Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Other Florida

A Florida swamp: Turkey Creek near Melbourne
Baked Crabs at Ozzys' near Palm Bay
The Desert Inn at Yeehaw Junction
Baby Backribs, Palm Bay
Airboat ride on the Saint John River
Saturday night at the County Line Saloon

Fruit and nut stands on the way to Saint Augustine
The Skyway bridge near Tampa and Clearwater
A Southern mansion in Mount Doro
Sunday afternoon country music jam in Malabar
Though it was written in 1981, Joel Garreau's book The Nine Nations of North America is, in my opinion, still valid. In it, Garreau suggests that North America can be divided into nine regions, or "nations", which have distinctive economic and cultural features. He also argues that conventional national and state borders are largely artificial and irrelevant, and that his "nations" provide a more accurate way of understanding the true nature of North American society. [Taken from Wikipedia: See]
Florida, North of Fort Lauderdale is very different from the Miami and Palm Beach and Key West image of Florida that most people associate Florida with. The Miami image is more Caribean than American, while 'the other Florida' is more Southern in character. On the East coast, small townships like Vero Beach, Melbourne, and Coco Beach are filled with families and retirees who have migrated here from the North East, and Mid-West for the warmer weather and the beach lifestyle. These townships are criss-crossed by lagoons and causeways buzzing with Sea Gulls, Pelicans, and even Dolphins that make a drive across water a delightful experience. Away from the sea are the swamps and rivers interspersed with cattle and citrus farms. Here the small towns like Fellsmere, and Indian Town are populated by the local gentry of White farmers and the migrant fruit pickers and cattle farm helpers. The food is decidedly Southern in character with dishes like Baby Backribs, Alligator Tail, , Barbequed Pulled-Pork, Hush Puppies, Collard Greens, Black-Eyed Peas and ColeSlaw being the perennial favorites. The music is Southern in flavor too, with banjos, fiddles, mandolins, double-bass and guitars being the major instruments at lazy Sunday afternoon jam sessions in the park . At the County Line Saloon near West Melbourne, Saturday nights see couples with Stetsons and boots drinking Budweisers and dancing to bands playing Country Rock speaking in accents that are decidedly Southern- not the long drawl of the Texans , but the Southern politeness of Georgia and the Carolinas. Out at the car park you find not Toyotas and Nissans but Ford F150 pickup trucks, Chevy Corvettes and Cadillacs.
Around Orlando and Kissimmee, the Disney World and Universal theme parks have spawned a large area of industries related to leisure, tours and accomodation. Port Canaveral , further North up the East coast is of course the home of the Space Shuttle and NASA. Whenever there is a Shuttle launch, people from as far away as 50 miles can see the trail of light as the Shuttle lifts off. Still further North, is the unique town of Saint Augustine, one of the oldest towns in the USA, and initially populated by the Spanish who, together with the French and the English were 400 hundred years ago jostling for the right to dominate the "New World".
As you head North from Orlando, sticking to the center of the Florida peninsula, and heading towards the Georgia border, you come across towns like Ocala where horse-breeding is a top industry, and Silver Springs which is near the Swanee River that Stephen Foster wrote and sang about.
While the current recession has changed the economic climate of Florida and "snow birds" [people from the North-East and Mid-West who come to Florida during the Winter to escape the cold up there] are far fewer in numbers, the Florida of swamps and Southern accents, pulled-pork sandwiches, country music and pizzas and beer by the beach will survive with all its charms intact.

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