Time Travel


The ride up through the center of Florida from the southwest coast is always a journey unto itself. You can't take an easy road such as an Interstate and blissfully ignore the state of the State. There is no easy way through the center of the state from the southeastern part of Florida, such as the Florida Turnpike provides for the east coast.

I wrote a column for the Charlotte Sun-Herald years ago advocating a limited access type highway to replace or augment U.S. 17 from Punta Gorda to Kissimmee, but met with wide-spread indifference as the political mood at the time was simply to widen I-75 that runs along the west coast. So, U.S. Highway 17 it is, from the glitter coast of tourism and wealthy winter residents, through third-world America to the conundrum of economic salvation offered by phosphate mining. We recently headed to Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine, Florida, towing our 21 foot travel trailer. I was looking for the shortest distance from here to there. Saving 70 miles at ten miles per gallon makes big difference when gas goes from $3.25 to $3.45 in just a single day.

I'm sure the majority of travelers headed from Ft. Myers or Naples to the Orlando metroplex would much rather not have to travel all the way to Tampa to pick up I-4 just to go see Mickey and his friends. A ride up US-17 knocks almost 70 miles off the trip, but certainly not any time. I don't always tow a trailer when I head that way, and it's those times I really wish I could zip up there without the side trip to Tampa. If I had an alternative, I would use it. I go that way now when I tow the trailer using the existing state and county roads.

Getting through Lakeland headed north – my alternative to I-75 north out of Tampa - is an ordeal if I'm headed to SR 471 from US-98 in Lakeland.  SR 471 is the absolutely straight shot up through the pretty Withlacoochee State Forest to just outside Wildwood and the I-75/Florida Turnpike junction. Getting to SR 471 is the big aggravation.  If I'm headed north-east, using SR 659 to bypass downtown Lakeland, then north to SR 33 to Groveland is simply the best alternative I've found if I'm trying to bypass the metro Orlando mess. I pick up SR 44 just north and east of Eustis as a pleasant, pretty ride to Deland, bypassing all the traffic in Orlando. I highly recommend SR11 north from Deland to Bunnell if headed for St. Augustine, it is a really pretty ride. It has none of the abject poverty or slovenliness of some of the southwestern counties.  If you can't see the real state of America, then we have a very serious problem.

Traveling through the center of the state shows you the where America really is: Revivals, gun shops, churches, empty store fronts, gun shops, Dollar Stores, dilapidated houses and businesses as far as the eye can see, churches, gun shops, adult stores, gun shops, and more churches. Weed infested parking lots, crumpling curbs and pot holed streets, barricaded windows and the next town is just as bad as the last. With the exception of Wauchula, of course. They show what can be done.

Perhaps Fox news should actually see what real America looks like. It's easy, just drive the shortest route from here to there.


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