Archive for the ‘Florida trips’ Category

$148.00 round trip nonstop (including luggage) from Raleigh/Durham to Fort Lauderdale on a decent airline (Southwest) was too good a deal to pass up.   It had been cold and rainy in North Carolina.   I could have two full days of bike riding down there with only one night in a hotel, because the departure flight was early in the morning and the returning flight was not until the evening.   I find South Florida fascinating but I prefer it in very small doses!

Also, I love trains.  I wanted to go to South Florida to check out Brightline.   No one but me seems excited about Brightline, which is in the process of changing its name to Virgin Trains.   While I am a big supporter of Amtrak, riding Amtrak is depressing.   Maybe because conservatives have been trying to kill Amtrak for forty-five years, workers and management seem exhausted.   With constant budget fights long range Amtrak financial planning is almost impossible.  When riding Amtrak the whole system seems befuddled.

Brightline is trying something else; an intercity passenger rail line done completely as a private business.    Their plan is to make this train financially viable the way railroads did in the nineteenth century, with side deals in real estate.    Because of this I question whether Brightline’s model will be duplicated elsewhere.  Brightline is a spinoff of Jacksonville based Florida East Coast Railway.  FEC owns and operates high quality tracks from Miami north to Jacksonville.  A hundred years ago the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach were essentially built around these tracks, and FEC apparently still owns a lot of prime real estate.    Because those three downtowns are currently in a building boom, Brightline is using its inner city location as selling point.   Live in downtown Fort Lauderdale without a car!   The plan is to operate trains all the way north to Orlando, which would require building a small section of new track.  The first portion, on existing track, has been operating ten trains a day Miami / Fort Lauderdale / West Palm Beach for about one year.   The FEC/Brightline tracks are parallel but better located than the tracks used for the existing Tri-Rail commuter trains that I have taken in the past.

I hatched a plan to fly into the Fort Lauderdale airport and upon arrival bicycle south twenty-five miles to Miami.   I would then take the Brightline that same afternoon from Miami north past Fort Lauderdale all the way to West Palm Beach.   I would spend the night around West Palm, then bicycle the next day the fifty miles south to Fort Lauderdale, and then fly home that same evening, without the opportunity to take a shower.   Press the plus sign to zero in on more detail.


The plane from Raleigh/Durham was scheduled takeoff at 6:50 AM.    I left mine and Tootie’s Chapel Hill apartment about 5:00 AM with the Bike Friday in a suitcase for the half hour drive to the airport.


I boarded the plane about 6:30 AM.

The plane arrived on time but it sat on the ground for a while, waiting for a gate to open up.   The luggage also took longer than necessary to show up.   I then walked with the suitcase down to the Delta terminal where there is a luggage storage business.   I spread my stuff around and put the bicycle together before checking the empty suitcase.   It was about 11:00 AM when I was able to bicycle away from the airport.  The weather was perfect, it felt great to be alive and outdoors.


I bicycled through the north Broward County towns of Dana and Hollywood, riding on residential streets as much as possible.  I passed by these interesting buildings.





I bicycled east across a causeway to the skinny north/south barrier island that comprises not only Miami Beach but a bunch of other “towns” with names like Sunny Isles Beach, Bar Harbour, and Surfside.

I followed Route A1A / Collins Avenue along the beach.  Sunny Isles Beach appeared mostly void of human life, even in the high season of early March.   There were very few stores or restaurants.  Does anyone live in these places?




I followed the Bicycle Route signs and decided to cross back across the bay towards downtown Miami.   The “bike route” includes the shoulder along I-195; a two mile Interstate highway across Biscayne Bay.    It was not really dangerous, but loud and very uncool.   I-195 dumps a bicyclist into the former slum that is now designated as “Miami Design District” just north of downtown Miami.    The pitch seems to be working and I give the powers that be credit for chutzpah, if nothing else.   There really are now all sorts of expensive looking designer storefronts.

A little further south must have been designated as a hipster district.  It all seems contrived but by Miami standards this building actually seems old.


I was still a mile or two from the Brightline rail station on the west side of downtown Miami, but I managed to see a Brightline train heading north as it passed through this grade crossing at an angle.


Brightline currently only stops at three places, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.   All three stations are brand new and use the same style of architecture, emphasizing these V shaped patterns.   I assume the railroad has a commercial stake in these tall buildings rising above the Miami station.


My journey to West Palm Beach would take an hour and fifteen minutes.  I could wheel the bicycle with me right onto the train.  I had bought a normal ticket for $ 25.00, but they offered me an upgrade to their business class for only $5.00 additional, and this included an alcoholic beverage and a snack.  Unlike Amtrak, you get an assigned seat.  The staff was helpful.  What’s not to like?



The first part of the journey ran through the same inner city neighborhoods that I had just bicycled through.   I am reminded of the difficulties high-speed rail faces in America.   The tracks had constant grade crossings (street crossings with gates).   The tracks are not fenced off at all.   I could see people standing along the tracks waiting for the train to go by so they could then run across them.   Walking on the tracks has already caused several people to be killed by Brightline.

These Miami neighborhoods were a mix of rich and poor.


Once out of the central city the train moved faster.   A fellow passenger determined from an I-Phone app that we went as fast as 80 miles an hour.


I had no complaints when the train pulled into West Palm Beach.  Brightline is a well run operation and a pleasant experience.   I have not taken a train in America so clean and futuristic looking.   I still had a three mile bike ride to my Airbnb but had to hurry as it was getting dark.


The only drawback to this trip was that lodging in West Palm Beach was expensive.  I did find an Airbnb for $ 88.00 with tax.   It had good recommendations on the website but clearly was not in the toniest neighborhood.

As I biked away from downtown some kind of event letting out.   I liked these people’s Palm Beach sense of style.

After cycling for a while through poorer areas I pulled up in front of the house that matched the address from Airbnb.  I saw only a front porch stacked with junk.


I called the guy and he said that I need to walk to the building around back.   There were dead Ford pickups parked in one corner.



Inside the back gate was a small terrace.

The owner had left a key on the table by the lamp.   Once inside it was quite nice, like a renovated tool shed with the interior ambiance of a 1950’s mobile home. (Dave and Gail: it was like the inside of your trailer!)  Everything was very tidy.  Really.  He had left the air conditioner going.   I turned it off and opened the window.    The breezes were pleasant and I did not hear a sound outside all night long.

