11/12/08: From Charleston to Wilmington to Chapel Hill

Breakfast, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Coffee, Coffee Bars, Desserts, Diners, Durham, Food, Hip Hop, Hotels, Indie rock, music, Myrtle Beach, Parks, Raleigh, rap, Record Stores, Restaurants, rock, Shopping, soul, Travel, Wilmington

A grey and overcast day, although the sun began to come out later in the morning. The hotel staff had recommended a breakfast place called the Bear-E-Patch, so I ate there before I made the rounds of record stores.
Monster Music and Movies is owned by the same Nashville firm that owns Pop Tunes in Memphis, but this store was nearly a block long and full of music. I noticed a new CD from the Numero group that featured the Young Disciples from East St. Louis, a group that had been formed as part of an anti-poverty program in the 1960’s, so I bought that, a new funk compilation from Soul Patrol and the new Mercury Rev CD. The girl that was working at Monster recommended that I head over to the Cat’s Music on Folly Road, but when I got there, they refused the promotional items and told me that they were closing down the store.
After walking around the harbor and taking pictures, I drove out to Loco Record Shop, and then back downtown to King Street, where there were a couple of stores. 52.5 was mostly a rock store, but there were a few jazz and rock items, and down the street was an old and intriguing store called Honest John’s Records and TV Repair. On the shelves were plenty of old LPs and a handful of old 45s, but I didn’t have time to look through them. Instead, wanting coffee, I used my iPhone to locate a place called Kudu Coffee, which was just across from the campus of the College of Charleston. In keeping with the name, the coffee house was decorated with African artifacts and artwork, and the coffee was very good. Driving further south on King, I ultimately came to the Battery, the wooded park at the tip of the peninsula featuring monuments, cannons, statues and stately mansions. Despite the wind, it was warm enough to walk around, and I took a lot of pictures, but it was much later in the day than I had intended, so at 3 PM, I headed across the Septima Clark Bridge onto Highway 17 for the drive to Wilmington.
I had driven this route in reverse a month before, going from Myrtle Beach to Charleston, but today the trip seemed to take forever, made worse by the traffic signals and endless snarls in Myrtle Beach. Once I crossed into North Carolina, I was still much further away from Wilmington than I had imagined, and by the time I arrived there, it was pitch black.
I approached Wilmington with some foreboding. From my reading, Wilmington had always been a place of riots and racial tension, the scene of the Wilmington Ten incident, so I half expected to see an old and decrepit port city of deteriorating buildings and was quite surprised to see the charming downtown with its restored buildings lit up for Christmas. Christmas choral music was drifting across the chilly night air (whether live or a tape I could never determine), and the threat of rain seemed imminent. After leaving some posters at CD Alley, I decided to walk around the corner to Port City Java for some coffee, but across the street I noticed an antiquarian bookshop, so I ducked in there and ended up buying several books about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Then I ran back across to the coffee bar for a latte to go, and then drove eastward from downtown. What my iPhone thought was a record store in a Black neighborhood east of downtown was actually a recording studio, but fortunately, that put me closer to Gravity Records, an indie rock store that nonetheless was thrilled to get some Pastor Troy promotional items. In the store they were playing a disc by a British singer named Richard Hawley, whom I had never heard of, but whose mournful, melodic tunefulness seemed to fit the dark, foggy, chilly night.
The guys at the store warned me that the trip to Raleigh on I-40 would take about 2 hours through rural lands of absolutely nothing, and they weren’t far from right. I was ravenously hungry, but the exits along the way either featured nothing or fast food. Raleigh seemed to be a place of feast or famine, with very expensive upscale restaurants and the usual diners and fast food, but little in-between. A promising-sounding steakhouse proved to be out of business, and another proved to be $30 and up for entrees. Finally, I discovered a mall in Durham where there was a Cheesecake Factory, and I stopped there, but, noticing a Champps Americana across the walkway from the Cheesecake Factory, I decided to eat there, thinking that it would be cheaper than Cheesecake Factory. It wasn’t, and the food, while basically good, didn’t stand out.
After a dessert and coffee at the Cheesecake Factory, I drove another few miles into Chapel Hill, and had no problem finding the Sheraton Hotel. My room proved to be very luxurious indeed, and I went straight to bed.

