I had even visited southern areas and watched my fair share of movies set in the south (shout-out to Sweet Home Alabama, which was my favorite for years). But, last August, after deciding to move across the country, my eyes were opened to a whole new world.
For the last six months, as of today, I have called Pensacola, FL my home. Having always loved Florida, I was excited for the adventure, even though I'd never lived anywhere outside my home state of New Mexico. When I announced my decision, I had a great deal of variation in terms of feedback, to most, I was "living the dream," or "taking up the beach lifestyle."
In some ways, they were right. There is a beach (the most beautiful beach I've ever seen in person, I might add), and there is definitely a beach atmosphere in terms of the way people approach life. However, there's also the caveat of this place often being referred to as LA. That's "Lower Alabama" for those of you who don't know, and it's an accurate representation.
I had visited the area, but I couldn't tell you how accurate it was until I actually lived here. Pensacola may be in Florida, but it is definitely down-home southern around here. In my first month, I saw and heard things my New Mexican mind had a hard time computing.
In true southern form, sometimes you just have to be a little colorful...
From an outsider perspective, here's what I can tell you about the place I now call home.
There are commonplace sayings 'outsiders' have never even heard before.
Seriously, y'all, there are things I've heard roll off the tongue of some of the locals that no one bats an eye at, while I'm left with my mouth agape, wondering what in the world they meant. Some of them are gems, though, and I plan to pick up as many as I can while I'm here.
The people are nicer than anything movies can express.
We've all heard about southern charm and southern hospitality (sometimes tongue-in-cheek), but until you've seen it firsthand, there's really no accurate description. In the short time I've been here, I've been invited into people's homes, people talk to you in the grocery store or at a restaurant, I've met my neighbors (something rare in Albuquerque), I've made friends just by sitting down for dinner, my dog has developed an almost cult following in the streets of downtown (I mean, he is pretty cute, but still...), and meeting people wasn't nearly as difficult as I've found it to be in other areas. It's all pretty simple. People talk to you, you talk to them. Conversations and meaningful interactions still matter a lot to people down here, and I love it.
The food...there are hardly words...
If you're not a fan of pimento cheese, good barbecue, out-of-this-world seafood, the most amazing things put between two slices of bread and called sandwiches, the best fried foods you've ever had, and dishes you didn't even know existed but now can't get enough of, this may not apply to you. But if you are, come to the south, and eat the food. Just do it. You can thank me later.
Even in "Lower Alabama," the beaches are unreal.
I've heard a handful of people from other (somehow deemed fancier places, which really hams my biscuits...I'm trying to get the hang of the slang) parts of Florida cast a few jabs at Pensacola. And to be honest, when I first got here, I was almost right there with them. But I've been to beaches in other parts of Florida, and I can tell you nothing holds a candle to the Emerald Coast. The white, sandy beaches and emerald waters are a sight to be seen. And best of all, we have options. If you enjoy taking your dogs to the beach, we've got a dog beach. If you want to lounge in a nearly isolated area with a good book and a quiet spot for some thinking, we've got those. If you want a party beach, complete with tiki huts serving your favorite frozen concoctions right on the water, we've got those, too. Maybe that's why we secured the hashtag #upsideofflorida ;)
Taken just last weekend (yes, you can have a beach day in February)
Mardi Gras is no joke in the south.
In New Mexico, Mardi Gras wasn't really a thing I really to which I paid much attention. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the meaning of Lent and have even gone to a few Ash Wednesday services. But the whole Mardi Gras season was something that pretty much escaped me, at least until Fat Tuesday, when my friends and I would usually meet for a beer. But that was it...pretty much just an excuse to grab a beer on a Tuesday. This year, I was introduced to a new reality, complete with costumes, bead (and moon pie) throwing, crowds, all day champagne brunches, and a slight touch of insanity. If you come down here during Mardi Gras season, at least check it out. It might be a tad much for some people...but trust me, you'll have fun!
Gators and bears, oh my!
This is not a drill. There are gators and bears. I haven't seen any yet, but just the other day, while checking out potential camping grounds, I noticed the strict rules on bringing dogs to campsites. After doing a little research, I read that gators tend to frequent most campsites. On that note, I'm not sure I want to bring myself camping, let alone the dogs. And bears too...those are scary.
People who live other places will complain about the humidity for you.
I can't count the number of people who, when I tell them where I live, tell me how awful the humidity is. I know. I'm living it. The truth of the matter is, you somewhat adjust (okay, not really all the way), and what you can't adjust to, you make it better with a beach day at the aforementioned gorgeous beach. Besides, I have naturally curly hair that doesn't tame anyway. Now I just have an excuse for it to be out of control.
I'm adopting this motto. Consider it adopted.
There's truly no place like the south.
New Mexico is my home, and there is certainly no place like home. I don't mean to say that this place is the best place in the world, but I do mean it when I say this place is unlike anywhere I've seen. There are pros and cons, just like anywhere else, and I most definitely had my adjustment period before I wrote this blog, but there is nowhere else this quirky and amusing, full of life, still focused on the things that matter most–namely people, oozing with southern charm (and some southern hilarity that will make you look at things twice), and welcoming. Also, the beach...I've mentioned how great that place is. All in all, this place somehow manages to combine the feel of a simpler time in terms of the way people interact with one another with all the things you'd need in a city, and somehow also throws in the element of a stunning beach town.
If you've been dying to check out a slice of southern living and start a new adventure, bite the bullet and give it a try. You might run for the hills screaming when you see that Sweet Home Alabama is a semi-accurate portrayal (it really is, I've found, after watching it three times since I've lived here), or you might just find a whole new world to explore.