PASS-A-GRILLE

Old Florida is mostly alive and well in the little historic district of St. Petersburg known as Pass-a-Grille.  Pass-a-Grille begins in grandiose fashion with the 1928 Mediterranean/Moorish hotel Don CeSar rising above the sands and the hot white sky of St. Pete Beach.  The “Pink Lady” is too big for its lot and it threatens to engulf the thin ribbon of Gulf Boulevard that passes in front of it.  The hotel signals the end (or the beginning) of the great flotilla of waterside motels and condos that are beached like ships all the way up to Belleair Beach.  I counted one vacant and for sale lot where something had obviously been torn down; the rest of Blind Pass Road (SR 699)was one unexciting condo after another, some painted in tones of mustard and ketchup. Architecture “style” ranged from the thin, four-story bunker u-shaped wedge to classic two-story Bon-Aire motel to a pie-shaped behemoth that had on its top a revolving restaurant shaped like a frying pan.

As a historic district, Pass-a-Grille has some protection from commercial development, if not from the stylistic vagaries of individual homeowners.  Here and there a classic Florida beach home exists in suitably weathered shape; otherwise builders have been at the tiny lots with three-story houses that look like boxes stacked atop one another.  The newer homes do not detract from the district’s charm, tucked back as they mostly are behind palms and flowering bushes.

Pass-a-Grille is a peninsula at the southernmost end of St. Pete Beach bordered on one side by the Gulf of Mexico and on the other by the neck of Boca Ciega Bay.  Dune walkovers lead to the beach that was still blazingly hot in September although as vacant as if a storm were on the approach.  On the bay side, which I prefer, a multitude of cracked and sharp-edged shells suggests that shoes are a smart accessory.

I waded out into the bay and was surprised at the current despite a sign warning as much.  I meant to photograph some of the ubiquitous pelicans, but the current made me wobble and the light was uncooperative.  I had better luck up the road a block or two, where an assortment of pilings might as well be known as “Pelicans’ Roost.”

This is an utterly different Florida than you find in Gainesville.  It’s tourist Florida from the days before Miami was developed and thanks to that glorious beach it has retained its draw.  Flowers and shrubs no longer need to be frost hardy, so you encounter cartoon-like blooms in that special Florida color palette of orange, pink, yellow, and blue.  Walking along Pass-a-Grille Way, I came across a tunnel of greenery that had formed over the sidewalk.  A complete leaf cover provided an immediate and welcome drop in temperature.  I peeked through tree limbs to discover a small swimming pool on the other side, surrounded by large pots of flowering tropical plants.  It made me want to…do something with my life that would enable me to be able to sit by that pool in an old clamshell chair drinking mimosas and contemplating the addition of plastic flamingos to an otherwise sedate and attractive theme.

Instead, I pushed northwards and interrupted a small snowy egret that had been up until that moment the faithful and wary companion of a sidewalk fisherman.  The bird disliked my camera and it flew up into a tree across the road from which it felt safe enough to pay me no mind while the fisherman looked at me as if I were the first-born idiot to have scared off the bird with the grinding motor of my camera.

A couple of blocks later and I was back at the Don CeSar. Normally, I’d have an eleven-dollar cocktail in a grand old dame like this, but I decided to push northwards with the understanding that Gainesville was almost a three-hour drive away, more if you took the beach road and made random stops along the way.

I usually try to visit Fort DeSoto Park when I’m in St. Pete.  This is an urban beach that surprises with its beauty.  It is, hands down, the best county park I’ve ever visited; you don’t expect such natural beauty in a county parks system.  It reminds me of what North Carolina’s Outer Banks used to look like in the 1960s.  You access the park by driving through Tierra Verde, which is a condo city that ends as soon as park territory begins.  Once on park land, the park is made up of five keys, with nature trails, piers, and a designated dog beach as well as the historic fort.  Three miles of beach provide plenty of room for baking oneself the color of a coffee bean, as was the case with a young man I spied on a surf kayak whose race was indeterminate until he came closer and I noticed his light blonde hair.

The drive back to Gainesville crosses an imaginary boundary that separates tourist Florida from non-tourist Florida.  This occurs shortly after leaving the Tampa area and then you have left sun-and-fun Florida behind as you hurtle northward in the dark with the massive big rigs speeding out of Florida in search of another lucrative load.

Tomoka, Tomokie

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What I think of as Florida’s “condo conga line” starts at Ormond Beach and snakes southward to Miami, where it ends in a riot of tropical colors suggestive of sun and water.  Above Ormond Beach, the line is disrupted here and there by a large estuarine research facility, the ugly, low-slung condo bunkers at Flagler Beach and by St. Augustine.  Jacksonville to Ormond on the A1A isn’t the prettiest drive in Florida, nor does it contain the type of seaside restaurant I am always looking for and failing to find.  This stretch of the A1A suffers a bit, I think, from not being what people envision as “Florida.”  There’s not a lot of aquamarine and coral used in housepainting palettes and there isn’t a lawn flamingo in sight.  It’s windy and often damp.  If you keep on the A1A you will be at risk of yawning your way south, not to perk up visually or intellectually until the chesty condo towers of Palm Beach make you question the enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots and how it got so damn big.

