IV. At Last, Tampa!
We were up early again on Friday morning, our excitement building. We were 380 miles from our last hotel before boarding the ship. With cooperative weather, we’d be there in seven hours.
We set out for the last leg along I-26, before I’d even had my coffee. Within half an hour we changed course to join I-95. There was still no hint of daylight as I merged. Traffic was, as yet, sparse. Only the clearance lights of a semi-trailer were visible far ahead as I settled into the lane. In the rear view mirror, I could see the headlights of another truck a mile or 2 behind.
A tradition we’ve kept over the years we’ve traveled that route to Florida is a breakfast stop in St. George, SC. This year was no exception. It was only 2 or 3 exits south of I-26.
Okay, we like the Waffle House. Call it a gastronomic guilty pleasure. Chris always orders a Pecan waffle and I like a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich, with a dill pickle and mayonnaise. And just because we happen to be in the South, I’ll order a side of grits. Not to do so would be a serious breech of shuttle diplomacy, in my opinion. That particular Waffle House serves the best grits. And the mayonnaise and butter packets have never tasted rancid. We discovered the place by accident a few years ago.
My mouth watered as the GPS beeped for the exit. Some things in the world make the Seahunks Pavlov’s dog. We drove carefully, observantly, as we made our way along Rte78 to the service road of the Waffle House.
Speeding along Rte78 had been a problem for the good folks of St. George a few years ago. They addressed the problem by dressing a female mannequin in a police uniform. They parked her behind the wheel of a police car just east of the I-95 entrance. Year to year, she’ll be on one side of the road or the other. To Chris and me she’s the same sort of symbol for St.George, as the Fisherman is for Gloucester. We always watch for her. She has gazed at us many times as we passed through. She always smiles welcomingly when she sees us.
The sun rose as we ate breakfast, revealing yet another overcast sky. I prayed that the sky could hold its water. We traversed the rest of South Carolina, on dry pavement, the sky threatening otherwise, all the way.
I didn’t think to check the time as we entered the state with three names. Some years ago, before I actually drove the route, a truck-driving friend had described driving through Georgia in a most unique way. He said: “If you wake up from a nap in the passenger seat and ask where you are, the driver says ‘Georgia.’ So, you go back to sleep. An hour later you wake up and ask again. The driver says, ‘still in Georgia.’ So, you go back to sleep. An hour later you wake up and ask again. This time the driver says, ‘GEORGIA!!!!” I didn’t know what he meant until I actually drove it. It just seems like it stays on your mind for a long, long time.
But, of all the states along the route to Florida, Georgia provides the biggest thrill when I cross the state line. Its air always provides the strongest salt; I can literally taste it. I-95 passes over a wide assortment of tidal basins and estuaries. And it’s always in Georgia, near Brunswick, that I see the first ships of the trip. Though they are 5 miles away, one or two, usually RoRos, are visible from I-95.
But, as we passed over the Turtle River on that Friday morning, no ships could be seen. Brunswick and St Simons were socked in by fog, which even obscured the tensioning towers of the Lanier Bridge being constructed east of I-95. The only boats we saw were a few fishing trawlers. I was too busy driving to be disappointed in the absence of something bigger. This trip was focused on another ship, loved but as yet unseen.
At 10:45 we entered Florida. Our early arrival left us time for lunch, of no distinctive character—thank you, Ronald M. And the weather was still holding, though a few clouds looked like the scudding remnants of a thunderhead.
We arrived at our hotel, 23 miles from the terminal, at 3 PM, leaving plenty of time for our exploration of the port. After checking in, we made our way back to the car. I had programmed each segment of the trip according to date. I brought up the routing program for Saturday.
Between watching the signs, and taking furtive glances at the GPS, I managed to exit one ramp too early. While we weren't exactly lost, I was mighty bewildered! No turn took us to a street with a familiar name. I finally pulled over, stopped the routing program and asked the GPS to point to the terminal.
In the course of my Sensation research, I had found an online photo album that showed a view of Channelside Drive from inside a car approaching the terminal. After a chain of spiraling lefts and rights, with a u-turn thrown in for good measure, I was finally looking at the scene depicted in that photo. The only thing absent was Sensation. I knew she’d be there the next time I saw that scene, in about 20 hours.
We found our way to dinner that night the same way. I had programmed the route, but as we neared the house, the street names got a bit confusing. So, once more, I asked the unit to point to the house. Again, it was a matter of lefts and rights, but we got there--look ma, no u-turns--and had a great dinner with some of the folks who would travel with us. And shish-kabob and the evening were the third day.
Seahunks note: Chapter V will be the longest chapter yet. It is way beyond busy. Though it poses a significant editing challenge, I'll see if I can condense it any further.
Post Edited (03-03-03 08:48)