Florida is such a weird place. The cultural polyglot never ceases to amaze, especially from Orlando southward. One writer called Florida “California without the ideas”. For over a hundred years, people in America, and increasingly people from all over the world have picked up stakes and moved here, hoping for a fresh start. Visiting here, there is a sameness about the landscape, subdivisions and apartment complexes that go for miles, plastered around endless flat swampland.
Florida can be a place to start a new life. It was on this trip, talking to my mother over the phone, that I finally learned more about Uncle George, whose funeral in Norfolk I attended in 1967 when I was twelve years old. George was my paternal grandmother’s brother. He had been born in Norfolk in 1889 but lived most of his life in Winter Haven, Florida, just south of Orlando. He had had a respectable life in the orange growing business. How did he end up in Florida?
I had known that his father, my great-grandfather Albert Grandy had died in a “boating accident” in 1903, which some in the family claim was a suicide. Albert Grandy’s widow, Uncle George’s mother, and my great-grandmother, was named Annie Reid Grandy. My father, who usually did not engage in such gossip, once told me that his grandmother Annie Reid Grandy was “something of a floosie”, saying she was “morally challenged”.
Anyway, soon after the 1903 “boating accident” Annie the widow married her best friend Mr. Wilson, who was from New Jersey. This was apparently too much scandal for Norfolk, so Annie and Mr. Wilson took off to start a new life. In Florida, of course. And they took her youngest child fifteen year old George with them. So that is how Uncle George got to Florida. The only other appearance of George Grandy/Winter Haven on Google is about twenty years later, in 1923, when George was listed as one of the founding members of the Winter Haven Country Club.
This trip, I came down here by train. You can leave from Cary, near Raleigh, at nine something at night, and arrive Orlando about ten the next morning. If you choose to get off ten miles earlier, in Winter Park, so much the better.
The sleepers on Amtrak are great, but expensive. The coaches are OK if you take eye shades to sleep with, so I took the cheaper option. There was a guy behind me who kept talking from three to four in the morning, but somehow I felt rested when I got off with the folding bike into a light rain at the cutesy Winter Park Amtrak station.
The older neighborhoods of Orlando and Winter Park run together, and are actually quite attractive. Somehow I could image living here.
These neighborhoods had the only buildings I saw on the entire four day trip that were pre-1930’s, except for a similar neighborhood in West Palm Beach three days later. While on that subject, I will show you the West Palm Beach pictures now.
Back on the first day in Winter Park and Orlando, I did see some cool mid century modernism.
Lunch that day was at Paco’s, founded in 1981, which claims to be the oldest Mexican restaurant in Orlando. By Orlando standards, that is indeed old.
Florida is unusual in that except for the Orlando metro area, much of the area away from the coast is vacant, miles of cattle ranches, orange groves, and scrub forest. My objective this trip was to cycle southbound the hundred and forty miles along the oceanfront barrier islands from Cape Canaveral to Palm Beach. However, I wanted to skip cycling the dangerous sixty mile busy highway from Orlando to the east coast. So I picked up a one way car rental in the Orlando suburbs, and drove an hour to the rental car office near the beach in Cape Canaveral.
Arriving on the bridge to Cape Canaveral, it resembles the low rise beach towns of North Carolina, except for the giant Disney cruise liners looming over it. As foreign flag vessels, they can leave the USA, then offer low cost vacations served by third-world labor.
I returned the car, then set out southward by bicycle.
I passed more bits of modernism over the next three days.
Does this qualify as Brutalism?
When I was a middle school aged surfer in Virginia Beach, the talk of the surf frontier, the East Coast Holy Grail, were places in Florida; Cocoa Beach and Sebastian Inlet; places where the waves, it was said, were even better than Cape Hatteras, the best waves this side of California. I have never been here until now. My hotel the first night was just a few miles from either of those places. It was fun to look out the hotel window at the ocean, where the surf was indeed “up”.
Maybe I was just lucky, but I did not have a bad meal this whole trip. Dinner the first night was at a Cuban place in a strip mall on the highway near my hotel. I was impressed in how multicultural the crowd was. And it was delicious food cooked by Cubans, not necessarily “Cuban food.” Lamb chops with rice, fried yucca, plantains, and black beans.
Highway A1A follows Florida’s east coast for several hundred miles. For almost the entire way, the state of Florida provides either a bike path or a wide shoulder on this road. While much of the rest of the state remains difficult to bicycle in, Florida deserves credit for making a ride along their beach a pleasant one.
One sees lots of other bike riders along the way. Most are male, and most are my age or older. About half zoom by me, riding multi thousand dollar bikes, dressed in tight outfits. The other half go very slowly, and I zoom by them, guys just out for a ride around the neighborhood.
One of the best things about winter nights in South Florida is the quality of the air; warm and humid; it embraces you. I would not know why anyone turn on an air conditioner in a South Florida winter; on all three nights the hotels had windows I could open. On the second night near the beach in Fort Pierce, through the warm air you could hear the roar of Harleys out the window, as I viewed the working class neighborhood from my motel terrace.
Along the way, I would occasionally stop and walk out to the beach, just to people watch and look around. I do not know or talk to any of these people, nor did I tell any of them that I was taking their picture. This woman was speaking with her companions in Brazilian Portuguese.
On day three, the road changed. Because of the St. Lucie Inlet near the city of Stuart, one has to cycle inland to route around the waterways. I had been cycling along the beach for almost three days but I was quickly reminded that Florida towns tend to decutesify pretty quickly once you get away from the beach. The town of Hobe Sound was full of motorcycle repair shops and tattoo parlors. Want to send your loved ones to Greenland Palms Retirement Community?
In what makes Florida (and maybe all of America) such a fascinating and depressing place, the divide between rich and poor is wide. Leaving dingy Hope Sound, it seems like a time warp when one bicycles across the bridge from the mainland to the town of Jupiter Beach. The trees surrounding the road give an introduction.
Then you cross the bridge.
After you cross the bridge into the “town” of Jupiter Island a cop awaits you. My brother-in-law Bill has visited friends here in the past. He swears that even though this is a public road, if you drive into this community and no one knows your car, cops will follow you until you leave. He says there are nine police cars for the 858 residents of the town. Fortunately, on a bicycle, nobody seemed to mind me. Wikipedia claims it has the highest per capita income of any town in America.
Everything looks like a waspy country club. In other parts of Florida, rich people seem to request anonymity, and build gated communities. Here, one advertises one’s Anglo name for all to see, and almost nothing is gated or fenced.
There is a church, non-denominational Protestant one presumes, facing a tee of the Jupiter Island Club golf course.
At country clubs, courtesy is everything. At least when they tell you not to park, they are polite about it.
This house is oceanfront.
At town lines in Florida, things can change quickly. Crossing the line from the town of Jupiter Island into the town of Tequesta, the high rises begin immediately.
My train was to leave West Palm Beach at 1:30 PM the next day. I spent the night in the lower cost town of Jupiter, which is a different place than Jupiter Island. I biked the next morning into West Palm Beach. The building below is not a condo or hotel, but the new Palm Beach County Courthouse. In the past, I would have applauded building such an impressive public building. Now I just see it as a monument to the prison industrial complex.
I had time for a nice lunch before I left, at the Avocado Grill in West Palm Beach. Mahi-mahi salad.
These four guys looked to be there for business, not pleasure. They seemed to be negotiating the whole time. Tootie says former president Kennedy first popularized the Palm Beach look of loafers with no socks.
I biked the couple miles back to the train station, and folded the bike in preparation for the train. This is what I carried in this four day Florida excursion. When the train arrived, I settled in for an eighteen hour journey. I find trains relaxing.
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