I checked out of the hotel the next morning, and drove out to Charlie Browns Pancake House in the town of Speedway, which literally sits in the shadow of the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The unpretentious little breakfast diner offered great food at low prices, and I asked the waitress if any of the NASCAR drivers ate there. “All the time, ” she replied. The rest of my day was largely spent driving around to numerous record stores, mostly Karma locations, although I also left posters at Vibes, Ear Candy, Extra Strength, City Music, Unborn Records, Joe Lee Records, Naptown Music and Dragged Up Music. It was nearly 5 PM when I left Indianapolis, and I stopped at Karmas in Shelbyville and Greensburg on the way to Cincinnati. I had called my friend Abdullah from Elementz Hip-Hop Youth Center in Cincinnati, so when I got into town, I drove into Over The Rhine, and after getting lost a few times, I finally made my way to the center. I was given a tour of the facility and met many of the young people, who were learning production, breakdancing, graffiti art, and most of all, respect for themselves and others. I wanted to eat dinner, but I decided to wait until the center closed so that Abdullah and some others from the center could go with us. We ended up heading out to the Cheesecake Factory in Kenwood, where we barely got in to order before closing time. The food was really good, and then I headed out to the Sheraton North Hotel in Sharonville, where I had reserved my room.
When I awoke the next morning, I checked out of the hotel, and then drove down to the Pie Pan on North Park Drive for breakfast. The restaurant was a local favorite, and rather crowded, but I had a delicious breakfast and then I drove downtown to the Evansville library, where I used old phone books and city directories to research the city’s music history. Through the 1960’s, there had been a couple of recording studios and record shops in Evansville, as well as a number of night clubs on Lincoln Avenue, which seemed to be the center of Evansville’s Black community then. In the early 1970’s, there was a Black record store called the Soul Shack at 765 Lincoln Avenue, and a couple of night clubs. The Outta Sight Lounge was at 229 Canal Street, which was actually the address on one of the Pure Love Records 45s, and a yellow pages ad for it in 1974 stated “Top Flight Entertainment” “New Modern Off Street Parking” “Air Conditioned” “1 PM to 3 Am” “dancing”. An advertisement from 1976 touted Mr. B’s Checkerboard Lounge “Top 10 Soul Entertainment Dancing”. The club had been at 800 Lincoln Avenue. I learned that the 10th Street address on some Pure Love 45’s was John L. Robinson’s house, and I assumed that John Robinson might have been Johnny Soul. The last Rock Steady 45 had an address on Washington Avenue that a recent directory listed as the address for a Sidney Scott, so apparently Steady Wailin’ Sid was still living at that address some 30 years later! Somewhat enthused, I headed down into the Lincoln Avenue/Canal Street area to look for landmarks, but I was soon disappointed. Although Canal Street appeared on my iPhone, it didn’t exist anymore in real life, having been disrupted by some sort of new housing development. Barely a block of it remained, and no commercial buildings that may have once lined it were still standing. The same had largely been done to Lincoln Avenue as well, with no trace of the Black business district remaining except a large brick building that once had been Club Paradise and now was a daycare center. Johnny Soul’s old house on 10th had evidently been torn down for a parking lot, and 800 Lincoln Avenue was a vacant lot. 765 Lincoln, where the Soul Shack Record Shop had been, was still standing but now contained a barber and beauty salon. Stopping at Uptown Music on the corner of Washington and Kentucky, I mentioned my interest in Steady Wailin’ Sid to the owner, who said “Sid that lives down the street here?” He called him and arranged for me to meet him after noon. From there I headed over to Coconuts Music near the mall and left posters there, then browsed at the Book Broker until it was time to meet with Sid Scott. When I called him, he invited me down to his house, and talked for some time about his dual careers as Black journalist and soul singer. I discovered that he owned the Black weekly newspaper in Evansville nowadays, and he talked about his experiences at Stax Records in Memphis. He also told me about the Kitty Kat nightclub he used to own on Riverside Drive in Evansville, and finally, he sold me copies of his 45s and LP. By now, I was really behind schedule in heading north to Vincennes, and, when I got there, the record store there seemed to be closed. I called the Ars Nova sheet music store in Bloomington and learned that they closed at 6 PM, but an employe agreed to stay open for me to make it from Vincennes, so I headed out quickly, noticing the massive, abandoned hulk of an Executive Inn on the north side of town. I had often wondered about that rather strange hotel chain that seemed unique to the Ohio River valley, and noticed that its hotels seemed to be falling on hard times. Rushing into Bloomington, I headed straight to the Ars Nova store, where I purchased a number of piano scores by Joseph Achron, Elie Siegmeister, Virgil Thomson and Frederick Delius. Thrilled with my discoveries, I headed on into Indianapolis, where my jazz drummer friend Laurence Cook was playing at Rick’s Boatyard Cafe on the westside. The restaurant was built beside a reservoir, and the last daylight was fading as I sat at a windowside table. There was an outdoor deck and bar that was a little more rowdy, but I sat indoors, enjoying a seafood dinner and the live jazz group that was playing. Afterwards, I drove downtown and checked into the Marriott Hotel.
