In planning our 50 state 5-month roadtrip Round America, Barbara and I reviewed a number of travel books. We didn’t want to miss a thing that we might not have known was just around a bend.
We could have done even better with our research. There are no totally comprehensive travel books. We could have made better use of State Tourism information, and we could have spent more time on Internet research. That said, I did spend several months planning the trip, so I doubt that many will spend as much time as we did in research.
In charting the course, I created a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Each segment of the trip was listed with total mileage shown for that segment, and then each town we would pass through was listed, showing the highway that we would use. There were over 2,500 towns on the itinerary.
This was invaluable. This was our guide for the trip.
I contacted the Department of Tourism for every state, and I anxiously awaites the flood of brochures and maps. I planned to review each and add to the itinerary. We also emailed family and friends for ideas on places to go, things to see, and pie to eat.
Most states responded — some faster than others. We didn’t have enough time to review this info, so requesting this information further in advance is important.
Our home and our cat were major concerns. We wish Kitty B Kitty could be a road cat, but our one long trip with her proved otherwise. We aren’t RV’ers, so it wouldn’t be fair to keep her cooped up in a little car, and most motels don’t welcome animals. Fortunately, brother Tony came to the rescue. He agreed to look after the house and take care of Miss Kitty B Kitty while we were gone. Barbara wasn’t wild about interviewing and hiring a house sitter.
Thanks heavens for Tony. Kitty B Kitty was well cared for. In fact, she was spoiled rotten by Uncle Tony, who we need to get his very own kitty.
We prepared a list of things that we had to do before we left as well as things that we needed to remember to take with us on the trip. Haircuts, dental checkups, and prescription gathering were scheduled for right before we left. We rejoined AAA, and we made sure we had our AAA card, our AARP card, our passports, our drivers’ licenses, registration, and proof of insurance. We planned to take just an American Express card and a MasterCard, some cash, and travelers checks. I got prescription sunglasses, and I planned to take two pair of glasses in case anything should happen to one.
This all went well. We didn’t need to gather prescriptions; we learned that an out-of-state pharmacy can just call our Atlanta pharmacy. I broke both a pair of glasses and the sunglasses. I needed to buy a pair of clip on sunglasses.
Equipment-wise, we got a new cell phone with essentially unlimited long distance and no roaming charges for just $99 a month. I got the phone numbers of family and friends programmed in so everyone will be just a few keystrokes away. We also bought a gizmo at Best Buy that makes the cell phone hands free and uses the car stereo speaker system for the audio. I bought the latest and greatest SONY digital camera with a telephoto lens, wide angle lens, and various filters. I planned to my laptop and download the digital photos to the laptop, so we also bought a power gizmo to enable us to run the laptop off the car battery. That way, we could download photos from anywhere and even recharge the camera battery and cell phone as we drove. We planned to take our “old” digital camera as well. We purchased a small markerboard and markers, so we could create a sign with anything appropriate for certain photos. The only other equipment plkanned was a big powerful flashlight, two umbrellas, a fold-up hair dryer, and a tape recorder.
We chose Verizon as we believe it offered the widest coverage. Coverage area is important, since so much of a two-lane trip to small towns is spent in the boonies. We were surprised to be charged 40 cents a minute when out of Verizon’s home territory, so this was an unexpected surprise that might have made us choose another service. The goal should be wide coverage but a plan with no extra charges for roaming and out-of-territory (whatever that means). A satellite phone might be a better option; I don’t know enough about them to know, but we will look into it for the next trip. We used three different hands-free deals for the cell phone. I couldn’t get the one that works with the stereo to work properly. We now have a car that uses Bluetooth to access our cell phone through the car stereo system with a hands-free speaker built into the car. This is the greatest feature ever!
The Sony camera was excellent for oiur needs as it has a powerful zoom. I had three 128 MB memory sticks, and this enabled me to take 150 highest resolution photos before I had to download to the laptop. We didn’t use the power gizmo. We broke three tape recorders, so I planned to take two next time, as our trip had us in many places that did not sell pocket recorders. The recorder was the only practical way to record our ideas and information as we drove. We used our First Aid Kit a number of times, and I should have taken it to Hawaii as well as you always need what you don’t have, and I have the drug store receipts to prove it.
We planned to pack light and hit a laundromat once a week. We bought a few clothing items from TravelSmith, the folks who specialize in all types of “travel easy” wearing apparel and accessories. Jeans or shorts, golf shirts, and tennis shoes will be about it. We are taking some hiking boots for use in the Northwest and as needed elsewhere.
Our clothes system worked out great. We each had two black nylon bags. The big bag could hold 7 days worth of clothes. A smaller bag could hold 2 days worth of clothes. We only took the small bag into the motel each night — refilling it from the larger bag. Dirty clothes went into a dirty clothes bag. It worked fine to wash once a week. Comfort Inn, Marriott Courtyard, Hampton Inn, and the like all have guest laundries. I wore shorts every day but one on the April to August trip, and I could have worn shorts that day as well. Finding comfortable walking shoes with plenty of foot support is really important — sand or dark-colored shoes look best as my white shoes looked a million years old after a few weeks. I ended up buying shorts from L.L. Bean and wore nothing but embroidered Round America sport shirts from Rod and the boys at Atlas Printing & Embroidery in Cleveland, Ohio.
We planned to get our car serviced just before we departed and get an idea when we would need to replace the tires.
We took a white Porsche convertible for the first half of the trip. It was great for driving, but it seemed to attract some folks who might have done us harm. It was definitely cramped, but we managed to make the very small storage areas work. The convertible was wonderful for seeing the sights and soaking rays during the southern loop Round America. We took a black PT Cruiser for the second half of the trip. The Cruiser was a poor choice as the car has a terribly wide turning radius, and many U-Turns are required daily. We were unable to do a U-Turn on normal streets. The Cruiser also gets poor gas mileage. The ideal car for us would be something that has a small turning radius that will enable U-Turns to be made on two-lane roads in one turn. Good gas mileage is a plus. We will require a GPS system and a hands-free built-in car phone system for the next trip. A compass is important. An odometer that shows tenths of a mile is a plus. A CD Player is a must, but even better is a car that plays your IPOD music through the car stereo system. A full-sized spare tire would be a plus. Digital gauges that can be read with sunglasses on would be a plus. White stays much cooler than black. Cup holders are essential as are really comfortable seats. Both the Porsche and Cruiser had really comfortable seats. I recommend testing any car on a day trip before you decide to take it on a long trip, as bad seats would make for a miserable trip.
We put together a notebook with the itinerary and allowed plenty of space to take notes as we traveled. We each carried a pocket notebook and pen so we would always be able to jot notes. We printed some business cards to use as we traveled. The cards had our basic information as well as a few sentence explanation of the trip, the trip web site address, our email address, and our cell phone number. We planned to give these to people we met along the way.
The notebooks were extremely valuable. We had dividers for each state, with photocopies of information about sights we wanted to see in each state. The business cards were perfect; we gave out 1,500. We used the pocket tape recorder for recording most notes — the only way to handle it.
The Trip Round America was to be well-planned; we would be prepared!
We originally planned to drive around the border of the country, but the idea of visiting all 50 states in one trip was just too exciting to pass up. I was surprised when Barbara endorsed the significant expansion of the trip. The numbers now are 50 states and the District of Columbia, over 2,500 towns, and 19,631 miles! I knew we would pass through cities that weren’t on the map, and the mileage would be much higher as we would be driving around towns that we visited, and the 19,631 was just a point-to-point calculation. We ended up doing 29,000 miles, so even with all the planning, I was waaay off.
