Folks that travel to the tiny central Florida community of Cassadaga aren’t concerned about what there is to see there, it’s the things they can’t see that attract them to the 122-year-old town that doesn’t boast a flashing traffic light, much less a stop light, because it simply doesn’t need one.
Last weekend Linda and I took a whirlwind car trip through a chunk of central Florida that included an overnight stay in Cassadaga — which bills itself as the physic capital of the world — guided by Fernandina Beach friends Pajamadave Voorhees and his pretty blonde fiancé, Zan Maddox, a duo that made the 12-hour excursion far more interesting than a solo trip. My late mother and maternal grandmother also showed up unexpectedly, but more about them later.
We left Amelia Island about 3:15 p.m. Saturday with Cassadaga our target destination. With PJ Dave narrating and Zan navigating, we followed the fastest route to this peculiar town via A1A, I-295, I-95 South and taking West I-4’s Exit 116 (You have to watch for the sign) arriving at the 19-room cozy almost 90-year-old Cassadega Hotel about two and half hours later.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Cassadaga is 66, with 65 of them being white, 35 female and 31 male. Today I’m told by locals the town has grown to about 100 and I think we met each one of them Saturday evening in the funky Cassadaga Hotel’s Sinatra Restaurant and Bar where they assembled to eat, drink, hear Eric Hall sing and play the piano and participate in Misty Croy’s Karaoke, all well worth the trip and the $101.50 price of the double room that includes tax. Call ’em at 386/228-2323 for more information.
Misty is also a Psychic and performs readings as do most of the other folks who live thereabouts. Eric is a charming, funny, bald-headed piano man who is as good at playing “name that tune” as Amelia Island’s John Springer and just as knowledgeable about music. Did you know that Peggy Lee wrote the 1947 hit song “Manana” — a song that would be considered politically incorrect to play today (Google it)? Me either, but Eric did.
During the evening we were also treated to a variety of card tricks by a friendly bar room regular who didn’t quite have the knack of getting any of them right, which made it all the more entertaining.
This is one of the first places I’ve ever been with friend Pajamadave where his sleepwear fashion ensemble, unruly beard and pony tail, didn’t single him out as the most interesting character in the room or even close, no offense to PJ Dave or the residents of Cassadaga intended, just the opposite actually.
“Make sure you have your key with you when you leave your room said the innkeeper when she checked us in, ” as the spirits love to fool around and lock our guests out on the porch.” She also warned me to make sure I know where I placed my eye glasses as her invisible friends for some reason like to move them around the room. Much to my chagrin, we didn’t experience any occurrences in either of those areas.
Because I have been commissioned to write an article about Cassadaga for a travel section of the Tampa Tribune, I wanted to experience one of the main reasons folks go there, so I booked an appointment with Ronnie Kleber (aka The Sultan) and was escorted upstairs to a private room for my $60 one-half hour session. Ronnie, a 52-year-old rotund and affable fellow detailed his psychic credentials telling me: “I knew as a small child that I was different and have seen spirits since I was a kid and realized they were there to help me and not hurt me.” He also revealed that he considers himself a clairvoyant and has since he was 13 when he read his junior high school’s home room teacher’s “energy” and so impressed her that he began giving her advice on her marriage, which conjures up all sorts of images in my warped mind. Conducting psychic readings is now Ronnie’ s fulltime job and in addition to conducting his business in Cassadaga he works at the Universal theme park and is available for private sessions and parties.
This is where my late mom and grandmother made their entrance as Ronnie started the session with a short silent prayer and following it told me that my maternal grandmother showed up and told him that I was “special to her.” My mom was also somewhere in the vicinity according to Ronnie and smiling, but if she had anything to say Ronnie didn’t mention what it was. Darn, as I was hoping to explain that dent in her ’58 Ford Galaxy while she was in a good mood.
Cutting to the chase, here’s how Ronnie works and a nutshell version of what he said he foresaw in my future. Basically there were a lot of generalities and I was very careful upon arrival not to reveal any personal information he could use, responding with head nods or simple “yes” and “no” answers but made sure I didn’t come across as skeptical or condescending. “No arm crossing or clasping of hands,” requests Ronnie at the beginning, ” as it blocks the energy I need for the reading.”
Ronnie didn’t make strange noises, go into a trance and his eyes didn’t roll back in his head as he requested that I pick cards from the “Dreamer Deck” one of three on the table in front of him that I pointed at when he asked me to select one. “Reading” the cards he asked me to pick at random from the deck he provided me with a month-by-month outlook beginning with a nutshell overview, describing this coming year as one in which I “need to pay attention to one particular individual and work harder to communicate and not to make quick decisions.” He summed up the overview saying I need to take vacation time and overall that “it is going to be a very good year.” All-in-all, just the kind of vague stuff you read in your daily newspaper horoscope.
