I got a fairly late start out of Memphis, heading for the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference in New Orleans, and I stopped for a lunch at Back Yard Burger in Batesville, Mississippi. Fighting sleepiness as I headed down I-55, I pulled off at Jazz & Java in Madison for a breve latte, and then I continued further south into Louisiana.
Parking in the familiar lot in the French Quarter next to what had been Tower Records, I walked over to Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street to look at some compact discs. The store sold nearly any CD made of Louisiana music, and I ended up buying about $50 worth of discs. I then decided to go around to the Westin Hotel and get checked into my room, but I soon found that there was no parking affiliated with the hotel, so the rates were outrageous, and there would be no in or out privileges. In effect, hotel guests were deprived of the use of their cars while in New Orleans, unless they wanted to pay over and over again each time they took their car out of the garage. All the same, the lobby was above the parking garage on the eleventh floor, and with large glass windows looking eastward over the French Quarter and toward Algiers Point, it was a dramatic and striking entrance to a most unusual hotel. As I checked in, the speakers in the hotel lobby were playing George Antheil’s Symphony for Five Instruments, which I also found surprising, as Antheil, a relatively obscure American composer, happens to be one of my favorites.
My room was high on the 14th floor, and had a similar view of the Quarter as did the lobby. Although the restaurant off the lobby was crowded, I feared that it would be too expensive, so I decided to walk around the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat dinner. My original plan had been to drive to someplace outside the tourist area, perhaps Ted’s Frostop which I had heard so much about, but the parking debacle prevented that, so I walked down Peters Street, past the Jax Brewery buildings, which were now largely vacant. There was an amber glow in the air as I passed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, with the lovely palm trees swaying in the breeze, and people were out, enjoying the cool, moist evening, sitting on porches, sitting on balconies, sitting on steps and talking; not as many musical sounds on this evening, more voices and cars, the sky now purple, blue and finally grey as I rounded the corner onto Bourbon by the Clover Grill, which I recalled from some novel I had read about New Orleans. Their signs bragged of burgers, but in the novel people had gone there for breakfast, so I made a mental note to head back there on some morning before I left the city.
Bourbon Street seemed tamer than I remembered it before Katrina- there were a few sex clubs, but many more normal music clubs and regular bars, one on a corner where a young Black drummer was in the middle of a funky solo that spilled out into the street. I had been aiming for the Embers Steakhouse, but, when I arrived I noticed the high prices on the menu, and, worse, the lack of any crowd of clientele, which had me worried about the food quality. So I kept walking, and finally ended up at Star Steak & Lobster, which was a truly tiny restaurant fairly close to my hotel. Altogether, the prices weren’t that bad and the food was decent, although the portions were small and I had to contend with a house musician who was alternately singing or playing saxophone accompanied by a pre-programmed box-not the music experience one would want to have in New Orleans.
The Quarter seemed strangely devoid of street music, compared to what I recalled from pre-Katrina days. Back then, it seemed common to come upon a brass band playing in Jackson Square, or maybe that’s just how my memories are of it. Snug Harbor was a little too far to walk to, and the name of the group playing there didn’t particularly sound like a straight-ahead jazz group, so I opted for the French Market instead, and the Cafe du Monde, where I sat outside enjoying beignets and a cup of cafe au lait with chicory, the quintessential New Orleans experience.