09/06/08: Tennessee Music Conference/Southern vs. Tennessee State

Bands, Breakfast, Desserts, Drummers, Drums, entertainment, events, Food, Football, Hip Hop, Hotels, music, Music Conferences, Nashville, rap, Restaurants, Sports, Travel

Since conference events wouldn’t get under way until 11 AM, I had time to drive down to J. Christopher’s in Franklin for breakfast, and they were just as good there as they have been in their Atlanta locations, and not as crowded as I had feared.
Afterwards, I drove back to the hotel and registered for the conference, which was being held in the ballroom on the top floor. Mr. Serv On was there from Louisiana, Cowboy from Buck Wild Productions, C. Wakeley from Florida who used to manage Bloodraw, a rapper and producer named Blacktime from Cincinnati but now living in Nashville, and many others. I was on the initial panel about the pros and cons of getting a major label deal, and Freddy Hydro arrived from Memphis and joined us during it. I hung around the hotel lobby networking after that until it was time for me to go to the ball game at LP Field.
The stadium was visible from the ballroom of the hotel, so it wasn’t far away at all, but I had not expected the $20 cost of parking when I got there. The Tennessee State Aristocrat of Bands marched into the stadium first, rocking their cadence “Psychotic Funk”, and soon, the Human Jukebox of Southern University was entering the stadium from the other side as well. They proceeded to battle back and forth, but the John Merritt Classic had evidently sold advertising over the scoreboard, so every time there was a time out, they began drowning out the bands with commercials, and we fans couldn’t enjoy the marching bands, which is half the fun of a Black college football game. Tennessee State ended up winning the game, although they had trailed Southern for much of it, and there was then a really good “Fifth Quarter” of band battling afterwards. It was about 10 PM when I left to stadium area, and I still had to run back by the Maxwell House to get my baggage and check out.
Tom Skeemask from Memphis had pulled up in front of the hotel and was just checking in as I was leaving. We talked briefly, and then I headed out to the Mall at Green Hills to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. College football highlights and results were flashing across the TV screen as I waited for my hamburger and french fries, and then I began the three-hour journey back to Memphis, made more difficult by my extreme fatigue, which made me have to stop several times for energy drinks. I arrived home about 3 AM and went straight to bed.

8/16/08: Blessing the Instruments at Tipitina’s

Bands, Breakfast, Drill Teams, Drummers, Drums, Education, entertainment, events, Food, Hip Hop, Hotels, Majorettes, music, Music Conferences, New Orleans, rap, Record Stores, Restaurants

It had rained all night, but the rain had ended, so I rode the riverfront streetcar down to the French Market, and then walked over to the Clover Grill on Bourbon Street for a breakfast. The place was really crowded, and I had to sit at the bar, but the breakfast was really good.
Back in the French Market, large crowds of tourists were shopping at the various vendor tables, and I found a Tommy Ridgeley CD there. Back on Decatur Street, I stopped at a praline shop and bought my mother a box of pralines (they also had peanut-butter dipped oreos, which were fabulous), and then I walked further up Decatur, but the clouds to the west were black and threatening, and soon, a blast of wind came sweeping down the street, blowing leaves and trash with it, and then the bottom fell out, with rain coming down in buckets. I ducked into the Cafe du Monde for a minute, but there were no empty tables of course, and the rain showed no signs of stopping. I finally grew tired of waiting, and decided to run across Jackson Square to the Jax Brewery, which left me drenched to the bone, and I hadn’t realized that the Jackson Brewery Mall had no awnings over the sidewalk, so even there, I was getting soaked.
I finally made it back to the hotel and conference, and then decided to take my car out of the parking garage and drive to Domilise’s for lunch, since it would be the last day I could. In the Uptown neighborhood, it wasn’t raining, but finding a place to park on Annunciation was difficult, and I soon found it was all because of Domilise’s. There was literally a line out the door as I walked up to the entrance, but once I got inside, things were moving with military precision, as loaves of french bread were cut, shrimp and oysters were fried, roast beef was sliced, condiments were added. The interior of the cafe probably hadn’t changed since the 70’s, with advertisements for Dixie Beer and Jax Beer (Jax had closed in 1972 I think), and they still served the mandatory Barq’s root beer in the brown bottles so familiar to me from childhood summers in Gulfport. (Back then, every grocery or po-boy joint I recall had the familiar blue-and-orange sign with the unassuming slogan “Drink Barq’s-It’sGood.”) Domilise’s po-boys truly were the ultimate, even if the menu prices were starting to reflect their fame a little bit.
After lunch, I drove back to the hotel for the last networking conference opportunities, and then headed out to an event at Tipitina’s that was supposed to feature brass bands, or so I thought. Actually the event turned out to be a festival of high school bands, and as I sat in Professor Longhair Park across the street from the club, the police blocked off the street and neighborhood kids started showing up, with drumsticks in hand, praticing on lightpoles and brick walls, a phenomenon I haven’t seen anywhere else. The bands that came were from Warren Easton, McDonough 35, and St. Augustine high schools, all Black, inner-city bands, but a good crowd of whites and Blacks showed up to support them, and apparently the event was to celebrate the arrival of new instruments that had been given them by the Tipitina’s Foundation. Altogether it was an enjoyable event, but about midway through it, it began to rain, scattered drops at first, then more steady, and finally heavy enough that I retreated to my car and headed back toward the French Quarter. However, I needed gasoline, and finding an Exxon in New Orleans proved to be difficult. I finally found one open across from Lee Circle, just across from a brilliant, rainbow-colored hotel called Le Cirque, which I photographed.
Then, parking in the outdoor lot across from my hotel, I walked to Landry’s Seafood House and ate redfish pontchartrain for dinner. Next door at Peaches Records & Tapes, there had been a rap showcase for the Cutting Edge music conference, but it had already broken up when I got there. I really had wanted to hear a brass band performance, but, aside from the Rebirth playing at Tipitina’s, which I figured would be expensive, there didn’t seem to be much going on. I decided against going to the Cafe du Monde, and headed back to the room instead. New Orleans was playing the Houston Texans at the Superdome, and there was a volley of gunshots outside of the hotel which sent security scrambling, but nobody could ever figure out who was shooting or why. It must not have been very serious, because the police never came.

