Heading north from Tampa, Florida, on US 19 on the way to Florida’s Forgotten Coast, miles of fast food joints, car dealerships, and strip malls slid by. This modern American landscape finally gave way to a two lane road bordered by pine trees, cattle ranches, and small towns comprised of auto repair and salvage shops, and churches.
It was dark when we rolled into Chiefland, Florida, where more fast food eateries, a couple of gas stations, and a row of shuttered and dark commercial buildings greeted us.
We could continue on, but following hours of driving, drowsiness overcame us as darkness descended.
It was 6:00 p.m.
Faced with the reality of winter, we gave in to weariness. Summer travel allows us to stay awake, conscious and alert for hours beyond winter’s late afternoon sunset and onset of darkness. Years ago we could drive all night if necessary. No more.
Our stomachs demanded food. I slowly drove through town while hub kept eyes peeled for a place to eat. Locating an open establishment proved difficult in the dark. No street lights assisted our search.
Proceeding slowly through town, the road once again became black with no buildings on either side of the highway. We turned around and, repeating the Chiefland town tour, spotted lights illuminating a storefront in a strip mall.
The lights belonged to a restaurant devoid of patrons, but the food proved plentiful and very reasonable. During dinner additional customers strode in and occupied three or four tables. Everyone, except the two travelers from New Jersey (hub and I!), seemed to know each other.
After dinner we found a room in one of the two motels observed traveling across town. Our room looked almost exactly like rooms encountered previous nights – a queen or king bed, desk and desk chair, a small couch or chair, one or two nightstands, one piece of furniture on which the flat screen TV dominated the space, and a bathroom ranging in size from barely adequate to almost spacious.
All of the motels offered free breakfast, probably using the same vendors, whatever the motel chain might be. Most have waffle makers, kids’ favorite, and offer a variety of cold cereals, oatmeal, and breads - white bread, English muffins (not Thomas’), an item looking like a bagel but not a real bagel by any stretch of the imagination - and possibly some kind of pre-made rubbery eggs.
Sometimes the coffee tastes good.
Such is life on a road trip across America, or at least across parts of the country. Hub and I drove down the East Coast from our home in New Jersey to our son’s place in south Florida. We avoided one of the worst roads in America most of the way, forced to drive I-95 - along with too many other cars and large trucks - through Georgia.
After visiting family on the east coast, we drove across Florida to visit friends in Tampa, then headed north to what the tourist bureau dubs Florida’s Forgotten Coast, a big bend in Florida’s panhandle dotted with state parks and wilderness, beaches, and one of the state’s oldest cities, Apalachicola.
Soon we will spend more than one night in one place, staying in places with a kitchen area and breathing space.
We have only just begun our road trek…