30A, FLORIDA–Intro: Me, My America:
These jewels along a scenic highway of The Panhandle I’ve written of before, differentiate the rapidly-emerging area’s reputation slowly but surely, as the New South, from a real Redneck Riviera past (and present at Panama City). While PCB always has a lot more to recover from than just another damaging tropical storm or named-Hurricane, it evermore remains true to its bad new country and tawdry “hit of the summer” BASS booming on the Strip cultural resonance, even as it has realized some evident cosmopolitanism. It’s quite commercially developed these days, with something for everyone.
This ain’t that, y’all…
30A or 30a or 30-A or 30-a, all of which I see it called every trip to the exciting area, and I’ve been down there a whole bunch of times now, is lost highway found, a string of unique beach towns along an annoyingly-at-times slow moving path when traversed by automobile. That’s HWY 30A, which is at the heart of “30A,” as I’ll agree (with myself) to call it for the remainder of this cultural travel piece.
Peace of mind, I’m an anti-auto active urbanism lifestyle (and transit) advocate and practitioner, who long ago left behind the suburban/exurban commuter lifestyle of sprawling Greater Metro Atlanta to move into ATLANTA.
I just try to ignore it, while my lovely wife wheels through it and reminds me I need to get my license reinstated someday, which is more topical when traveling between places and doesn’t ring as true often, in the area of Georgia where I live, for me. See, I’ve somehow created a Deep South life like that of an inner New Yorker or San Franciscoan. I don’t do rush hour, except occasionally aboard an Express Bus bound for familial visitation with my teenage sons out in Woodstock, one of whom will join me in city life soon as an enrollee at Georgia State, studying at home now while awaiting a someday return to normalcy in America.
Ah ‘Merica, this is it, that place and that way of thinking of area as self.
Me, you know if y’all know me well at all, it’s a broader (American) adventure that defines HAN, not any neighborhood or area or region or state. I’m a big city boy (aged 50), who has lived in the suburbs a lot, the country some years, small cities like Natchitoches, Louisiana, and Athens, Ga. Born in Austin to Ft. Worth folks, I’m a several-generations Texan, though I’ve spent most of my life in Georgia.
I’ve also lived in Florida, Louisiana (as mentioned), S. Carolina, Tennessee (for an amazing summer). It’s Georgia then someplace then Georgia, and always the South. Some like it hot.
Atlanta is up near North Georgia, up the continent enough that we do have four distinct seasons: cool-to-cold and often wet winters, vividly vibrant bloomy springs, sizzling summers, fantastic falls where the foliage of North America’s only major urban forest astounds in an unrivaled autumnal glory. No need to leave ATL in the fall or spring. This was a summer sojourn, our second such, after a surprise trip to Hilton Head, S. Carolina, got suddenly inserted into the schedule.
Back it up, again: After working on-and-off in-town (at Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, Virginia Highland) in Atlanta itself for years – several years after living ITP (inside the Perimeter) in Decatur, Ga., while fresh out of non-trad completion of college as a re-enrollee at UGA – I finally migrated permanently south in the metro from Marietta and Greater Marietta, to the megalopolis of the South itself: The ATL.
After the divorce and first complete crafting of my manuscript of “Golden State Misadventures” (book), I was in need of change. A month later, I was in a loft in and above Peachtree Street and atop the skyline staring at the rocket ships aglow at night. Where I romanced my amazing wife-to-be, before we bounced together to her place in Historic Druid Hills. There we became married parents, and I’ve lived in loveliness and some level of luxury for over a decade. I love The ATL and thought I might but didn’t come to know her fully, not really-really, before I moved to the city.
And, this area of FL has a good bit of a city feel. This sprawling by design backstory has ’bout nothing to do with the Sunshine State, or so it seems, sure.
Yet, it has everything to do with an unapologetically American perspective on place I’ve honed, by design, in my role as American Culture Reporter ~ Here I’ll be talking about Florida, same as I’ve talked about: California, Texas, Georgia, etc., in a long-form ramble.
A. Cool Dogs, Weird People:
Grayton Beach is groovy. Hippies and beach bums frequented this area way before the New Urbanists developed Seaside and then Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach. While 30A wouldn’t be what it is without these latter three marvels of modernity, Grayton Beach is the backbone of the area in a way, as its oldest developed town. It’s real.
It also has the only legit famous dive bar in the area. The Red Bar burned out and was shuttered, but was rebuilt and ready to rock. Sounds fun and all and I enjoyed that place in its earlier iteration, but this was a grand reopening scheduled in the middle of a global pandemic. Bad timing for big crowds, especially inappropriate inside.
We unloaded our stuff robot-quickly into our cute, vertical tiny house right by the WELCOME TO GRAYTON BEACH sign and immediately headed toward the beach by foot, the three of us and our happy Golden Doodle, Diego. Rounding the bend, we saw The Red Bar co-owner and restaurant-pioneer Oliver “Oli” Petit out in front of his gleaming new buildout, same spot the old bar used to be in “downtown” (tiny area) Grayton Beach on Hotz Ave.
“Congratulations!,” I called out across the street. “Heard it was going down. You open for customers already?”
“Thank you so much,” Oli said. “Tomorrow is the official grand opening…but I can let you inside to have a peak if you want.”
“First walk to the beach of the trip…and we have the dog.”
“Well, come back. …Enjoy the beach.”
On the beach, I was dismayed that there were automotive vehicles aplenty. I wanted to get away from the bigger crowds (and ritzy pretentiousness) of our usual Rosemary Beach trips but hadn’t bargained on it being like Daytona Beach.
The locals pulled their SUVs right up to ocean’s edge, unloading coolers and paddle boards and whatnot right there.
“We could have driven down here, apparently,” I said to my wife. “I don’t agree with having cars and trucks on the beach.”
It was a colorful sunset but before long the beach patrol came by to ask for our license for the dog; it was local dogs (and vehicles) only on Grayton Beach, we found out. Diego got to roll in the sand and play in the tide pool near the wooden walkover, but he wasn’t to be welcomed back. He was one and done, and my child and I were pretty bummed.
We made it back to the bungalow and changed for dinner, while Diego was left alone wondering where he was and why. He’d had a big day.
It was time for us to do people things, without him. And the dinner bell was definitely ringing.