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On the road, Jan 23-27, '08.(Free to roam and explore, find the way, and unexpected adventures.)
At 4AM Keys roads and causeways are a narrow tunnel with just a few small lights moving along. I followed a truck, decided not to pass, safe from speed traps. Miami highway infrastructure is futurama, with crossovers three and four stories high and eight lanes at the straightaways. It gobbles up a lot of real estate and choked to a standstill several times till I got off of it. One of my health secrets is (zen) sitting, a soft smile, with as much empathy as I'm capable of considering my nature, experienced on that day with an image of Stonehouse Road near the end where it levels off at Halsey Straight's place under the maples.
Stopped at a rest area in West Palm Beach for a Burger King sausage biscuit, $3.25 with coffee. A white lady took the order and money. She covered up major hair loss with a thin swirl held by gel. The food delivery confused me, but not the others. The place was rundown, mostly black. A plump ebony girl with a hairdo was sitting across from me when I came in. She got up and left, tailored jacket and skirt, a newspaper. A fine mixed race 60's couple, white male, with a (what they used to call) high yellow woman, still pretty, both dressed up, not much conversation. The tables were nearly empty, and the cleaning attendant moved slowly among them swiping the surfaces with a dirty rag. The food wrapper said "this European pastry has been vastly improved with eggs, sausage, etc." As she neared my table I addressed her with a question. She replied that the croissants had EVERYTHING in them. Her facial structure and accent spoke of part Indian maybe or Carribbean, an old sweet voice that seemed out of place.
My cell charger went bad and I had determined the "Black Thing" needed a cartop carrier. At the KFC drivethru (6-piece chicken with biscuit and hot sauce, $8.05, enjoyed with leftover Pinot Grigio) I learned both could get done right here in Ocala, a midstate Florida town overgrown with a multitude of shopping malls spread out along 4 exits of interstate highway featuring oranges on oversize billboards. The Verizon place was typical, though the manager seemed overdressed. I got my 25% (premium customer) discount. Sears was a ways off with a deserted parking field between the main merchandise building and the auto center, and a confusing array of tree-lined access drives. The 20 cubic toot carrier was $210 installed, and there were extras, air filter and radiator flush. I said ok. New wipers, too. With all the time, I sat with George at the edge of it, by the adjoining natural area in ruins. A Christian college took up the lease and the whole place will be torn down this Summer for campus expansion.
Some while down the road, it occurred to me, shopping missions accomplished, what need to stay overnight in Tallahassee? I took a quick unreflective left turn on a state road into the panhandle. Soon, I felt right at home, crossing the Suwannee, so close to Fargo GA and the Okefenokee, my favorite swamp (photos soon). No repeats this trip, so I hadn't considered it. Passed up a number of interesting places along the way ("Camping on the river, Seafood restaurant, etc."). Come dark I was hungry. Went right through a good-size crossroads town, and didn't find a place till I was clear out the other side. Oyster stew, hush puppies and ice tea unsweet. Good. They told me how to get back to town (Hampton or budget?) for a motel.
The first one was batty and didn't like the dog. She said the place was about full up, when there was only one other car. $40 or I could have a campsite, $10. She was foreign or had a speech defect. The next one was fine. As elsewhere the rundown motel properties are often Indian-owned (India, you know.) Her little boy was watching crappy cartoons.
8AM breakfast at the Huddle House. I stepped over to the counter and Krista helped me. When I travel I adjust my speech to fit in. It's protective coloration of a sort, or maybe it's a Jewish thing. Here, it's "ahss tea," sweet or "unsweet." "Thank YEW!" "Ha YEW?" (strong emphasis), "Jes fahn." First learned this in grad school in Virgina, where it works better not to sound New York. Vocabulary is local and speech patterns are extended, not clipped or economical. When I say, "Today Ah'd laaak the steak with eggs, over easy, if Ah may, with your grits." And she says, "What to drink?" I say, "You can bring me some coffee. Thaaanks." And I take a seat. Later, "Would you bring me the check. Thaaanks." ($13.53 with tax and tip.) Practice makes perfect. Work your ear. Soon you're talking like a native.