Back at my hotel, I learned that the pool was on the rooftop, so I rode up there, but I really couldn’t enjoy it, as I got lightheaded about being so far up on the roof with just some glass balcony railings rather than a sturdy concrete wall. Instead I headed back down to my room, opened the windows to let the lights of the French Quarter shine in, used my laptop as a CD player, and enjoyed some of the albums I had purchased at Louisiana Music Factory. Finally, I fell asleep in the overstuffed, luxurious bed, with the windows still open to the lights of the Vieux Carre. (August 13, 2008)
There was a Denny’s just outside the resort gate, so I ate breakfast there and then headed south on I-75 toward Tennessee, stopping once for a breve latte at Starbucks Coffee. Once I was in Tennessee, I headed south into Oak Ridge, where I left some Haystak materials at Hamp’s Records before driving into Knoxville. I spent the remainder of the afternoon visiting JK’s Records and Cat’s Music in Knoxville, but going to the east side of Knoxville proved to be rather difficult because I-40 had been closed downtown. On Magnolia Avenue, I found that Where It’s At Records had closed, so I drove out to Sevierville, and made my last visit of the day at the Cat’s Music there. Further east, near Dandridge, there was a restaurant called Cowboy’s on the shore of a reservoir, and I ate dinner there, although the lake view was better than the food, in my opinion. Down in the little town of Dandridge, there was a crowd gathered at a barbecue and steak restaurant, and I walked around the area, snapping photos of old historic buildings and homes. Across the lake, there was a new motel, with a restaurant called Angelo’s at the Point, but I had already eaten, so I got back in my car and headed back toward Knoxville. On the Tennessee River downtown, there was a gathering of Knoxville-area Parrot Heads, as the fans of Jimmy Buffett are called. They were having a picnic, cook-out and live music concert, and it appeared that they were getting ready for a boat trip as well. I went to the Calhoun’s on the River restaurant there and enjoyed a slice of key lime pie while watching the sun set over the river and listening to music playing outside on the riverfront deck. I had called Memphis jazz pianist Donald Brown to see if he knew of any jazz going on in Knoxville, but he wasn’t playing, and one of his sons was playing in Crossville, Tennessee and the other was playing at a Knoxville brewhouse, but the place was a rock club, and he didn’t expect they would be playing jazz. So I settled for a jazz club called Swanks in Maryville, and found that there was a quartet playing there, although the music was more R & B than jazz. Driving back to Knoxville, I rolled past Baker Peters Jazz Club, but there the music was loud from the outside balcony, and was definitely rock, so I made my way back to my room at the Holiday Inn. The hotel was crowded with Pop Warner football kids in town for some kind of tournament, and they seemed to be running all over the hotel, but I had no trouble falling asleep.
On the internet, much had been made of a trendy spot called Wild Eggs on Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville, so I drove out there after checking out of the hotel, and ate breakfast there, noticing the dramatic glass case full of eggs of various sizes, shapes and colors. The restaurant was very crowded, but I managed to park and find a table, and the breakfast was quite good. I then drove out to the West End to leave Haystak posters at Better Days Records on Broadway, and from there I drove back to the east side to visit Exclusive Wear and, I thought, Q-Ball’s. The latter store had closed, however, and I was quite sad to see it gone. My last stop was in Jeffersonville, Indiana at LB’s Music & More, but they weren’t open yet, so I left some promotional items in their mailbox. I got a fairly early start out of Louisville heading toward Lexington, and with no record stores between the two cities, I saw no reason to stop. My hotel in Lexington was actually the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort, and was by far the most impressive and luxurious of the hotels on my trip so far. There was a golf course, a restaurant in a 19th-century house, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and a basketball court. After checking in, I headed through downtown to The Album, where I was surprised to find a lot of African LPs and Black gospel LPs, which I purchased. Practically next door to The Album was CD Central, which doesn’t always carry rap but does carry Haystak, so I left them some posters and postcards. After I visited the two Muzic Shoppe locations with materials, I headed out to Lexington Green, but there I learned that the Disc Jockey store, the last in that once-venerable Owensboro chain, was now closed. I had discovered that there was a restaurant and marina called Riptide on the Kentucky River south of Lexington, so I drove out Old Richmond Road to the spot, and it was on a lovely spot between two bridges on the riverfront. However, I was soon