America through the Windshield--Getting to Know the First Americans travel blog

February 1-20, 2012

Tamiami (Tam-ee-am-ee) RV Park, North Fort Myers

We were delighted to move out of the Ocala National Forest and rejoin the south Florida retirees and snowbirds near shopping centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, banks, Caloosahatchee River along with its beaches and the Gulf of Mexico with its beaches. The RV Park was very different. Each park has its own style. We were among fellow RVers, most of these senior citizens had run away from home to avoid the snow, ice and cold of Old Man Winter. This park was set up with a circle street and a couple of cross streets. Each RV or fifth wheel (the trailers that are pulled from the beds of heavy-duty pickup trucks) motor homes were parked in neat straight rows as soldiers all lined up for review. Every driver backed into the given site and parked where the motor home was facing the circular street. We were fortunate that we never had a motor home parked directly across from our RV. It was necessary to pull the front drapes throughout the day for those in the park when another trailer was directly across and peering across the street into the front windows. Some campers actually kept their front drapes closed the entire time they were in the park. We only needed to close our drapes when we settled in for the evenings. They were open at all other times as we enjoyed being able to view the going and coming of campers, RVs, trailers, bikers, walkers and pet owners.

Once again, we were close to friends. These friends have been traveling to Florida during the coldest months for a number of years. We were delighted that they were spending the winter months in Nokomis, Florida just an hour north of our location. Many of our Maryland friends know Ed and Stella Holmes. Ed retired from Towson University. Stella retired from the Baltimore County Public Schools. Now they are a family of three with Pugsley their newest addition. We were able to share time with them and Pugsley on two different days. It is always so special to have the time for reconnecting and updating.

We were so pleased that we were able to continue getting the freshest of farm produce. There was a farmers’ market across the four-lane highway from our RV Park. Thank goodness, those great Plant City strawberries were still available. In addition, we found many other local produce stands. The very best produce market we discovered after a full day of historic touring. We had traveled almost two hours to visit the Seminole Reservation where the Ah-Tah-Thi-KI Museum and the elevated board walk through the Big Cypress Boardwalk through a Cypress Dome.

We had driven the most direct route this morning; however, on the way back we chose to take the back roads that are used by the local farmers and gardeners. We had driven past many orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit groves when we turned north and were driving through Imokolee (Oh-mock-uh-lee). We loved the Native American names of the towns and streets. As we drove through we noticed a produce stand alongside the highway and as we stopped we saw dozens of produce stands in ramshackle huts right across the street. We knew that we wanted to shop there. Therefore, we got right back into the car and within moments we could see that the produce huts all aligned in rows and curved through this parking lot had vendors who were hawking their colorful produce. We could hardly believe our eyes. The produce stands constructed of previously used wood, lumber, beams, tin, old advertising signs all had a leaning quality that appeared to indicate that they were functional just not too sturdy.

We were amazed as we walked into the small (4 X 8) shelters and the larger shelters (10 X10). The foods were gorgeous in the array of colors that shouted out to us from their boxes, bags, bins and hooks. There were dozens of shades of green in hot and sweet peppers, green beans, watermelons, fresh corn, lettuces, cabbage heads, squashes, leafy greens in all shades. The reds, oranges, yellows of the peppers, strawberries, squashes, cut melons were similar to Lego blocks scattered around the dirt hovels. The Hispanic vendors were equally colorful and were somewhat crowded among the stacks of boxes, waist high 50-pound bags, tabletops oozing with bins and buckets of exotic produce plus hanging bags made of orange, yellow or red mesh full of produce within each shanty. There were men and women of all ages sitting, standing, socializing and working in these roughly built boxes.

We walked completely around the winding dusty paths as we chose the desirable foods for our diet continually admiring and looking over the entire market prior to completing our adventure. It appeared that few of the vendors were proficient in English but could successfully communicate with us as we carefully made our selections and completed our monetary transactions. There were many wholesale buyers, grocery store truck drivers and restaurant owners loading their pickups, vans, and large refrigerator trucks. Our prized purchase the unexpected purchase of a flat of aromatically luscious looking strawberries (12 baskets) for $7.00. We loaded up with fresh fruits and veggies as we eagerly planned our next meals to include these freshest items of the fields.

As we were driving through the dilapidated market and the tired and dusty vendors, we expressed our delight in the discovery of this locally known landmark. The local cooks, storekeepers, chefs and the peddlers shared the treasures of their labors and community. We had been encouraged to participate as we enjoyed the bounty of their labors and harvests. As we continued our journey toward home, the aroma within the car continually reminded us of our wonderful and unexpected adventure with the men and women who bend might and main as they work the crops to feed their families and the American families across the Unites States. These planters, growers and harvesters are truly the “salt of the earth” for without such hard working individuals who work in the fields planting and harvesting the crops we would be unable to enjoy the myriad selections of fresh foods that we find in our local supermarkets, grocery stores and restaurants.

