Spring vacation has finally sprung. In celebration of this fact, the Radical family decamped last night to Florida. This is a state that the New Yorker described some weeks back as an epicenter of the mortgage meltdown. Other states have other sins, it’s true, and under capitalized real estate development and debt loads are the general condition of the nation's economy, as well as any other part of the world that the United States has managed to weave into its web. But perhaps only in Florida do convicted felons lose their right to vote, but retain their right take out a real estate license and set up shop as mortgage brokers. One result of this is, apparently, vast amounts of drug money being laundered through the real estate market, with “fronts” who set themselves up as house buyers, take out a mortgage, and then disappear, never to be seen again.
If St. Augustine, which bills itself as the first city in North America, is not visibly hurting yet, you can see a slow ache. Everything is on sale: every tchochke, every hula shirt, every sandal. We are at a lovely bed and breakfast right on the bay, the Casablanca Inn, which I can already recommend to you very highly. It is March, and there are vacancies.
Even the S & M leather gear that bills itself as “biker wear” was on sale (oh yes: I’m sure that in the sort of minor, motorcycle fender-bender that turns into a real disaster for whatever part of your epidermis is skidding down A1A, it will be a comfort to know, as you grab whatever is handy to slow yourself down, that your vageegee is covered.) But before I leave the subject: this is Biker Week in Daytona Beach and its surrounding communities. I have heard tell of Biker Week from my friend Phil, the Zenith men's crew coach, who trains his team in Daytona Beach over break, but to actually see it is a somewhat awesome experience. I think they must come here because of the Harley Davidson superstore on I-95 a few miles south of St. Augustine – five stories of hogs and, presumably, Harley leathers that are more suitable for the road than the bedroom. Note: I bet y’all can buy some mufflers without holes in them there too!
But there are also parking lots full of vendors selling bike gear, usually in tents that surround brew and burger restaurants. Last night, in a debate that was truncated by the lateness of our flight and hence, our extreme hunger, we stopped at such a restaurant outside Daytona Beach. It was called Saddle Jack's, and clearly offering itself as a temporary Biker Mart and as a location to park your motor home. An important observation about food in Florida: yes, there is a grease cuisine similar to other places below the Mason-Dixon line, as well as the overpriced, tasteless, I-Could-Be Anywhere food common to all vacation destinations. But if you are on either coast of the Sunshine state and avoid national chains, you more or less cannot go wrong if you order a fish sandwich. Unless you don’t like fish and then, friend, you are on your own.
At any rate, the other customers in Saddle Jack’s were all folks there for Bike Week, most of whom I would say were our age (read: between 40 and 70.) The men all wore jeans and colorful black tees that had the phrases “Harley Davidson” and “Bike Week” enmeshed in designs where skulls and flames dominated. The women were dressed to the nines in cowboy and bike clothes that were personally customized, probably by those items that they sell on television that make it possible to combine glue and sequins with as little muss and fuss as possible. I have included a picture I snapped here, and I hope it captures the true grandeur of the woman in the white cowboy hat, whose outfit was just outstanding. At another table, there were four boy bikers (younger than we) playing with their cell phones, drinking beer, leering at the wait staff, and (according to my traveling companion) passing around a plastic bag full of pills that they dipped into randomly. I did not take a picture of them. Nor, out of a sense of feminist ethic, did I take pictures of the wait staff: one was wearing black leather bikini bottoms (that said “Saddle Jack’s” in white on the ass), nylons, heels, and a black leather bra. Another was wearing pink short-shorts, fishnet stockings, and a cut off black tee that said “Bouncer” over the breasts.
At any rate, although I could be writing about the historic city, the multiple colonizations of Florida, the fact that we seem to be surrounded by evangelical Christian tourists (one of whom voiced loud disapproval of me snapping a picture of the leather lingerie), I cannot help but focus on the general feeling of Florida itself. At the fabulous Spanish fort where we were lucky enough to see an eighteenth century cannon fired at 10:45. The historical re-enactor told us that, were there a cannon ball in the barrel, it could hit the lighthouse about a half mile away. “Doubt that,” said a middle-aged biker behind me. “They oughta put a nuceler missile in it – that’d go pretty far,” a little boy said helpfully. The reenactors, dressed in some version of eighteenth century Spanish military wear entertained us as the cannon was packed with gunpowder. One said, "You know, we aren't pirates. Some people think we are. But the pirates were the bad guys, whatever you hear from Disney. We were the guys who hunted down the pirates and killed them."
In conclusion (for now), whatever other industry is going down the tubes in Florida, the rhinestone biz is not one of them. And electricity use is thriving. Last night, en route to St. Augustine from the Orlando airport, we passed acres of car dealerships lit up like Yankee Stadium (and a mysterious overpass advertising the Ladies Professional Gold Association that you can see from Mars), it caused me to wonder why we in the Northeast worry so damn much about our carbon footprint, when all you would have to do is unplug the state of Florida and you could save about 100,000 acres of polar cap right there.
This was blogged to you courtesy of the Hilton Hotel and its free WiFi.