They never saw this coming

The Federal Writers' Project put to work some 6,600 writers, researchers, editors, historians, archaeologists, geologists and such to help them get through the Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did that. Can you imagine? One of the coolest things the project did was state-specific guide books, and one of the coolest of those books was the one about Florida, first published in 1939.

In it were 22 driving tours. Tour 20 went not quite 90 miles, from Haines City to Clearwater, mostly on U.S. 92, touching Auburndale, Lakeland, Plant City and Tampa.

One of Florida's aortic valves.

Back then?

Watch for cattle along highway. The epicenter of the epicenter of the production of citrus. Blacks and whites working in separate groups picking all the fruit for six cents a box. "Negro" sections of Lakeland with unofficial names like Voodoo Corner and Careless Avenue. Sugar cane juice, gray and cool, and the sounds of fun coming from "jooks" and thumbs-up hitch-hikers looking for northbound trucks. Oldsmar was Tampa Shores. Clearwater had fewer than 8,000 people.

And now?

Auburndale's thick afternoon air still smells like sweet orange pulp. For sale in storefronts and from under the awnings of roadside stands are car parts and cowboy boots and Christian books, payday loans and Jamaican cuisine and bananas at 29 cents a pound, the services of attorneys whose windows say they speak Spanish. The Hungry Howie's is next to Guns Galore. There are the liquor stores called ABC and the liquor stores called XYZ. The messages along the way come in big block letters on billboards and Sharpie scrawl on handheld cardboard and in the form of scrolling red digital pixels. Cherish life. Advertise here. Settling? Cracking? Injured? Hungry? Hard times. Cash for gold. Cash for scrap. Road work ahead. Mercy and love. Veterans play bingo in dingy halls meant to honor their service and give them something to do. Women in not much clothing slither in the dim lighting of low-slung buildings. Men drink beer in bars with names like Just One More.

They never saw this coming 01/05/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 5, 2012 6:00pm]

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