I'm at a Fazoli's just off I-4, not too far from where it meets I-95 on Florida's east coast--just west of Daytona Beach. A few years ago I thought of Daytona Beach as driven entirely by the tourism generated by one week in the spring. It still gives that impression--but the week has changed. Before it was Spring Break. Now it is Bike Week. I've stopped for dinner here; Fazoli's is a chain of fast food Italian that doesn't exist in Tampa Bay. They aren't great, but--as heretical as it is--they're the equal of a lot of "neighborhood Italian" diners, and better than some. When I'm out on a pointless jaunt around the state, if I can't find a neat-looking independent restaurant, I'll at least try to find a place I can't go to back home.
The drive today took me through Ocala (where I stopped for lunch at "Lee's Famous Chicken," which also appears to be a chain we don't have in Tampa) and on through the Ocala National Forest, down a detour on an awful dirt road to a scenic lake, and north to Palatka and Ravine Gardens State Park. I finished shooting a roll of film that's been in my camera forever and discovered the roll was not the generic Fujifilm 200 I'd thought it was, but instead a roll of Portra 160VC. Portra's better film but it's more fragile than drugstore film is, so I don't have any idea how that'll come out.
After poking around the park--yes, indeed, it's a real ravine in Florida--I kept heading east until I hit A1A, right on the Atlantic ocean, and drove down through Daytona Beach until I hit US 92, which took me, well, to this Fazoli's. And on this drive, something odd happened.
See, I've never been to Palatka, and I drove through a couple towns I've never visited like Crescent City. But along US 17 (the road I headed north on after crossing the national forest on SR 40), I started passing fern farms, and I thought, "Hey, is this going to be that town that claims to be the national capital of ferns?" And it was. (Pierson, if for some reason you're interested.) And I realized I'd been there before. I've almost certainly been through Crescent City before.
And what occurred to me was the thought: After Palatka, I've been everywhere in Florida.
This isn't really true, of course. I've hardly been to Miami. I've never been to Panama City. I've driven through Marineland, Florida, twice (the most recent time being a couple hours ago) but I've never been to "Marineland," the park the town's named for (and that the more famous Sea World parks were modeled after, at least until Busch took them over and started adding roller coasters).
But I couldn't shake the thought. The problem with Florida--well, besides six-month-long summers in which both Fahrenheit temperature and relative humidity regularly break 90--is that you can't really explore anywhere else on a day trip, or even weekend trip, if you live anywhere south of the Panhandle. The state doesn't look big on a map, but that's because it's thin. The problem is that it's not just thin, it's tall. From Tampa, getting out of the state on I-75 is five hours; getting from here to Tallahassee is a little more than five hours and still leaves you with over an hour to go to get out of the state on I-10.
Time to hit the very familiar I-4 and head back. Part of me would like to stop at a coffee shop on the way back... but I don't have a destination in mind, and I probably don't have time if I don't want to go straight to bed when I get home (which I shouldn't do). I'll settle for vending machine cappuccino from a rest stop, which has its own unique appeal.
Postscript: I actually stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts maybe twenty minutes later for fresh decaf with too much cream and sugar. (After two glasses of sweet iced tea at Fazoli's, I didn't need more caffeine.)