All that remained was a crater in the sand and a small square of concrete. Betsy stood on it and faced the ocean. “This was probably a footer in the middle of the house.” She squinted and used her right hand to block the sun from her view. A tangle of vines twisted below her, culminating in orange and white blooms every few feet. The stiff breeze bent the sea oats on the nearby dunes.
She sighed and stepped off of the concrete square. “Over here was the back porch … there wasn’t any air conditioning, so we kept the windows open and used the breeze coming off the ocean to cool the house.”
I snapped a few photos and walked around the grounds. Broken bottles mingled with oyster shells, making it clear that while no one had been here in awhile, but when they were, they didn’t bother cleaning up after themselves.
It was kind of a melancholy scene. We were standing in the former site of Betsy’s family’s beach house. It was owned by her great aunt, and was the place where many of her childhood memories were made. Several years ago, the family sold the house and the new owners eventually tore down the old home. The lot remains vacant, despite it’s prime location in Crescent Beach, just south of St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S.
It was the morning of the second day of our long journey to the Keys, and we began the day checking out of our hotel and trying to locate the vacant lot via a smart phone and Google maps. Betsy contacted her great uncle to get some ideas of where the house stood, and we matched his description with the satellite photos of the beach and quickly honed in on the targeted spot.
The beautiful sunshine, amazing beach and the flocks of black skimmers provided a positive vibe to balance the emotions Betsy was feeling while touring the homestead. We kicked around in the sand, watched the impressive surf and eventually marveled at what a wonderful house it must have been. If we could win the lottery, we’d buy the lot and build a home on it in a heartbeat. And, undoubtedly, it would be the "family" vacation home once again.
You’ve probably done this. You’re driving down a highway and you’ll see a little roadside restaurant that looks a kinda rough. Little-to-no curb appeal. Probably a well-worn wooden porch out front, with a mangy cat or two roaming the adjoining gravel and dirt parking lot. But, the lot is full. You’ll think to yourself, I bet that place has pretty good food; it's a place the locals know about it. But, you never have the nerve to stop and check it out.
Well, we did. JT’s Seafood Shack sits amid a clearing in the live oaks and palmettos. It’s not easy on the eye from the road, but it just looks like it would have really good fried seafood. And, it did. REALLY good. We channeled our inner Guy Fieri, went inside the packed restaurant, found a two-top near the cramped bar, plopped down on some rickety chairs and soaked up the atmosphere. The walls were adorned with a mishmash of Florida Gator memorabilia, old fish mounts and a crusty snakeskin or two. Overhead, the light fixtures were old, steel minnow buckets. The tables were filled with a mixture of contractors on lunch breaks, bar regulars having an early afternoon cocktail or three and brave tourists like us. Betsy had a grouper sandwich. I had the fried shrimp. We downed a beer each. The streak of great meals stretched to three.
Later in the day, we cruised unhurriedly down A1A, through the high-rises of Daytona Beach and the various seaside neighborhoods. For fun, we counted the concrete manatee mailboxes that stood watch over numerous driveways down the coast. We had to stop at a million. By late afternoon, we reached the Space Coast and made a mad dash through Titusville in order to catch a glimpse of the Kennedy Space Center. We made it to the park as the shadows grew tall, and managed to get a few photos of the Center and a fairly close look at a real manatee (they’re huge … I had no idea they were that big). There was much rejoicing. But, no time to waste. Darkness was upon us.
Within an hour or so, we pulled into a hotel in Melbourne for the evening. After a quick search of restaurants (JT's was a distant memory), we settled on Meg O’Malley’s in the downtown area. The meal and the atmosphere were fantastic. I also began to feel the need to drop my belt down a notch. After two days of heavy cal meals, I had packed on some lbs. Hell, I guess I could eat grilled grouper tomorrow ...
Two days down. Only 250 miles to Islamorada.