July 27, 2007

Walkin' Chattahoochee

As I drove West on highway 90 through Chattahoochee, I was wondering how far I wanted to go. I saw the vista of the Apalachicola River as I drove out of town and I stopped at a Burger King to get out and take pictures. I kept walking--on the gravel first then the grass. I took the pictures but I still hadn't decided whether to push on across the River and deeper into the Panhandle. I wasn't sure I was even right to be going into this town. I couldn't remember if it was in the Walkin' Notes or not. So, I turned around and started back up the hill, planning to get back in the car and go back to Tally.

Then I saw this sign. I knew I was in the right place. I drove up the hill, parked near City Hall, and got out to explore. I felt a whole lot better. The sign spooked me a bit.

Chiles found an arrowhead on the ground just before he got to Chattahoochee:

Yesterday, as I was walking, I looked down and found an arrowhead, and when I found that arrowhead, I knew that I had to be on the right track. After all, if the Indians have come along here, then I must be on the right track. I also found 2 horseshoes and then came to Victory Bridge just outside Chattahoochee. So I know we are getting closer to victory.

Chattahoochee is thought to come from the Creek word for "painted rock."

Mural on one of the buildings downtown. Reminds me of Tom Sawyer.
City Hall and the Police Department.

Chattahoochee round the bend, as he would have walked toward it.

Walking that bridge is treacherous. Lots of big rigs and not much space. I didn't try.

July 26, 2007

Chiles and His Florida: Chattahoochee

Next in the continuing series of Panhandle small towns on the Chiles Trail is Chattahoochee, a US highway 90 settlement on a bluff looking out on the Apalachicola River. It must have been a heck of a walk up that hill and into town. I'm sure Chiles let out a sigh of relief when he got there, knowing that he was in Gadsden County, one of the few Democratic enclaves in North Florida and part of the Old Cotton Belt. The city is about 3,000 people and about half black and half white. I didn't see any cotton fields when I visited; just peanut and watermelon stands on the roadside, tall pines, and lots of small churches. Main Street was quiet. Nobody but me walking.

The Apalachicola River also marks the border between Eastern and Central Standard Time Zones, so Chiles must have checked his watch on the way over the bridge. Or maybe he waited till he got to the top of the hill. I would've.

The road to Chattahoochee. If you're walking uphill (East) into town, turn left and you see Georgia.

If Chiles stopped to catch his breath on his way up the hill and looked back (West) he would see the Apalachicola River bridge. There was probably more traffic on highway 90 in 1970 than today. This is because in 1970, 90 was the only thoroughfare spanning the length of the Panhandle. Interstate 10 had not been completed--until Chiles entered the U.S. Senate and focused on it.
This is almost the same angle as a photo in the news clips of Chiles' funeral. The state funeral procession drove from Century to Tallahassee at 35mph a few days after he died, passing through Chattahoochee. Beautiful vista.
I encourage you to click the photo to see it in full detail. The shades of green are rich and contrast well with the hazy blue sky.

July 25, 2007

Road to Lakeland (Cont.)

Road to Lakeland

If you walk across Florida, you're gonna get wet. Many, many times.

July 24, 2007

Crystal River Reactor

I drove through Crystal River on the way to Lakeland yesterday. Above the trees, I saw the two cooling towers from the nuclear plant sitting on the river. I wasn't expecting them but I should have. They are the only ones I know by name in Florida. Forget where I first heard about them. Chiles fished on that river sometimes. Nuclear cooling towers out the side window. Chiles' leadership at its best--never waiting for problems to be in the rear view mirror before they were attacked or even analyzed.

Towers, palms, pines.

July 23, 2007

I-4 Corridor Madness

There were three, maybe four accidents on I-4 this evening--the interstate linking Tampa-Orlando-Daytona Beach. Sitting in traffic, hitting my defective car radio, I had plenty of time to ponder the "swing voter" made famous by I-4.

Who is the swing voter? I guess what makes them special is their unpredictability. Lean Democrat one day, Undecided another, Lean GOP, all the way up till Election Day. Even after talking to so many of them, I'm still not completely sure how to define one.

