Over a couple pints the other night, my good friend Sallie Parker quipped that becoming a Duvallian is like falling in love with a friend. You start as strangers, gradually get acquainted until one day you realize that you can't imagine life without them-warts, The Landing and all.
Here are excerpts from Sallie's diary describing her seven stages of Duval.
Stage 1. Holy mother of God. It is HOT. Not hot like a Fourth of July barbecue, hot like the engine of a Ford Mustang when the radiator breaks in the middle of a drag race across the Valley of Fire. And so wet you can hardly breathe. My hair hasn't been dry in so long, I wouldn't be surprised if my scalp started growing mold. But things sure are green here, so green that it feels like a hallucination. 'Kodachrome' don't do it justice.
After a few weeks, I broke down and asked someone where the hell the city is. All I see is strip malls, palm trees and sand. Don't look like no city to me. Plenty of traffic, though. Where is everyone going?
Stage 2. The high finally got below 90, so we celebrated by going to a football game. Mis-take. Not only was it at least 115 degrees in the stadium, them Jaguars fans kept yelling 'Duval' for some reason I can't quite figure. Maybe they were too hot to yell 'Jacksonville.' On the bright side, my team won—though to be honest, the home team gave them about as much competition as a middle school powder puff squad. Nothing against the powder puff squad.
Afterwards, we went Downtown for a few, since we were so close. It was like Children of the Corn with skyscrapers. We drove around and around, then parked and walked for an hour, but couldn't figure out where everyone was, so we just went home. This is the weirdest city I've ever been to. Where are all the people?
Stage 3. Good news: I've conquered my fear of bridges. Somebody said that we had to get boiled peanuts from a man on Heckscher, and I've never been shy about eating, so off we went. We didn't realize until it was too late that we were gonna have to cross that Dames Point Bridge. You wanna talk about a white-knuckle grip; shoot, I 'bout wet myself driving over that sum bitch. Speed limit's 60, but I barely cracked 25 mph. We made it to the other side, praise be.
I can't lie, I was feeling a little skeptical that peanuts could be worth all the trouble, but after six or seven of the Cajun kind, I understood what all the fuss was about. Next thing I know, the bag was empty and I had to drive back across that bridge. This time, I just hit the gas and let 'er rip. Even snuck a peek around at the top—ocean to the left, city to the right and river below. I might could get used to this.
Stage 4. Today I learned that it gets cold in Florida. Whodda thunk it? Had to dig through the closet to get my wool sweater, socks and shoes. Even called one of my friends up north to tell them the news; they were in the middle of a blizzard, so were less than impressed. Bundled up (kind of) for lunch under one of them warmers on a patio overlooking the water; had to admit—this sure beats shoveling snow. For the first time since moving here, I felt like Jax could be home.
Stage 5. Summer's in full swing and I don't mind one bit. There's A/C every 100 yards or so, anyway. Plus, everywhere you go there's water to cool off in. At first, we'd just go the pier all the time, but now I know there's a beach, riverbed or creek for every mood. And I've even got used to the sprawl; I swear, you can get anywhere in this town in 20 minutes.
Stage 6. Now, I'll admit, I wasn't sure about the Jumbo Shrimp. What kinda name is that, right? Well, after few rounds of Mayport shrimp at Singleton's or one of them fish camps, you'll get it. I sure do.
Somebody told us to go to Downtown Art Walk: We found the people! Music, art, dancers, culture—it was a hoot and a holler.
I'm pleased to report that the Jaguars are scrappy this season! I ordered a Myles Jack jersey—that kid's gonna be a star, you wait.
Stage 7. We invited everyone to Florida for the holidays. We're gonna watch football, eat oysters, chocolate popcorn, boiled peanuts (my favorite) and barbecue and wash it all down with local brews.
Best gift of all, the Jags made the playoffs! Duuuuuvaalll! Much love for all y'all.