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POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

Have road, will travel ... and figure out how to pass the time

Jim Abbott on Travel

Postcards from Florida

May 19, 2012

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Among the things I learned on a recent marathon road trip that covered almost 1,300 miles to destinations that ranged from Pensacola Beach to Vero Beach:

It's fortunate that I enjoy my own company.

After a week behind the windshield for an upcoming travel story on Florida beaches, I wasn't quite mumbling incoherently to myself, but my inner dialogue was chatty enough to rival the banter on "The View" or similar TV gabfests.

On the long stretch of rural U.S. Highway 19, heading south from Tallahassee to Tarpon Springs, I started looking for images in cloud formations, a trick I once used to pass time as a boat pilot at Walt Disney World in my college days.

You can't become too engrossed in such a diversion, what with keeping eyes on the road and all, but I still managed to conjure the profile of my pet dachshund and the Pillsbury Doughboy. Yeah, I've looked at clouds from both sides now.

It was safer to enjoy the road signs, which included markers for Florida towns I'd never heard of — Eridu, Iddo and Athena, among others. I stopped to allow a school bus to unload and wondered what a childhood must be like in such remote places.

I passed warnings about "log trucks entering highway," pitches for "crickets and worms" and the obligatory sermon, "Prepare to Meet Thy God," in big red letters.

In Jacksonville, I ventured off my beach route for a side trip to Chamblin Bookmine (chamblinbookmine.com), a recommendation from Postcards reader Alan Becker, who touted it as "one of the largest used bookstores in the world."

That sounds like hype, but it was hard to argue the point as I strolled among some of the store's roughly 2 million books packed floor-to-ceiling in Chamblin's main store, tucked almost unnoticed behind a Bank of America branch and a Chick-fil-A next to busy U.S. 17, south of Interstate 10 near downtown Jacksonville.

How packed is the place? I noticed a cardboard sign — "Don't put books here!" — in a tiny opening that allowed access to an electrical outlet.

I didn't meet many people, but the ones I did were memorable. Great thanks to Kate, the gregarious hostess at the Quality Inn in Tarpon Springs, who took $30 off my rate because I was wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt. Finally, my fashion sense pays off.