8/14/08: Cutting Edge Music Conference, New Orleans

Breakfast, Coffee, Coffee Bars, Desserts, Drummers, Drums, entertainment, events, Food, Hip Hop, Hotels, jazz, music, Music Conferences, New Orleans, rap, Restaurants, Travel

Yet another breakfast spot that I had read about in a New Orleans novel was the Camellia Grill out in Uptown on Carrollton Avenue, so I decided to catch the St. Charles streetcar and ride out there. The nearest stop was on the downtown side of Canal, so I walked down Camp Street past a restaurant called Mother Clucker’s (only in New Orleans!) and got on the streetcar for $1.50. The view through the Garden District was beautiful, with many stately old mansions and the occasional restaurant, and the weather was cool and bright. I got off at Carrollton Avenue, and had only about a half-block walk to the restaurant, which was an old white building with Greek columns out in front. Inside, however, the place was very crowded, with counter seating and a few tables, as well as a line of people waiting for tables. It had only recently reopened from Katrina, but it was still a local landmark, as I heard people greeting each other with the customary “Where y’at?” and saw a group of uniformed Catholic schoolgirls out on the steps who apparently had stopped by for breakfast on their way to classes. I had read that the restaurant had been reopened under new management, but the breakfasts were really good (and cheap), if a little frantic since space is at a premium in the tiny establishment.
Next door, a seafood restaurant and sports bar was in the process of opening for the day, with an employee sweeping the sidewalk out in front and more “where y’at’s” exchanged between him and some neighborhood folks on the sidewalk. The weather was beginning to heat up as I rode the streetcar back to Canal Street, and when I arrived at the hotel, registration had begun at the conference.
I met some people and networked for awhile, and then decided to go to Domilise’s Po-Boys for lunch, so I walked to the foot of Canal and caught the Tchoupitoulas bus headed Uptown. When I got to the right area, I got off and walked a block from Tchoupitoulas to Annunciation Street, which was a street of old 19th-century cottages with the latticework and front porches, battered, but still standing, As soon as I turned the corner onto Annunciation, I could hear the rat-a-tat of drum sticks, and, sitting on the porch of the last house before the big building on the corner, was a small boy, maybe about 11 or 12 years old who was practicing his sticking with a practice pad on his knees. The corner building had no signs visible at first, but around the corner on the sidestreet was a small sign that read “Domilise’s.” Unfortunately, the restaurant was obviously closed, and a small sign in the door stated that they didn’t open on Thursdays or Sundays. Somewhat disappointed, I asked the boy if he knew of any other good po-boy spots in the neighborhood. “Just them on the corner, ” he replied, so I walked back over to the shopping center on Tchoupitoulas, and while I didn’t find any poboys, I did find a PJ’s Coffee and Wine Bar, where I was able to cool my disappointment with a chocolate granita.
It took an hour for the bus to come back through headed back to the French Quarter, and I made my way back to the hotel. Then, walking into the quarter, I had hoped to take one of the boat rides out on the Mississippi River, but I soon found that their last runs were at 2:30 in the afternoon. As I walked along the Riverwalk, I noticed the men in boats along the rocks at the river’s edge, frantically spraying water and detergent, trying to clean the results of an oil spill some weeks back that had resulted from a collision between an oil tanker and a tugboat. The acrid smell of oil (and probably solvents as well) was covering the whole Wollenberg Park area, but I walked up to the Spanish Plaza at the foot of Canal Street, and into the Riverwalk Mall. The mall, which had been an exhibit building during the 1984 World’s Fair, had lots of shops, but not much in the way of restaurants. Many former eating places were closed and abandoned, so I walked back into the Quarter, and made my way to the Redfish Grill, which was owned by one of the famous Brennan family of restauranteurs. The place was a little pricey, but not excessively so, and the seafood was incredibly good.
Back at the hotel, the lobby was filled with members of the Houston Texans football team, who were in town for a pre-season game with the Saints at the Superdome. People from the Cutting Edge conference were asking some of them if they were attending the music conference, and they kept having to explain that they were football players. Around 10 PM, I walked back east to Jackson Square and made my way to the Cafe du Monde, where I enjoyed some beignets and cafe au lait. Then I headed back to the hotel, hung out for awhile, and ultimately went to bed.

