I checked out of the Hampton Inn in Tampa early in the morning, and decided to drive down to a breakfast restaurant called the Broken Egg in the new town of Lakewood Ranch, just outside of Sarasota. It was a large restaurant with a large outdoor patio where a surprising number of people were eating, considering the hot weather. Evidently, the place was also connected with Dick Vitale in some way, since they were selling his autographed books and golf shirts. After running by the FYE in Bradenton, I drove back down into Sarasota, where I was captivated by the beautiful aquamarine color of the bay. I stopped at the civic center park to take pictures, and then drove over the causeway to St. Armands Key, where I parked and walked around the circle. The community had been planned by John Ringling (yes, the circus guy), but hadn’t been fully realized until recently, and was centered around a circular park, with statues of the Greek gods and other figures representing the beauties and advantages of Sarasota. Around the circle were a number of businesses, mostly cafes and restaurants with streetside tables, and a number of ice-cream shops. One in particular bragged that their ice-cream was homemade, so I stepped in there and enjoyed a chocolate-peanut butter ice-cream in a cup to cool off before the walk back to my car. I drove down to the beachfront, and saw that there was a Holiday Inn there (that would be a fun place to stay in some future year), and then I drove back across the causeway to Highway 41. Further down was the Sarasota marina, and I stopped there to take another set of pictures. There was a dockside restaurant there, but I decided against eating there, and headed further out to another FYE in South Sarasota. Beyond that was Venice, another planned city that had been conceived in the 1920’s as a retirement community for the Brotherhood of Railway Engineers. The Great Depression had delayed the plans, but the main street through downtown was characterized by palm trees and beautiful Italainate architecture. At Venice, I left Highway 41 and proceeded down the state highway through Englewood and finally across a toll bridge onto Gasparilla Island. The water at the causeway there was a beautiful green-blue, but as stopping was prohibited anywhere along the causeway, I could not take any pictures of it. The island was fairly long, but at the center of it, I came to the town of Boca Grande, a small, old town with no stoplights at all. It was laid out around an old tile-roof railroad depot that now housed a restaurant called the Loose Caboose. Nearby were shops and restaurants, such as PJ’s Seagrille, Hudson’s, the Temptation, the Boca Grande Outfitters and Boca Grande Baking Company. Summer is the off-season in Boca Grande, and some of the businesses were closed, although there were some people on the streets. Walking down to the beach, I found that it was both beautiful and practically deserted, and I took several photos there. There was some sort of private beach club near where I was, maybe affiliated with the venerable old Gasparilla Inn hotel. After I took a picture of two old white frame churches surrounded by palm trees, I drove further down the island road past a tall white lighthouse and down to the island’s southern tip, where there was another, more-historic lighthouse that is a state park nowadays. The museum in it was closed, but there were some other tourists walking around, and I managed to take some photos of the pass, and the white seagulls flying around, and the island to the south (North Captiva perhaps?) Yachts had anchored off to the southwest of the island, and I shot more photos there, and then headed back up into the town, noticing a subdivision where the streets were Damfino, Damficare and Damfiwill. I took pictures to prove the streetnames (who would believe it otherwise), and then, not finding any ice-cream place open, I headed back north up the road to the small shopping village on the Charlotte County side of the island, and got a fountain drink there. The Island House Inn nearby looked like it would be a good palce to stay if I ever craved for a longer visit, but I continued north across the bridge to El Cajon and Rotonda, headed for Port Charlotte. Port Charlotte had been planned by the General Development Company beginning in 1959. It was planned to be a city on a truly massive scale, and somewhere I read that there were more miles of paved streets and roads in Port Charlotte than in any other town in America. Unfortunately, most of those streets and roads were completely uninhabited even today, and eventually the General Development Company, who had sold lots through newspaper advertising to people who had never seen the town, was found guilty of real estate fraud and collapsed. While North Port Charlotte found a modicum of permanence and success as the city of North Port, Port Charlotte never fared quite as well as the large-but-unincorporated metropolis of Charlotte County. With large square miles of vacant paved streets tracking through wilderness, cocaine cowboys found it an attractive place to land their planes and offload