Many of you that follow my stories know that sometimes I will throw a story title out there that leads you in one direction, but it actually goes somewhere entirely different. Yes, it has happened again!
One of our units on our compound has been experiencing air handler problems, and honestly, we are on fixed budgets (retirement talk) and have to look for cost-effective deals. I found out about the erratic behavior on Friday night and Saturday morning was surfing the web and found a unit down in South Florida that looked like a pretty good deal. I called the man down in Ft. Lauderdale and asked if the machine was still on the market. He said yes, and we “shook hands” (in a cyber kind of way), meaning that he would hold it for us. Now, the event and appointment books were opened (between my wife and me), and it looked like the best time to head south and pick up the unit was right after we got done discussing it.
Looking into the directions showed that this was to be another interesting adventure. The route we would take to the home where the A/C was, was a few miles from where I grew up and in the cross hairs of the school cross country running course (from back in the day). Now, as we were heading in that direction, we notified my mother, and she really wanted to go with us in the hope of a chance to get a visit in with my older sisters’ family living in Pompano. So, we all piled into the minivan, and the first leg of the journey was to borrow a hand truck from a good friend from church. This thing was done, and by 10:30 AM, we were heading south. The plan (I had in my head) was to follow I-75 south to Route 17 exit around Punta Gorda and then cut across the state to where I-75 runs into I-95 (and I-595).
It has been a few years since I had gotten off the road from hauling fuel, and I had not realized just how much more the west Florida corridors had filled in (with regards to many more home sites, condo complexes, and especially the massive distribution centers) popping up at almost every other interchange. By the time we had gotten down as far as the Route 17 exit, we had already stopped three times and still were on the west side of the state. The decision to cut across the state there was scrapped, and plan – B went into effect. This meant going across what used to be called “Alligator Alley,” now part of the I-75 interstate system.
Now this “alley” used to be route 84 and was not part of the interstate system back in the day. As a matter of fact, when I first started to haul office trailers and mobile homes across this piece of roadway, it used to be a two-lane road with toll booths at either end of the aforementioned trail. Now you may be wondering where the “grilled food” topic comes into play; well, here it is. As a driver would be leaving the urban sprawl of the Broward County area to head towards Naples and many points west (in Florida), they would have to slow down and get a toll ticket (before making the 80-plus mile trek across the vast sawgrass and swamp lands. As vehicles (especially big rigs) stopped to pay their tolls on the opposite lane, a “semi-natural” evolutionary spectacle would play out. A group of birds would gather along the toll booth lane, and as these animals learned that the trucks had to stop (for what reasons they didn’t know or care about), they knew one thing – big bugs would be freshly cooked and were awaiting a visitation! Without fail, there would be at least a few large dragonflies clustered in amongst a plethora of multi-winged, “bite-sized” bugs. The birds may have had territorial rites and ground rules when it came to foraging in the wild, but here, and at this special time, they would allow other birds of different varieties to sit in at their “dining deck.” The more the truck traffic (especially if there were a large group of them), the more the gathering of these winged beauties would be lined up.
People may think that most animals don’t know how to reason and come to positive conclusions. There have been case studies where Killer Whales had been known to help certain fishermen to hunt larger whales, and they had a good thing going with the agreement (until a greedy human put an end to the association by damaging the teeth and jaw of the lead Killer Whale, causing his death). But again, I quickly digress!
Of the countless natural spectacles that I have been able to witness over the 40-plus years of OTR (over the road), this is one that I can look back on and smile! These days now, every driver that is a “frequent flyer” on Alligator Alley has an electronic toll pass, and the days of stopping to pay the toll masters are all but a memory. The smart birds, as of late, have found that if they want fresh “grilled” food, they need to head to the trucker rest stops on both sides of this roadway. The ones that have learned the trick will be perched on the fences closest to those multi-wheeled workhorses (with a smorgasbord of winged critters affixed to the still-hot grill). Come and get it. Dinner is being served!