With only a bicycle I was somewhat remote from restaurants.   I have a new lighting system and was comfortable biking a short distance in the dark.    About a mile or two away over residential streets were a few restaurants, including the Rhythm Cafe.  Built out of an old drugstore almost thirty years ago it seems to be a place where the upper crust of Palm Beach can go slumming.    With $ 25.00 entrees it certainly was not cheap.   My very helpful and friendly bartender (an ex-lawyer now working mostly on LGBQT issues) told me that people have to get reservations there weeks in advance during prime March dates.  I luckily got a seat at the bar.   In contrast to Miami where things look multicultural to the extreme, here it looked like a Midwest well to do country club or retirement home.   The guy to the left in the picture below asked for a glass of milk halfway through his meal.



The dinner was delicious, butternut squash soup followed by some Florida fish covered with roasted onions, accompanied by New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

The next morning as I started off early this was the view across the street from my Airbnb.


I bicycled south along the western shore of the bay, across the water from Palm Beach proper.  Even on this side of the bay the scene was ritzy, including having this Ferrari parked outside someone’s house.

At Lake Worth, just a few miles south of where I had stayed the previous night,  I turned east and crossed a causeway over to the barrier island that is Palm Beach.    This thin island stretches all the way south more than forty miles to Fort Lauderdale Beach, passing through Boca Raton along the way.

I keep coming down to South Florida because this is such a super bike ride.  Highway A1A has mostly slow moving traffic and a shoulder.   If you do this ride, I recommend planning carefully so that you take the Brightline against the the wind and only bicycle with the wind at your back!

Occasionally the highway goes along the oceanfront.

This ride is a guilty pleasure, looking at rich people’s gross excesses all along the way.

In one “town” there were these signs posted about every 100 yards.  Someone was freaking out that someone might raise someone’s taxes.    There clearly is not money enough in this town.


I pointed the bicycle back across the bay towards the mainland for a late breakfast but the drawbridge was open.  I stood around and watched the boats go by.


At 9:45 AM I had quiche and grits at the East Ocean Cafe in Boynton Beach.


The rest of the ride south to Fort Lauderdale was a mix of residential streets and high rises along A1A.

A year ago I had had a memorable alternative take on salade Nicoise at a restaurant in downtown Fort Lauderdale called Foxy Brown.   I excitedly got there this day about 2:30 PM but the server said that they had taken that item off the menu just last week!   Still, a poke bowl with raw salmon, avocado, pickled onions, garbanzos over faro was quite good.


There is a lot of building going on in downtown Fort Lauderdale.   After lunch I biked over a few blocks to a coffee house.   I could read and stare at the frenzied construction across the street.

The Fort Lauderdale airport is actually quite easy to reach by bicycle.   You can bike there from downtown in about half an hour.   At the airport I retrieved my suitcase, disassembled the bicycle, and made my flight with no problems.

South Florida, Jan 22-25, 2018

Posted: February 2, 2018 in Florida trips

Despite the fact that I try to travel as much as possible, I actually hate to fly.   Turbulence weirds me out.   Nevertheless $ 127.00 round trip Raleigh/Durham to Fort Lauderdale was too good a deal to pass up.   And it was nonstop, only about two hours on Southwest Airlines.  My friend Lyman had a similar deal from Austin TX to Fort Lauderdale, also on Southwest.  Both of us could take our folding bicycles in a suitcase for no extra charge.

I had a seat on the airplane near the front.  Southwest is a great airline.


It was only eight-thirty in the morning when I got off the plane into the warm humid embrace of South Florida air.

I was prepared right away, in the airport, to photograph the multiculturalism that is the Miami / Fort Lauderdale / West Palm Beach area.   However these people really just look like America.


Fort Lauderdale is the rare airport that has luggage storage where Lyman and I could leave our empty bicycle suitcases for four days.  I picked a spot in the terminal and put the bicycle together.


I bicycled off from the airport to look around.


I took about a three hour bike ride, to kill time while I waited for Lyman’s flight to arrive.



Just south of the Fort Lauderdale airport were a series of neighborhoods exclusively of double and single wide trailers.   They were actually quite nice.   The most predominant license plate on cars parked there,  other than Florida, was Quebec.

A few of the “houses” were a little more colorful.

After leaving the neighborhoods of mobile homes, I bicycled straight west for over an hour, hoping to get as far as the Everglades but I had to turn around because of time.  I bicycled back towards the airport on a bike path that followed a freeway and a drainage canal.

Tootie and I lived in Miami for one year in 1983.  We never saw a wild iguana, not even once.    Now they are everywhere in the petri dish that is South Florida.  They have, as I understand, taken off in just the past ten years.    Along this canal they were more common than squirrels in North Carolina;  I saw an iguana every minute or so.    Most were about three feet long, if you include the long tail.



Yes, I have bicycled Los Angeles and I swear that South Florida has more freeways per square mile than even Southern California.   One normally takes these walking/bicycling “trails” for peace and quiet, but not in this instance.


Part of the “trail” actually went right along the freeway.

I did finally get back to the Fort Lauderdale airport.   Lyman had arrived and we were now ready to go.

The two of us had a pleasant bike ride the five miles into downtown Fort Lauderdale.    I had made a reservation with an Airbnb near downtown Fort Lauderdale in a 1920’s house;  a room with two single beds in a couple’s home.   There was a dead Volkswagen van in the back yard.  They offered us the van for free if we would just take it away!

This is a really nice neighborhood; the only real problem is these tiny houses are worth close to a million dollars and are surrounded by giant condo buildings.    We walked to the restaurants on Las Olas Boulevard for sushi that evening.




Our trip the next day would be to bicycle from the Airbnb on SE 1st Street, Fort Lauderdale to  South Miami Beach taking the inland route through Little Haiti.




We had only gone about three miles when, in a nondescript industrial neighborhood there was a small sign noting “auto museum.”    We would not have seen this except that we were on a bicycle, it was not on a main road.     Of course, we had to stop.    There was a unique doorbell, “please pull cord and wait.”

