they held certifications in something there was a shortage of somewhere else or because an administrator didn’t like them and I’ve seen others struggle to pass certification tests or get national-board certified because the material they get to cover is nowhere near grade level. (I’m qualified to teach Macbeth and trigonometry, but it rarely comes up because you just can’t make the leap from Sharon Draper novels to Shakespeare in 21 days anymore than you can jump from 23 x 17 to the cosine of anything.)
I often get students, brought in wearing handcuffs in the back of police or Sheriff’s cars, a few hours before the FCAT starts. How is their score indicative of my teaching ability — or lack thereof?
But all this is a wordy way of getting to this analogy, which fits perfectly. Would we judge dentists this way?