WE CAME TO FLORIDA looking for our roots, and found some right here in Suwannee State Park. That is the Suwannee River about which we sing, about 50 miles or so from its source in the Okeefenokee Swamp.
(Author's note: The following travelog started out as a letter back to the staff of the Melrose Mirror, but someone suggested running it as a story. Easy to do, but it is written in familiar tense, complete with erratic grammar, slang, and a southern accent. It's a fun thing. Boston to Pensacola, Florida.)
Howdy, Yankee friends. Or is that an oxymoron for a pure-bred southerner? Like, gawddammit, how'd d'hell are ya! Or something like that. I get carried away with this southern talk. It's easy to assimilate. Y'all. Howdy. Watcha doin'? Luv ya. Bye bye (which sounds like Ba Ba).
Back to earth. Lesson Number One: Always, when driving to Florida, leave on January 18. There was virtually NO traffic (except Connecticut, New York and Washington). What few cars there were, were toodling along at 75 to 80. Every so often we saw a cop had bagged one. Not many though. Most got away.
Leaving on January 18 avoids all bad weather. We had five straight days of sunshine and warm weather. Route I-95 was running at about 35 percent capacity, and it was a ball. Even on the first day out, the busiest part of the route, we averaged 71 miles per hour. For the rest of the journey, it was closer to 80. Average! Including gas stops! The new Buick flyeth!
First, we left on a Saturday morning, 9:00. Easy trucking on the Mass Pike. Even I-84 through Connecticut wasn't really bad. We kind of hid in the middle of a pack, doing 75, passing at 80. We did the Tappan Zee bridge, then cut south on the Palisades Parkway, and there were some spectacular sights of the Hudson, far below, and NYC, downriver. Yes, we did stop to rubberneck.
We did get lost in Fort Lee, NJ, while looking for the Jersey Turnpike, but it was a fun place to be lost in. Nice folks. And the turnpike was a piece of cake. Few trucks, few cars. Zoom, 75 all the way. No stops.
We had decided, before we left, to take it easy, not to do the 1600 mile trip in three days. So our first stop was a rickety old Comfort Inn in Delaware, barely 400 miles from home. We had supper at a nearby Denny's, where I had grits with my eggs PLUS sausagegravy and biscuits. It was like heaven! You can't get food like that in New England!
By 11 a.m. Sunday morning we were breezing around Washington. Slick as pie, in spite of some new construction. In Virginia, one sets the cruise control on 80, for unlike a weekday, there was little traffic. We wanted to see Richmond again, so we breezed through there at 65, shot by Petersburg like General Lee was behind us, and were mostly through North Carolina before we stopped.
This is the land of grits, sausage gravy, and hot boiled peanuts! That's all I ate. No veggies, no fastfood, no tourist restaurants, just grits and hot boiled peanuts. And Lorry had to put up with that -- except she finally agrees that the boiled peanuts are, really, food of the gods.
They were rebuilding South Carolina in spots, which slowed us to 70 on occasion. We missed our planned stop in Savannah, and just kept rolling on. It was warm, the sun was brilliant, the scenery was sub-tropical. And the food just kept getting better.
We sort of cut across the bottom edge of the Okefenokee Swamp going around J'ville, and stopped in Lake City at a brand new Day's Inn: $44. Our route was out of the way, because we wanted to avoid snow and ice in the Carolinas and Georgia. So it was 200 miles longer.
The last leg is across the width of Florida, 350 miles of pine trees and palmettos. So we deviated, and took two days while we visited old southern towns like Madison and Monticello. We stopped here and there, took pictures, talked with people, ate good southern food, toured a few mansions and antique stores, and generally had a good time.
Just before Tallahassee, we cut due south to the coast, and rambled along the Gulf of Mexico. We stopped near East Point, near Appalachacola, where I had a dozen oysters on the halfshell, a cup of gumbo, and we shared a pound of steamed shrimp. Lordy, what a meal! The oysters were huge and tender and delicious; twelve cost $3.95. Our huge plate of shrimp ws $7, gumbo was $1.50, as was our keylime pie.
That evening we found a funky old motel just before the two bay bridges that lead to Applach; we spent our time investigating a new development on St. George Island, which is a spit of high sand ten miles long, five miles at sea. They had one bridge to get there, but a second, more modern bridge was under construction -- sort of like the boondoggle of the Big Dig. Carl Hiassen sure had a script here. So there must have been two thousand brand new homes on St. George, and 90 percent of them were for sale/rent. Man, what a boondoggle! Lots of people bought there, only to find the sun and the sand didn't make up for being at the end of the earth!
The last morning of our journey began at a favorite place, Appalachacola. It is a funky old southern town, still unaffected by the hordes of tourists moving to Florida. No fast food, not more than one new hotel complex -- the others are a century old, remade and spruced up. Lots of old time eateries, low prices, nice people.
But from Applach, along the Gulf Coast, the holiday was over. From St. Joe west there was new construction all along that formerly pristine, empty beach. New highways are being built, new hurricane-proof homes edge up to the water, McD's is there, Bking there. And when one gets to Destin, it is a new city that built itself in three years time. Jammed with cars, jammed with people. All architecture must conform to modern-old South traditional, lots of fake piers, lots of fish-netting and life savers. Great tall condos cast long shadows -- which is good relief from the hot sun. But the Gulf Coast of my childhood is buried under a great influx of humanity.
Such is life. That was the last pristine beach along the whole of the Gulf of Mexico, from Texas to Naples. Other than state and national reservations. Thank goodness for them.
Well, we finished our journey south on Wednesday afternoon. Our home for February is a WWII house, one floor, brick, all beautiful yellow pine floors -- but no rugs. The fixtures are half a century old. The TV (no cable) has one and a half snowy channels; it is from a time that a television set was an elegant piece of furniture, maybe 35, 40 years old.
Our landlord is a disconnected cousin, sort of. Bill and Anne live outside Gainesville in north Georgia; he bought this place a year ago as an investment, I suspect. $52,000 for a 3-bedroom home with a brick cottage out back. My cousin Elsie lives on the next street and our backyards touch. Elsie is a true southerner, a daughter of the confederacy, a revolutionary maid (I'm not quite sure of that name), and she is the one with whom I have been doing our genealogy. She's the one who found the connection to King Fjrdw in Finland, who reigned in AD 106. Honest.
Two nights here, now, and we are adjusting to doing nothing. We have shopped, visited the new Walmart, where I found a disk for Walmart's ISP -- at $9.94 a month. It works. I am working with my laptop -- Bill left his computer here, but it is a 386, and is so primitive.
We are well. I went to the Mirror and found no new stories, since I left. Hey, you guys, this is MY vacation, not yours!
Write to me. We are now at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don and Lorry.
March 7, 2003