Florida: Driving to the Keys
This vacation I spent on the east coast of Florida, from Cape Canaveral to Key West, mostly in the Vero Beach area with my friend, Sheila, and her parents. You may remember Sheila from the southern Oregon ramble last fall as a favorite traveling companion, good observer and driver and personal geology expert. Sheila lives sometimes on the west coast and sometimes on the east coast and right now is in Florida, a perfect place for me to recover from income taxes and the Primary Election Voters' Pamphlet.
We were first heading for Key West, just because it's there. After reading over my notes, you may be forgiven for thinking this section should be sub-titled "Paget Eats Her Way Through Southeast Florida," I seem to have been obsessed with eating the first couple of days. I attribute this to the fact that the airlines no longer serve anything even faintly resembling food.
That and a conversation I had with a woman in the Orlando airport where I had a layover. She was from Connecticut and claimed the food in Florida was terrible, I said I was looking forward to fresh fruits and vegetables, since it's only planting time, not harvesting time in Oregon. (That led to a side conversation with her husband who had served on the USS Astoria during the Big War and had never met anyone from Astoria before. I'm not, but close enough and I could tell him some nice things about the community, which made him happy.) I also said I was looking forward to eating a lot of Atlantic fish. She said, "They don't serve it, and you can't get any vegetables. I've never eaten so many hamburgers in my life!" So I was a little apprehensive, but worried for nothing as you will see.
Anyway Sheila picked me up at the Fort Lauderdale airport and we drove down U.S. 1 to Hollywood to spend the night in the Shell Motel, which is on Highway 1 just south of the Hollywood Circle. Hollywood, Florida (at any rate the part we were in) is just like the old movie depictions of Hollywood, California in the 1930's. Charming multi-colored stucco bungalows around a courtyard with a pool or grassy plot or shuffle board and hibiscus and palm trees all around. Nothing over two stories and an ornate white gate to close you safely in at night. The Shell Motel didn't have individual bungalows, but it had a kidney-shaped pool, a shuffle board, TWO statues of Venus, one of them a fountain, and a glider swing. Also, French was spoken there by our host Pierre.
For dinner, Pierre sent us to Hollywood's main street (Hollywood Blvd., what else?) to a restaurant called "La Piazza Pasta." We had excellent fresh tuna and veal piccata. A fantastic Caesar salad (with actual anchovies) and a nice Australian Shiraz. Every other bottle of wine on the menu was from California (okay, only 90% of them), a pattern which was repeated everywhere we went. And I am not about to pay $35 for a bottle of wine I can buy for $7 at home. So mostly we drank Australian, because I don't know how much they cost.
The next day it was on to Key West. My first impressions of Florida from the Orlando airport through our arrival in Key West were these -- lots of car washes and lots of clean, expensive cars (these go together of course), lots of terrazzo and lots of real estate for sale. And that realty way of advertising pricing -- "Beach Living from the 250's" or "Condos from the low 90's" (not many of the latter).
We had an excellent breakfast at Jimmy's Eastside Diner on NE 71st and Hwy 1 in Miami. We knew it would be a good place because there were 4 or 5 large Miami-Dade police officers and several members of the canine corps (the men, not the dogs) having breakfast there. The food was billed as Jamaica Country Style and was very good. Besides the standard breakfast menu, they featured huge boxes of Corn Flakes, Fruit Loops, Raisin Bran and Frosted Flakes. And the Special K came in three different sizes. Celine Dion was singing away over the speaker system and the muted television was tuned to the New York Metropolitan opera finals (sopranos I think).
Well fortified, we continued on Highway 1 through the Miami financial district, which was architecturally very impressive and smooth going; we must have hit it at a good time because everyone says you just shouldn't drive there (something like Seattle, but worse I gather).
Then, we suffered through 30 miles of strip malls that could be anywhere -- Target, Wild Oats, Walgreen's, Payless Shoe Source, Home Depot, you get the idea. The only interesting business in this stretch was a used car lot that dealt exclusively in Audi, Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Lamborghini. But THEN we were on the Keys. I'll be reporting on that soon.