Across the Bridge - February 2017
Not a Sign of the Times
Award-winning author and syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson muses about authenticity, character and signage on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
But I guess that’s how towns stay pretty, fussing over the details. Only sometimes they miss the forest while pruning the bottle trees.
For me, in this age of insubstantial people and things, I find the Pass’ HOTEL sign refreshing, nostalgic. It harkens to the days when college football bowl games did not have long corporate sponsor names and pharmacies innocently blinked DRUGS.
I once lived in a humble and ugly apartment complex just offthe interstate in Jackson. It was called Pine Hills Apartments. There were no pines, or hills, just cheap boxy apartments thrown up on a concrete pad. But I suppose few would have rented them if the owners had called it Ugly Sprawl Near Interstate Village.
So I guess that’s also why I like the Hotel Whiskey’s approach. HOTEL. No brag, just fact. Written in red like Jesus’ words in the Bible. Easy to see. Not like a fast food joint in the rich part of town that has to disguise itself to be there.
Now when you get to the fine print, the HOTEL’s Whiskey part makes the place sound like a Willie Nelson song. I also like that. All a traveler’s needs encapsulated in the name and under one roof.
“Park your nags, boys, we’re staying at this here Hotel Whiskey.”
Seaside towns have all gotten too prissy and pink for my tastes. Even the workaday Apalachicola in the Florida Panhandle has gone boutique. What happened to boats in every yard, and dives? One can only buy so many souvenir golf visors. Beer, on the other hand….
I’m much more put off by pretty little wooden signs swinging from a post and decorated with a pelican than I am HOTEL in red. Something perverse in me, I guess.
The Pensacola of my youth may have influenced my taste in towns by the coast. I remember cinderblock homes near the bay, including my family’s, which was painted pink and convinced me we were rich. I can hear right now the cheap glass wind chimes hanging from my friend Margaret’s carport; they made a better sound than any of the expensive ones do now. There were eclectic neighborhoods that mixed demographics the way a blender mixes margaritas, with boats on trailers, or sometimes blocks, as de rigueur as the shell driveways.
I’ve always described the Mississippi Gulf Coast as the last remaining authentic seaside place left in the South. When I drive along Railroad Avenue I get the feeling I’m back in the 1950s, with snow ball stands and bars with funny names and tire stores and beauty shops. It’s as if the Panhandle of old and New Orleans had a love child and we’re living in it.
After Katrina there’s been the temptation to zone the seaside spontaneity out of communities. It’s good that condominiums were pretty much kept at bay, and historic properties intact, and I definitely believe in separating commercial and residential. But a little leeway for color and character comes with the territory, don’t you think?
Take my opinion with a grain of sea salt. Remember I’m the girl that starts her diet with a steak and a sweet, washed down with good wine.
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