Just off the A1A, though, as you head towards Ormond Beach is something called the “Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail” that encompasses the Bulow Plantation Ruins, the Fairchild Oak (impossible to photograph without an ultra-wide-angle lens), North Peninsula State Park, and Tomoka State Park.  The loop is a thirty-mile spectacular that crosses two rivers and offers up massive live oaks, coastal marshes, wading birds, jumping mullet, dolphins, whales, peregrine falcons, harriers, alligators, and turtles. It’s an amazing piece of Florida that has–almost–resisted development.  Where possible to build people have; but for the marsh acreage the whole thing would probably resemble Biscayne Bay.

A thousand years ago, this area was once home to the Timucuan Indians. Within Tomoka State Park lies the footprint of Nocoroco, a Timucuan village,  The park contains small barrier islands that were rich in fish and shellfish.  Today, I’m sorry to say, the little island was rich in Bud Light–both box and empties.  This refuse sat at the base of a palm tree, surrounded by shell middens.

A more cheering sight is to be seen at the site of the village itself.  Here the visitor will be dazzled by a wonderful roadside attraction that has become a bit temperamental to keep up.  Due to its concrete construction, the statue of Chief Tomokie that rises into the air above what once was a reflective pool has become a challenge to maintain.  On the day I visited, some kind of kiddie nature class was taking place on the perimeter of the old reflective pool.  Nearby, a gopher tortoise that was covered in brown sand sat motionlessly outside his burrow.  Chief Tomokie, also motionlessly, rises above this landscape, while his rust-colored warriors draw their arms back to shoot arrows into the bright blue Florida sky.

The Tomokie statue is a happy legacy of a bygone day in Florida statuary. He was created by illustrator Frederick Dana Marsh, who in his heyday had been responsible for murals titled “Allegories of Industry” and “Maritime History of the Hudson.”  Mr. Marsh, who moved to Ormond Beach in 1931, adapted to the Florida style well.  His Tomokie is a prime piece of mid-century Folk Art combined with a bit of the rustic and a flair for the dramatic–there was no Chief Tomokie. There is only the legend that tells of how Chief Tomokie drank from a sacred spring and thereby doomed both himself and his people.  Now, someone has come along and drunk from the Bud bottle and doomed both himself and our present-day civilization.

Tempura

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Clock Tower

It dawned on me last night that I hadn’t been downtown in three months. When I lived in California–even in the suburbs–I’d head for Union Square in San Francisco every couple of weeks to re-up Guerlain lipsticks, chocolate martinis, or Bond No. 9 fragrances. I used to dine out quite a lot in San Francisco, too, but this fell by the wayside in Gainesville. Like a lost love, the taste of the perfect japchae or the tom kha gai must always remain a memory on the lips. 

Cocktails, though, might be made anywhere someone has a bottle of Belvedere, so I headed downtown to drink vodka and to eat tempura at Ichiban, a Japanese restaurant I find superior to its more entrenched competitor Dragonfly.  I like Dragonfly well enough, but their portions are questionably small and so is their seating–and have they considered that I might not want to share my order with everyone else at my table?

I’d been to Ichiban before, on Valentine’s Day, when no one else was seating.  That there were tables available then didn’t bode well for this assertive new location that thrust Ichiban into direct competition with the more established Dragonfly.  The food, though, was excellent and so were the martinis.

Heading downtown last night, I decided that I wanted tempura and martinis.  Tempura is supremely easy to screw up.  It should be crisp, hot, and not dripping in cooking oil.  I have had tempura that has approached being steamed and tempura that is the texture of gum.  I used to eat tempura for lunch in San Francisco from a restaurant called Sushi Bune and I consider myself not just a champion of good tempura but an opponent of bad.

Ichiban has darn good tempura.  This, with a bowl of miso soup and the Belvedere martinis, is a highlight of Gainesville dining.  We’re so full of the chain restaurant here that a standalone “boutique” that does things well is worthy of special mention. The shrimp tempura was crispy, well done, and not rubbery; there was none of the white-paste gumminess that defeats tempura that has not spent long enough in the deep fryer.  I would have every confidence ordering the broader “seafood” tempura, even without knowing which “seafood” it might contain.  Based on an earlier meal, I would not hesitate to order any of the Thai curries or the Japanese noodle dishes.

Ichiban is a dark restaurant with some narrow two-top or four-top tables lining the center and a number of comfortable booths along the wall.  The interior of the restaurant is colored in shades of dark blue that range from midnight blue to blue-black.  This creates a restful, nocturnal environment where one can tuck oneself away assuming the restaurant is not busy. If you are one of the few diners seated at 7 PM, then enjoy the treat–with all that attention the service feels personalized, if perhaps a bit too personal (“Hey, guys, are you still eating?”). 