shipments in the 1980’s. More recently, it had gained a reputation for gangs and violent crime, and this was before Hurricane Charlie scored a direct hit on the hapless community. As I headed northward, I passed street after street that was vacant, with the occasional house here or there. I was told that many who had purchased their lots were unaware that water and sewer lines had not been run out to the sections of Port Charlotte where they had purchased. Also, large quanities of the lots were purchased by investors who never intended to build on them. At the Port Charlotte Town Center, I stopped by the FYE, but didn’t find any of the DVDs I was looking for, so, resisting the temptation to eat dinner in Port Charlotte, I headed south on Highway 41 toward Fort Myers. Below the Town Center, Port Charlotte had the look of a typical ‘hood, with the road lined with old, run-down shopping centers. The look had not been helped by Port Charlotte’s unincorporated status, which meant that the residents had no ability to control zoning or enforce codes. Across Charlotte Harbor, Punta Gorda was the county seat, and had grown considerably since the last time I saw it, but the town had suffered damage from Hurricane Charlie as well. At North Fort Myers, I began to notice rain and dark clouds gathering, and as I passed across the Caloosahatchie River bridge, I noticed an island off of downtown Fort Myers that had a pier or dock at both ends and for sale signs all around it. It appeared to be overgrown and wooded, so I wasn’t sure why the piers were there or what it had been intended for, but I couldn’t help thinking what a great restaurant/nightclub that would make. Imagine having to park on the mainland and ride the boat out to the restaurant/nightclub and back. Of course, boats would have to run every 15 minutes, but that would be half the charm of such a place. The drive from Cleveland Avenue to Fort Myers Beach took forever, and there were no roads other than city streets, loaded with stoplights, but when I crossed the bridge onto Estero Island and into Fort Myers Beach, I had the most beautiful vista of aqua waters and sunshine. It was not raining here, and as I headed down the island, I soon came to the Carousel Beach Inn, where I had my room reserved. The motel was quite old, built in the late 1950’s, but it was directly on the beach, had a swimming pool and was impeccably clean. As soon as I had gotten everything unpacked into my efficiency, I stopped to consider dinner. There was a good restaurant across the street with a lot of cars, but it looked expensive, so I decided to eat at a steakhouse called Sam Seltzer’s in Fort Myers. Not wanting to face the traffic nightmares of Summerlin Road, I decided to head south from the motel and catch Highway 41 in Bonita Springs instead. At first, I thought this had been a good choice, as the road crossed from Estero Island to an even lovlier one called Lover’s Key. The sun was setting, and there were only a few boats out on the water and a few people on the beaches, and it was truly a pretty scene. But I had not realized that Bonita Springs was almost 30 miles south of Fort Myers, so the drive north on Highway 41 took awhile, and the rain was back, truly heavy at times, with thunder and lightning, and seeming to come in from the east, which struck me as unusual. Sam Seltzer’s Steakhouse turned out to be in a hotel, and had an outdoor tiki bar, but I chose to sit inside. The atmosphere was formal, like really expensive steakhouses, but the prices were like Texas Roadhouse or Outback. Furthermore, the food was incredibly good, and they were playing good jazz music on the speakers. After dinner, there was a jazz club called Ellington’s on Sanibel Island, so I drove down Galdiolus Drive through the small ‘hood of Harlem Heights and across another bridge ($6.00 toll) onto Sanibel, which was pitch-black dark. I could hardly see a thing, and it was raining heavily. I later learned that lights have to be kept away from the beaches on Sanibel during the summer because of bird nesting. The club was above a restaurant at the Sanibel Island Inn, and a jazz trio was playing there. I ordered a slice of key lime pie and coffee and enjoyed the group’s last set before heading back into Fort Myers. I drove down Fowler Avenue because there was an establishment on it called the Reggae Cafe, but it was not open, so I headed east on Martin Luther King Boulevard into the Dunbar neighborhood, but once again, nothing was going on. I had expected that I might see a record store somehwere along that route, but I didn’t. Hot 105.5 had played a local artist called A-Lee that the DJ had said was the next big thing to come out of Fort Myers, and I had hoped that they would be broadcasting from a rap club, but instead, they were broadcasting from a strip club in Port Charlotte. So I gave up trying to find anything to do, and headed back to Fort Myers Beach. Even the clubs there seemed dead, so I returned 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.
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.
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.