If I’ve mentioned this once, I promise it’ll come up a few more times between now and May 9 when Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way is released:
When I was a kid, if we took a vacation at all, it was to Florida. And we drove. Out of Michigan, across every boring mile of Ohio until Cincinnati appeared and disappeared. The white picket fences of horse farms marked Kentucky’s rolling hills and then on into Tennessee and the Smokey Mountains before dropping down into the red clay of Georgia. Then, finally, Florida. And we’d stop and get out of the car and we didn’t need our jackets. The sun was out and there was orange juice. There were brochures for Disney World.
And from that stop it was still a long, anxious, excited drive to Tampa, where my uncle lived. I remember north of Orlando, miles of billboards for a strip club and when I was 10 that seemed so exciting, illicit and … well, I wasn’t sure what else. I didn’t have the vocabulary. But something else. Something exotic. It was Florida! And there was a strip club! And there were showers for truckers! Said so right on the billboard.
None of this is in the book, but it’s where the book begins. In the fall of 2015, I did the last part of that drive in reverse, starting in Orlando, swinging by Lakeland for a day and half and then heading to Gainesville. The billboards for that strip club were still up, separated by billboards for gun shops, billboard promising damnation of your everlasting soul for any number of sins, billboards for retirement communities.
One of the first things I did when began working on this book — before I knew exactly what it was, or what it’d become — was chart all of Margaritaville’s trademark filings. It took a long damn time, but it was educational, and interesting. I charted 731 filings in various states of activity.
Among the dozens for “Margaritaville” were:
- financial services
- cruise ship and cruise boat services
- pre-packaged, flavored seafood for human consumption
- sleeping bags, stadium cushions …
- snack dips
And maybe the most usable of the lot:
- many products
You can track the growth of the brand through the expansion of trademarks. On June 4, 2014, I noted a filing for MargaritaVillage. The registration read: “Retirement communities, namely, providing independent living residencies and living facilities and assisted living facilities.”
I’ll be honest. As soon as I saw that, I imagined that stretch of I-75 between Orlando and Gainesville, and could see the billboard. “Waste Away …” it said. It was a cheap shot, but we all take ’em from time to time.
When MargaritaVillage was announced, and it wasn’t a retirement community, but a resort near Disney World. Then MargaritaVillage became the Margaritaville Resort Orlando, which is going in on the site where Splendid China once sat. Splendid China was a miniature replica of China which ran into all kinds of political opposition and finally closed. I snapped that photo up top near the front gate when I swung by at the beginning of the 2015 trip. (Here are some great photos of the sweep of the abandoned park.)
Then, last week, came the news of Latitudes Margaritaville. “Hold the ‘wasting away’ joke”the Miami Herald headline urged … before making a “wasting away” joke.
Soon, you can really spend your final years wasting away in Margaritaville, nibblin’ on sponge cake and searching for your lost shaker of salt.
And it’s Jimmy Buffett’s own damn fault.
His Own Dam Fault was actually the proposed title of this book. But then we ran into all the Margaritaville trademarks.
Anyhow, the retirement community is coming, and $1 billion is being put into the property near Daytona Beach. At least a dozen friends have sent me links to any of the dozens of stories that are still popping up. My “Margaritaville” Google alert remains engaged. My dad sent an email. I think he’s got an eye on a place. I’d enjoy a visit.
Speaking of, driving to Gainesville, I couldn’t help myself. I had to see what that strip club of my memory looked like. It was exactly as alluring as I’m sure 10-year-old me imagined, and exactly as disturbing as 41-year-old me expected.
I think I spent six bucks on a cup of coffee.