Jacksonville seemed to be the theme of my life yesterday. First of all, it’s home. It is always on my mind. Secondly, an Oklahoma-based friend of mine told me her upcoming cruise will launch out of the Jacksonville cruise terminal. Finally, and most interestingly, I came across an hour-long podcast last night on the state of Jacksonville and its surrounding areas (the beaches, Mayport, the St. Johns River, etc.). Some people might call these things coincidences, but not me. I’ve been encouraged by another friend to refer to such tidbits of timing as “The Norm Crosby Effect”. This friend of mine has had many oddly-timed encounters with all things Norm Crosby, so she coined the term in order to explain such strange phenomena.
Above is a short podcast featuring the small fishing village of Mayport, Florida, just a few miles downriver from Jacksonville’s bustling core. For the sleepy little town many think it is, Mayport represents more of the Old Florida, the real Florida, if you will, than any other place I’ve visited on Florida’s east coast. It’s the kind of place where seagulls and pelicans hover around for scraps, and where stray village cats are fed beneath the seafood shacks that dot the river’s shoreline. Everyone here eats well, especially the people.
There are only two ways to reach Mayport, really. One is by driving out on State Road A1A, but only if you’re on the south shore of the St. Johns River. If you’re on the north shore of the St. Johns River, you can take the ferry from Fort George Island across the water. There you’ll be deposited (whether in your car, your motorcycle, your bicycle, or on foot) just a few yards from a couple of seafood restaurants. One of them is now strictly a seafood market, called Safe Harbor, but once upon a time they would cook up your own fresh-caught seafood for a small fee. The other restaurant, Singleton’s, is a true-to-life seafood shack. Its loose floorboards and sloping foundation just add to its charm, as does the family of cats who take up most of the customer seating on the open-air front porch.
Because Mayport is somewhat isolated, it’s been able to remain as it has always been. However, Jacksonville’s city development plans are threatening the village in so many ways. That cruise ship my friend will soon board has only one way in and one way out of port – past the village of Mayport. The ship must maneuver through the waters under the Dames Point Bridge, as well. The dredging and constant upkeep that allows the ship to safely pass (there is only an 8-foot clearance under the bridge, at low tide) has affected water currents, which, in turn, affects everything else. For years the city has said that it cannot sustain the Mayport Ferry and has threatened to shut it down. For the record, the ferry is still in operation – thanks to its many supporters – but the whole thing stinks of big business taking advantage of the little guy. The village of Mayport thrives off its seafood industry and local tourism. I mean, the place is older than America itself! What is so important about a little historical town, though, when billions of dollars are at stake?
If you’re interested in listening to the entire series, click here. For those of you who think you know Jacksonville, I think you’ll be surprised.