On the internet, much had been made of a trendy spot called Wild Eggs on Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville, so I drove out there after checking out of the hotel, and ate breakfast there, noticing the dramatic glass case full of eggs of various sizes, shapes and colors. The restaurant was very crowded, but I managed to park and find a table, and the breakfast was quite good. I then drove out to the West End to leave Haystak posters at Better Days Records on Broadway, and from there I drove back to the east side to visit Exclusive Wear and, I thought, Q-Ball’s. The latter store had closed, however, and I was quite sad to see it gone. My last stop was in Jeffersonville, Indiana at LB’s Music & More, but they weren’t open yet, so I left some promotional items in their mailbox. I got a fairly early start out of Louisville heading toward Lexington, and with no record stores between the two cities, I saw no reason to stop. My hotel in Lexington was actually the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort, and was by far the most impressive and luxurious of the hotels on my trip so far. There was a golf course, a restaurant in a 19th-century house, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and a basketball court. After checking in, I headed through downtown to The Album, where I was surprised to find a lot of African LPs and Black gospel LPs, which I purchased. Practically next door to The Album was CD Central, which doesn’t always carry rap but does carry Haystak, so I left them some posters and postcards. After I visited the two Muzic Shoppe locations with materials, I headed out to Lexington Green, but there I learned that the Disc Jockey store, the last in that once-venerable Owensboro chain, was now closed. I had discovered that there was a restaurant and marina called Riptide on the Kentucky River south of Lexington, so I drove out Old Richmond Road to the spot, and it was on a lovely spot between two bridges on the riverfront. However, I was soon concerned when I learned that the restaurant was out of filet mignon. I had to settle for the New York Strip, but it was very good. I learned that the restaurant was more of a bar and club at night, and while I ate, employes were stringing up lights outside over a sandy beach area in front of the outdoor stage where a duo was playing and singing country music. There was an outdoor bar as well directly beside the river. After I drove the 20 miles back into Lexington, I stopped at Common Grounds Coffee House on High Street and had a dessert and coffee. Despite being a college town, Lexington can be boring at night, as I had learned on a previous trip. There were no rap clubs, no jazz clubs, and my hotel was the type of place where a lot of rich retired people were vacationing, so I checked the iPhone to see what was going on in Cincinnati, only an hour to the north, and found that there was a Reds game, with tickets as inexpensive as $20. I had not been to a major league baseball game since I was little, so I decided to make the hour drive north on I-75 to Cincinnati. As I expected there was plenty of parking, but, after parking, I found myself somewhat confused, for there was some sort of football game going on in Paul Brown Stadium, a high-school game or jamboree, probably, although it seemed early in the month for high school sports. I was tempted to go there instead for a minute, but finally, I walked the opposite direction toward the Great American Ballpark, which is exactly that, bought a ticket and headed into the very crowded game. Unfortunately, the Reds didn’t do very well, but I soon learned that the game was to be followed by a fireworks display over the stadium and the Ohio River. Long before the game was over, I could hear and catch glimpses of another fireworks show coming from over on the Kentucky side, Covington perhaps. The fireworks on our side of the river were dazzling as well, and then I walked out into the street to head back toward my car, listening to the hypnotic cadence funk of several young Black marching band drummers, mixed with the boom of nearby African drumming, all playing for tips from the sports fans walking past on their way home. I thought about cities like Cincinnati, how they have a soul, culture and personality all their own, and, looking up at the dazzling skyline, I wondered if there was something to get into. I debated heading over to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, but the last time I had been there, the musicians quit playing at midnight, and it was nearly midnight now, so I drove back across the bridge into Kentucky. At Florence, with some difficulty, I found a Starbucks that was still open, and I drank a latte to keep myself awake on the 70 minute drive back to my hotel. Although I turned the lights out and went to bed, I was amazed to hear voices and the pounding of a basketball from outside my window. Looking out, I saw that a pickup game was in full action out on the court at about 1 AM, and it still was when I awakened at about 2AM. I don’t know when it broke up, but the next time I awakened, the court was dark and silent. The Griffin Gate is known as a golf resort, but it’s a streetballers dream as well.
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.
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 hadn’t gotten to bed until 3 AM, so I was quite late in waking up. After breakfast at the Brandy House, which is one of my favorite places for breakfast anywhere, I headed to the antique malls in West Monroe, and while I didn’t find any Grambling memorabilia there, I did find a 1964 Bulldog yearbook from Monroe’s Carroll High School, which I purchased, since old yearbooks from Black high schools are generally very hard to find. At Ruston, I went to the Frothy Monkey coffee bar to meet with an employe from FYE who also was running a record label and wanted to give me a demo. At Arcadia, I only found one Grambling yearbook from 1994, and then I headed on west on I-20 toward Shreveport. At Dunn’s Flea Market, I found a 45 by Jessie and the Mel-O-Tones out of Akron, Ohio, and then I went on to the Greenwood Flea Market, and bought some Duke label records there. After swinging by Garland’s Super Sounds, I decided to drive back to Monroe for dinner, but ran into some nasty thunderstorms between Ruston and West Monroe. In Monroe, the rain had stopped, and I ate at the Waterfront Grill, where I enjoyed a filet mignon, and then continued on toward Jackson. In Clinton, I stopped at Cups coffee house, noticing that there was lightning all around, and then, as I bypassed Jackson on I-220, the rains came down with a vengeance. The deluge continued up I-55 nearly all the way to Winona, and by the time I got home, I was exhausted.
