May 9th, 2010

plane feet

Day 6: Bridges, bridges, bridges

We walked out of the hotel onto the street, into the restaurant next door for breakfast - and almost all the way back into the hotel as the restaurant is joined to the reception. I had the second-oddest eggs benedict of the trip (or it might be an equal tie with the one Simon had in Santa Monica the week after, with lemon sauce and a soft-boiled egg and spinach); instead of a muffin it was a fried green tomato and crab cake, the usual poached egg - and a biscuit on the side plus grits. Plus the best coffee we'd had in days.

We headed down to the south battery and listened to the sea over the oystershell beach and admired the houses - especially the one with flowing muslin drapes, a fan and a hammock on the balcony (I could spend a few days lounging around reading on a balcony like that). I wanted to see the bridge over the straight to Mount Pleasant - it's a double suspension bridge with a pleasing array of cables that look like that string art that was popular in the 70s - and driving along the cobbled wharves and around the edge of the port revealed an amazing abandoned frontage in the middle of the bonded custom area, like a surreal gateway for goods from who knows where.

We drove towards the bridge, over the bridge, stopped at the cultural centre (more baskets) to take photos and back across the top of Charleston, over another bridge and another and down into Georgia, stopping only to buy peach cider (South Carolina, I think) and peaches (definitely Georgia).

Given the name, we couldn't not stop at St Simon's island; there's a long causeway and bridge running out to the coast and across. The island is wild as you drive across and then densely covered with houses, so you have to find the beach access alleys between them. We saw a cat stalking the mockingbirds in the palm trees on the way to the beach and then wandered across the sand and down to the water's edge for a splash.

Back to the mainland, we went over more bridges - all variations on the laced cable suspension like abstract white lace - and watched sunset over the slough land. After dark we turned into the maze that is St Augustine. There's some local oddity that has roads that go in wildly different directions turn out to run to the front and back of the same hotel. We thought we'd overshot and turned back and drove to what we thought was the historic downtown and found only houses and shacks and a tourist road train and closed restaurants and what claimed to be Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth. We turned around twice and eventually picked a motel in despair. They warned us that there was a PT Cruiser convention in town and the car pack was full of customised, tricked-out, neon-glowing PTs; very cool.

Armed with a map we drove down the side of the motel and came out back where we'd turned in on the other road and took the turn we'd kept taking for a car park and found the town itself. Forgetting it was Friday night and everywhere would be open late we stopped at the first place we saw was open: Harry's - which turned out to be a N'orleans style restaurant, complete with the hooting, hollering drinkers at the bar… We walked the streets a little after but everything was closing up so we got back in the car, turned down one of the interesting looking streets - and came out right by the bridge we hadn't taken when we first thought we'd overshot the town…

plane feet

Day 7: coffee to Canaveral

The coffee shop next to the motel promised to be gourmet coffee - and it was! I never knew there were so many magazines for baristas and coffee roasters and general coffee nuts (beans?), plus great coffee and  welcome air conditioning. We headed back to downtown but although the cloverleaf fort looks impressive the whole place was rather touristy for us. We overshot the turn for the bridge out onto the islands (there's something about St Augustine) and that took us down a quiet street past the military graveyard. Ironically, this has a sign on the gate noting that you may not take weapons into the graveyard. It also has three funerary pyramids of stone; both times we drove past, there was a squirrel perched on the point of one pyramid (if it sharpens razors, maybe it fluffs tails).

The islands were rather built up - the state park was about the size of a boat ramp, it looked a long way up the lighthouse and the castle was a ferry ride away so we headed along from island to island. We stopped at Flegler Beach to paddle and pick up shells and enjoy the coast; we stopped at Daytona Beach for ice cream at a small ice cream place with a logo of a cow that looked much more like a dog (moof!) and pootling along about the point that we thought we'd missed the last turning back to the mainland we found ourselves in the Canaveral national park. This is split across two spits of land; we drove down the first then around and out onto the second, which is on Merritt Island. The north section of the park has a great view of Cape Canaveral - we could see the squat block of the VAB and they close the final parking area for shuttle launches so they can put in NASA's enormous Webcam - but it's also a lovely stretch of beach. Once again we managed to find the naturist beach (or so the ranger warned us) and it was a lovely warm afternoon to splash around and stretch our legs. We turned back, headed inland and drove one of those long, long, Florida roads back to the island where we stopped to watch manatees in the canal under the drawbridge.

They're enormous; often all you can see is the interference pattern in the water where they're paddling near the surface but they roll over from time to time to get a breath when it's quiet and no idiot parents are letting their idiot children climb over the fence marked 'no entry' to go down and bother them. Fume…

Over the bridge the road runs across Merrit Island and while we didn't spot any alligators we did see an armadillo bimbling along. I've lost track of the wildlife we saw on the trip: jays and red-tailed hawks and maybe a frigate bird and vast numbers of butterflies and dragonflies and deer…

We followed the dusk down the coast past Titusville and Cocoa Beach and eventually turned inland to stop at the Super 8 in Melbourne. There was a Japanese restaurant around the corner but it was so hot and sticky we drove there! It was very traditional, with separate greeters and servers and authentic fish/vegetable/noodle/broth hotpots. As we failed dismally to finish the hotpots we watched possibly the strangest movie we've ever seen (and thanks to Certain Friends we have seen some very strange movies). We didn't see the beginning but I don’t think that would have helped (it was in Japanese but I don’t think dialog would have helped either); first it was a horror movie (mother and child in rain, kidnapped), then it was a hero movie (will our wimpy hero sacrifice himself to save them in the deserted fairground in the rain), then it was whatever kind of movie it is where the bad guy flips a coin and then lets the kid go, then it was a caper movie with buddies in a strange bar talking over the heist they’re planning that we see first as a set of models and then as a fantasy sequence in the bank where they pull a robbery only to be robbed in turn by another gang who are captured on the steps of the bank with the marked money because the robbery was a setup (and of course when they pull the heist it doesn't work like that and three gangs rob each other in turn and it turns into a weepy as our wimpy hero gets shot to save the girl except it turns back into a caper movie because the shooting is fake and the ambulance is the getaway vehicle); then it's a funny adventure movie where the getaway truck drives into the giant parade and then gets the giant parade banner over the windscreen; and then for some reason they’re dressed up as the Three Amigos robbing a Mexican bank on donkeys and then driving away in an open-top Cadillac. At which point a giraffe appears.

The next day was really mostly driving through condo blocks down the coast and trying to find somewhere for brunch that was A open and B not slammed for mother's day. We found a little place with a beach view in the end and then hit to freeway to get to Fort Lauderdale, check in and stretch out on the JetBlue flight to Long Beach where I actually had enough room to work on the plane.

Long Beach airport is a very fancy portakabin; there's actually a fixed ramp to walk off the plane rather than a jetway or stairs and you walk in one door, through the gate, out another door and the luggage carousels are out in the balmy evening. We were in and out of the rental place in record time, and actually it could only have been quicker if they'd let us walk out the back door to find the odd little Kia Soul (although we did get rather fond of it in the end).

Florida had accustomed us to toll roads and it was dark so we took the fast road to Laguna Beach, checked into the Best Western, liked it so much (double jacuzzi in the room, breakfast on the roof, checkin staff that listened when I asked for a quiet room) that we immediately booked another night before we even went out to dinner and liked The House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer so much that we went back the next night too! We managed to fit in a little time looking out at the sea in between meetings and writing and then drove over the heights to Palos Verdes and disappeared into another conference - definitely end of road trip.