I was very pleased with the research that we’d done. We had identified a significant number of attractions all along the route — many things that we would have never known were there. Some state tourism offices came through like champs while others hadn’t gotten a thing to us. The many books that we bought had been our best resources as well as the Internet. I wish we had done more research on hotels, motels, and B&B’s to try to find more special places to stay. We will try to do better on this on future trips.
Neither of us has found the time to read the books that we bought about the trips of others. I planned to toss a few of those in the car in case I found any time to read. That proved laughable; we burned the candle at both ends for 149 days!
Tony did great with the cat and house sitting as well as business management while we were away. His help made the trip possible as I question whether we could have ever been comfortable hiring a house/cat sitter that we didn’t know. Those who love cats will understand that we consider Kitty B Kitty to be like one of our children.
I believe I would have thoroughly enjoyed driving our 1955 Chevrolet Police Car on the trip, but Barbara vetoed that idea early on.
We logged over 29,000 miles driving around the United States.
Our planning proved to be excellent. We were very well prepared.
Boz prepared a first-aid kit as well as a bag of assorted things. Pocket-sized tissues, Handi-Wipes, hand sanitizer, Advil, screwdriver, blister-sized Band-Aids, eye wash, travel alarm clock, and additional tapes for the recorder were all very important. We needed to have Visine Tears as it is a product that can be used daily while some eye washes are dangerous if used daily.
We lost only one thing on the entire trip — my favorite feather pillow. Many motels have only foam pillows, so if you are a feather pillow person, be sure to take your own pillow. Marriott properties all have feather pillows, so we chose Marriots on some nights for that very reason. We were very systematic in what we carried into the motel each night and how we kept our stuff in the motel rooms. It would have been really easy except for all the electronics — two cell phone chargers, the digital camera charger, the laptop and its power cord/charger, and the travel alarm clock.
We should take jumper cables next time and have a dashboard-mounted compass.
We should have purchased the National Park Pass at the first national park we visited.
The beads were a MAJOR part of the trip. It’s great to have some type of gift that you can give to people when traveling, and the beads were a nice little gift…and so much more. We ordered 70 dozen beads — probably would have used 100 dozen if we had them from the very beginning. We encourage everyone to take “lucky beads” when they travel. You can order them at www.mardi-gras-beads.net. We bought 33″ 6-style assorted metallic beads for $6.25 for a 10-dozen bag — $37.50 for a 60-dozen case. You’ll meet far more people; you’ll have more fun; and you’ll have a nice, inexpensive gift to present to those you meet.
We kept the information received from each state tourism office in file boxes in the back of the Cruiser. We pulled the appropriate file for each state as needed. This worked well. We had to leave those files at home when we were in the Porsche.
We took the plastic laundry bag from each room each night and used it to transport our dirty clothes from the room to the laundry bag in the car. We then used the bag to hold all the travel brochures for the previous day. We tossed each bag of travel brochures in a box, and then we shipped a box back to Atlanta every time it got filled. I believe we ended up with somewhere in excess of 500 pounds of printed stuff…and all that hotel shampoo.
The signs on our car attracted a lot of attention and enabled us to meet many people we would not have met otherwise. The beads served a similar purpose, as I was asked again and again about the beads…and I met far more people that I would have met otherwise. We also had shirts and caps with the Round America logo, and those caught the eye of a number of people and added to the number of people we probably would not have met otherwise. The combination of the signs, beads, shirts, and caps made meeting people easy; more often than not, people came to us.
We weren’t signed up for all of the frequent customer programs with the various hotels and motels, so Boz got us signed up during the trip. We earned a number of free rooms from all the room nights for which we paid. We also tried to use American Express everywhere we could as we are on a program where each dollar earns points toward air travel or hotels.
It certainly helped to have a toll-free number to call with people to arrange sightseeing tours and activities in the tourist destinations that we visited. It helped to have a son in the business!
For the first half of the trip, we made hotel reservations a week or two in advance. For the second half of the trip, we ceased making reservations more than a day in advance. The problem with reservations is that you are then tied to a schedule, and that kept us from spending additional time where we would have liked to do so. It also caused us to be driving late into the night way too much of the time. On the next trip, we will not make reservations in advance — except in Maine (where we could not get a hotel room).
Expandable waist bands are invaluable if you plan to eat a lot of pie.
Bill Windsor – Round America
My first professional football game was a Dallas Cowboys game in the early 60′s. I’ve been a Cowboys fan ever since. I was a really serious Cowboys fan while Tom Landry was the coach. I remained a serious fan when Aikman, Irvin, and Smith were the stars. But I disliked Jerry Jones from the word go, and my primary allegiance has been to the Texas Tech Red Raiders ever since.
When we saw the giant dome on the horizon as we drove toward Fort Worth, we had to stop. As far as I know, it is still being called the Dallas Cowboys New Stadium. The timeline indicates that the first game is scheduled for September 2009. It’s a very impressive structure with a retractable dome.
The Cowboys’ new stadium is located just west of the Ballpark in Arlington, the home of the Texas Rangers baseball team. The Rangers’ stadium is gorgeous and huge — very impressive. We lived in Dallas from 1977 to 1992, and we were Texas Rangers’ fans. We especially enjoyed going to games at the old stadium to see Nolan Ryan.
Just down the street from the Ballpark in Arlington is the original Arlington attraction — Six Flags Over Texas. Six Flags opened in 1961, and my Dad took our family there soon after it opened. Barbara fondly recalls going there often as she lived in Dallas during junior high and high school years. My brother, Tony, worked there one summer during college, and he had a ball. It always brings a smile to see Six Flags.
by admin on Apr.15, 2003, under Bishop, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Driscoll, Elsa, Harlingen, Kingsville, Los Fresnos, Lyford, McAllen, Places to Go, Raymondville, Riviera, Santa Rosa, South Padre Island, Texas
Round America travels from Houston, Texas to McAllen, Texas. Highlights were a visit to the King Ranch, lunch at The Barn Door in Riviera, Texas, sightseeing at Graceland (Little Graceland, that is), and an interesting search for the Virgin Mary on a Camaro in Elsa, Texas.
I bought a map produced by Texas A&M that shows ALL the state and county roads in Texas. While I must admit some concern about using anything produced by Aggies, it’s bigger than a Rand McNally Road Atlas and very detailed. It also includes some interesting statistics. Texas is massive. There is one ranch in Texas that is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. The distance from Houston to El Paso is greater than the distance from El Paso to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There are at least 294,833 miles of roads in Texas!
A little quick math indicates at our current pace, one could drive all 294,833 miles in 1,140 days. But we’ve learned that there has to be some backtracking to get to the next road or town, so figure four years — 1,460 days. You’d have to budget about $219,000 for gas (18,000 gallons), food, and motels – plus the cost of a couple of cars. After seeing houses turned into shrines to the orange and to beer, you have to wonder if someone isn’t out there on the roads with this A&M map and a yellow highlighter…coloring in each segment as he or she drives on.
Now that I have hit the least populated areas of the state, I will see more road and fewer sights.
Corpus Christi is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. I’d been to virtually all of the bigger cities in Texas, but never to Corpus until now. The day began very overcast with strong winds, so I passed on a trip down to the Corpus beach. Much of the skyline of Corpus is filled with oil refineries. Downtown has a lot of big buildings.
In Driscoll, Texas (population 648), a “Fine Furniture” store caught my eye. “Fine Furniture” was painted on the side of a small covered wagon suspended high above the building. Once again, you’ve just gotta love the differences in perception from small towns to big cities. I love the way folks in small towns advertise and do their signs. Most just grab a paintbrush and do it themselves. No pretenses. Nothing fancy. Just the basics.
