The latest issue of Southern Cultures arrived, and one of the essays is entitled, “The Rise and Fall of the Redneck Riviera”.
It is a great piece.
It begins with how the beach towns used to be (if you’re not familiar with ‘Redneck Riviera’, it’s the Gulf Coast, most often associated with the beaches of Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle. Howell Raines, who is from B’ham and later become executive editor of the New York Times, came up with the name.) – they’re described in 1941 by the Alabama WPA book as little fishing villages. Later post-WWII vacationers enjoyed themselves in cottages and efficiencies. Eventually the area was dotted with family motels.
Then came along Hurricane Camille, which swept away much of what was.
In the ’80s people came and began building condos and huge hotels.
And here we are.
My favorite part of the essay is about the establishment in 1982 of a piece of land that the author signals as the date beginning the decline of the Redneck Riviera.
…where Robert Davis, an Alabama native with a northern education, set out to build an “old fashioned” Florida village and ended up building what Time magazine declared “could be the most astounding design achievement of its era.”
In a sense Seaside reflected what had become of the Baby Boomers who were evolving from bourgeois rednecks to just plain bourgeois.
The author goes on to discuss how Davis planned the community with dirt streets and cracker cottages. New Urbanism. Living and working together.
But the homeowners decided they wanted the streets paved with brick, and they wanted more than “shack-vernac” – so they built larger homes.
…it wasn’t long before Seaside had become a code-controlled community of architecturally designed wooden houses, painted colors that never appeared in nature, topped with tin roofs, and christened with cute names.
…”Pastel Hell,” as the neighbors called it, was designed to appeal to the upper-income, Southern Living-reading, Lexus-driving, Republican-voting, Dixie yuppie.
The issue of snowbirds is also addressed (snowbirds are people who temporarily move here from up north when it gets cold).
Locals also complain that the old and northern drive too slowly, clog up the check-out lines at the grocery stores, are rude and pushy and, more than anything else, are Yankees – which explains the popular bumper sticker that reads: “If this is snowbird season, why can’t I shoot one?”
The author goes on and addresses the area rebuilding post-Katrina, which includes a funny story about beach rats and feral cats (I promise, it’s not yucky). There’s also a section on Alabama governor Bob Riley’s plans to rebuild our Gulf State Park – which…Gulf State Park made Motel 6 look pretty good. I’ve never been inside, but you can tell from the road that it’s pretty austere. Anyway, Riley wanted to double the number of rooms and double the rate plus add a convention center. Now this is first part is hilarious (…but maybe not so far off the mark…hmmm…):
…before the storm some had suggested that it should be taken over and maintained by the state Historical Commission so future generations could see what a Redneck Riviera motel once was.
It turns out that this essay is an overview for a book that the University of Georgia Press
will publish in 2011 under the same name. Going to have to get it.