TAMPA, Fl. - With day breaking and still no sign of the crime lab, we packed the car and checked out of the Howard Johnson in search of a palatable cup of coffee. It had been shortly before 11:00 p.m. when the Boy awoke, crying, complaining that his legs were hurting. Figuring it to be a case of growing pains, I got dressed and headed back out in search of children's Tylenol. Every supermarket and pharmacy I passed had closed by nine or ten, and it was nearly an hour later that I finally found a 24-hour CVS a few miles down Dale Mabry Highway, named for a celebrated World War I Navy pilot from Tampa who subsequently died in an airship disaster in 1922.
Needless to say, I needed a stiff dose of caffeine. In the interest of saving time, we headed straight for an Einstein Bros. a few miles down the road that I had noticed during my jaunt the night before. With hot coffee in hand, we determined the day’s first destination: the Fun-Lan Flea Market, a weekly fixture at a nearby drive-in. As we sat at a red light while en route to the freeway, my eye was drawn to a frilly boutique in a still-sleeping strip mall, its display windows full of pastel-colored sleeveless dresses. But what really drew my attention was the name of the place: The Pink Palm.
I pointed it out to my special lady friend. "God," she laughed as the light turned green and the little Ford sprang forward. "Everything just sounds dirtier here, even if it isn't."
One of the few fixtures along Hillsborough Avenue, it seems, that isn't a pawn shop, the vast Fun-Lan Flea Market reminded me of the now-defunct North Point Flea Market in southeast Baltimore: an early-morning, blue-collar marketplace for everything practical, from produce and underwear to used toys and televisions. Like North Point, Fun-Lan is held on the grounds of a drive-in theatre; however, unlike North Point, the Fun-Lan Drive-In also remains operational – a more feasible business model in a climate offering year-round drive-in weather. We picked up a few small, inexpensive toys to keep the Boy entertained in the car.
As the sun climbed higher still, we drove on, farther down Hillsborough Avenue, bound for Lettuce Lake Park, a county park that promised cypress swamps and good wildlife viewing. Along the way, we passed even more pawn shops touting cash for gold and paycheck advances. Indeed, while driving by the Easy Living Trailer Park, I couldn't help thinking that life there is probably anything but.
Lettuce Lake, with its observation tower and winding wooden boardwalk sandwiched between water-logged cypress knees and low-hanging Spanish moss, greatly reminded me of the Okefenokee, which we'd visited a year earlier. The place was rife with birds like the white ibis and wood stork, not to mention large apple snails. Given more time, I'd have gladly taken advantage of the park's very reasonable half-day canoe rentals. But there were many more places to go, more things to do, in precious little time. So, after an hour or so wandering through the swamp, we headed out.
We gassed up the Ford at a nearby Shell station sporting an attached Circle K that, inside, was quite possibly the cleanest, most modern convenience store I've ever seen. On the way out, we spied a noteworthy poster:
And with that we were back on the road – destination: St. Petersburg...
To be continued...
Read PART TWO
Read PART ONE