A sign caught my eye a little further down the road – Pop’s Beef Jerky Store. They advertise the best beef jerky in Texas. Sorry, but dried meat just doesn’t have any appeal to me.
Bishop, Texas is a sad town. The city limits sign says 3,305 people live here, but main street is a complete ghost town – maybe 20 buildings, and not a sign of life or business in any of them. One or two had their roofs and walls caving in. Just outside of Bishop is a huge refinery that is bigger than most of the towns I have driven through. I guess all the people who work there do their shopping and business in Kingsville rather than Bishop.
Kingsville, Texas is the home of the King Ranch, the recognized birthplace of the American ranching industry. I drove all around the town and visited the ranch, museum, and saddle shop. I saw a very informative video at the visitor’s center at the ranch. Captain Richard King founded King Ranch in 1853. Today, King Ranch covers over one million acres! The Texas ranch property is bigger than Rhode Island. They have 60,000 cattle and a lot of horses, but King Ranch has significant citrus and sugar holdings in Florida as well. It is a HUGE business.
Deanna was very nice and helpful at the ranch, and then I met Sybil as I bought two books about interesting places to go in Texas. I’ll do more research tonight so I can avoid missing any worthwhile sights when I get to the really wide open spaces in South Texas.
When folks learn about the trip, they usually ask questions. We had fielded a lot of questions, but one of the most common is “How far along are you?” Both Boz and I have noted that the people who ask this question have unanimously responded the same way — “Oh, well, you haven’t made it very far.” It’s like they immediately discounted what we were doing. It seems to be a question asked only by pessimists. Sybil asked how far along we were….
My mind was set on eating barbeque in Kingsville. I figured that beef had to be the specialty in a town that grew up around the largest ranch in the USA. I saw a fancy western theme restaurant in downtown Kingsville, but I was concerned as there are places that have a particular look naturally and then there are themed places made to look a certain way. This was the latter. I opened the door to the Wild Horse Desert Cafe to see a huge place with music playing and themed decor everywhere, but not a person to be found. Just down the street, I found where the locals eat — Linda’s Main Street Cafe — a little storefront with folks standing in line. The specialty wasn’t barbeque, so I moved on. I stopped four times to ask folks where the best barbeque restaurant in town was, and no one could come up with one, so I left town.
A little further down the road, I spotted a restaurant with a bunch of cars, and when I saw bar-b-que written on the side of the building, I decided to stop. It certainly wasn’t a tourist-oriented place; this was a real, honest-to-goodness small town restaurant — The Barn Door. Nothing fancy about it; it was just real. The barbeque was fantastic! They mesquite smoke it, and the ribs and beef brisket had a wonderful flavor and were as tender as could be. Two nice ladies served me, and I’m sorry to say that I was so excited to record how good the food was that I forgot to get their names on my tape before my short-term memory lapsed. I believe Janie was one of them; my apologies ladies.
The Barn Door is in Riviera, Texas. The founder of the town named it Riviera because it reminded him of the Riviera in Europe. I guess I missed whatever he saw, because it looked like every other small South Texas town to me. But if it seems like the Riviera to them, that’s great, because we should all make the best of what we have and love where we live.
There is a looong stretch of road from Riviera to Raymondville with essentially nothing but dirt and trees and sky in between. I did see some Border Patrol SUV’s and flowering cactus (cacti?). It reached 85 degrees today — the warmest on the trip so far.
Raymondville, Texas has a nice smiley-face water tower. I saw several trains today. Bozzie Jane could have had a lot of ice cream cones.
Cruising through Lyford Texas, I spotted a cowboy on horseback, so I pulled over to take a photo. As I got closer, I saw that the horse was wearing an American flag “costume,” and the rider was holding a sign promoting his favorite candidate in the town’s election. I met Ernesto Gonzales, “full-time attorney, part-time cowboy, part-time campaigner for his cousin.” I also met his horse, Junior. Ernesto was great. I took his photo; he took my photo; we both took Junior’s photo. I should have looked more closely at his attorney business card before I drove on; it has a bird on it wearing sunglasses. There must be a story behind that.
Now the search began for the Shrine to the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. I read about this in the book I bought at King Ranch, and it appeared to be only a few miles off my planned route in the town of Elsa Texas, so off I went. True to form, it was a little farther and took a little longer than I planned, but I was excited when I got there. After all, how often does one get the opportunity to see the Virgin Mary on a panel behind the left rear tire of a Camaro!
With $3,000 in donations, Dario Mendoza and Santiago Quintero built a shrine around the car in their cinder block garage — red carpet, a ceiling fan, 50 or so folding chairs, and a little altar covered with flowers. I figured this had to be a big deal in such a small town, but I drove from one end of the town to the other and I saw neither a sign nor a crowd. I stopped where most men are unwilling to stop to ask for directions — a gas station. The man there looked at me like I was a serial killer or something; he’d lived in Elsa his entire life and had never heard of any Shrine to the Virgin Mary, much less one on a Camaro.
As I drove back through town, I scanned the horizon for any clue. The only crowds were at the Post Office. So, like any good reporter, I stopped at the Post Office to find out what was going on and to get directions to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. Once inside, I realized the crowd was due to the income tax filing deadline, not the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. I asked several people for directions to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro, and they gave me that “this guy is nuttier than a fruitcake” look. I noticed a sign for the Justice of the Peace next door, so I drove there, and I asked two people for directions to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary (left out the “on a Camaro” part in hopes the “you’re crazy” stares would stop). I was delighted when one of them gave me the directions. I drove a few blocks, but I knew she was wrong when I pulled up in front of the local Catholic church.
My next stop was City Hall where I asked five different people how to get to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. Nada. Nothing. Zip. At this point, I figured I had spoken with at least 1% of the population of Elsa. I guess I’ll never see the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. At least I have a picture of it in the book. None of the folks in Elsa were nice; no one even laughed. Maybe they will laugh with their friends when they tell the story about the crazy guy going all over town looking for the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro.
As I drove out of town, I remembered our Rules of the Road. One of them is when you get disappointed or things get boring, look again. I looked again and saw flashing red lights ahead, so I drove SLOWLY out of town past the policemen working a speed trap. Looked to be one of the biggest businesses in town.
I was disappointed that I didn’t see many flags today, but then I reached Santa Rosa, Texas. Flags and yellow ribbons everywhere. Then I saw a group of people holding signs and waving, and cars were honking. I pulled over to meet a nice group of folks with a big sign with the photographs of all the young people from the town who were currently on active duty in the military. 1,800 people in the town, and 40 were in the armed forces! I met the father of one young Marine, and a number of others proudly showed me which of the pictured folks were their relatives. It was very uplifting to be around these proud, patriotic Americans! And I would have never seen it or met them if I hadn’t gone in search of the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro!
Next stop: Graceland! Well, “Little Graceland,” to be precise. Simon Vega loves Elvis, and he has turned his home in Los Fresnos on Highway 100 between Harlingen and South Padre Island into a shrine to Elvis. (I guess I should have asked Mr. Vega how to get to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro, because I suspect he would have the address.) Mr. Vega has signs all over his house and in his yard. He has a doghouse-sized replica of the Tupelo, Mississippi home Elvis was born in. He is especially proud of the gates to his driveway. He has lighted display cases in the room above his garage with decorative Elvis plates, an Elvis doll in an Army uniform, Elvis sunglasses, and his Army good conduct medal. My favorite was a sign next to the garage that indicates Simon Vega’s home is the sixth most-visited famous person’s home in America — just behind Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin.
