I have read scientific articles about the theory of parallel universes. Evidence of that theory can be found by traveling the world, but even more detailed proof can be seen in Florida.
We are now in our third different universe, located about 100 miles north of Miami. It was interesting (and scary) to observe American driving habits on the trip north. We rented a car at Miami Airport, found our way (with little help from signage) to the highway I wanted to use, and drove to our first destination: the outlet mall in Ft. Lauderdale. This is supposedly the biggest outlet mall in the country (world?), but there is not a single sign pointing the way. I have checked Google Maps and written down directions, but still had a hard time finding it. Why keep it such a secret? Every dodgy hamburger franchise has a sign on the highway.
We planned to make a quick stop to buy something for my daughter. Not a chance. Just like there is no such things as a short beer, there is no such things as popping into the mall to pick up something. Like the urge to scratch a mosquito bite is a powerful reflex action, so is the magnetic pull of many retail outlets. I spent a one half hour sitting outside a women’s underwear shop, because my wife had seen something on Oprah. All malls have crammed the corridors with retail stands, but nowhere have we been physically accosted. Not only to sellers shout at you, some grab your arm to force you to listen. Retail must be a really bad shape in this country…
Once we escaped the gravitational pull of retail and “sale” signs and over-eager sales people, we struggled to find our way out of the mall parking area and onto a street that would take us to the highway: either the Florida Turnpike or I-95. One might expect one sign. Not a chance. Finally, I stopped at a gas station, only to learn that my Google Maps directions were correct. We were on the right street, but had not driven far enough. Europeans are used to better signage (among other things).
One noticeable difference to driving on a European highway: frequent flashing lights and cars being pulled over by the police. Police are everywhere and seem to want to find trouble. German police sit in the station and wait to be called. Only foreigners in dodgy cars or poorly maintained trucks are stopped on German highways. Here, one drives around with a feeling of guilt…for no reason.
Not unlike Dorothy’s ride in hurricane to a new and strange world, we traveled through intense thunderstorm downpours to find ourselves in a world different from Miami or South Beach. We have rented a condo in a gated community (I had to show my passport to drive onto the property) on an island across the inland waterway. Whereas South Beach was crowded, loud, and expensive, this place is quiet and sparsely populated. Most of the properties are not occupied, since it is off-season/rainy season. It makes for a pleasant change; a good place to relax. If one ventures across the bridge to the mainland, one finds a string of similar-looking communities, featuring interchangeable strip malls and chain stores. A visit to the grocery store and number of “churches” lets you know the kind of people that reside in this area. Of course, you can buy a gun in every town.
No, the biggest outlet mall is in Virginia, or so the one I am thinking of claims.
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Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.