High Springs to Palatka
Thursday, March 3
My room at the B&B was nice, one of the nicest in our entire journey, with windows on two sides, a plush king bed, and a large sitting room that I didn’t want to mess up by sitting in it.
And yet, as I am wont to do, I awoke in the middle of the night. I had left my bulky suitcase in Onyx, taking a fresh change of clothes in my backpack, and at 1:00 a.m. I decided that I’d forgotten to lock the minivan and that High Springs was full of wily teens who like to check whether car doors are unlocked and grab whatever they find. Don’t be ridiculous, I told myself, but an hour later this thought still kept poking at me. I contemplated going outside to make sure Onyx was locked, but I didn’t want to own up to actually believing this silliness. So I did the next best thing and held the fob under my chin — I’ve heard this is supposed to make the signal carry farther — and hit the lock button three times. The car was a couple hundred feet away, but I thought I detected a faint locking beep in the distance.
The B&B lady graciously accommodated the guys’ requests for an early breakfast. I opted to have my breakfast later, though, because I could tell she wanted me to, and I didn’t mind waiting till a normal hour. The men had a feast — ham and egg sandwiches, fruit, tomatoes (which I know are a fruit), who knows what else. I wasn’t paying close attention as I sat with them and drank coffee. They were happy with it.
After I saw them off I settled in for my own feast: bacon, tomatoes, a muffin, some kind of savory bread, and an egg and cheese casserole. It was great. I wish I’d been able to eat the entire thing. I wish I could eat it right now. I took the muffin with me in a little baggie and a week later found it smushed in the bottom of my purse. Gross.
A leisurely breakfast can be intensely relaxing; it establishes the tone for the day while postponing all serious matters, helping to render them less urgent. And though I often have no truly serious matters to contend with, I usually feel like I do. I fed myself cheese and read a local paper while a CD of piano rags played in the background. My life was right.
Eventually the lady came in to chat. I’d felt wary of her before, thinking she was, not to put it mildly, an uptight killjoy, but we had a good conversation and I hereby reverse my impression. She had been a trial lawyer in Miami before deciding to buy the bed and breakfast, and I admire anyone who makes a dramatic life change in middle age. She liked the slow pace of life in High Springs, but she missed the urbanity and culture of Miami. I asked her about the challenges of running a B&B, and she said it’s very hard to go out because she always needs to be available if a guest locks himself out or needs help. And because she and her husband live in the house, she feels like she has very little privacy. She said she’s ready for a move in the way I talk about making changes to my own career — the way that indicates one is not yet at the point of doing anything about it. We also talked a little about my experience on the trip, and it impressed me that she intuited and sympathized with the demands of my role as handler. B&B lady, whom I’m not naming because I don’t want to make you feel bad with my initial negative impression: I like you and wish you luck.
My horoscope in the paper said that someone would question my integrity that day, and I immediately decided that it had to do with the olive oil store. The day before, after having two beers and many tortilla chips, I accompanied the guys into town for their bike store run. But I didn’t go to the bike store; I went to the olive oil store, because it was an olive oil store, and that meant samples. Upon entering I was offered a full tour, and during the tour I learned that the store had just opened the very day before. It was a two-day-old olive oil store, and the owner was an extremely sweet woman in her 60s who was still learning how to operate a cash register.
I had buzzedly sampled some very, very good olive oil and vinegar and wanted to take home four tiny bottles of different varieties. The owner said that the tiny bottles were due in the next morning before the store opened at 11 a.m. I told them I would be back. But as I left I thought that maybe I wouldn’t be back, because by the next morning I might not feel the same beneficent desire to support a new business and the same intoxicated need for olive oil I wouldn’t have any use for.
But the day’s horoscope was meant to make me a better person, I decided — at the time it didn’t cross my mind that this meant someone else would question my integrity, once I eliminated the olive oil store owner — so, after checking out of the B&B, I drove into town with the intention to waste time until 11 a.m.
High Springs has a railroad museum behind its police station, so I headed there first. It was closed. I walked around a bit and took a couple photos of churches:
Then I wandered into other stores along Main Street, growing increasingly ambivalent about upholding my integrity. The stores were boring.
I wish I weren’t the type of traveler who values being on the road, being in motion, more than the stops along the way. When there’s a destination ahead, all I want to do is get there; I don’t like waiting or stopping. But so often I’ve whizzed by small attractions, fighting with myself to stop the car, sensing I’m missing out on something memorable. It’s a constant cycle of ambition, missed opportunities, chastisement, peace.
It turned eleven o’clock eventually, the way it always does, and I went back to the olive oil store. “You’re back!” the owner said. Integrity redeemed.
I asked about the tiny bottles. She said they were still in Jacksonville but would get there later that day. So I decided to buy a single smallish bottle of their Tuscan olive oil, which was just divine, and order other varieties by phone later, which of course I’m not going to do. I am intentionally not linking to their website because it is bad and you can’t buy anything there. The store itself is attractive and thoughtfully constructed and I hope it succeeds.
The short drive took me through Gainesville, birthplace of Tom Petty, and so I listened to his songs the whole way. As Petty has said in so many words, Gainesville isn’t so great. It struck me as congested and flavorless, one of the standard varieties of smallish American cities.
My route diverged from that of the bikers, so I didn’t stop to meet them along the way and made it to the Holiday Inn Express before one o’clock. The nice woman who checked me in had an intriguing and familiar European accent, but I couldn’t place it. I asked her where she was from. “Poland,” she said, and I felt ashamed of my ignorance, having lived in a Polish neighborhood for three years.
After settling in I made a quick drive out to the supermarket to pick up snacks. We were staying outside of downtown Palatka, and our part of town seemed quiet and just a little downtrodden. At the supermarket I hovered in front of the rows of beer, and another woman around my age soon did the same. She told me she was looking for New Belgium Snapshot (a wheat variety with an illustration of a vintage camera on the label) but they never have it in stock anymore. I told her to talk to the manager. “I bet they’d order it for you,” I said, wise in my knowledge of the workings of supermarkets circa 1997.
Next stop, pool time:
The water was cold, but that didn’t stop them from going in. Here, Matt shows off how he can kind of do a flip:
Sorry for the shaky camera, I couldn’t see what I was doing because it was so bright.
The evening’s early dinner took place at the Italian Latin Grill, a homey restaurant serving both Italian and, yes, Latin cuisine, run by a nice-seeming older couple. We drank glasses of wine. I enjoyed my plate of ravioli until I got full and gave the rest to Mark. It was starting to dawn on all of us that our journey was almost over, and we talked a bit about highs and lows — best and worst hotels, food, towns, roads.
Back at the Holiday Inn Express I recorded Tim’s reading from Crossing the Borderlands, which is not worth publishing but definitely worth keeping. It turned out to be the last one he did. We never entirely finished the book! I guess we have to redo it all again and get it right this time.
Hotel Art of the Day
La Petite liseuse, ou Jeune bergère assise et lisant
(Little readers, or Young shepherdess sitting and reading)
1855-1861, Oil on canvas (print, of course)
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot
B&B, High Springs, FL
Hotel Art Score
10/10. I was surprised and moved to encounter this. In my first assignment in my first high school art class, the teacher had us copy this painting twice, once in color and once in brown sienna. I will always feel attached to this work because it touched off an era of curiosity, growth, and self expression. Never have I felt more encouraged to make art, and specifically to make art in the way that feels natural to me, than in Archmere’s art building.
Art Art Score
7.5/10. I’m not really able to look at this objectively, but I find it pleasing. I like the brightness of the whites, the stripes on the skirt, the tranquility of it. It’s modest and peaceful.