I know that Lawton Chiles was instrumental in getting I-10 finished in North Florida. I wonder how he thought about growth as an issue. I'm sure he knew already in 1970 that Florida was going to boom. I wonder what he thought about public transit and how to fund.

At least I have a good sense of how to think about Orlando: a couple historic neighborhoods surrounded by cookie-cutter suburbs connected by Applebees, Starbucks, and Super Wal-Mart...and Steak and Shake. To me, Eatonville is the only old area that stands out. The rest is just a blur of McDonald's arches and palm trees, obscuring more arches and palms.

Maybe I should not fret over the swing voter. Chiles lost Orange County his 1970 campaign. He lost it to the GOP in 1994, too. Orlando is the crown jewel of the I-4 Corridor, the textbook case of swing voters nationwide. There must have been something that baffled Chiles, too.

July 22, 2007

Walkin' Quincy

Imagine it's summer of 1970 and you're running for the U.S. Senate from Florida. You're an unknown state senator from a small county nobody has heard of. Your friends don't think you can win. Your colleagues don't think you have a prayer. But your spouse suggests that you walk the state to get your name and your convictions out there and let the people decide. So you go to Century way out in the Panhandle and start walking. About a hundred miles later you're strolling into Quincy. Maybe you stop of AJ's Chicken and Things for a bit to eat and some conversation. Then you keep on walkin'...

For my last post on Quincy, I've stitched together some of my pictures to track the walk through the town: Almost to Quincy. Farmer's market on the right.

The Historic District. Art gallery on the right.
Turn around and you see this.

Maybe you stop in the police station to chat.
Turn around and you see this.
22 miles to Tally!!

Walkin' Lawton and the Sorceror's Stone

Sadly, there is no connection between Lawton Chiles and Harry Potter...

Actually, it is a chance to talk about Chiles' focus on children's health care. Since the early 1980s in the U.S. senate, Chiles championed immunization, prenatal care, and early childhood care. Before it became the issue matured in the mid-90s media spotlight, Chiles had chaired the National Commission on Infant Mortality and used its bully pulpit to push children's health care.

When Chiles won the Florida governorship in 1990, he had more authority than he ever enjoyed as 1 of 100 in the U.S. senate. He went about reshaping the state health care system in the image of his ideals. He won some fights, lost others, but left his mark on the state--especially with his 1998 legal settlement against Big Tobacco that brought Floridians billion in compensation for Joe Camel's exploitation of kids' ignorance about cigarettes. Once Chiles' victory turned on the money spigot, lawyers in other states joined the fray.

The Lawton Chiles Foundation describes part of the health care fight:

Healthy Start was born in 1991 when the Governor and First Lady convened a group of community leaders and challenged them to build local coalitions to reduce Florida's alarmingly high infant mortality rate. Healthy Start builds on Governor Chiles' experience as chairman of the National Commission to Prevent Infant Mortality and helps at-risk mothers receive the care they need for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Between 1991 and 1998, Healthy Start helped more than 1 million women and infants and Florida's infant mortality rate has dropped dramatically. In 1997, Florida's infant mortality rate fell to an all-time low of 7.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, a decline of 26 percent since 1990.

Women beginning prenatal care during the first trimester rose from 75 percent in 1991 to 83 percent in 1997. And the low birth weight rate decreased 20 to 40 percent among the high-risk women receiving Healthy Start services.

Healthy Start is just one example of how the Chiles/MacKay team's sharp focus on prevention worked to save the state costly medical bills later. Every dollar spent in prenatal care generated savings of $3 in short-term hospital costs.

In 1998, there were 31 Healthy Start coalitions that worked with Florida's health care community to ensure quality care for moms and babies. These coalitions have become influential voices speaking out on behalf of Florida's children and families.

Please check out the Lawton Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies website for more information. They just revamped the site completely and it's much better.

A final note.

You can read all the statistics you want on the issue--and there are many. But I think to get a sense of how Chiles came to view children's health care you need to start seeing kids' health care as a prism reflecting all other social problems--death penalty, juvenile justice, education, the health insurance crisis, child abuse, welfare, and immigration.

To put it his way: "The answer to all our pressing problems, begins with a child."