concerned when I learned that the restaurant was out of filet mignon. I had to settle for the New York Strip, but it was very good. I learned that the restaurant was more of a bar and club at night, and while I ate, employes were stringing up lights outside over a sandy beach area in front of the outdoor stage where a duo was playing and singing country music. There was an outdoor bar as well directly beside the river. After I drove the 20 miles back into Lexington, I stopped at Common Grounds Coffee House on High Street and had a dessert and coffee. Despite being a college town, Lexington can be boring at night, as I had learned on a previous trip. There were no rap clubs, no jazz clubs, and my hotel was the type of place where a lot of rich retired people were vacationing, so I checked the iPhone to see what was going on in Cincinnati, only an hour to the north, and found that there was a Reds game, with tickets as inexpensive as $20. I had not been to a major league baseball game since I was little, so I decided to make the hour drive north on I-75 to Cincinnati. As I expected there was plenty of parking, but, after parking, I found myself somewhat confused, for there was some sort of football game going on in Paul Brown Stadium, a high-school game or jamboree, probably, although it seemed early in the month for high school sports. I was tempted to go there instead for a minute, but finally, I walked the opposite direction toward the Great American Ballpark, which is exactly that, bought a ticket and headed into the very crowded game. Unfortunately, the Reds didn’t do very well, but I soon learned that the game was to be followed by a fireworks display over the stadium and the Ohio River. Long before the game was over, I could hear and catch glimpses of another fireworks show coming from over on the Kentucky side, Covington perhaps. The fireworks on our side of the river were dazzling as well, and then I walked out into the street to head back toward my car, listening to the hypnotic cadence funk of several young Black marching band drummers, mixed with the boom of nearby African drumming, all playing for tips from the sports fans walking past on their way home. I thought about cities like Cincinnati, how they have a soul, culture and personality all their own, and, looking up at the dazzling skyline, I wondered if there was something to get into. I debated heading over to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, but the last time I had been there, the musicians quit playing at midnight, and it was nearly midnight now, so I drove back across the bridge into Kentucky. At Florence, with some difficulty, I found a Starbucks that was still open, and I drank a latte to keep myself awake on the 70 minute drive back to my hotel. Although I turned the lights out and went to bed, I was amazed to hear voices and the pounding of a basketball from outside my window. Looking out, I saw that a pickup game was in full action out on the court at about 1 AM, and it still was when I awakened at about 2AM. I don’t know when it broke up, but the next time I awakened, the court was dark and silent. The Griffin Gate is known as a golf resort, but it’s a streetballers dream as well.
When I awoke the next morning, I checked out of the hotel, and then drove down to the Pie Pan on North Park Drive for breakfast. The restaurant was a local favorite, and rather crowded, but I had a delicious breakfast and then I drove downtown to the Evansville library, where I used old phone books and city directories to research the city’s music history. Through the 1960’s, there had been a couple of recording studios and record shops in Evansville, as well as a number of night clubs on Lincoln Avenue, which seemed to be the center of Evansville’s Black community then. In the early 1970’s, there was a Black record store called the Soul Shack at 765 Lincoln Avenue, and a couple of night clubs. The Outta Sight Lounge was at 229 Canal Street, which was actually the address on one of the Pure Love Records 45s, and a yellow pages ad for it in 1974 stated “Top Flight Entertainment” “New Modern Off Street Parking” “Air Conditioned” “1 PM to 3 Am” “dancing”. An advertisement from 1976 touted Mr. B’s Checkerboard Lounge “Top 10 Soul Entertainment Dancing”. The club had been at 800 Lincoln Avenue. I learned that the 10th Street address on some Pure Love 45’s was John L. Robinson’s house, and I assumed that John Robinson might have been Johnny Soul. The last Rock Steady 45 had an address on Washington Avenue that a recent directory listed as the address for a Sidney Scott, so apparently Steady Wailin’ Sid was still living at that address some 30 years later! Somewhat enthused, I headed down into the Lincoln Avenue/Canal Street area to look for landmarks, but I was soon disappointed. Although Canal Street appeared on my iPhone, it didn’t exist anymore in real life, having been disrupted by some sort of new housing development. Barely a block of it remained, and no commercial buildings that may have once lined it were still standing. The same had largely been done to