Wawa, Weeki Wachee, Cigar City (Oy!)

For nearly the last 14 years we have spent a week of January in Florida. I say ‘nearly’ because there have been a couple of years that we made other plans Even in those years, though, we’ve scheduled a make-up sometime later, usually in the spring. This doesn’t count the trips we sometimes make in November and the others we sometimes make in March or April. This year, for example, things have worked out so we’ll be back down at the end of March so I can see my beloved Astros in their last Spring Training at Kissimmee.

It’s nice to come down so much because you don’t feel like you have to do everything each trip. This year we’re using our Disney Vacation Club points to stay on Disney property, but we don’t have any park tickets. With Christmas just over and the Disney Marathon weekend coming up, there’s just too much nonsense to deal with. It’s been the plan all along for this year, but it really worked out well because Carla is getting over an awful sinus infection. I caught a cold during Santa season and that’s been working itself out, but I didn’t have it nearly as bad. So a laid back trip wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered, but she sure was happy when Carla told her those were our plans before we left last Friday.

We got to have lunch with some family on Monday and we mentioned that we were going to go over to Tampa on Wednesday to finally visit Cigar City Brewing. Later, Carla’s cousin (once-removed) suggested that we go to Weeki Wachie Springs as well.

And with that, a pretty good plan turned into an epic one.

Wawa!We’d picked Wednesday for our Tampa side trip because we were moving from one resort to another. It’s a good way to mix things up. We got packed up and made a beeline to the greatest convenience store on the face of the planet:  Wawa.

I could write a whole post about the wonders of Wawa. I spent two years teaching at Temple University in Philadelphia. Many, many good things happened to me there. One of them was being introduced to Wawa. Yes, it’s a convenience store. Well-stocked, usually kept neat, and not obnoxiously overpriced, but that describes a lot of stores. But for me, a Wawa is a place to get a great sandwich, When I was in Philly you’d have to go in and fill out a slip with what you’d want on your sandwich and hand it to a clerk. They’d give you a number. You’d go pay for it, then pick up the sandwich when they called your number. They’ve gotten high-tech since those days.  Now you input your order onto a touch-screen. It spits out a receipt. You go pay for it and then get a real sandwich.  Not one of those Subway or Jimmy John’s thing. The bread is fantastic. And it has exactly what you want and nothing you don’t. You can’t understand until you have one. And we did, yesterday. For breakfast and for dinner.

Wawa has only been in Florida since 2012.  It appears they showed up first over in Tampa and St. Petersburg. I’m assuming that’s because the Phillies have had Spring Training over in Clearwater since 1947. Apparently there are a lot of ex-Philly residents who didn’t have to have it explained to them what a Wawa was. And I’m glad for that.  It was a good way to start and end the day.

We wanted to stay off interstates so we went up US-27 to Clermont. It’s the home of the Citrus Tower and what is, quite possibly, the most terrifying tourist attraction on the face of the planet: The President’s Hall of Fame. Forget that being elected President of the United States makes you about as famous as you’re going to get. I guess the last step is making the Hall of Fame housed in a disintegrating white building that looks vaguely colonial and nothing White House-y. There’s famous. Then there’s Clermont, FL famous.

At Clermont we headed west on Florida Highway 50. It’s miles and miles of Florida ranch land, the occasional swamp and little barbecue shacks that I would have loved to have stopped and sampled. Except we were still very full from Wawa. So we didn’t. But there’s another trip in my future.

Weeki Wachee
Do I even need to mention this was the finale set to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American”? Are you in Al-Qaeda or something?

Weeki Wachee Springs has been a tourist trap destination since 1946. I need to say something up front: I’m going to make jokes about Weeki Wachee Springs. Under no circumstances should you take that to mean I didn’t fall in love with the place at first sight. It’s awesome. You need to go. It was kind of rainy and gray when we were there. I’d love to see it on a sunny day, Somewhere in the state government of Florida there’s someone who had the idea of saving Weeki Wachee Springs by making it part of the Florida State Parks system. That person deserves our thanks.

The mermaids make it look easy. We saw the version of the show that spends a little time explaining how they do what they do. There is nothing easy about what they do. In what passes for research for this post, I found this Wired article from 2012 that talks about the mermaids. It doesn’t answer the one question I really have, though.  Since the park is owned by the State of Florida, are they state employees? There’s probably some concession contract that keeps that from happening, but I’d like to think they are.  Best state job title ever.

I think it has to be a hard job in other ways as well. Here’s an actual conversation I had with a man who was eager to introduce himself to everyone as not being from Ohio anymore. When we mentioned we were from the Cincinnati area, I had a new friend. He was from Springboro, but he moved here three years ago.

Me:     This is so cool. I’m glad the state took it over.
Him:   Oh yeah, I live just three miles from here. I come over here all the time.
Me:     (to myself) Oh my God, he’s a stalker. (to him) I saw there was a yearly pass that wasn’t much.
Him:  Yeah it’s a great deal.  I come over here three or four times a week,  I know all the girls. Without the pass it’d really be expensive.
Me:     (to myself) Yep. Stalker. On a budget! (to him) We spent some time last year at Lake Louisa over near Clermont,  It’s really nice. Have you been there?
Him:   No. I really want to see the other parks.
Me:    (to myself) Not until they get mermaids you won’t. (to him) There are a bunch of them (to myself)  but there aren’t any mermaids. (to him) Oh, I think my wife went in the gift shop.  Bye!

To be fair, he also mentioned how much he liked the water park they’ve added. But it’s not open in the winter and he was there when we were. For a show. Do the math.

Weeki Wachee is located at the intersection of SH-50 and US-19. The latter also goes through Asheville, NC where I’ve lived a couple of times, so I thought it would be neat to take it to our last destination of the day.  Big mistake. US-19 south into Tampa/St. Pete sucks. Suburban sprawl hell. And it’s apparently where the people who mis-time the traffic lights in Northern Kentucky go to retire. The less said about the next hour or so the better.

Our final destination was Cigar City Brewing. They are on the list of breweries that we call our “Cant’ Make A Bad Beer” list. I’m not g0ing to say about it here because I need to write a Traveling Tuesday for Hoperatives, but sufficed to say the beers were good. It was pretty busy, but they know how to handle the crowds. For being a legitimately world-famous brewery, I loved how down-to-earth they were.

It was a nice way to end the day.IMG_4705