I left Jacksonville early yesterday morning for the long drive south to rejoin Dave and his parents in Bradenton. It's about a five-hour trip by the most direct route, and I wanted to have a little adventure. I decided to go via Avon Park
, a small town in the center of the state where my great-grandparents lived and where my maternal grandmother was born.
I was last there about 20 years ago, I think. I considered a couple of different routes, and I desperately wanted to avoid Interstate 4 if possible. (If there's a more miserable road in Florida than I-4, I don't know what it is.) Google maps gave me an option that started at I-95 in Cocoa Beach and routed me along tiny backroads through Osceola County, but that seemed a little too
adventurous. One of those roads wasn't even paved!
So in the end, I stuck with I-95 to I-4, and then I-4 to U.S. 27 South. As expected, I-4 was dreary, but I survived.
When I pulled in to Avon Park -- which, by the way, was named after Stratford-Upon-Avon in England -- the first thing I did was stop at Bougainvillea Cemetery and visit my great-grandparents' graves. My great-grandfather, who was the station master for the railroad, died long before I was born. But I remember my great-grandmother, who died in 1974.
They lived in this house, which isn't in great shape these days, but it must be more than 100 years old. My great-grandmother used to have lots of flowers -- in fact, she won ribbons in flower competitions, which we still have. It was always a highlight of my visits with her to be able to pick some of the exotic flowers in her side yard, like hibiscus and shrimp plant. (Avon Park is farther south than where we lived in Pasco County, so her tropical flowers flourished.)
I walked down the Mall, a wide strip of park between the east- and west-bound lanes of Main Street, past the historic Jacaranda Hotel.
A red kapok tree in front of the hotel had dropped some of its weird, Jurassic-looking flowers.
I stopped for lunch at the nearby Diving Girl Diner.
Here's the story behind the name: For years, one of the most famous landmarks in Avon Park was the sign for Reed's Motel
on U.S. 27. (It's purely a coincidence that it was named Reed's -- my family members in Avon Park were Conoleys, not Reeds, and as far as I know I'm not related to the motel owners at all.) I was disappointed to see recently on Google Street View that the sign had been taken down.
When I mentioned it in the diner, my waitress said, "Oh, she's on display right down the street. She weighs 600 pounds!" Turns out someone bought the diving girl and put her in the window of a shop called Pure Grit, where she makes a fancy shelf for cowboy hats.
So I'm glad to see the girl has survived. I think one of these days she probably ought to go into the local museum. If it can accommodate a 600-pound sign, that is. (Maybe that was the whole sign. Could the girl alone really weigh that much?)
Anyway, my lunch at the diner was great -- I had a cup of black bean soup and a half cuban sandwich (my receipt called it the "Miami Beach"). The waitress saved my dying phone by allowing me to plug it in for a charge, for which I am eternally grateful.
And then I set off for the drive west to Bradenton, where I arrived in time to appreciate the sunset over Sarasota Bay and go out for a fish dinner -- complete with martini!