Whew! This was a whirlwind; after leaving Savannah we made five stops in three days. Our first goal was St. Augustine, but first we had to make a lunch stop in Jacksonville. At some point after leaving Duluth, with the route all planned out, an old graduate school classmate with whom we’ve had very limited contact over the years noticed on Facebook that Mark & I seemed to travel a lot. “If you’re ever in Jacksonville,” she wrote, “let me know!” Well, Jacksonville is right on the way between Savannah & St. Augustine, so a couple of days out I suggested lunch.
It was fun to catch up with Mary Beth, however briefly. Just a brief stop, but given that the last time we saw her she was single and living in Boston, and now she’s married with two kids and has been in Jacksonville for 15 years, it was definitely time to catch up.
Then it was on to St. Augustine, “the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the borders of the continental United States” as Wikipedia puts it so precisely. The original goal was just to see this old colonial city and spend the night but after planning it we learned that one of Mark’s old bosses – the campaign manager for Tom Harkin’s presidential campaign that was Mark’s introduction to the Harkin world – lived there. So we had dinner with Tim after spending a bit of time exploring to town.
Our first impression was that we were surprised just how touristy it was. I mean, I’d certainly heard of St. Augustine but I never thought of it as a particular destination. Well, it is. Founded in 1565 on the feast day of St. Augustine, it served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years. Besides the old history the more recent landmark was Flagler College, founded in 1968 and headquartered in what was once the grand old 19th century Ponce de Leon Hotel. Mary Beth had raved about the architecture and it was definitely worth passing through.
From St. Augustine it was down to The Villages, an age-restricted community in central Florida, largely to see Mark’s Uncle Bill & Aunt Debbie. We were both a bit skeptical of The Villages; we’re not really ready for a retirement community yet. Still, we were both a bit surprised by how nice it was. The Villages is a big and growing place; it has been listed by the Census Bureau twice this decade already as the fasted-growing city in the U.S. As Uncle Bill & Aunt Debbie showed us around it was obvious there was a lot to do and that it would be easy to be a genuinely active older person there. In fact, the one night we were there Mark & I went to a steak place for dinner where at 8:00 PM or so the bar was surprisingly full and buzzy. In an old folks home! We’re not ready to buy anything there yet, but I have a definite appreciation for it that was previously lacking.
The next stop was supposed to be Fort Myers, but again we learned of someone to visit en route. This time it was Mark’s Aunt Nancy, the recently widowed youngest sister of Mark’s mother. I’d heard a lot about Aunt Nancy over the years but had never met her; Mark, in fact, hadn’t seen her in perhaps 40 years. So we stopped at her winter residence in Spring Hill (summers are way up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), went out to a late breakfast, and caught up on the last four decades. She seemed like an utterly lovely lady, though the big takeaway is how difficult it must be to lose a spouse after thirty-plus years. Fortunately I’m older than Mark so he’s the one who’s going to have to deal with that!
And then it was down to Fort Myers, where our great friend Pam lives. Just one night, but a great night hanging out in her house on a golf course, catching up on life and talking politics. Instead of going out for dinner Pam whipped out a great appetizer course, stirred some mean martinis, and then we grilled and roasted a simple dinner. Life doesn’t get better.
That was our race down Florida, then; a lot of family and old friends. Next stop is Miami Beach, one of our favorite places in the world, for a week on the beach. Sweet!