The Ballards - USA - Florida


Florida is known as "God's waiting room" for good reason: the percentage of "Seniors" (we all call them "Pensioners") is higher in Florida than in any other US state.
What is less well known is the number of wealthy snowbirds that visit in the wintertime: a staggering quantity of upmarket over-50s descend upon Florida in pursuit of something to ease the wintertime arthiritis and prostate troubles.
As a result, the TV adverts are full of vitamin supplements, wrinkle creams and hair loss treatments.

American TV is so chock-full of commercials you lose the storyline of every show they air.
I can understand why Tivo was invented, and why the networks are so scared of it: Tivo makes little sense in the UK where the adverts are often more interesting and inventive than the programmes they separate.
But US adverts are low-rent and instantly forgettable.

American cars have not improved in the last 15 years: the automatic transmissions are still as twitchy, the cars are still as space-inefficient as before, and now with so many pickups and SUVs on the roads the average miles per gallon of all cars in the US has dropped for the first time in 20 years; just as we are about to go to war with one of the largest oil producers.
That's bright...

South Western Florida is entirely empty of anything except Bait and Tackle stores supporting a dwindling number of commercial fishermen and a rapidly burgeoning number of Senior fishermen who haven't a clue how to fish but watched The Rockford Files in the 70s, saw old folks fishing off the pier and promised themselves when they retired they would see out their days fishing.
So they buy a small bungalow in somewhere like Marco Island (purpose built for them) with a small fibreglass boat on davits at the end of the gardens; they load up the boat with beer and bait and tackle, head on out, say, 5 miles, and do a bit of contemplative angling over a few beers whilst the wife visits the beauty salon in her convertible Merc (and screws the 25 year old bemuscled manicurist).

However, Florida also contains the single most important place in the whole of humanity: at NASA they are actually tackling the engineering aspects of getting the human race out in to space and established as a viable multi-planetary force before a meteorite or other natural disaster befalls our planet.
As such, it is mind-bogglingly unforthcoming about actually letting any member of the public see any of the real flight kit.
Yes, there are plenty of mockups, diagrams, stripped-out orbiters and filmshows, but you never get to see any kit that says "next Wednesday, that's going in to space".
A strange combination of disappointing and fascinating.

In a way the NASA web site is a lot more interesting, in that they talk about "High Bay 5 being cleared for the next flight" and "external tank mating", but the general public never get within a mile of anything interesting, for fear of sabotage, one assumes.

Out in the boondocks (so crashing rockets won't hit anything) the approach to the Space Centre is barely signposted (amazing for America) but of course the roads are good and the organisation is excellent.
The bus tours are efficient, air-conditioned and well-guided, but you never actually get to see anything remotely interesting up close.
The gantries are fascinating, but you need a telephoto lens just to get them in shot.

It would be interesting to compare the Baikonur experience in Russia: they probably just let you roam around everything unescorted.....

Of all Florida, the Keys are the most interesting. The road down, an 8-lane highway, suddenly collapses in to the worst piece of 2-lane highway in the Union: a ramrod-straight cut across the swamps to the first Key.

The road through the Keys, known as the "Over the seas Highway", follows the line of the old x&X Over the seas railroad.