It was barely past noon on the first day I ever visited Jacksonville … and I was already trying to get hammered. How fitting.
It was February, and I was slouched in a chair at River City Brewing Company, running on fumes after nabbing about three hours of sleep in a Detroit airport hotel due to a cancelled flight (thanks Delta, you assholes). I was gazing bleary-eyed at the skyline lining the opposite bank of the St. John’s River, and downing a margarita as quickly as I possibly could in anticipatory dread of what my then-fiancé, seated across from me, was about to say — that she wanted to accept the fellowship she had just been offered at the UF Hospital and that we were moving to Jacksonville in the summer.
I finished my margarita and ordered a flight of beer. For courage.
I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and spent the last three years living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Thoroughbred Yankee though I am, I do have Southern ancestry and my favorite bands tend to be of the Southern rock and alt-country variety, so there’s always been something romantic to me about the notion of living in Virginia or Athens, Georgia, or even north Alabama – anywhere mentioned in a Drive-By Truckers song, basically.
But Florida? It was the last place I ever expected to wind up. Isn’t Florida where gun-toting meth heads create face-palming Buzzfeed headlines and gigantic fucking alligators that emerge from pestilential swamps to literally devour toddlers? And not just Florida, but Jacksonville (of all places), which had never come close to penetrating my cultural consciousness beyond the Jaguars. Lacking the melting pot panache of Miami, the college town cred of Gainesville, and the, uh, roller coaster adjacency of Orlando, Jacksonville just seemed like a hole of a town — a tangle of highways, perpetually unfinished construction projects and ugly skyscrapers. Even its primary selling point to visitors and newcomers, the beach, held no interest for me – Anakin Skywalker and I share a distaste for sand. Plus, worst of all, Jacksonville produced Jonathan f***ing Papelbon. Welcome to my nightmare.
Is this that major media market East Coast elitism that politicians are always talking about? It would seem that way. Because like most misinformed, pre-conceived biases, mine has been pretty well challenged in little more than a week of my now-wife and I moving into our new place in Riverside. Based on my admittedly limited experiences, here are a few reasons why anyone in a similar fix as me should cast trepidations aside, come to Jax, and embrace becoming Florida Man … or Woman.
I spent the better part of the last decade living in states famous for their craft beer, like Vermont, where I went to school, and Michigan. Resultantly, I was a bit skeptical that I would be able to consistently enjoy brews of the high quality I was used to. Those fears were quickly assuaged on that first trip back in February with a trip to Aardwolf in San Marco, during which I consumed copious amounts of really, really good beer. More recent trips to Intuition Brewing Works and Kickbacks Gastropub, with its head-spinningly massive list of suds on tap, were equally encouraging. Everywhere else I have visited in Riverside seems to boast gigantic, high-quality beer lists as well. I think I moved into the right neighborhood.
OK, this one is obvious. But Jax’s sweltering summers certainly have their detractors, and I won’t pretend stepping outside in the afternoon into broiler-like conditions is entirely pleasant. However, no matter what anyone tells you, subjecting oneself to the hottest, stickiest conditions down here are about 100 times more preferable than withstanding a brutal Michigan winter. I’ll take swamp ass over spending every other day in January digging my car out from under two feet of snow and becoming accustomed to numbness in my extremities as a natural effect of the continuous subzero temperatures any time.
Compadres In Rock
Number of random strangers who have enthusiastically commented on my Drive-By Truckers shirts in the week or so since I moved to Jax: 3. Number of people who did the same during the entire rest of my life before I moved to Jax: ~0. These people get me.
I have only gone to the beach once so far, and I didn’t so much “go to the beach” as “stand on the stairs leading to the beach and look at it for five minutes.” Nonetheless, it was … quite nice. I don’t think I’m ever going to become a surfer, but as I gazed out on the pristine sand and the sprawling Atlantic, I was unexpectedly struck with a sense of awe that I lived so close to a natural wonder such as this. Even if I had never wanted to.