After an enjoyable meeting and meal a few nights before, a trip downtown with Tina’s father and step-mother Lloyd and Rose was organised for my parents. First we visited a local thrift store as it was “seniors’ day” and many items were marked down even further! I found what appeared to be a brand new Jacksonville Jaguars cap and swooped for it to add to Dad’s birthday present collection. A proper souvenir that could be worn with pride rather than the usual tourist offering!
There’s never a dull moment with Lloyd and Rose and so it proved with the parking. A church friend of theirs had offered free use of a bay on a private car park where they had several reserved spots. Firstly there was the drama of finding the car park due to incorrect directions, next was realising all the bays we could use were full, and then finally getting in to the tightest of spots at the end of a row which was not one we were actually allowed to park in. All this to save $3, and leaving me hoping that the traffic wardens were not as vigilant as in Leeds. Meanwhile Tina was joining us on her lunch break which involved tracking us down and finding her own parking spot. Eventually the two of us settled for a nearby public car park but could not find any sort of pay and display meter or attendant. Fretting about the likelihood of a ticket we joined the others to stroll towards the river.
First up was a wander over the Main Street Bridge which was opened in 1941 and has a centre section which lifts up vertically to allow vessels to pass underneath it. It was a piping hot day and the 1680 feet crossing was proving hard going for Lloyd already. At the other side we made an unplanned stop in the Maritime Museum next to Friendship Park where for a small donation we hid for a while in the air-conditioning so Lloyd could sit down and so Dad could give the curator a lecture on the Titanic!
From the Maritime Museum we braved the afternoon sun once more to make a ten minutes walk over to the San Marco Skyway station. For 50 cents a ride (10c for seniors) the Skyway is reasonable value if it actually went anywhere of use. Sure it links the Rosa Parks Transit Station (Bus station to you and me) with a few downtown locations that are within walking distance, the convention center, and some parking garages over the river, but you get the impression it is more novelty ornament than actual use. On the couple of occasions I have used it most of the small group of patrons seemed to be tourists or homeless. If it could extend down towards historic Riverside in one direction and out towards the football stadium and beyond it might be more useful. It’s total length is 2.5 miles and the initial section was completed in 1989. The elevated monorail is fun to travel on, getting up to speeds of 35 mph, particularly enjoyable when it crosses the Acosta Bridge to give views down the St Johns River. We initially rode over the river to the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center terminus because the night before I’d seen a news report about a steam loco on static display in the car park. The center was once the old Union Railroad Terminal, a fine piece of architecture and thankfully saved from demolition in the 1980s.
Just Dad, Tina, and I went to see the loco as it was a fair walk to the car park entrance, an indication of how large the station complex was and how many platforms there once were. The others waited and rested keeping out of the sun. The Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) #1504 was built by American Locomotive Co. Richmond Works in 1919, one of 81 “light pacifics”. It saw service on the ACL for over 30 years, mostly hauling 10 to 12 car passenger trains at 70 mph. After diesel power was introduced, these engines were put into freight service, and #1504 continued to work in the Tampa area until withdrawal in 1952. Surviving in almost original condition, she was selected for preservation and put on display at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, which is the old ACL depot. The local council are to vote about making the loco a designated official historic landmark, offering it protection and possibly a new permanent and more prominent home.
Back at the Skyway we made the short trip to Central station to walk over to the Jacksonville Landing. Opened in 1989 the Landing is shopping centre, with restaurants bars, and an open air stage for events. It is the only retail centre of note in the downtown area, most of the shopping experiences are out of town malls. No sooner as we entered the heavens opened with a torrential downpour. While Lloyd and Rose sat down to take a breather on a bench opposite a bizarre Zoltar automated fortune teller (which had the annoying habit of speaking to you), the rest of us went upstairs to the food mall to find something for Dad to “keep him going”. It was now nearly 3pm and past lunch time, the culinary delight in question turned out to be a hot dog.
The storm passed and the sun back out we wandered the few blocks back to the car parks. Thankfully neither car had earned a ticket and on departing we discovered a strange wooden honesty box where each car parking spot had its own slot to insert three dollars. We had neither the bills or coins to make that, and as far as Tina is concerned if it doesn’t take plastic it’s got no chance! My change had gone on the Skyway. We departed feeling guilty and hoping the car number plate hadn’t been noted. Back at Lloyd and Rose’s place late lunch was served and then Lloyd, after much persuasion it has to be said, treated us to a tune on his electric organ. Then rather unwisely Lloyd attempted to teach me to play. The audience and my inability to remember the notes sent the frustration levels rising but luckily I managed to refrain from turning the air blue! It was a tad Eric Morecambe – all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order!