South Padre Island, Texas was next — the best beach in Texas. I was surprised to see how much the area has developed since we were last there with our children maybe 20 years ago. It’s a big tourist attraction. I took a picture of the Causeway Bridge, the longest bridge in Texas, and I got a nice photo of the Port Isabel Lighthouse.
Down to Brownsville, Texas where I took a picture of the border crossing station at Matamoros, Mexico. From there, I drove 60 miles or so to McAllen to rest for the night. I pulled out my list of hotel reservations. One problem. It seems my reservation was in Brownsville. Ooops. I would have driven back, but our first road detour of any consequence was midway in Donna, Texas, and I didn’t want to endure that twice again, so I was pleased when Lizbett gave me the last room (even though a yucky smoking room) at the Residence Inn in McAllen, Texas.
I guess I learned a few lessons today. I’m not sure which one is most important, though always making sure you know where you are going should be high on the list. I was also reminded today to follow my instincts and always ask a lot of questions. Most important, however, is to always try to find the best from each experience. When possible, try to turn lemons into lemonade. My trip to Elsa was a bust, though I suspect my search for the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro could be one of the stories most told after the trip is over. But that detour to Elsa took me to Santa Rosa, and it was really uplifting to see those nice folks celebrating in support of our troops and the 40 brave young men and women from their little town who were being brave so we can all be free. It gave me that great feeling that we get inside when our hearts are warmed by something that’s important to us.
Week 3 began today. 31,650 miles on the odometer when the day began. We started at 28,036, so, 3,614 miles were in the rear view mirror.
I’ve taken 1,195 photos so far. Digital cameras are great, as all I have to do each night is dump the photos from the camera into my PC, and then I’m ready to go for another batch the next day.
Here are all of the photos from Day 15 of the Round America 50-State Trip:
We slept later than usual today as we have just 80 miles or so to our next stop, New Orleans. Sunny and 70 degrees with a blue sky with light cirrus clouds. After two days of cool weather and the top up, we looked forward to getting the top down and soaking some rays.
When Boz checked us out of the hotel, she asked directions to Highway 90, and the desk clerk said, “Well, you turn right out of the parking lot.” It seems we were on 90. Hey, it was late when we checked in, and we were pooped. The clerk asked where we were headed, and when Boz said New Orleans, he said “You don’t want to take 90; it will take you three hours to get there on 90, while it will be just an hour or so on the Interstate.” Bozzie just smiled.
Since we didn’t get to Biloxi in time to hit the casinos last night, we stopped at Copa Casino. The Copa is about as far removed as you can get from the glamour and glitter of Vegas; they tried to hide the acres of Dole Pineapple and Chiquita Banana trucks on the land either side of the entrance drive, but didn’t succeed.
Just inside the door, we came to a security station where we met Mary and Mary, two nice security ladies. We stopped to introduce ourselves and chat. We joked that we were going to be big winners and would be needing an armed escort to our car. The uniformed Mary with a gun strapped to her hip assured us in the most serious of tones that she would do so. She said she had done it just once before. A 28-year-old man won $10,000 playing the slots, and he asked for a security escort to his pickup truck. (Ah the contrasts from big cities to smaller towns!) We told the Marys that we were going to place one big bet, and that was it. We then walked straight to the roulette wheel.
Now for a little history. In 1977, Boz and I took a six-week driving trip around Europe. We had big plans to finance part of our trip costs with gambling success in Monaco. We set aside a little money, and walked into the very snooty casino there, and we went to a roulette table and put all of our money (probably just $250 or so) on red. It came up black, and they took our money. We went back to our little green Ford Fiesta and felt devastated. We planned to win and then let it ride and win again and live happily ever after. The truth is that we had spent a lot more than we had planned, and we could have really used some cash. We didn’t have much money, and thinking back, we have no idea how we could afford the time or the money for the trip. Back to the Ford Fiesta…we sat there and discussed whether we should take our last $250 and go back in and put it on red. We finally decided that Bozzie would go back in and do just that. She returned in a few seconds. It came up GREEN! Losing was bad enough, but there’s only one GREEN spot and tons of red and black spots on a roulette wheel, and we hit GREEN. The next day, we learned how you can get a cash advance on a MasterCard. We swore off gambling, though every time we hit an area with a casino, we bet on red, and we almost always lose.
So, there we were at the $1.00 roulette wheel in Biloxi, Mississippi. Barbara thought I was going to make a BIG bet on red as I had commented that it would be nice to win enough money to pay for our travel expenses thus far. I hate to lose money, so I just tossed $100 on the table and asked for a $100 chip. Onto red it went. The $1 betters at the table were stunned to see such a big bet. I told the folks seated at the table that they’d be wise to put their money on black. No one laughed or took my advice. Lisa the roulette lady gave the wheel a mighty spin, and we were really happy gamblers when the little white ball found a home in a red slot. We grabbed our winnings, and went straight to the cashier where we got two $100 bills. We stopped to say goodbye to the Marys and to let them know we had won but wouldn’t really need the armed guard escort to the car. It’s so nice to leave a casino as winners! From the time we headed to the roulette wheel to the time we left was probably no more than three minutes, so we figure that’s a mighty good “hourly wage.” We may never gamble again…at least not until we hit Vegas and Atlantic City or a bingo parlor somewhere along the way.
When we reached Pass Christian, Mississippi, we were blown away by the miles of gorgeous old southern colonial-style homes along the highway facing the beach and Gulf. There’s a lot of old money in Pass Christian!
Just a few miles further down the road, we saw some of the poorest areas that we have seen yet. What a stark contrast from the mansions just a few miles away.
Literally out in the middle of nowhere, a massive alligator (maybe 100-feet tall) loomed on the horizon. It appears to be a sign for a casino, but there is no casino. We’ll try to find out the story behind this.
Unfortunately, there was neither a sign to announce that we had reached Louisiana nor a sign to officially announce that we had reached New Orleans. I guess that’s one of the few disadvantages of taking the road less traveled. I knew we were in Louisiana when I saw a 504 area code on a sign for a swamp tour place on a bayou. I stopped to take some pictures; it was like something out of a movie, though my photos do not do it justice.
As we rolled on, we passed a really interesting area with mile after mile of houses built on stilts. That’s to try to keep the water from getting into the houses when the area floods. This was a lower income area as well. It’s the first place on the trip that was dirty, though it also appeared to be garbage day, and I’m sure that affected our perception.
There are some places where we’ve said to ourselves “wow, I wonder what it would be like to live there,” and then there have been others where we have thought “oooh, I’m glad I don’t live there!” We were glad we didn’t live there.
The scenery in this area is definitely interesting to see – low, swampy areas, flat with a lot of reed-like trees and shrubs. There were some cool-looking old bridges as well as some pretty bays and intriguing bayous and rivers.
When we reached New Orleans, it appeared to be a rough part of town. It’s the first place we’ve been where I felt vulnerable when we pulled up to a red light with cars on either side of us. I would have felt safer if the top had been up and the windows had been closed. I was relieved to hit I-10 so we could follow the directions to the hotel.
When we pulled up at the beautiful, old Fairmont Hotel and walked in, we were immediately struck by the contrast between the old, seen-better-days Biloxi Holiday Inn and the old, fabulously-maintained Fairmont in New Orleans.