8/13/08: A Quarter Interlude, New Orleans

Bands, Burgers, Coffee, Coffee Bars, Desserts, Diners, Drummers, Drums, entertainment, events, Food, Hip Hop, Hotels, jazz, music, Music Conferences, New Orleans, Record Stores, Restaurants, Travel

I got a fairly late start out of Memphis, heading for the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference in New Orleans, and I stopped for a lunch at Back Yard Burger in Batesville, Mississippi. Fighting sleepiness as I headed down I-55, I pulled off at Jazz & Java in Madison for a breve latte, and then I continued further south into Louisiana.
Parking in the familiar lot in the French Quarter next to what had been Tower Records, I walked over to Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street to look at some compact discs. The store sold nearly any CD made of Louisiana music, and I ended up buying about $50 worth of discs. I then decided to go around to the Westin Hotel and get checked into my room, but I soon found that there was no parking affiliated with the hotel, so the rates were outrageous, and there would be no in or out privileges. In effect, hotel guests were deprived of the use of their cars while in New Orleans, unless they wanted to pay over and over again each time they took their car out of the garage. All the same, the lobby was above the parking garage on the eleventh floor, and with large glass windows looking eastward over the French Quarter and toward Algiers Point, it was a dramatic and striking entrance to a most unusual hotel. As I checked in, the speakers in the hotel lobby were playing George Antheil’s Symphony for Five Instruments, which I also found surprising, as Antheil, a relatively obscure American composer, happens to be one of my favorites.
My room was high on the 14th floor, and had a similar view of the Quarter as did the lobby. Although the restaurant off the lobby was crowded, I feared that it would be too expensive, so I decided to walk around the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat dinner. My original plan had been to drive to someplace outside the tourist area, perhaps Ted’s Frostop which I had heard so much about, but the parking debacle prevented that, so I walked down Peters Street, past the Jax Brewery buildings, which were now largely vacant. There was an amber glow in the air as I passed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, with the lovely palm trees swaying in the breeze, and people were out, enjoying the cool, moist evening, sitting on porches, sitting on balconies, sitting on steps and talking; not as many musical sounds on this evening, more voices and cars, the sky now purple, blue and finally grey as I rounded the corner onto Bourbon by the Clover Grill, which I recalled from some novel I had read about New Orleans. Their signs bragged of burgers, but in the novel people had gone there for breakfast, so I made a mental note to head back there on some morning before I left the city.
Bourbon Street seemed tamer than I remembered it before Katrina- there were a few sex clubs, but many more normal music clubs and regular bars, one on a corner where a young Black drummer was in the middle of a funky solo that spilled out into the street. I had been aiming for the Embers Steakhouse, but, when I arrived I noticed the high prices on the menu, and, worse, the lack of any crowd of clientele, which had me worried about the food quality. So I kept walking, and finally ended up at Star Steak & Lobster, which was a truly tiny restaurant fairly close to my hotel. Altogether, the prices weren’t that bad and the food was decent, although the portions were small and I had to contend with a house musician who was alternately singing or playing saxophone accompanied by a pre-programmed box-not the music experience one would want to have in New Orleans.
The Quarter seemed strangely devoid of street music, compared to what I recalled from pre-Katrina days. Back then, it seemed common to come upon a brass band playing in Jackson Square, or maybe that’s just how my memories are of it. Snug Harbor was a little too far to walk to, and the name of the group playing there didn’t particularly sound like a straight-ahead jazz group, so I opted for the French Market instead, and the Cafe du Monde, where I sat outside enjoying beignets and a cup of cafe au lait with chicory, the quintessential New Orleans experience.
Back at my hotel, I learned that the pool was on the rooftop, so I rode up there, but I really couldn’t enjoy it, as I got lightheaded about being so far up on the roof with just some glass balcony railings rather than a sturdy concrete wall. Instead I headed back down to my room, opened the windows to let the lights of the French Quarter shine in, used my laptop as a CD player, and enjoyed some of the albums I had purchased at Louisiana Music Factory. Finally, I fell asleep in the overstuffed, luxurious bed, with the windows still open to the lights of the Vieux Carre.

