It’s been three days since I’ve updated the blog. I’ve ridden from Gulfport, MS, to Magnolia, FL, to Florida City, FL, to Key West, and back to Florida City.
On Thursday, with fresh Amsoil in the crankcase, I rode from Gulfport to Magnolia. In what seemed like a some sort of cosmic joke, within 50 feet (literally!) of riding past the “Welcome to Florida — the Sunshine State” sign, I was in a torrential downpour, which stopped — completely — in about 10 feet after only about 1/2 mile. Florida rain can be like that. Very sharply defined lines of precipitation.
In and out of a couple of rain showers after that, all very hard and very short-lived, and I got off of I-10 to ride to Marianna, the little town on US-90 where we lived from late in my 5th grade year until the day after I finished the 8th grade.
As much as I love Longview, TX, the town where I graduated from high school, and value my friends there, Marianna has a unique place in my memories. Perhaps that’s because I was more innocent and less caught up in the drama of boy/girl relationships. We lived in town for a couple of years and then moved out to Graham Air Force Base, where my dad was a civilian contract flight instructor teaching student officers and cadets how to fly, first in the AF version of the Piper Super Cub and then transitioning into North America AT-6Gs. After the first year or so in Florida, they up-graded the training aircraft to the Beech T-34 and the North American T-28.
When we moved to the base, we lived in a trailer. My mother insisted we call it a “mobile home,” but we all thought of it as a “trailer.” It was a 43-foot long Spartan, the Cadillac of mobile homes. But we bought it when the width of all mobile homes was fixed at 8-feet wide. The next year there was a jump to 10-feet and then 12- and 14-feet wide. So, our living quarters were … uh… cramped until Dad built on a room that we used as a living room and utility room. While we lived on the base, we were adopted by the greatest dog I’ve ever known, a collie named Mac.
Both in town and on the base, there were woods for boys to play in, and on the base, they covered lots and lots of area. We built tree-houses and forts and had a great time. I started Boy Scouts while we lived in town. I was confirmed in the Methodist church there and experienced what church could feel like when it was a warm and accepting family.
BUT, there was a dark side to Marianna that I never even imagined. One of the things I remember is going to the State Reform School for boys on the edge of town with my Sunday School class. We were told about the ways that boys who’d gotten off to a bad start were having their lives changed for the better. It’s only been this year that I’ve heard the terrible reports of brutality, including rape, beatings, and murder that seem to indicate that up to 80-90 boys died with no record of their death or of their burial sites.
Plus, in reading Phillip Caputo’s book, The Longest Road, I learned Marianna was the site of the last public lynching in Florida. When I read that, I realized that I never knew a single African-American while I lived in Marianna. After we moved to the base, I knew black flight students, but not a single black person when I lived in town.
My idyllic boyhood was lived in a town (like many others, I suppose) with a dark strain to it’s history. A few pictures:
The Dozier School for Boys.
The house we lived in doesn’t look at all like it did when we lived in it. Of course, we moved to the base in 1955, so the house is 58 years older than it was, just like I am!
First (United) Methodist Church where I was confirmed and where I began to grow in my faith.
The Scout Hut (it didn’t have the addition that’s on the right of the picture when we used it for our Troop meetings. It was on the grounds of a park which gave us lots of room for interesting activities. It doesn’t look like it’s still in use.
The chapel on the old base. We had a great youth group on the base, thanks to the base chaplain, a Roman Catholic named “Father Little.”
The base has been divided into two parts now. The parts that were administrative and residential areas are now part of “Sunland,” a state facility for hearing and vision impaired people. It was beautiful — I just hope that there won’t be horror stories coming out about it 20-30 years from now.
When we lived on the base, this was the “TAC” (or Tactical) Building, where a lot of academic instruction happened. It also held the base theater and was where we went the only time we ever “evacuated” our “mobile home” because of a hurricane. I remember that Mac was miserable because the floors were so slick with wax that he could hardly walk. Nothing happened to our trailer or to anyone else’s. But it was an adventure!
This was where the base “mobile home” park was. Now it, and the area along the flight line and a good part of the woods we played in and explored have been converted into an industrial park.
The old control tower, now in disrepair. The building also had Dad’s squadron offices, briefing room, etc. on the ground floor at the left side of the building.
The other thing I noticed about the way I remember things and the way they are now is that everything is closer together and smaller than I remember it. What do you suppose ‘splains that?
After I left Marianna, I began repositioning myself for my conquest of Corner # 3 of the Four Corners Tour. I kept going east on I-10 and realized (again) how useful a GPS is for a person traveling in a strange area. East of Tallahassee, Florida is about as desolate as West Texas. I finally decided I had to get gas and got off at the first exit that would have taken me to Madison. When I finished gassing up, a highway patrolman was also finishing and came over and started talking to me about my bike, my ride, his bike and the bike he’s interested in. We ended up talking for an hour. About 20 minutes into that, his sergeant came in off the road and joined in. The first patrolman knew about my ‘Stitch, the Four Corners Tour, and the Iron Butt Association. The sergeant just thought we were all crazy.
The next morning when I woke up in my Super 8, I had the first episode of not feeling quite “right” that I’ve had since I left home. I extended my checkout time till a bit after noon and was OK the rest of the day.
I rode to Gainesville, a few miles east of I-75 and checked in at the Honda dealer who’ll mount the tire I ordered from Motorcycle Superstore and replace front brake pads for me on Monday.
Then I had the choice of riding a longer distance and on some non-Interstate roads or buying a Florida Turnpike SunPass. I picked the SunPass, and activated it from the food court of the Service Plaza. I was on “Florida’s Turnpike until within a mile of my motel here in Florida City. There had been a wreck that caused another episode of the “Freeway Crawl,” this time at night and on the opposite coast. For about five miles, traffic was stop and go until we cleared the wreck.
Once more, all the warnings I’d gotten about Florida drivers and traffic seemed inaccurate. Driving around Miami was no harder than driving in Houston.
Today, I got up, and messed around at McDonalds before heading down US-1 to Corner Number Three, Key West. The warnings I had about the road to Key West were all accurate. There was a lot of traffic, only a few places to pass (and if you did pass, you didn’t really gain anything), and, while I never had to stop except at lights, it was a long, hot slog to the Southernmost place in the US.
But I made it!
Corner Number 3! Only one more to go!
I’m back in Florida City now and tomorrow I’ll ride across Alligator Alley, up and over the Tampa Bay Bridge and end up in Gainesville ready to get that tire on Monday morning. UPS usually gets there between 10:30 and 11:30.
After I get the tire, I’ll be heading for my brother Mike’s house on Lake Keeowee near Salem, SC. It sounds like I’ll get wet in a more protracted fashion as I head across Georgia, but that’s OK.
Thursday, August 15, Four Corners Day 11, Epic Ride Day 31:
Day, 402 miles; Trip, 12,341 miles; Year, 18,148 miles; Total, 70,237 miles.
Friday, August 16, Four Corners Day 12, Epic Ride Day 32:
Day, 475 miles; Trip, 12,816 miles; Year, 18,623 miles; Total, 70,712 miles.
Saturday, August 17. Four Corners Day 13, Epic Ride Day 33:
Day, 282 miles; Trip, 19,098 miles; Year, 18,907 miles; Total, 70,994 miles