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.
I took a vacation day from work, and headed out I-40 into Arkansas on a very hot day indeed. I had decided to drive up to Greer’s Ferry Lake and check out Fairfield Bay, but I wanted to stop off in Little Rock at Arkansas Record Exchange and browse for some new music. Amongst the 45 singles, I found a copy of the Adolph and the Entertainers “Old Folks Shuffle” on the Alarm label out of Shreveport, a record that I had been looking for for some time. Then I headed on to Conway, where I stopped at the Marketplace Grill and enjoyed a late lunch. It was about 3:30 PM when I left Conway, heading north on Highway 65, which was an endless string of flea markets and antique malls. I would have liked to have stopped at all of them, but the day was rapidly getting away from me, so I only stopped at one that featured a big sign announcing “RECORDS”. They did indeed have records, although nothing much that I cared to purchase, so I continued north into Clinton, and from there headed east toward Shirley and Fairfield Bay. The terrain was more mountainous than I had expected, and the road made quite a few twists and turns before I came to the main entrance of Fairfield Bay. When I was young, Fairfield Bay had been a new resort development, always offering people from Memphis a free vacation if they would agree to take a one-hour tour/seminar about purchasing real estate, condominiums or timeshares. I always wanted us to do it, and my parents never wanted to, so I was surprised to see the rather desolate look of the place as I entered it on Dave Creek Parkway. In the intervening years, Fairfield Bay had changed from a development to an incorporated town, with a mayor and local government, but the first thing I noticed was miles of streets that were little more than gravel tracks leading deep into the woods, with no sign of habitation whatsoever. I had seen on billboards that Wyndham Hotels had taken over the rental management of the resort facilities, but the first thing I saw was an assisted living home, and then gradually I came to the Village Mall, which was supposed to be the business center of town. But here too, an air of tired desolation prevailed, for the Village Mall was almost totally vacant, and the Conference Center across the street had clearly been abandoned, with grass growing through numerous cracks in its empty parking lot pavement. There was a rental office in the area with cars out front, and I had seen a couple of open convenience stores, but back on Dave Creek Parkway were two abandoned restaurants, one of them a Pizza Hut with a “For Sale” sign out in front. Fairfield Bay was beginning to look like a venture that had obviously failed. As I headed further south toward the lake, I noticed a community park with miniature golf, and a farmer’s market, and there were people around there, but the wholse community had an eery, empty feel. I followed a sign off the main road toward the Bay View Club, which was in a beautiful, Old-English-style lodge, with a large, crowded swimming pool behind it. The club was primarily a restaurant, but restricted to members and guests, and I could not determine whether memberships were sold at the door, as they are at so many Arkansas establishments. At the road’s dead end, there was a beautiful vista of the lake and mountains to the south, but it was too obstructed by houses for me to photograph. Heading back to the main road and further south, there were more houses (almost neighborhoods, finally), and I kept heading toward the lakefront, following signs for Hampton Cove Marina. The roads were quite hilly even inside the community, and there were some beautiful lake views, but no public overlook, so I was unable to photograph anything, since I would have had to walk on private property. At Hampton Cove, there was another swimming pool, and it too was crowded with kids and parents, but there was also a walking trail down to the lake, but I soon found that much of it was under water due to abnormally high lake levels. I took some pictures there, and then headed back west toward the main marina area, but there, once again, lake levels had wreaked havoc, and roads were closed. I walked out to the marina store, and took pictures from there, noticing Sugarloaf Mountain coming up out of the lake to the southeast. There had been a snack bar at the marina, but a sign said it was closed due to high water. The beach area nearby was also underwater, but people were still swimming at the places where roads dropped off into the lake, and at that point I took some of the best pictures of the lake. It was getting late, however, and the sun was disappearing behind some clouds, so I headed up Highway 330 looking for a restaurant called the Back In The Day Cafe, but when I found it, it was closed and for sale. I decided to head on around the lake, wondering what economic holocaust had hit Fairfield Bay so hard. Summer should have been the busy season there. At the village of Edgemont, the road came close to the lake, and I came upon a restaurant called Jannsen’s Lakefront Restaurant, where a large crowd was milling around outside. I expected quite a wait, but I was taking a sort of one-day vacation, and was in no hurry, so I stopped there and put my name in for a table. The crowd of waiting people had spilled over into some formal gardens behind what seemed to be a motel or some apartment buildings. There had once been steps down to the lake, but high water earlier in the year had destroyed them. Nearby was a boatdock, where a pontoon boat had pulled up to the shore, and some kids were having a lot of fun in a mudbog nearby, although their parents weren’t too happy about it. I walked down to an old bridge in the woods that must have once been part of the main road, and took some photographs there, but my table was soon ready. I ordered a dinner of pacific rockfish, which was excellent, although I was tempted by the steak offerings on the menu. While waiting for my table, I had seen the homemade chocolate mousse pie, so I tried that as well, and was very pleased. Afterwards, with the sun setting on the lake, I parked at a gravel road on the other side of the bridge, and walked out on the bridge to take photographs. Then I headed out toward Batesville, heading back to Memphis. When I came to Concord, I remembered reading about an old pressing plant there, so I stopped at a gas station and asked the girl there if she knew anything about an old record pressing plant, or where it had been. She was young, but she did know about it, and told me that I had already passed the building down the road, but that the record in it had been given to a museum. Batesville was a beautiful town, lit up in a dark valley and visible for several miles, and from there I passed through Newport, which was a steamy, dark river town with nearly nobody on the streets. When I got to Memphis, it was about 11 PM, and I headed straight to the house.