After dinner, I photographed the clock tower with the hot yellow tones of imminent sunset against its face.The clock tower is a Gainesville icon, ranking right up there with the Swamp as this city’s most recognizable image.  It was then, seated on a metal bench at the tower’s base, that I noticed the barrier bar installed that would prevent someone from lying down on the bench. This is an anti-homeless measure that serves the purpose of forcing homeless people to sleep on the sidewalk. Try putting one across your Tempur-Pedic mattress.  It put a damper on the tempura and also on the glorious sunset that was so full of rich purples and oranges that I thought it might burst and be full of good-for-you Florida orange juice.

Back to the swamp…

As some of you know, I’ve decided to fire up my old blog again.  I tried writing for a commercial travel site for seven months, only to find that what readers liked, the local tourist bureau did not.  Although I enjoyed the experience and met many great Floridians through my work, ultimately, the goals of the tourist agency reigned supreme.

The dialogue that led up to me parting ways with the travel site weighed heavily on Gainesville tourism.  Many of you readers expressed an opinion about local tourism, finding it and Gainesville to be mutually exclusive things.  Even the tourist bureau itself stopped calling people from out of town “tourists” and replaced that with “visitors.” People visit Gainesville.  As a friend of mine said, they come for football, get drunk, and leave with a hangover.  Or they come for medical reasons (medical tourism is Gainesville’s great secret tourist market) or to visit students at Family Weekend.  What they don’t do is to come for pure tourism, since there is an extremely limited market.

One thing I tried to do with my former column was to highlight the area’s rich natural resources. Over the course of my writing for that site I met cave-diving tourists from Germany and bird-watching tourists from Ohio.  Here were two reasons for tourists to visit Gainesville.  The more I got out, the more I realized that Paynes Prairie, and La Chua Trail in particular, was an enormous tourism attraction that was almost completely overlooked.  Handled correctly, and with an eye towards conservation and preservation, the prairie might be the “draw” that pulls people off I-75 as they hurtle southwards towards Orlando or Miami.  La Chua Trail is a cognate to the Anhinga Trail in the Everglades and might be put forth as such, if…

For whatever reason, the tourism promotion in Gainesville focuses at least half on the downtown area, or on urban attractions.  Here is where I had to draw the line.  I didn’t see how promoting a coffee shop where I’d never bought a cup of joe would help bring people to Gainesville.  There’s nothing at the corner of University and Main.  A fun weekend can be had by combining a Free Fridays concert with a play at the Hipp and dinner at Emiliano’s and a sandwich at the Lunchbox, but what happens on Monday? Or Tuesday?

Once the major attractions were covered, or were covered by someone else, it seemed foolish to write about them again.  While I do revisit certain locations time and time again, I saw no reason to re-up them as if they were fresh ideas.  How many editorials about the Butterfly Rainforest can you read?

So, I am back to the swamp, on my own agenda.  Coming up soon will be Okeefenokee adventures, a trip to St. Pete, and a tour of local sinkholes.  Thanks for reading!

 

CD REVIEW: THE RIGHTEOUS KIND “WILD HIBISCUS”

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I hadn’t been on Facebook but a couple of weeks when I sent a friend request to someone named Charles Ray Martin.  Mr Martin appeared with some frequency on the lists of people I’d already befriended; other than this I knew nothing except for feeling a bit alarmed by a shirtless profile pic Mr. Martin posted on his page sometime last spring.   I never bothered to blow the picture up to see exactly what is was that Mr. Martin was doing, but there was something about this picture that brought to mind the very thin line between a madman and a genius.  I thought perhaps Mr. Martin did things with paint and barbecue grills after midnight that would appall those of us whose evening cocktail now caused them to pass out before 8 PM.

I learned more about Mr. Martin (he was, it turns out, both an academic and an artist) and Mr. Martin’s band The Righteous Kind without an actual introduction to either.  And then I met Mr. Martin at a studio listening of his “Wild Hibiscus” album, an event at which Mr. Martin was so gentlemanly and welcoming that it made you want to bang the heads of ignoramus musicians together until they cracked and spilled out good marketing plans along with good tunes.

By the time of this listening party, I’d already realized that Mr. Martin was a marketing guru, a relentless self-promoter who managed to boost his own product without pissing you off.  This is very, very difficult to do. Most people fail at it.  Many refuse to even try it, since this occupation is known to make a horse’s ass out of many.  I’d get these little reminders that Mr. Martin’s band had a gig somewhere or another–at one of the three places in Gainesville that either 1. is safe for middle-aged musicians to play and 2. still permits live music to be played, and then I’d not go because I was holed up somewhere with the boyfriend.  But Mr. Martin intrigued me with his self-promotion at the same time other bands sledgehammered my head off with it.  Clearly, Mr. Martin was someone to meet.

At the listening party, Mr. Martin handed out a collection of materials in support of the new “Wild Hibiscus” CD.  These included lyric sheets (upon which Mr. Martin suggested you take or make notes, if warranted) and copies of the cover and back cover artwork of the CD and the liner notes.

