Tag Archives: Backroads of Paradise

Forgotten Coast

Road Trip: The Forgotten Coast, unluckiest town in Florida and a lighthouse

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 29 issue of Creative Loafing Tampa.

Lying on a Panhandle beach, I turn to Barry and ask, “Why don’t we live here?”

“You’d be too cold,” he answers, and he’s not wrong. My friends joke (but not really) that I get Seasonal Affective Disorder when the sun’s behind a cloud for more than 15 minutes, and that whenever the mercury drops below 80º I run for my sweatshirt. Right now, it’s in the low 80s and I’m writing with a blanket over me.

Nevertheless, the Florida panhandle beckons. Specifically, the Forgotten Coast of Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla counties. Sand dunes line the coast, buffeted by pine forests from the small towns selling hyper-local seafood and low-key tourist dreams. Few roads trace the edge of the land here — US 98 through Port St. Joe and, to its west, 30A. I am hopelessly, totally, irrevocably charmed by seaside forests and small-town splendor.

I’m not the first. Years — centuries — before Tampa Bay became a place to live, Florida’s panhandle attracted people. After Ponce de Leon’s 1513 discovery of Florida, pioneers opened the West — West Florida, that is, which totally became a thing as our much-maligned state bounced between five flags until becoming part of the US in 1821. Of course, statehood wasn’t an easy road — the U.S. couldn’t let just anyone in, right? So, in 1838, Floridians got together and convened a constitutional convention at St. Joseph, Florida’s largest town with a whopping 6,000-ish people.

By the time Florida became a state in 1845, that town was gone.

What happened?

In July 1841, a ship from the Greater Antilles docked there. NBD: St. Joseph was a significant port (’member, anything south of the Panhandle was a swampy morass of death, what with the skeeters and gators and lack of air conditioning) so ships came and went like it was today’s Miami. Except this ship had a passel of passengers lousy with yellow fever, which sucked for the passengers who died — but not before they infected most of the town. Of the 6,000 living there, all but 1,500 died. Of those, another 1,000 fled because they weren’t fond of death. So when a hurricane hit a couple months later, the 500 remaining residents found themselves homeless, because the storm trashed pretty much every building. Resolute pioneers that they were, they soldiered on… only to have fires rip through town a while later.

That should have been enough, right?

[read more at cltampa.com]

Backroads of Paradise Cathy Salustri

Backroads of Paradise in the New York Times

Backroads of Paradise by Cathy Salustri
The great Florida road trip, in book form.

Welp, they don’t seem to care much for Donald Trump, but the New York Times likes me.

A weeks ago, I’d shut down email for the day, except — fun fact — I’m almost always trying to clear out my email. Over at Creative Loafing, our food editor and one of my favorite people, Meaghan, always has about three or four emails in her inbox. She’s that good at clearing them out. Right now, I have roughly seventy-seven million emails waiting for me, so I feel compelled to check them from time to time, even when I’m theoretically done for the day.

So, the de facto in-laws are down for the holidays, and as we’re all watching football I start looking for easy emails to handle. I see one from a John Dorman, who says he’s with the Times and would like to do a Q&A with me. Now, we have a daily paper here we also refer to as “the Times“, so I thought, oh, OK, that’s weird, because they rejected me for the Festival of Reading and haven’t shown any interest in Backroads whatsoever, but cool.

Then I get to the signature line and it’s not the local Times. No, it’s the New York Times. Or, as I said about two seconds after I realized which paper had contacted me, The New York Fucking Times, but only in my head, because, well, I try not to say fuck so much around Barry’s parents, because I’m a goddamn lady and all.

So, um, hey, read this super-cool interview with this awesome Florida chick who’s in the New York FUCKING Times. Or buy the print version of the paper Sunday. Or do both.

 

Cedar Key

Road Trip: Pirates, ghost dogs and massacres at Cedar Key

This article appeared in the October 27, 2016 issue of Creative Loafing Tampa.

