Titusville to Tampa Bay
Yesterday’s Bluebird of Happiness was the perfect harbinger of this morning spent watching birds in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge wetlands. Tens of thousands of ducks dabbling and diving; egrets and herons in their elegant breeding plumage with colorful Maybelline eyes; delicate avocets wading in the shallows while an alligator skulks ominously nearby; ospreys preparing their nests—we can’t get enough of the beauty and drama in these ponds.
Dick will have endless hours of photo processing fun with the hundreds of pictures he took today. Here are a few samples.
The afternoon posed a fine counterpoint to the serenity and natural beauty of our morning, when we happened upon this contemporary art installation beside Route 4. Entitled Airstream Ranch, it is the controversial work of local RV business owner Frank Bates, who was clearly inspired by a stop he made at Cadillac Ranch in Texas during a cross-country tour in his private helicopter.
We saw the upended Airstreams on the other side of the divided highway, got off at the next exit, turned around to get a better roadside look, noticed there was someone on the other side of the highway fence photographing them up close, and then decided to try to find our way to them via the back roads.
We did find the trailers, but they were on private property behind a locked gate, and as we drove around trying to see if there was another way in, we met a neighbor who was investigating the activity in the trailer compound and keeping his eye on us. He gave us the lowdown on how unhappy the neighbors are about the trailers (which they do not recognize as art) and about the riff raff (like us?) that the trailers attract to their neighborhood. He told us that when he sees strangers (like us?) driving around, he puts his .38 in his pocket (he has a concealed carry permit, he assured us), and comes out to investigate. (At this point I was trying to unobtrusively check his pocket for a telltale bulge, while Dick just kept having a very pleasant conversation with him about a hunting trip he recently had in Georgia where he bagged his limit.)
Meanwhile, poor Frank Bates has had a heck of a time defending his artwork. Back in 2008 the Hillsborough County Code enforcement Board hauled him in for a violation, and he made an ardent defense of his artistic creation, complete with endorsements from the president of the Ringling College of Art and Design, the dean of the University of South Florida College of Visual and Performing Arts, and even the director of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County. He also presented a petition signed by 4,000 supporters, and letters of endorsement from experts in the field of roadside attractions. The Board voted against Frank Bates, 6-0, and ordered him to dismantle his installation.
He appealed, and two years later a three judge panel of the County Appellate Court overturned the Code Enforcement Board’s ruling. “They said it wasn’t junk, and it wasn’t a sign, and it wasn’t illegal storage of RVs,” Frank said. “But nobody wants to commit that it’s art!” This lack of art appreciation really irks him. After all, the Museum of Modern Art in New York has an Airstream in its permanent collection, and as an RV Dealer he ought to know, the curvilinear design of the Airstream is an American classic.
We may not be experts in art or in RVs, but we are real connoisseurs of roadside attractions. We can say with authority that Airstream Ranch was worth our little detour. It is a lot less trashy looking than Cadillac Ranch in Texas (which we visited in 2004, without spray paint),
it is more impressive in scale than Volkswagen Ranch in Texas (also visited in 2004),
but it falls short of the comic/cosmic grandeur of Carhenge in Nebraska (visited 2009).