We wanted to tour New Orleans rather than just walk around The Quarter. Unfortunately, the only tours appear to be in vans or on foot around The Quarter. So, we hoofed it over to Bourbon Street on our own. Up and down the streets we went. We aren’t really into drinking, so we felt out of place. The streets were packed with people. There was massive drinking going on already, and it was just noonish. We stopped at Papa Joe’s for a muffaletta sandwich. Then we went up and down the streets some more. We did enjoy seeing the street performer statues – quite a contrast between them and the painted cement statues that we saw all across Florida. Our favorite was the sock monkey. I asked him or her what was the motivation to become a sock monkey, and the person wearing the sock money costume never said a word but held up a sock monkey doll. Pretty good answer, I thought.
There must have been a hundred psychics scattered all about The Quarter – palm readers, tarot card readers, you name it. We enjoyed looking in the Rodrique Studio; he’s the artist who paints a blue dog in all of his pieces. We also walked through the antique gallery area of town. It had been a number of years since we had been to New Orleans, and it did look better than it did a number of years ago when we saw one T-shirt shop and sex show after another. On this visit, we saw mainly bars, restaurants, and shops. The architecture is fabulous, and if there hadn’t been so many people, I would have loved to take more pictures of the buildings and architectural elements. Again, the contrast between beautiful, quiet Savannah and New Orleans is significant. Similar architecture, but world’s apart. It is great to see that The Quarter has tight controls on development that protect the old and keep the new out or hidden.
By 4 o’clock, truth be told, we were both bored. So we went back to the room and took a nap. We ordered room service (disappointing pecan pie that tasted like something bought in the frozen section at Piggly Wiggly) and watched TV.
The contrast between Fox News and CNN and various newspapers continues to amaze us. Prior to the Iraq War, we assumed we were seeing impartial news reports, but we now realize that the TV networks and newspapers are very partisan in their coverage. I guess we’ve been mighty naive. Our country is far from perfect, just like us, but we are mighty proud to be Americans.
So, New Orleans wasn’t that much fun. Perhaps it was because we had two very long days without much rest. Perhaps it was because we saw what all the tourists see, and we prefer the road less traveled.
Today was a day of contrast. Big cities and small towns. Rich and poor. Clean and dirty. Sophisticated and naive. Old and new. Bad and good. Common and unusual. Live and dead. Drinkers and non-drinkers. $1 and $100. Losing and winning. Convention and unconventional. Tired and rested. Cool and warm. Oceans and swamps. Loud and quiet. Expected and unexpected. Quirky and “normal.” Back roads and interstate. Mansions and shacks. Pickup trucks and limousines. Haves and have nots. Happy and unhappy. Drunk and sober. Tourists and locals. International destination and roadside attraction. Homes on stilts and on dry land. Savannah and New Orleans. Fox and CNN. Republicans and Democrats. Left and right. White and black. Red and black and green. We’re seeing it all. We’re all different.
Here are all of the photos from Day 12 in the Round America 50-State Trip:
We had some fun today, but we couldn’t see as much as we would have liked.
Today should have been two days. I simply scheduled too many miles to be covered in one day. It took us five hours to go the first 100 miles. It seemed like stoplights were every few feet along Highway 41 from Fort Myers to Tampa, and the traffic was terrible. I will look again at the remainder of the schedule and see where I need to add a day here and there.
It was the second day in a row of overcast skies, and it sprinkled on us several times throughout the day. The temperature was in the low 60′s and dropped to 50 when we rolled into Tallahassee. At this rate, we’ll lose our tans by Texas.
The day started with a bang at the world’s largest shell factory in Fort Myers. The Shell Factory must sell every souvenir item ever made, and if that’s not enough, they have people making new ones every day! The place occupies 18 acres; it looks like the size facility needed to mass produce jumbo jets. A Super Wal-Mart seems tiny in comparison to the Shell Factory. There was one building the size of a normal souvenir store that displayed nothing but magnets. We were there early in the day, and there weren’t many customers, but it has been in business since long before I was a little boy, so they must do a good business.
We stopped briefly at the Warm Mineral Springs Hotel, a classic roadside motel. We also paid a brief visit to the Warm Springs International Spa Resort and Wellness Institute where you can swim in 87 degree water. Swimming in warm water has as much appeal to me as hot Coca-Cola, but some people love it and find it therapeutic. The Warm Springs International Spa Resort and Wellness Institute had evidence of pre-historic man having been there 10,000 years ago.
As we drove on, I noticed a manufacturing facility called Tervis Tumblers. We went into their factory store to discover that Tervis is indeed the manufacturer of fabulous insulated glassware that were given to us by Barbara’s parents. These glasses will keep a drink cold like nothing else will, and the plastic glassware is virtually indestructible and has a lifetime guarantee. We toured the place and bought an American Flag tumbler and a Texas Tech tumbler. Amanda helped us. If you want some great glassware, buy some online from www.tervis.com.
We saw the My-Way Diner with a sign advertising “hot Cubans.” We hoped that meant a sandwich. We didn’t stop because Barbara said it looked a little dirty, and she said she wouldn’t eat there if I stopped. Then we noticed it had been closed, probably by the Health Department.
Lunch was a treat as I spotted a little place that a tourist would never visit, Big Dogg’s, and Barbara agreed to stop. There were local construction and landscape workers eating there. We had a great Philly Cheese Steak. Holly was our window waitress.
All day long, we saw one 50′s era motel after another. It continues to be both amazing and gratifying that these places still exist – and most are still operating. I could have taken a hundred pictures of “classic” motel architecture and signage, but time was not on our side, so I just snapped a few. The Cadillac Motel featured an old Cadillac out front, and the Warm Springs Motel had an especially flat-roofed look.
I really regret that we were unable to see the Shuffleboard Hall of Fame in St. Petersburg.
We stopped a number of times for mailboxes and to photograph other roadside stuff, but our next big stop was in Tarpon Springs. Tarpon Springs is a predominantly Greek community that was originally established for sponge fishing. And we were there to see Sponge-O-Rama.
Words cannot really describe Sponge-O-Rama. At the risk of sounding insensitive, Sponge-O-Rama has the worst-looking displays of any attraction we have ever seen anywhere. It was a very amateurish job when it was constructed 50 years or so ago. Almost any gradeschooler’s science fair project would be more professional these days. But what is amazing is that the windows to the displays do not appear to have been cleaned in 50 years, and there are burned out light bulbs, and parts of the displays have deteriorated. It would be fascinating to speak with the owners to ascertain why the place looks like it does. Is it that they don’t realize it’s so bad? Is it that they don’t care? Or is it that they now consider the displays to be camp, realizing that a lot of people will come because they’ve heard how bad it is? We fall into the latter group, but we somehow doubt that the owners see it that way. We went to Tarpon Springs to see Sponge-O-Rama just because we had read that it was so bad that it was funny. As we exited, we passed by a young family, and the mother was reading all about how sponges are harvested from the ocean, and she was dead serious about the experience and the information. Boz and I felt bad about sharing looks and whispers of disbelief.
I was really sorry that we couldn’t take the time to visit Jungle Gardens and Weeki Wachee Springs. Our family went to Weeki Wachee when I was a child, and I loved the mermaids!
When we passed through Chiefland, it reminded me of the kind of town that we definitely would have driven through going somewhere else when we were on vacation when I was a child in the 50′s.
We grabbed dinner at the Circle K — a most nutritious meal of Fritos, cheddar cheese sauce, a chocolate bar, and Canada Dry Ginger Ale.
We took a sunset picture just outside of Perry, Florida. It wasn’t a very good sunset picture but as they say, sunsets are free. Sometimes you get what you pay for. We received a call from a reporter at the NBC television station in Panama City, and she wants to do a story about our trip Round America.
