I left California two years ago this Wednesday.  As I crossed the Nevada state line a thought popped into my head: I forgot to go to Alcatraz. This wasn’t the only oversight.  I also had never gone to Yosemite.  This is what happens when you take something for granted, thinking you’ll get around to seeing or doing it later.

Granted, I had spent a lot of time from the Monterey Bay southwards, so I’d more than enjoyed Big Sur. And I’d taken an annual trip to Lake Tahoe just as the first real chill settled over the mountains.  I had seen more than my share of Reno over the years; I’d shopped Beverly Hills and stayed in the Chateau Marmont so many times that my dog could have made the reservation in my place.

I decided to see it all in Florida.  “All” included those things in which I didn’t suppose I’d have any interest, like Disney (still holding) and Daytona Beach.  Daytona Beach had a reputation that made me feel middle-aged and I envisioned it as a place where overbaked coeds wore thong bikinis recklessly and drunken frat boys vomited in the streets.  I thought it might resemble the Myrtle Beach of my youth, full of t-shirt and surf shops and Miller beer bottles strewn in the sand.

My father told me how his parents used to come to Daytona from Boston in the winter.  “Not far enough south,” he said.  He meant that it wasn’t the “real” Florida, Miami Beach.  Anyone who watched Jackie Gleason in the sixties knew that Miami Beach was Florida.  Gleason made it a personal mission to promote Miami Beach as Florida and so did Eastern and National Airlines.  I visited Miami in January and finally made my way to Daytona after two summers of living in De Sunshine State.

Daytona Beach was not as I expected.  Absent was the cheap carnival atmosphere and heaps of junk shops.  A small amusement park with Ferris wheel and Tilt-a-Whirl was being readied for the summer; the pier was closed for renovations.  I counted one arcade and a couple of places selling gaudy swimwear and beach towels.  One thing, though, stood out from the rest:

Daytona Beach was too clean.  By clean, I don’t mean that litter didn’t spoil the beach.  I mean clean in the sense of Disney-sanitized.  The beach area and the historic Main Street area were both spotless and gleaming.  Police presence was very visible and I had the feeling that everything might be monitored by electronic eyes and ears; I remarked to Mr. B. that I thought I might be arrested if I uttered an off-colored word.  The vibe was too controlled and it made me feel as if I were at Daytona Beach:  The Experience, and not at a real beach at all.

What we didn’t see was the rundown area where a number of murders occurred in 2005-2006.  These crimes were suspected of being the work of a serial killer, and when another occurred in 2008 it only heightened the fear that the “Calendar Killer” was back in business.  Looking into Daytona Beach’s crime rate provided a clue as to why the police keep such a sharp eye on the area.  The median national rate for violent crime is 4.7 per 1000 people.  In Daytona Beach, it’s 18.01 (Florida overall is 7.88).  You have a 1 in 56 chance of becoming a victim of violent crime in Daytona Beach. Even more staggering was the property crime rate.  There, the national median is 34.3 out of every 1,000 people.  Any guess as to what it is in Daytona Beach?  Double that? Guess again.  The average rate in Daytona Beach is 90.67.  That’s one out of every eleven people!  Also damning was the fact that the rate of crimes per square mile is more than double the national average.  When you come to Daytona Beach, you’d better watch your back.

In doing research for this post, I learned that Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville all had neighborhoods that ranked as the most dangerous in America.  Florida had more of these neighborhoods than any other state, a sobering fact when you consider that the state is America’s sun-and-fun playground.

If you stick to the main drag in Daytona Beach during daylight hours, you can take part in The Experience without worrying too much about becoming a crime statistic. We parked our car in a garage and used a walkway through to the Ocean Walk Shoppes.  After Mr. B. unpeeled and ate chilled shrimp at an outpost of Sloppy Joe’s, we walked on the hard-sand beach and I played around a bit in the mild surf.  Later, we looked quizzically at a “water feature,” which is an outdoor shower by any other name masquerading as a fountain. “Water feature” is one of those redevelopment terms that always gets under my skin.  People mover, water feature, streetscape, urban market.  Why call something that sprays water a fountain when you can call it a “water feature?”  Golly, that’ll reel ’em in, won’t it?  I thought a water feature was something you added to a garden or a landscape, like a small waterfall, but I guess I was wrong.  The term is now extensively used in urban design.  I’m not really happy about this, but I’ll get over it.

Not when you can “bath” in Nature’s giant saltwater bathtub! 

Here’s Mr. B. obeying the word of the law.  He had bathed (short “a”) before coming to the beach.

The pier, closed until Fall 2010.

Pilings underneath the pier.

Soon, I will have a neat collection of pictures of myself in public bathrooms.  I am wearing my usual heat-induced summer expression:  stupefaction.

I spent a good amount of my teenage time at Paragon Park in Nantasket Beach, MA.   I’d ride myself silly and then would ride again.  Paragon Park has been torn down and replaced by a condominium complex, but childhood favorite Tilt-a-Whirl is still going strong.  The classic chaotic-motion Tilt-a-Whirl ride was invented in 1926.

Mr. B. bills himself as a “professional fool,” so I am always worrying that he will run off with assorted clowns and jesters and never be seen again.  These building decorations escaped his attention.

The Ocean Walk Shoppes, viewed from the coquina bandshell that has a free seasonal concert series mirroring Gainesville’s Free Fridays.  As soon as Mr. B. saw it he raced off for an inspection.

A model of the bandshell in one of the Ocean Walk Shoppes’ interior corridors.

The bandshell filled Mr. B.’s head with ideas for concerts and plays.  Shakespeare, Mr. B. said, would be wonderful in the space.

 I suggested

Titus Andronicus.