September 26, 2012
Maria got up early to make us a hearty breakfast of coffee, eggs, home fries and cornbread. It was the first day neither of us wanted either a snack or lunch. Usually we are starving by 11:00 and unable to continue until we have had something to eat.
A good day riding on back roads through pine forests, a landscape similar to that of the past few days. Our maps advised avoiding the shorter way to Tallahassee because of heavy industrial traffic, so we took the longer scenic route.
We will stay with a warmshowers host and tried contacting him by phone – we only have Skype – but were unfortunately cut off. Justin, our host for the evening, will leave for work before we arrive. I had the address, so we rode to his apartment. We crossed the train tracks and were quite literally immediately on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’. The apartment building was so bare and ugly that all I wanted to do was to turn around and clear out before meeting our hosts. There was no way I could envision voluntarily spending the night there.
Christof said this wouldn’t be fair as they were expecting us, we should at least wait until meeting them before making other plans. Nobody was home – Justin said his girlfriend would come home from work to let us in – and just as we were debating what to do, a door opened and a neighbor introduced himself as Justin’s father. He offered to call Justin and ask him when Marina would be there, unlocking Justin’s bike workshop so that we could unload our panniers, and telling us about the apartment buildings. He and his friend bought the twenty-eight units and sold them at cost, mostly to their own children, who had grown up together in a co-op just around the corner. Chatting with him transformed the grey run-down-looking buildings into a hip project, which we hadn’t been able to perceive at first sight.
Since it would be an hour or two before Marina arrived we rode along the tracks – the entire neighborhood is under construction and it’s impossible to use the roads – to an eclectic, wild-looking cafe, that seems to be the trademark of this neighborhood. Losing our way, we spoke to neighbors – cool alternative types living in a run-down, wooden shack next to the tracks – and heard a glowing report about Justin’s initiatives for the cycling community of Tallahassee.
Later Marina welcomed us to the artistic, tiny two room apartment she and Justin share, showing us the shower and inviting us to feel at home, while she attended a co-op meeting in the community center. Later Justin’s father came by to show us on a map the plans the city has of extending the bike trail we rode in on, and explaining what it would mean for the apartment complex. We chatted easily with Marina – an avid cyclist who refuses to buy a car – while she casually finished the lip balms she is making for her sister’s wedding. A year ago she started her own business, sewing waxed canvas panniers and bags for bicycles. They are incredibly stylish in an old-fashioned English way. Justin built bicycles full time in his workshop, until he started a vegan restaurant a-year-and-a-half ago. Marina cooked us a late vegan meal of kale, beets, and couscous with mushrooms, so we could eat with Justin – a bike fanatic, who makes custom bicycles and plays bike polo – when he arrived at 9:00. They volunteer at both the local bike shop and co-op. The purchase of the apartment complex was Justin’s initiative.
Built originally for the workers of a crate factory in the 1940’s, what is now a community center was once the company store. The complex had been abandoned – inhabited only by drug addicts and homeless people when they purchased it six years ago.
The conversation was so interesting that before we knew it, it was 11:30 p.m. Justin and Marina suggested we leave the route recommended by our ACA maps, a boring inland journey through the panhandle, and travel southwards to the Gulf Of Mexico, and follow the coast instead. This caught our imagination. We plan to stop and see the manatees, a rare Florida mammal, along the way.