Lincoln Avenue as well, with no trace of the Black business district remaining except a large brick building that once had been Club Paradise and now was a daycare center. Johnny Soul’s old house on 10th had evidently been torn down for a parking lot, and 800 Lincoln Avenue was a vacant lot. 765 Lincoln, where the Soul Shack Record Shop had been, was still standing but now contained a barber and beauty salon. Stopping at Uptown Music on the corner of Washington and Kentucky, I mentioned my interest in Steady Wailin’ Sid to the owner, who said “Sid that lives down the street here?” He called him and arranged for me to meet him after noon. From there I headed over to Coconuts Music near the mall and left posters there, then browsed at the Book Broker until it was time to meet with Sid Scott. When I called him, he invited me down to his house, and talked for some time about his dual careers as Black journalist and soul singer. I discovered that he owned the Black weekly newspaper in Evansville nowadays, and he talked about his experiences at Stax Records in Memphis. He also told me about the Kitty Kat nightclub he used to own on Riverside Drive in Evansville, and finally, he sold me copies of his 45s and LP. By now, I was really behind schedule in heading north to Vincennes, and, when I got there, the record store there seemed to be closed. I called the Ars Nova sheet music store in Bloomington and learned that they closed at 6 PM, but an employe agreed to stay open for me to make it from Vincennes, so I headed out quickly, noticing the massive, abandoned hulk of an Executive Inn on the north side of town. I had often wondered about that rather strange hotel chain that seemed unique to the Ohio River valley, and noticed that its hotels seemed to be falling on hard times. Rushing into Bloomington, I headed straight to the Ars Nova store, where I purchased a number of piano scores by Joseph Achron, Elie Siegmeister, Virgil Thomson and Frederick Delius. Thrilled with my discoveries, I headed on into Indianapolis, where my jazz drummer friend Laurence Cook was playing at Rick’s Boatyard Cafe on the westside. The restaurant was built beside a reservoir, and the last daylight was fading as I sat at a windowside table. There was an outdoor deck and bar that was a little more rowdy, but I sat indoors, enjoying a seafood dinner and the live jazz group that was playing. Afterwards, I drove downtown and checked into the Marriott Hotel.
Select-O-Hits Music Distribution sent me out to promote the upcoming Haystak release, leaving posters and postcards at retail stores around the Midwest, so I stopped at Danver’s on Highway 64 for breakfast, and then I headed up I-40 into Jackson, stopping for coffee at the Starbucks there, then continuing up Highway 45 into Martin, where I left some posters at Next Door Records and Tapes. It was nearly noon when I arrived in Paducah, and I drove first to the mall to visit Fred’s Urban and Casual Wear, and then I headed over to Head 2 Toe on H. C. Mathis Drive, but they weren’t open yet. After browsing around some antique malls downtown, I headed across the bridge into Metropolis, Illinois, which had become known as the “Home of Superman.” Indeed, there was a larger-than-life statue of the superhero on the courthouse square, a Superman museum, the “Super Store” giftshop, an American movie museum and the Harrah’s Casino on the Ohio River as well. A sign said that Willy Jak’s Bar and Grill was famous for burgers, so I walked in and ordered one, and it wasn’t bad at all. From Metropolis, I drove up I-24 to Highway 45 and then headed out toward Evansville. In Carmi, Illinois, someone had spray-painted “J-DOGG” on a brick wall downtown, so I had to stop and take a picture of it. I-64 led me east into Indiana, and I soon arrived at the Quality Inn north of Evansville, where I checked into my room. The sun was going down, and I hadn’t been able to contact Sinumatic or Cas One, my rapper friends in Evansville, so I drove down to the Edgewater Grill in Newburgh, where I enjoyed a steak dinner overlooking the Ohio River. Afterwards, I drove around the small town, taking photographs before heading into Evansville, where I stopped at Joe’s Eastside Records and left some posters with the manager. Driving around the city in the evening, not much seemed to be happening, even downtown. I finally parked at the casino and walked over to Max and Erma’s for a dessert and coffee. Later, back at the hotel room, I used my iPhone to pull up a website called Indiana 45s, where I saw that there had been some funk and soul records released in Evansville. An artist named Steady Wailin’ Sid had recorded on the Rock Steady label, and another named Johnny Soul had recorded for the Pure Love label. The label scans showed addresses which I wrote down and decided to research later, and one of the Pure Love label releases stated on the label that it had been recorded live at the Outta Sight Lounge. I decided that it might be worth getting up early and spending some time at the Evansville library downtown before the record stores opened the next day.