8/10/08: From the Old Mill to Bongo Java

Barbecue, Breakfast, Coffee, Coffee Bars, Food, Hip Hop, Hotels, Knoxville, music, Nashville, Pigeon Forge, rap, Record Stores, Restaurants, Travel

My parents had told me that The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge served a delicious breakfast, so I checked out of my hotel in Knoxville and drove out to the restaurant, but I had not expected the traffic jams on the Parkway between Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, and by the time I got to The Old Mill, they had quit serving breakfast. Actually, finding breakfast turned out to be quite difficult, as many restaurants in the area quit serving breakfast at 11 AM. I finally found a pancake house where I had to wait an hour for a table, but the food was quite good, and then I drove back up to I-40 and headed toward Nashville. At Cookeville, I went off the interstate to try to leave some Haystak posters at Compact Discoveries, but they were closed on Sundays. The Sam Goody in Lebanon was open, however, so I left some posters there and then drove on into Nashville, where I checked into the Hilton Suites in Brentwood. I had been disappointed that I didn’t eat dinner at Calhoun’s in Knoxville, so I drove to the Calhoun’s in Nashville and ate dinner there. Then I thought about going to Cafe Coco, but decided against it, and drove over to Bongo Java instead, which was near the Belmont University campus. With no jazz clubs happening, there wasn’t much to do, so I drove back to the hotel and went to bed.

8/09/08: Parrothead Jazz, Knoxville TN

Bands, Breakfast, Coffee, Coffee Bars, entertainment, events, Food, Hotels, jazz, Knoxville, music, rap, Record Stores, Restaurants, Travel

There was a Denny’s just outside the resort gate, so I ate breakfast there and then headed south on I-75 toward Tennessee, stopping once for a breve latte at Starbucks Coffee. Once I was in Tennessee, I headed south into Oak Ridge, where I left some Haystak materials at Hamp’s Records before driving into Knoxville. I spent the remainder of the afternoon visiting JK’s Records and Cat’s Music in Knoxville, but going to the east side of Knoxville proved to be rather difficult because I-40 had been closed downtown. On Magnolia Avenue, I found that Where It’s At Records had closed, so I drove out to Sevierville, and made my last visit of the day at the Cat’s Music there. Further east, near Dandridge, there was a restaurant called Cowboy’s on the shore of a reservoir, and I ate dinner there, although the lake view was better than the food, in my opinion. Down in the little town of Dandridge, there was a crowd gathered at a barbecue and steak restaurant, and I walked around the area, snapping photos of old historic buildings and homes. Across the lake, there was a new motel, with a restaurant called Angelo’s at the Point, but I had already eaten, so I got back in my car and headed back toward Knoxville. On the Tennessee River downtown, there was a gathering of Knoxville-area Parrot Heads, as the fans of Jimmy Buffett are called. They were having a picnic, cook-out and live music concert, and it appeared that they were getting ready for a boat trip as well. I went to the Calhoun’s on the River restaurant there and enjoyed a slice of key lime pie while watching the sun set over the river and listening to music playing outside on the riverfront deck. I had called Memphis jazz pianist Donald Brown to see if he knew of any jazz going on in Knoxville, but he wasn’t playing, and one of his sons was playing in Crossville, Tennessee and the other was playing at a Knoxville brewhouse, but the place was a rock club, and he didn’t expect they would be playing jazz. So I settled for a jazz club called Swanks in Maryville, and found that there was a quartet playing there, although the music was more R & B than jazz. Driving back to Knoxville, I rolled past Baker Peters Jazz Club, but there the music was loud from the outside balcony, and was definitely rock, so I made my way back to my room at the Holiday Inn. The hotel was crowded with Pop Warner football kids in town for some kind of tournament, and they seemed to be running all over the hotel, but I had no trouble falling asleep.

