WHAT A DIFFERENCE A NIGHT MAKES
CHOKOLOSKEE, Fla. - One night you're staying in an indoor Disneyland-style place near Orlando, sleeping in a giant suite that overlooks a fake pond with fake frog noises and a fake fort under giant panes of glass, and the next you're in a one-room motel in a place where you have to dial zero to make a telephone call to nowhere. But that's what's fun about travel, right?
The last few nights I was at a Travel South showcase in Kissimmee, learning about
tourism in a dozen U.S. states that make up the south. The folks were great, and the Gaylord Palms Resort was top-notch, but the indoor gimmickry starts to wear on you after a while. The next day, that being Wednesday, I stayed at a motel at what's nearly the tail end of Florida, the Parkway Motel and Marina in Chokoloskee, which is about four miles south of Everglades City, which is about five or six miles south of the Tamiami Trail, which is several miles south of Alligator Alley, which most of you know is the deserted stretch of highway that links Miami and Naples. The room is basic but quite clean and there's wifi and TV and a fridge and it's awfully quiet and still and it's a wonderful tonic after the fakery of Orlando.
I took a one-hour air boat ride on Lake Trafford near Immokalee Wednesday afternoon and got within, oh, two feet of a pair of five-foot long alligators that looked pretty frightening. But our guide, Bubba (no kidding), didn't bat an eyelash and we returned home safe and sound after a great 60 minutes of gliding over mud flats and through narrow channels in search of egrets and ibis and kites and eagles and, oh, maybe 150 gators. Pretty cool, actually.
WRAP OR RAP?
The local paper down here in Everlglades City is called, wait for it, The Mullet Rapper. I think they would mean Wrapper, but maybe there's a hip-hop angle I'm not aware of. Anyway, it's a great name. The front page has stories on the goings-on with Everglades National Park and also exclaims that the Shamrock Bank of Florida (not kidding, folks) now has a branch in Everglades City Hall.
NOT A TIKI BAR IN SIGHT
The air boat tour I went on was just outside of Immokalee, Florida, which is about as far from the glamour of South Beach as you can get. As I drove past some of the down-on-your-luck-looking homes and listen to your Sirius-XM radio in the rental car, the thought occured to me that it's really more suited to the E Street station featuring Bruce Springsteen's homages to middle America than it is to the Margaritaville station. Immokalee and Sebring and Avon Park and Lake Wales, Florida and
other cowboy towns in south-central Florida have much more in common with "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Youngstown" than they do with "Changes In Latitudes" or "Cheeseburger in Paradise." Driving down Highway 29 between Immokalee and Everglades City with "Thunder Road" or "The Promised Land" blaring out of your radio and your windows rolled down all the way is a nice way to spend part of a Wednesday afternoon in case you're ever in the neighborhood.
I recall covering the Blue Jays way back when and there was talk they wanted a better deal from Dunedin for spring training. As teams were wont to do to strengthen their bargaining positions with the towns
who already hosted them, the Jays - or someone - floated the idea of dumping Dunedin and getting a better package from Sebring, which is dead-centre central Florida and mid-way between Sarasota and Port Saint Lucie. In other words, nowhere. The funny thing is I remember Pat Borders, the Jays catcher of the time and a native of nearby Lake Wales who practically lived on chewing tobacco, saying that Sebring was really out in the sticks. We all thought, "Geez, if Borders say these guys are rednecks we can only imagine what it's like."
Actually, Sebring didn't look so bad when I drove through on Wednesday. And nearby Lake Placid looked quite pretty. But isolated? You bet.