I had a gig to play at Jazz & Java in Madison, Mississippi, so I took the day off from work and headed down into Mississippi. I had seen from old city directories that there had been a record store called Lewis Grocery & Record Shop at 11 Doak Street in Grenada back in the early 1970’s, so I drove into Grenada to see if the building was still standing and to see if it contained any records. Judging from the city directory, Doak Street, a block west of the town square, had been the center of Grenada’s Black business district, but nothing was left of it at all. The buildings had all been torn down to make way for a Sheriff’s Department annex, which now blocked Doak Street from Pearl Street. Heading further south, I found that Front Street Coffee had gone out of business in Winona, so I drove on into Jackson, eating dinner at a new waterfront grill at Madison Landing on the reservoir. Our jazz performance went well, despite the fact that my drummer, Amin Abdul-Rashied was still recovering from a fall from a ladder a month or so back. Afterwards, we met at IHOP for a late-night breakfast, and then I headed out to Monroe, Louisiana where I had booked a hotel room because the rates were so high in Jackson.
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.
I checked out of the Hampton Inn in Tampa early in the morning, and decided to drive down to a breakfast restaurant called the Broken Egg in the new town of Lakewood Ranch, just outside of Sarasota. It was a large restaurant with a large outdoor patio where a surprising number of people were eating, considering the hot weather. Evidently, the place was also connected with Dick Vitale in some way, since they were selling his autographed books and golf shirts. After running by the FYE in Bradenton, I drove back down into Sarasota, where I was captivated by the beautiful aquamarine color of the bay. I stopped at the civic center park to take pictures, and then drove over the causeway to St. Armands Key, where I parked and walked around the circle. The community had been planned by John Ringling (yes, the circus guy), but hadn’t been fully realized until recently, and was centered around a circular park, with statues of the Greek gods and other figures representing the beauties and advantages of Sarasota. Around the circle were a number of businesses, mostly cafes and restaurants with streetside tables, and a number of ice-cream shops. One in particular bragged that their ice-cream was homemade, so I stepped in there and enjoyed a chocolate-peanut butter ice-cream in a cup to cool off before the walk back to my car. I drove down to the beachfront, and saw that there was a Holiday Inn there (that would be a fun place to stay in some future year), and then I drove back across the causeway to Highway 41. Further down was the Sarasota marina, and I stopped there to take another set of pictures. There was a dockside restaurant there, but I decided against eating there, and headed further out to another FYE in South Sarasota. Beyond that was Venice, another planned city that had been conceived in the 1920’s as a retirement community for the Brotherhood of Railway Engineers. The Great Depression had delayed the plans, but the main street through downtown was characterized by palm trees and beautiful Italainate architecture. At Venice, I left Highway 41 and proceeded down the state highway through Englewood and finally across a toll bridge onto Gasparilla Island. The water at the causeway there was a beautiful green-blue, but as stopping was prohibited anywhere along the causeway, I could not take any pictures of it. The island was fairly long, but at the center of it, I came to the town of Boca Grande, a small, old town with no stoplights at all. It was laid out around an old tile-roof railroad depot that now housed a restaurant called the Loose Caboose. Nearby were shops and restaurants, such as PJ’s Seagrille, Hudson’s, the Temptation, the Boca Grande Outfitters and Boca Grande Baking Company. Summer is the off-season in Boca Grande, and some of the businesses were closed, although there were some people on the streets. Walking down to the beach, I found that it was both beautiful and practically deserted, and I took several photos there. There was some sort of private beach club near where I was, maybe affiliated with the venerable old Gasparilla Inn hotel. After I took a picture of two old white frame churches surrounded by palm trees, I drove further down the island road past a tall white lighthouse and down to the island’s southern tip, where there was