Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


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Dade City FL, October 18, 2002
I love coming to Central Florida.

Coming into Dade City, I am immediately attracted to signs, white lettering on red background, which are on the affluent lawns and cars, saying "Jeb!"
Meaning Jeb Bush, of course.
It's election time down here in Florida, the Governorship up for grabs this November. Barring the old un-Constitutional in-out from the Supremes, maybe this Florida election will actually elect someone. Maybe not, though.

It's an interesting drive out to Buddy and Jackie's: come off the Interstate, go east a lttle bit, come to Dade City, an interesting artifact, a jewel of a typical Florida farming town reaching back 80 and even 100 years from the present, a short time if you're European but pretty damn long as Florida history as kept by the white man is counted.
On the western approach to town, and in fact since Ocala, I have been seeing orange groves and horse ranches. Thoroughbreds, mostly. As I come into town, pulling up at the Quaker Bar -- I couldn't resist the name -- and coming in to call Buddy, I am taken awestruck with the Floridana in the town's architectural presentation. It is typical of that of small towns here on Florida's West Coast, where the Hillsborough and other rivers provided a means of transport for the cracker farmers up here in Pasco County to get their oranges, beef and other commodities down to Tampa Bay.
The really interesting thing about that sentence is that, archaic as it sounds, it represents the true state of affairs here only about 80 years ago. Florida as white man country is really new, dude.
I look Buddy and Jackie up in the phone book, Jackie answers, gives me directions.
River Road.
Duck Lake Canal Road.
I drink a Bud draft at the Quaker, josh with the ladies who run the joint, go get in the Volvo and head out to Duck Lake Canal Road.
Whereas the western approach to Dade City is reflective of the budgets and tastes of the affluent, the town, on the eastside of the railroad tracks, consists of the habitats of those who perceive a different level of economic reality entirely. Mostly the working poor. This is not without its compensations, however. There is the occasional sagging trailer house, any number of misguided CBS, fer sure, but also there are quite several gorgeous old Florida houses, right out of Sidney Lanier,
Nonetheless the economic aura that hangs over this side of town, occupied chiefly by poor whites, blacks and Mexicans, is that of nonsuccess.

Now, out in the country on this side of town are the real working agricultural enterprises of Pasco County, though I'm not sure of their superiority at the top of the tax structure. For Pasco County at least, this may be one of the things this election's about. Maybe not, though. It is out here, on the seriously productive agricultural side of town, that Buddy Klein fetched up.
It's an interesting story...

I have come, loaded my stuff into my car and come down here to Dade City to participate in Buddy and Jackie Klein's 7th Annual Gathering of Friends. It is not just another festival, because for me this gathering really IS a gathering of friends, some of whom go back nearly forty years, and many of whom are very familiar with skeletons in my closet.

Buddy himself, for instance. My friend Karol C. Klein is that surprising Florida component, the Jew cracker, a matzoh, perhaps. I first met Buddy Klein at the Beaux Arts Coffeehouse. And then during the same period of time at Rick Norcross's Eighteenth String Cafe in Tampa. We've shared a lot, including, it turns out in conversation this afternoon, pussy. Was a time when us folksingers had our own few but very dedicated and complaisant groupies.

Buddy never quit his dayjob. Today, he has an operation that supplies a hardy native plant much-favored in the indigenous flora aspects of building laws: the humble coontie.
The coontie is a multi-stemmed, fronded plant that is indigenous to Florida. It stands up to 20 inches high. It is favored by landscape architects because of the reasons mentioned above. It costs the architects 12 dollars per plant. They use hundreds, hell, thousands, on each project.

But I've known Buddy since he was a middle-class Florida cracker/Jewish folksinger. I had never been aware of the Jewish part of it, though when I think about it, I'm not surprised I wasn't, but anyway...Buddy and his old lady Jackie hold this gathering that began informally about seven years ago and has become a modestly growing be-in in the years passed. Buddy invited me down to play this year and I'm glad he did.

I find Buddy Klein out in the pasture where Jackie said he'd be. He hasn't changed a bit, really. I haven't seen Bud in more than thirty years probably. but we recognise each other instantly. Massive manly hugs. Buddy directs me to the Rose Cottage, where I'll be staying and wherein at this very minute may be found one Vincent Marcellino aka my ol friend from my Florida folkie days, Vince Martin,

Lemme tell you about Vince Martin. Way back in the mid-50s there was a song, which, for some Jungian unconscious but otherwise inexplicable reason, reached Number One on the Hit Parade. And hung in there for weeks. That song was a song called "Cindy Oh Cindy", the artist was a young man named Vince Martin. Vince never had a charted record again. Doesn't matter, not the point.

Vince, after the heady fifteen minutes of Cindy Oh Cindy and not much thereafter, became a folksinger. In the process of that, he met Fred Neil and together, as Martin and Neil they made an album called "Tear Down the Walls", which dedicated folkies out rhere are very aware of.

Vince and I play a little together, running through some old and some new stuff, and it is just like we've been in daily touch instead of it having been twenty years or so since our last meeting. Then Buddy and I head back out to the gathering grounds.

Buddy provides firewood to each of the campsites, and to that end he uses an articulating loader: a giant machine with two wheels on the front and two on the rear, hinged in the middle, with a bucket on the front, which he uses to scoop up firewood from a pile he has gathered over the preceding days and weeks, and then carries over to each campsite. Seeing my fascination with this man-size Tonka toy, he invites me up to orient and operate the behemoth. There's not much to it, and after a couple of deliveries I am ready to turn it back over to Bud's more skillful hands,

The first night is mostly singing around the campfire kind of stuff, and because I have just driven in from Nashville that day I retire early.

OCTOBER 19 - - Saturday is the day of the actual festival. There are a whole lot of good pickers out here under the Florida sky. I am skedded for 8 pm, just before Vinnie. I do my little show to an appreciative audience. Vince does his to great applause. A couple of years ago, Vince had his hips replaced, and for the first year was using a walker, then last year it was two canes. This year he ambulates unaided.

OCTOBER 20 - - Sunday is mostly a repeat of Friday: campfire sings, although lots of campers, having jobs and whatnot, are packing up and headed home. I plan to leave Monday.

OCTOBER 21 - - Monday I drive into town to get the Volvo aligned, as it has a habit of eating its tires. Whilst aligning it the dudes tell me that the left front bearing is worn and needs replacing. Buddy and I go to the auto parts place, where I learn that it will be tomorrow before the bearing and race and seal come in. So I can't leave until Tuesday. We take Vince to the Tampa airport and send him on his way back to Brooklyn.

OCTOBER 22 - - I get the bearing replaced, buy yet another tire, and head out for Fogartyville.

Thank you, Buddy and Jackie Klein, and other old friends too numerous to mention without leaving out at least one, for the very nice time.