A woman about our age answered the door.  She was quite nice and said admission was ten dollars, cash please.   We stayed there over an hour and were the only visitors.   We had stumbled onto what has to be one of the largest collections of Packards in the world.  Packard was a luxury car maker from about 1905 until they went out of business in 1958.  There were also collections of anything Packard: miniature Packard cars, Packard child’s pedal cars, Packard hood ornaments, Packard engine parts, it went on and on.


Me and a 1938.

Lyman and a 1958, one of the last ones made.

Art Deco hood ornament.


Back on the bicycles, we cycled through miles and miles of middle and lower class neighborhoods.


I like the look of modernist tract housing.   But what does it look like fifty or even sixty years later?   I speculate these houses with the new wave front porch were built about 1960.  When they were new these houses looked exactly alike.  Not now.






This neighborhood has the uniquely American situation where even though a city has high housing prices there are some areas where apparently no one wants to live.    It probably has a lot to do with race.  This is a pretty house that needs a lot of love.


We stopped for lunch at a colorful Nicaraguan/Cuban place where we split a barely edible Cuban sandwich.


Little Haiti is not really much to look at, and we bicycled on through the “Miami Design District” and then downtown Miami.   Downtown Miami is NOT easy or gentle bicycle riding.   It is mostly huge wide roads with fast traffic, intersected by freeways.

On the other hand, the Venetian Causeway, one of several bridges across Biscayne Bay from downtown Miami to Miami Beach, IS gentle and inviting to a bicyclist.    Lyman stopped and helped a guy with a flat tire.  This view is looking back over the area just north of downtown Miami.


The causeway connects several residential islands and the roadway has a toll, which keeps car traffic to a minimum.

I really like the section of Miami Beach called South Beach.  It is a street grid, and one of the few places in South Florida that one can blissfully noodle around on a bicycle.   What confirms it is a safe bicycling space?  It is where you see women bicycling around without helmets.


The Art Deco architecture is lovely.

Lyman and I stopped at an Irish bar for a beer and pondered where we would stay that evening.   On we found a room with two double beds for just over a hundred dollars including tax.   The “hotel” was a little unusual, however.


The room was fine, just like any motel room.   You entered from an outdoor walkway.


Although thankfully it was quiet in the sleeping area of our room, right outside our bathroom window was the courtyard of the hotel.  It had Spanish language music blaring and partiers staying up until about five in the morning.   When we went down for the free outdoor breakfast the next morning, the music was still playing



The next day our plan was to bicycle back over Biscayne Bay,  then over to Calle Ocho/Little Havana, and then to the Hialeah Market Tri-Rail station.



From there we would take the Tri-Rail commuter train up to West Palm Beach.

Lyman commented that this older Cuban-American neighborhood near Calle Ocho really does look like current parts of Havana!


Back in 1983 when we lived in Miami,  Tootie and I used to get stoned before going out to eat at the big and flashy Cuban restaurant Versailles; we got off staring at the mirrors.


Versailles is still there.  Lyman chose Versailles as a place we could connect and have a late breakfast / early lunch with his old friend Jaime, who lives in Miami.

After a nice meal we had about another forty-five minutes bicycle ride up to the Tri-Rail station in Hialeah.  You can wheel the bicycle onto the train, and the ticket for the almost two hour ride to West Palm Beach only costs $ 6.90.   While the train itself is fine, the stations and other infrastructure looks beat up and done on the cheap, and the train goes nowhere near downtown Miami.


We got off the train in downtown West Palm Beach in early afternoon.    We now had a day and a half to bicycle the sixty miles down to the Fort Lauderdale airport, where we had flights leaving the following evening.   Along the beach on A1A the bicycle ride from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale is really one of my favorite bicycle rides in America.    You should plan it like we did here.  Check out the weather, then take the commuter train against the wind and bicycle with the wind at your back!





We noodled around Palm Beach on bicycles for a while, before turning south on highway A1A along the beach.   Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh live in Palm Beach.    There seems to be an appreciation for showy wealth.



The beach road passes between Mar-a-Lago and the ocean.   From the beach side you can see that Mar-a-Lago is really a huge house that was converted to a club.  Gross.



Once south of Palm Beach communities vary in their displays of wealth, and change from town to town.    The bicycle ride was really pleasant.

About five in the afternoon we crossed a small bridge from the barrier island to the mainland, and looked for a place to get a drink and find a place to spend the night.   This tropical looking restaurant in Boynton Beach overlooked the inland waterway.  We had a good time talking to this guy in the blue shirt.   He lives in the Philadelphia suburbs.   His late parents had bought a small condo years ago here in Boynton Beach and he and his adult siblings inherited it.    He was now trying to sell it because they do not use it enough.

Surprisingly there are not many hotels in this area.   It is all condos.   And the hotels we found on were really expensive, like  $250.00+    From Google Maps we learned of the Tiki Hut Motel, only about a mile from this bar.   Google reviews were positive.   The place did not appear to take reservations over the internet.   I called them on the phone, and while a woman said they had one available non-smoking room with two double beds, they did not take reservations over the telephone either!

Lyman and I quickly finished our drink and got back on the bicycles in the dying evening light.   The Tiki Hut is on the old highway just south of Boynton Beach.   A South Asian looking guy (we presume the owner, we presume that woman’s husband) was blatantly rude to Lyman as he registered and paid.   The price was good, $ 90.00 plus tax.

It is a weird motel.   The room was clean and quite nice.  The windows were openable.    The beds were pleasantly firm.  There was unusual art on the walls.

They had unique figurines around a courtyard.

Later on we walked down the highway (US1) about half a mile to an Italian restaurant.    The food was fine, but not memorable.

We ate at the bar, our server said it was fine if we took her picture.

On the walk home we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins for an ice cream.   South Florida is populated by people who came there from somewhere else.  People have to find community where they can.  Here at Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins at 9:00 PM these people were doing crossword puzzles.

The Tiki Hut Motel glowed in the dark.


The next day, Thursday, was a great day.   We had about forty miles left to the airport for our early evening return flights home.  We bicycled along the coast with a strong tailwind.



The best meal of this trip was a late lunch on Thursday in downtown Fort Lauderdale.  Just by looking at this place I conjectured from the people standing outside that there was serious eating going on.

Sitting outdoors on the patio, we both got their version of salade nicoise, which was delicious, even though the fresh tuna was totally and unapologetically raw and cold.   Deviled eggs.  Arugula. Deep fat fried green beans.