Krista, a good-looking 30-years with waitress manners, warmly greets a black man in jeans and a dark shirt. Shield and gun on his belt. Races work together familiarly and share public space very well here at this time, better than up North. Cops are black, and elected officials. Races don't socialize or live in the same neighborhoods. Mixed neighborhoods (upscale and down) are more common up North. The cop came out while I was taking a snap of his unmarked white Ford Victoria (computer setup and all) and we chatted. A detective, he dresses and works like this, but everyone knows it's him.
Perry has 50,000 on the old coast highway with a paper mill. I enjoyed extending my stay with desk work at the motel, post office, shopping drugs, a bookstore for local writing on the Suwannee and other rivers nearby, and Indians, (native Americans). Election signs say, "Pray before you vote," with a verse from Timothy. Held off leaving for lunch at the Oyster House. Oyster stew again (yum), swamp cabbage (hearts of palm), saltines, with ahssed tea, unsweet. Andrea's Mom and Dad bought the place seven years ago from a lady who started it 40 years before. Boyfriend Robert chucks oysters with an old jig. Andrea helps. After I admired it standing in the corner and asked her what it was, she got out the old "pogo stick" (she called it) and played it for me with music from a tape player. About five feet high with a worn drum, triangle, numerous bells, and more besides. Robert joined in. The original owner made it that many years ago, and they take it out, play it weekend nights Karaoke.
Sopchoppy was nice with an oldtimey IGA and an antique store with a to die for 9x12 real oriental cheap I didn't have room for. That's when you phoned. I had booked Ochlockonee River State Park for a week. Looked good on paper, a pine-palmetto stand in a half-million acres of state-federal land on the Gulf. Reality was I'd be camping by some ugly RV's too far from the john. Ranger worked out the reservation cancellation, lots of talk about big forests nearby. But I near froze that night and my heart wasn't in it. Up before dawn I followed the Gulf beach developments out, breakfasted at Apalachacola (a 20's relic) and rest-stopped at a Southern Plantation. At Destin, raw new, with literally every merchandise, food, and accommodation marketing name represented in some flamboyant paperthin architectural style, I got out North for the interstate.
Greek restaurant in Alabama. Snoozed at the Mississippi Welcome Center (a grand structure), woke up to driving rain. Along the route my wipers quit at 60mph, drove like that two miles, tapped the module back to life and was surprised to find myself on a narrow causeway crossing Lake Pontchartrain the hard way. Rain too hard to drive more. Found a Motel 6 and IHOP.
My unscheduled visit to the French Quarter was fun, the goal being Oysters Rockerfeller and a good chablis at Antoine's. Texas architect with family and Brit couple from Birmingham in Jackson Square. Chatted, took each other's snaps. Still raining but not as hard. Bad directions five times over. Antoine's not open for lunch, but Lola's down the street. A reasonable substitute. Chicken gumbo (okra, tomato, sausage, must try) and corn bread. Oysters their way (nice, really) and an Edna Valley Sauv Blanc. Gregory, my captain. $74.63 including tax and tip. Police barricades along Canal Street and folks lining up already for the Mardi Gras. From the elevated highway, buildings in the poorer sections still with torn siding and roofs, boarded openings from Katrina.
Afternoon snooze at a gas station in Louisiana near Houma. Made good time. Spent the night (10PM to 3AM) at a Love's (chain) Truck Stop somewhere before San Antonio. Experienced sunrise on the open prairie, a great expanse, moon, stars, reddish sky. PRISON AREA DO NOT PICK UP HITCH HIKERS. Historical marker at Sabrina TX. The place started as a stagecoach stop 1854. Flourished despite Indian deprivations. Rivers have names like blanco, aucun, alto, and quite a few have water in them. Border patrol in little Ford explorers every few miles, one of them dragging a huge tractor tire along the dirt frontier, smoothing it out.
10AM Huevos Rancheros at Abrajan's, downtown Del Rio, ordering in Spanish. Real stewed meat, homemade chile verdi. Briefly checked out commercial campgrounds on my Mapquest list (ugh). Friendly rangers at Amistad National Recreation Area, chose Governors Landing, NPS8, near potty and water, $8/night, but $4 for me with the Gold Card. Lots of space, cactus, yucca and mesquite, a view of the water. More in my next letter.
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