By Rick Cleveringa
I feel as though I should set the stage on this scene to explain how I happened here. A December long ago, a child came to the world on the crossroads of Route 30, The Lincoln Highway, and Route 1. Sometimes called the Dixie Highway near the boy’s home in Chicago Heights Illinois. There wasn’t anything notable about this boy, many had been born there, but as this lad grew up, he heard that the road, Route 1, the road that encompassed his world, traveled from the top of the state to the very bottom. Indeed the main street of his little hometown, that of the barbershop, grocery and dime-store he loved, stretched beyond what he knew. That idea stayed with him, and later with his father’s worn atlas from the family station wagon, he traced this route along the state he lived and still lives.
Amazingly, the road did something incredible. It went further than he expected, and his finger traveled south to the end of the country and in fact, out into the ocean. In an older map he received in his 20s, the road went even father, all the way by ferry to Havana. As he matured, he thought one day he would travel this great road, all the way to the end. Years past but that road was never forgotten. Even as he developed lasting friendships that he maintains to this day, they too discussed taking this road to its farthest end. Finally, as the love of car and blacktop grew, and all the miles in Illinois and many beyond had been driven, now the sights were set for Zero.
With a week off and a last minute plan, I asked my lady fair to join me on a sojourn south. For how are we to be gentleman without the presence of a lovely lady from time to time? “E”, for the sake of this article, is a Brazilian native, a PHD student here, and a life changing experience in every way. She’s a good navigator, with an atlas in her lap; she can find her way through a country she knew little about just a few years ago. Coupled with her smart phone, a sometime misnomer, she knows how to use a map and enjoys exploring it.
With little prompting, we were off in my Camero and quickly moved through the boarders of Kentucky and Tennessee. We stopped for the night, and with determination to get as far south, as fast as possible, the next day we crossed Georgia. Finally, when “E” tired of the Interstate, she suggested moving to blue highway (a reference to the book by William Least-heat Moon) number 23 to ease our way towards the coast.
We made the town of Jacksonville Florida and along the A1A, we found a small beach to watch dusk come over the sand. In the parking lot, a cop who was about to close the park for the night, was sitting in his prowler. We pulled up next to him, “E” hates the police, and I asked where we might find good, non-franchise food. He said;
“this is gonna sound crazy but head South here, and when you see a big castle turn right. Follow that down to the inner costal and you find The Salty Pelican. That’s where I would go if I wasn’t workin’ ”.
Good enough advice for a pair of hungry travelers. We found excellent seafood and sat on large deck outside, as night came to the inner coastal. Waves lapped at the sandy shore and “E”’s smile was lit only by the candle on our table. A sweet night on the old road.
Having slept well, we woke the next morning and were anxious to put the Camero’s tires back on route 1. The day was bright and our spirits were high. We traded route 1 for the A1A back and forth, all the way down the coast and enjoyed it immensely.
In Daytona Beach I pulled the sliver car onto the white sand and drove some of the 14 miles of beach that’s accessible there. It was incredible. From there, we ate up the Paradise Highway to Miami, cruzing along these old routes and what is left of car travel in Florida from its birth in the 1930s.
After a poor night’s sleep in a rundown motel on the outskirts of Miami, I set the tires back on Route 1, the Dixie Highway, and soon we would be driving straight off the continent into the sea.
Before you leave the contiguous continental U.S. you drive a long route through end of the Everglades. Where there was nothing but swamp, bush and two lanes of road. I poured on the gas and we cut along in the sunshine and I thought about how many gators could be out there? Then you break through the brush and see the open blue sea. “E” and I hearts were filled with excitement of a new discovery. Then you puddle jump to Key Largo and out over the sea on the 127 miles of bridgework called the Oversea Highway. The day was ours on these two hours of bridge over clear blue sea. “E’s” face shines with the sight of ocean and this bridge which seems so insignificant a structure to be so far out into the deep blue. Key West on Route 1, we made the Zero Mile, and the southernmost marker of the continental United States on a warm sunny day. An actual dream comes true.
Noticing the previous GAC entries have all had a literary theme, I wanted to pick up that gauntlet, feeling as though it had been thrown at my feet. We left our little motel room in the morning’s warm 70-degree sun. It was a most pleasant day, as I left behind me the coldest and snowiest winter Chicago had seen in decades. 1500 miles to the north there were no white sand beaches to walk, only ice and cold. “E” and I sauntered a few blocks, to the home of one of the great American writers.
The Key West home of Ernest Hemingway is a lush jungle setting, over run with 50 polydactyl cats, a costly salt-water swimming pool, and sculpture garden.
The house is simple in design with heavy wooden furniture. His dining table, a simple construction of two-inch thick walnut boards, shy of six feet in length and less than three
wide, held my focus for some time. To think Hemingway ate his potatoes and drank his beer at this table was fascinating to me. Even “E”, whose doctorate is in Portuguese and Spanish literature, marveled at the importance of this place.
It was magnificent to walk the halls of this man’s house. To see Humphrey Bogart movie posters on the wall, that of Hemingway books made into films during in the golden age of cinema. To see photos of wives, though he really shared this house with only one, his wife Pauline. As the tour wound upstairs, we could see on the balcony, across the verdant tropical yard, a small building with a second floor. The guide said that was where Hemingway did much of his writing; over 70% of his life’s work had been done there. We left the house and climbed the steel stairs to peer into Pappa’s writing garret.
The room was tidy and had a random collection of his things. A small table, typewriter, books and few other odds and ends you would expect. One terrific, and perhaps personal, example of his life was on the floor near the door. And had it not been for “E”, I would have completely missed it. That is, until she and I were looking at her photos.
We were sitting under a huge palm tree in the garden reviewing some of her most recent shots, and once I saw the photo, I got up and ran back to the stairs. I climbed to the top and photographed this incredible feature.
The suitcase was of leather, so heavy and thick, so stiff and beat I felt faint. The case, with its
“E.H.” painted neatly on top, was the big daddy of all leather suitcases. It was a moment that registered for me personally, as recently I had just made my own large leather suitcase, and my case could have been this one’s twin. My case, a thing to marvel at for sure, but here at my feet was the real deal.
Unaware of this monster and all its glory when we first looked into the room, I was beside myself with excitement. Seeing it, gave me a personal thrill, paired with my deep admiration to an era, and perhaps a man. Now, if only
his case could speak to me. This battered and well-traveled case must have seen Africa, Cuba, Spain and beyond. This grand carryall would have required porters at the train depots to load it. Cargo handlers at great shipping docks, with nets, to lower it into holds deep below deck, Further carries in jungles, portaging this heavy burden on tops of native heads in the African sun.
I thanked “E” for her attention to detail, because had it not been for her keen eye to capture such a simple example of this man’s life, I would not have walked out of his house without this feeling as though I made some kind of special connection. That is of course why we seek adventure is it not, whether big or small?
The whole of this trip was tremendous. I never had to climb a fence, or get my feet wet crossing a stream, as we have seen in previous GAC adventures. But for now there was no need. The point of the GAC is the spark. That connection. There was no lack of it here, and I can’t wait for the next adventure.