September 15, 2007

From Vietnam to Iraq; Century to the Keys

As the debate over the Iraq War continues, I am reminded of an interesting evolution in Chiles' stance on withdrawal from Vietnam.

Over the course of the three-month 1,003 mile walk from Century up near the Alabama border to the Florida Keys, Chiles turned from hawk to dove.

Nowadays, we call independent, active thought that results in a sincerely changed mind a "flip-flop." It used to be called good statesmanship.

September 14, 2007

Imperial Polk County

Polk County, Florida was once known by natives as "Imperial Polk County" because of its prime location at the crossroads of the Sunshine State. The citrus and phosphate industries thrived.

But Polk County's own Lawton Chiles didn't see much use for the "imperial" trappings of the ex-presidency. Nearly every he was in the U.S. Senate, he introduced a bill removing all or part of the secret service protection and other perks of ex-presidency. It went nowhere.

The above photo is a sign in front of the Jimmy Carter Compound in Plains, Georgia, where the family residence enjoys 24-hour secret service protection--thirty years after his presidency.

Neighorhoods of Augusta, Georgia

In his second inaugural address in 1995, Governor Chiles stressed the importance of breaking down intractable social problems into their moving parts and basic units. He said he wanted to look at not just towns but neighborhoods, and see them as the smallest barometer of a city's health. A couple examples come to mind, but most recently the layout of Augusta, Georgia comes to mind when I think about where the boundaries are. I can't think of a place I've been to in Florida yet that shows it this vividly.

The above photo is Walton Way, one of the main avenues to downtown Augusta. I took this photo standing on one side of the line; two blocks farther down you're into a slum. I stood next to Summerville wine and liquor, an upscale fancy joint. Two blocks down is a gas station with prison bars on the doors and windows and a sign saying "no more than 4 students at a time." It gets worse from there as you approach downtown on Walton, gets better near the hospital, then hits bottom in downtown proper.

The locals told me that when the three textile mills in Augusta closed down and the mall opened, downtown died and the neighborhoods bordering it never returned.

Makes me think about neighorhoods, Lawton Chiles, and John Edwards.

Wealthy Augusta, mid-town off Walton Way

September 13, 2007

Archive Days

Frustration is a malfunctioning microfilm machine.

On the other hand, Gainesville is fun once you find a parking spot.

September 12, 2007

Polk County Historical Assocation

A Historical Association exists...and I'm reading their books. Two especially are required reading for Chiles research.

Historian Canter Brown, Jr. wrote both; they're hard to obtain but has them for sale used:

None Can Have Richer Memories: Polk County, Florida 1940-2000

In the Midst of All That Makes Live Worth Living: Polk County, Florida, to 1940

Where Florida Begins...

Regionalism, place, and identity--that's the Lawton Chiles story and the theme of so many nostalgic books on Old Florida.

But given that Florida borders Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina (and Cuba, arguably), how do you know where to put the cultural boundary line of the Sunshine State, if not the map-drawn one?

Tough to say.

Of course it depends on what time period you're talking about. I'll say one thing for sure. The red clay country in and around Tallahassee may be the color of South Georgia, but the telltale crop of this soil--cotton--is long gone. I would argue that politics is the new cash crop for the Tallahassee metro area. So is education, thanks to FSU and Florida A&M.

But in Southwest Georgia, you can still get a piece of King Cotton once you get out of town:

This cotton is very close to Plains, Georgia.

Also, I noticed while driving through Thomasville, Georgia--36 miles north of Tally--that the Spanish moss begins around this small town and is a good sign you're getting close to Florida.

If you driving from Georgia back to Florida and bypassing Tally in favor of the Chiles Trail through places like Madison and Perry and Monticello, good luck realizing you're in a different state without a map or the "Welcome to Florida" sign to guide you. Apart from the deep red clay, the frequency of pine sawmills and lumber yards on both sides of the Georgia-Florida border blurs the line especially. So does the frequency of Zaxby's Chicken.

If you arrive in Florida from South Carolina--via I-95--you can't miss Florida in all the billboards and Orlando ads you'll see.

If you arrive from Alabama, I have no idea what can guide you. I haven't been that far west on the Chiles Trail yet.

The Cuba-Miami connection is a subject for several more posts.

Watching CNN in Plains, Georgia

Once I got to Plains, Georgia (my side trip en route to Augusta) I pulled into Mom's Kitchen for an old-fashioned Southern-fried meal: homemade fried chicken, collared greens, and mashed potatoes...washed down with iced tea.

The drone of CNN live coverage of the Iraq War from the TV in the corner of the cafeteria-style dining room kept me from getting into the Plains state of mind. I think it's a milestone in technology culture--CNN in Plains. At least they didn't have wireless internet.

Plains was and is much smaller than Lakeland, Florida--Lawton Chiles' hometown. It's big enough for the 24-hour new cycle though.

Chiles and Carter's careers have some interesting parallels. When Chiles was running for the U.S. Senate in 1970, Carter was running for Georgia governor.

I made sure to leave town with a bag of fresh peanuts.

September 10, 2007

Chiles and His Florida: Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant resembles an abandoned company town, although I'm not sure what company once ran it. I'm guessing at some point--at least 50 years ago I'd say--it had a purpose and something to make its mark on highway 90. But now all it marks is a milestone on the Lawton Chiles Trail. It's something scenic to look at between Quincy and Chattahoochee.

I may go to Greensboro eventually, but for now this rounds out my tour of Gadsden County, relic of the Old Cotton Belt, Democratic stronghold, and Florida's only majority-black county. This look so new I doubt it was there in 1970. It is a milestone between Mount Pleasant and Oak Grove/Chattahoochee. It's also a good place to turn around, which I did there.
Nothing like a good junk yard when the back yard won't do.
Given the old age of the town, I'd say it sprang up as a place to switch horses between Pensacola and Tallahassee. Or, since there is a railroad track nearby, it was a rest stop on the ride. But I think 1877 was just before the era when track was laid down there.
This general store supports my theory of it being a hitching post. You get your foodstuff and horses at the store, then you're on your way to the state capitol. The general store looks long-since abandoned.
Highway 90 east to Gretna, Quincy, and Tally.

September 9, 2007

The Big Bang Theory of Writing

I'm quickly coalescing on a theory of writing that describes what I'm up to these days...when you've got a chapter in the works, you build it up and expand every possible avenue till you've got about 50 or 60 pages of material. The universe is at its critical mass. Then when it can't possible get bigger, it starts to condense.

Not unlike the Big Crunch.

Then hopefully you've got a good chapter. And it starts all over again.