Now, these liner notes were obviously a hash of something that existed–and was trapped–in Mr. Martin’s head.  He wrote of a trip up a river where he saw the wild hibiscus of the CD’s name, and he spoke of how the CD was a travelogue, sort of.  Or was…it wasn’t clear.  I sat in the overly warm studio with a plastic cup of warmish champagne and wrote a note to myself that the little story about the road trip with Mr. Martin’s wife Amy Lynn did not carry through to the songs on the CD.  In other words, if you listened to the CD without having been exposed to the narrative, you wouldn’t know that there was supposed to be a story. I was glad about that, because rock-narrative albums can be irritating unless they are “Tommy” or “Quadrophenia” and even Pete Townshend could overcook an idea.

Removing the story from the songs (meaning I didn’t bother to try to force a connection or to visualize whatever it was Martin and his wife were doing on that boat on the Apalachicola River) caused me to immediately isolate “Truth Is a River” as the song most likely to succeed if there were a single to be picked like a wild hibiscus flower from this collection of Martin’s road trip and roadside recollections.  And when I say Mr. Martin, I mean Mr. Martin; he is the brand if not the band.  The CD says it’s all about the beauteous Amy, but it’s really all about Mr. Martin himself, a product of science, hard work, genius, and, as Mr. Martin later told me, practice.  Mr. Martin happily makes reference to an era of rock music many of us sadly lament and doesn’t make any attempt to cover his tracks; no, he celebrates them, just check out that back cover photograph of The Righteous Kind crossing an Abbey Road of a stream with Mr. Martin, dressed in messianic white, leading the way. Following are his organ player, his bass player, and his drummer.  The front cover is an homage to the Beach Boys’ “Wild Honey” cross-pollinated with “Endless Summer.”  These are happy rips and nothing that Mr. Martin lays claim to as strictly original thought, something that–ahem–happens all the time elsewhere.

“Truth Is a River” is a song, Mr. Martin says, that was conceived during a mushroom trip during which Mr. Martin and his wife were each taking showers, one hot and one cold, and Mr. Martin suddenly had this song fragment in his head:  Truth is a river/The river’s called Love/and it flows to forgiveness.  So it doesn’t rhyme and the meter is clunky.  Imagine what would happen in lesser hands.  Something would have to rhyme with “river” and a hackneyed mess would ensue:  giver, shiver, flivver, liver. Instead, it turns out that the lyrics, while nice, are not the strong suit here. It’s a nice idea, this circle of forgiveness (“Float to forgiveness and you’ll find truth/In that river called Love, say it again/Float to forgiveness/and you’ll find TRU-U-UTH” (three syllables) ),  but what really makes you want you raise your arms in hosanna is the melody.  Mr. Martin writes one hell of a catchy tune that is aided and abetted immeasurably by a pulpy, creamy retro organ and damn fine synth break that leans ever so slightly to the Moog-classical.  If this song doesn’t make you smile, there’s something wrong with you.  Mr. Martin is a greatly impassioned if not a great singer, and I’m only putting that out there because someone is bound to say that I’ve omitted something about vocals:  Who cares?

Something that annoys me about music is that songwriters have lost a good deal of ability to keep things concise.  Choruses repeated and repeated again, songs dragging out to nearly the six-minute mark when the point was made at minute two, and so forth.  Mr. Martin writes a tight number that does what it was intended to do and no more.  He isn’t afraid to end a song. 

“Wild Hibiscus” contains 11 tracks and 10 songs.  Most of the songs are about Mr. Martin’s wife, which sounds kind of nauseating until you listen to them and realize that the ideas (“my heart’s been purloined”–yes, he did say “purloined”) aren’t sledgehammered into your brain.  “Song About Amy” could be awkward if it weren’t for the simplicity of lyric and the catchiness of the musical motif; this song bubbles along like club soda with a bright red cherry stuck on a spear right in the middle of it and Mr. Martin’s voice seems endearing and drags you right in until the song abruptly stops and leads to the next track, the fabulous Tom Miller-penned “Automobile,” which is killing me because I can’t remember where a two-note motif originated in the bowels of 1970s metal.  Or 1980s New Wave–perhaps a mixture of these two. Miller, the bassist,  sings this one and it is the only time someone else takes center stage–if not the spotlight–from Mr. Martin.

We’re right back to the Amy theme park again with “You Are Beautiful,” which has nifty references to both Mt. Rainier and the Salton Sea.  “YAB” is a ballad that has wisps of that era of British rock that gave us “Satanic Majesties” and other musical mysticisms.  Oh You! Mr. Martin sings, You are beautiful.  The entire CD is an ode, a paean, a testament to Amy, and it is heartwarming really, in this day and age of domestic violence.  That it makes one come to this conclusion at all may seem odd until you meet Mr. Martin and understand that he is an intense person and probably a recondite and flawed romantic. 