After lunch we biked the five miles to the airport and caught our flights, stopping on the way to look at the Brightline train station.


Postcript from a train nut:

After lunch we biked over to the Fort Lauderdale Brightline station.  Yes, we had taken the Tri-Rail commuter train the previous day.   Brightline is a new service, more or less parallel to the Tri-Rail but on different tracks.   These Florida East Coast Railway tracks go directly to the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.   It is the first significant privately run passenger rail service in the United States in fifty years.   They appeared to have made a major investment.   We bicycled by the station in Fort Lauderdale.   The service had just starting running two weeks ago, but for now only from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach, a train every hour.   The ultimate idea is to run from Miami to Orlando in three hours.   We had not taken this train because we did not know it was operating.   Amtrak always looks beat up and cheap.   This definitely does not look this way.  The station and the train are lovely.

The Gulf Coast beaches of northwest Florida and Alabama are the prettiest beaches in America.    The sand is blindingly white, the water crystal clear.  Amazing.


The human built environment here is more variable.   While some areas are quite nice, a lot of the development is astonishingly ugly.

This is a completely different part of Florida that what many people know.    Pensacola is seven hundred miles from Miami.   Also, these northwestern beaches are primarily used in the summer, so in early December this was low season.

I was here following a family reunion of sorts, a memorial service for our beloved Aunt Barbara, held at a beautiful Episcopal church in the old part of Panama City.   Barbara and her husband had retired to Panama City Beach and lived here almost thirty years.

The day after the service my plan was to bicycle the ninety miles to Pensacola in two days, then drive back in a rental car.

I parked my car in a Walmart lot and took the bicycle out.   As I left the parking lot I could see the beachfront high rises in the distance.  I bicycled the several blocks toward the beach.

I turned right onto the highway closely following the coastline.

This area is not all high rises; those come in clumps.   Other areas had miles of older beach houses.    I bicycled past this place where Alex and I had eaten breakfast the previous day.

The breakfast had been fine if you could ignore the bumper stickers above the grill.

At one point I had an opportunity to see the beach as the road turned slightly inland.

The next ten or fifteen miles comprised a series of “towns” constructed in the last twenty years or so.   I put that word in quotes because while these places try to mimic a town, they are really real estate developments masquerading as towns.   An actual town has a government and is populated by people who actually live there.   Very few people live in these “towns” full time and they are are ruled by homeowner associations and real estate companies.   My brother Alex has written extensively on this subject.

Still, these “towns” can be appear quite nice.   Instead of high rises, most have dense “neighborhoods” of mixed use buildings.   The first “town” we passed through was Rosemary Beach.  By my calculation, it looks to copy St. Augustine, Florida.    While these places look old they are actually new.

Each “town” along the way had its own architectural personality.   This one was Seacrest Beach.

Sandy Shores was gated to keep the riff-raff out. (What are they so frightened of?)

Alys Beach, where every building is white.

The last “town” of this stretch is the most famous.    Seaside was about the first planned community in America that tried to build a new “town” masquerading as an old town.   It was designed by the Cuban-American architect Andres Duany who was instrumental in the New Urbanism movement.  While my views have become more jaded over the years, if someone had asked me in about 1990 who my guru was, I would have said Andres Duany.    Duany at that time was more than an architect.   He wrote and put out videos showing the failure of postwar American urban planning and how ugly the shopping centers and cul-de-sacs of suburban America were.   He said we needed to go back to copying the small towns of 1920’s America, where streets were in a grid and houses had front porches that came relatively close to the sidewalk, and kids could walk to a corner store.  Mixed use.  In 1985 these ideas were new and controversial.

Seaside was much smaller than I expected.     Since parts of it are almost thirty years old, it is pleasantly overgrown with live oaks and some buildings look almost genuinely  “old.”     Most houses have front screen porches and grass yards are prohibited.    Lots of picket fences.

I grew up in Virginia Beach.   Parts of Seaside looks like an idealized version of what the north end of Virginia Beach would have looked like circa 1955.

And Seaside has a “downtown.”    Yes this all is contrived.   And elitist.  And no person of color was within miles of here, except maybe working in the back.     But the “downtown” was quite nice.   There is a line of trailers converted to food trucks.   They were uniformly all old Airstreams, I am sure there is some regulation requiring that!

Beyond Seaside route 30A winds through a state park and state forest land.

Unfortunately there was a bridge out, and I had to detour onto on the main highway US98.

I needed lunch.   In the middle of a pine forest along this wide highway was a strip mall that included something called Music & Coffee.

It was staffed by one woman.  There were signs promoting singer-songwriter nights at this venue.   She makes an excellent chicken salad croissant.

Back on the road towards Destin I was able to ride on this sidewalk much of the way.

Destin was a tiny fishing village surrounded by white sand dunes until about 1985.    Development went immediately to high rises without bothering the usual steps along the way.

Some areas did look nicer than I expected.

I stayed this night at the Sea Oat Motel, a motel that the woman behind the desk claimed was an original, built before the 1980’s boom, back when she said one had to drive seventeen miles to Fort Walton Beach to go to the grocery store.  Ground floor Gulf front room, ninety dollars plus tax.

For dinner I chose to bike in the dark out to the highway, in a sea of huge strip malls. (Yes Betsy, I have bike lights.)


One ethnic group that has done quite well all along the Gulf Coast are the Vietnamese.   I guess the hot and swampy climate reminds them of where they came from.     Two of my favorite food writers R.W. Apple and Anthony Bourdain both have said that Vietnamese food is their favorite cuisine in the world.   And both writers crow about pho.    The Baguette Bistro in Destin advertises themselves as French/Vietnamese.   The waiter recommended the pho.   This was the first time pho really blew me away.    Intensly flavorful broth, very fresh condiments, lots of beef.   I am learning that pho is like a hamburger in that how one uses the condiments is a large part of the experience.

There were Vietnamese families eating there as well.


The next morning I biked seventeen miles west to Fort Walton Beach, a faded beach town with an old school downtown lining US98.

In this strip of mostly empty storefronts was the quite nice locally owned Maas Coffee.   I stopped for breakfast; latte and a roll.   The pastry was surprisingly good.

