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A lone figure rolled up on one of those four-wheeled utility vehicles bundled from head to toe. Boots, gloves and a lamination of sweatshirts, hoodies and jackets so thick he could barely squeeze from behind the steering wheel, he stood for a moment after disembarking to pound his numbed-out mitts together like a fighter prepping for another round.
I saw him tilt his head back as if to blow a puff of frost into the air. Seemingly disappointed, he shook his head, grabbed a near-empty trash can and quickly dumped it into his cart. Before heading back off into the wind he, cinched the drawstring of his outermost hoodie, tugged on the cuffs of his gloves and stomped his feet forcefully in an apparent effort to drive blood to his dying extremities.
Observing the suffering below as I stood barefoot on the balcony of my Daytona Beach hotel room in a "Life's A Beach" T-shirt and cargo shorts, I put down my morning coffee to say a prayer for this man. I prayed he would never have to face temperatures deeper than what one local radio announcer had dubbed "the sub-Siberian chill" that gripped Daytona Beach on that crisp winter morning.
If a fellow's got to dig that deeply to make it through a 50-degree "cold snap" it's hard to imagine what might happen if he had to wake up to something in the 40s or, heaven forbid, the 30s!
Back at home in Ohio, a mere 15-hour drive behind us, folks were waking up to 17 degrees and thinking about wearing sneakers instead of flip-flops only because the snow would get stuck between their toes.
"Chilly" may be one of the most relative terms in the entire American vernacular. A "chilly 50 degrees" to a Floridian is a downright heat wave to the folks in my latitude at this time of year, and on our drive south it became exceedingly evident that Northerners are willing to go to great lengths to catch a sunbeam or two.
Interstate 95 was like the spigot end of a giant funnel where travelers from every state north of the Mason-Dixon comingled and accelerated to race out of the spout into the Sunshine State. Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maine -- if we passed 10 cars, odds were good that they'd be from 10 states. The Great White North was well represented, too, as at more than one point on this journey we were entirely surrounded by cars from the province of Quebec. This led us to hypothesize that Canadians travel in flocks.
While once we arrived in Daytona it became impossible to tell one's home state at a glance, it was fairly simple to accurately deduce any individual's latitude of origin from the amount of clothing he or she was wearing. The Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York crowd wore shorts, sneakers and hoodies. New Englanders tended toward T-shirts and sandals to complement their shorts. The folks from Maine shucked footwear altogether and were frequently seen shirtless. Locals, of course, were bundled from head to toe. And travelers from Quebec? Straight-up naked!
(I'll have more tales of my family's magnificent migration next week. Hope to see you then!)