Select-O-Hits Music Distribution sent me out to promote the upcoming Haystak release, leaving posters and postcards at retail stores around the Midwest, so I stopped at Danver’s on Highway 64 for breakfast, and then I headed up I-40 into Jackson, stopping for coffee at the Starbucks there, then continuing up Highway 45 into Martin, where I left some posters at Next Door Records and Tapes. It was nearly noon when I arrived in Paducah, and I drove first to the mall to visit Fred’s Urban and Casual Wear, and then I headed over to Head 2 Toe on H. C. Mathis Drive, but they weren’t open yet. After browsing around some antique malls downtown, I headed across the bridge into Metropolis, Illinois, which had become known as the “Home of Superman.” Indeed, there was a larger-than-life statue of the superhero on the courthouse square, a Superman museum, the “Super Store” giftshop, an American movie museum and the Harrah’s Casino on the Ohio River as well. A sign said that Willy Jak’s Bar and Grill was famous for burgers, so I walked in and ordered one, and it wasn’t bad at all. From Metropolis, I drove up I-24 to Highway 45 and then headed out toward Evansville. In Carmi, Illinois, someone had spray-painted “J-DOGG” on a brick wall downtown, so I had to stop and take a picture of it. I-64 led me east into Indiana, and I soon arrived at the Quality Inn north of Evansville, where I checked into my room. The sun was going down, and I hadn’t been able to contact Sinumatic or Cas One, my rapper friends in Evansville, so I drove down to the Edgewater Grill in Newburgh, where I enjoyed a steak dinner overlooking the Ohio River. Afterwards, I drove around the small town, taking photographs before heading into Evansville, where I stopped at Joe’s Eastside Records and left some posters with the manager. Driving around the city in the evening, not much seemed to be happening, even downtown. I finally parked at the casino and walked over to Max and Erma’s for a dessert and coffee. Later, back at the hotel room, I used my iPhone to pull up a website called Indiana 45s, where I saw that there had been some funk and soul records released in Evansville. An artist named Steady Wailin’ Sid had recorded on the Rock Steady label, and another named Johnny Soul had recorded for the Pure Love label. The label scans showed addresses which I wrote down and decided to research later, and one of the Pure Love label releases stated on the label that it had been recorded live at the Outta Sight Lounge. I decided that it might be worth getting up early and spending some time at the Evansville library downtown before the record stores opened the next day.
I had a gig to play at Jazz & Java in Madison, Mississippi, so I took the day off from work and headed down into Mississippi. I had seen from old city directories that there had been a record store called Lewis Grocery & Record Shop at 11 Doak Street in Grenada back in the early 1970’s, so I drove into Grenada to see if the building was still standing and to see if it contained any records. Judging from the city directory, Doak Street, a block west of the town square, had been the center of Grenada’s Black business district, but nothing was left of it at all. The buildings had all been torn down to make way for a Sheriff’s Department annex, which now blocked Doak Street from Pearl Street. Heading further south, I found that Front Street Coffee had gone out of business in Winona, so I drove on into Jackson, eating dinner at a new waterfront grill at Madison Landing on the reservoir. Our jazz performance went well, despite the fact that my drummer, Amin Abdul-Rashied was still recovering from a fall from a ladder a month or so back. Afterwards, we met at IHOP for a late-night breakfast, and then I headed out to Monroe, Louisiana where I had booked a hotel room because the rates were so high in Jackson.
