I've driven from Orlando to Virginia or Virginia to Orlando at least 50 times. The first time was when Mom moved us down to Florida from Massachusetts in 1992; the last time was when I celebrated* the second inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2005. I made most of the trips between 1996-2000 when I was attending the University of Richmond. I remember one year I made the 750 mile trip in under 10 hours. I didn't get a ticket in that run, but during my four years in college I managed to collect speeding tickets in Virginia, South Carolina and twice in Florida.
Almost every time I've done the drive I've gone through without stopping, but a few times I pulled over at a rest stop and closed my eyes for about an hour. I am no longer the kind of person that can do that. After living on Saipan for 4 years, I grumble at the thought of driving 5 miles, never mind nearly 1000.
Luckily, I now have family living in Fayettesville, North Carolina, so I can stop and spend the night whenever I make the journey.
My cousin Diego Villagomez, his wife and three daughters live in Fayettesville. They lived on Saipan while I was there, and after a short stint on Guam, recently moved to North Carolina
They have a cute three bedroom house with a big fenced-in back yard.
Fort Bragg is right around the corner and wherever you find active military, you are bound to find Chamorros. Fayettesville is no different.
Diego invited some Chamorros over, including my first cousin's son, his wife and their two kids, and we had a Saipan-style BBQ complete with red rice, finadeni and Bud Lite.
After we ate Diego broke out the cards and the poker chips.
And we played until it was dark. For the record, I did not win.
Before I lived in Saipan, I never, and when I say never, I really mean not very often, saw other Chamorros or people from Saipan. Between 1982 and 2006, I saw my Dad, of course, and then a distant Villagomez family member lived in Orlando for about a year, and then I saw some Chamorros when I went to San Diego in 1998. That's about it.
Now, I think due in large part to the connections I have been able to make and hold on to on Facebook, I see Chamorros and people from Saipan all the time. I think that's pretty cool. It is something I wasn't able to experience for most of my life and I am happy now that I can.
That and I'm happy that I have a place to stay with people I love when I travel along I-95.
*I wasn't really celebrating