The early morning was quite sunny despite the predictions of rain, and already quite hot. I had used my iPhone to discover a place called the Island Pancake House back down the beach toward Times Square in Fort Myers Beach, so I stopped there and ate breakfast. Then I parked down at the beach park and pier at Times Square, and walked around the area snapping photos. Few of the restaurants and shops in that area were open yet, but there were a number of people already on the beach. I drove back to the hotel, changed into swim gear and got into the water for awhile. Unlike Destin, the Gulf here was pleasantly warm, like a warm bath, and took no getting used to. There was also no seaweed, there were no visible jellyfish, and if there were any stingrays, I didn’t see them. After an hour or so in the Gulf, I moved up to the motel’s pool, and spent another 15 minutes or so there, then went to the room and dressed for the rest of the day.
I debated whether to do some shopping, then return to the beach for an afternoon session, or to go further south and explore Everglades City and Naples. Fearing that with the high cost of gasoline I might never get back down that way, I opted to go south to Everglades City. But first, I wanted to do some shopping in the Fort Myers area, so I headed first across the bridge into Cape Coral, where there was a store called One For The Books. I didn’t find any music or movies there, but I unexpectedly found a book about the American occupation of Haiti called Black Haiti by Blair Niles. I also stopped by Rainbow Records, which didn’t have much, and then came to Highway 41 at North Fort Myers.
In Fort Myers, I stopped by both FYEs, and didn’t find anything at all. Because there was no local or ‘hood record store, I couldn’t find any local Fort Myers rap albums. I ended up having to drive back out to my motel room to get my iPhone, which I had left in the room, and then I headed back across Lover’s Key to Bonita Beach, noticing in daylight the beautiful, tall blooming red trees, and wondering what they were.
I knew there was a Fatburger in Naples, so I headed south on Highway 41 rather than going to I-75, but as I passed through Naples, I didn’t see the restaurant. Instead, I headed on through Naples to Carnesville, and then drove south on Highway 27 into Everglades City, noticing a line of threatening black clouds to the east that must have been over Miami. There was a store next to the post office at the north end of Everglades City, so I stopped there for an icy slush, but the town itself seemed to be practically empty of people. I knew that the town had been completely planned and laid out by a Memphian, Baron Collier, for whom Collier County had been named. It was planned with broad boulevards lined with palm trees and traffic circles, including a big one at the very center of the town. The town was also an island, surrounded by rivers and passes on all sides, and had in early days been the county seat of Collier County. But at some point, the town had lost the battle with Naples, and now the vacant streets testified to a town’s death. There were, to be sure, a number of airboat tour companies for the Everglades, several bed-and-breakfasts, the legendary Rod and Gun Club where I seemed to remember Ernest Hemingway staying as well as a former president or two, and a handful of restaurants. But almost everything was closed for the season, as I soon found that Everglades City was a winter resort. The island further south, called Chokoloskee, was no different, and even though the RV park was full of tourists, everything was closed, even the coffee bar and art gallery. Driving to the southernmost point of the island, I found a historic landmark called Smallwood’s Store, which had at one time been the only business on the island. It was now a museum, but it too was closed. It was past 5 PM, and the weather seemed to be deteriorating, so I headed back north on my way back to Naples.
To the north, toward Immokalee, the black clouds were roiling, with visible lightning off in the distance. When I arrived in Naples, however, the sun was still shining, and I parked near an entertainment district called Tin City, which had been built in old warehouses along the western bank of a river there. I checked out the shops and restaurants there, but decided to walk across the bridge to a restaurant on the river’s east bank called Kelly’s Fish House. I got a table overlooking the harbor, and the fresh Gulf grouper there was delicious, if a little expensive. From there, I drove into downtown Naples onto 5th Avenue, and parked in one of the city garages to better explore the city’s legendary shopping street on foot. The buildings, palm trees and flowers were beautiful, and I took a number of pictures, but the storm seemed to be approaching from the east. When I came to Abbott’s Frozen Custard, I stopped in there to get a chocolate concrete, but, as I was in there, the rainstorm broke out in a fury. People scrambled out of the patios of nearby restaurants and ran down the sidewalks to get to shelter. An elderly Naples couple agreed to give me a ride back to the parking garage, and the woman mentioned to me that the beautiful red trees were poinsettia trees. It later occurred to me that she might have meant poincianas.
Driving back to the north on Highway 41, the weather was really bad, with heavy wind, rain, lightning and thunder. Driving through the Harlem Heights area again, I headed across the causeway and bridge to Sanibel Island, and down to Ellington’s Jazz Club. This time I ordered chocolate lava cake, and some coffee, and I got to sit in with the musicians on piano. Then it was late, and though I could have tried to find something to get into, I went instead back to the room and to bed. (June 3, 2008)