It was another beautiful sunny morning when I awoke, and checking out of the Carousel Inn was not particularly a happy occasion. I would have liked to have stayed for another day or two, but I had a room booked in Atlanta for the night, so I checked out, and again headed south to Lover’s Key and Bonita Beach for one last time. In Bonita Springs, there was a Mel’s Diner, and I stopped there for a breakfast, and then headed on to I-75. Still hoping to find something by A-Lee, the new Fort Myers rapper, I used my iPhone to call TJ’s CD’s in Port Charlotte, but while the owner said he had a lot of mixtapes, he didn’t have anything by A-Lee, nor had he heard of him. The drive to Gainesville took longer than I had expected, and it was nearly 3 PM by the time I arrived. C. Wakeley met me at Calico Jack’s, and we ate lunch there before I headed further north, stopping for a breve latte in Lake City. Crossing over into Georgia in the early evening, I could see the smoke from several fires far off into the distance, but I wasn’t sure whether they were wildfires, or if they had been set to burn farm fields. Beyond Macon I called my friend Fort Knox, Willie Joe’s manager, and he agreed to meet me at Hudson’s, An American Grill in the Perimeter Mall area, since the Piebar had closed back in December. It was about 10 PM when I finally got to the Hudson’s, and Fort Knox and one of his partners arrived soon afterwards. The restaurant served food until 2 AM, so I had no problem in getting dinner, and then Knox had a meeting, and I headed across the street to Cafe Intermezzo for a dessert and coffee. My room was at the Hyatt Regency downtown, so I headed back down 75/85, exiting at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and heading to the hotel on Peachtree. I discovered that parking was valet only, and $25 per night, but I didn’t have much choice, so I turned my car over to the valet and checked in. My room was very small, but sleek and modernistic, with a city view. Before I got to bed, though, the phone rang, and it was the valet saying that he couldn’t start my car, so I had to explain to him that the ignition key was the one with the logo on it, and then I went to bed.
The early morning was quite sunny despite the predictions of rain, and already quite hot. I had used my iPhone to discover a place called the Island Pancake House back down the beach toward Times Square in Fort Myers Beach, so I stopped there and ate breakfast. Then I parked down at the beach park and pier at Times Square, and walked around the area snapping photos. Few of the restaurants and shops in that area were open yet, but there were a number of people already on the beach. I drove back to the hotel, changed into swim gear and got into the water for awhile. Unlike Destin, the Gulf here was pleasantly warm, like a warm bath, and took no getting used to. There was also no seaweed, there were no visible jellyfish, and if there were any stingrays, I didn’t see them. After an hour or so in the Gulf, I moved up to the motel’s pool, and spent another 15 minutes or so there, then went to the room and dressed for the rest of the day. I debated whether to do some shopping, then return to the beach for an afternoon session, or to go further south and explore Everglades City and Naples. Fearing that with the high cost of gasoline I might never get back down that way, I opted to go south to Everglades City. But first, I wanted to do some shopping in the Fort Myers area, so I headed first across the bridge into Cape Coral, where there was a store called One For The Books. I didn’t find any music or movies there, but I unexpectedly found a book about the American occupation of Haiti called Black Haiti by Blair Niles. I also stopped by Rainbow Records, which didn’t have much, and then came to Highway 41 at North Fort Myers. In Fort Myers, I stopped by both FYEs, and didn’t find anything at all. Because there was no local or ‘hood record store, I couldn’t find any local Fort Myers rap albums. I ended up having to drive back out to my motel room to get my iPhone, which I had left in the room, and then I headed back across Lover’s Key to Bonita Beach, noticing in daylight the beautiful, tall blooming red trees, and wondering what they were. I knew there was a Fatburger in Naples, so I headed south on Highway 41 rather than going to I-75, but as I passed through Naples, I didn’t see the restaurant. Instead, I headed on through Naples to Carnesville, and then drove south on Highway 27 into Everglades City, noticing a line of threatening black clouds to the east that must have been over Miami. There was a store next to the post office at the north end of Everglades City, so I stopped there for an icy slush, but the town itself