A STATE OF MIND: On the Road: The Great Migration

by Larry Floersch

I hate to fly in the face of science, what with it being assaulted by the current administration to the point that scientists have had to leave their labs and take to the streets in protest, but Florida is not sinking because of global warming and rising sea levels. Now I know what you’re thinking, “But Lare, there are neighborhoods in Miami that once were dry but now regularly flood at high tide, and the city of Miami is raising highways to get them above the high water mark!” Well, I’m here to tell you that the problem is not caused by climate change and melting ice caps. The problem is that there are just too many big cars down there in the winter. It’s the combined weight of all those Lincoln Towncars, Cadillac Escalades and Mercedes Benz S550s, not to mention enormous fifth-wheel campers and motorhomes as big as the Goodyear Blimp, that is causing Florida to sink below sea level.

I know this because I spent the winter in Florida and witnessed the congestion firsthand. But it wasn’t until I returned to Vermont several weeks ago that I was struck by the immensity of the problem.

My joy at seeing the “Welcome to Florida” signs in my rear view mirror was tempered by being part of a phenomenon that can only be called “The Great Migration.” This is an event worthy of narration by Sir David Attenborough. It begins innocently enough in February and March, with one or two winter-only inhabitants packing their big car and pointing it north. But with the approach of April and May, and the soaring temperatures and humidity in the southern half of the Sunshine State, the numbers rapidly swell. By the first of April there are huge herds of big cars moving slowly but deliberately north along the great migratory pathways of Interstate 95 and Interstate 75, taking their occupants back to ancestral feeding grounds for the summer months.

The big cars move north slowly because they have to. A tell-tale sign that you are part of the migration is seeing a big car stuffed with possessions to the point that the rear window is blocked. This makes lane-changing nearly impossible, since many of the drivers cannot easily see over the dashboard or watch the side view mirrors because of their short stature. To most observers, these cars appears driverless (Elon Musk may be making headlines with his talk about driverless cars, but in fact driverless cars have been a feature of south Florida roads and highways for decades. You often see dozens of them in late afternoon slowly pulling into the parking lots of restaurants that feature early-bird all-you-can-eat buffets.)

So the big cars plod along at 65 miles per hour or less, maintaining their lanes, oblivious to the annoyance they cause in local traffic and long-distance truckers, intent on making it to the next rest stop so the occupants can stretch arthritic limbs and walk small fluffy dogs.

But at least the big cars move. They move, that is, until they reach the border for South Carolina. The great migratory pathway along the East Coast has been wide up to this point — six or more lanes. But South Carolina has chosen to retain the pathway’s original configuration of four lanes. It is at this point of compression that the big cars act like cattle at a river ford. Everything comes to a stop until the ones at the front figure out what to do, in this case “merge” rather than “swim.” But merging is difficult, because the rear windows are stuffed full, rendering the rearview mirror worthless.

So the tentative stop-and-go traffic backs up five, six, even seven miles and lasts for hours. This does not seem to phase most of the participants, because they are not in a hurry. Most have reservations for the night at interstate oases just up the road.

I have never stayed at “South of the Border,” which is probably the largest of these interstate oases, so I cannot speak to its comfort or quality or its position on illegal immigration. We opted for a smaller and less garish oasis farther down the road, where we were fortunate to score a reservation at a modest motel. This was a motel in the classic 1960s sense. The room’s door opened directly onto a sidewalk and the parking lot, and you parked in front of your room in a numbered slot. Everything was neat and clean, and everyone staying there was old. The license tags on the cars reassured me that we had not deviated from the great migratory pathway — Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Ontario, Quebec, PEI and of course, one car from Vermont. And the restaurant had a pretty decent early-bird all-you-can-eat buffet. As a plus, free breakfast was included with the room.

North of the Carolinas and Kentucky the great pathways fan out so those making the trek can reach their ancestral homes. It is there the occupants of the big cars will fatten themselves on favorite family casseroles and reconnect with their offspring and the offspring of their offspring, who because of work and school, are obligated to stay behind to brave the winter. And it is there they will prepare their big cars to reverse the great migration and return to their winter habitat when the first frost settles across the north.

So Florida officials should keep this great migration in mind and not rush into any radical solutions to solve the flooding. I am convinced, lacking all those residents and their large vehicles, the peninsula rises up a couple of feet above sea level in summer.