It’s Wednesday and time for lunch with members of the Ocala Metro Rotary Club. About 25 Rotarians, a favorable mix of young and old, gathered in the back of the Marion County United Way Building, a blue stucco affair with dark blue pillars in a nicely shaded area. These people are fast as well as friendly. The entire meeting lasted half an hour, from the call to order through lunch, the recitation of the Four Way Test and the Pledge of Allegiance. Met the perfect host and greeter, a real estate agent by the name of Trish Kilgore, who said there isn’t much property on a lake near Ocala where motorboats are not allowed. She suggested we should consider a place on a river. We thought about that in New Bern when we visited the provincial capital of North Carolina last year but ruled it out for the moment.
Spent the afternoon in the Appleton Museum browsing the collections of European art and Florida paintings. “Reflections: Paintings of Florida, 1865-1965” included work by household names such as Wyeth and Tiffany but my favorites were the broad impressionistic works of Anthony Thieme (1888-1954), the Dutch-born painter who moved to Massachusetts. The exhibit contained three of his works: The Loquat Tree, Evening Light on the Suwannee River and Aviles Street Garden, all done around 1940.
It was ten of five, close to closing. The sky opened, the rain came down as if it meant someone harm. A museum guard loaned me an umbrella to run to the car and bring it in front of the building, and away we went to find an authentic place to eat, the kind of place the locals favor. Of course we can’t always deliver on that culinary mission and wound up at a barbecue joint called Sonny’s. (Didn’t realize the corrugated metal place was a franchise until we saw another one in Gainesville.)
Thursday, Jan. 6. After a late breakfast at the hotel we left Ocala for a drive through historic Micanopy. The buildings look worn and in need of reinforcement and paint. In this case the term historical means neglected. But it’s a quiet little town with dogs in baby carriages and friendly servers in the local sandwich shop. At the Coffee N Cream a half dozen men played cards at a table on the sidewalk, a dog at their feet, while we ate egg salad and chicken salad and sipped water and coffee (saving the juice for the AM) on the porch of the café and warmed ourselves in the sun. In early January. A treat in itself.
After that we headed north to the outskirts of Gainesville, home of the University of Florida Gators, and checked into a Cabot Lodge near I-75. Different vibe than in Ocala—more crowds, more traffic, with a card in the room warning guests to lock their doors and hide their cash and valuables. Sounds like Dallas.
Dinner at Amelia’s, just behind the Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville. I called the restaurant to see if they had any red sauce without certain ingredients and Chef Andy himself returned my call. None of the bad stuff, he said, and they make all of their sauces by hand. So we dined on eggplant parmesan and angel hair with marinara. Beautiful. Chef Andy, dressed in a double-breasted black smock and pajama pants, stopped by our table to introduce himself and see how everything was. Very nice, and within a few feet of the theater.
The highlight of the trip: two seats in the front row at the Hipp for the preview of End Days. Wonderful storyline, passionate acting. Directed by Lauren Caldwell, the play is funny, dramatic and touching, one of the first attempts I’ve seen that deals with the aftermath of 9/11. (I posed a review on this blog at the time called “It’s the end of the world and we like it.”)
Friday, Jan. 7. We’re sitting in Starbuck’s in downtown Gainesville using the free Wi-Fi network. We spent the morning at Palm Point Park at Lake Newnan, walking under live oaks shrouded with Spanish moss that looked like the shredded remnants of ghosts. After driving through the University of Florida campus and peeking into the bookstore with its lines of students buying and selling texts, we had a late lunch at Harry’s (a Louisiana gumbo kind of place that didn’t feel like a franchise) and wound up outside the Hippodrome Theatre again. We’re seeing the indie film “Nowhere Boy” about John Lennon’s teen years.
The film was bit slow but rich in detail about Lennon’s conflicted relationship with his mother, Julia, and the woman who raised him, his Aunt Mimi. And then, as the house lights went up, three old timers with acoustic guitars strolled in and led the audience in a sing-along of Beatles’ songs written by Lennon, including some challenging ones like “I am the Walrus” and “Day in the Life” and one that pushed the bounds of irony, “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” Nearly everyone in the theater sang along with the first six or seven. I couldn’t remember the words to “Happiness” but the woman in front of us with the sculpted gray hair knew the lyrics.
“How do you guys know all the words?” one of the musicians asked, a little disingenuously I thought but in good fun. He was a bearded guy who might have played with the Four Freshman or Peter, Paul and Mary, or he could have opened for Jesus.
“Because we’re OLD,” shouted one of the men in the audience and we all laughed, knowing this was more of a call-and-response since nearly everyone in the theater was a baby boomer. But not old. Young baby boomers. The trailing edge. Not a one of us breaking into the chorus of “When I’m 64.”