It’s weird: When you live in the midst of a secret, it can be hard to grasp that everybody doesn’t know about it.
How many times – perhaps even in this issue of the magazine – have you heard the Gulf Coast hailed as “one of America’s hidden gems” or “our secret playground” or “home to America’s most beautiful unknown beaches” or other marketing-worthy phrases?
All cliches. But all true. And that’s fine by me. The less known the better, as far as I’m concerned. After all, who needs another boom box* on the beach?
OK, I was being ironic there. Showing my age. Then again, I’m not sure I actually know what those little speakers people carry around these days are called – even though I have one.
(*For those of you under 40, Google it; or see MTV, LL Cool J, circa 1986.)
Point being: From Holly Beach in southwest Louisiana (the Cajun Riviera) to Mexico Beach on the Florida panhandle (the Redneck Riviera), the Gulf Coast is indeed a treasure of lost coves and forgotten towns – and an unending source of inspirational material for American writers, musicians and film makers.
“Grand Isle” was Kate Chopin’s finest novel. “Biloxi Blues” won the Tony Award for Neil Simon. Bob Dylan wrote about Delacroix and Mobile in two of his best songs. Bayou La Batre is where Forrest Gump docked his shrimp boat. And Jimmy Buffet sang songs about getting drunk or laid in just about every other town along the coast.
And, of course, Seaside, Florida, was the location where Truman Burbank, the unwilling star of “The Truman Show” lived out his unwitting reality show life.
Admission: I love Seaside. If I had scratch, I’d have a house there. It has a perfect book store, a perfect record store, a perfect grocery store, a perfect community theater, a perfect elementary school, perfect playgrounds, a perfect farmers market, a writers retreat, idyllic galleries, boutiques and bistros, model homes and parks, opaque green water and fine sand beaches.
It is, as Hemingway once wrote (not about Seaside, for the record): A clean, well-lighted place.
Hell, it even has a croquet pitch, for crissake.
Nobody locks their bicycles in Seaside. Everyone waves and says hello. Norman Rockwell lives here.
It’s a postcard town. And yes, it has its own postcards and even a coffee table book to celebrate itself. And I guess that’s the rub for a lot of folks.
Being in Seaside can feel like being inside of one of those balsa wood and plastic architectural scale models the size of a pool table that developers pitch to financiers to build their projects to say: This is what it will look like.
And Seaside can feel admittedly plastic sometimes. It’s too perfect. Too idyllic. Too planned. And definitely too white. And I’m not just talking about the sand.
It is, in fact, the very model of the model “planned community,” a concept brought to life in 1985. That’s why producers chose it to film “The Truman Show.” It looks like a movie set, populated by attractive movie extras, all going about their perfect lives in their perfect beach houses in their perfect weather in their perfect town.
I imagine it’s the only place in America where the cops are more bored and listless than the Maytag repair man.*
(*For those of you under 40, Google it.)
But, smite me if you will, I can’t help but love the place. Truthfully, I love any place with a shoes-optional lifestyle.
Everyone in Seaside has more money than me but, truthfully, I’d rather be the poorest man in town than the richest. It’s easier to make friends that way. Nobody wants anything from you.
So, in this issue of the magazine which celebrates Gulf Coast lives and Gulf Coast living, I shamelessly admit: I like pretending, once every four or five years, that I live in a perfect world. A clean, well-lighted place.
You know what Seaside is? It’s a cruise ship that never leaves port. And I don’t know that I could permanently camp down in a place without live music and second lines and occasional street chaos, but it’s fun to pretend sometimes.
To enter the bubble of “The Truman Show” where it seems everyone has been placed there to accommodate and soothe your own chaotic mind, scuttle your worries and make you realize that paradise is truly an illusion.
But so are the movies.
You can watch one, or be in one, in Seaside.