On the month-by-month forecast he started out with generalities but got my full attention when he came to July saying: “Read contracts carefully before signing them as there will be a big money increase in July.” He suggested August would also be a good money month too but that next February said I’ll hit the jackpot with “a big financial gain with unexpected money that I had no idea was coming.” Other months will be happy, with family, friends, holidays together and so on, but — call me cold-hearted and callous — it was the money months of July and August this year and February 2017, that got my attention .
Ronnie also had a large “tip jar” on his reading table already salted with five and ten dollar bills, so tips are expected. I’m curious if a client’s reading predicts doom and gloom and a believer staggers out of the room with visions of impending misfortune flashing before him how many tips he gets or does Ronnie water that message from the spirits down with an eye on potential gratuities?
The next day on the trip home we took what I now call the “Pajamadave Route”, zigzagging through a series of remote state and county back roads that featured honkey tonks, BBQ joints, massive farms, national forests and acres of shops selling “yard art” ranging from 30-foot tall teak giraffe’s to suits of armor made of tin and giant metal roosters, objects I’ve never seen in anyone’s yard, ever, not even on the back roads in south Georgia or the most remote areas of Mississippi.
Upon leaving Cassadaga I was instructed by Zan to head northeast along route17/92 toward Barberville, where we stopped to browse the largest collection of crap I’ve ever seen in one place and snap photos of giant tin dinosaurs, huge metal roosters, mammoth ceramic frogs, teak furniture, handmade “I don’t call 911” signs featuring crossed pistols and rifles, and where you can also purchase boiled peanuts, homemade jellies and fresh tomatoes. My kind of tourist joint. In the photo on the left is an example, however, the prices on Dave Scott on the far left and Pajamadave on the far right were drastically marked down in comparison to the more valuable giant pink “coq” in the center.
Much to the chagrin of PJ Dave we decided to bypass Highway 17’s Pierson, just north of Barberville and the birthplace of retired Atlanta Braves Baseball Hall of Famer Chipper Jones since he wouldn’t be there to greet us anyway as he is at Spring Training in Lake Buena Vista teaching future Braves players how to hit a baseball. Instead at Zan’s insistence, we took Highway 40 through the Ocala National Forest, one of the most scenic drives in central Florida. Hint: Get gas and use the restroom before entering this desolate but scenic area.
After leaving the forest we stopped at the first gas station we saw then headed north on county road 325 eventually arriving in what a sign said was a place called Cross Creek, despite the fact there was no evidence of a place. We pulled in at what appeared to be the only inhabited building within a 30 mile radius, the Yearling Restaurant, which opened in 1952 and is just down the road from the home of Marjorie Kinan Rawlings and was named after her most famous novel. Tours of Ms. Rawlings home are available and for those of you traveling those parts without the help of an accurate navigator like Zan, Cross Creek and the Yearling are located just 14 miles from Gainesville and 25 miles from Ocala. Cross Creek connects Orange Lake to the south and Loclossa Lake to the north if that helps or if you care.
The restaurant and its menu haven’t changed much since it opened 64 years ago and customers can still buy and eat river turtles there, or, as locals call them – “cooter”, and they can also purchase t-shirts encouraging other folks to “Eat Mo Cooter.” A cozy bar, friendly servers and everything fried from frog legs and alligator to catfish and green tomatoes, plus more is on the menu along with prices that are more than reasonable, but don’t go there Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday because they’re closed.
PJ Dave proved to be just as well informed and humorous conducting land excursions as he is on the water and Zan kept him straight when he veered off his verbal course. We couldn’t have asked for more congenial and fun traveling companions and look forward to another wacky weekend exploring the back roads of Florida with this delightful duo.
I’ve driven all through Texas and eaten BBQ in some remote prairie road houses, drank beer in Luckenbach, met some unusual characters in Mule Shoe, and seen odd sights in Marfa, but compared to Florida, the Long Horn state is relatively tame. Maybe it’s the humidity here.
Mayor Miller Poured A Pint Of Positive Print: Our town’s personable bartender Mayor John A. Miller (aka Johnny Miller) temporarily knocked the Jacksonville Jaguars off the front page of the Florida Times-Union Monday, February 29 with a Second Coming Page 1-A lead story headlined “BARSTOOL POLITICIAN? WELL, HE’S THE MAYOR” — Yep, all caps.
