Postcards from Swamplandia

I recently had a request — actually from someone I don’t share chromosomes and/or a last name with! — to please write more.

So while I’m working on actual content, I thought I’d oblige my loyal twos and threes of readers by answering a few “frequently asked Florida questions.”

Q. “So, Jacksonville, huh? How you liking that?”

This is mostly from people upon finding out that I’ve relocated from New Orleans. The answer is, “A lot more than I thought I would.”

Look, let’s be clear: no place is like New Orleans except New Orleans. I still visit every chance I get, which is not nearly as often as I’d prefer. For the first year after I moved here, I was suffering from homesickness and FOMO all the time. But I think if you make a choice to live somewhere, then you have basically two options: 1. Walk around constantly butthurt that the place you’re living in isn’t exactly like the place you came from; or, 2. Within the limits of common sense, make your new location into someplace you want to be.

When I moved here I really didn’t know anything about Jacksonville, so I thought I was going to the middle of nowhere. Despite still not really being “on the map” when compared to Miami or Orlando, we do have over a million people in Duval County. We even have a NFL team… I mean, it’s not a GOOD team, but we’ve got one.

Living here is nice because winters are mild, and the gulf stream keeps many of the bigger hurricanes away. Unlike some other locations in Florida, our beaches are still an accessible place to live for people who aren’t millionaires. We have a thriving buyer’s market for younger homeowners, and our own community festivals and parades. We also have an international airport and two interstate highways, so it’s fairly easy to get away when you want to.

Plus, we have a minor league baseball team that was recently renamed from the Jacksonville Suns to the Jumbo Shrimp — I don’t care who you are, this logo is hilarious.

Yes, Jax has things that need improving, but I’ve most assuredly lived in less desirable locations.

And no state income tax, so that’s pretty cool.

Q. “Does Jacksonville really have a wonderful TGI Friday’s?”

A. So, it seems that “We have three of them, but I haven’t been to a TGIF in years” isn’t the answer that people are looking for here.

I really wish I had some kind of epic story to tell you but I’m 99% sure that you will find the same greasy burgers and watered-down drinks you get at every other TGIF location.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Q. “Florida isn’t really the South, though.”

A. I guess this isn’t so much a question as a statement people like to make because they think it’s some kind of “gotcha!” moment? I’m not entirely sure what they seek to achieve by it… Is it like, “You think you’re from the South but really you’re from Florida!”… Gasp, oh no! Now I have to return my Bitter Southerner membership card?

Look, okay — as far as I’m concerned, anyone above I-10 is a yankee.

(Just kidding, everyone knows yankees live above I-20.)

[Seriously, kidding; don’t send me your hate comments.]

So let me learn y’all a thing about Florida. It’s the only state in the country where the further south you go, the more ‘North’ you get. What I mean by that: in Florida there exists a line of delineation not shown on any maps. Going by the results of an unscientific survey with a sample size of my friends, the divide occurs somewhere around interstate 4.

Everything located above Orlando is more or less an annex of Georgia/Alabama. The culture is undeniably Southern. Go to Panama City or Pensacola during spring break and try to tell me it’s not the South. (They don’t call it the “redneck riviera” for nothing. Although I think Myrtle Beach, SC, is competing for the title.)

The Florida that exists below I-4 is another world entirely, with a completely different cultural landscape, one that has been shaped by immigrants from the Caribbean and Central America, as well as from above the Mason-Dixon. (I mean, you can trash talk Florida all you want, but nobody retires and moves to New Jersey or Ohio. They all come here. Just sayin’.)

In my humble opinion, cities like Miami and Key West are great because they are so different. (Key West is barely in the United States. I think they’d secede if they could.) You can take a vacation to someplace new and different without ever leaving your state! Florida is awesome like that.

But it’s also definitely the South. At least half the time. This explains why we are a swing state in every election. It really just depends on which half of Florida turns out to vote in larger numbers. But if any state has a split personality, it’s Florida. Speaking of which…

Q. “Hey, did you hear about [insert crazy news headline from Florida Man this week]?” or “Why are people in Florida so crazy?”

A. Yes, whatever it is, we’ve heard about it. You just have to laugh about it and own it. We don’t hide our crazy, we put a margarita in its hand and let it walk down the beach. Florida Man is the best/worst superhero.

A2. I don’t know for sure, but I have a hypothesis: Drugs + heat = crazy.

I realize I’m approaching this topic with some levity, but we seriously do have a drug problem — there’s that whole opiate crisis among low-income/rural Americans right now, and our government still refuses to treat addiction as a mental illness instead of a criminal act due to a for-profit prison system that thrives partly on keeping drug users locked up. When addiction is “treated” it’s with 12 step programs instead of medicine, and illegal drugs are often easier to get and cheaper than health insurance, so it’s really not a surprise that a lot of people are walking around tweaked out of their minds.

Compounded onto that is Florida’s soul crushing heat, which lasts for about 50 of 52 weeks of the year and can make even the most well-adjusted of us (not yours truly, but, I know a couple of well-adjusted people, so I just assume) act a little bit insane sometimes.

End result, every once in a while… you get people going off the deep end, doing bath salts and eating someone’s face.

(It’s not the heat, really; it’s the humidity. Makes the faces oh so tender and delicious.)

Nah, but really… the reason these things make the news is because they are so rare and bizarre. It’s not like face eating is a daily occurrence in the bread aisle at Publix. Pretty sure you’re more likely to get your face torn off by a frat bro named Chad, after his team loses the Florida-Georgia game.

Q. “Do alligators really come to people’s doors like that?!”

A. lol, no. The only ‘gators near my house are UF graduates. But even literal alligators would still be better than Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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