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Islands in the Gulf
updated: Dec 11, 2010, 9:00 AM
The Sabal palmetto, or cabbage palm, is Florida's state tree.
A whole ‘nother species of creature awaited us on our Florida journey: Retiree americanus, mostly white humans from the northeastern United States. They had arrived in flocks and seized property.
Near the islands off the Gulf Coast side of Florida, it looked as though they were having fun, these old men in shorts, these old tan ladies riding bicycles and wearing floppy hats. The Atlantic coast was sparsely populated and lined with lots of empty vacation homes and places for sale, perhaps owing to the current recession. The Gulf Coast area was heavily developed. Nicely so, it should be said.
The locals and vacationers were cycling among pleasant housing tracts marked with mailboxes commemorating the owners' good fortune in living by the sea. The boxes are decorated with sculptures and big artistic renderings of, among other things, parrots, flamingos, pelicans, lighthouses and manatees, which look like dim-witted, jovial sea lions. This leg of the trip was gonna be fun.
A California friend had lived near Marco Island years ago, and wanted a report on what had become of it, so we looped down to have a took. We found it crowded, as expected, but filled with a great variety of housing, which we didn't expect. The isle, a small one, appears to be a very pleasant place with lots of money, fancy homes and northern sun worshippers.
Looking for a motel, we got a nice view of the ‘burbs, all the way to the south end of the island. I think (being cheerfully lost) that we entered a suburb of a suburb, named Goodland. As towns go, "there's no there there," and besides a couple of e$pensive monster motels there was only a small, faded, seabreeze-worn little joint near the southern tip of the island. Since it looked like a movie set for a film ending in a bloody shower stall, we took the suggestion of a nice fellow in a 7-11 type store and departed northward, landing a wonderful room in a Comfort Inn Something on the mainland, about 20 miles from Marco. There are businesses there where the freeways intersect. Like most of the Florida we had seen, it was a pleasant environment.
Then a funny (to us) thing happened: a major gas line explosion (no serious injuries suffered) a few miles north, up by Fort Myers. We asked the motel clerk for a restaurant recommendation and she cheerfully said, "Sorry, no food. They're all closed. The gas to almost everywhere has been turned off while they repair the line. Probably be a couple of days."
Long pause. . .
Well . . . being hungry, we decided to try Wal-Mart, half a block a way and no doubt a purveyor of sardines and crackers, whatever, with bottles of wine and some vintage Diet Coke. Another interesting trip! Driving the few blocks to W-M, we saw that the girl was right: Two eateries were closed on this weekday night. One, The Cracker Barrel, had been our target, since one of the kids had given me a gift coupon for a freebie there. Since there are no C.B.'s in S.B., I held on until I went East a year later. Now this. Oh well.
Wonderful place, that Wal-Mart. In some ways. Brightly lighted. No outages here. A poor little old lady was the greeter. I say poor because surely she would be home with her feet up if she could afford it. I felt like patting her on the head and offering a room in our house. An old (85-ish) friend from our L.A. Times days is now a greeter at a Wal-Mart in Beaumont, CA, and I thought of him, the one who had lived on Marco Island. Now . . . he's a greeter at Wal-Mart. Has to be some kind of "End of the Line."
Wal-Mart's is a different kind of trip in itself. A journey through society's levels, a visit to Capitalism, in the popular and colorful Vale of Marketing. We entered at far left, near pharmaceuticals, walked past baby clothes and women's apparel, and then, way down yonder, maybe half a mile away, food! The corner of the store seemed to glow with a soft, golden light. Maybe I was just hungry. Or maybe soft, golden lights sell food.
We found counters offering some surprisingly tasty fried chicken, good Western- or Southern-style potato salad (lots of French's mustard), a fresh tomato, a Coke and a pint of ice cream.
In one of the few real disappointments of the trip, we opened the stuff back in the motel and found that I had left the ice cream in a Wal-Mart basket! DAMN! MERDE!!! No, I didn't feel like driving back and looking for it. Very tired by now, after 8 p.m. (my normal dinner hour is 6 p.m.), I had a small, noisy fit, rested a minute, and then, feeling better, sullenly bit into my chicken.
It was so good I stopped caring about the ice cream, which I shouldn't eat anyway - too much fat. The potato salad set other deep hunger nerves to resonating pleasurably, and all was well. Coke is what it is, which is Coca-Cola. Always there, always good.
It WAS too bad about the ice cream -- Ben and Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. Just typing those words makes me salivate.
Next: On to another island and the Tampa Bay area for the grand finale.
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Sharon Dirlam heads for the beckoning, uncrowded beach along the Gulf Coast.
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A young man showed us his whopper of a redfish, caught among the mangroves.
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