One of the things I like best about driving these roads is that you see classic old motels that are still in business. You see them in every town. You see them even in the bigger towns and as Barbara says “you can’t imagine anyone would stay in them.” I’m sure a lot of them are nice for what they are, but they are classic to look at with unusual architecture, and they usually have great neon signage.
We were reminded several times today of “different strokes for different folks.” One of the most amazing things about humans is that we are all so very different. Some of us find places like Sponge-O-Rama to be funny while others take it as a serious educational experience. I’ve always preached to salespeople how important it is to recognize that everyone is different, to find out what is important to someone, and then tailor the sales presentation to deliver the appropriate appeal. I call this The Platinum Rule – “Do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.” It’s important to realize that everyone is different and to celebrate this rather than belittle it. As we all know, this is far easier to say than it is to do.
Here are all the photos from Day 10 of the Round America 50-State Trip:
Before we do another one of these trips, I need to investigate whether it’s possible to find a way to mount a camera, and then I could just point the car in the direction of what I wanted to shoot. I wouldn’t have to get out of the car and take my glasses off and stuff.
Round America traveled from Key West to Fort Myers with stops in Sugarloaf Key, Islamorada, Key Largo, Ochopee, the Everglades, and many other special sights along the way.
Today was an “off day” – basically a travel day. “All” we saw were three world’s largest; two world’s smallest; highways with warning signs for crocodiles, panthers, and endangered deer; roadside gorillas (2), a fish, a camel, and a panther; the African Queen in Key Largo; two world capitals; the Everglades; suspected Weapons of Mass Destruction, and a wide variety of funky mailboxes. It was a Quirky day!
This was the first morning that we walked out to see an overcast sky; it was that way virtually all day. Key West was in the rearview mirror about 9 am. On the drive down, we missed several “attractions,” so we made a point to see as many as possible as we headed back to the mainland – 125 miles from Key West to the Everglades on the Overseas Highway.
The first stop was a sight that was high on my list of things I wanted to see on the trip – the Perky Bat Tower. So, when we reached Sugarloaf Key, we began the search for the Perky Bat Tower. We didn’t have good directions, so we cruised the island for a while with no luck. After asking three different people for directions, we finally found it – out in the middle of a swamp-like nowhere. The 35-foot tall tower was built by Mr. Perky in 1929 to fight mosquitoes. His plan was for the tower to house a colony of bats to eat the many mosquitoes in the area, but the bats stayed away, and the mosquitoes stayed put. This odd structure is a National Historic Landmark. We enjoyed seeing it. I figure the Perky Bat Tower qualifies as the world’s largest mosquito tower.
We drove right through the National Key Deer Refuge as we headed up Highway 1 across Big Pine Key. The world’s smallest deer (only three feet tall) are on the Endangered Species List, so there are warning signs on the road. There are 250 Key Deer on the island, but we didn’t spot a one.
We stopped at the roadside area for the Historic Seven Mile Bridge and photographed both the old bridge and the new. We also stopped in Islamorada, sport fishing capital of the world, to see the Hurricane Memorial. On September 2, 1935, over 400 refugees drowned from 200-mile-per-hour hurricane winds.
One of the many emails that I received from people before we began the trip was from a man who collects photos of unique mailboxes. As a result, I planned to pull over to take photos of the more unusual mailboxes. Today, we snapped a porpoise, Uncle Sam, fishing lure, alligator, and seahorse.
We passed by several attractions that we just couldn’t stop to see – too much quirky stuff still on the itinerary.
In Islamorada, we stopped for photos of the world’s largest lobster – a really well done statue. There we saw a Dad with his camera trying to get his reluctant young teenage sons to pose in front of the lobster. I called out to them that, if they are lucky, when they get much older, they will actually be glad they had their picture taken in front of the world’s largest lobster. They laughed, and Dad got his photo.
In Key Largo, dive capital of the world, we were excited to stop to see the African Queen, the boat from the movie “African Queen.” Sadly, there was a sign that said “I am not available to take any tours at this time.” Another stop in Key Largo was to see the very unique Jules’ Undersea Lodge, a hotel located 22 feet beneath the sea. Neither Boz nor I are certified scuba divers, so we were happy to just take a picture of the sign out front.
As we ended the drive through the Keys, we saw a warning sign “Crocodile Crossing – Next 8 Miles.” Unfortunately, there was no shoulder to pull off onto to enable Bozzie Jane (not me!) to get out to take a photo of the sign. We had the same problem in the Everglades when we saw a “Panther Crossing” warning sign. Barbara didn’t feel there was room for me to pull over. In the Everglades, we also saw signs that looked like warning signs to keep your arms inside your car, so we did.
As we drove through Homestead on the way to the Everglades, I screeched to a stop when I saw several missiles on the side of the road. I’m not sure, but these may be Weapons of Mass Destruction that Saddam was hiding out in this remote area of South Florida.
The drive on the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades is not very exciting – no cool mailboxes – just a lot of places that take folks on airboat rides. They could use a Perky Bat Tower up there – wall-to-wall mosquitoes no doubt. When we reached Ochopee, one of the few towns we saw in the Everglades, we pulled over to find the world’s smallest post office – a little 5-foot by 8-foot building that serves as the post office and a Trailways Bus Terminal. There was one postal lady inside at a tiny desk.
After the Everglades, we drove through Marco Island and then through downtown Naples, one of the most upscale (aka wealthy) areas in Florida. We passed through Bonita Springs and ended the day in Fort Myers. The sun was big and orange on the horizon, but we couldn’t get over to the coast for another coastal sunset photo, but I got a pretty good photo from the side of the road.
We had three excellent waitresses today and some excellent grub. We spotted Harriette’s in Key Largo – a small, roadside restaurant with a parking lot full of cars, so we figured it had to be popular with the locals, and it was. A waitress out back on a smoke break encouraged us to come on in, and she (Lisa) ended up being our waitress. Harriette’s was great – a classic small-town cafe, decorated accordingly. Not an attempt to make a restaurant look like a small town cafe, this was the real deal. I’ve never eaten dolphin, but I had a fantastic blackened dolphin sandwich today. I was relieved to learn that my dolphin was a fish while those loveable creatures we see on TV and at marine parks are mammals. A little further down the road, we spotted a really cool alligator mailbox, and when we stopped, we found ourselves at the Crack’d Conch, a restaurant that we heard had excellent Key Lime Pie. Our waitress, Kathy, gave us two pieces of pie for the price of one as she felt the slices were a little small. Then when Boz asked if they had some food she could give to the skinny cats she spotted on the way in, Kathy had the cook fry up some fish for Boz to feed the cats. Two pieces of pie and food for a half dozen cats for $3.19. Nice lady and perhaps the best deal we will find on the trip (other than the sunsets, as we all know sunsets are free)!
We reached Bonita Springs about 6 pm, and we saw a shiny stainless steel diner called Mel’s, so we pulled in. Our waitress, Rebecca, was delightful – by far the most enthusiastic waitress/waiter about our trip, so she is the leader in the clubhouse for Best Waitress in our Best & Worst Competition. I happen to love hot dogs, so I had the foot long Cadillac Dog, and it was the best hot dog I have ever eaten.
Small towns are so wonderful. In Key Largo, I skimmed through the local weekly newspaper, and I happened to read a story about the opening of a new location for the local American Legion Hall. The article said “After a nine year odyssey, the American Legion has a new home.” Oh to have such an uncomplicated life that the trials and tribulations of finding a new home for the American Legion Hall was an “odyssey!”
It was a funny day.