seemed to be practically empty of people. I knew that the town had been completely planned and laid out by a Memphian, Baron Collier, for whom Collier County had been named. It was planned with broad boulevards lined with palm trees and traffic circles, including a big one at the very center of the town. The town was also an island, surrounded by rivers and passes on all sides, and had in early days been the county seat of Collier County. But at some point, the town had lost the battle with Naples, and now the vacant streets testified to a town’s death. There were, to be sure, a number of airboat tour companies for the Everglades, several bed-and-breakfasts, the legendary Rod and Gun Club where I seemed to remember Ernest Hemingway staying as well as a former president or two, and a handful of restaurants. But almost everything was closed for the season, as I soon found that Everglades City was a winter resort. The island further south, called Chokoloskee, was no different, and even though the RV park was full of tourists, everything was closed, even the coffee bar and art gallery. Driving to the southernmost point of the island, I found a historic landmark called Smallwood’s Store, which had at one time been the only business on the island. It was now a museum, but it too was closed. It was past 5 PM, and the weather seemed to be deteriorating, so I headed back north on my way back to Naples. To the north, toward Immokalee, the black clouds were roiling, with visible lightning off in the distance. When I arrived in Naples, however, the sun was still shining, and I parked near an entertainment district called Tin City, which had been built in old warehouses along the western bank of a river there. I checked out the shops and restaurants there, but decided to walk across the bridge to a restaurant on the river’s east bank called Kelly’s Fish House. I got a table overlooking the harbor, and the fresh Gulf grouper there was delicious, if a little expensive. From there, I drove into downtown Naples onto 5th Avenue, and parked in one of the city garages to better explore the city’s legendary shopping street on foot. The buildings, palm trees and flowers were beautiful, and I took a number of pictures, but the storm seemed to be approaching from the east. When I came to Abbott’s Frozen Custard, I stopped in there to get a chocolate concrete, but, as I was in there, the rainstorm broke out in a fury. People scrambled out of the patios of nearby restaurants and ran down the sidewalks to get to shelter. An elderly Naples couple agreed to give me a ride back to the parking garage, and the woman mentioned to me that the beautiful red trees were poinsettia trees. It later occurred to me that she might have meant poincianas. Driving back to the north on Highway 41, the weather was really bad, with heavy wind, rain, lightning and thunder. Driving through the Harlem Heights area again, I headed across the causeway and bridge to Sanibel Island, and down to Ellington’s Jazz Club. This time I ordered chocolate lava cake, and some coffee, and I got to sit in with the musicians on piano. Then it was late, and though I could have tried to find something to get into, I went instead back to the room and to bed.
The Hampton Inn offered breakfast of a sort, but it was being heated up in microwaves, so I headed out to a place called the Brunchery instead, and ate breakfast there. Then I rode up to a number of flea markets along the Fowler Avenue/Nebraska Avenue intersection, but with it being Saturday, many of the booths were closed. Still, these markets were interesting for their truly international character, with stores geared to African-American, Jamaican, Cuban, Puerto Rican and Mexican culture all under one roof. Nearby was the Hip Hop Soda Shop, where the Tampa Music Conference was sponsoring a DJ luncheon, so I stopped and put in an appearance there, but didn’t eat since it hadn’t been all that much time since breakfast. A nasty storm was coming up outside, but I wanted to go to one last flea market out beyond I-75, so I left the restaurant and headed out there, but didn’t find any stores that would sell Tampa jook mixes, or any rap music at all, for that matter. By, then it was time for me to head to the Sun Dome at the University of Southern Florida for the actual conference panel, so I headed over there, and had to go on stage almost immediately. Donovan Knowles was also on our panel, as was Wendy Day from the Rap Coalition. Afterwards, I met a rapper named KO from Tampa, and he and one of his partners met me at the Denny’s down the street for a late night dessert, and then I headed to the after party at the Hip Hop Soda Shop. When it wound down, I decided to go back to the hotel and to bed.
