Driving in Florida

Driving in Florida is easy.

You rent a car at the Tampa airport, sized and styled to fit, from a cute little two-seater red convertible to a hulking SUV that seats a small army, all guaranteed to be fully automatic, with air conditioning and even with GPS if you want.

If you’re just driving from Tampa to Siesta Key, you really don’t need GPS. It is an easy peasy 70 minute drive, exiting the airport on 275 and staying on that road, watching the signs ’til you find I-75 south. From I-75 you’ll turn right on Clarke Road in Sarasota, then right onto Midnight Pass, then right into the 3rd driveway along. Tada! You’re home!

Incidentally, the hardest part of getting out of the Tampa airport is figuring out the keyless ignition. Be assured the rental lot attendants will explain without rolling their eyes very much.

What makes it easy to drive in Florida is that you need not fear getting stuck behind a bleating herd of goats and donkeys on a twisting mountain road with a thousand foot drop 6 inches from the passenger side door. There is no chance of getting stuck, in perpetuity, in an 8-lane roundabout surrounded by maniacs in berets and, guaranteed, you won’t have to parallel park into a microscopic cobble-stoned space tucked tightly up against a scarred stone wall while some impatient male behind you with bushy black eyebrows is leaning on the horn causing every pedestrian within 3 blocks to turn and watch you sweat.

Driving in Florida is not like driving in Paris or Istanbul, except during happy hour near restaurants offering 2 for 1 drinks and appetizers. Driving in Florida is easy!

But there are a few things you should know.

First, if you want to go exploring, certain Florida toll roads do not accept cash or credit cards. Yes, that is quite correct: they want you to pay, but they take NEITHER cash, NOR credit card. So forget being spontaneous if you like to get on the road and GO, GO, GO! Plan ahead. Buy a Sunshine Pass.

You do not need one for the Sunshine Skyway en route from Tampa to Sarasota. The Sunshine Skyway has toll booths manned by senior citizen attendants who take cash and call you honey, so have a few dollars at the ready when you go over Tampa Bay. But, if you’re figuring to venture down to Key West sometime on your vacation, then yup, buy a Sunshine Pass. Otherwise, you may find yourself with a bad crick in your neck from peering over your left shoulder as you reverse for 12 miles, dodging the oncoming highway traffic, which wouldn’t be conducive to relaxation. Buy the damn pass.

Second, there are a lot of old people and tourists in Florida. They sail up and down I-75 and the Tamiami Trail in big BOATS of cars, so stuffed with stuff there ain’t no way those guys can see jack out the back. Stand in the parking lot at 9 a.m. any Saturday morning and watch people pack up to go home. You will see what I mean. The parking lot on Saturday morning totally beats the beach for fascinating people watching. It explains why self-storage units dot the American landscape like zits on a 15 year old (though not why all this stuff had to come on vacation to the beach).

As a result, cars in Florida tend to be big, heavy and have enormous blind spots. Same goes for many Florida drivers, not all of whom know exactly where they are going. So be alert on the road and stay safe. We want you to rent our condo again. Don’t be surprised when that geezer from Indiana just ahead of you, who has been signalling LEFT for 11 miles, abruptly veers RIGHT across 3 lanes to take the next exit, missing your front bumper by inches because he didn’t check his enormous blind spot and, more importantly, because you are a supremely cautious defensive driver who is used to all the idiot drivers at home and saw it coming.

So be alert. Be aware. Stay far from geezers from Indiana in overstuffed Cadillacs. You’ll be just fine. If a wuss like me can do it, you’ll find driving in Florida easy.

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