1. Archive

No stay at the beach

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

A pool ringed by a chain-link fence. Sun beating down on six lanes of asphalt. Cars whizzing by. Not a grain of sand or a splash of saltwater in sight.

Welcome to Philip Sayer's Florida vacation, hardly a wish-you-were-here postcard scene.

Sayer loves it.

For four years, the 27-year-old Sayer and a friend have ventured south from Chicago to spend two weeks each winter at the Orange Motel, a mom-and-pop establishment on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The closest beach is a drawing on one of the motel's business cards.

If you live here, you're probably wondering: Why would they travel almost 1,200 miles and stop 4 miles short of the beach?

The answers are as varied as the visitors.

To Sayer, who works in advertising sales, the reasons to stay at the 45-unit motel were obvious: "You can't beat the price."

He and his buddy paid less than $50 a night for a room with a kitchenette that could cost two or three times as much on Clearwater Beach.

That's why Mae and Albert Gouveia of Fall River, Mass., ended up on the mainland.

They wanted to stay at the beach but couldn't bear to shell out the $175-a-night rate they were quoted.

"That's enough to put a damper on anybody's vacation," Albert Gouveia said.

Not ones to make reservations, they got back on the road, headed east and stumbled on the Orange Motel with its tidy blue-and-white string of rooms.

The Gouveias can drive to the beach, so having a room 4 miles away doesn't matter.

"There's water right there," said Albert Gouveia, 66, pointing to the pool.

Although it rubs shoulders with Gulf-to-Bay, the pool is a popular spot for sunbathers and shuffleboard players who mill around in their swimsuits oblivious to the thousands of cars speeding by every day.

Every March, during the height of the tourist season, people stay just about anywhere they can find in Pinellas County. Last March, almost 93 percent of the county's 23,000 hotel/motel rooms and condominiums were full, said Lee Daniel, spokesman for the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"They just want to be where it's not snowing, where it's not 20 degrees and where it's not sleeting," Daniel said.

Ed Harrington and three friends drove to Clearwater from Plymouth, Mass., to spend a week at the Four Oaks Motel on Gulf-to-Bay at the recommendation of a friend.

The four were on a self-described budget vacation, sharing a $65-a-night room with a kitchenette and raiding a nearby grocery store for provisions.

While they would have preferred to stay on the beach, rather than driving to it every day, that's a luxury their wallets wouldn't allow.

"You definitely miss a little bit," Harrington said.

A rate brochure for the Four Oaks features a picture of the beach with white sand, towering palm trees, blue skies and a Gulf-to-Bay address.

Inside, the brochure divulges that the accommodations are inland. The motel's owner, Sam DiBerardino, said he peddles the whole area to attract business.

To him, it's a lot like liquor ads that commonly feature beautiful women along with bottles of spirits.

"They don't put an ugly guy and a bottle of rum," said DiBerardino, who has owned the 40-room motel for 18 years.

Tina Dermentzis of Ontario, has no interest in staying on the beach. With three young children, she and her husband think it's too much of a hassle.

"I guess if we were teenagers we'd want to stay at the beach where all the action is," she said.

But not now.

"We pack a cooler and go for the day," Mrs. Dermentzis said. "I'd rather the kids be in the pool than in the ocean."

During the 11 years her family has visited Clearwater, Mrs. Dermentzis said motels on Gulf-to-Bay always have been their choice because they're convenient. This is their third year at the Orange Motel.

For the two weeks they're here, her family will visit not only Clearwater Beach, but take day trips to Honeymoon Island, Walt Disney World and Tarpon Springs.

"We drive everywhere," she said.

Dave Howard, 59, of Ontario, and his wife are regular vacationers at the Econo Lodge on U.S. 19 near the Gulf-to-Bay interchange.

Although situated on a busy highway, the hotel is quieter than the beach by Howard's estimation.

Lounging by the pool on a recent morning, the bustle of U.S. 19 seemed a distant memory unless you craned your neck to look over a wooden privacy fence and between some palm fronds.

"You get a little noise from traffic, but it doesn't bother me," Howard said.

Kim Nitzsche, 27, of Milwaukee has been coming to the Econo Lodge with her family for 10 years. She spends her days romping in the hotel's pool with her 1{-year-old daughter, Megan.

"We come for the sun and the warmth," Nitzsche said. "The beach or here, you can get that."