another, more-historic lighthouse that is a state park nowadays. The museum in it was closed, but there were some other tourists walking around, and I managed to take some photos of the pass, and the white seagulls flying around, and the island to the south (North Captiva perhaps?) Yachts had anchored off to the southwest of the island, and I shot more photos there, and then headed back up into the town, noticing a subdivision where the streets were Damfino, Damficare and Damfiwill. I took pictures to prove the streetnames (who would believe it otherwise), and then, not finding any ice-cream place open, I headed back north up the road to the small shopping village on the Charlotte County side of the island, and got a fountain drink there. The Island House Inn nearby looked like it would be a good palce to stay if I ever craved for a longer visit, but I continued north across the bridge to El Cajon and Rotonda, headed for Port Charlotte. Port Charlotte had been planned by the General Development Company beginning in 1959. It was planned to be a city on a truly massive scale, and somewhere I read that there were more miles of paved streets and roads in Port Charlotte than in any other town in America. Unfortunately, most of those streets and roads were completely uninhabited even today, and eventually the General Development Company, who had sold lots through newspaper advertising to people who had never seen the town, was found guilty of real estate fraud and collapsed. While North Port Charlotte found a modicum of permanence and success as the city of North Port, Port Charlotte never fared quite as well as the large-but-unincorporated metropolis of Charlotte County. With large square miles of vacant paved streets tracking through wilderness, cocaine cowboys found it an attractive place to land their planes and offload shipments in the 1980’s. More recently, it had gained a reputation for gangs and violent crime, and this was before Hurricane Charlie scored a direct hit on the hapless community. As I headed northward, I passed street after street that was vacant, with the occasional house here or there. I was told that many who had purchased their lots were unaware that water and sewer lines had not been run out to the sections of Port Charlotte where they had purchased. Also, large quanities of the lots were purchased by investors who never intended to build on them. At the Port Charlotte Town Center, I stopped by the FYE, but didn’t find any of the DVDs I was looking for, so, resisting the temptation to eat dinner in Port Charlotte, I headed south on Highway 41 toward Fort Myers. Below the Town Center, Port Charlotte had the look of a typical ‘hood, with the road lined with old, run-down shopping centers. The look had not been helped by Port Charlotte’s unincorporated status, which meant that the residents had no ability to control zoning or enforce codes. Across Charlotte Harbor, Punta Gorda was the county seat, and had grown considerably since the last time I saw it, but the town had suffered damage from Hurricane Charlie as well. At North Fort Myers, I began to notice rain and dark clouds gathering, and as I passed across the Caloosahatchie River bridge, I noticed an island off of downtown Fort Myers that had a pier or dock at both ends and for sale signs all around it. It appeared to be overgrown and wooded, so I wasn’t sure why the piers were there or what it had been intended for, but I couldn’t help thinking what a great restaurant/nightclub that would make. Imagine having to park on the mainland and ride the boat out to the restaurant/nightclub and back. Of course, boats would have to run every 15 minutes, but that would be half the charm of such a place. The drive from Cleveland Avenue to Fort Myers Beach took forever, and there were no roads other than city streets, loaded with stoplights, but when I crossed the bridge onto Estero Island and into Fort Myers Beach, I had the most beautiful vista of aqua waters and sunshine. It was not raining here, and as I headed down the island, I soon came to the Carousel Beach Inn, where I had my room reserved. The motel was quite old, built in the late 1950’s, but it was directly on the beach, had a swimming pool and was impeccably clean. As soon as I had gotten everything unpacked into my efficiency, I stopped to consider dinner. There was a good restaurant across the street with a lot of cars, but it looked expensive, so I decided to eat at a steakhouse called Sam Seltzer’s in Fort Myers. Not wanting to face the traffic nightmares of Summerlin Road, I decided