8/08/08: Wild Eggs, Baseball, Fireworks and Hoops

Albums, Baseball, Basketball, Breakfast, Cincinnati, clothing, Coffee, Coffee Bars, Drummers, Drums, entertainment, events, Fashion, Food, Hip Hop, Hotels, jazz, Lexington, Louisville, music, rap, Record Stores, Restaurants, Sports, Travel, Urban Wear

On the internet, much had been made of a trendy spot called Wild Eggs on Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville, so I drove out there after checking out of the hotel, and ate breakfast there, noticing the dramatic glass case full of eggs of various sizes, shapes and colors. The restaurant was very crowded, but I managed to park and find a table, and the breakfast was quite good. I then drove out to the West End to leave Haystak posters at Better Days Records on Broadway, and from there I drove back to the east side to visit Exclusive Wear and, I thought, Q-Ball’s. The latter store had closed, however, and I was quite sad to see it gone. My last stop was in Jeffersonville, Indiana at LB’s Music & More, but they weren’t open yet, so I left some promotional items in their mailbox. I got a fairly early start out of Louisville heading toward Lexington, and with no record stores between the two cities, I saw no reason to stop. My hotel in Lexington was actually the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort, and was by far the most impressive and luxurious of the hotels on my trip so far. There was a golf course, a restaurant in a 19th-century house, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and a basketball court. After checking in, I headed through downtown to The Album, where I was surprised to find a lot of African LPs and Black gospel LPs, which I purchased. Practically next door to The Album was CD Central, which doesn’t always carry rap but does carry Haystak, so I left them some posters and postcards. After I visited the two Muzic Shoppe locations with materials, I headed out to Lexington Green, but there I learned that the Disc Jockey store, thelast in that once-venerable Owensboro chain, was now closed. I had discovered that there was a restaurant and marina called Riptide on the Kentucky River south of Lexington, so I drove out Old Richmond Road to the spot, and it was on a lovely spot between two bridges on the riverfront. However, I was soon concerned when I learned that the restaurant was out of filet mignon. I had to settle for the New York Strip, but it was very good. I learned that the restaurant was more of a bar and club at night, and while I ate, employes were stringing up lights outside over a sandy beach area in front of the outdoor stage where a duo was playing and singing country music. There was an outdoor bar as well directly beside the river. After I drove the 20 miles back into Lexington, I stopped at Common Grounds Coffee House on High Street and had a dessert and coffee. Despite being a college town, Lexington can be boring at night, as I had learned on a previous trip. There were no rap clubs, no jazz clubs, and my hotel was the type of place where a lot of rich retired people were vacationing, so I checked the iPhone to see what was going on in Cincinnati, only an hour to the north, and found that there was a Reds game, with tickets as inexpensive as $20. I had not been to a major league baseball game since I was little, so I decided to make the hour drive north on I-75 to Cincinnati. As I expected there was plenty of parking, but, after parking, I found myself somewhat confused, for there was some sort of football game going on in Paul Brown Stadium, a high-school game or jamboree, probably, although it seemed early in the month for high school sports. I was tempted to go there instead for a minute, but finally, I walked the opposite direction toward the Great American Ballpark, which is exactly that, bought a ticket and headed into the very crowded game. Unfortunately, the Reds didn’t do very well, but I soon learned that the game was to be followed by a fireworks display over the stadium and the Ohio River. Long before the game was over, I could hear and catch glimpses of another fireworks show coming from over on the Kentucky side, Covington perhaps. The fireworks on our side of the river were dazzling as well, and then I walked out into the street to head back toward my car, listening to the hypnotic cadence funk of several young Black marching band drummers, mixed with the boom of nearby African drumming, all playing for tips from the sports fans walking past on their way home. I thought about cities like Cincinnati, how they have a soul, culture and personality all their own, and, looking up at the dazzling skyline, I wondered if there was something to get into. I debated heading over to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, but the last time I had been there, the musicians quit playing at midnight, and it was nearly midnight now, so I drove back across the bridge into Kentucky. At Florence, with some difficulty, I found a Starbucks that was still open, and I drank a latte to keep myself awake on the 70 minute drive back to my hotel. Although I turned the lights out and went to bed, I was amazed to hear voices and the pounding of a basketball from outside my window. Looking out, I saw that a pickup game was in full action out on the court at about 1 AM, and it still was when I awakened at about 2AM. I don’t know when it broke up, but the next time I awakened, the court was dark and silent. The Griffin Gate is known as a golf resort, but it’s a streetballers dream as well.

