We thought the coastal fog along the Gulf might make driving hazardous, so we took a more northerly route to Jacksonville. We found sunny skies on highway 84, and attractive scenery, if somewhat monotonous. The first word that comes to mind is timber; we passed dozens of lumber trucks; those that were loaded carried the trunks of slender pines to the mills. The pine forest was ubiquitous, infrequently punctuated with small look-alike towns.
Evidently the commercial foresters burn off the underbrush as a technique of forest management; at least we saw lots of burns which killed the underbrush and blackened the bark of the pines up ten or twenty feet, but did not damage the green crowns.
Highway 84 is the main road through most of the towns it encounters. On either side of each town we would find several small used-car lots. Cars were set out for sale on front yards, too, and each town had an auto parts store or two. Garages and mechanics were busy, and auto junk yards, too. Clearly this was not the place in the American economic landscape where the dotcom generation lease Lexi and Benzes.
For lunch we found a home-cooked southern buffet; workman filled styrofoam plates to take out, older folks sat and talked to their neighbors. Lots of the customers showed signs of old injuries, indicating rough manual work was the rule. View from the Mayport ferry
Outside of Dothan we passed through a corner of Fort Rucker, proud home of the Army air cavalry, and a busy place this year. Dothan is a modern, thriving city, which provides all the major stores and services for the surrounding area.
We headed south into Florida to drive east on old highway 90. North Florida is not where the tourists are, nor much of their wealth. We saw billboards which were evidently intended for those with local knowledge: Kailey's Kountry Kitchen --- Just Behind The Conoco Station, or Castle Dry Cleaners --- Next To Dairy Queen.
Tallahassee has Florida State University and the state capitol; the license plates boast about the national football championship. The guidebooks spoke of canopy streets, but evidently lots of the moss-laden oaks have come down, perhaps with blight. We continued east.
The next day we crossed swampier land, through Lake City and on to Jacksonville. In the wave of metropolitan expansion, Jacksonville combined governments with Duval County and for a while was the largest city in the U.S., in terms of geographic area. In any event, highway 90 enters at the far western edge of town and goes all the way to the ocean, some 40 or 50 miles east.
It's an interesting drive; the west part of Jacksonville is filled with heavy industry: factories and mills, rail and truck yards, industrial suppliers and specialized support businesses. We passed a strip joint and joked about "industrial dancers." Gradually the city grows closer, and the road -- Beaver Street -- goes through blocks of working-class homes and stores. Then suddenly you surmount a bridge and high-rise Jacksonville gleams with modern buildings close to the St. John's River. Almost as quickly one heads east towards the beaches. Here the middle and upper classes live, surrounded by shopping centers and chain restaurants. Then the country grows emptier for a while until at last one encounters a somewhat typical Florida beach city, complete with scantily-clad and tattooed sunbathers, and beachside bars and clubs.
Before we left the "city" we took the ferry to Amelia Island, a lovely beachside resort town. The ferryman consisted of a huge grin surmounting dancing legs, who gesticulated ornately to guide each car into place, with a snappy salute to those (like us) who sported military car registration.
Well, we made it across the country again. It's a wonderful drive, and we don't get bored. We're now planning to explore an area with which we are relatively unfamiliar: the Atlantic Coast.