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Monster Truckin Among Jacksonville Beach Wi-Fi Players

September 12th, 2008 · Tags:Coffee Shops

The first portion of my Jacksonsville tour was marked by a combination of incognito yet in-your-face commuter-ism.

The first time I traveled across the United States, I drove an SUV that was the subtle color of an orange safety-pylon – covered in sponsor logos. This trip, at least during the Jacksonville leg, I wanted something more incognito. Perfect – I drove a Ford F250 diesel, 4-wheel drive – the King Ranch edition, no less. Ha … “No one will notice me in this,” and how politically correct, especially with the Texas plates🙂 I loved it. Did you know if you drive a 4-wheel drive diesel, women wave at you? It was the darnedest thing. I digress …

So, on day one in the Jacksonville area, I headed east to Jacksonville Beach, and then on a little further north to Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach. It was raining and the forecasters were saying bad, bad things as Hanna and Ike kicked up the waves from The Carolinas to The Keys. First, I decided to get my bearings in the storm, so I navigated to a “safe harbor” – Starbucks, the place where there is always Wi-Fi. Well, this time it was doubly good. I mean this little intersection had one Starbucks for every hurricane in the area (2). On one side of the road, in Atlantic Beach was a cool little Bux with a laid back seaside feel to the place. Across the road in Neptune Beach was – what else – but a second Starbucks with a little more of a suburban look to it, coexisting …

I opted for the laid back one. Good choice. It is hard to say anything bad about a café that has a three-legged-dog guarding the front door. I am sure his name was “Lucky” as the old joke goes. Inside, a great hotspot, several open tables with electrical outlets and hmmmm … something I had never seen before at Bux – kid-friendly toys for the little people. I blogged along trouble-free with some tike piling Legos on my flipflops, but was temporarily kicked off the Internet once. It might have been storm related.

Then I experienced déjà vu all over again. In Las Vegas a few years ago, I blogged about Starbucks playing this Nina Simone song, that has to rate among the all-time most annoying songs. Don’t get me wrong, I like me some Nina Si., but, this one song says “Got The Power” about 400 times, over … and over … Well, guess what has found itself back on the top of the Star(bucks) Chart? Yes, I am hatin – the song that is. I deducted one point on the 1-7 score … because at least on this blog, “I got the power.”

Starbucks in Atlantic Beach gets 4 pings for the number of legs the mascot dog was supposed to have, and then two more for the number of stores at one intersection – for a total of 6. Then … a minus one ping for the Nina Simone thing. (Someone check my math.)

The storm let up slightly, so I hopped in the monster truck and headed south along 3rd. It was lunch time, so I pulled over by a Chicago Pizza Kitchen. Any Wi-Fi by the slice, I wondered? Nope! But, the hostess told me that Paco’s across the street had a hotspot. I headed on over and she was correct. It let me on quickly.

Jenny, Amber

Jenny, Amber

The network was open, and there was no bothersome splash page. Muy bueno. So, while I was firing up the laptop, the kitchen whipped up a fish taco and a beef taco. The Wi-Fi connectivity was delicious and the tacos were uploaded quickly. This place had a cool vibe … just off the boardwalk with mustard de la

William McRae

William McRae

Mexico-colored walls, lots of beach bamboo, Corona and Dos Xs lights. I got the impression Paco’s was more known for its cerveza fria than its two-taco lunch. But no complaints. I fired off a few e-mails and enjoyed this smoke-free little joint. Nice people too. The manager, William McCrae, said the Wi-Fi pulls in some customers – but nothing like the businesses in his old neighborhood in San Diego.

Oh … and I like the philanthropic effort. If you by a Paco’s t-shirt, 20 percent goes to Surf Aid and to help the Mentawi Islands. Just to be clear, if you buy one of the PingWi-Fi t-shirts, well “that help me.” I should run for office.

Paco’s – nothing fancy, but everything I crave – “quatro pingo says”🙂 See:

There was another place across the street that offered Wi-Fi, a Mona Lisa Coffee and Ice Cream. Everyone who worked at the place was sitting outside eating and smoking. I poked my head in and moved on. I checked the signal on my iPhone in passing, but didn’t brave the smoke … Sorry, no score.

Let’s see what the other sleuths say about Jacksonville Beach. JiWire lists 27 hotspots at the center of Jacksonville Beach – the usual suspects – FedEx Kinkos, hotels, restaurants … some locations I found and some I didn’t. Man … I missed Seafood Galore, and now I am kicking myself.

Elsewhere, almost midway between Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach, I encountered yet another Florida college on the way up … or at least, I had not heard of the University of North Florida and it seemed pretty cool. They tell me education majors are its forte. I zipped into the parking lot – as much as one can zip in a big diesel in the rain – parked and went into the student center hoping to find Wi-Fi.

Well, I found a strong hotspot, but I also found myself in “the eye” of a natural phenomenon known as sorority rush. Ha … oh to be 18 again! I had sat up shop on a nice couch in the lobby of the center and started blogging. About that time they came in waves. Young coeds dressed to impress their future sisters, hoping to get invited to join the best groups on campus. So, picture one nerd, laptop blazing, and about 200 young women milling around. It was kind of like the running of the bulls, only in gowns and high-heels. I felt like an invisible probe in an alien atmosphere as rush buzzed all around me. But, one young organizer of the event finally noticed me and came over to apologize. “Sir, we are going to be running in and out, making lots of noise … so we hope we don’t disturb you.” I assured her I was totally okay with this, since I had my earbuds blasting away. And I begged her to show me the secret handshake. No dice. How funny. It was people watching 101, on steroids … oh the pageantry … the skits, the sorority songs.

Check out the fun at

Their site – home of the Osprey, states: UNF, which opened in 1972, is nestled among 1,300 scenic acres that include a nature and wildlife area with lakes and nature trails. A portion of the campus is used for scientific research, and area school children visit for environmental lessons. UNF has five residence hall complexes, and all 2,400 on-campus residents receive free high-speed data access and local phone and cable TV service.

So, anyway, UNF was FUN and the Wi-Fi was easy – 4 ping pledge pins and, shout out to my new sistahs.

Next stop – Tropical Smoothie. Darn it. I hit this place at that one time of the day when I am not hungry or thirsty. The stuff looked delicious. So, how did the Wi-Fi taste? Well first just let me say, if it had not been for Wi-Fi, I wouldn’t have seen the place. I fired up my laptop in a Starbucks in the same shopping strip near the 202, and noticed the Tropical Smoothie hotspot on my computer’s list of wireless network connections. It pulled me in. Tropical Smoothie’s Wi-FI was quick and painless. Although I didn’t encounter a splash page, I did notice that the store’s server blocked the ads that flash on the PingWi-Fi site, thanks to Google Adsense. Hey! Stop that. I gotta represent. Colorful place … with Wi-Fi doing its job. But, frankly, I was about the only person in the store???

Icy/Fruity goodness … and a place to chill with yo Wi-Fi — 3 tropical pings.

Finally, I headed for my lodging – a cool little condo off the A1A across the road from The TPC Sawgrass – The Home of The Players (golf that is). See the club at

I didn’t play the course, but asked a team member to call and inquire about Wi-Fi and GPS. “No” — no need for wireless “directions to the hole” – they do it with old school 411 – caddies.

Oh well … I have played Sawgrass many times – on my son’s Nintendo 1.0 or whatever.:) If you want to see the course and live vicariously “like the playuhs,” check out the course, flag by flag at this link:

Also, see the panoramic view of the club house. Note: click on the link below, then move your mouse up to the sky of the photo and watch the planet spin.:) Try it on your laptop as you walk around.

Know what I sayin?