Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

Super-Sized Road Trip: Leg 6 to Jacksonville

February 3rd, 2017 · No Comments · Football, NFL, Road trip, Sports Journalism

Day 7 of the series and Leg 6 of the Interstate 10 road trip to the 2005 Super Bowl, 163 miles from Tallahassee, Fla., to Jacksonville — part of the 2,431 miles across Interstate 10 from Ontario, Calif., to Jacksonville.

From February 5, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — We knew we had arrived when we whizzed under the small sign.

“END 10, 1 MILE”.

That was our cue. We were at Super City 2005. Finally.

After six days, nine refueling stops, the Interstate 10 delivered us, right on schedule, the city at the other end of the Inland Empire’s mother road.

The Road to the Super Bowl was compellingly simple. Go east on I-10 … until you can’t go east anymore.

In Santa Monica, the I-10 commences with panache, a few blocks from the Santa Monica pier.

In Jacksonville, the I-10 goes out with something of a whimper.

After coursing through Los Angeles, Ontario, Phoenix, El Paso, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans … what was called the “San Bernardino Freeway” when we set out on it splinters into nothingness as it reaches the coast-hugging I-95. Half of the 10 becomes the northbound 95, half becomes the southbound 95.

But before it gave out, the 10 brought us within four miles of Alltel Stadium, side of Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Eagles. And within walking distance of many of the Super Bowl pre-game festivites already under way at this overachieving city of some 800,000 people.

We made our way downtown. By mid-afternoon Friday thousands of fans congregating on both sides of the root-beer brown Saint Johns River, the broad waterway that divides Jacksonville but provides much of its character.

Fans bought even more Eagles/Patriots apparel at the Jacksonville Landing mall, on the north bank of the river. They thronged to a live taping of “The Best Damn Sports Show Period”. They lined up at booths selling barbecue and beer. They hurled mostly good-natured insults at fans wearing the other team’s jerseys.

They smiled the smile of people just happy to be here, the epicenter of the Great American Sports Experience.

As the sun made a rare appearance, we decided to take a water taxi across the the river and back. On the south bank was the ESPN set, placed to get the Saint Johns and Jacksonville’s modest skyline into the background of their shots.

The taxi stopped at the NFL Experience, the league’s at-no-charge show-and-tell display beloved by fans. That was where most of the guys in jerseys seemed to be heading. Including one barely coherent gnome in an autograph-spattered Eagles jersey number 00 — with his name, Wild Willy, across his shoulders, NFL style.

Wild Willy seemed well on his way to alcohol poisoning, but he retained enough control of his faculties to hector a Patriots fan and his waife. He said he went to the Eagles’ first Super Bowl game, in New Orleans in 1981, and had waited patiently for their return. “What-choo think of dat?” he shouted.

The New England fan responded mildly in a nasal “Bawston” accent, that asked his wife if the “watuh” were too rough for her liking.

What a melange of American accents just on this one, 30-foot boat. Deep South, New England Yankee, South Philly (think Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky”), Californian. Unified by their interest in one football game.

Jacksonville has taken a beating in the nation’s sporting press this week. Unsophisticated, un-hip, too small, under-equipped, unprepared.

It isn’t New Orleans or Miami. Or even Houston. Its downtown is empty and featureless. It is so short of hotel rooms that five cruise liners had to be docked on the Saint Johns to house visitors.

But the city has charm. Shapely bridges over the river. Boats plying to and fro. Eateries along each bank. And oodles of Southern hospitality; one can go hardly a hundred yards without a local voluneteer volunteering to help you.

We could stand a bit of pampering, daughter Drew and I, after powering across the country. Those two 500-plus-mile days were rough. The weather was much colder and wetter than we anticipated. Racking up miles means not much time for sightseeing.

Broadly speaking, the I-10 you know and maybe love breaks into two halves: A thousands-plus miles of western desert, then a thousand-plus miles of tree-lined Dixie.

The first half is lonely but the scenery often is spectacular. And here is where a vestige of “open road” remains a reality — that quintessential American motorized dream of high-powered convertibles and “Hotel California” blaring on the radio.

The second half is green and woodsy and busier. You feel history (and people) all around. You are never more than a few miles from a Dairy Queen, a Waffle House, a Chevron station, a Super 8 — or a real city with interesting regular folks.

If you have never driven across the country, consider taking a week or two off and Just Do It. Go in the spring. Take more time than we did. Get to the Alamo before it closes. Check out the Caverns of Sonora. And the Davy Crockett Memorial and the USS Alabama. Take a Louisiana bayou tour. See a Civil War battle site.

Most of all, take the I-10 to see where the freeway you know better than any other leads. How it rises and falls, bends and turns but never fails in its continental ambitions. Free sea to shining sea.



0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment