“A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.” ( Patrick Rothfuss.
This week, I took a two day road trip from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa with the intention of retracing the exact route I took in the mid 1970s during my undergraduate days to and from home to the University of South Florid. Understand that the lack of Interstate Highway coverage in Florida during those days required me then to meander 300 miles north and west along those less traveled backroads of U.S. 27 and State Highway 60 respectively to reach the main USF campus in Hillsborough County’s eastern side. Oftentimes then in my haste to show up for class or home on time, such scheduling deadlines dictated I speed along furiously while concentrating mostly to avoid bored police patrols looking for “out of towners” in rural towns along the way. So I reason that I often overlooked my actual surroundings.
Thus given the chance to do over this drive in late February, 2023 at a more leisurely driving pace, I would stop along the way whenever I wanted, hoping past memories of notable landmarks would resurface at will. In the cover photo of this blog, you can thus review the first leg of this inland map route that I followed from home through U.S. 27 north to State Road 60 then and now.
Thus hoping to re- assess this nostalgic adventure to USF in 2023, I continue this blog entry below with some thoughts about two key questions below that continually occupied my mind during that time.
1. What’s changed or remained the same from such visual impressions?
2. What self revelations about living my life in the moment more today can be revealed by such time observations?
TO SOUTH BAY: FLORIDA EVERGLADES WILDS
Upon leaving Fort Lauderdale, I immediately entered the vast subtropical expanse of the Florida Everglades along U.S 27 north to tiny South Bay village. Making a brief stop along the way to Florida Everglades Sawgrass Recreation Park, I watched eager tourists line up in droves for those noisy airboat rides into endless swampland beyond. With luck, I reasoned they might spot a lazy alligator sunning along the canal bank or perhaps observe an idle nesting rookery for rare sea birds. How ironic that time inexorably moves very slowly amid the swamps here in spite of this tourist frenzy invasion. So let’s face facts now. Whenever I feel negative energy “burnout” from the urban frenzy of South Florida, I might make it a new habit to escape to the Florida, Everglades. For it remains a green oasis of solitude whenever I need it.
CLEWISTON: LAKE OKEECHOBEE HIDING
I’ve never actually thought much about Lake Okeechobee on those many drives to Tampa as I’ve sped through the small municipality of Clewiston to and from college. Yet extending along the eastern border of this of this sweet old town, Florida’s largest lake remains a hidden freshwater gem shrouded by a steep sloping berm. So in spite of the continued visual obscurity to my eyes on this latest pass by in 2023, I’m realizing for the first that this vast basin serves as the main source of water for boat recreation, flood control, and natural drainage throughout a sizable portion of the Florida peninsula. So it’s due time I take more seriously my personal commitment to land and water environmental protection given the impending climate change crisis in future years likely to occur in the “Sunshine State.” Looking most reasonably at the Florida Everglades then, I realize as well that this rare “River of Grass” could never serve as my personal urban escape nearby without the continued preservation of Lake Okeechobee.
SEBRING: RECALLING VICTORIAN ERA GREATNESS
Upon entering now the fast growing environs of Sebring, Florida, my focus normally veers to the right side of U.S. 27 as the shorelines of Lake Jackson showcase over three acres of freshwater recreational bliss. Yet on my latest drive, I more observantly looked left to observe the visually striking remains of Harder Hall, one of the famed ” Grand Dame Hotels” built in Florida in the 1920s. How tragic then that this magnificent Victorian style Hotel structure lies now in physical ruins surrounded by a barbed wire fence and an unsightly landscape appearance. So as I sense strongly that “time marches” on to erase the glory of “Old Sebring”, it’s due time I must personally “come to grips” with the inevitability of the aging process.
LAKE PLACID: LOST FLORIDA TOURIST MECCA
My most vivid college memories remaining of Lake Placid seems to be those profitable citrus groves that suddenly appeared outside of town as I approached this midpoint of my USF journey entering central Florida. Yet such luscious oranges, lemons and grapefruit now seem to be gone as encroaching suburban growth takes over this charming small town. Thus with plenty of retail parking space to take a break on this quiet Sunday afternoon, I chose to eat my picnic lunch at a random parking lot near the center of town. Know then that about five minutes into my lunch ritual, I casually glanced back to notice with utter surprise that Lake Placid Tower, extended within short distance to me over 270 feet into the sky. Abandoned since 1986, this stunning monument once labeled as “The Happy Tower” failed to survive as a tourist mecca over time. But there’s a definite aura that remains to be admired here reminiscent of a tall beacon of light shining on all from high above. Therefore, I reason on this latest Lake Placid visit how spiritual unity serves us well as we all share in this striking human connection of our limited time on earth experience to the eternal sky.
Thanks for the repost.
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Great pictures and a fond memory of traveling up the state back in the day. The word tragic in regards to the Victorian beauty that stands rotting seems like such a waste. One would think the city or state would reuse the old hotel in some way to save it. It seems like a worthy cause. I remember when The Biltmore Hotel in the Gables was refurbished in the 70’s. How sad that this hotel, or a section of it can’t be restored. It’s historically relevant. Glad you got to have a trip down memory lane.
Hi Lesley- We are talking “red” county areas for the most part politically. Sebring does not show much historic foresight I agree.
Though it happens everywhere in America, Florida seems to be particularly callous toward honoring and preserving historic structures. That both a once-grand hotel and a striking tower would sit abandoned and rotting in a region experiencing rapid growth and development is really disheartening.
You are exactly right. Tourism here thrives here without due attention to historic greatness for the most part. You get only what you pay for in this low tax state, Republican dominated state
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I was a commuter for part of my college years, also in the early 1970s, at USC in Los Angeles. When I made that drive inland at the time usually the mountains that made up the backdrop were shrouded in smog. Now those same mountains are clearly visible on that same route.
L.A. is a such a smog disaster. Thus there’ good reason to head to the mountains and beyond.