My Cedar Key ghost story happened 20 years ago. While contentedly exploring the island, I happened upon a cemetery and, with a macabre excitement, busied myself going from tombstone to tombstone when this old green Ford Thunderbird convertible drove through the cemetery and then disappeared. I couldn’t find a drive or path where it would have turned off, but it was gone nonetheless.

Alcohol was not involved.

Today I know that I had too much city in me to find the turnoff — I was young and I expected drives to have clear markings, I suppose. Pretty sure I saw a good ol’ boy and not a ghost, but if I said I had seen a ghost, there’d be no shortage of people to assure me I had. See, every culture, regardless of how much contact it has with other cultures, has three things: mermaids, Bigfoots and ghosts. Cedar Key is no exception. Do I believe they’re true? As with mermaids and Bigfoots, let’s leave it at this: I want to believe.

My skepticism doesn’t make the re-telling of the ghost stories any more fun and Cedar Key — a tiny outpost a couple hours north of Tampa Bay in Levy County — has awesome legends: Murder, pirates and ghost dogs. Let’s break down the three most popular.

[read more at cltampa.com]

 

Skunk Ape

Road Trip: Desperately seeking the Skunk Ape

If you’re from New York, you may call him Bigfoot.

Every culture has one, and in Florida, we have two. In the north end of the state, he’s the Bardin Booger. Towards the southern edges, we call him the Skunk Ape. I wrote this about trying to find proof of the latter.

Read more about my adventures with the Skunk Ape and the swampy pockets of southernmost Florida in this Road Trip I wrote for Creative Loafing Tampa.

Backroads of Paradise by Cathy Salustri
The great Florida road trip, in book form.

Like what I wrote? I have a whole book about my great Florida road trip, and you can buy it from Inkwood Books, which is a lot like Amazon, only they’re local and nothing at all like a massive local-eating website, except they can also usually shop in two days, so please show them some love, OK?

Hiding place

Road Trip: Two eggs and many Indians

I hate Andrew Jackson.

Is that treason? Am I going to jail now? Look, I’m not a fan of the guy. One of the main reasons? His treatment of Florida’s indigenous folk. Now, I know we had a period of time in our history when “killing Injuns” was trendy, but really, Jackson took this trend to new levels of historical douchbaggery. He didn’t care that Spain had rule over Florida, because he was damn sure going to come down here and kill himself some locals anyway, treaties and such be damned.

Florida Caverns State Park
Florida has dry air caves. Really, we do.

Of course, the locals tricked him. It’s one of my favorite stories. It has caves and indigenous folk and, as a nice side trip, eggs. Go ahead, read it and see in my March 2016 Road Trip for Creative Loafing Tampa.

Backroads of Paradise

Five. Years.

Backroads of Paradise
I don’t remember what we were going to do last night, but we ended up looking at the book and smiling.

Last night I came home and Barry had cleaned the living room and kitchen. This made me happy. After I gazed lovingly at my clean floors, I noticed a box behind him on the counter.

“What’s that?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Who’s it from?”

“The University Press of Florida,” and then he smiled. Big smile, because the box could only be one thing, really: The author copies of my book.

The book has arrived. Finally. It’s real. It has my name on it and everything.

Then, this morning, that thing on Facebook where you see your memories on the same date in years past popped up with this:Facebook "On this day" Stetson Kennedy One day shy of five years to the day after Stetson Kennedy died, my travel narrative about retracing the tours he helped created in the 1930s arrives.

Five years. Five years to take the trips, write the book, edit the book, revise the book, edit the book, do all the things you have to do after you write and edit and revise and edit a book, and to get to here. That’s a long time, or at least, it feels that way.

I never met the man — he died too soon — and anyone who’s seen the book in any of its drafts knows I did my own thing — this book doesn’t quite resemble the guide he helped create — but I hope, wherever it is that Florida people like him go when they die, he doesn’t hate it and, more importantly, he knows how much his legacy has impacted my life.

You can buy the book here, and I truly hope you do. I re-read a lot of it last night and I’m certainly not impartial, but I do kind of love it.

The Great Couchsurfing Book Tour

Couchsurfing
That’s me, sans fur. Credit: flickr/David K

Although Backroads of Paradise doesn’t hit bookstore shelves for another two months, I’ve started getting requests from bookstores and libraries around the state for me to come speak. The great marketing team at UPF (University Press of Florida) has also convinced the Miami Book Fair and the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (apparently the cool kids call that SIBA) that I should speak at their shows.

Miami and SIBA are big deals, and I’m thrilled. Also, I have a small — quite small — travel budget from the press, so I get to go to Miami and then Savannah essentially for free. The libraries and bookstores? Not so much, and so I get creative. Look, I’m not complaining at all about people wanting me to come to their corner of Florida and talk about why I love Florida (honestly, that part’s a dream come true); I’m concerned about budget because, well, since the press hasn’t finished printing Backroads of Paradise yet, I haven’t seen a royalty check.

Because I love to travel and talk about Florida and I don’t want to tell anyone no (I mean, this is how I sell books, right?) I’ll couch surf. Last night I heard someone describe this as a “couch surfing book tour” and they’d done it themselves. And now, it seems, I will do it myself.

Which means a lot of my old friends spread out across the state may get a phone call in the coming months. Forewarned is forearmed, y’all.

Also, if you have a bookstore/work at a library/ sit on a board of a historical society, please get in touch with me to have me come speak.

I promise I won’t ask to sleep on your couch.

Probably.

Hey, buy my book now. It’s the gift that keeps giving, because you’ll get it October, so it’s like TWO Amazon purchases!

Backroads of Paradise: Almost as real as the Velveteen Rabbit!

Backroads of Paradise
Backroads of Paradise has landed! Well, almost — you can preorder it!

At long last, the book has landed. It has a title, Backroads of Paradise, and an ISBN number and everything. Just like the velveteen rabbit, It’s real.

Well, mostly — it really real on October 4, but you can pre-order it now from Amazon and they’ll ship it to you in October. Alternately, you can order it through the University Press of Florida, where you can also read an excerpt  (in case you need further persuading, or in case you don’t feel you can wait any longer, a feeling a I know quite well) from my tour across the coastal edge of Florida’s panhandle (yay, oysters!).

I don’t want to go on too much (I’ve already done that here), and I don’t want to brag or anything, but according to Amazon, Backroads of Paradise, is already #2171 on  the bestseller lists for South Atlantic United States travel books, so, you know, almost as popular as 50 Shades of Gray and infinitely better written. Also, it weighs 1.7 pounds. That’s a lot of Florida right there, y’all…

Backroads of Paradise catalog
It’s surreal to read what other people say about my writing. I mean, it happens all the time at my job, but this feels different somehow.

And yes, I’ll compulsively track those sales numbers on Amazon, because it’s not stalking if it’s not a person, right?

Oh, and because people have asked: Yes, UPF will release this as an ebook, and that option should show up soon on Amazon; and no, it doesn’t matter to me where you buy the book, Amazon or UPF, so long as you buy Backroads of Paradise. As in, right now. For everyone you know.

It’s Alive!

Hula Florida girl
She’s the hardest working hula girl in the business.

It feels like forever, but it’s finally here.

Almost.

My book has a title and a release date. Well, a release month: October.

And the title? Oh, yeah: Backroads of Paradise.

So far, I’ve seen two of the blurbs for it — Craig Pittman and Gary Mormino (those of you who know him will not at all be shocked when that link doesn’t take you to an author website), both accomplished authors for whom I have great respect — and they both have wonderful things to say.

And that’s all I have, which is a lot of me jumping up and down and going “At last! It’s been five years since I started planning this road trip, and now, it’s a book. With pages. And a cover. And a press to manage all the crappy details I don’t want to deal with!”

So, yeah, that’s “all I have” but it’s still pretty big in Cathy-world.

As soon as it’s available for pre-order, which should be a few months yet, I’ll post the links here. And, well, pretty much everywhere else.