I was told that the best breakfast in Cedar Key was at Ann’s Other Place on Dock Street next door to my hotel, but it didn’t even look open when I walked over to it. I found that it was open, however, just not very crowded. The breakfast there was indeed good, and then I had a couple of hours to kill before my scheduled boat trip out to the other keys around Cedar Key, so I walked down the length of Dock Street, taking pictures and watching the early morning boats going out from the harbor. I walked the same route I had walked the night before, down to the Beach Front Motel and the Faraway Inn, then back up into town and along Second Street. I stopped briefly in Curmudgeonalia, the book store, which was the only downtown shop open yet, but I didn’t buy any books there. Walking down into Cedar Cove and Nature’s Landing, I took more pictures there, and then walked back onto Dock Street looking for something cold like ice-cream, but I couldn’t find anything open. The singer/songwriter guy was back in the Big Deck Raw Bar across the street, performing for a small lunchtime crowd, and I soon checked out of the hotel, leaving my suitcase locked in my car as I walked down Dock Street toward the pier where my boat tour was to launch from. Only I and one other couple had signed up for this tour, but they didn’t cancel it, and we rode out from the dock, with the town on our right and Atsena Otie Key on our left. The water, our captain told us was rather shallow, and at low tide could not be navigated except through one channel that stays deep all the time. The weather was sunny and hot, but cooler out on the water with a breeze, and we soon came to Seahorse Key, one of 14 islands that make up the Cedar Keys. Seahorse is closed to the public in June due to bird nesting, so we were restricted to a zone offshore, but we were able to hear the cacophony of the birds, and we were able to see pelicans and ospreys, as well as the lantern of an old lighthouse that sticks above the trees. The lighthouse, we were told, belongs to the University of Florida and is used for research by marine students, but we were also warned that the island’s interior is full of poisonous snakes. After traveling completely around Seahorse Key, we made for Atsena Otie, which in the Indian language meant Cedar Island, and had once been the original town. The boat captain gave us bug spray to spray ourselves with, and then let us off on the dock to walk on the trail through what until 1896 had been the town of Cedar Key. We saw ruins of an old pencil factory, a cistern and a windmill, then finally the old town’s cemetery. All of this had been damaged by a hurricane in 1896, and then townspeople decided that it would be prudent to relocate the town to nearby Way Key, where it is today. Leaving Atsena Otie, the captain took us down to Dog Island, where dolphins are often seen, and we were not disappointed, as they came up to the boat and played around in the wake. They were hard to photograph, however, as they were quicker than I imagined. Furthermore, my camera battery died, so I was rather disgusted as we made our way back to the Cedar Key docks. I walked back down Dock Street to the Dock Street Depot, and then ate a seafood lunch there that was quite good. Finally driving out of Cedar Key, I used my iPhone to determine that the nearest camera store was in the mall in Crystal River, so when I got there, I pulled into the mall and walked to Ritz Camera, where I bought a car/home charger for camera batteries, as well as a cold coffee drink. The charger, however, had some issues, as it would charge my camera battery only if I used my hand to hold the battery against the terminals, so I found myself having to drive to Clearwater with one hand on the wheel and the other holding the battery against the terminal until it finally charged. At Clearwater, I turned onto Gulf to Bay Boulevard to head for Tampa, but I came upon an 80% Off Books clearance center, so I stopped there and bought a stack of hardback books. Crossing the causeway in the late day sun, I saw people enjoying themselves on the bay beach, splashing in the water and wading far out from shore, as the water must have been rather shallow. At the Tampa end of the Causeway, I noticed a restaurant called Castaways which was already quite crowded, and then there was an island called Rocky Point, loaded with hotels and restaurants. Tampa proper was confusing, with a string of freeways and boulevards all under construction, but I soon ended up on I-275, noticing an Indigo Coffee along the way that I made a mental note of, exiting at Fletcher Avenue and making my way east to the Hampton Inn. The Tampa Music