When I think of Florida there is a list of words that scroll through my memory and they are:
Niaya & Gang… Kennedy Space Center…Dog Rescue…Flea Markets..
Crab legs……Strawberry Festival…armadilloe…driving pickups
Superrides…WQYK…107.3 The Eagle…Wings!…GATORS!
Halloween Horror Nights…The Renaissance Festival
Manatees…Drive-in Movies…Chinese Buffet
Auctions…Crab legs…Space dots…
Early American History…MOSI
State Fair…Disney Parks
For most people, if you say “Florida” then, depending on their age, they will either think of Florida oranges – a luxury for Brits back in the 20th century – or Disney and Florida Vacation package holidays. Back at the end of the 1990s I had spent a little time in the USA on business, mostly in New York, but had never ventured to the southern States.
That was all to change. Having had the internet at home for a while (yeps, I was a bit of a geek!) , I decided to check out “chat rooms”. I had heard appalling things about them, so I wasn’t too disappointed when they proved to be as advertised. Rather than leave quietly though, one afternoon I exasperatedly asked if there wasn’t somewhere on AOL where one could chat in a normal manner. Someone said a good place was “Native American Chat”. As a Brit I was a little dubious about going to such a room – one of the worst episodes in history has to be British treatment of the N American first nations. I also realised that I knew only what Hollywood had portrayed about “red indians” and nothing more. Anyway, reminding myself to be uber-diplomatic, I plucked up courage and entered NAC1. My arrival was spotted in the room list and I was immediately welcomed – a range of comments to be sure, but watching folks typing their chat made me realise there was a vibrant and diverse group of folks actually talking pretty normally.
All of you reading this will no doubt have had your own experiences of chatrooms, the wannabes (in NA Chat a lot seemed to think they were Cherokee princesses and even more pretended to be Native American!) the rude, the angry, the resentful and yet also the funny, kind and warm. It wasn’t very long before I felt right at home and began to think I had a sense of some of the personalities behind the typeface.
As folks arrived in chat they would announce their arrival, and one such was someone who subsequently became my closest friend, Niaya. She is part Native American, Blackfoot, and during the course of a conversation in chat she challenged me to visit Florida and dislike it (I had been sort of pooh-poohing theme park holidays). Always up for a challenge I accepted the invitation.
Booking my flight to Tampa it occurred to me that despite appearing to be all that she said she was, Niaya might easily be a bloke and rather than being a single woman living with rescue cats and dogs and keeping a horse at a local barn, she could be absolutely anything!! I therefore plotted a bale-out. If, as we met at the airport I got a bad feeling, I would say that I felt unwell (I’ve had digestive issues since my 20s) and would take myself to one of the airport hotels.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen and as I arrived on the up-escalator at the International Terminal at KTPA which is where pax used to be met, I spotted Niaya and so began my first visit to Real Florida!!
…to be continued…