Now THAT’S what I call a C-H-O-M-P! 😀
American Journeys | Gainesville, Fla.
Butterflies Among the Gators in Florida
We’ve been reading travel pieces because Favorite Daughter is off for Europe this summer, not on a group tour and not even with the help of a travel agent. She and a friend are doing it all themselves, learning about trains and planes, pickpockets and hostels, visas and VATs, as they go.
So I was reading this wonderful NYT piece about train travel for peaceful, non-commercial and educational green tourism — through America on Amtrak as it happens, but still it’s helping us picture what riding the Eurails might be like — when I stumbled across travel power of story about my very own home town.
Gainesville is where I learned to love libraries, and journalism, and challenging ideas. To think for myself and damn the torpedoes.
And the arts. The performing arts center was first proposed when I was lobbying for education, right before I moved here permanently. I remember it as the “Miracle on 34th Street” because Jon Mills amazingly got it funded despite the dominance of south Florida legislators (and because it’s on 34th Street, duh.) Because I moved, I never got to see it finished, much less see shows there.
I haven’t lived in Gainesville for 20 years so the recommended restaurants are unknown to me now, but I’ve been to all the museums mentioned and I practically grew up on that glorious campus, dripping with history and heritage AND chomping at the bit for change and progress.
It’s true that Education (which encompasses academic and intellectual virtues like culture and history and literature) is the heart of Gainesville, pumping lifeblood through everything. It sets the rhythm and tone indoors and out, for the whole community, and literally “the business of education is the largest employer in town.”
Gainesville and its environs are a curious melding of academia and the arts with the natural sights of Old Florida. The campus is a world unto itself, with 900 buildings, including gracious red brick halls, a cultural plaza and an elegant sorority row. Downtown is its own commercial district. But drive a few minutes out of town and there are fields where horses graze and farmhouses with tall windows and wide verandas. Cypress trees line two-lane roads.
“We don’t have the ocean, spring training or Disney World,” Dr. McCarthy said, “but what we do have is the educational, the cultural and access to the rural parts of Florida.”
Yes, national championship Gator sports including homeschooled quarterback phenom Tim Tebow are a world unto themselves, a whole identity for kids to color themselves whether they wind up as UF students or not, and I still bleed orange and blue for my sports teams.
Leaving that aside though, if we weren’t unschooling here in Tallahassee near FSU and even nearer the Georgia line — so like Gainesville except Capitol business dominates downtown and most community activities instead of education, and gives this college town a shrewd, clumsy political edge that isn’t quite so family-friendly as what I grew up loving, imo — then I would miss Gainesville unbearably instead of mostly managably. I still can’t imagine a better place than the heart of Gator Nation, for kids of all ages to learn and explore, grow up and go forth.
(And btw, from there beaches on both coasts and DisneyWorld are all closer than from here, only an hour or two by car, even spring training is reachable in less than three — Yankees-Red Sox at Legends Field, go BoSox!)