8:35 p.m. Jan. 31
Daytona Beach, Fla.--I could do this all night.
I'm sitting at a yellow and red Stuckey's rest stop in Scottsmoor, Fla., about 30 miles south of Daytona Beach. The vintage Stuckey's is halfway between I-95 and US 1 on Stuckway Road, of course. The Stuckey's and BP gas station are adjacent to the Crystal Lake RV Park where we are spending the night. There's live alligators in that lake. I think my road partner Angelo went out to buy a machete.
For the alligators?
Or maybe I'm getting on his nerves.
I had forgotten about all that great Stuckey's stuff like log rolls and goo goo rolls. But this Stuckey's has free Wi-Fi, which is why I'm here. Faith Hill is singing "The Way You Love Me" on a loud country radio station. Night manager Tapan Patel and his family are my congenial hosts, steering me towards the Mountain Dew. A thin tanned man from the RV park walks in to buy a pack of cigs. I believe he is the ghost of Fred Neil. A group of two young men and two young women have stopped for gas. They piled out of their silver Jeep van to use the washrooms. I'm the only person in the Stuckey's dining area. One woman takes a $3.99 jade and sterling silver necklace and dangles it like the string of a far away kite. She does not buy it. She looks at me and I look bad. We left Marietta around 8 a.m. and got into Daytona Beach at what seems like 3:99 p.m.
When you're on the road that long, you search for perspective.......
I stopped in Daytona Beach to see Doc Graham, a local Negro League veteran who barnstormed with history maker Jackie Robinson. Graham, 78, was an infielder with the Jacksonville Eagles and Newark Eagles. During segragation, Daytona Beach was the most tolerant city in Florida.
Robinson was cheered in Daytona Beach when he was jeered everywhere else. In March, 1946 Daytona Beach hosted the first integrated game in modern professional baseball history when Robinson's Montreal Royals met the Brooklyn Dodgers in a Spring Training matchup. Remember, segragation was a law in 1946.
Daytona Beach was the first in Florida to have black policemen. It was one of the first cities in America to have bus transportation for blacks when every other city only had bus transportation for whites.
In her memoir "Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait," his widow Rachel Robinson wrote, "Compared to the adjacent towns Daytona Beach stood out as kind of a political oasis. Its more liberal environment could be traced to organizations of Negro voters, its economic base in tourism and baseball. We moved freely in downtown Daytona Beach and we were welcomed into the ballpark."
Seeds of acceptance were planted by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
In 1904 she founded the Daytona Library and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls. She was able to obtain funding from Northern industrialists who vacationed around Daytona Beach. Major contributors included James Gamble of Procter & Gamble. Bethune's friends included Eleanor Roosevelt and writer Zora Neale Hurston, who in 1945 had her houseboat, Sun Tan, docked in Daytona Beach. Today the Bethune-Cookman College is on the Florida Black Heritage Trail.
"It's all because of Mary Bethune that Daytona was different," said Graham, who was born in Jacksonville. "We couldn't go across the bridge to the beach, but she made it possible."
I asked Graham the trendy question of the season, the significance of two African-Americans coaching against each other for the first time in Super Bowl XL1. "It's wonderful, but I don't look at them as black coaches," Graham said. "I look at them as professional coaches who happen to have the best teams."
Graham said he discussed football with Robinson, who in the early 1940s starred for the UCLA football team. Robinson was the first athlete in UCLA history to letter in four different sports (football, basketball, baseball and track). He also played football for the Honolulu Bears. "It's important for the kids to know this," Graham said. "It is all about the kids."
This kid is getting tired and they're getting ready to kick me out of Stuckey's. They close at 11 p.m. and since we're in the middle of nowhere, it does seem a little creepy late at night. But some stories are worth driving the extra mile to share.