Get your feet wet

Beer taste, champagne budget

A few years back, my parents decided retirement sounded like a swell change, and moved permanently from the bubbalopolis of Jacksonville, FL, to their weekend lake place in Salt Springs.

I’d call Salt Springs “out in the sticks,” but it’s more like if the sticks had backwaters that secluded a moss-choked armpit. How they even found this town remains a bit of a mystery to me, because it involves driving directions along the lines of, “Take 1-95 south to the Firearms and Fireworks Warehouse, head west til ya come to the drive-thru Beer Barn, then hang a left. A whole lotta road later, yer gonna pass the Ya’lls All Goin’ To Hell Preschool, at which point ya wanna look for the sixth — that’s the sixth — dirt road on yer left, and just drive on down that road til ya start wonderin’ if it’s the heat, the skeeters or the buzzards gonna kill ya first, and THAT’LL BE OUR CARPORT JUST TO THE RIGHT.”

My folks ended up there because Dad needs a place for his 43 boats and the rod-and-reel that’s grafted to his hand, and Lake Kerr’s got a whole mess of bass he’d like to introduce to his deep fryer.

Because there is NOTHING ELSE going on in that place: Salt Springs is literally the land that time and cell towers forgot. It does, however, have its own Wikipedia entry, which reads in full:

Salt Springs is an unincorporated town in Marion County, Florida, United States. It is located near Lake George. Salt Springs offers plenty of activities for the family; including fishing, camping, biking and hiking. The neighboring body of water known as Lake Kerr is also a place to enjoy a variety of water sports. Just inside the town limits is “Shellcrackers,” a seafood/country cooking restaurant that has become a favorite of locals as well as those from other parts of the state.

A fatal alligator attack took place seven miles south of Salt Springs on May 14, 2006, when a 23-year-old Florida woman was killed by an alligator while snorkeling at a lakeside recreation area.

And yep, that about does her: there’s Shellcrackers, and THE GATORS WILL EAT YOU, after which they will be hunted, caught and chalked onto Shellcrackers’ specials board.

Now I have dined several times at Shellcrackers, and if you can overlook the lengthy waits, unexceptional taxidermy and being eye-raped by a room full of rednecks, the fried okra and catfish are heaven. But the GATORS. Salt Springs is where my Mom brought a treadmill because venturing onto the lake would lead to a 12-foot reptile plucking her out of her paddle boat and barrel-rolling her into murky, water-moccasin-teeming depths.

Salt Springs is where I let Moses swim on a lead only to have this scintillating conversation with a neighbor:

Him: ” ‘At’s a mighty good-lookin’ dawg you got there.”
Me: “Why thank you.”
Him: “Y’know, you best be careful. There’s gators in them wuhters.”
Me: “Yeah, everyone keeps telling me that. But then I see everyone letting their kids swim in it.”
Him: “Yessir, ‘at they do.” (Beat.) “But that’s a AWFUL good-lookin’ dawg…”

So imagine my surprise that even little Salt Springs has not been immune to the real estate tumor. I knew my folks’ place had increased several times in value since they bought it a decade ago, but these days there are sites around theirs going for millions of dollars.

Now at the moment, my millions are what financial advisers term “imaginary,” but I can’t help but think that should they one day materialize, I won’t be investing them in a place that fears paved roads, cable television and a single bar of a cell signal. Who are these people buying these Cracker Castles? Will we know them by their gold-plated gun racks and Swarovski-encrusted rebel flags? Because Salt Springs is where I bought a Sunday New York Times and the clerk said, “Five dollars?! For five dollars, ‘at paper better read itself tah ME!”

Also, Salt Springs is where I first saw this bumper sticker:

Keepin’ it classy, honkies!

In any case, my parents are thinking of selling in a year or two to retire closer to the grandgirls, and hopefully they’ll sell to some fine, simple Powerball winners for whom Salt Springs is their own little personal Valhalla.

And Mom and Dad, next time you insist on waterfront living, I’ve got just one word: MAUI…


  • Amanda

    May 20, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    But now your parents have more to deal with than the gators – after all, it is quite an adventure when they could walk downstairs and find Steve passed out on the living room floor.

  • Em.

    May 21, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Mandy, you just made me spit my “Get Some Zzzz’s” tea all over the place.

    Personally I’d prefer the gators, at least if you get a firm grip around their mouth they can’t open it. I’m not sure the same can be said of Steve.

  • Tracy

    May 22, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Also, a gator carcass makes for some tastes-like-chicken eatin’ and several gorgeous handbags. Whereas a Steve carcass allows for… what, a nappy Lita Ford wig and a human sumo suit?

  • Amanda

    May 22, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    I think you just gave the best description of Steve ever!!

    I thought of you & Daron today… my sister Cate & I went to lunch at The Tin Angel Café ( a restaurant that is getting amazing reviews, which is owned by former staff from Burt’s Tiki Lounge (which scarily enough includes Bartender Scotty) . If they can do it – and make a spinach & fontina soup that could be habit forming – Daron can do it with his eyes closed!!


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