When my grandparents moved to Florida in the mid-80s, it was inevitable that we would go down to visit them. At the time they had a trailer they had used to take a trip around the United States, and it was just lying around in the parking lot of their housing complex gathering dust. Either my parents put two and two together, or they had two and two together for them, and in the spring of 1986, I went on my first trip to Florida, spending a week in a camper on Flagler Beach.
To date, this is the worst trip I have ever been on.
Day 2: while splashing about in the ocean, a riptide catches my father and sends him out to sea. Only by the grace of God, a past life as a lifeguard, and the ability to wait until the pull of the current subsided before trying to swim back to shore kept him from drowning.
Day 3: I got sick. Scratch that. I became Sickness itself. The collected solids and fluids I had gathered in the previous 15 years decided to vacate my body via any available opening. This continued for a majority of the week. And then we went home.
We never stayed in a trailer again as a family. Not that I have any quarrels with Flagler Beach, which was simply an innocent bystander to my teenage angst, but I have never been back there since.
But the one thing I got to see in my first trip to Florida was the remains of Old Florida. The Non-Condo Version. The Mom-and-Pop-Beach-Motel Version. The Orange-Stand-Off-Every-Exit-of-95 Version. It barely exists on the coast anymore. You have to go searching for it inland.
So, in this most recent trip to Florida, we crossed the Halifax and went searching for Old Florida’s bones. My first stop was an oversight from our 2012 trip: the Hawaii Motel in Daytona. I had gotten good shots of it during the daytime, but I completely missed out on catching it lit at night. We got there a little before sundown, but it was getting quite dark and I figured they would light it up. I was wrong.
We parked along the side. Laura prodded me to go in and ask them to turn it on, so I did. A young Indian man was working that night and when I told him what I was after, he gave me a knowing smile. I was pretty sure I hadn’t been the first to ask.
A couple days later, when the weather was supposed to be iffy at the beach and better inland, we went to see a location I had been scouting out in DeLand, along US 17. There was the Boulevard Motel, the kind Old Florida used to make with a sign to match, and just down the road, the Won Lee Chinese Restaurant, with another classic old sign in front. The sun burned the clouds as we drove, and by the time we got there, the Boulevard was bathed in natural light:
Here’s your postcard.
Color TV? Awesome. Hot water heat? Well, I’ll take your word for it. I also love the old Amex sign dangling off the side, which was a first sighting for me. No doubt the old place is a little shaggy around the edges, but you can see what it once was.
The next one on my tour was just a few doors down. The Won Lee had at one point been Jack’s Boulevard Diner back in the day, but when it closed, the sign was fortunately kept for the Chinese restaurant when it was re-opened in the late 70s. Thanks to @sunsetmeridian on Instagram for her information on this one:
I was happy with that much, but US 17 in DeLand had another surprise in store. As we got going south, just to see what we could see before heading back to the beach, Laura’s finger began to point and she began to make noises like a child who knows the answer to the question the teacher just asked. I spotted it, too. I also spotted a problem. The sign, for B&O Cleaners (B&O? Unintentional humor strikes again.), was neon, with peeling paint, and enough character for three signs. That wasn’t the problem. The sun, which was coming directly from the south, wasn’t the problem. The telephone pole that had been placed seven inches away from the sign? Problem.
I got out of the car and pondered. But there was no way around it. I shrugged and took my shots.
Hey! Down in front!
All in all, a highly successful trip. We even got back in to the hotel later that afternoon and got in the ocean. The ocean was marvelous. No one got carried out to sea. No one lost bodily waste in unusual quantities. Life was good. And we’ll be going back again.
Before we left, we went to Our Deck Down Under in Daytona Beach Shores. For the second time in a week. If you’ve never been, I suggest you go at least once. The restaurant is located underneath the A1A bridge back to the mainland. There’s seating outside on the deck. Dolphins and pelicans are frequent visitors. And the sun goes down in gorgeous hues. I couldn’t resist bringing my camera to gather some of this in. This is my idea of dining paradise: