Southerners know how to do it right. People in the South still say “Good morning, ma’am” as they pass by you, still wave a friendly hello as their car passes yours in the neighborhood, and hardly – if ever – honk their car horns. When visiting any Southern city, just note the charm isn’t only in its monuments, museums or restaurants, but in the people who make the region one of the best places in the country.
In my case, I was born, raised and reared in the South: Jacksonville’s First Coast specifically, southern Georgia metaphorically. Because of those roots, I thought I knew a thing or two about my hometown. But it is not until my recent trip back, some years into my adulthood, that I felt I felt I really understood the city. There lies an unpretentious air, where people want to impress you not with their vehicular obsession but instead with their warm smiles and stories that begins with, “Remember that time when…”. Here, loving thy neighbor actually is practiced, and who doesn’t enjoy that?
That was evidenced no better than at the downtown hotel I stayed in during my recent visit. The Omni Jacksonville Hotel, a four-diamond luxury spot, feels like an extension of each employee’s home – albeit a sophisticated one. Pulling up to the hotel’s front entrance, a staff member graciously opens the doors for me as if he’s welcoming me into his home: “Welcome in, ma’am,” he greets while holding the door open. “Please, do make yourself at home.” Don’t mind if I do!
The Omni Jacksonville Hotel is centrally located to, well, everything. Across the street, perhaps an easy stone’s throw away, is the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, where I remember my mother taking me as a teen to see one of the South’s best orchestra, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, who performed Mozart’s “Concerto No. 20.” Within walking distance from the hotel is the Jacksonville Landing, a visitor’s go-to venue for food, nightlight and a little shopping. And down the way is EverBank Field, where the Jacksonville Jaguars call home and the annual Florida-Georgia collegiate football game is played.
Downtown Jacksonville today should be the envy of every metropolis. An epicenter for businesses, including the corporate offices for CSX, the downtown has a quiet bustle to it with courteous traffic that South Florida maybe glimpses on a Sunday holiday morning. The area is built around the beautiful St. Johns River, which bisects the city, and much of the downtown is built around it. The football stadium faces the river as does The Landing, as if the city is making offerings to the river gods.
On Saturday, we went to the Riverside Arts Market, just a short 5-minute trip outside downtown. There, under the Fuller Warren Bridge, lies throngs of food, accessories and clothing vendors. Artists galore show off their works, and a stage hosts local musicians. What a shame this wasn’t here when I lived in the area!
I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Jacksonville and the First Coast. After being away for so long and saturated with the flashy South Florida lifestyle, breathing Jacksonville non-pretentious fresh air was invigorating (so THIS is what modesty smells like!). Will I come back? Yes, ma’am.