I biked about fifteen more miles down highway 98.  It was none too glamorous.  I got off the main highway onto parallel roads when possible.

I was looking forward to the Navarre Beach Causeway, which would take me out the the Gulf Islands National Seashore.    Google Maps showed the barrier island as entirely green colored, meaning all of it should be parkland and I assumed very little traffic.   I would be able to follow that highway all the way to Pensacola Beach.

When I got to the top of the Navarre Beach Causeway bridge, this barrier island looked much more developed than the map had indicated!

Thankfully these high rises only extended for a couple of miles, and after that I enjoyed about sixteen miles of an almost traffic free road through undeveloped dunes of white sand.

As I got near Pensacola Beach there was a bike path along the beach highway.    It led up to these displaced looking high rises, the first buildings along the beach in many miles.

The national seashore ended abruptly at those tall buildings.   I cycled a few miles through residential areas of Panama City Beach filled with normal size houses.   I was hungry for lunch, but I did not want to stop at just anywhere.   Meals on these bike trips should be an experience.  I was running out of options and I settled for Flounder’s, a large crowded indoor/outdoor restaurant on the docks facing the water.    I sat at one of the several bars.

It was two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Lunch was fine.   I felt sort of guilty for taking this picture as I was walking out.

Downtown Pensacola was less than ten miles further, much of it across bridges.    I found a decent renovated motel downtown.   I walked around later in the evening.   There were nice Christmas decorations.   Pensacola is older than New Orleans but parts have a New Orleans look.

The next morning I biked around the older parts of Pensacola.

This modernist house mixed nicely into the same neighborhood as the 1920’s bungalows.

While Pensacola does have some lovely older neighborhoods, it reminds me of those other Navy towns Norfolk/Virginia Beach and Jacksonville, with miles and miles of almost poor 1950-60’s neighborhoods thrown across the sandy landscape.

When I arrived for my car, Enterprise refused to rent to me because I already had one Enterprise car on my account.   I was forced to bicycle across Pensacola again so I could rent from Budget at the Pensacola airport.    Still, I had an easy drive back on I-10 to my other rental car at the Walmart in Panama City Beach.

The weather was nice and Amtrak fares are low and refundable, so I took the opportunity to go down to Florida once more.   Tootie drove me and the folding bicycle to the Cary NC Amtrak station.

It was FOOD that seemed to be the center of all the major experiences on this trip.    Tootie and I rarely eat in restaurants when we are at home in Chapel Hill.   Even though we are surrounded by good places to eat the food just seems better if we cook it ourselves.  But I really like to eat out when I go on the road.   It started with dinner at the bar of Crosstown Pub, across the street from the Cary Amtrak station.   Rare tuna with quinoa and roasted vegetables is a pleasant surprise for bar food.

Coming in from the north the train was an hour and a half late, so I had to sit around the station until almost eleven at night.   I slept uncomfortably on the train. (the only savior: a full size pillow bought for $ 5.88 from Walmart; you can throw it away after the trip!) The next morning I got off the train at about 11:00 AM at the north Orlando suburb of Winter Park.

I put the bicycle together at the cutesy Winter Park station, new, built to look old.


My general plan was to bicycle in three days to my friend Bob’s house in Tampa, then tour Tampa and St. Pete for one day before catching the late afternoon Amtrak train home on the fourth day from Tampa.

Older parts of Orlando are actually quite attractive.  I got lunch at BurgerFi; hamburger and broccoli were good.  I read my Kindle.


Winter Park is northeast of downtown Orlando.  I pretty much skipped downtown Orlando and looped around the city, going through miles of African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods, often unpleasantly biking on the sidewalk next to a major road.    Eventually I was able to pick up West Orange Trail, an excellent bike path that extends twenty-two miles through this part of Orlando and its suburbs.  Sometimes the trail follows regular highways.


Other times it meanders off on its own.

Several hours after leaving Winter Park the trail ran through the town of Winter GARDEN.   I drank a latte at this local coffee house downtown.   The people seemed almost too well dressed, friendly, and polite.   I wish I knew what these people had in common.


I had booked an Airbnb in the town of Clermont, a little over thirty miles from my origin.   Clermont is an older town on a bluff overlooking a lake.

Seventy-five dollars plus fees for a room in someone’s house is a questionable deal, but the deal is better when the owner is out of town and gives you a code to get in.  I had the place to myself.   He must be a pilot; everything on the walls and the furniture is about airplanes.


I get the feeling the Clermont area is populated with a mix of locals, visitors, and retirees from somewhere else.   The downtown is off the main highway and struggling to keep relevant.   Walking downtown to dinner that night,  this shop was offering what it called Art.


Dinner was at the 801 City Grille, one of two restaurants in the downtown.

Eggplant Parmesan is troubling and frustrating to me because it was so good here in Clermont.    When I prepare it at home I am meticulous because that is what I read the Sicilians or Campanians would have been.    I only cook it July – November when I can get both local eggplants and local tomatoes.   I almost always use local mozzarella from Chapel Hill Creamery.    I dredge the eggplant slices in local eggs and with breadcrumbs I made from Weaver Street Market bread, and then fry the slices in extra virgin olive oil, before assembling the casserole and baking it.   Yes, it is delicious.  It is also a pain in the ass.  It takes hours to prepare and makes a huge mess in the kitchen of our Greenbridge condo.

But in Clermont at the 801 Grille the dish arrived at the bar about six minutes after I ordered it.   It was fearfully delicious.    I know how these restaurants produce this.  They have a pot of tomato sauce already on the stove.    They take two factory pre-breaded frozen hockey pucks of eggplant and throw them in the deep fat fryer.   After cooking about two minutes they cover the plate with cooked pasta, then the fried eggplant slices, then cheese, then tomato sauce, then more cheese.  Lots of tomato sauce.   Plated and ready to go.

Eggplant itself does not have much taste.  The dish is really about the quality of the tomato sauce and its interaction with the cheese and the breading.   The 801 Grille was firing on all cylinders this night.  I could not get enough of it.

Of course the bartender was helpful.


There were only a few other people in the restaurant.  They all seemed old, like me, but maybe more conservative.



Meanwhile, the TV blared Golf Channel with some older man patronizingly showing a younger blond woman how to swing a golf club.

I walked back in the dark to “my” house.

