Old Florida is Vanishing One Small Town at a Time




One of the biggest things I have learned during this Bay-2-Bay trek is that my late Father was a true road warrior. He would pack our Mom, both of us brats into that old white Pontiac station wagon that featured the rumble seat that had us facing the traffic and motor all around Florida and destinations East of the mighty Mississippi River.

This long road trip had given me a more defined level of respect and admiration for a man who would pack his car, travel night and day to see his kid’s smile, have lifetime moments in the Smokey Mountains or see his children swim with glee in the Pacific Ocean for the first time (even though it was 52 degrees). It kind of made me mad I never did this before, or might never again. but I am doing it now, and it is time to relish these final 500 miles until my St. Petersburg driveway.

hkhkhkh.JPGIt wasn’t until Saturday morning when I crossed the mighty Mississippi in a blinding rain storm that it hit me. The America of my youth, where you could get saltwater taffy or pecan rolls at the Stuckey’s was rapidly disappearing. That America’s main roads of my youth like US Highway 19 also known as the Georgia-Florida Parkway in it’s day is slowly being phased out by the fast paced travel option of the Interstate, and with it, some levels of Americana have been put to sleep.

perry5.JPGI decided to take the ” old path” home to Tampa Bay. Bypass the spiff and glamor of the Interstate 10 and 75 to discovering some of the small towns just beyond my Interstate perripherial vision. I exited off I-10 and got lost for a few minutes in the new urban sprawl that has graced the first few miles of the Interstate landscape. You know what I am talking about 2 miles of new accommidations, clean gas stations and multiple food options, most of the fast, quick and fatty versions before revealing the old Florida charm and landscape.

Suddenly, I was back in the old Florida I knew from trips around the state staring out of the back window of that station wagon rear window. Instantly I had the urge to wave, smile and want big trucks to honk their horns as they passed me on that stretch of road. I remember motoring vintage style. But as I went through the first few small towns along this trail, I noticed that the sleek and fine-tuned motoring habits of today had left behind a few unforeseen casualties.

perry2.JPGSome of these small towns have seen their hotels, motels and corner gas stations of their youth seem to age before their time. Fall into disrepair or become abandoned as their owners either gave it their all, or threw in that final bath towel. What I visioned that day was the rural decay that the Interstate had left in its wake. Some small towns struggling on their outskirts, but still so proud and standing tall within their cores.

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wwa.JPGI remember when I was young, I used to hunt with my Father in a pact of land North of Weeki Wachee, Florida. You might know it better as the attraction that was home for many years to a World Famous Mermaid show, then added a water park, then changed hands as the City of St. Petersburg, Florida became it’s landlord. It then went back into private hands, and that owner incorporated the park into his own municipality complete with aquatic and non-aquatic citizens.

It has since been redefined once again as a county park, complete with mermaids, river boats, and even water slides. But this tract of land North has now been mowed down, leveled and converted into the present site of the Weeki Wachee High School. Wonder if the locals know that for years that was a sacred hunting ground for Florida white-tailed deer, complete with 5-8 point horns.

swane.JPGEven some of the roadside icons of my youth have started to disappear, but some have been re-purposed, or re-designated into items that almost made me miss them for their blending into the background now instead of being front and center and popping out at you. Things like the old steel bridge that hung over the Swanee River for so long, now sectioned off in an isolated park along side this famous river. Or Dino the dinosaur that presided over the old Fina station, now repair shop.

swane2.JPGEven this river has changed so much just in the last few decades. One of the photos I attached shows the water lines dropping, the huge difference in water levels that can even be seen in the photos of the newer bridge support columns, with no chance of it going back to being the Swanee of my youth. Sure in 1998, after a huge rainy season in that section of Florida, it did rise 20-odd feet, but the pattern of rapid water table drops began again the next season. Now even the water was showing its age.

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Thumbnail image for mopo2.JPGI guess what I am trying to drive at is that maybe we should take those one tank trips more often off the beaten trail. Have a few home cooked meals in the town that spawned your locale before the fast and furious lifestyle hit us between the eyes. I had the most amazing breakfast this morning at a small Mom & Pop Cafe’ that made daily homemade sausage and gravy, eggs done with the cheese ( old classic Velveeta) churned into them and two strips of bacon so thick I could tie them to my legs and walk across that Swanee River.

winery.JPGThat is something I did not do enough of on this cross country trip. I did not go off the beaten trail unless it was for a truly ulterior motive (Tombstone). I still have not stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon, howled at the Moon during a cold desert night, or ate that steak I was dreaming about at K-Bob’s in Fort Stockton, Texas. I cocooned myself within the confines of the Interstate corridor.

I instinctly chose the clean and sparkling, instead of venturing into the unknown paths even for a few miles. I can promise you this, the next time I take a trip to Port Charlotte, Florida to see the Rays this Spring, I will take the “Tamiami Trail” also known as US-41 South and see if any of the sights of my youth besides the Ringling Museum still exist. If I go East, I will venture on SR-60 or SR-50 again sampling Florida like I have not for countless years.

wwd.JPGMaybe I am just getting older. Maybe I am just becoming more sentimental as a gracefully ( hopefully) age. But honestly, I am doing it for more than myself. I am doing it for the man who put three other people in a car one stormy night near South Georgia while on vacation and drove for a day and a half with a Hurricane bearing down on us from the rear finally camping out in a hotel room on Virginia Beach as that same storm followed us there.