06/02/08: From Tampa to Fort Myers on the Tamiami Trail/Boca Grande Interlude

Breakfast, Hotels, jazz, Restaurants

I checked out of the Hampton Inn in Tampa early in the morning, and decided to drive down to a breakfast restaurant called the Broken Egg in the new town of Lakewood Ranch, just outside of Sarasota. It was a large restaurant with a large outdoor patio where a surprising number of people were eating, considering the hot weather. Evidently, the place was also connected with Dick Vitale in some way, since they were selling his autographed books and golf shirts. After running by the FYE in Bradenton, I drove back down into Sarasota, where I was captivated by the beautiful aquamarine color of the bay. I stopped at the civic center park to take pictures, and then drove over the causeway to St. Armands Key, where I parked and walked around the circle. The community had been planned by John Ringling (yes, the circus guy), but hadn’t been fully realized until recently. The community was centered around a circular park, with statues of the Greek gods and other figures representing the beauties and advantages of Sarasota. Around the circle were a number of businesses, mostly cafes and restaurants with streetside tables, and a number of ice-cream shops. One in particular bragged that their ice-cream was homemade, so I stepped in there and enjoyed a chocolate-peanut butter ice-cream in a cup to cool off before the walk back to my car. I drove down to the beachfront, and saw that there was a Holiday Inn there (that would be a fun place to stay in some future year), and then I drove back across the causeway to Highway 41. Further down was the Sarasota marina, and I stopped there to take another set of pictures. There was a dockside restaurant there, but I decided against eating there, and headed further out to another FYE in South Sarasota. Beyond that was Venice, another planned city that had been conceived in the 1920’s as a retirement community for the Brotherhood of Railway Engineers. The Great Depression had delayed the plans, but the main street through downtown was characterized by palm trees and beautiful Italainate architecture. At Venice, I left Highway 41 and proceeded down the state highway through Englewood and finally across a toll bridge onto Gasparilla Island. The water at the causeway there was a beautiful green-blue, but as stopping was prohibited anywhere along the causeway, I could not take any pictures of it. The island was fairly long, but at the center of it, I came to the town of Boca Grande, a small, old town with no stoplights at all. It was laid out around an old tile-roof railroad depot that now housed a restaurant called the Loose Caboose. Nearby were shops and restaurants, such as PJ’s Seagrille, Hudson’s, the Temptation, the Boca Grande Outfitters and Boca Grande Baking Company. Summer is the off-season in Boca Grande, and some of the businesses were closed, although there were some people on the streets. Walking down to the beach, I found that it was both beautiful and practically deserted, and I took several photos there. There was some sort of private beach club near where I was, maybe affiliated with the venerable old Gasparilla Inn hotel. After I took a picture of two old white frame churches surrounded by palm trees, I drove further down the island road past a tall white lighthouse and down to the island’s southern tip, where there was another, more-historic lighthouse that is a state park nowadays. The museum in it was closed, but there were some other tourists walking around, and I managed to take some photos of the pass, and the white seagulls flying around, and the island to the south (North Captiva perhaps?) Yachts had anchored off to the southwest of the island, and I shot more photos there, and then headed back up into the town, noticing a subdivision where the streets were Damfino, Damficare and Damfiwill. I took pictures to prove the streetnames (who would believe it otherwise), and then, not finding any ice-cream place open, I headed back north up the road to the small shopping village on the Charlotte County side of the island, and got a fountain drink there. The Island House Inn nearby looked like it would be a good palce to stay if I ever craved for a longer visit, but I continued north across the bridge to El Cajon and Rotonda, headed for Port Charlotte. Port Charlotte had been planned by the General Development Company beginning in 1959. It was planned to be a city on a truly massive scale, and somewhere I read that there were more miles of paved streets and roads in Port Charlotte than in any other town in America. Unfortunately, most of those streets and roads were completely uninhabited even today, and eventually the General Development Company, who had sold lots through newspaper advertising to people who had never seen the town, was found guilty of real estate fraud and collapsed. While North Port Charlotte found a modicum of permanence and success as the city of North Port, Port Charlotte never fared quite as well as the large-but-unincorporated metropolis of Charlotte County. With large square miles