Welcome to Naples!

Naples signThe purpose to our visit to Naples was seeing my step-father, Ferd. My parents bought their condo in Naples about fifteen years ago. After spending increasingly long stretches in the winter as a snowbird, Ferd now lives there full time. We couldn’t find  a state park or an rv park close to Ferd’s apartment so we would be staying about 20 minutes away at Club Naples RV Resort.Club Naples RV Resort.

After our adventure with my brain fart and near disaster on the forbidden road, we arrived at the rv park a little strung out and wild-eyed. Club Naples is an older rv resort from a time when rv’s were far smaller. The sites are densely packed together. I don’t know how some of those Class A’s ever got into their sites. It sure didn’t look like they were going anywhere anytime soon and I don’t blame them.  The resort had given us the smallest, most uneven and awful site in the park. The fact that Jim didn’t just quit and run was a testament to his fortitude. The job he did in backing our 48 feet of trailer and truck into an impossibly small space was nothing short of amazing. It took a lot of maneuvering to make it past the Fifth Wheel across the tiny road. We had to fold in our side mirrors and even so we had a bare inch to spare.dijon mustardOur neighbors on either side were so close we could have passed a jar of Dijon mustard back and forth and never fully extended an arm. This was purgatory. It was a shaken crew who headed off to meet Ferd for dinner.

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It was delightful to visit with Ferd. We didn’t do much of anything. We ran some errands, hung out a bit and each night I cooked dinner at Ferd’s condo.We would watch the news together and then Jim and I would head back to the sardine can rv resort. Sometimes a quiet interlude is just what is needed.

Ferd’s condo is in South Naples just off Bayshore Drive. This south end of Naples is much less built up and features small businesses, a marina, a smattering of homes and small apartment buildings. Foremost among its charms is Taqueria San Julian 2 . It isn’t much to look at from the outside, but the tacos inside are outstanding. It is a highlight of any visit to Naples for me.

Bayshore Drive is the kind of place where real people live. Sadly that is beginning to change a bit, but it is still endearingly scruffy and real.

Curious Inhabitants

Granted at this point Jim and I have a little more than one month’s experience on the road, but it doesn’t take a sociologist with a Ph.D. to analyze the difference between life in an rv resort and life in state parks and what it is says about the inhabitants of each. Of course, as with any generalization, there will be exceptions, but overall this seems to be true.

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RV resorts almost always have full hook ups. A full hook up means water, electric and sewage. A full hook up means that you truly have all of the comforts of home. No rationing of water, all the electricity you could want and you don’t have to watch the contents of either the grey or black tanks. Dumping is as easy as flipping a switch. RV resorts are primarily the domain of the big Class A’s and Fifth Wheels. These big rigs are designed for supplying all the comforts of home. They sport big screen tv’s, comfy reclining chairs, faux fire places, full-fledged kitchens and heaven knows what else. They can be very large with popouts for extra space. They are also somewhat cumbersome to drive and are best designed for staying in place rather than ranging wide and far. There are lots of permanent inhabitants in rv resorts.  It is easy to tell them by the elaborate set ups on their site including little gardens, fences and we’ve even seen bubbling water fountains. Even without these custom environs, a permanent or semi-permanent inhabitant can be recognized by their wheel covers. They have no plans to go anywhere in the near term.

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RV resorts are communities. Because they have longer term inhabitants, rv resorts offer a calendar of events. There is the weekly free donut and coffee breakfast. They usually have a bingo night. They often offer exercise classes and group walks. Some have quilting groups which meet weekly and other special interest groups. And, because it is a community of people, there is usually a board and group meetings where grievances are aired and issues discussed. Dog poop is pretty much always a hot topic. All of this can be very nice if community is what you are looking for.

So, you can think of camping choices on a continuum. Full hook ups are the apex of camping civilization. At lower cost rv parks and in most of the state parks, there is the next tier of camping civilization and that is partial hook ups. A partial hook up eliminates the sewer hook up and leaves the camper with water and electric and the need to monitor both the grey and black tanks. There is pretty much always a dump station on hand at no cost, but getting to that dump station means going through the entire process of hooking up and un-hooking. This is pretty much every step involved in getting ready to leave for the next destination so you don’t really want to have to do that until you do plan to leave.

