It was a gorgeous Pensacola October, with warm air and a cooling ocean. Casino Island adrift in a perfect, clear blue sea. The city itself moves like tides, with the people gently rolling in to town in the morning and away again at night. On day two of our DeLuna Fest coverage, I awoke at 7:00 A.M., with the rest of the news crew asleep, I assembled my room key and some shoes and set out to get a feel of the place. My first thought was breakfast. At the Hotel, it was $9.00. Forget that.
In an attempt to find something more reasonable, I decided to find a grocery store. With no map and no clue, it was not easy. I lucked onto the road to downtown Pensacola proper. I hit the jackpot when I discovered an international open-air market being set up on Palafox Street. This was perfect. A kind local woman, Mrs. Hashida, immediately approached me. She said, “It is way too early for you to be up without some breakfast”, and without hesitation, she gave me two pastries that she called “a traditional Japanese breakfast”. Dorayaki. It was blissful. Her family encouraged me that this was a friendly place, and that I shouldn’t be scared to approach anyone. I followed her advice.
After enjoying my breakfast, I stopped a passing police officer and asked him where the nearest grocery store was. “It’s pretty far”, he said, “You need to take 9th down pretty far”. Fair enough. The road was long, but manageable. I never found the store, but after the Dorayaki and some coffee, I wasn’t as ravenous. Within the next two hours, I went on to have multiple meaningful exchanges with everyone from three kind boutique shop owners having a garage sale, to some professional deep sea fishermen practicing their casting at a church playground, to Occupy Pensacola protesters with stained hands and wet grafitti. There were outdoor art exhibits of every variety imaginable.
Pensacola casts a spell over you. If New Orleans and St. Augustine had a child they tucked in tighly every night and raised with love, it must be this place.
It could be the sea. A local artist told me, “There is a solidarity among people here. I used to live in Oakland, and there is no comparison to this place. The rich and the poor, the good and the bad, no matter how expensive their mansion or how shanty their shack, they still wake up every morning and see the same gulf”.
Big Oil didn’t kill this place, but I doubt it could. Pensacola isn’t a place I wouldn’t mind getting stuck in. The conquistadors that landed here must have fallen in love with the place after being adrift for so long.
With things like the Blue Angels and a tourism boom from DeLuna Fest, Pensacola has a lot to be optimistic about. I hope my travels bring me here again. Soon.
The moral of the story: If you turn 50 and you don’t move to Pensacola, you’ve cheated yourself.