Biking out the next morning,  south of the older town of Clermont newer subdivisions continue to spread across the landscape, surrounding the lakes.   It seems the end of the line for the Orlando diaspora.   This subdivision, I think, is the one where my late friend Steve Johnson bought a house but then needed to sell it even though it had plunged in value following the 2008 recession.


The subdivisions pretty much stopped after this and for a long morning I rode through what seemed wilderness.  The second half was on the excellent Van Fleet Trail, paved and straight as an arrow.


Near the agricultural town of Polk City this Buick sat rusting along the trail.

By about one-thirty it was hot, the sun was bright and I had ridden a long way.   I was on the outskirts of the city of Lakeland and getting telephone calls about work.   On a dreadful and busy two lane road passing through junkyards I ducked into a dusty parking lot to take a phone call, hiding in the shade of a big truck.   The place looked exactly EXACTLY like the junkyard where John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson disposed of a dead body in Pulp Fiction.


In this depressing working class side of Lakeland I ducked into BubbaQue’s, lodged in a strip mall next to a gun store.   They wear their political opinions here openly, posting this next to the takeout menu.


All over the country in barbecue places, especially at lunch during the week, most of the patrons seem to be men.


Lunch was delicious, the $5.00 special; “small” pork sandwich with two sides, slaw and baked beans.

I will commit heresy and compare Florida barbecue to that of North Carolina.  North Carolina barbecue is so famous that even people in Virginia hold it as their standard.  I also had barbecue the next day at Johnson Barbecue in Plant City, Florida.     Just like at BubbaQue’s, Johnson Barbecue (since 1954!) had lots of choices.   North Carolina barbecue is great but I think it is stuck in its excellence. There are a couple places near my home that are branching out,  but most places in North Carolina would consider it heresy to focus on anything other than chopped pork with vinegar sauce.   Even the side dishes culturally are frozen in stone.   At Johnson Barbecue in Plant City even with its old-school blue collar atmosphere it seemed more inventive.   I got a beef brisket sandwich with pickles and slaw.

The crowd eating at Johnson Barbecue was similar

But back in Lakeland after lunch I still had to get downtown.   Coming from the east the city did transform itself; it was no longer just junkyards and gun stores.   I biked up to the Terrace Hotel where I had made a reservation (thankfully) a few days in advance, since this hotel was full that night.    Built in 1924 the tallest building in Lakeland it looks out over, what else, a lake.


Drinks and dinner that evening were a hit and then a miss.   The Lakeland Brewing Company sits caddy-corner across the lake from the hotel.   As the sun set over the lake, I talked to some of the other patrons in a fetching atmosphere.  The beer was delicious.   There were free pretzels.


The food menu at the brewery was pretty limited so I made the huge mistake of walking downtown for a proper restaurant.   There were only a few places to choose from.  The most popular place was so crowded that it seemed hopeless even to wait for a seat at the bar.   I went across the street to Posto 9, billed as a “Brazilian Gastropub.”   Being very tired and hungry I made a bad tactical decision.   At thirty-two dollars plus a twelve dollar glass of wine (not including tax and tip); it may have been both the worst, and the most expensive entree I have ever eaten;  a dried out piece of fish with some slop and some supposedly crisp potato chips.


I obviously was still hungry but certainly I was not going to spend any more money at that place.   I went back to the hotel room and made in-room decaf coffee accompanied by the items on hand in the front bag of my bicycle;  a Powerbar and the best deal of the night, a fifty-nine cent bag of peanuts.


The next morning on the way out of town I biked over to Florida Southern College, famous for collection of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in the 1940’s – 50’s.



The older parts of Lakeland are attractive.

It was about thirty-five miles to Helen & Bob’s house in Tampa.    I stopped for lunch at the aforementioned Johnson Barbecue in Plant City.      After slogging through miles of poor neighborhoods in east Tampa, I rode through older neighborhoods of Tampa, many being renovated.


Bob and Helen live in a nice house in a similar neighborhood that is within a long walk to downtown Tampa.

Bob treated me to the best meal of this trip.  In his car he drove both of us across the I-275 bridge to St. Petersburg.   In a dingy neighborhood near a freeway overpass was Eco-Village,  a large lot planted as an urban garden.   Bob knew several of the organizers.   This evening was Eco-Village’s first attempt at a field-to-fork dinner under the stars, combined with a tour of the garden.  This was a very impressive urban garden.   The level of agricultural expertise blew me away;  to grow so much in such a small space, using all-organic methods.  They essentially had to make their own soil, since in St. Petersburg the base is almost all sand.

The dinner was delicious and convivial.  I met all sorts of interesting people.

We drove back to his house in Tampa that evening.  I got up very early the next day.  Bob made delicious coffee and I left their house and biked off towards the causeway that crosses Tampa Bay to Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

Before arriving at the causeway I passed through a few areas of Tampa that seemed almost New Orleanesque.

The ten mile long Courtney Campbell Causeway in itself is one of the best bike rides in Florida.  There is a full-width separate lane for pedestrians and bicycles all the way across.


Being America, on arrival in Clearwater on the other side of the bay, this beautiful bike path dumps the bicyclist onto a busy high-speed six lane highway.    I sought refuge at a Starbucks.    Sitting outside for a good forty-five minutes, for the entire time I watched a multigenerational group speaking Italian stand in the parking lot.   They seemed relaxed.  They must have appropriated Italian coffee shop etiquette.

I biked through miles of suburban neighborhoods in Clearwater.

I will admit I am a sucker for 1940-50’s trailers; I have never been anywhere like Florida that seems to convert them so much to permanent housing.

I crossed over another bridge to the barrier island, hitting the gulf beach at the community of Belleair Shore.   For seventeen miles from there to St. Pete Beach I biked along the  gulf highway passing by motels, condominiums, and bars.   I wanted to take pictures but very little was memorable.  The best I can say is that there were many small motels that looked both prosperous, old school,  and family run.

After some fish tacos in St. Pete Beach, I turned inland for the ten miles to downtown St. Petersburg.  The last portion into downtown St. Petersburg was on the bike path Pinellas Trail.

Some older parts of St. Petersburg, like Tampa,  would qualify (by my rules!) as being a  quite nice place.     I had ridden over fifty miles that day; I rested with a latte on the sidewalk on Central Avenue North.   The street might be trying a tad too hard to be hip.

