Above:  From Rainbow Springs State Park, I headed south to my old hangout, Sarasota/Bradenton, where I watched the 2016 election results.

My Florida Adventure (1987 Version)

I said goodbye to Rainbow Springs State Park and its Confederate flags early in the afternoon – Election Day!  I got on Interstate 75 and headed south, then pulled into Sarasota, south of Tampa, a few hours later. 

Driving into Sarasota felt a bit like coming home because I lived here for four months back in 1987.  I’d gotten my master's degree from Wisconsin the year before and had been spending my summers and falls working as a BLM ranger in the Colorado Rockies, so I was a bit of a vagabond back then – still am, I guess.  During my off-season in the winter of 1987, I packed up my Toyota truck in Oregon and headed across the country to Florida.  Maybe I’d listened to too much Jimmy Buffett music over the years or maybe it was the fond memories of my family’s trips to Florida in the 1960s when I was a kid, but I always wanted to live in the Sunshine State – not permanently perhaps, but I figured, just like my trip now, that Florida would be a great place to at least spend a winter.

A few days after I reached Florida back in 1987, I crossed the U.S. 41 bridge over the Manatee River and drove into Bradenton, near Sarasota, and immediately felt like I was home.  I rarely have that feeling anywhere I travel, but it was like Brigham Young descending into the Salt Lake Valley when he said, "This is the place."  I spent a few more weeks driving around Florida looking for a winter home and living in the back of my truck (some things never change), but nowhere else felt as special, so I headed back to Bradenton and started searching for a place to live. 

This was long before the Internet or Craigslist, so finding a place to live was frustrating, especially since I didn't want to sign a long-term lease and couldn't afford much.  I was getting so discouraged by all the rejections, in fact, that I almost gave up on my Big Florida Adventure and drove back to Oregon, but I decided to search in Bradenton for one more day.  That afternoon I walked into a real estate office and found a place to live and someone willing to rent it to me.  It was a two-bedroom condo near Sarasota for $365 a month, larger and more expensive than I wanted, but it was a short-term lease so I took it.  I only had about $300 left in my pocket after paying the first-and-last, so I figured I better find work before the first of the next month.  I got a temporary job running blueprints in an engineering shop for a week (and still remember the smell of those fumes), but then I found a more permanent job, this one at the Bradenton Herald newspaper working in the production department.  I'd worked on several newspapers throughout high school and college, so being at the Herald felt like coming home, too. 

The newspaper job didn’t pay much but it covered the rent, it was fun work and I had a great lifestyle:  I slept in every morning in my "lightly-furnished" condo (i.e., one chair and a foam pad to sleep on), then ate breakfast and drove down to the beach on Longboat Key, where I laid in the sun until 2 p.m., then I put on my dress shirt and drove over to the Herald.  I worked the swing shift at the Herald, building advertisements with a fun group of folks, and headed home every night at 11 p.m. to watch The David Letterman Show over dinner.  It was great and I loved it.

But Colorado beckoned, so I left the Herald – and Florida – in May when the weather turned hot and sticky and headed back to work for another summer in the Rockies.  Even though Florida hadn't turned out to be the paradise that I'd imagined, I'll always have fond memories of my Big Florida Adventure of 1987 and it gave me confidence in my ability to move anywhere and start from scratch, if I ever had to do that.  And I have.  

I thought about that phase of my life, living here back in 1987 and working at the Herald, as I drove back into Sarasota late that afternoon, my first visit in over 10 years.  I stopped at a Dominos to get a pepperoni pizza, then I found a motel off U.S. 41 and hunkered down to watch the 2016 election results.  

My Memories of Florida:  1964 - 1995



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