Of course, you can find plenty of Class A’s and Fifth wheels in state parks. But you can’t find them in all state parks. Parks with smaller campgrounds, dense vegetation or simply smaller sites will have length restrictions. If you’re looking to commune with nature, then a big rig is a definite liability.

On the far end of the communing with nature continuum is boondocking. Boondocking is the camping equivalent of living off the grid. Boondocking lets you camp on government land, by the side of a pretty stream or in the middle of a vast plain. Boondocking means you’ve still got your comfy bed, but you have the added entertainment of trying to manage your fresh water, power and tank levels to stay as long as you can. Can you make it five days? Seven? More? One blogger I follow boasted of going 12 days and elucidated the somewhat extreme measures they went to. A brand new competition–extreme boondocking. It might get a bit ripe.

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Not to stray too much off topic, but there is one other kind of boondocking and it has nothing to do with nature. That is the overnight in a parking lot. Many Walmarts and Cracker Barrels will let you overnight in their parking lots—it helps if you shop or eat there, too. We have yet to engage in this behavior, but there are many who do.

We think we’ve hit the sweet spot with our 27-foot Airstream. We have plenty of creature comforts. With some careful choreography, the three of us can move around inside just fine. The big rigs tower over us, but we’re pretty agile and there are few parks where we can’t go. We have no desire for the confines of community. A full hookup is nice, but we’re down with conserving tank capacity. A night or two in a rv resort is fine for some civilization, but given a choice, we’ll take a park and a partial any day.

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So, the partial hook up is fine by me, but one realization I have come to is that I really miss wifi and a decent cell connection. I can give up a shower and I can wash dishes with a scant amount of water, but after a couple days with no wifi or cell service, I wilt like a hot house flower. I need connectivity.

Connectivity extends to reasonable television reception. I am completely addicted to watching the local news.  It is a reflection of what people in a given area care about, how they view the world and how they express themselves. Local anchors do not conform to major market requirements for cosmetic sophistication. They often exceed the average age, weight and lack the grooming requirements of a big city anchor. But what they might lack in aesthetics, they more than compensate for in a feel for their town. We’ve watched local anchors editorialize to their communities. We’ve watched with amusement and some respect as these anchors have admonished and chastised their communities. You wouldn’t catch Lester Holt doing this, but it says something about the value and relationship of the news cast when someone knows you and can tell you where its really at.

Brain Farts Test Even the Strongest Relationship

 

Our crossing to Naples was not without incident. For the last stretch of our drive we followed Route 41 and then exited to a street paralleling 41. It had been a long drive and we were tired. Well, at least I was tired—something has to account for the major brain fart I was about to have.

As we neared the entrance to the next rv park, Jim said, “are you sure this is where we’re staying?” What? Huh? I panicked. Is this were we were supposed to go? I freaked out and told him not to turn in to the gate. We cruised past as I scrambled to find our reservation information and confirm our destination. It wasn’t until we were a good half a mile down the road that we realized the road came to an abrupt end and the only possible egress was a hard right turn.

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The hard turn to the right wasn’t a problem in itself, but arranged vertically at the side of the turn was an assemblage of signs saying, “No Trespassing,” “Private Road,” “Do Not Enter!” “Proceed at Your Own Risk.” It was hot and we were tired. Within our trailer was general consternation. It was too far to back up to the entrance to the park and we desperately needed a way out or a place to turn around.

Despite our somewhat bleak circumstances, Jim did not utter an angry word or get upset. His wife, the Chief Navigator, had just pulled a major boner and we were in deep doo doo, but he was calm and quiet. It was hot and we were tired. Within our trailer was general consternation. It was too far to back up to the entrance to the park and heading right didn’t look like too good an option either.We sat quietly for a few moments, then Jim said he was going to brave the intimidating signs and walk ahead for a place to turn around. With 48 feet of truck and trailer, we couldn’t risk not finding a place to turn around.

I sat in the sun for a long time feeling stupid and useless. Jim was gone for a long time. Finally, I realized Jim had chosen the low tech path, but there was another option for determining what lay down the forbidding road. I downloaded Google Earth and found our location. Down the road about a mile was another road intersecting at a perpendicular angle. We could definitely use those 90 degree angles to effect a turnaround. Jim’s cell lay on the console. There was no way to let him know and I had to do something to redeem myself.

