The banter in the back room of Bob Roth's New River Groves, a laid-back, family-run fruit stand and shipping business at Griffin Road just west of Florida's Turnpike, smacks of lazy, stuffed-belly revelry.
It comes as easy as pie, which just happens to be one of the place's signature products. The key lime pies, made from a secret recipe cooked up by the recently deceased wife of owner Bob Roth, are piled high in the freezer. The gigantic roadside fruit stand also sports a juice bar that pumps out smoothies, fudge, and stone crab claws, not to mention coconut water. Many a product here caters to select whims and the taste buds of the various cultures in the melting pot of Broward County.
Offering such specialty products as their mango-key lime swirl pie mixed with palatable fun is the only way for an old agricultural Davie family to stay alive, Roth told me. Then he cruised through a list of nearby Davie farms that have been shut down in recent years, "Hibb's Grove, Viele's Groves, Pioneer Groves, Pan American Grove, Mathiglar Groves."
Why is this happening? I asked.
"Land development," he replied.
How do the developers get the land? I followed.
"They put a dead horse in [the landowners'] beds," he answered, thinking he'd gotten up early enough to slip a Godfather reference past me.
As you drive west through Davie on Broward County's main drag, Griffin Road, you see a lot of housing developments. There's even one fancy-pants place called Imagination Farms where rows of concrete houses stretch beyond a half wall on land that used to belong to a dairy of that name.
Signs of the pioneer struggle to develop an agricultural community on reclaimed Everglades land are disappearing. In the early 20th Century, Florida Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward cracked a $2-an-acre deal to sell land off Griffin to developers so it could be drained for vegetable farming. But now, acres have been paved over for the incoming masses. What once was a self-sufficient community called Zona that dreaded flooding is being swallowed by the human floods on our highways.
Last week, I explored Griffin east of 441 and found businesses that have benefited from old-time ethics and kitsch. This week, as I headed west, I found honky tonks, a bit of the godliness on which this town was founded, and a few stories of a lifestyle that once was but is no more. Throwbacks.
Downtown Davie sits at the crossroads of Griffin and Davie Road. There's Griff's Western, Davie Junction Country and Western Bar (which is "Temporarily Closed," according to the sign out front), and, a few blocks down the road, Beer Barn, a comfortable, little, old-time liquor store and bar with a few booths, a Johnny Cash-filled jukebox, and a pool table.
I stopped in for a drink and chatted up a local named Tim, a hilarious, brown-eyed man who burst into song midconversation. We got along exceedingly well until he recited a poem he'd written in which he talked about the holy spirit being with him, and I asked, "What's it like to feel the holy spirit is with you? When did you first feel that way?"
Tim looked at me hard and asked, "Haven't you ever read the Bible?"
"Yeah, some of it," I said. "Exodus is cool, and I think I've read a couple of the gospels."
"When you read God's words," he said, sort of getting in my face, "he is there with you like your father, like your brother..."
It was feeling a little patriarchal till he said, "Like your sister." He raised his arms above his head and demonstrated how it feels when the holy spirit is with you.
I dipped out and drove west.
Soon, I spotted another Davie throwback in a shopping plaza. Uncle Al's has deep, wooden booths surrounding the bar and enough pool tables to host a tournament. Back in the day, before owner Al Sikra renovated it in 1981 and manager Greg Steen joined on, it was a different sort of place.
Steen told me: "In the early years, motorcycle guys came in. There weren't many businesses around... Griffin was a two-lane road until ten years ago. People used to come in on their horses. Davie even had an ordinance that horses had the right of way." He emphasized that there used to be more saloon-style bars. "We're the last one standing, it looks like. I've seen places around here change hands four or five times. The Hitching Post is long gone. The Longhorn was one that had a hitching post to tie your horses. We've kind of grown with the town," Steen said. "People come here now who were kids back then. Now they have kids, and they're still coming here."
But there are still some relative youngsters who hang around, like 23-year-old Darrell Roy, a handsome kid in Nike jean shorts and a baseball cap topped with sunglasses. He put off his drunk friend who wanted to play pool long enough to share his thoughts. "When I was a kid, it was like no town," he said of Davie. "Now, you can't even get around. I'm not against nothing, but I'm against traffic. I wish they'd quit building."
I continued west and crossed Interstate 75, the wester-than-west road that brought on shrill newspaper articles about Weston becoming another Kendall when it was built in the 1980s. The road thinned back into two lanes and became a tree-lined winding but paved trail, with the occasional plant nursery and church; there was even a Jehovah's Witness compound. As Griffin straightened again, I hit U.S. 27, a long road in the middle of nuffin' that goes straight up through the middle of Florida.
Just to the north of Griffin Road, on the open stretch of 27, sits the brainchild of one Hiram King, known as Buddy, a former trucker who gave up his rig and opened the Seminole "T" Truck Stop. Buddy, a man who was known for always being at the truck stop, passed away in June 2004. His brother-in-law Pat Patricelli, who looks like a dentist with his thick gray mustache, green dress pants, and spectacles, runs the place now. He greeted me in the back offices of a warehouse-like building that was originally used as a garage for semi-truck repair.
Pat, who drives two hours each way from Fort Pierce every day to the truck stop, said the place is officially a part of Weston. The most interesting thing about the "T" is its Chickee Hut bar and restaurant, set off behind a chainlink fence. Two bars serve breakfast, lunch, and brew to the truckers who stop to take rest. "We've got a television out there, a game room, and a pool table. We try to stay open until 10 p.m., but if there's one guy sipping a beer, we don't pay to keep the place open."
That's early, I commented.
"A lot of them get up at 5 in the morning."
I headed out to the Chickee Hut for a Bud. Next to me at the bar was a man with graying facial hair. His age was past 50 but hard to read. He had bright blue eyes and wore blue jeans and a flannel. When he got his beer, he said, "Now we're kickin'," and when he met me, he let out a good, old, hearty laugh and said, "You're with the newspaper. I ain't tellin' you nothing."
"So now you're scared of me?"
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"Damn right." He laughed and added, "Mr. King had something on his mind. He wanted to build himself a truck stop. King was the greatest guy you ever saw. He walked around with a roll in his pocket. If you was in a bind, he'd say, 'How much money you need?' He loved his drivers.
"Don't go writing that truck drivers spit on themselves," he said. "These trucks cost $80,000." He points to one that's all pimped out with chrome details. "You'd pay $120,000 for that truck."
Do people try to steal trucks? I asked.
"You live in it. It's yours. When you sleep in it at night, if you don't lock them doors, you could come up missing. You could end up in a canal somewhere."