We decided to have the RV professionally washed and waxed. We know that keeping the exterior in tip-top shape is as important to its longevity as is the operation of the appliances and mechanical workings. Greg did the research and found a local man who would come to the RV Park to do the work for a reasonable charge. After scheduling an agreeable date and time, we were delighted to know that we were his first customer on our scheduled day. We wanted to be at home when the work was done in order to speak with him, to be available should he make any discoveries regarding the condition of the exterior and in order to be available to pay him in a timely manner. We got to know him as he worked. He was a boxer who sparred two or three times each week with professional boxers. He was a most masculine man. He expressed his preference to work outdoors and shared his passion for camping in America’s National Parks. His idea of fun would be best described as mostly outdoorsy. His favorite loves were tent camping, hiking, mountain climbing, jogging, mountain biking. It became obvious that he was an on-the-move man.

The work he did on the RV was impeccable. He moved like lightening as he moved from the top, down the sides, front and back, finally moving to the wheels and rims. We were expecting to see the water hose and hear water running during his work; however, we were surprised to learn that he uses little water during the entire process. The cleaning and waxing products he used meant that he cleaned one area then moved on to the next area. He was quick; it seemed that in the blink of an eye he was done.

Before the private contractor left, he had a chance to talk with Greg as they were reviewing his findings and getting the payment in order. It seems that one of our across the street neighbors had called to him when he was near the street motioning for him to walk over to her camper. When the young man did so, he was shocked to hear the first words to cross her lips, “What are those people like? No one here will talk to them or be their friends because they have that political sign for Obama in their window.” He responded that we appeared ok not strange in any way. She then asked if he could schedule a time to wash and wax her camper and then they did so. End of conversation.

He could hardly wait to share with Greg and of course, Greg was eager to share with me. It is too bad that our across the street neighbor was so eager to label us as unlikeable. We realize that our forthrightness is especially strange to some individuals maybe more so for snowbirds from the northern most states. As actively engaged American citizens and as Southerners we are accustomed to expressing our opinions when given the opportunity to do so. We will not harass others with our opinion or use pressure of any sort when we are in disagreement with others. However, as Americans, we each have the right and responsibility to be actively engaged in the democratic process regardless of our political preferences. It is too bad that there are times when we jump to irrational conclusions per first impressions.

One of our first tasks when arriving in North Fort Myers was to locate an acupuncturist. Less than 24 hours after our arrival, we were in Fort Myers, a few miles south of our RV Park on our way for my first appointment with Dr. Hanna. We fell in love with our first drive into this magnificent old city located on the Caloosahatchee River. We were passing through one of its most beautiful tree lined streets that sported picture perfect palms standing straight and tall as soldiers awaiting a military parade. They were swaying majestically in the breezes from the river and the bay on opposing sides of the island. We were passing through the most well known historic area. The winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were on the street, just past the downtown buildings. The street was wide and all of the homes had large well-manicured lawns with colorful shrubs adjacent to stucco buildings and magnificent fences to shelter the privacy of the homes. We never made a visit to these historic sites. A trip to see them just never made it to the top of our bucket list for this part of Florida.

Brenda saw the acupuncturist three times during our three-week stay. Thank goodness for our national insurance plans that cover our medical appointments, tests and medications regardless of our location as we travel around America. Good medical care has not been difficult to find so far. We do not anticipate many unscheduled trips since we continue to have our primary doctors in Maryland.

Greg played golf a few times at the Fort Myers County Club. It was located about twenty miles from our RV Park; however, Greg loved every hole on the course. The course built by Donald Ross for Edison and Ford reflected the roaring twenties style of golf, a wonderful course. He got to know several locals playing there. One of the older men as a child had actually met Edison and Ford when they were old men. Another man retired from Michigan and worked as a bellhop while his younger wife worked as a chef in one of the local restaurants.

Everyone knows that Florida has magnificent beaches. The beaches on the western side of the state have the Gulf of Mexico and its gentle waves to greet the locals and the tourists. That means that there are lots of bridges, rivers and canals throughout these parts of Florida. Fort Myers has a wonderful variety of hospitable waterways to meet the recreational needs of all ages. We loved the smaller islands and the discoveries we made. We learned that this part of Florida has oodles of large and small canals. Many of the canals are for commercial purposes; however, the ones that we enjoyed the most were those that were located in the backyards in some of the residential communities. When we drove through some of the residential areas, the GPS indicated that water was located behind each block. We found it so exciting to look at houses and see boats of all sizes docked adjacent to backyard patios and fenced in pools. If you live this near a river, the ocean or the Gulf it appears only logical that the residents would have boats readily available for their after work and weekend play times. We could easily understand that the owner of the big yacht located behind a moderately priced home would be spending lots of time on the water during free time.

One of our adventures found us in the low rent district of the city. That did not present a problem for us since we were looking for the flea market. It became obvious that we were drawing near when we came to a complete stop. As we inched closer, we saw a police officer directing traffic to insure that each entering shopper got across the four lanes of traffic safely and securely. We walked for hours browsing the air-conditioned buildings that resembled straight and narrow shopping centers. There are always vendors for clothing, jewelry, hats, belts, purses, beauty products, books, cosmetics, food courts, auto parts, yard art, interior decorations, pets, toys, baby items, high-end rip-offs and sometimes produce stands. This place was amazing in its size, its parking lots and we even found used cars in one section of the older buildings. The draw for us was the fresh produce. Some of the items were more expensive; however, some of the produce was competitive with the produce stands that were across the street from us. However, the potted flowering plants were amazing to see. The stands were loaded with blooming hibiscus in colors of the rainbow and bougainvillea plants in various shades of fuchsia and other tropical colors. In addition, numerous other flowering plants and vegetable starter pots were sporting their healthy green leaves and stalks. We will not need any of these gardening finds any time soon however we do enjoy the beauty they offer at this time of year.

We spent quite a bit of time walking and biking at the RV Park and the adjacent residential community. There were at least 500 homes in the adjacent community. These double wide modular homes are typical Florida retirement homes. The homes were located on small lots each having at least a single carport however the double carport was also a common sight. A few palm trees were scattered along the long straight roads and cross roads. Most of the homes had screened porches or carports and a few flaunted Florida rooms with glass windows and screens for warm and hot days. We learned that the residents were primarily owners of the homes. Some of the couples lived here during the winter and then chose to live in cooler environments during the summer months. Some of the residents choose to live here year round. The weather was rather fickle causing us to need the air conditioner at times and there were a few times when we needed heat for part of the day. We just could not understand anyone wanting to live in such a community during the summer months.

During our late afternoon walks or bike rides, we enjoyed the many individuals, couples, friends and larger groups walking, riding bikes, enjoying the outdoors at picnic tables or just sitting in outdoor chairs. Everyone was cordial while enjoying the later part of the longer days. This was true for both sections of the Park (owners and renters). The owner-residents and the camper snowbirds all live at a slower pace and therefore can find time to stop, chat, exchange courtesies, and get to know other residents, their pets and engage in small talk. There were a few campers who promptly displayed painted dog silhouettes printed with the word “no” indicating that they did not want any dogs visiting their yards when out for puppy-business. We honored the request, as did other pet owners. However, there is always at least one old sorehead to spoil the party. Andy loves vertical surfaces as most little boy dogs and chose the perfect lamppost that appeared to be a pet-friendly camper while out for ish before dinner walk. Brenda usually walks Andy and Greg walks Heidy since she tends to get a bit headstrong at times. All at once, we began to look around to find the older voice that was screaming at Brenda and Andy from the other side of the street. “Don’t let your dog pee on my lamp post!” His shout was too late, Andy was done and our walk was continuing. Brenda was polite in her exchange with the grouchy man and we walked on making sure that we avoided the unmarked lamppost during future walks.

We have been so fortunate with the efforts of the Florida State offices in their preparations of information regarding the available Prehistoric Native American sites. We planned many day trips to museums, archaeological sites and natural environments (swamps, ecological sources, etc). We have experienced phenomenal sites and we have experienced history in the most dynamic ways this year. During one of our trips to a museum a couple of hours south we were shocked when in newly developed commercial and residential areas we saw signs stating “Panther Crossing”. Floridians continue to encroach on the homelands of the native life. The street signs are there to remind drivers to look out for the panthers because they are often killed as they attempt to cross busy streets.

Our amazing day trips continue to reinforce our drive to learn all we can about Prehistoric Native Americans prior to the Europeans arrival. One of the greatest experiences while in North Fort Myers was our standing on top of a seashell mound that once held a Calusa Indian Council House large enough to accommodate 2000 individuals. We know that the earliest Americans were so much more sophisticated than what we learned in our American history books. As we gain more knowledge of these early inhabitants, we will share our findings in the blog.

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