The beauty of taking a road trip under the guidance of Google maps is that, Dr. Seuss-like, you’ll never guess the places you’ll go – or the things that you’ll see. And such was the case this weekend when Google maps itook us off I 4
and routed us onto Florida Road 570 and 540 – and then continued to take us down 17 South cutting across the great state of Florida – until we finally met up with I 75 near the Gulf and made our way to Naples, location of my law firm retreat.
One of my favorite parts of Google maps on this particular adventure was its insistence that we were traveling north – despite all indications to the contrary, including road signs, Google’s own moving map, and the location of the Gulf of Mexico itself ahead of us.
Living in metropolitan Central Florida it’s easy to forget that Florida still has vast swathes of rural land. Cows graze in brownish green meadows and rest in the shade of the curtains of Spanish moss that cascade down from clusters of live oaks. The land has just a little roll to it, just enough to envision it once as the sandy floor of a lapping ocean.
Every few miles you happen upon yet another small town. Most of them seem to have escaped the scourge of McDonalds, Chick-Fil-A and Burger King. In fact, the one time we really only had time for fast food all we could find was slow food. The Double JJ Restaurant, the Pioneer Cafe, Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ. It wasn’t until we returned to the interstate that the familiar chains showed up again.
Small town USA no longer looks like Archie Bunker’s US of A. Smokin’Joe’s is right next to the Taqueria and the place that specializes in wiring money to Mexico. In towns like Zolfo Springs and Bowling Green and Cleveland, the Pioneer Restaurant is across the street from the Acapulco Cafe and the Mercadio. In the fields growing who knows what, converted school buses were busy delivering migrant farm workers to do the back breaking picking of whatever it is that we only encounter in the pleasant coolness of the produce sections in our local grocery stores.
After passing through Polk, Hardee and DeSoto counties, as we neared the Gulf, stucco walls surrounding golf communities started to partition the wide open spaces. The old Florida cracker tin rooves gave way to the repetitive Florida idea of Mediterranean tile. Funny how those Mediterraneans had garages as a central feature of the facade of their houses.
Despite all that nothing beats the glassy lake of the gulf or its sugar sand that was waiting for us in Naples.
We returned home the same way. We stopped to eat a quick picnic lunch in a small park across from the DeSoto County Courthouse. Somehow that seemed an appropriate way to end a law firm retreat. And what better way to prepare for the mountains of Ecuador in three weeks than to really experience the Flatlands of Florida.