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  • Mike Murphey

Doc Ford, and Travis McGee


No carrot ever gave its life in a nobler cause.

While this may appear to be a culinary commentary, it’s actually literary, although it will touch on both food and baseball as well.

For almost twenty years now, I have been traveling to Fort Myers, Florida to play baseball in the Roy Hobbs World Series, or the Roy Hobbs Sunshine Classic. These are adult amateur baseball tournaments carefully divided into age groups. I am now playing mostly 60-and-over and 65-and-over divisions and am fast closing on 70-and over.

During the ten or so weeks I now spend there in the fall and winter, I make it a point to find my way to Fort Myers Beach and Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille as often as I can. Doc Ford’s has become my favorite restaurant in the world.

I divide my orders three ways. My preference is the seafood paella. This is a seafood stew with a Cuban touch, consisting of white fish, scallops, mussels, shrimp, rice, onions, peas, Caribbean flavorings and cherizo. Another frequent choice is the shrimp and grits. The Doc Ford’s chef grills a wonderful ribeye as well, featuring asparagus, mashed potatoes and a baked tomato with blue cheese melted over it.

In any case, I always close with Doc Ford’s carrot cake. The skilled application of rum to the recipe is, I suppose, what take’s this carrot cake to an other-worldly level. And they bring you a slab the size of Rhode Island.

Here’s the literary part.

I originally tried this restaurant because Doc Ford is the main character in books written by a man named Randy Wayne White. His setting is Fort Myers, and its maritime surroundings: Captiva Island, Sanibel Island, Pine Island, etc. Doc is a marine biologist once employed by a vague secret agency that looks after the United States’ interests in the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

As a bonus, both Doc and his hippie friend Tomlinson are both dedicated amateur baseball players, and Mr. White brings them occasionally to the Roy Hobbs World Series.

I discovered his books among those on a shelf in a condominium on Fort Myers Beach the first year I came here and have read all of them since.

Mr. White was also an amateur baseball player who regularly participated in the Roy Hobbs events until, I guess, he got too busy writing books. I’ve never met him, but among my current friends and teammates are several guys who played ball with him and know him well.

Among all Florida writers, Mr. White is the true heir to John D. McDonald and his incomparable 1960’s character, Travis McGee. McGee is McDonald’s most famous protagonist, though he wrote many other books, including the book upon which the movie “Cape Fear” was based. Although Jimmy Buffet sings, “Travis McGee still lives in Cedar Key, that’s what John McDonald said …” Travis died when McDonald passed away in 1986.

But his spirit lives on in Doc Ford.

I like Jack Reacher, simply because Lee Child is such a great storyteller and manages to preserve Reacher’s humanity. But I prefer my protagonists to be more understated. (My male protagonists are more likely to be the ones that get beat up rather than the other way around.) I can’t relate to the super-human male or female who is virtually indestructible in a fight.

Doc wins his share of battles, but sometimes he gets the crap kicked out of him.

I love Travis McGee because he lives back in my era. But I think I must give the edge to Doc Ford.

As far as I know, Travis McGee never made carrot cake.

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