Day 8: February 3, 2012
The Tampa Loop
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On Monday, when uncle Eldon and I drove that stretch of Dixie Highway just north of where he lives, I mentioned it was part of the Tampa-Saint Petersburg Loop. The Dixie Highway was comprised of two main trunks, plus several connectors, which crossed between the two, and loops, which split from and rejoined the same trunk. The Tampa-Saint Petersburg Loop leaves the western trunk at Ocala and rejoins it at Haines City. In between it racks up over 200 miles running through Saint Petersburg and along Florida's west coast. I had no real plans to drive it on this trip but, when plans developed to meet a friend near Palm Harbor, I decide to follow the loop at least to Tampa.

The first shot is of the road just west of Lake Alfred; The second is from just north of Fussells Corner.

The first picture faces east across Mirror Lake in Lakeland. The next shows another Polk County Citrus Center marker. It would have been impossible to miss seeing the one I passed last Saturday but I did actually drive by this one as it sort of blends into the post and railroad signals around it. You've probably guessed that the third picture was taken entering Plant City. The stone arrowhead shaped sign commemorates the Echebucsassa Post Office. Echebucsassa was the original name of the area.

When I reached Ybor City, I realized I had time to stop so I did. The city was founded by Vincente Martinez-Ybor, a Spaniard who came here after some time in Cuba. He established the city as a cigar making center that led to Tampa becoming "The Cigar Capital of the World". Tampa Bay Brewing is to the left in the third picture where, after taking a brief look inside, I enjoyed a Redeye Ale at the outside bar in eighty degrees.

I guess the beer made me feel generous and I decided to buy a few cigars for friends back home. The bartender recommended this place a block over. I got my cigars, snapped a few pictures, then, as I was leaving, struck up a conversation with a thirty-something sitting at one of the tables in front. Although it was too late to benefit from a second opinion, I asked and he told me this was his favorite shop. He motioned to a plastic bag and told me he comes by every Saturday for his weekly supply. I think the bag held about a half-dozen cigars so I'm guessing he's a one-a-day man with Saturday's cigar burning in his hand. Weather permitting, it gets smoked while he sits in front of the shop and watches the world go by. "They make really good Café Cubano, to", he told me. "It'll give you a buzz." The look on his face was convincing so I headed back into the shop. "Make sure you get some sugar in it", he advised. I did. It was excellent.

The burst of caffeine got me back to the car sufficiently quick to convince me I had time to drive the rest of the loop. That was really Plan B since Plan A had been to head directly to Palm Harbor. There was enough time but little to spare and nothing on the way caught my camera's eye. The loop passes through the center of a now large and busy city. I even hit a short section of toll road. But I did stick with the modern Dixie Highway path and ended the day with a delightful chat, over beer & dinner, with a former co-worker I hadn't seen in well over a year. Happy Florida.

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