There’s a tollbooth on the road over to Pensacola Beach. The toll is a dollar.

(Only on the way out. It’s free to come back.)

The tollbooth operators wear a uniform. It consists of a Hawaiian shirt.

That’s it, really.

I mean, I’m sure they wear pants, too. But I never see the pants.

After almost two years of living on the Florida panhandle, I’ve come to think of this Hawaiian-shirt-as-uniform business as typical of what locals call the “Salt Life.”

The “Salt Life” is a popular motif down here on the ole Redneck Riviera. I was of course ignorant about the Salt Life when I first moved to Gulf Breeze. But shortly after we arrived, my husband Kelly and I started seeing “Salt Life” decals stuck to the backs of cars and trucks.

We saw more and more of them. They were everywhere. There were several variations, but the most common was done in white lettering that looked like it had been eroded a little. As though from a gulf breeze, maybe.

“What’s that all about?” I asked Kelly, after I’d seen enough of them to feel they couldn’t be ignored.

“I don’t know,” he said. “There’s another one.”

It became our own private version of the Slug Bug game.

Eventually Kelly got a job working with some locals who filled him in.

“Salt Life means you’re a local,” he told me one evening after work. “But a local who goes to the beach. Not a local who ignores the beach, or a tourist.”

“Oh,” I said.

But it seemed unlikely there was a sticker purely to designate panhandle locals, so eventually I got around to looking it up online.

Turns out the Salt Life is just a … store.

The company originated out of Jacksonville Beach. It sells t-shirts and visors and coffee mugs and–go figure–car decals.

This was a little disappointing. For a while my ardor for the “Salt Life” cooled.

But eventually it came back.

For one thing, there’s the fishing. I’ve lived near the beach before; I grew up by the Jersey Shore. But I’ve never seen so many people fishing in my life as I see fish here.

Some stimulus money has trickled its way into the local area; it’s being used to build two new fishing piers.

Fishing piers! That’s what we need more of to get this great country back on its feet, dontcha think?

Well, here in Salt Life territory, we do. It’s essential to our well being.

Even to mine, and I don’t even fish. I like fishing, though, now that I live here.

Here are some things I like about fishing:

1. At a time when I get the feeling a lot of people don’t even want to be seen in public, as though it’s an embarrassment to be caught outdoors, I like the way people who fish will just stop on the side of the road and drop a line anywhere they think they can catch something.

1A. They do it late at night, too. I like that. It seems like being out late at night is considered especially suspicious. I’m in favor of any excuse to be out in the middle of the night.

2. I like the way fishing seems to cross all boundaries. People young and old, black and white, male and female, rich and poor, all fish together.

2A. The only difference is the really rich people fish on boats.

There’s this old man I see walking up and down my street a lot. He passes at all hours, in the wee morning, very late at night, or anytime in between. He walks slowly, creakily, pulling a cooler on wheels behind him.

He’s headed for the bridge. He’s going fishing. He’s living the Salt Life.

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DAWN CORRIGAN has published poetry and fiction in a number of print and online journals.

31 responses to “The Salt Life”

  1. Are… are you sure they’re wearing pants?

  2. J.M. Blaine says:

    Greetings Mrs Corrigan and welcome to TNB!

    I lived the Salt Life for awhile and dearly miss it.
    Life moves slow in the Salt Lane.

    We didn’t fish though. Too much work.
    Like Stephen Wright says, there’s a fine line
    between fishing and sitting on the bank like an idiot.
    So we just sat.

    • Dawn Corrigan says:

      Just so. I often think fishing is just an excuse for staring at the water. For some people, anyway. Not for all of them, I know.

      Not sure why they think they need an excuse, but I guess some people are more adverse to standing (or sitting) around looking like idiots than others of us.

      P.S.: Hi. Love the new Gravatar. Very rock n roll.

      • Phat B says:

        I totally use fishing as an excuse to stare at water. I didn’t even learn to fish properly until a couple years ago, even though I’ve been going fishing my entire life. It’s like a fishing pole gives me something to glance at between reading and soaking up the atmosphere.

        • Dawn Corrigan says:

          Soaking up the atmosphere. Yes, that’s it exactly. I love the idea of the fishing pole as a way to, erm, break up the negative space or something.