The flattering profile of our Palace Saloon bartending mayor, complete with a large color photo of the mayor behind the bar cleaning a glass, was positive, not only of Mayor Miller, but one that should leave Amelia Island Tourism Development Council Managing Director, Gil Langley, and the Palace Saloon’s Sheffield family all grins.
As a former newspaper reporter I’m not sure what enticed the TU to make a feature article about a local mayor the lead story on Page 1except that maybe they determined that the presidential primaries; a Catholic Cardinal admitting the church tried to hide its sexual scandals; the recent ISIS attacks in the middle east; Jacksonville’s crime wave, and other news items were just not worthy of such treatment.
Nonetheless, Mayor Miller and our community are beneficiaries of the TU’s lack of news judgment. The lengthy feature story correctly portrayed Mayor Miller as an “ardent environmentalist”, who advocates banning fracking and, seismic testing and who has made a number of trips to Washington, D.C. and Tallahassee to promote his views. It also correctly stated that: “Some residents have opposed Miller’s environmentalism and he said he’s been told he should concentrate on local issues.” Miller is quoted as saying his environmental issues are “multitasking” and then painted an apocalyptic island scenario of oil spills, tourists fleeing, if his messages are ignored.
Hola Cuban Cafe’s Marisol Triana, owner of that Palace’s neighbor, was quoted as saying that she likes to tell visitors to her coffee and sandwich shop, where you can also purchase a cold beer, that “the bartender next door is the mayor, as it makes for good local color.”
In the article Mr. Miller told the reporter that some people have talked to him about running for a state office one, day but the mayor said he’s “not sure about that.”
There were no negatives in the article as far as the island, Mayor Miller, or the Palace are concerned and as much as I disagree with Johnny’s concentration on issues that he never mentioned once during his campaign for a commission seat, I can’t argue with a front page puff piece about our community, particularly one that gave us some much needed relief in the TU from its excessive coverage of Jacksonville’s pathetic Jaguars NFL football team.
Dave, Just Shut Up! A local resident and down-the-street neighbor commented here last week that she no longer wanted to receive this blog saying I wouldn’t debate her and adding that she finds my ” rhetoric unhelpful to solving the problems facing our country. Divisive: Yes. You are a master of divisiveness and simplistic thinking…. you never reply to my comments, your blog does not promote a dialogue. Thus, I see it as one man’s rantings. No time for this. Please remove me from your list. ” Well, OK madam, but where on this blog does it indicate that I am offering debate or solving the nation’s problems? It clearly states that these are my “opinions, musings, observations, questions and random thoughts.” Geez Louise, if you disagree with me you are free to tear any of my statements apart point-by-point and leave a comment on this site showing me where I am going wrong and how dim I am. I do not edit or delete any comments unless they are profane, and that hasn’t happened so far. If you disagree with me I doubt anything I could add would change your already made-up mind, but if I have posted an incorrect fact, please let me know and I’ll fess up if you’re correct. However, I rarely, if ever, remark on a readers’ comments, leaving that space for those who want to voice their unedited opinions, much the same as the letters to the editor in print newspapers. Or , if you think you have an item that should be included in the blog send me an email at email@example.com and I’ll consider it.
Unanswered Question Department: Why is it that I’ve never heard a woman complain that Kohl’s has an older women’s clothing line named “Sag Harbor?”
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: If want to drink, dine and dance and do it all on a boat, then the Amelia River Cruises adult sunset BYOB events are beginning again with the first one scheduled this evening from 5-7 with musician Jim Bacaro and tomorrow’s 5-7 ride featuring Dan Voll and, of course, everybody’s favorite boat captain Pajamadave Voorhees at the helm. If you have more fun anywhere else than on this boat you’ll probably get arrested. Bring your own beverages and something to eat if you want. Future March musicians and dates are: March 11, Larry LeMier; March 12, Jim Bacaro; March 18, Yancy Clegg; March 19, Dan Voll; March 2w5, Larry LeMier; March 26, Yancy Clegg. Oh, if it’s your birthday you ride free and if you’re active duty U.S. military they’ll knock 15% off your ticket price. For prices and more information call 904/261-9972 or go to www.ameliarivercruises.com. The Crescendo Amelia Big Band will perform this evening inning, Friday, March 4, at Main Beach’s Sandy Bottoms beginning at 7 p.m. for a well worth it $10 cover charge. Next Saturday, March 12 beginning at 11 a.m. is the 8th Annual City of Fernandina Beach Rib Cook Off at Main Beach featuring $10 plates of contestant’s cooking, live music and more. If you go to the Concours d’Elegance after the rib cook off the car owners would appreciate it you would wash your hands.