I ordered up an Uber to take me and the bicycle back across the bay to the Tampa Amtrak station.   I passed through parts of St. Petersburg I wished that I had seen by bicycle.   The train, scheduled for 5:30 PM was late, of course.




Most people I know would love to ride Amtrak but there are only a few destinations from the Raleigh/Durham area where Amtrak service makes sense.   One is Jacksonville, Florida, if you had some reason to go there.    The train leaves Cary NC (ten miles west of Raleigh) at 9:25 PM and if you can sleep on the train you wake up at 6:30 A.M. in Jacksonville.  Amtrak accepts the folding bicycle with no fuss.  I made plans to go down to Jacksonville to meet my friend Lyman,  who would be coming in by airplane from Austin, Texas with his folding bicycle.   We were going to ride along the beach for three days.

To make it more interesting I decided to bicycle the twenty-five miles from our home in Chapel Hill to the Cary Amtrak station.   I did not want to bicycle in the dark so I left home at 4:00 PM.   I could kill time by having dinner in Cary.   I keep my bicycles in the level P1 parking of our building Greenbridge.   I strapped my small trunk bag on the back.


We live on the seventh floor.



I rode the bike through the streets of Chapel Hill, down the big hill from the university.


I biked over to near Southpoint Mall and then south on the American Tobacco Trail.



Near downtown Cary I stopped at a Starbucks to read The New Yorker on my Kindle.



I still had time to kill, and I eventually ended up around the corner from the Amtrak station at the Crosstown Pub.   This friendly place had a different atmosphere than what you would find in Chapel Hill, with police badges behind the bar.



Dinner of tuna, rice, and green beans was all delicious.


I hung around until just before nine when I went over to the train station.  The train departed on time.   I mostly slept the next nine hours.  It was just getting light when I pulled the bike off the train in Jacksonville, Florida.




Lyman had flown in the previous evening and I was going to bike the ten miles from the Amtrak station to his motel near the Jacksonville airport.   Both the Amtrak station and the airport are on the north side of downtown, which is known as the poorer side of Jacksonville.   Friends in Jacksonville were surprised I would do this; they said the north side was unsafe.   I had read something that described the north side of Jacksonville as “urban.”   There was nothing urban about it unless one takes that as codeword for “African-American.”   There was even a bike lane, at least for a while.


I bicycled through neighborhood after neighborhood.  It was all very suburban looking.  I assume these neighborhoods were all black.





Maybe it is obvious to other people but I had never thought of this before.  I had heard that the average net worth of an African American family in the United States is about one-tenth of a white family.   It struck me that part of this is due to what I will call unintentional group racism.   The gain in net worth for many American families comes from buying a home and the appreciation of its value.   Yet if a neighborhood is mostly African-American, the home values go up hardly at all.   Most white Americans, probably including myself, would hardly consider buying a house in an African American neighborhood.    This aversion leads to lower housing appreciation and is probably is a huge part of this wealth gap in America.

And businesses such as grocery stores are quite scarce in these neighborhoods.  There was this fascinating 1960’s looking liquor store/strip club.


I eventually found my way to Lyman’s motel near the airport.   He had rented a one-way car to drive our us and our two folding bicycles the thirty-five miles to Fernandina Beach, near the Georgia border.   From there we would bicycle south along the beach 120 miles to Daytona Beach over the next three days before driving another rental car back to Jacksonville.


That first day we stopped for lunch south of Fernandina.



Ocean front lots are expensive real estate, and over the next three days I saw many interesting houses filling those lots, some attractive, some gaudy and ostentatious.



















We crossed the Timucuan Ecological Preserve.




We spent that first night at the Seahorse Motel just north of Jacksonville Beach.    The motel looked worn out from the street but had a pleasant view from the balcony.



My old friends Tom Whiting and his wife Kim live near here and drove over to have dinner with us.



The next day we biked through the fancy neighborhoods of Ponte Vedra Beach and then the highway opened up as it headed south along the ocean.


Our second night was in St. Augustine, billed as the oldest city in America.


We stayed in a cheap motel that was a short bike ride in the dark from town.   We drank beer and watched the sunset from our balcony which not only had a lovely water view but also overlooked the main line of the Florida East Coast Railway, which I found even more delightful.




St Augustine is part historic town with buildings from the eighteenth century, part tourist trap, and part cool place, such as The Ice Plant where we went for its delicious designer cocktails.


At our motel was an impromptu convention of Santa Clauses, men of a certain age and physique that let them be Santa without any makeup.   Even though it was February most of them wore Christmasy clothing.



When we got up the next morning for our free breakfast the Santas were still around.


It was about sixty miles the next day south to the Daytona Beach airport where we would get  a rental car to drive back to Jacksonville.   The state of Florida has done a super job accommodating bicycles on Highway A1A along the coast; there is a bike path or bike lane along almost all of it the five hundred miles from Fernandina Beach to Key West.   In some places it even veers off-road.



Daytona Beach is known for its motorcycle culture.   South of St. Augustine Beach we stopped at a mini-mart for a bottle water  and paused to chat with this guy.  He said his 2001 Yamaha was just a better motorcycle than a Harley.



Daytona Beach is a depressed looking city but seems proud of its motorcycles and it stock car races.



The Daytona International Speedway overlooks the Daytona Beach airport where I biked up to to get the rental car to take us to my friend Tom Constantine’s house in Jacksonville.   After his delicious dinner Tom drove me later that evening to the Amtrak station.   I got off the train in Cary NC at 8:30 AM the next day.



On this Sunday morning I was home in Chapel Hill by noon.

Once a year for the past five years I have been coming down here to bicycle around.   Each time I am amazed at the cultural polyglot.   And the buildings!   I surely do not want to live here, and I really do not want spend more than three or four days a year here.   But here on a solo trip for three nights in January things certainly never got boring.

I had wanted to cycle the Tampa Bay area instead, and I still might do that this year.   But for one hundred sixty-five dollars you can fly round trip to Fort Lauderdale nonstop from Raleigh/Durham on friendly Southwest Airlines.   And Fort Lauderdale is still the only airport I know of in the USA that has luggage storage, because of the cruise ship business.   I can arrive with my bicycle-in-a-suitcase, check the suitcase at the airport, and ride off into the South Florida Netherland.    I landed here on time just after 12:00 noon but the plane sat on the runway for forty-five minutes, so it was almost two o’clock before I got the bicycle put together and I could cycle away.