The forbidden road was narrow. I made the turn on my maiden voyage at the helm of the Airstream at a cautious speed. I felt alternately terrified to be driving Jim’s beloved rig and hopeful that somehow I would redeem myself. The road continued to be lined with hostile signs. “Turn back now.” “This means you!” sporadically driveways intersected the road and each bore “Beware of dog” and “No Trespassing” signs. This was the most unfriendly road on the face of the earth. What was their problem?

Jim came into view. How best to describe the look on his face when he saw his beloved blue truck and Airstream heading his way…horror? Terror? Deep love and affection? Maybe not the latter. Just then a truck pulling a horse trailer came into view heading my way on this incredibly narrow and unfriendly road with steep sides. My palms were drenched as I contemplated what would happen if we couldn’t pass each other. It drew closer and closer and, with inches to spare, we made it. I came to a stop as Jim approached the truck.

We executed the turnaround and headed back out the unfriendly road. We were both sitting kind of low in our seats in case gun fire should ring out. A battered pickup driven by a wild-eyed, bearded man passed us going the other way, he pounded the air with his fist and shouted at us and we sat even lower in our seats.

Transit to Naples

Sunday was rainy. We had the dubious pleasure of packing up and getting ready to take off from Road Runner in a steady drizzle. By the time the awnings were stowed, water and sewer disconnected and the Airsteam hitched we were a bit cold and wet.

The day’s goal was Naples. The most direct route would have been south on I-95 and then Highway 41 across the state. But, rather than drive super highways, we elected to take Route 70 west to Route 27 and then to 29.

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The dark skies and rain followed us on our drive. It was actually a welcome change from the bright Florida sun. Despite the grey skies and rain, this was an excellent and fascinating route to take. We headed through the real Florida. Gone from sight were the strip malls and endless plastic civilization of the built up urban areas of the east coast.

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We headed west from Fort Pierce to Okeechobee and then took a southward turn through Palmdale and Immokalee. At one time Florida was second only to Texas in terms of cattle ranching. Cattle ranches alternated with citrus groves and periodically a small town would punctuate the rhythm. It was open country with few inhabitants. The small settlements were pretty down at heel. Clusters of shacks and, more often, mobile homes housed the workers for the small retail businesses in the towns and the workers for the surrounding ranches. Abandoned homes were liberally interspersed among the inhabited homes. It was a stark contrast to the Florida most people visit. This was a tougher life and land.

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The ranches were identified by gates and signs. These were big places and stretched for miles. In particular one family holding caught my attention. We had seen a sign for this ranch and then miles and miles later, we were still seeing their signs. How big could this spread be?

 

The Lykes Bros. Ranch. Floridians may well know this name, but this Northeasterner had never heard it. However, this is a dynasty worthy of any television saga; great wealth, greed, lust, revolution and ultimate loss. At one point, the Lykes family were billionaires, the largest landowners in Florida, and the wealthiest in Tampa Bay.

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It all began in the 1870’s when the patriarch, Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes left his medical career behind and settled on a 500-acre cattle ranch in central Florida. Ultimately, he had seven sons and one daughter and each of the sons came in to the family business. In 1895 Dr. Lykes moved to Tampa and began shipping cattle to Cuba. In 1910 the family incorporated as Lykes Brothers and their holdings expanded to include enormous ranches in Florida (330,000+ acres), Texas (200,000+ acres), thousands and thousands of acres of citrus groves, banking concerns and shipping. They also owned a 15,000 acre estate in Cuba which was nationalized during the Cuban Revolution.

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Over time, the family burgeoned, but they remained land rich and cash poor. Over time, assets were sold to feed the expanding family which eventually numbered 250 shareholders and they ended up in court fighting over the valuation of their assets. Don’t cry too much for them though, they still hold their big ranches and major prominence in Tampa society. Forbes ranked them in the top 200 richest families in the US in 2015. They seem to be reinventing themselves as “green” entrepreneurs, but I just bet buried in their past are a million juicy stories behind the glitz and glamour.