We had three minutes of sprinkles today, so with the three seconds of raindrops on Day 6, the weather has been mighty nice.
When you can have a great time seeing little more than unusual mailboxes, you can have fun anywhere in our 50 states. Barbara noticed an older, retired couple sitting near us at dinner. They never spoke – never even made eye contact with each other. We have no idea what their life was all about, but perhaps they would have been happier if they had learned to enjoy the fun of a mailbox.
Here are all the photos from Day 9 of the Round America 50-State Trip.
Round America travels from Miami, Florida through the Florida Keys to Key West, Florida. Lots of sun, turquoise water, coral, monkeys, an underwater hotel, a giant bridge, and more.
The drive from Miami, Florida to Key West, Florida was enjoyable – not nearly as long as we thought it would be. Our timing was lucky, however, as the weekends are much busier. We saw the biggest American flag we have ever seen at a used car dealer in Miami. We’ll see the world’s largest in Long Beach, California, but this one was mighty big. We hit a car wash to get a week’s worth of dirt blasted off the little white car, and we finally found a really nice American flag license plate at Discount Auto Parts. So we were standing tall as we began our search for Jimmy Buffett. It’s about 150 miles from Miami to Key West.
We enjoyed a Miami Tour. We visited two tourist attractions before we headed south. We started the day at Monkey Jungle. Boz loves monkeys, and we enjoyed seeing and feeding the monkeys. At Monkey Jungle, the animals run free, and the guests walk through cages. It was very interesting to learn a little about monkeys; they are very much like humans. For example, they eat fruit like we do – just the good part, while I would have thought “animals” would eat the whole thing.
The guide introduced Ray and May, two orangutans, and a silverback gorilla, King. Ray and May were funny. King was a little sad. He had been rescued from a circus where he was mistreated. The circus pulled his two front teeth, so King has been rejected by potential mates and has lived his life alone. He has also gained a lot of weight, and they’ve put him on a diet to lose 100 pounds. You could see how bummed he was when the guide threw him a bag of diet food – carrots, celery, lettuce – rather than tasty fruit.
We got the biggest kick out of the variety of monkeys who run wild over the cages through which the guests walk. There are bowls on chains every 20-feet or so, and they haul these up to grab food the minute any is dropped in. There is a very distinct pecking order among monkeys, and it was interesting to observe this in action. We were also struck by what amazing athletes monkeys are. It was nice to learn that monkeys live much longer in captivity than they do in the wild.
Monkey Jungle was established by the DuMond family in 1932, and they still own and operate it today. We thought it was very expensive ($15.95 each), but the fee really seemed to be more of a donation for the care of the animals, the rainforest, and research, so we didn’t mind. It isn’t a busy tourist attraction; there weren’t over a dozen cars in the parking lot when we pulled in. It seemed like Monkey Jungle is a labor of love by the family and staff.
A little further down the road was Coral Castle, a most unusual labor of love. I had read a lot about this place, so I knew what to expect, but it is still amazing to see. Coral Castle is a home, furnishings, and property constructed entirely out of coral. One tiny little 5-foot tall 100 pound man, Ed Leedskalnin, built it all singlehandedly. He built it as a monument to the woman he loved, Agnes Scuffs, who called off the wedding just hours before the ceremony. Some of the coral sculptures in the “garden” weigh as much as 30 tons, and the story is that Ed somehow managed to work with these massive pieces and move them into place without any help whatsoever as he “understood the laws of balance and leverage.” There are over 1100 tons of rock! It’s hard to believe, but Coral Castle is not as impressive unless that part of the story is true, so we choose to believe. I probably wouldn’t have doubted it if there hadn’t been a staff member trying to convince us that there were energy fields in the ground there. I didn’t buy that. Coral Castle opened in 1923. Some call it “America’s Stonehenge.” Coral Castle is right on Highway 1, so it was easy to see as we headed south to Key West.
The drive was very pleasant and didn’t take nearly as long as we thought it would. Most of the drive is on narrow stretches of island land, and the islands are connected by little bridges. Then there is the big Seven-Mile Bridge. We were immediately struck by the color of the water; it was an unusual greenish blue near Key Largo and then it became an amazing turquoise a little further south. In one of my photos, you can get a sense of the color, but the color is even more vibrant in real life.
There are many more keys than I thought. I couldn’t tell how many there were from all that I had read in preparing for the trip. Now I know why; you get tired of counting.
Key Largo, Florida is the dive capital of the US, because of the coral reef. Key Largo has Jules’ Undersea Lodge, an underwater hotel. There are a few other “attractions” along the way, but nothing too significant as far as we could tell.
We had a list of a half dozen restaurants, so we kept looking for them. Then I spotted Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen and slammed on the brakes. Mrs. Mac’s is exactly the kind of restaurant we are searching for on the trip – a place where the locals eat (and those tourists lucky enough to have heard about it). It has a truck-stop-like appearance on the outside and a wide variety of license plate decor on the inside. Flying Saucers are their specialty – delicious sandwiches in round pita bread pockets. For dessert, we had “frozen” key lime pie, and boy was it good – very refreshing.
We were excited when we reached Key West. It’s always more exciting (to us at least) to visit someplace new, and neither of us had ever been to the Keys. Key West is much bigger and more commercialized than we expected, and it is busy. Since Monday is a slow day here, we were so thankful that we didn’t hit it on a Saturday!
We just drove around at first, and we drove right up to the Southernmost Point statue. Barbara took my photograph, and I took a photo of Cuba (at least I pointed the camera in that general direction). Cuba is just 90 miles from Key West. We hit Duval Street – where most of the action is – one tourist-oriented restaurant, bar, and shop after another. It’s a cool-looking place, but talk about commercialized – WOW! We expected to see Jimmy Buffett relaxing in the corner of a thatched roof shack of a bar, but that’s not what we found.
We checked into the hotel (two nights in the same room is a real luxury), rested just a bit, and then raced back downtown to try to catch the sunset. We saw an incredible sun from the road, but just had remnants of the sun behind some clouds when I managed to get past the crowds to get a camera angle. I got a decent photo, but we will get their earlier tomorrow. The sunset is a BIG deal here. Key West is advertised as THE place the sun sets.
A man we met at The Museum at Ragtops in Palm Beach recommended a restaurant, but we couldn’t find it. A timeshare salesman on a street corner indicated the restaurant would not be a good choice for us, so we decided to find another spot for dinner. Key West is known for great restaurants, but we didn’t have our book with us, so we just stopped at the Hog’s Breath. We enjoyed the Hog’s Breath in Carmel many years ago. It was fine – nothing special – much more of a bar than a restaurant.
It would be great if we could all vacation and just tune out business, but that’s never been possible for me. There’s not a lot going on, but two or three business matters have to be dealt with periodically.
I’ve taken 511 photographs in 7 days. At this pace, I’ll take over 7,000 photographs over the course of the trip. (Little did I realize that the pace would increase, and we took over 14,000 photos.) I’m using a Sony DSC-F717 digital camera with a 10x zoom lens and a UV filter. I’ll use my wide angle lens for the first time tomorrow when I shoot the sunset. With a 128 MB memory stick, I can take about 50 large format pictures before I have to download. I simply download the photos to my laptop every night and recharge the camera for the next day.
The first week is now history. We had a great time — only one less than pleasant day courtesy of Officer Vincent Passarelli.
Here are all the photos from Day of the the Round America 50-State Trip.
Round America travels along the Atlantic Coast from Jensen Beach, Florida to Miami Beach Florida. Stops included Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.
