“A true teacher is one who, keeping the past alive, is also able to understand the present. (“Confucius”)
Florida seems deceptively easy to exit with its nearby coastal waters close by our home in megalopolis South Florida Yet, in driving north to Pensacola, we distanced in a two day period for over 600 miles. Upon exiting the Palm Beach vicinity on the Florida Turnpike, traffic density noticably declined. Proceeding to Lake City and then turned west on Interstate 10, we encountered “Deep South” traditions that remain firmly entrenched in these northerly portions of the state. Disturbing images that seemed offensive to my mind would soon catch my eye. Billboards placed along the highway depicted a brazen young lady aiming a semi automatic rifle to advertise a gun shop ahead. An anti-abortion sign quoted Bible scripts accompanied by an unborn fetus in full display. A rebel flag furled in the distance. A white pickup truck sped past my vehicle displaying racist bumper stickers.
Passing endless strands of tree growth amidst swampy river conditions inland through the Florida Panhandle, I became keenly aware of the puzzling isolation of Florida’s capital city, Tallahassee. Why was our state government situated so far from the busy urban hubs of Orlando, Tampa, and Miami? Continuing westward, the road would traverse steep hills and re-enter the Gulf coast at Pensacola’s Escambia Bay.
I always assumed Pensacola mainly thrived as another beach destination in tourist-friendly Florida. Yet our two-day stay along the shores of Escambia Bay provided ample proof of a “Southern proud”, port city of cultural, military and historical interest to this curious minded traveler. No doubt, I found polite statements of “how ya all doin”and “yes ma’am” from locals to be somewhat foreign to my informal tastes in interpersonal encounters. Yet the presence of iconic statues and antebellum buildings overlooking serene squares seemed oddly comforting to me amidst the frenzied pace of today’s times.
Spending a morning visit on Saturday at the National Naval Aviation Museum became a highlight of this brief Pensacola visit. On display there, I observed a vast collection of American aircraft from simple, World War I biplanes through supersonic, nuclear aircraft in the present. In particular, I enjoyed the opportunity to listen to the stories of a former Navy pilot who described the decisions he faced as a pilot on dangerous missions and sit in an actual plane cockpit.
Saturday Afternoon would now leave us time to venture downtown. Stopping at Joe Patti’s Seafood Warehouse, we witnessed the controlled chaos of fresh seafood feverishly sold at bargain prices to masses of Saturday shoppers. A few blocks nearby, Old Town Pensacola would would provided a time warp glimpse at how this area looked in its 19th century past. Sitting quietly in the Old Town Square,I now realized that our road trip adventure had truly begun.