I am going to go “old school” next time, hitting the highways and byways long forgotten my Map quest, Google Street View or even AAA. I am going to become that quintessential road warrior just like that guy I admire, who never complained, never argued, but seemed content to drive, see and enjoy this great land. I think it is time for all of us to re-institute our own versions of an old family classic….the Sunday drive…..Happy Motoring.





You should tell Guy Fiori about that mom and pop cafe where you had breakfast. He’ll go there and do a segment for his Food Network show “Diners, Dives and Drive-ins.” (I think that’s the name of it.)


That place would knock Guy’s flkip flops off his toes. Might even turn his hair red. I know Southern cooking, and if I had been around at lunch or dinner, the catfish and hushpuppies wouyld have been in a boat-sized doggie bag. Any hush puppy with corn and jalapeno can come home with me any day.
If this place was not 4 hours from my house…..It would be a Sunday staple…Wonder if they ship it?

Rays Renegade

I love that post! We’re planning on doing a road trip in a few years through the southern States. We’d like our son to experience everything.

If you want to do a nice trip, drive up through Nova Scotia. A beautiful place!!!
—Mark Gauthier

Thanks for those great comments. You know honestly, every circle of this globe has so many great places that we either get to used to seeing, or vanish before our eyes every day.
Florida is becoming a more suburban culture. Rural places will still be there, but their folks will migrate towards the bright lights instead of tend to the local trades.
Just a pity to go past those gas stations, old hotels and small Mom & Pop places that have vanished, even in the city.
I have heard great things about that region. From New Hampshire upwards, heard it is beautiful, magestic and definitely weather friendly more times than you imagine.
I might just get up there one day…..hopefully.

Rays Renegade

What a great post! It reminded me of my grandfather who took me out west as a young child. Going to places off the beaten path and creating memories that will last for a lifetime. Thank you for sharing and bringing out some memories in me.



I was born and raised in Chicago, but almost every year when I was a kid my parents would take my sister and I on a vacation to FL and Disney. We would drive down . Even though I was a kid, I still remember what America was like then and what it’s like now. It’s different of course, which doesn’t mean bad, just different.

Later this summer we are taking a cruise out of Miami, we are planning of driving down. I’m sure that on the way down there we will be taking the interstate and getting there as fast as possible, but now you sort of have me excited about using state highways on the way home and seeing more of this beautiful country.

Just finished catching up on your cross-country travels. Most of us these days opt for speed rather than taking the road less traveled, but it sounds like we are definitely missing out on part of the whole travel experience. I read a really good book along this theme more than a few years ago, I think it was called “Blue Highways”, written by a guy who decided to drive around the country using the back roads instead of the interstate. I no longer have it so I don’t remember the author. If you get a chance to look it up, give it a read, sounds like something you’d enjoy.

Rants, Raves, and Random Thoughts

I think one reason the roadside landmarks are disappearing is that no one takes road trips anymore. In my town (which, I will admit, is relatively affluent), families travel to the Carribbean or Disney World for spring break. No one bothers to explore their own backyard. I’m the only one of my friends that has never traveled outside the country, but I’m also the only one that has been to every state in New England.

I had an English teacher during my Compositions class in HS who tld me if you can not make someone go somewhere else, for at least a moment with your writting. You need to re-write it.
I agree so much with that. I do not write that way all the time, but every once in a while I hit a patch of goofness that transpires into something I am proud of….I was proud of this blog.
And by the post reminding you of past journeys…..That is icing on the cake for me.

Rays Renegade

Wow, it’s definitely a sad post but it is great that the wonderful memories stay with you. I miss the great Sunday drives. That was definitely Americana at its finest. Another excellent post!


One of the greatest places I hit as a kid was Gatlinburg, Tenn. Salwater taffy, hiking, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum…..and of course swimming in the cool mountain waters.
But then again, there is always just gazing at Stone Mountain, or stopping in Louisville, Ky to have your own bat honed…magic!

Rays Renegade

I think I am going to try and research that name and the combinations and find that book. So many great treasures out there people do not know about in this country. I remember as a kid stopping by a spigot on the side of the road in Shjady Gap, Pa and taking a swig out of the water flowing from this roadside spigot….My father called it “Mountain Dew”….
Nothing like the high sugar drink, but it was filtered naturally by the rocks.

Rays Renegade

The romance of travel has lost its appeal except at rapid speed with time of the essence and not the discovery of America. I remember taking a bus ride from Charlotte to Clearwater and stopping at Savannah and loving the feel of that city. Trains, when is the last time you heard someone take that romantic trip besides in Europe on the Orient Express……Guess that is just progress.

Rays Renegade

It is our generation that did those Sunday drives, one-tank wonder or just pointing the car in a direction then getting something to eat when you are hungry.
I got into that habit when I lived in the Panhandle and North Carolina, but since I have been back in Fl, the habit quickly vanished.
I think it is going to return soon…..before they take away Gator-land or something…..That would be a bad thing.

Rays Renegade

Renegade, I found it on Amazon: Blue Highways Let me know what you think if you get a chance to read it.

I will hit the sight and check it out today.
I have a feeling I am going to like it. Heck, someone said in 2015 when I get my Pepsi pension I should pack the gear up ikn a RV and write a book myself.
A lazy man’s guide to vanishing America”..From the World’s largest ball of yarn to Deception Pass…..thinking about it.

Rays Renegade

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