        • Phat B says:

          Yeah it’s like your brain has been programmed to not enjoy downtime, so after a while the brain is like “why are we staring at this lake? We should be productive.” That’s when you look at the fishing pole, to remind the brain that you are fishing. The body is enjoying the hell out of the relaxation, and the fishing pole distracts the brain from nagging you.

        • Dawn Corrigan says:

          Exactly. The things we do to trick these big brains of ours …

  3. Pam says:

    Yay — you’re back! I’m not so sure about the Hawaiian shirt uniform…hmmm… no local Floridian wear available? It is neat how fishing seems to cross most identity boundaries — terrific observation!

  4. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    I guess we live the “salt life” here in Miami Beach too. People are fishing everywhere, off of every bridge and every pier and every deck. There are places you’re not supposed to fish because there are boats going underneath the bridge and they can get all cut up by the hook if they sail past it.
    There are many boats here, some enormous fishing boats but really mostly lots of little ones.
    We live the “salt life” for sure down here!
    The fish are REALLY good, too.

    • Dawn Corrigan says:

      I’m glad you live the Salt Life, Irene! Or maybe I should say, .efiL tlaS eht evil uoy dalg m’I.

      I never thought about that with the boats. One doesn’t want someone in a boat getting hooked. But I bet people fish here where they’re not supposed to, too. They fish everywhere! Last August it became a requirement that locals fishing off beaches, piers and bridges need a license, whereas they never needed one before. Boy, were people mad.

  5. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    No regular people like new rules and laws put on them.
    The government, on the other hand, both national and local LOVES to attach new rules and laws and taxes and fees.
    Oh yes they do.
    They live for controlling us from the cradle to the grave.

  6. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    (I love that no one knows why you did that.)

    • Dawn Corrigan says:

      Heh. Me too.

      I know what you mean about government and laws. On the other hand, it’s hard to get a bunch of people who aren’t from the same clan to live in close proximity together without killing each other. Heck, even when they’re from the same clan, it’s often hard. I think writing more laws is the only way the government knows how to do it.

      Maybe there should be a rule that for every new law they make, they have to throw out an old one.

      Ha! Look at me. Making more rules. I should be a politician.

  7. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    if you became a politician, it would change you.
    there is a horrible transformation that takes place.

    • Dawn Corrigan says:

      Oh, I wouldn’t really. I couldn’t. But … it sounds as though you’ve witnessed this horrible transformation at close range?

  8. Paul Clayton says:

    Thanks for that post, Dawn. I glad to read that other common folk are enjoying their lives, wasting time. There’s some famous analagy about fishing and writing, the great deep unconscious, dropping a hook into that and popping a can of Bud, waiting for that nibble. Don’t know about Florida, but here in CA you need a license to fish. But you can fish off the piers wo a license. Ah… down to the sea in… beach chairs. I love it.

  9. Zara Potts says:

    Oh I love the sea. How I would like to live The Salt Life. Or even just a Salty Life.
    I really hope those toll booth guys weren’t wearing pants.

  10. Marni Grossman says:

    There’s a reason all the crazy shit goes down in Florida, Dawn. Be careful down there!

    (Of course, it’s not quite “the situation” they have going on at the Jersey shore…)

  11. David says:

    Please post a picture of your bra.
    Thanks, David.

  12. Guitar Zeroh says:

    why was some preacher on the tv one day pluggin’ it so hard w/SL hat and shirt… talking about healthcare n god? two dif world$? ; )

  13. Mark says:

    Salt Life is not ‘just a store’, it originally was meant for surfers, bodyboarders, and beach bums who spent the majority of their time at the beach. It then evolved into a product brand AND to mean people who live at and love the beach. Then evolved again to anyone who loves the beach / water.

    If you’re going to write about something as ‘fact’, then learn what it is really about before doing so. If you clearly state that it’s your uneducated opinion (which you did not do here), then that’s okay. But to be condescending without knowing what you’re really talking about just makes you look ignorant.

  14. Christy Combee says:

    I’m a Fl native, I fish, surf, swim anything Salt Life. If someone mentions beach, doesn’t matter on what side of FL, I’m in. Salt Life is the only way for this true native. Always enjoy Salt Life, we’re on our time here!

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