lorida, The Sunshine State


March 17-29, 2003

USA flag

1963 sign summarizing FLorida, The Sunshine State
1963 sign summarizing FLorida, The Sunshine State

Florida: The Sunshine State. Colonized by Spaniards, 1559 * Site of the first permanent settlement in the USA, 1565 * Acquired by US from Spain, 1819 * Admitted as 27th State, 1845 * Now nation's fastest growing state * 1963 population of 5,639,900 * State song - "Old Folks at Home" * State Bird - Mockingbird * State tree - Sabal Palm * One of the world's great resort areas * 30,000 named lakes * 600 varieties of fish * Over 1,000 miles of sandy beaches * Site of famed Cape Kennedy moonport * Boasts versatile and expanding economy based on its factories, forests, farms, and mines * Manufacturing employment has doubled in the last ten years.

By a small coincidence Gerry first visited Florida in 1963, the year the above sign was made. His next visit, and Jan's first, was in 1985. Many of the same things could have been boasted about it in 1985 as in 1963: the state was still among the fastest growing in the country, the tourist industry had grown even more because of the arrival of Disney World, etc. etc.

Jan and Gerry at a Florida Welcome Center
Jan and Gerry at a Florida Welcome Center
St Augustine motel pool
St Augustine motel pool

Now, forty years after that first visit we were back together. We drove south from New York via New Jersey and all the states in between from Virginia to Georgia. Just arriving pleased us because it was the first serious test of our recently purchased 1995 Ford Escort. We bought it hoping it would take us all the way to Mexico; before doing that it had to get to Florida. It had, without a hiccup, so we were pretty pleased.

Our main goal was to see friends and relatives in the South Florida area. Our good friends the Rosenzweigs had left Middletown about the same time as us and retired to a gated community in Palm Beach Gardens. We were eager to take up a long-standing offer to see them in their new home. The relatives were Gerry's on his mother's side: his Aunt Esther,her daughter (his cousin) Cookie, and her husband Eric. We'd last seen Esther in Hong Kong in 1985; we'd never met Cookie or Eric.

Before, during, and after our visits in South Florida we expanded our knowledge of Florida's attractions. Not as deeply as we would have liked because our plans to be in California by May 1 had an upstream effect and limited our time everywhere else.

We started in St Augustine, the oldest settlement in Florida or any part of what is now the United States, touring the old San Marcos Spanish Fort, the remaining buildings in its associated Pueblo, and buildings dating to 1890s when the railroad was extended to the town and advertised tourism started to take off.

From there it was a straight run south to the Palm Beach - Ft Lauderdale - Miami area. We skipped various places en route including the Kennedy Space Center because we had been there in 1985 and thus avoided what seemed to us the astonishingly high price of around $40. Later we did see the Johnson Space Center in Houston. We weren't interested in Daytona and its car track. We could have enjoyed a return trip to the beaches of Indialantic, where we had spent time in 1985, but passed it by also.

We originally thought we'd stay on the beach in Miami but we were priced out of the market. It was Spring Break and thousands of college students were on the roam. Their presence jacked up the price everywhere, so we stayed inland near the Florida Turnpike; we had no competition there from nubile young people. And we had a nearly empty pool.

Once on the South Coast we drove the entire coastal part of Route 1 from North Palm Beach to the tip of Miami Beach, a distance of about 70 miles(if there had been a causeway we could have gone to the Bahamas for the same driving distance), so that we could get an appreciation of the luxury beach life. We liked it! It reminded us of Deal and other parts of the richer NJ shore near where we previously lived in Monmouth County, only there was more of it and it was richer and it had lots of tropical flowers.

Miami Holocaust Memorial
Miami Holocaust Memorial
Boat Ramp for Lake Okeechobee
Boat Ramp for Lake Okeechobee

In Miami Beach itself we had been advised to see the Holocaust Memorial. We had our doubts since in the last few years we have seen the museums in Jerusalem, New York, and Washington and as well have visted Auschwitz-Birkenau and the ghettos in Krakow. But it turned out to be very good advice (thanks Barbara!) and we're glad we went. It is a terrific artistic conception that successfully expresses the horror of the holocaust.

After leaving South Florida we went to the west coast and then north. Our route took us past Lake Okeechobee. We drove up on a levy to see what it was all about. And found that the lake on the other side was just as high or low as on our side. All that was really visible was a boat launch area and a narrow waterway that apparently led off to the real lake. Lacking a boat and not too sure what we would do on the lake, we went on our way.

Our route took us north along the center of Florida. We gave up the idea of staying on the beach anywhere near Tampa-St Petersburg for the same reason as in Miami: Spring Break and college hordes. We even by-passed the Disneyworld-Orlando complex because we'd been there done that. In 1985 we'd visited Epcot Center on Thanksgiving, thinking it would be the quietest day of the year. Instead,to our horror we found it was traditionally the busiest day! Perhaps we could have spent a day at the Magic Kingdom, but in the middle of summer we guessed it would perhaps not be the busiest day, but still too busy for us.

Truck with harvested Oranges,FL highway
Truck with harvested Oranges,
FL highway
Sign on Florida State University for new College of Medicine
Sign on Florida State University for new College of Medicine

In spite of having so many tourists and plowing up many acres of orchard, there are plenty of oranges left. As we drove along in Central Florida we were passed by truck after truck of what we guessed must be juicy oranges.

Yes, we said "passed". We are gentle on our Escort and rarely pass anybody. We even obey the speed limit, unlike most of the truck drivers. And during these first few weeks of our trip, we were even careful to keep our speed below 50.

We did make another stop in Florida, in Tallahassee. A great name, we've always wondered what it was like. It is of course the state capital(no, we didn't say hello to Jeb) and so as is our wont we toured the capitol building. It's modern and towers over the city. We mostly liked it anyway.

Tallahassee is also the home of two state universities. In the days of segregation one was black and one was white. Despite the change of laws and the end of Jim Crow, it still seems that each university is still either majority black or majority white.

From Tallahassee we returned to the coast and followed it all of the way out of Florida, going through Indian Pass, Port St Joe, Panama City, Walton Beach, and Pensacola. We were really impressed by how much beach there is and how many beach motels and resorts there are. Before arriving we had happened to learn about cabins in the Florida State Park St Vincent National Wildlife Refuge on Cape San Bass. Unfortunately we are not the types to make reservations in advance and they are so limited that the lady laughed when we called and asked if any were available.

Entry to National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, FL
Entry to National Museum of Naval Aviation,
Pensacola, FL

We didn't have trouble staying in Pensacola. There besides seeing our motel we saw the Naval Air Museum, which we found pretty interesting.

And then it was on to Alabama, Mississippi; and Louisiana.


August 28, 2003