Conference was providing my hotel room in Tampa, and just as Angel Soto, the conference organizer, had promised, I had no problem getting checked in. I thought about eating dinner in the hotel vicinity, because the trip from the Causeway to my hotel had taken almost 45 minutes, but I decided that I wanted to eat at Castaways, so I drove down I-75 to I-4, to I-275 to Highway 60, and soon arrived at the restaurant. The beach was now even more beautiful, as the sun was going down lower in the sky, and I snapped some pictures from the front deck of the restaurant before going on inside. I decided that it was a little too warm to sit outside, although many people were, so I asked for an inside table with a water view. As I waited for my red snapper to come, I watched some Jamaicans who were having fun with a wave runner in the bay behind the restaurant. To my amazement, one of the young men stopped the wave runner, got out, and appeared to be walking on the water. A couple of the wait staff were amazed as well, and commented that the water must be very shallow at that point. My fresh gulf fish was delicious, and I chose a slice of key lime pie afterwards. Then, walking out on the deck, I took a series of photos of Rocky Point, the bay, the restaurant and the beaches to the west as the sun went even further down. I was tempted to wait for the final sunset, which I imagined would be beautiful, but instead, I headed back up I-275, intending to stop at Indigo Coffee for a latte, but finding that they closed at 5 PM. I then headed out to Sound Exchange on Nebraska Avenue, but they didn’t have any DVDs of The Wire, so I headed down I-75 to Brandon where there was a Movie Stop, but they didn’t have the DVDs either, except for new copies at full prices higher than those in Memphis. So, wanting a latte, I called a number of coffee bars in Tampa, but none of them were open, so I stopped at a Starbucks for a breve latte before heading down into Ybor City. The Tampa Music Conference was to have kicked off with a DJ/Producers panel at Club Empire, but by the time I arrived, it had largely ended and a normal club night was beginning to jump off. Angel was there, however, and he explained to me about the local genre in Tampa known as “jook music“, with which I hadn’t been familiar. The DJ was playing jook for awhile, but finally, I decided to head back to the hotel and to bed.
First day of my vacation, so I headed out of Memphis, stopping by a Danver’s on South Perkins for breakfast and then down into Mississippi on Highway 78, listening to a Supa Dave Baltimore Club Mix that I had downloaded from the internet. In Birmingham, I stopped at the FYE at I-65 and Lakeshore, looking for some of the seasons of The Wire in the used DVDs, but they didn’t have any that weren’t full price. I did find a DVD of The Corner however, and they had the complete run of all the Homicide: Life On The Street series, but, thinking I would find something better, I held off on buying any of those. The FYEs at Riverchase and the Summit didn’t have anything I was looking for either, but at the Summit there was a Johnny Rocket’s hamburger place, so I ate lunch there and then headed out for Montgomery. It was about 4 PM when I got to Montgomery, and I was looking for coffee, but didn’t find any there, so I headed south on Highway 331 toward Fort Walton Beach. At Florala, I stopped and took some pictures of the downtown and the lake it was built on, then crossed into Florida heading toward Crestview. There I found a Starbucks, so I stopped for coffee there and then continued on into Fort Walton Beach. At the Movie Stop there, I bought season 2 of The Wire used, and then drove across to Destin and Miramar Beach, where I checked into my room at the Embassy Suites. I was hoping to catch James Brown’s old drummer Jabo Starks playing at the Red Bar in Grayton Beach, so I decided to eat dinner there as well, and I drove east on Highway 98 into Santa Rosa Beach and down to the restaurant, which was quite crowded. I had a red snapper dinner, and did enjoy the jazz band’s last set of the evening. I got to meet Jabo Starks briefly, and he told me that the group had recorded two CDs that were on sale in the gift shop, but I soon found that the gift shop was already closed for the evening. Heading back west, I drove into Fort Walton Beach, hoping that I could find a rap club that was happening, but I didn’t, finding instead that the city was full of police posted up on nearly every corner, as if expecting something bad to happen. The only clubs that were happening were out on Okaloosa Island, but they were clearly geared to a rock audience, so I headed back to the motel and to bed.