Heading north out of Tarpon Springs, shopping centers stream, seemingly without end, along both sides of the highway. The Florida road is glutted with Wawa, Walgreens, CVS, Cracker Barrel, grocery stores, Petsmart, Wal-Mart, Target, and a phalanx of others. Fast food restaurants flank the edges near the highway. Subdivisions sit behind the centers, on both the water and inland sides. I have been on roads like this in other states. I guess this is America.
Traffic lights stand every tenth of a mile, sometimes even closer. The rental car heads into third gear and quickly downshifts. After about half an hour, the sprawl thins. The space between traffic lights expands. I can feel myself lean back in the seat, physically decompressing with the change in landscape. It is about 45 minutes to Crystal River.
Billboards dot the sides of the road. They pass in a vague cycle of subject and theme: lawyers; confirmation of the truth of the Bible; pregnant women; Jesus, often pictured. All have toll-free numbers.
Trucks are big here, in terms of size, quantity, and height. Their wheels are nearly as tall as the roof of the compact rental car. In the rearview, I cannot see the drivers, only the massive grills. They thunder past.
A sign on the shoulder warns about bears in the area. This is surprising. It is 80 with high humidity.
There are strip clubs or gentlemen’s lounges with a surprising number of cars out front for a Wednesday afternoon. These are long structures with wood paneling, the windows covered over.
The Harley-Davidson store features massive columns out front that create a circle. It is oddly reminiscent of a Greek or Roman monument. Picnic tables sit in the middle. It is inviting and overwhelming at the same time. The tallest part of the building is only about 30 feet tall. It seems larger given the flat landscape it rises from.
Crystal River features little new construction. The buildings reveal their age in the slant of the roofs, the angle of the windows and eaves. Commercial buildings are small, with one or two tenants. A thrift store is next to a beautician. An exterminator between a church and diner. Entertaining neighbors.