of vacant paved streets tracking through wilderness, cocaine cowboys found it an attractive place to land their planes and offload shipments in the 1980’s. More recently, it had gained a reputation for gangs and violent crime, and this was before Hurricane Charlie scored a direct hit on the hapless community. As I headed northward, I passed street after street that was vacant, with the occasional house here or there. I was told that many who had purchased their lots were unaware that water and sewer lines had not been run out to the sections of Port Charlotte were they had purchased. Also, large quanities of the lots were purchased by investors who never intended to build on them. At the Port Charlotte Town Center, I stopped by the FYE, but didn’t find any of the DVDs I was looking for, so, resisting the temptation to eat dinner in Port Charlotte, I headed south on Highway 41 toward Fort Myers. Below the Town Center, Port Charlotte had the look of a typical ‘hood, with the road lined with old, run-down shopping centers. The look had not been helped by Port Charlotte’s unincorporated status, which meant that the residents had no ability to control zoning or enforce codes. Across Charlotte Harbor, Punta Gorda was the county seat, and had grown considerably since the last time I saw it, but the town had suffered damage from Hurricane Charlie as well. At North Fort Myers, I began to notice rain and dark clouds gathering, and as I passed across the Caloosahatchie River bridge, I noticed an island off of downtown Fort Myers that had a pier or dock at both ends and for sale signs all around it. It appeared to be overgrown and wooded, so I wasn’t sure why the piers were there or what it had been intended for, but I couldn’t help thinking what a great restaurant/nightclub that would make. Imagine having to park on the mainland and ride the boat out to the restaurant/nightclub and back. Of course, boats would have to run every 15 minutes, but that would be half the charm of such a place. The drive from Cleveland Avenue to Fort Myers Beach took forever, and there were no roads other than city streets, loaded with stoplights, but when I crossed the bridge onto Estero Island and into Fort Myers Beach, I had the most beautiful vista of aqua waters and sunshine. It was not raining here, and as I headed down the island, I soon came to the Carousel Beach Inn, where I had my room reserved. The motel was quite old, built in the late 1950’s, but it was directly on the beach, had a swimming pool and was impeccably clean. As soon as I had gotten everything unpacked into my efficiency, I stopped to consider dinner. There was a good restaurant across the street with a lot of cars, but it looked expensive, so I decided to eat at a steakhouse called Sam Seltzer’s in Fort Myers. Not wanting to face the traffic nightmares of Summerlin Road, I decided to head south from the motel and catch Highway 41 in Bonita Springs instead. At first, I thought this had been a good choice, as the road crossed from Estero Island to an even lovlier one called Lover’s Key. The sun was setting, and there were only a few boats out on the water and a few people on the beaches, and it was truly a pretty scene. But I had not realized that Bonita Springs was almost 30 miles south of Fort Myers, so the drive north on Highway 41 took awhile, and the rain was back, truly heavy at times, with thunder and lightening, and seeming to come in from the east, which struck me as unusual. Sam Seltzer’s Steakhouse turned out to be in a hotel, and had an outdoor tiki bar, but I chose to sit inside. The atmosphere was formal, like really expensive steakhouses, but the prices were like Texas Roadhouse or Outback. Furthermore, the food was incredibly good, and they were playing good jazz music on the speakers. After dinner, there was a jazz club called Ellington’s on Sanibel Island, so I drove down Galdiolus Drive through the small ‘hood of Harlem Heights and across another bridge ($6.00 toll) onto Sanibel, which was pitch-black dark. I could hardly see a thing, and it was raining heavily. I later learned that lights have to be kept away from the beaches on Sanibel during the summer because of bird nesting. The club was above a restaurant at the Sanibel Island Inn, and a jazz trio was playing there. I ordered a slice of key lime pie and coffee and enjoyed the group’s last set before heading back into Fort Myers. I drove down Fowler Avenue because there was an establishment on it called the Reggae Cafe, but it was not open, so I headed east on Martin Luther King Boulevard into the Dunbar neighborhood, but once again, nothing was going on. I had expected that I might see a record store somehwere along that route, but I didn’t. Hot 105.5 had played a local artist called A-Lee that the DJ had said was the next big thing to come out of Fort Myers, and I had hoped that they would be broadcasting from a rap club, but instead, they were broadcasting from a strip club in Port Charlotte. So I gave up trying to find anything to do, and headed back to Fort Myers Beach. Even the clubs there seemed dead, so I returned to the room and to bed.