5/31/08: Exploring the Cedar Keys/Sunset in Jook City

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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.