An eclectic bar, a bald star, hanging chads, rich people’s pads, 60 rag tops, and the ultimate rag — The National Enquirer. The joy of the unexpected! We had a great time today – mainly because we so enjoyed a number of things that we just stumbled upon. Accidental tourists!
We got up and at ‘em early (very important since there is far more to see and do each day than we have time). I opened the window of our room to get a very interesting sunrise over the ocean photo. I then discovered our shiny, new Panasonic tape recorder (purchased yesterday from Tiffany, the young lady with two legal identities who we met at Staples) was filled with tape in places tape was not supposed to be. I lack the patience for such problems, but Bozzie Jane calmly dealt with it. We lost about half of the day’s recording. This slowed us up a bit as I posted the reports for Day 3 and Day 4. We finally got out the door at 9:04 am. 80-degrees, blue sky, and hardly any clouds.
We are all decked out in our new Round America sportswear today – caps and shirts. Thanks to Rod Smith and the crew at Atlas Printing and Embroidery in Garfield Heights, Ohio for doing such a nice job and shipping them to us at the hotel in Jensen Beach.
Jensen Beach, Florida is a beautiful, lush spot with a nice long beach. We drove down the A1A (the highway that runs north/south along the Atlantic Ocean for much of the way through the state). We weren’t expecting to see much for a while as our list of attractions was rather short until we got further south, so we were just scanning the roadway (mainly looking for speed limit signs, I’m afraid) when I saw a giant robot – probably 40-feet tall. I made one of my now-patented U-turns, and we found ourselves in the wacky parking lot of “Harry and the Natives” in Hobe Sound, Florida. We weren’t sure what it was at first, but we saw a lot of people coming in and out, and we soon realized it was a bar/restaurant. The “yard” was filled with an assortment of wacky things, and the front of the restaurant had funny signs and odd décor. The interior was even better – hats stapled to the ceiling, lots of funny signs, and an incredible assortment of eclectic stuff. The rest rooms really are outside in “out” houses. Boz ordered eggs and orange juice, but I felt Key Lime Pie and a Coke was the appropriate breakfast for Harry’s. Boz and I both agree that the Key Lime Pie is the best pie so far!
Our waitress, Kayla, introduced Harry, and we had an enjoyable chat. Harry and the Natives has been in business since 1949. Harry’s 89-year-old mom still handles the cash register. I could write pages about the clever things we saw and heard at Harry and the Natives, but you can just check their web site at www.harryamdthenatives.com. We found Harry’s to be totally unique and enjoyable, and if you ever get anywhere near Hobe Sound, Florida, GO!
Harry would have to like Christopher Guest, producer/writer/director/actor known for “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show,” two of our favorite movies of all times.
Boz commented that the creativity and originality of American entrepreneurs is truly amazing, and it is so gratifying to see businesses like this that have grown and morphed and flourished for over 50 years. We will see a lot of this on our trip.
We laughed and smiled for miles after leaving Harry’s. Then we saw a sign for the Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum. We’d never heard of a Burt Reynolds museum, but another U-turn, and I was knocking at the door. Unfortunately, Burt and his friends are apparently late sleepers and the museum doesn’t open until 11 am. We took a photo so we could say we were there, and down the road we went.
The next stop was “Shipping Plus,” a shipping place where we shipped many pounds of brochures back to Hotlanta. There, I met the owner, Lou, and a customer, Pat.
We made several stops over the first five days of the trip trying to find an American flag license plate for the front of our car. We got a free one at the Pelican Plaza Car Wash in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. There I met a young lady who should easily win “worst name” in our Best & Worst competition. I gave her our Round America card, thanked her for the free license plate, and asked her name. She said it was “Sh**head.” People can be strange. Maybe she saw the sign on our car.
We pass through a lot of towns, but they don’t have a sign on the road to say it’s their town. Juneau Beach was one such place we passed through today. We aren’t sure if we should credit them in the book since they are so delinquent. Maybe they want to keep it a secret that they are a town, and keep tourists away. That is possible.
On we drove… looking for the rich people’s houses (something the Palm Beach area is known for). Before we found the houses, we found ourselves in downtown Palm Beach, and I spotted the Palm Beach County Courthouse – home of hanging chads. Another U-turn, and I had a prized photo. As you have probably long-since determined, Boz and I enjoy “quirky” things, so seeing the courthouse was right down our alley.
As we drove through West Palm Beach, Boz hollered for me to pull over, and I did. She spotted a place called the “The Museum at Ragtops.” We went in to find a great assortment of antique and classic convertibles (rag tops) and a wide variety of memorabilia. We took a tour with guide Peter and met a half dozen fellow tourers, including Stephen Goldstein who turned out to be the cousin of Ed Aster, who I worked for in England from 1992 to 1994. Small world. Ragtops was great fun. We especially liked Jimmy Buffett’s 1962 Nash Metropolitan convertible and a 1967 Amphicar, a car that will drive on the road or motor across a body of water.
We saw a lot of rich people’s houses and boats today. There are a bunch of them along the coast in southern Florida. We saw one home that was the size of a mall.
When we reached Lantana, Florida, I knew it to be the home of The National Enquirer, so we set out to find their office for a photo. We couldn’t find it, so we stopped three times to ask at a gas station, a 7-11, and then finally at a place that we were sure knows where everything is – Domino’s Pizza. No cigar. No one knew where their office was. We decided The National Enquirer was out of business (the kind of thing they might write about someone else), so down the road we went.
We probably saw the world’s smallest restaurant today, but Bozzie Jane wouldn’t let me take a picture. It was a guy in a lawn chair with a backyard-style smoker outside of a convenience store with a sign that said “Rufus Ribs.”
Boz noted that we saw an incredible number of chiropractors and furniture and clothing consignment stores today. She also commented that there is an interesting comparison between the architecture and people with whom we’ve come in contact – the buildings are really tired old worn out buildings or shiny and new, and the people are old or quite young and there’s not a lot in between.
We saw Fort Lauderdale beach – Spring Break Capital of the World! A real party place. Pompano Beach and Fort Lauderdale are really interesting with canals like streets and rich people with big yachts docked out front.
We rolled into Miami Beach at about 5:00 and checked into the Blue Moon Hotel in the art deco district in South Beach. More quirky stuff! We ordered Chinese from a nearby Chinese Take-Away, Sum Yum Gai, and we had a quiet evening as we prepared to hit the sightseeing trail in Miami all day tomorrow.
Sometimes the best things happen when you least expect them. We were pleasantly surprised five times today, and it absolutely made for a great day on the highway of life.
We did not see as many displays of patriotism today as we have seen in previous days.
It’s interesting to see what happens to your body when you drive eight to 10 hours a day in a convertible in bright sunshine. I have a great tan on my face, but raccoon eyes from my sunglasses; my left arm is extremely tan from the elbow down to my fingertips with a lily white strip where I wear my watch and an even whiter arm above the elbow. My right arm is similar, though not quite as tan. And I am getting extremely tan kneecaps. My uniquely colored body may qualify as a tourist attraction after a couple of months of this.
We’ve had perfect weather – not a drop of rain in five days. We’re really happy about Daylight Savings Time tomorrow; we can use an extra hour each day.
Many people ask us what motivated us to take this trip. Sometimes we tell the truth, and sometimes we make up humorous stories. A favorite so far is that at as a young man, I sat down and wrote down my goals and things I wanted to accomplish in life, one of which was to visit each of the 50 states. When I got down to the last 2 states, I decided to start over and visit them all at once.
Just 28,000 miles or so to go.
Here are all the photos from Day 5 of the Round America 50-State Trip: