Crestview, Florida – Day 1
Crestview, Florida – or, at any rate, that section of Crestview, Florida, that is within a quarter-mile of US 10, which runs east to west from Jacksonville, Florida all the way to Los Angeles, California (or west to east, depending upon perspective) – looks like every other place in America that lies within a quarter mile of a major U.S. freeway: there is a branch of virtually every fast-food outlet known to Americans, as well as a Walmart SuperCenter and a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. There are plain service stations and gussied-up “travel plazas,” one perched on each of the four corners of the intersection like an acropolis; among these there is apparently a price war on gas, which nevertheless manages to be twenty or thirty cents more than it would be a mile away, assuming there is a gas station a mile away. Assuming, that is, that there is more of Crestview a mile away, as indeed there does appear to be. (Here, Google Maps is instructive.)
My motel is called America’s Best Value Inn, and I doubt that it is or ever was America’s Best Value, but the name has stuck since the chain’s founding in 1999. Ownership of the ABVI, following a decades-long series of mergers, acquisitions, buyouts, and IPOs, now lies with the Red Lion Hotels Corporation, which controls a bewildering array of hotel and motel franchises aimed at a range of “market segments” and is very probably captained by someone whose politics I would find depressing if I cared to discover who it was.
One thing the Crestview ABVI has going for it, excluding its air of slightly seedy charm and the fact that the ice machine is on the same floor as my room, is that it shares a parking lot with La Bamba, a Mexican restaurant. The main thing La Bamba has going for it is that tonight is 2-for-1 margarita night, and the chips and salsa flow freely. None of it is very good – not the motel and not the restaurant – but it isn’t terrible either, and the price (cheap) covers a multitude of sins.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever looked at a map, but Florida is a long state. Getting from one end of it to the other takes hours. A great many hours. I put in eight and am still, obviously, not shed of it, but I was already having trouble keeping awake for the last two. Part of it is that Florida freeways are exceedingly boring, with flat, unvaried landscape (though the turnpike passes through genuine pine forest during the last third of the state) and little wildlife, not counting vultures. That is apparently what you get for being able to go 70 (the legal limit, though it is treated as merely indicative): You can drive fast, and so it has been arranged that, as you zoom by at a speed which, if you think about it, is faster than two tons of plastic with a gasoline bomb at the heart should probably go, you will miss nothing worth seeing.
And then you will stop in a town that isn’t really worth stopping in and have a dinner that isn’t really worth eating, and sleep in a place that says, with no apparent irony, that it is the nation’s “best,” all of it within rock-tossing distance of a box store that calls itself “super” and a restaurant chain that promises “old country” ambience but offers free WiFi. And this is what road travel in America is: a journey to the hyperbole.