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Pat Rupp: That's what I like about the south

Since my retirement from my real job more than a decade ago, my spouse and I have had the good fortune to spend the later days of winter somewhere other than the frozen tundra of Minnesota. The strategy has been to return to the Gopher state just as the snow leaves and the buds bloom.

Our destination the past three years has been a great spot called Amelia Island located about 40 miles northeast of metropolitan Jacksonville, Florida. The temperatures generally run in the low to mid-70s during our mid-February to early April stay and there is more than enough sunshine to go around. Rain occurs occasionally but unlike snow, it doesn't have to be shoveled or blown.

The past two years we've opted to risk the marriage and drive to Florida and the journey has been more than worth the time and effort. Observing the change in climate and culture along the route gives one an up close and personal look at how different parts of this country really are.

The first day of our trip from our suburban home covered the ground from Minnesota to Bloomington, Illinois, and other than a stop for nourishment at the "World's Largest Culver's" in Newville, Wisconsin, and non-stop encounters with Green Bay Packer signs and bumper stickers, the trek was pretty uneventful.

Not too far south of Bloomington, however, the journey began to take on another look and feel. At every stop a new accent could be heard and the background music at gas stations and restaurants generally carried a distinctive twang. Lots of drinkin', smokin' and cheatin' apparently going on in this part of the country.

Not unlike the Packer auto body advertising experience in Wisconsin, southern Illinois and parts of Kentucky and Tennessee brought us eyeball-to-bumper with all sorts of interesting messaging. I'm not sure, but in many cases these stickers seemed to be the main reason the bumper remained attached to the rest of the vehicle.

Some of the best included "I don't care how you do things up North;" "When I get old I'm going to move up North and drive real slow;" "Redneck Medical Term #1: Benign — What you be after you be eight" and my personal favorite, "Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit."

We spent our second night on the road in the small berg of Kimball, Tennessee, located just west of Chattanooga. There we got a glimpse at what appears to be a thriving industry in the south, namely fireworks.

Within a stone's throw of our room was a noise maker store about the size of US Bank Stadium by the name of Alabama-Tennessee Fireworks. Across the street stood a rival big box firecracker outlet called Big Daddy's.

When checking in at the hotel, the man in front of me requested a room near the stairs because he wanted quick access to the outside as he needed a cigarette every couple of hours. Considering the proximity to the business next door, that didn't seem like such a good plan. For some reason, I didn't sleep all that well in Kimball.

The third day we made it through parts of Tennessee and Georgia and finally arrived at our destination in one piece. One of the first things I did upon arrival was buy a copy of the local Jacksonville daily newspaper, the Florida-Times Union, to catch up on the happenings of the day.

In the metro section was a column discussing a bill being pushed forward in the Florida legislature that would allow citizens to legally carry firearms into collegiate and professional athletic events. Articles in subsequent papers further noted that packing heat in government buildings, police stations, school board meetings, polling places and college campuses would also be allowed by the bill.

The sun is out and there isn't a snowflake within 500 miles, but we are definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto.