Saturday, January 18, 2014

Florida, Sun, Sand, Surf and Warmth - or Bust!

(Note: I started this post over a week ago. For some reason, technology just seemed to fight me on this one. I can't see anything that should have made it any more challenging than any other post, but if it wasn't one issue, it was another. So, at long last, here is the trip from South Carolina to the Daytona Beach area. I hope I won't have similar challenges with the succeeding days of the trip.)

It's down the road we go from Manning, South Carolina.

Day #9

Today I'm driving down US Rt. 301 toward Florida. This was the road my father took to Florida when I was a kid and we were going to Florida on vacation. The last trip I made with my family on a Florida vacation (or any future vacations) was to Daytona Beach during the summer 1964 after my freshman year in college. It was during this vacation that I was coming of age. I cruised with my father's car on Daytona Beach checking out the gorgeous chicks in their bikinis - often stopping or being stopped to chat or be chatted up. Ah! Those were the days. It was also the summer that a fateful dive into the pool at the motel we stayed at resulted in me meeting my Daytona Beach native beach bunny, Jane. The next two summers (1965 & 1967) I drove to Daytona with some buddies and then with a distant cousin. And, that gets me back to Rt. 301 because that was the route I took to Florida those two summers.

When we drove to Florida as a family and again when I made the trips with my buddies and cousin, we stopped in Bamberg, South Carolina at the Holiday Motel. So, part of my quest was to see if the Holiday Motel still existed and was operating. Driving on Rt. 301 reminded me of my drive on part of the legendary US Rt. 66 - the Arizona portion of the road. Interstate 95 had bypassed all of these small towns and time seemed to pass them by. Many of the old 50's style motels were still operating - some well taken care of and other in various states of disrepair. Still others were abandoned an in ruins along with the former gas stations and downtown areas of these towns along the way. Rt. 301 was simply from a time past.

But, when I reached Bamberg, sure enough, the Holiday Motel was there. It didn't resemble what my mind's eye thought it had captured, but of course 47 years have gone by. But, I had to stop and take some photos.

At precisely the time I crossed the Bamberg border, saw the Holiday hotel, I was on the phone with one call and another call was breaking through from one of my buddy's. Talk about multi-tasking. So, I pulled into the motel, got off the phone and took photos. I then stopped in the office and met the current owner. She was a woman from India. This didn't surprise me. It's actually what I was expecting since many Indian families have immigrated to the U.S., bought older motel properties and operate them as budget motels. She and her family had owned the Holiday motel for the past 25 years. I told her my story of staying there so many years ago and the nostalgia of the moment. She was totally unimpressed and uninterested and only wanted to know if I wanted to book a room. Sigh! Another icon of my past dashed in mere seconds. I refused her request to book a room, left the office, climbed back in My McVansion and proceeded southward bound toward the sun, sand, surf and warmth of the sunshine state.

As I drove down Rt. 301, it became apparent that I had entered a twilight zone of desolation. I often drove miles before I saw any semblance of civilization. Even the old shanties that lined the road from that time I drove this road so long ago were gone. Again, miles would go by before I see other cars on the road and this was in mid-day.

I didn't even have any cell phone service on my AT&T smart phone for about an hour or more. It reminded me of driving through the high plains of Nebraska and Wyoming - except there; I actually had AT&T cell phone service in the middle of nowhere.

My next "point of interest" was the small town of Ludowici, Georgia. This little town routed Rt. 301 through the little town and kept reducing the speed limit to as low as either 10 or 15 mph. And, yes, this town was one giant speed trap back in the 50's and 60's. Well, another disappointment awaited me here. The town was like the other towns along Rt. 301, lost in a time passed. And even more interesting, Rt. 301 was now routed to bypass the town. I was in and out of the place in less than two minutes and no speed traps. Time marches on whether we like it or not.

Finally, I was approaching the Florida border. Here's the sign officially welcoming to The Sunshine State. But, I had no idea where I was going to stay and it was dark and I was getting tired. So, I did some Walmart searches and found that not far away was a small town (a suburb of Jacksonville) north of the huge geographic area of the city of Jacksonville. I called ahead to the customer service desk at the Yulee, Florida Super Walmart. A cheerful young (sounding) woman told me they loved RVers (traveling, wheeled nomads) and I was welcome to use their parking lot for my evening's stay. But, she warned me that it was supposed to be freezing (below 32 degrees) that night. I said that was not a problem. She had no idea the temperatures I had already experienced.

I reached the Super Wally World in Yulee, found myself a spot, went inside and announced myself, made a purchase and then settled in for the night. That ended an interesting Day #9 of my trek.

Day #10 

It was another brisk night on Tuesday night in Yulee, but nothing like it had been further north. The good thing is the day was definitely warmer. The bad thing was I had crossed into Florida and it was misting and raining and still gray on Wednesday. Not at all what I was looking forward to. I left Yulee and decided to follow my nose and not the GPS. I wanted to stay on Rt. A1A and drive down along the coast into and through St. Augustine, Marineland, Flagler Beach, Ormond Beach and possibly to Daytona Beach. So, I kept disobeying my persistent GPS that wanted me to go another direction, perhaps more direct and a bit faster, but neither direct nor faster were on my agenda. So, I kept going east toward the ocean.

So, for the first time ever, I crossed onto Amelia Island and in short order found myself in Fernandina Beach. This was a pleasant treat.

The old town area was quaint and picturesque. I parked at the town dock and took a few photos. Then I parked in the middle of the old down town section of the little town and walked up and down both sides of the three or four block street taking photos of the interesting buildings I found.

I left Fernandina Beach and continued down Rt. A1A traveling through a series of small beach towns on Amelia Island, eventually crossing the river and entering St. Augustine.

I don't know why, but I've always like St. Augustine even though I know it's a tourist trap. I drove by the Fountain of Youth. I didn't go in, though. I've been there several times. Yep! It's a tourist trap. I stopped at the Fort, parked, bought an hour's worth of parking and proceeded into the fort using my Senior National Park Service card to gain access at no charge. I love that card. I've been to the fort before, numerous times, but what the heck, I was there again.

Then I walked over to the street full of early buildings that are gift shops, art stores, boutiques, bistros and small restaurants. More tourist traps, but once again, I enjoyed the walk. I then departed St. Augustine over the bridge and back along the Atlantic coast on my way to Marineland.

Marineland was another disappointment. The Atlanta Aquarium now operates it. They no longer had the porpoise shows and it really wasn't much more than an extension of the Atlanta Aquarium. The little town of Marineland, Florida still exists, but much of the Marineland structures had been destroyed by a hurricane. The University of Florida has a Marine Biology laboratory there. But, the original purpose of Marineland is now part of history, that of being an underwater movie studio and secondarily a marine habitat and research facility.

I still remember my father and mother taking my sister and I there when we were both probably under ten years old. It seems that there is very little that is really permanent if man created it. Structures may endure some time, but the essence and meaning of their existence fades with time.

Next stop as dusk was approaching was Flagler Beach.

Flagler is very reminiscent of many of the small New Jersey Shore towns. The real draw for me is a seafood restaurant, the Funky Pelican, on the beach and extending to the water's edge. Again, I don't know why it is such a draw to me. But, I stop and have lunch or dinner every time I make the trip. I don't even know if it's had the same name over the 30 or more years I've been stopping there. The food is very good, (seafood, of course, why else would I go there). My waitress, Mia, was an attractive, friendly young woman, born into a military family. And like most military kids, she ended up being well traveled through her youth.

She was a real sweetheart,very friendly, took really good care of me and made an already delicious meal of blackened Haddock over a bed of grits with a wonderful, spicy, but not too much, just right, sauce, even more enjoyable. The meal looked and smelled so delicious when it arrived I dove right in before thinking about taking a photo of the presentation, but believe me, it looked as delicious as it tasted and there was nothing left on this plate when I was done eating except the small flower.

Without question, Mia, the Funky Pelican and my dinner were the high point of my day.

It was now night. It was time to face my next disappointments. I traveled the few miles further down the coast to Ormond Beach hoping to stay at the Walmart Super Center there. But, I was informed that the city ordinances did now allow any overnight parking and, apparently, they enforced it somewhat strictly. I went online to find an alternative. Daytona Beach, Deland and Port Orange were the same. I found a Love's Travel Center (truck stop) way out near I-95. I called and got a youngish sounding woman who said RV parking was allowed there. Unfortunately, whoever she was didn't know what she was talking about. So, after going around and around for a little while, one of the supervisors finally allowed me to stay the night in the front parking lot. Fortunately, I can sleep through a reasonable amount of noise because the truck traffic going into and out of the truck diesel pumps was considerable and continuous. But, I was off the road and ready for some sleep. I closed my eyes and Day #10 became history.


Fireman428 said...

Ed thank you for taking me along (OK at least in pictures) back to my old stomping grounds. I grew up in Fla in the very area you so aptly described. Now I guess I'm just gonna have to make a road trip myself very soon.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Glad I could bring back some memories, Dan. I hope they were pleasant ones.