Wood Working: With time and determination, you become territorialIn Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” there’s a tune a salesman sings in the first act called, “You’ve Gotta Know the Territory.” Meredith Willson wasn’t kidding, which we found out on a recent car trip to Florida. Yes, you read that correctly. We DROVE to Florida, all the way to the Keys.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
In Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” there’s a tune a salesman sings in the first act called, “You’ve Gotta Know the Territory.” Meredith Willson wasn’t kidding, which we found out on a recent car trip to Florida.
Yes, you read that correctly. We DROVE to Florida, all the way to the Keys.
That’s because I’m stupid, and I don’t know the territory.
My reasons for driving were that I dearly hate to fly in a big silver bird. The flight is OK, but I can’t stand getting patted down (even with the backs of their hands) because I’m very shy.
I don’t like to take my trousers off in front of all sorts of people so some officious guard doesn’t believe I am blessed with an artificial bladder.
Years back we have enjoyed driving south and have had great times in North and South Carolina and even, ahem, Mississippi.
But when we chose to drive last month, I discovered we don’t drive through those interesting states, but through the vast wastelands of central Illinois and Indiana, where there’s nothing to look at but corn stubble and squelched soybean and the dreariest towns of the entire Midwest.
Then came Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, states freckled with signs proclaiming punishment by the Almighty.
My favorite was, “Are you driving in the right direction? Remember Jesus allows U-Turns.
And there was that big scary billboard. It was a picture of God, not Jesus.
God was a handsome white guy and apparently he had X-ray eyes because he was looking at the silhouette of a beautiful woman and could see a fetus just as plain as day.
But that was not the worst of it. When night fell, we had to find a motel and a place to eat. Motels posed no problems. Some were even clean.
Here’s how it works: Cracker Barrel, Cracker Barrel, Cracker Barrel, Shoney’s, Cracker Barrel, Cracker Barrel, Chick-Fil-A, Chick-Fil-A.
In Georgia there’s a Chick-Fil-A on every street corner, not to mention the billboards the chain plants everywhere with messages, all of them misspelled because apparently Georgians think misspelling is funny: (“yew jes’ git yerself sum gritz and a deep fryd marz bar for some good eatin’, heer?”)
My parents were independent restaurateurs, so I try never to eat in a chain unless I’m starving.
I break the rules for IHOP because my wife worked her way through college at one, but I usually draw the line there.
However, when we got to Birmingham it was so desolate, so when we saw an Outback, we fell to our knees and thanked our lucky palates to find a place that, in Alabama, serves as its answer to Paris’s La Tour d’Argent.
So we drove and drove, finally arriving in Islamorada, Florida.
It was a sentimental journey because 20 years ago we ended up on that beautiful key and had a wonderful time.
We drank beer at an open-air thatched roof bar that jutted out into the ocean and then ate a wonderful meal at Milepost 88.
We were told it was George Bush the first’s favorite restaurant in Florida. He had good taste in fish—and broccoli.
So we headed right for Milepost 88. Now it was all fancied up.
Where once they served only yellowtail, fresh and simple, the menu now was a mile long and the waiter, with all kinds of rings in his ear, recommended the Hogfish.
It came so be-laden with “reductions” we couldn’t taste the fish. It happened everywhere we went.
We commented to the motel manager, who had worked in town for forty years. He agreed.
“Not much Key-ish in this town anymore,” said he. “Everything’s very glossy these days.”
And then he looked at me and said, “Does your wife object to eating fish with the head still on?”
I said no and he said, “Then go to Ocean Breeze south of downtown. It doesn’t look like much, but try the fish there.”
So off we went. We arrived at the large but modest place, which had two dining rooms and two bars.
At one of the bars we saw people smoking. This place had possibilities.
The barmaid, Tyla, who recently arrived from Alaska, explained that this was an open-air bar and dining room because the plastic shield that separated us from the ocean was removable.
So we smoked and had a drink. Tyla recommended the Hogfish. Oh-oh.
“What’s it sauced with?”
Nothing she said. So Ruth ordered one.
It came and we discovered it was the most magnificent looking cooked fish we had ever seen.
A Hogfish looks like a big bluegill, only it has huge, frightening fangs. The chef simply dips the whole fish in a thin batter and throws it in the deep fryer.
When it comes out, its body has been turned into a perfect circle, with fangs and fins still intact.
Ruth attacked it with gusto. It was delicious and worth the trip to the Florida Keys.
Like Meredith Willson’s salesman, that hotel manager knew the territory.
Next Week: Getting to know the territory in Sarasota.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554