Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Mary Alice Powell

In the summertime, Jacksonville is a hot town - too hot

When you tell people you are from Michigan when you travel you can expect remarks about our weather. Last week in Florida was no exception. One person asked me if we still had snow. A curious woman wanted to know if I had to buy summer clothes in Florida, and another wisecracker figured I must really be enjoying the high temperatures in Florida compared to what we had back home. Wrong! I hated it.

It may have been a sweltering 80 degrees Tuesday afternoon when I returned home to Posey Lake, but compared to the 110 degrees on the heat index that I had survived in Florida, it was a relief.

Of course Floridians said last week's brutal heat wave was unusual, just as we swear during big storms in January that we have never had so much snow and ice.

Summer is not the time to go to Florida. I knew that when I made reservations for the six-day trip, but it just seemed like the best way to say happy birthday and get well quick to Cousin Joyce, who was recently hospitalized. The chance for a direct flight from Detroit Metro to Jacksonville cinched my decision, though once again I regretted not flying from Toledo.

Jacksonville serves as a big welcome sign to people who drive to Florida. Once we get there, we feel we have mastered the long drive from the northern states and we can continue our vacation to south Florida cities at a more leisurely pace.

But the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce says, hold on, what about us? "Florida Begins Here" is the city's motto, and it mentions numerous things to do. Jacksonville is a handsome city, but its prime attraction lies in its location on the Atlantic Ocean, and where the St. Johns River meets the ocean. Important in Florida history, the St. Johns is 310 miles long beginning near Melbourne in Indian River County. It is not among the longest rivers in the United States and it flows northward, and in some places it is two and three miles wide. Visitors who are as fascinated by bridges as I am see several in Jacksonville. The city is one of the nation's newest cruise ship ports.

The Landing, a downtown waterfront pavilion in a semicircle design, has restaurants and entertainment. It reminded me of Toledo's Portside on the Maumee River that regrettably is gone.

The second floor of the American Restaurant was a good vantage point to take in the waterfront setting at dusk, as the lights on the blue bridges reflected in the water and boat taxis moved across the St. Johns.

Jacksonville boasts an outstanding symphony orchestra and has a full slate of museums, galleries, gardens, and theaters. When I wintered at St. Augustine, concerts and plays I wanted to attend were 40 miles away in Jacksonville, which was too far to drive at night.

The miles of sandy beaches were more crowded last week than I expected they would be in summer. Neptune, Atlantic, and Jacksonville Beach are the nearby beach towns with oceanfront lodging. In each there is a town center with shops and restaurants.

I likely will return to Jacksonville in winter, but the choice of entertainment for Cousin Joyce's birthday celebration will never be repeated. Taking the one-day trip on San Cruz Casinos was my idea because Joyce has always enjoyed gambling and cruises. It was a long drive from Joyce's home in Orange City to Cape Canaveral to board the San Cruz, a shabby ship that needs considerable renovation. We passed on the $7 buffet that lacked eye appeal. Twice a day the ship heads out to sea. After we travel three miles, the hopeful passengers who are already seated at slot machines and gaming tables waiting for the signal can begin shelling out money. The San Cruz holds 1,200 people, but on our cruise the total was 278. That should have told us something.

My big win during the six-day trip was simple and no gamble: Reminiscing with two generations of my family around Joyce's kitchen table was priceless with love and respect radiating through laughter and memories. Sometimes we try too hard and overlook what is most valuable in our lives.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

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