Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sarasota, FL: Geriatric USA

Greetings from Sarasota, Florida!

I am here with my family visiting my grandfather at his winter home on the Gulf. Sarasota is a popular winter destination for the Greatest Generation. This reality becomes apparent upon arrival. The airport here is congested with wheelchairs, walkers, and other unhurried octogenarians. Life is good in southwest Florida. My grandfather ships his candy apple red Cadillac down each January so he can drive to golf three times a week. When it gets too hot, he and my step grandmother go back to their house on the Maine coastline. This is my first time visiting them in Sarasota (this morning we could see a baby gator feet from the back patio!)

Driving from the airport I was immediately reminded of some of the sights from New Mexico: Kitsch Americana - I am so easily seduced. How disappointed (though not surprised) I was to see that my grandfather's home was not a pink bungalow with plastic flamingos dotting the lawn, but a modern house overlooking the 16th hole. In peering though the rental car company's complimentary guide I came across several places of interest: The G-Whiz Science Museum, Sarasota's Home of Mystery, Myakka Safari Tours, and the Linger Lounge ("Top 5 Weirdest Restaurants in the USA" by the Food Network.) My gravitation to such locations supports the thesis that I was indeed intended for a generation half a century before my birth. I am lucky that, without much prodding, my family generally obliges and off we go.

Highway 41

Today my parents, grandfather sister and I went to the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, a few miles north of the country club. Built in the 1940s, the Gardens is a sanctuary for local and exotic animals. According to the brochure, the Gardens "will bring back the memories of Florida days gone by." Indeed. We trekked through the aging 10-acre campus, stopping at the various bird and reptile displays, including parrot with beautiful red plumage named Ruby. The highlight was feeding a flock of fairly submissive flamingos, all plump from daily visitors.

Old Florida sign; blue bird

Beautiful plumage; nature girl

Feeding; in the Tiki Garden

Mennonites come to FL!; sign

For lunch, per my direction, we went to Oleary's Tiki Bar and Restaurant on Sarasota Bay. I was expecting a Trader Vic's of yore, but it was a modern take on the theme. While there were enough tiki masks and straw huts to satisfy the motif, I was hoping there would be girls in tacky grass skirts serving mai tais in hollowed-out pineapples.

A tiki hut; Sarasota Bay

Tiki lunch; momma

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