Florida Surprises

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Old Florida

As I write, I’m discovering some of the less sensational parts of my journey have turned out to be much more compelling and interesting once I stopped long enough to reflect and write about them.  Experiencing these weeks through the windshield and on foot has provided an overload of moments to recount and remember.  Writing about them is allowing me to put them in a memory box of sorts, with the blessing of sharing it with you!

This occurs to me today because it was my intention to recount two traveling-through-Florida days in one writing.  At one point I thought of skipping both entirely because I feared they lacked interest from a reader’s perspective.  And now here I am, telling you I can’t fit my tales into one post!

So, one day at a time.  That’s the life I’m living right now, and without getting too preachy at you all, it truly is the only way I can do it.  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:34. And another sage piece of advice, ala Robin Williams (and ancient others before him, I realize), “Carpe diem”!

While the first several days were exciting and roughly mapped out to enjoy certain towns and cities, the rest was just loosely organized around the goal of getting through 650 miles of southern Georgia and all of never-ending Florida.  I was thinking fondly of my destination at this point. Islamorada Key, here I come!  Well, except for the no-highway part.  I was not exactly moving at break-neck speed.

And then, Florida surprised me.  Writing that sentence actually surprises me.  Seems like an oxymoron.  What could possibly be surprising about Florida?  I don’t even really like Florida.  In word association, I would quickly shout out, “old people” or “Disney” or “beach”.   Though I’d been in the state dozens of times, it was rarely a place we chose to go on its own merits.  Soccer tournaments, trips to Magic Kingdom, visiting a relative, a Superbowl.  Mostly fun, but Florida itself did nothing to capture my imagination.  On this trip I wanted to see if by any chance there was a heart to this state, not just a painted-on smile that felt like The Truman Show or Pleasantville. Is there anything that’s not a cardboard cutout of every other never-ending condo village, housing development or shopping center?  Show yourself, I felt like saying.  Give me something worth remembering!

I crossed the border into the Sunshine State on some forgotten byway north of Jasper.  No traffic, no houses, no nothing.  Not a compelling start, but at least it wasn’t cookie-cutter. DSC_0007 Rail tracks ran parallel to my left, and before long I caught up and passed a freight train, its endless tanker cars chugging slowly southward.  I’ve always loved trains.  They fall into that romantic category of the road less traveled, mostly because they’re the tracks you don’t and often can’t, travel.  Where do they all go?  I just want to get on and find out.  They smack of adventure to me. I feel a goofy kinship with this one as we both ramble towards the depths of this huge peninsula.

Live oaks line the mysterious turnoffs to the east and west – mostly just lanes that likely lead to homes and maybe an old plantation or two, but still . . . I wonder.  Down the road I ease into the little town of White Springs, and the Adams Country Store, est. 1865, welcomes all who enter.  One day long ago, it was something.  It still stands tall and proud, but faded in every way, almost white-washed.  It’s red tin-roofed overhang and green shutters add gentle well-worn color.  Rocking chairs sit silently on the porch, and surely they have their own stories to tell.  An “Antiques” sign flutters to its side.  The old place still has purpose.

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The Adams Country Store in White Springs.

I skirt along small lakes and other tiny towns until I accidentally end up smack in the middle of Gainesville and the University of Florida. Not feeling it, I press on.   Just a little further south, however, is my curious destination of the day.  It’s an itty bitty town just off route 441 south, population about 600. Named after a Seminole Indian chief in the early 1800s, its roots go back as far as 1539, when the explorer De Soto recorded an Timucuan Indian village there.  Name:  Micanopy.  Pronunciation?  No idea.  The answer to this question heads the list of things to learn during my stay.

B3842413-4760-48AC-B764-22B2622976C7The ancient oaks bordering the road into town are reminiscent of the talking trees in Narnia, their long “arms” and “legs” stretching out and beckoning me into its center, welcoming me into the fold.  Closer to the shopping district, I happily discover something I always find encouraging in the main street of a small town.  The parking is all diagonal to the stores.  Somehow it’s friendlier.  Micanopy checks that box and provides a pleasing first impression.  Bordering the sidewalks are old one and two-story brick buildings, shaded by large palm trees, some adorned with pretty green vines that stand in contrast to the old brick.

Before I park, I drive up and down a few side-streets to get a sense of the place.  Homes are old, but in the best way.  Imposing manor houses with well-tended gardens watch over the town, sure in their important roles, while small cottages fill in the gaps on neat little side streets.  The ginormous live oaks do not discriminate, however, as they are found in yards of the great and small.

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Time to walk.  I spy two cute restaurants – one Cuban and the other more American.  But first, I head off to see what the storefronts have to offer.  I am immediately drawn in by what will be the first of several bookstore visits on this trip.  Who can resist when tables of books are piled high on the sidewalk, boasting a $1 sign for all?  I wander inside after scoring a copy of Eugene O’Neil’s Long Days Journey into Night and a collection of John Irving’s short stories.   Once inside, a quick glance confirms this is no ordinary bookstore.

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The Micanopy bookstore. It had no name, which is somehow perfect.

There should be a sign on the door that says “Warning:  Not recommended for those with OCD”.  Part bookstore, part treasure emporium, it overwhelms me in the best of ways (no OCD here).  Volumes of American history are piled six feet in the air.  Some stacks act as side tables to hold smaller prizes, others begin their climb to the rafters on old dining room tables and chifforobes.  9F97E433-8863-42CF-8B81-4CC0F3121F7CNeed dishes? Glassware?  Lamps?  Pottery?  This is your place.  Eventually I spot the proprietor (he is exactly how you are already imagining him) buried behind masses of cookbooks and heaps of modern novels.  He’s just recently read the Irving short stories and provides a thoughtful critique.  I hand him my two dollars and happily move on.  If this is all of Micanopy, it is enough.

But wait, there’s more!  The rest of the street boasts antique stores – mostly knick-knacky type affairs, with some interesting jewelry and local memorabilia as well.  The managers of the largest one are quite friendly, sharing their story of coming to town years ago (they seemed very fond of the 70s – both during that time and in the present).  Their stories of neighbors and friends hint of a friendly community, with parties and events and just everyday life that speaks of a colorful local life.

One more stop before I go – things are beginning to close as the dinner hour approaches.  I duck into the café to order something to go and finally remember to ask my question.

“How do you say the name of this place?”  A cheerful dark-skinned boy in the deli area solves the mystery.  “It’s Mi-can-O-pee”.  I ask again for clarification and practice it, repeating after him.  “The stress is on the O”, he says.  Finally satisfied with information and something to eat, I pay for my food and head out the door.

I know you’re thinking, “My can of pee”?  What kind of Indians were these people?  Come on now.  Try again.  In phonics terms, it’s a “short i”, or the first sound an “I” makes.  However you say it,  Micanopy is my cup of tea.

Happy with all my discoveries, I head out of town, pleased with my new-found knowledge that Florida is actually full of surprises.

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