I dug in a way that I haven’t dug since 1971 the music of “Something Blowin’ In,” even as it isn’t lyrically clear what that something might be; this is Florida and Martin is being literal–hurricane, tornado, straight-line wind? There’s a vocal run reminiscent of a Blondie song in the middle- a vocalization that more or less follows a line in “Call Me.”  The CD is full of these almost-rips, including at the end of “Blowin’” another vocalization that brings to mind Jim Morrison’s free-for-all on “LA Woman.”  Finding and correctly identifying these brief references is a lot of fun and is something that might keep you occupied for hours or might form the basis of a new party game for those who no longer go out and who spend hours listening to their old vinyl collection.

I have written this many words without much crediting The Righteous Kind, the band, for their efforts.  This is a terrible oversight, but consider it a by-product of Mr. Martin’s Course in the Powers of Persuasion. There is a band behind Mr. Martin and a fine band it is, too, with classic rock organ by Mr. Brashear, funked-up bass by Mr. Miller and drums, ladies and gentleman, by the elusive Larry California.

This CD sounds terrible played on my computer, where there is no low end.  It actually has a great production, courtesy of Bob McPeek, and deserves–dare I say it–an issue on vinyl, where you can get into the groove of something like “Peace Bud,” a song that is a near-perfect blues number (point off for mentioning Palatka; I resist any geographic references other than Big Cities).

Mr. Martin does a good job of giving the impression that he is perpetually on the prowl for something.  I don’t think I–or you or anyone else–should attempt to psychoanalyze this CD; it fares best without delving too deep into either the trip narrative or the Amy aspect.  The revival preacher angle, though, is grand, and it begs to be taken immediately to video.  There’s something about Mr. Martin’s luxurious S-wave of hair, the nerdy-prof glasses, the Absolute Assuredness With Which This CD Has Been Conceived that makes me want to package and sell Charles Ray Martin dolls dressed in white and with big goofy grins on their genius plastic faces–it’s very persuasive stuff, kiddies.  If Mr. Martin offers you any neon-colored Kool-Aid, drink it.

www.therighteouskind.com

BONEDRIVERS “MOBILE” CD REVIEW

 

Someone recently gave me a CD that was touted as containing some of the best rockabilly music a person could hope to hear.  Great! I thought.  Rockabilly might be due for a resurgence; the airwaves are getting bogged down by Bieber and when was the last time you heard slapback at the top of the charts?

Trouble was, the CD’s tunes sounded as if they’d been lifted wholesale from a 1960s secret agent spoof that had the hero surf-guitaring with Bela Lugosi and Slim Jim Phantom.  I believe the acronym “WTF?” was created for this particular CD that now has been lost underneath the passenger seat of my car.

It seemed that a lot of what I was listening to recently was full of mimicry that in some extreme instances bordered on unintentional mockery.  This has its place, but it can border on overkill rather than serving as simple reference or jumping-off point.  In some instances, the mimicry had gotten so severe that I was afraid to make comment about it lest I cripple and destroy that which was intended as wholly serious–a riff clearly lifted from the Amboy Dukes “Journey to the Center of the Mind”;  a melody that bothered me deep into the night until I realized it was the old “Things go better with Coca-Cola” jingle…and so on.

For this reason, I approached The Bonedrivers’ second CD–the simply titled “Mobile”–with some trepidation.  There was a lot of shaky ground on which to stand with this project, not the least of which was that frontman Keith Karloff’s turf is decidedly pavement-urban (NYC and SF) and that Karloff was attempting a white-boy celebration of black-based Southern R & B based, besides on a sheer love of the genre, on some vacation time spent in the Deep South.  Hence the name of the CD, after the largely uncelebrated city by the bay that is a far cry from the sophisticated City by the Bay that Karloff calls home.

Karloff has had quite the trajectory through music and the music business, a good four decades’ worth.  This makes Karloff sound ancient, but he started young.  His path has taken him through a number of bands (including a drag Stones cover band that was a surprise hit) to the Bonedrivers territory, in which he seems to have found a comfortable home.  That isn’t to say that Karloff has lost all rock-and-roll goatishness with age and experience–he is still part Gone Jackal, after all, even as his work has mellowed like a good aged bourbon. 

The Bonedrivers play plus-100 gigs in and around the San Francisco Bay Area each year and this experience shows in the tight sound of “Mobile.” Although Karloff penned all of the songs, he doesn’t play all of the instruments.  Thomas Stokes on bass and Jim Nelson on drums are, with Karloff,  the Bonedrivers’ nucleus, with guest-musician sit-ins on vocals and keyboards. Karloff explains in the liner notes that he was “deeply moved by the beauty, mystery, melancholy, and unique spirit” of the South.  All well and good, but not so easy to accurately describe in song.  The South–and its music–has a tone and a pridefulness that is analogous to its seeming to stand apart from the rest of the continental US in terms of psychological and physical rhythm.  The heat does that, as does a slow economy and the fact that you can still see roadside poverty as timeless as it was during the Depression.

In “Mobile,” Karloff gets his feet wet enough in Delta sound to make a believable anthem.  There’s not a shred of copycatting in any of the ten songs, which was the thing I feared most.  Things are kept simple for the most part, and this makes the CD a real gem.  As I listened to it, I pondered why it worked when it could easily have failed and I came up with a combination of two factors:  Simplicity and originality.  Karloff has authored a straight-up set of good old bar boogie minus the melancholy of inauthentic place and time.  The Bonedrivers’  Southern GPS is guided not just by Karloff but  by guest keyboard guru Austin De Lone, who seems able to play in any style and who excels in this one.

The best of these tunes are “It’s a Beautiful Thing” and “Honky Tonk Prayer,” which Karloff has also cut for radio.  The first is a love song to, of all things, domestication of the male animal, and the second is one of the best “Southern” songs I’ve heard in decades.  Simplicity, remember?  Karloff doesn’t seem to be someone who overwrites and then has to mercilessly edit.  Music and lyric are in perfect balance and that is, I think, one of the hallmarks of the Southern rock genre in general or to all forms of song. 

A third favorite is the closer, “That’s The Way I Roll.”  This is as good a bar boogie as you are likely to find and the kind of thing that used to appear on the B side of a Top 40 single that became a latent and secondary hit.

The other seven songs, including the Delta-stomper “Gimme Lightning,” are a roadmap of Karloff’s Southern vacations, ranging from Memphis to the Carolinas and the deep bayou.  This might not be clear to the Northern ear and that’s fine, too. It’s the kind of thing you want to listen to in a bar or a car and not in a stadium; it’s for drinking and catting around to and not for picking apart or for appreciating as one of crowd of ten thousand.  I’ve not seen The Bonedrivers play live and, living in Florida, it’s not likely that I will, but I get the sense that the band can plunk “Mobile” down into their regular club set without alienating bargoers, which is always something to consider when the witching hour sets in and all people want to hear is “Sweet Home Alabama.”  The Bonedrivers are not a cover outfit and achieve success on their own merits and with some very hard work.  The biggest compliment I can pay them and their new album is that it is my earnest belief that they could slide right into some of our more discerning venues and fit right in.  One should expect no less of Karloff, a shaman who can change his sound and appearance with the cast of an eye or the flick of a pick.  Let’s hope he stays in this iteration for a good many more miles.

Bonus:  Phallic kudzu photo on CD cover.

–Suzanna Mars

Band Web site at:  www.bonedrivers.com

Buy CD:  www.blueblack.com/bonedrivers/mobilecd.html 

GOOD FLORIDA CITIZEN AWARD #1: CHOMPERS DRIVE-THROUGH

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Fresh-Squeezed Florida awards Chompers Drive-Through in Fanning Springs its inaugural “Good Florida Citizen Award.”  Chompers wins for providing a Thanksgiving meal for those unfortunate enough not to be able to have one otherwise.

When out exploring the numerous local springs. Mr. B. and I have driven through Chompers’ drive-in a few times.  Chompers is a drive-in with excellent burgers and barbecued pork sandwiches and special Southern treats like fried dill pickles.  The service is friendly and fast and the food is excellent.  It’s fast food that tastes slow-cooked.  The burgers have real grill marks and the pork is juicy and tangy.  French fries are thin, salty, and hot and onion rings are whole thick slices.

We stopped at Chompers on our way to Otter Springs.  As we waited for our order, we noticed a modest flyer taped to the window (see pic below).  From noon until 3 PM on Thanksgiving Day, Chompers is providing a free Thanksgiving meal to those in need.  In this economy, and with all the skimpy margins on which small businesses operate and the horrible polarizing political debates and who is owed what and by whom, here is a small business that is giving back in a big way.  And not only are they sponsoring this turkey feed in their restaurant, they are also offering friendly conversation along with it. 

There is hope left in the world, friends. Chompers has been quietly doing this feed for the past couple of years.

Bless them.  Please make sure to visit them when in the Fanning Springs area.

www.chompersdiner.com

BIG YELLOW DUMPSTER: MEN IN BOATS

The Big Yellow Dumpster is back with some select examples of boats and the people who use them.  Photographing boats started out as an exercise in stopping motion, but it proved so easy to do that it wasn’t much of a challenge. The pictures tell some kind of story about the boaters,  so I saved them.  They represent water-going characters in the Great Florida Novel.

A story you cannot see in the pictures I will tell here, about the two black men and the white guy in the fancy speedboat.  This story takes place at the public pier on Orange Lake.

The black men were returning from their fishing trip on the lake.  The shadows were beginning to fall a little longer across the water; it was time for the day fishermen to return and the night fishermen to set out. As the black guys neared the boat ramp, a big and shiny four-door pickup showed up. It backed into the ramp with the speedboat on a trailer behind.  A guy jumped out of the cab and got into the boat at about the same time the black guys pulled up to the side to wait their turn at the launch.  They’d just missed being able to use the launch and it seemed to me that the people in the truck might have checked the water to see if anyone were trying to return before they muscled their big rig down the launch.

The middle-aged guy who got in the speedboat didn’t seem to quite have the hang of getting the boat into the water.  In the cab, two women shouted at him to straighten out the big Evinrude motor.  He turned it the wrong way and then wheeled it back past straight.  The women shouted again.  Eventually he got it right and then boat slid into the water and bobbed about thirty feet from the launch.  Then, the guy turned on the motor and steered the boat over to the side of the launch, next to where the black guys were waiting their turn to load up their own boat and go home.

The man who had been driving the truck got out and came down to the side of the launch and hopped into the speedboat, taking over from the first guy.  The first guy got out of the boat and walked over to the truck and assumed the driver’s seat position, while one of the women got out of the back and walked down the raked launch to watch as the second guy, who was now steering the boat, brought it back to the launch and loaded it onto the trailer. This involved gunning the motor a bit to get it up on the trailer.  This man was more in control of the boat than the first one had been, and his confidence showed; I was disappointed that he didn’t roar that boat off into the lake at a recklessly unsafe speed.  He looked like the type who might do so.

As soon as the boat was winched up onto the trailer, everyone got into the cab and the truck pulled off the ramp and left. The whole elaborate display had been for a purpose unfathomable to an onlooker.  Were they practicing for a later launch? Playing out a double-dog dare that the older guy couldn’t get the boat off the trailer and into the water?  Trying to impress the chicks with a big Evinrude?  I looked over at the black guys who’d been waiting to use the launch. One of them raised his eyebrow at me and I shrugged.  He broke into a huge smile that showed gold front teeth.  Both he and I had enjoyed the speedboat performance.

I snapped the rest of the boats at Crystal River, Newnan’s Lake, and Lake Lochloosa.  The people in the pontoon boat and those in the pair of kayaks were looking for manatees near Crystal River Springs, an outing I am going to make myself as soon as I can find a waterproof bag for my camera.  The silhouette of a boat was taken on Lochloosa and the others were at Newnan’s Lake.

We need a boat, Mr. B. said, and I agreed.

I kind of want Jack Riepe to narrate this photo.  As this boat sped past, I thought to myself, That’s a Riepe-like scenario if ever I saw one.


THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?

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Paynes Prairie is a 21,000 acre savannah located just south of Gainesville.  It is home to 270 species of birds, alligators, American bison, Cracker cattle, and Cracker horses that are descendants of the Spanish Colonial horse group.  The bison and the horses have been in the news lately with renewed discussion of a “livestock management” plan to cull the herds and to rope some of the remaining off for easy viewing pleasure.  The livestock has occasionally left the park’s perimeter and the herds are slowly growing.  Risk and liability are key factors, apparently, in the decision-making process. 

I want to go on record as opposing the herd reduction. Thus far, there is no record of personal injury by a cow, bison, or horse.  On those grounds and until such a record changes, I would like to see the preserve’s livestock left intact.  The horse population in particular is so small as to be almost invisible on the large prairie basin.

In addition, the penning of animals for viewing pleasure strikes a very sour chord with me; it is zoo-like and speaks to additional marketing opportunity for the park.  I envision a “Horses of the Conquistadors” attraction for the tourists, and this area of Florida is in desperate need of tourist dollars.  In the wild, the livestock is infrequently seen and is known to be difficult to spot, so penning it in smacks of taking advantage for the purpose of increasing tourism potential.

The Cracker horse herd is said to be anywhere from 16 to 30 in number, with a high juvenile mortality rate.  This is a small herd and the plan wishes to remove any stallion from the number so that future breeding is stopped.

On Sunday, Mr. B. and I went to the Bolen Bluff area of the prairie to look for birds.  Bolen’s Bluff is made up of two distinct portions:   one, the savannah basin and the other a wooded bluff over the prairie.  The bluff contains a 2.5 mile circular loop trail and you can access the prairie by taking either direction of the loop.

As we made our way along the western edge of the loop, we ran into a man who asked us if we had seen a pony in the woods.  We hadn’t, and we hadn’t seen any evidence of horses when we visited the trail six weeks ago either.  Still, the mention of a pony was intriguing enough that we talked about it, wondering whether the wild horses had come up off the prairie floor.

After we walked a few minutes more, we saw a large pile of horse dung by the side of the trail.  We walked a bit beyond that and suddenly there was a rustle in the bushes and a sense of heavy movement against the crackling of leaves.  We turned and saw a glimpse of brown among the trees.  It was a horse.  First one, and then two more, brown horses moved slowly through the leafy woods.  Two of the horses were adult and the other was a juvenile.  They walked slowly and without agitation, brushing against branches and limbs as they went by.  They emerged on the trail and stopped to chew on grass.

A minute or so later, I heard another noise and turned to see a white stallion moving through the woods.  He, too, walked slowly and without any apparent concern.  He paused where the others had been and grazed for a few minutes, and then he, too, moved off up the trail.   We didn’t approach or rile the animals, we just shared a few moments of common space.  The horses were aware of our existence but did not appear to be alarmed by us.  Both horse and human gave each other respectful berth.

We continued along the wooded trail and then walked the length of the prairie basin trail that ends in an observation platform.  That day, the most noticeable thing was drought.  There was no sign of water (or more than a lone owl flying in the distance) and the vegetation was dried and brown.  We rested for a few minutes and then reversed direction.

Mr. B. suggested that we go back the way we had come, to see if we might find the horses again.  It was his conjecture that the horses had come up off the basin to drink from a small, algae-covered pond that is tucked back off the trail.   Knowing that the horses were in the woods let us read their clues more easily:  There was dung near a thin path leading to the pond and the smell of horse was easily sensed in the air in the same vicinity.

A bit farther along the trail, I noticed a man wearing a tie-dye shirt standing well off the trail.  Just beyond him were the horses, now five in number and grazing in a less densely vegetated area.  Mr. B. and I stepped off the trail and quietly approached.  “Don’t disturb them,” the man admonished as if we were children, “Remember they are wild.”

If the low figure of the herd numbers is correct, then we were looking at 83% of it.   Even if the high number of 30 is closer to accurate, five horses still represented a significant percentage of it.  I don’t know anything about herd behavior, but unless a number of other horses split and went looking for water near the La Chua Trail (the bison seem to have done this), then what we saw was the Cracker horse herd that the state wishes to cull and pen in.  The white stallion would be horse meat, I’m afraid. 

The elusive horses that the state claims it will make visible in pens are now readily visible on the trails since they seem to have moved their base up onto the bluff.  I thought back to the trip I’d made here some weeks ago, when I had seen a lot of bison dung on the savannah and no horse dung.  This time around, there was lots of horse manure on the bluff and some coyote dung on the basin.  The bison (and more coyote) dung was around the La Chua Trail, at the opposite end of the park. 

Drought is the problem on the prairie, not overpopulation.  Until such a time as bison stampede through downtown Micanopy and large herds of horses trample hikers, I going to hold firm on leaving things just as they are.  I do understand that a park ranger was charged by a bison, but we don’t know the bison’s side of the story.  Livestock leaving the park is not a terribly frequent event.  Also, the discussion about the livestock hurting the ecosystem when it was supposed to help it sounds like a complaint that might be applied to humans, who outnumber the bison and horses by a ridiculous number.

This picture was taken on the prairie floor, looking northwards to Gainesville.  As you can see, things are pretty dry out there.

We saw no sign of water, not even out by the rickety observation platform.  Areas that had been filled with water before, small canals alongside the berm, were now dry.

I liked this reflection of a saw palmetto on the leafy forest floor.

The savannah trail.

Mr. B. approaches the observation platform at the end of the trail.  This is .75 mile without shade from the woods, which is why I’d not made it out there before this.

A hardy little flower persisted in the tough conditions.

Mr. B. left the trail to investigate the little pond.  Hoofprints were in the muck next to the water.


One of the brown horses comes through the woods and starts grazing next to the trail.

The white horse followed a few minutes later.

OISEAUX A GO-GO

Only in Florida would someone think that a jacket was needed on an 83-degree day.  This is because the person needing the jacket (me) spent the summer feeling like a steak that was regularly subjected to grilling, broiling, and baking with an occasional basting in oil.  Some of these preparations are so intense that they border on unpalatable.

Autumn is my favorite time of year and it is even more so in the Sunshine State, because by the time November rolls around I no longer take the weather personally and am able to go outdoors without feeling as if I am in a do-or-die battle with the Australian Outback, or at least in training for a vacation there.

The birding trip to Palm Point was extended into Sunday, but Sunday wasn’t as rewarding a trip.  The Blue Heron was on his clump of vegetation but the ibis were absent from their tree; also absent were any fish.  The day before, I had talked to a fellow who had caught and released 30 catfish.  On Sunday, a different fisherman said he’d been out there for hours without one bite.  A few days before that, he reported that he’d caught 25 of the fish.  This made me wonder if the birds knew that the fish weren’t biting and whether the excellent birding of the day before was due to the Saturday fisherman throwing all of his catch back into the water. 

Over the weekend, we also stopped at Crystal River, the La Chua Trail, Bolen’s Bluff, Orange Lake, and Lake Lochloosa.  I finally walked a mile in direct sunlight, breaking a personal record, which caused Mr. B. to have one of those “wonders never cease” moments where I succeed at doing something utterly ordinary that is done by everyone else without any remark or special citation.

You may wonder why I’ve only posted photographs of large birds.  This is because I am completely unequipped to take pictures of small birds as they dart about in low bushes or flit from ground to branch.  I have several dozen pictures of shrubs with no birds in them from this weekend’s activities. 

Future birding trips will need to be equipped with certain essentials; birding sites, I am learning, almost completely lack in restroom facilities.  This aside, a second camera bag needs to be packed with drink of choice (coconut water) and perhaps some kind of stinky bait-like thing that might attract a bird to swoop in and might also attract bears.  Once you’ve gotten started on wildlife photography, I can see, it becomes addictive.

This was my favorite bird of the weekend.  It flew to this branch and posed, and then it stretched out one leg as if on a ballet barre.  It then pulled the leg back in and bent it up to its body. 


The following were taken around Crystal River:


I have never understood the hostility to seagulls. I grew up on the ocean and I love the noisy, shatting birds.

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