Weather in South Florida in January is generally perfect.   People tell me they love the desert climates of places like Arizona in the winter.    South Florida is something else entirely; a constantly blowing warm bath of humid air, almost always between 65 and 78 degrees.   Shifting very low clouds, surrounded in the mornings and evenings with pinkness evolving into blue sky.

My general idea of this trip was as follows:

  1. Day One (afternoon): Fort Lauderdale airport to South Miami Beach.
  2. Day Two: Tour around Miami, then Tri-Rail commuter train to West Palm Beach.
  3. Day Three: West Palm Beach to downtown Fort Lauderdale.
  4. Day Four: Bicycle early to Fort Lauderdale airport for 10:40 AM flight home.

I biked from the airport to the south, just the other side of the runway. I crossed a canal into the neighborhood/town of Dania Beach. Both Broward and Dade counties together have many dozens of municipalities. It is really all one continuous city starting in Palm Beach down a hundred miles to where farms and the Everglades begin south of Miami.  But the names of the “towns” change constantly.

Before about 1900 there was essentially nothing here but swamps.    Almost everything here is new, some of it shiny.  I cycled through older neighborhoods on the west side of Biscayne Bay.  By  Miami area standards these places are old enough to be called historic.






There were school kids walking around.





In a stiff headwind I crossed the Broad Causeway to the barrier island that is Miami Beach.



Even before I got to the Art Deco architecture of South Beach, there were all sorts of cool buildings to look at.





I got down to South Beach just before dark,  stopping on Lincoln Road Mall to get an ice cream and watch the world go by.



I was worried about high hotel prices, but at least on a Monday night I could stay in this place for less than a hundred dollars total.



Restaurants can be expensive and pretentious down here, but I found this small family Italian place on Yelp and ate outside.


There was delicious octopus.   South Beach is an extremely international place; hardly anyone fits the mold of what most of us think of as Typical White American.  I sat next to an actual Italian guy, a graduate student from near Bologna who is currently studying in England   We talked about food and he bitched about England (the people, the food, the weather).   He admitted he could not keep himself from eating Italian, even when visiting here in America.   He also got the octopus and liked it.

The next morning I rode around South Miami Beach looking at the architecture,






before crossing the MacArthur Causeway to downtown Miami.  Miami Beach has decent bicycle lanes.





I biked through the north of downtown into the newer Design District, then to Little Haiti.




I turned around and rode back through all of downtown Miami, looking for the Rickenbacker Causeway, which heads to Virginia Key and ultimately Key Biscayne.   The causeway had a bike path.


On Virginia Key I wanted to see and photograph Miami Marine Stadium, an impressive piece of modernism built in 1963 and designed by a 28 year old recent Cuban immigrant architect named Hilario Candela.  It was to host powerboat racing and water skiing shows.  Covered in graffiti, it has been abandoned since 1992 but people are still fascinated by it.  After I entered the parking lot, I was approached by a very cordial security guard with a Haitian accent.  He said people came up to him frequently trying to photograph this stadium.   His instructions were to keep people out.   He even said that I was not supposed to photograph it from a distance!   It was too late for him, I had already had taken the picture, although only of the back of the stadium.



From Google Images this is the picture that I wanted to have taken, although in hindsight I really would have needed a boat.



I biked back to the mainland and downtown Miami, then turned southwest towards Coral Cables.  Cycling through older neighborhoods, this former planned community from the 1920’s now has tree lined streets that remind me of New Orleans.



I then headed north and west from Coral Gables toward the Miami Airport and thereafter the Tri-Rail station in Hialeah.   I weaved through miles of streets lined with older stucco tract housing.




Tri-Rail was fine; $6.90 for the almost two hour ride north to West Palm Beach and you can wheel your bicycle right on the train.   I got a seat just after I boarded but by a couple stops later the train was standing room only with an impressively multicultural clientele.



I got off the train near downtown West Palm Beach and biked south a couple miles to a hotel I had reserved the day before.  I ate across the street at a sushi restaurant in a small strip mall.  In contrast to Miami, West Palm Beach felt much less multicultural, even when sitting at a sushi bar listening to the sushi chef (who had on a Japanese hachimaki headband) talk Thai with a customer.


The people behind me were having a loud discussion about religion, centering on “grace.”   I  realized I really did not exactly know what that word meant.   On my phone I looked up the word on Wikipedia.  The meaning of that word has inspired much discussion over the centuries, sometimes even conflict.


The next morning I set out.  It was about fifty miles south to downtown Fort Lauderdale.   I biked through country clubbish neighborhoods of the southern part of West Palm Beach.





Across the bay on the barrier island that is Palm Beach things were even more opulent.



At Southern Boulevard I crossed the bridge over to the Palm Beach side just to check up on Mar-A-Lago and see if The Donald was lurking around.     I did not see any Secret Service so I stopped by the back gate and took a photo.



Back on the mainland side of the bay, bicycling south, once you cross the line into the town of Lake Worth the area becomes much more working class, but maybe more colorful.









South of Boca Raton I rode along the beach with almost continuous high rises.



I had wanted to stay that night in downtown Fort Lauderdale but downtown hotels were expensive.   I booked the only Airbnb I could find near downtown.   It was memorable.

I got there about five in the afternoon.  It is in a transitioning area, a mostly African-American neighborhood being taken over by the construction of mid and high rise upscale condos.   Two artists live in this house and rent their spare bedroom on Airbnb.



They were a friendly young couple.   They showed me their art, which they say is all a collaboration between the two of them.  Among several types of projects, they choose women whose bodies they admire and then try to convince them to let them take plaster casts of their torsos.   They then cast the torsos in ceramic and frame it.   They really like women with breast implants.





That night I walked over to an informal restaurant in a strip mall that served delicious poke, which I learned is a Hawaiian dish of rice covered with marinated raw fish, vegetables, and a sweet soy based sauce, sort of like a large serving of disassembled sushi.

I left the house at seven-thirty the next morning.  I rode through older neighborhoods south of downtown just as it was getting light outside.



I biked up to the airport before eight-thirty in the morning.


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?


Or this?



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.