If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on now
‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see
From the northern terminus of A1A, located in Callahan, travelers will travel 15 minutes, musically the length of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird,” before arriving at the I-95 overpass.
I mention Lynyrd Skynyrd at this point on the A1A journey— the band, known for their huge hit “Sweet Home Alabama,” are homegrown Floridians, rooted in nearby Jacksonville.
How many of you have yelled “Freebird” at a concert? Go ahead, raise your hand.
From Callahan, A1A crosses Alligator Creek, but most likely, the creek will be void of alligators. However, you are in Florida, and as a moose may show up just about anywhere—suburban or rural—in Alaska, so can an alligator in Florida. At an intersection, in a pool, along the beach, on a golf course sand trap, inside a fast-food eatery, at school, or even at your front door: these reptilian sightings can occur just about anywhere in Florida. Dangerous? Sure, but they can also provide emotional support (Disclaimer—you got to go to Pennsylvania to meet Wally, the emotional support alligator).
In only a quarter of an hour into your drive on A1A, your first alligator sighting, if you dare, comes as soon as you drive under the overpass and make an immediate left.
Welcome to the Florida Citrus Center!
This garish store is not exclusive to Yulee; there are several others in the state. And like the others, it offers, along with expected convenient store amenities, a wide range of kitschy Florida souvenirs, including cheap Disney t-shirts, conch shells, animal figurines made of shells, salt-water taffy, salt and pepper shakers, coffee mugs, bags of citrus, coconut patties, coconut shell banks decorated as ghastly human heads, Key lime this and Key lime that, and jars upon jars of preserves and honey, especially orange marmalades.
Other items exploit flamingoes and alligators (do not let the rubber alligators organized neatly on the floor under souvenir shelves nip at your feet). Coming south from the nearby state border, it is the second opportunity to enjoy free samples of orange juice, the first being the Florida Welcome Center, located off I-95 once crossing the border, which by the way is a must visit.
To see the center’s piece de resistance, enter the store and head left. Catching your eye is the advertised, once-real, 13-foot, 800-pound alligator, along with several rows of open-jawed alligator heads (for sale), and a placard providing education on the American alligator. Peer inside the aquarium to the right to see live, baby alligators. Another placard explains how these baby gators are cared for along with some fun facts. Here is one—there are 1.3 million alligators in Florida, one for every 17 Floridians, give or take.
This is a nice start for Alligator mississippiensis fanatics; more gators, much larger and more ferocious looking, can be sighted along A1A, both in captivity and in the wild.
Point of order broken—one aim of this blog is to mention and promote only local establishments and to avoid large-scale business chains, especially restaurants. I will make one exception here, however. As A1A and Jimmy Buffett share a connection, and since I am a huge Jimmy Buffett fan, I offer these lines from his song “The Great Filling Station Hold-Up,” from his album A White Sportscoat and a Pink Crustacean. The song mentions a White Castle-style fast food joint:
We were sittin’ in the Krystal
About as drunk as we could be
In walks the deputy sheriff
And he’s holdin’ our tv
Roughed us then he cuffed us
And he took us off to jail
No pictures on a poster, no reward and no bail
You got to try at least one of those small, square burgers steamed for your pleasure. Krystal is just an alligator chase away (run in a zig zag movement if this moment becomes literal) from the citrus center.