I left the hostel this morning, and went up Florida Route 997 — a back-service road on the eastern edge of the Everglades, where I passed miles and miles of agribusiness. It reminded me of California’s Central Valley, along with the migrant laborers. As I drove behind trucks full of fruit, I had Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits on. It should now become obvious to anyone reading my blog that I’m very white when it comes to musical tastes.When I hit US-41, I turn left as the trucks clear the road — and I now have a wide expanse of open highway practically to myself. As the Paul Simon CD ends, It’s time for the moment I’ve been waiting for on this road trip for a very long time. No, not “American Pie” … I pop in my Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits CD. The opening riff of “Born to Run” prompts me to zoom the car down Route 41, and I sing along at the top of my lungs.
Now I’m cutting through the Big Cypress National Preserve, a vast expanse of cypress trees directly north of the Everglades. Route 41 will go through this park all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and there’s no one here except the Boss to keep me company. After seven songs, I have run out of breath … and could really use a drink of water. I stop by a roadside gallery that sounds interesting, figuring they probably have a vending machine inside. They don’t, but the lady gives me a bottle of water. I ask how much I owe her, and she says “a smile.”On my way out of the art gallery (which features some excellent black-and-white photos of the American wilderness), I run into Norm — who points out the alligators in the lake, and advises me to walk across the highway to see them more clearly. One of the alligators is swimming in the lake, and I watch him intently. In the Everglades, I was told they aren’t dangerous — provided you don’t do anything stupid. But the gators at the Everglades Visitor Center are used to being the center of attention — not this fellow.
Now the alligator’s looking at me, and he starts swimming straight towards me. I’m not asking for trouble, but now it looks like he’ll get out of the water if I stay around any longer. You could say we had a “staring contest,” and he won. When I get back to my car, I tell Norm about the alligator. “He got what he wanted,” he said. “It’s a defense mechanism.” Norm suggests a place in Everglades City for me to grab lunch — the Seafood Depot. I drive another 25 miles to Everglades City, and go to the restaurant. I look at the menu, and it reads “alligator tails.”
This was my lunch today. You could say I “got even” with the gator by having him for lunch — tasted like chicken nuggets, only chewier. I get back into the car, heading towards the City of Naples, Florida with Bruce Springsteen to keep me company.
Springsteen ends his CD just as Route 41 hits Naples. Now, it’s no longer a two-lane road — but an awful suburban multi-lane highway. Naples is a wealthy retirement community with manicured trees, so no reason to stop here. I put in my Eric Clapton “Unplugged” CD, and keep driving. The familiar tunes keep me sane during a not-so-scenic route.
When I get the chance to take a side road towards the beach north of Naples, I seize the opportunity. I turn left on Bonita Beach Road, which will take me to Fort Myers Beach. When the Eric Clapton CD is over, I pop in Sheryl Crow — as the beautiful beachfront communities remind me of the L.A. songs Sheryl sang when all she wanted was to have fun “before the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard.”
I’m getting frustrated now, because I want to go to the beach — but none of them have wi-fi, so I can’t blog from the beach. I then realize I’m acting the way I act when I’m back home — extremely tense, nervous, and constantly needing to get my way. It’s okay … I don’t need to blog right away; I can just go swimming. I stop at a beach just to swim for about 20 minutes … and end up talking to a charming German couple who’s visiting for a few weeks.
It’s now 4:50 p.m. … and it looks like traffic on the road has cleared up a bit. The bartender has been nice letting me sit at this counter blogging away, while I sip my beer. It’s time to get back in the car … it’s time to find a good place to watch the sunset at 6:00 p.m. And I have a hostel reservation tonight in Tampa … Oh, but wait … the bar is playing “American Pie” on the jukebox. I can surely have another beer before leaving …