A day at the beach

Today being Saturday, we decided to give the parks a miss and head out towards Tampa and the coast around the Gulf of Mexico. A drive of around 75 miles brought us to Passe-a-Grille and a vision of golden sand and warm water stretching as far as our eyes could see.

The only possible sting in the tail on this one was the presence of rays (the fishy rather than the solar variety) which have a nasty habit of burrowing into the sand and stinging unwary bathers who tread on them as they wade out. Nothing too dangerous but apparently horrendously painful so best avoided. We were assured by a local that most of the rays are too far out to bother us (that’s distance rather than attitude) but that nonetheless it might be best to adopt the recommended ‘shuffle’ – literally shuffling your feet along the bottom as you walk out to warn the rays of your presence.

I knew that my Vibram FiveFingers (shoes that look like toes for the uninitiated) would come in handy on this trip and so it proved as the most effective ray-deterrent on the beach. 

Otherwise, utterly lovely swimming around in water without the accompaniment of brown ‘fish’, toilet rolls or any of the other flora and fauna usually found on British beaches. A nice meal at local grill and back here by 4.00 pm. Lovely, relaxing day.

I’ve been doing a bit of the driving alongside Andy, my son-in-law, and have been amazed at how good the US traffic system is. Once you get the hang of it – which takes around 10 minutes – the ‘wrong side of the road’ bit is easy. And much of the US highway code, or whatever it is, seems designed to facilitate the free-est and quickest flow of traffic. We could learn a lot from it. For example, I cannot see how our overcrowded and lane-locked motorways would do anything other than benefit from the freeway system, where traffic is free to move from lane to lane, over and undertake (with proper signals and usual cautions of course) regardless of which lane it is in. None of this fast-medium-slow lane nonsense which causes such problems for UK motorists.

Obviously, this would require a culture shift. And the need for motorists to use both sets of mirrors properly, instead of just one (or none in most cases). But it seems to work fine here and I have yet to witness anything resembling an ‘incident’.

Likewise the 4-way stop. Many Brits make fun of American drivers as being too stupid to be able to handle roundabouts. Hmmm. I think stones and glass houses come to mind. Instead, when you reach a crossroads here, where 4 ways meet, it’s simple. The vehicles move off in the order they arrived at the junction. So traffic keeps moving, everyone takes their turn and you avoid the sort of bottlenecks we get in the UK where one busy lane with priority can effectively stop everyone else from moving.

Obviously, things are not perfect. And, like everything else, the system requires people to behave properly for it to work. But, from my very limited observations so far, work it does. Speed limits are rigidly enforced, along with the zero alcohol tolerance. Doesn’t stop people who are determined to speed or drink/drive, but most people do seem to play by the rules and there is a visible police presence for those that don’t, with heavy on the spot fines and penalties. And for the nation which is often vilified as the Mecca of the car, this seems to me to be a good and enlightened system.

Now follows a message from our sponsor……….commercial over. And to bed.

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