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.
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.
My original plan had been to eat breakfast at a place called Another Broken Egg Cafe in Destin, but the Embassy Suites offered a full, hot breakfast as part of the price of my room, so I couldn’t really justify spending the extra money when I didn’t have to. Afterwards, I headed across the street to the beach and into the water, which was icy cold as usual, but I soon adjusted to it and stayed out for about an hour. Then I walked back to the hotel’s whirlpool and got in that for awhile before finally dressing for travel, packing up and checking out of the room. I stopped at a Winn-Dixie to buy a water float that I could use once I got to Fort Myers, and then I headed down Highway 30-A for old times’ sake, but I found the beaches nearly unrecognizable. Near where Dune Allen had been was now a large shopping village called Gulfplace, where I stopped for a cold drink and took some pictures. There was another similar area called Redfish Village near Blue Mountain Beach, and beyond that, whole new towns had emerged, Seaside, Watercolour, Rosemary Beach. At Grayton Beach, I went back down to the Red Bar Gift Shop, but it wasn’t open yet, so I walked around the little town taking pictures until the shop had opened, and then I purchased compact discs by the Red Bar Jazz Band and the Funkmasters. At the new town of Rosemary Beach, I was quite charmed by the architecture, so I stopped there and parked on the village green, then walked around the area taking photos. South of the highway, Main Street had been designed like a street in a European town, and there was a new Hotel Saba being built nearest the beachfront. On the street were a number of bistros and boutiques, and I walked into an ice-cream parlor to get something to cool off with as I walked back to my car. At Panama City Beach, I drove down the beach road for awhile, but stayed off of Thomas Drive and continued on my way without stopping there, because it was now 2 PM, and I would lose an hour when I crossed into the Eastern Time Zone. I decided to head north to Youngstown and east on Highway 20 through Blountstown and Bristol, then cutting over to Highway 98 beyond St. Mark’s. Thoroughly tired, I stopped at Cross City for coffee, noticing that the whole town was gathering at the high school for graduation. When I finally arrived in Cedar Key, I couldn’t find a parking place on Dock Street, so I had to park on the bridge and walk down to the Harbour Master Inn and Suites. I was fortunate that the office was still open (it would be closed in the next half hour), and I got checked into my room, the Sunkissed Suite, which was more like a bed-and-breakfast room. The deliciously-comfortable bed was a four-poster, and the room was quite spacious. Cedar Key was a small town, and could easily be walked. I headed first to Seabreeze on the Dock for dinner, noticing that there was a singer/songwriter performing across the street at the Big Deck Raw Bar. My steak dinner was really good, although delayed by the fact that the entire graduating class of Cedar Key High School (all 15 of them) were having a dinner in celebration of their graduation. The sun was going down as I walked back down Dock Street toward Coconuts, which had been the old Captain’s Table, and they were doing karaoke there. I snapped pictures at intervals, capturing the pinks, greys and purples of the sunset, walking down Second Street to the Gulf Front Motel and further down to the Faraway Inn, where guests were sitting on park benches, talking into the night. I walked back up the main street of the town to the city beach and park, where I sat on a bench, listening to the music from over on Dock Street and the musical bounce of a basketball as neighborhood kids were playing a pick-up game at the courts adjacent to the Cedar Cove condominiums. It was now pitch-dark, but for the lights from the Dock establishments, and I soon walked back across the marina boat slips toward my hotel. The wind was picking up heavily, and I suspected that a storm was coming. I thought of heading to a rap club in Gainesville, but the Gainesville radio station didn’t mention anything going on there, so I hit the bed and fell fast asleep.