Alice Jean - Have a Coke and a Smile
Southern Florida & the Gulf Coast
April, 2008 - We dropped down to the northern suburbs of Miami from
Daytona, swimming at Hobe Sound, Hollywood Beach and South
Beach. Each beach had a different flavor, and we enjoyed the beach
scene at each one. The water was turquoise and warm and we played
like children. In Miami we were hosted by my brother and his family
and he took us to a local park with banyan trees and mangrove
swamps. It was dense, exotic foliage, and we had a great time traipsing
along the trails.
An iguana showed
up as we passed and
he paused for a look
at us before he
scampered off into
We were intrigued that an old building
in the park had been built using coral
building blocks, rather than
the stone you might find at
in an old building elsewhere
in the country.
From Miami we scooted
across to Sarasota and the
southern Gulf Coast. The
gulls flew overhead as we
struggled at times in traffic.
Southern Florida is crowded,
and parking can be quite a
In Sarasota we walked along Siesta Beach where the white sand is
groomed and resembles Dutch apple pie topping, soft and crumbly.
I had never felt sand quite as soft. The scenic drive along
Sarasota's coast was lovely, and a little further north we had a
leisurely picnic at Coquina Beach. We watched the sailboats
passing through the drawbridge and felt like we were in the tropics.
We wandered north along
the Gulf Coast, watching the towns get smaller and sleepier as we got away from the big
cities to the south. As often happened in our first year travels, there were things we
missed as we skipped along. But we felt pushed by the growing heat and humidity at the
end of April, and after three months in the Sunshine State we were ready for other kinds of
We stopped in the little
hamlet of Carrabelle to
stretch our legs and found
the World's Smallest Police
Station and a cute 50's
inspired coffee shop.
Sailboats were anchored
across the bay and it looked
like a glorious morning to sit
in the cockpit and sip coffee
while watching the world
We were charmed by the small
town of Appalachicola. It is a cute
walking town with fishing boats tied
up at the pier.
We poked our heads into a guitar
store because Mark needed new
strings for his guitar. We got talking
with the store owner (and her
cockatiel), and it turned out her 90+
year old mother was an art teacher
in a studio down the hall from the
music store. It was a few minutes before the art class was starting, so
we dropped in to check out the gallery and say hello to the teacher. It
turned out her name was Alice Jean and she had been a Rockette and
a Coca-Cola model back in the days when Coke ads were hand painted. She had some
memorabilia from that era on the wall. What fun to talk to this elderly lady and imagine the
years peeling back to reveal such fresh beauty as we saw in the painted ads.
Continuing west along the
coast of the panhandle the
scenery got prettier and
prettier. We drove out on
two peninsulas capped by
state parks --
state park and
We began to
built on stilts, and the grassy sand dunes swept down to the turquoise sea. This
area held the promise of long lazy days sipping cool drinks while dipping your
toes in the water. But a sadness hovered over it as well. Almost every home along the coast was for sale. The country was in a
terrible real estate slump and credit crisis, and this area had been hit hard by hurricanes in the last few years.
Insurance companies were pulling out, and many people, like their stilt homes,
were being left high and dry. We saw so many housing developments that had
been abandoned. The plot plan billboards were faded and peeling, and the
homes stood half-built, knee deep in weeds. I don't know how an area like this
can recover. We traveled in an awed silence, searching the roadsides for
homes that didn't have a for sale sign out front.
Leaving the panhandle we zipped through Alabama and landed on the Gulf
Coast of Mississippi at a fascinating town called Bay St. Louis.