to head south from the motel and catch Highway 41 in Bonita Springs instead. At first, I thought this had been a good choice, as the road crossed from Estero Island to an even lovlier one called Lover’s Key. The sun was setting, and there were only a few boats out on the water and a few people on the beaches, and it was truly a pretty scene. But I had not realized that Bonita Springs was almost 30 miles south of Fort Myers, so the drive north on Highway 41 took awhile, and the rain was back, truly heavy at times, with thunder and lightning, and seeming to come in from the east, which struck me as unusual. Sam Seltzer’s Steakhouse turned out to be in a hotel, and had an outdoor tiki bar, but I chose to sit inside. The atmosphere was formal, like really expensive steakhouses, but the prices were like Texas Roadhouse or Outback. Furthermore, the food was incredibly good, and they were playing good jazz music on the speakers. After dinner, there was a jazz club called Ellington’s on Sanibel Island, so I drove down Galdiolus Drive through the small ‘hood of Harlem Heights and across another bridge ($6.00 toll) onto Sanibel, which was pitch-black dark. I could hardly see a thing, and it was raining heavily. I later learned that lights have to be kept away from the beaches on Sanibel during the summer because of bird nesting. The club was above a restaurant at the Sanibel Island Inn, and a jazz trio was playing there. I ordered a slice of key lime pie and coffee and enjoyed the group’s last set before heading back into Fort Myers. I drove down Fowler Avenue because there was an establishment on it called the Reggae Cafe, but it was not open, so I headed east on Martin Luther King Boulevard into the Dunbar neighborhood, but once again, nothing was going on. I had expected that I might see a record store somehwere along that route, but I didn’t. Hot 105.5 had played a local artist called A-Lee that the DJ had said was the next big thing to come out of Fort Myers, and I had hoped that they would be broadcasting from a rap club, but instead, they were broadcasting from a strip club in Port Charlotte. So I gave up trying to find anything to do, and headed back to Fort Myers Beach. Even the clubs there seemed dead, so I returned to the room and to bed.
First day of my vacation, so I headed out of Memphis, stopping by a Danver’s on South Perkins for breakfast and then down into Mississippi on Highway 78, listening to a Supa Dave Baltimore Club Mix that I had downloaded from the internet. In Birmingham, I stopped at the FYE at I-65 and Lakeshore, looking for some of the seasons of The Wire in the used DVDs, but they didn’t have any that weren’t full price. I did find a DVD of The Corner however, and they had the complete run of all the Homicide: Life On The Street series, but, thinking I would find something better, I held off on buying any of those. The FYEs at Riverchase and the Summit didn’t have anything I was looking for either, but at the Summit there was a Johnny Rocket’s hamburger place, so I ate lunch there and then headed out for Montgomery. It was about 4 PM when I got to Montgomery, and I was looking for coffee, but didn’t find any there, so I headed south on Highway 331 toward Fort Walton Beach. At Florala, I stopped and took some pictures of the downtown and the lake it was built on, then crossed into Florida heading toward Crestview. There I found a Starbucks, so I stopped for coffee there and then continued on into Fort Walton Beach. At the Movie Stop there, I bought season 2 of The Wire used, and then drove across to Destin and Miramar Beach, where I checked into my room at the Embassy Suites. I was hoping to catch James Brown’s old drummer Jabo Starks playing at the Red Bar in Grayton Beach, so I decided to eat dinner there as well, and I drove east on Highway 98 into Santa Rosa Beach and down to the restaurant, which was quite crowded. I had a red snapper dinner, and did enjoy the jazz band’s last set of the evening. I got to meet Jabo Starks briefly, and he told me that the group had recorded two CDs that were on sale in the gift shop, but I soon found that the gift shop was already closed for the evening. Heading back west, I drove into Fort Walton Beach, hoping that I could find a rap club that was happening, but I didn’t, finding instead that the city was full of police posted up on nearly every corner, as if expecting something bad to happen. The only clubs that were happening were out on Okaloosa Island, but they were clearly geared to a rock audience, so I headed back to the motel and to bed.