On Sunday, I took a slow drag around Fort White, a town of fewer than 600 people that is named after a military fort built during the Second Seminole War. I had no reason for visiting Fort White except for the most banal one: It was there.
Once you get outside of Gainesville, things can get pretty rural. Gainesville is the commercial hub of the entire North Central Florida region and what lies outside nicely defines “Small Southern town.” On Sunday, the most activity I saw in Fort White was a young girl carrying a hand-lettered sign for a yard sale. It was raining and a mass of gray storm clouds boiled across the sky. I decided to photograph some of the local residences, but the light was poor and the flash looked too artificial. The results are uninspiring.
So why run them here? The reason is that many readers of this blog are friends who have never visited the Florida “outback.” They’ve gone to the beaches in Key West and Miami and they’ve stayed at the luxury resorts and they’ve spent endless hours toting children around EPCOT. What they haven’t done is to see what lies outside the major cities, or what Florida looks like when you separate it from its beaches or remove it from its designation as a tourist destination. If you didn’t know these photographs were taken in Florida, you might mistake them for any other Southern state with similar architecture. They might well have been taken in Alabama or in Mississippi. There is nothing unique about them except as examples of architectural regionalism. The photographs make me question whether we should define a place by its showier facets or by its most ordinary, everyday ones. By way of example, what if we visually defined Miami not by the Deco and Moderne hotels of South Beach but by the cardboard condos without beach views and the low slung cement residences of the barrio? And Orlando? What if we eliminated any references to the tourist trade and instead depicted West Colonial Drive, a miles-long strip mall with constant construction and traffic? In Gainesville, we might remove the Swamp and show the intersection of University and Main. The reason for this is that it fairly illustrates how most of us live, apart from the natural dazzle and the tourist bling.
This set of photos, then, represents the ordinary.
Not a parking lot, but a parking “outback.” I love this unintentional neologism. I don’t blame the creator, either, not when “login” is in the OED.