The Space Coast

March 1, 2013

February in Florida

Au revoir to the Moon! The private enterprise SpaceX Falcon  rocket just blasted off from Cape Canaveral to deliver cargo to the International Space Station; NASA has been gone for three years from the “Space Coast”, Titusville to Melbourne on the Atlantic. During our recent sojourn there we noted the landscape was still military, industrial, with fuel storage tanks, gigantic white cylinders, mechanical forms dotting the sky, and a curious lack of population.  The staff of mostly NASA are gone, and Port Canaveral has lost 95% of its staff in the past five years.

Over on Merritt Island the Kennedy Space Center is now a missile museum though we declined to pay the $75 admission fee for a look at space capsules and an interactive learning center always a phenomenal bore.

Kennedy Space Center

After the Civil War freed slaves and the occasional Confederate colonel came to this area of central Florida and it remained remote and moribund until the 1950s and 60s when the lunar quest ignited it; Cocoa Beach became a city where NASA personnel lived until it closed down in 2010. Today the 60s Pier is in disrepair, the scores of 90s condos on the beautiful sandy beaches seem largely uninhabited and in the middle range “gated” communities nothing much seems to be happening. Ron Jon surf center and others wait for the surfers to come but we did not see a one in the February high season though we were invited to a presentation by the Ron Jon Caribe Resort a development by one Joseph Zilber from Milwaukee who has created a village of time shares now called ”vacation ownership”.

Port Canaveral Dusk

We stayed in Cocoa Beach at the exact moment in time the drama of the stranded Carnival Triumph was being played out live…….everyone knew that the damned thing could have been back in a Mexican port a day after the fire but was towed to Alabama because it was cheaper than flying everyone home from Cancun. Still, yes still we saw thousands more wedged into the floating Super 8 Motels, the Disney and Norwegian cruise “liners” lurking menacingly at Port Canaveral.

This is Real Florida – not quite Everglades City or Lake Okeechobee—but still the UnNaples or UnMiami where Astronaut Boulevard had Cheaters, and Lido strip joints and biker eateries called La Cantina and hundreds of booze stores. You can still smoke in outside restaurants, really rather fun, such as Milliken’s Reef on The Cove in Port Canaveral. The music, the sheer number of talented bands, and singers and musicians in Canaveral, Cocoa, and Melbourne is very notable. Every dingy little bar has a talent or two singing and strumming away. At Heidi’s Jazz, Corky Siegel was singing away and we liked singer Paul Christopher alot.Check out his website.

Only Imagine!

The drive to Melbourne past Patrick Air Force Base recalls the military atolls in Guam with scores of seemingly empty condo buildings on the shore side of the highway. Who built all these? Who could ever afford them? Where did they expect the numbers to materialize? This is what Dubai must be like. More than 12,000 civilian Air Force workers at Patrick Air Force Base and other Florida military installations faced furloughs of up to 22 days because of sequester this week. This saved the government $94.5 million and the Defense Department $46 billion from its fiscal 2013 budget. Whether we get bombed by North Korea or Iran before September 30th is anyone’s guess.

All Aboard

Though Melbourne was also founded by freed slaves one wonders where their descendants went since it is all lily white today. At the Eau Gallie Fish Fry one Saturday we could not help but note how homogeneous the population is in this curious backwater. By the way at the Bay Tree Country Club in the city when we mentioned Chicago everyone chimed in “Murder Capitol of the World.” Rahm should really hire a damage control company to address this. Or even better try to come to serious terms with the problem.

Selby Library

We escaped and drove west to Sarasota trying to avert our eyes as we passed Orlando so as not to see the pink and blue goofiness of the skyline as we imagined dumb hordes waiting in line. We never have, even as a youth, and hopefully never will have to, do anything to do with Disney’s democracy- in- action theme parks. Though born in Chicago (2156 N. Tripp) Disney was from Missouri, conservative middle America, and he could put his juvenile stamp on American culture for all time because he lived at the right time when the Country Was New.

Orlando has third highest foreclosure rate in America and is also the country’s “most financially stressed city” (Ocala number one and Miami number two). In Sarasota the foreclosure nightmare was said to be abating as New York investment firms are buying up SW Florida residential properties to rent indicating rental is the future of the foreclosed properties.

Buffalo Creek

We stayed in a gorgeous condo right in front of the V- Day kissing couple obviously from same “sculptor” as the Monster Marilyn, overlooking Sarasota Bay, Jack’s Marina and the suave bridge to St. Armand’s Circle with its expensive fish restaurants. Not inclined to do anymore sightseeing we spent time in the Selby Library designed by architect Eugene Aubry and opened in 1998,( the previous one in the 70s designed by Walter Netsch apparently in the shape of sails.)  It is located in downtown “historic” Sarasota across from Starbucks and Whole Foods and far from the blistering social problems of the rest of the sprawling city. Each morning busloads of the homeless settled into the library for free coffee and made the library so odiferous it was almost unusable. The sweet shufflers pretended not to notice.

A few observations

Sarasota Sunset

Deltona is the real Florida, poor white people with WASP surnames living in what appear to be shacks or trailers. Windows in cars are blacked out, no one wears motorcycle helmets. Lutheran, Methodist , Baptist, Church of Christs abound. You are in the South.

A great shortage of doctors in Florida is a big problem if you’re thinking of moving there. Slapdash Urgent Care centers are the temporary solution though care there spotty at best.

On the upside Florida is very aggressive in protecting the environment which is of course the livelihood of the state. Some 68 python were found in the Everglades in a contest to find as many of the invasive species as possible. Invasive plants are also snuffed out.. From water quality to land acquisition of environmentally important land recalls Jeb Bush’s Florida Forever campaign.

On the drive back to Chicago we stayed in foreclosure capitol Ocala presumably horse country but all we saw was La Quinta and Outback Steak, typical of highway driving routes all over the country.

Georgia must be the only state that permits thousands of billboards,  nonstop gigantic overhead advertising, mainly touting truck stop hookers, along the interstate. At the Magnolia House stop along the way you can buy pecans or T-shirts with the confederate flag.

Then overnight in Chattanooga where there is some local industry in the beautiful southern Appalachian setting —  VW, Coca Cola Bottling, Wrigley’s Altoids and Life Savers and McKee’s Little Debbie are all made there. Two tone mesh baseball caps on local guys running around in packs of three or four at the chain Logan’s Roadhouse.

There are scores of stray house cats all over Florida, as well as omnipresent cheeky vultures and wild peacocks, brown hens and resplendent blue males.

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