Tag Archives: Florida

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.

 

White Gate Court

Road Trip: Puppy love in the Florida Keys

For years I’ve wanted to stay at White Gate Court in Islamorada. The idea of a dog-friendly — truly dog-friendly, as in, “we love dogs everywhere on our property” — appealed to me. So, this May, we piled the hellhounds in the Xterra and forced them to enjoy themselves in the Keys.

Calypso — White Gate Court
Calypso takes a break from paradise.

It worked out well for all of us and, it turns out, even though dogs matter more than humans at White Gate Court, it’s still a pretty awesome place for people.

Also, Calypso has a boyfriend.

I wrote more about this for Creative Loafing Tampa back in May; here’s the link.

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.

Road Trip: In the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Room

Tiki Goddess at Trader Sam's Grog GrottoSo I’m a little behind in updating my travels. Late last year I accepted the Arts and Entertainment editor position at Creative Loafing Tampa and in January, I started. It’s taken some time toadjust to the new position, so I haven’t posted like I want to post. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been traveling and writing about it. Once a month I take a road trip and write about it in the not-so-subtly titled Road Trip feature.

Here’s my August Road Trip,  about Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Walt Disney World Resort. Why here? Because the bar — and it is a bar, make no mistake — has artifacts from the old Enchanted Tiki Room at the Magic Kingdom. It’s a pretty cool story. You should read it. Seriously, click here and read it.

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.

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.

Detours & Diversions – The Other Side of Tampa Bay: Paradise in the Sand

“Anna Maria Key, lying to the south of Tampa Bay and separated from the mainland by Sarasota Pass, one of the many sand and shell islands bordering the west coast. It rises but a few feet above sea level and is covered with mangrove swamps, palm savannahs, salt flats, cacti thickets, and buttonwood trees. Anna Maria, a resort at the northern extremity of Anna Maria Key, consists of many cottages in a jungle setting.” –The WPA Guide to the Southernmost State, 1939

WHAT: Much has changed on Anna Maria Island since 1937. The palm savannahs surrendered to beach cottages, and while the island itself rises but a few feet above the warm, turquoise Gulf, bungalows at Anna Maria’s edge prop themselves like mangroves, resting just out of reach of salt and waves.

The spirit of the island remains untouched. Sand and shells abound, and the entire low-lying tropical jungle has bursts of blazing pink bougainvillea  cascading over fences and dazzling orange birds of paradise standing guard along walkways. While the other side of Tampa Bay boasts the most densely populated county in the state, the pink Don CeSar in the distance fades against the tropical landscape of colors and the ever-permeating salt air.

 

WHY: You can draw the silhouette of much of Florida’s coast with condominium-and hotel-colored crayons. Not so here; everything on this seven-mile strip of paradise –even her stilt homes –is short. The island draws tourists without needing tall hotels and convention centers; visitors can make their way around the island’s shell-lined streets and paths using foot or pedal power. The island has no chain restaurants, and while you can get milk at a local market, you’ll need to head to the next town over for a supermarket.

 

WHO: It’s a small town of locals and visitors, fishermen and sunbathers. Anna Maria is one of six incorporated cities in Manatee county, a county with a third of the people of its neighbor to the north, Pinellas.

 

WHERE: If you look across Tampa Bay from Pass-a-Grille or Fort DeSoto, you can see Anna Maria in the distance. By boat it’s a short hop around Egmont to Anna Maria; by car, it’s just under an hour to cover the same distance. Anna Maria is at the northernmost tip of Manatee’s nothernmost barrier island.

 

BEST part: Anna Maria Island evokes memories of the Florida in your heart, the sandy paradise that draws people here year after year. It’s old Florida with air conditioning, bleached shell paths that crunch under your feet, and coral sunsets dotted with crimson blossoms. It’s fishing piers and walks on the beach; it’s beer at sunset and fish for dinner. Every part is the best part.
WORST part: With beaches everywhere, it’s a shame the city doesn’t allow dogs on at least one of them. There are a few places along the bay where you can get away with letting your pooch run off leash, but they’re not designated as dog beaches and you run the risk of being told to take your furry friend off the sand. Locals say there’s talk of a dog beach.

 

MAGIC Question: Free. Lodging and food run the gamut. Expect to pay a premium for waterside accommodations, although you can get a room for under $100 a night. Weekly stays cost less per night.
This initially appeared in the Gabber Newspaper in January, 2012.