We drove down to St. Augustine for our first visit last weekend. It is rather touristy and pretty, kind of a Charleston-meets-Athens feel to the place.
I'm glad I waited until October -- even now, the temperature hovers around 95 degrees mid-day.
The Augustinians do a really good job handling a whole lot of people. They have a group, COSA (City of St. Augustine), that works to protect the historic and cultural ambience of the downtown area. The city carefully regulates vending and street performers, and the method of determining who will be allowed to perform or sell is done through a monthly public, city-held lottery.
The city's web site (www.staugustinegovernment.com) even has an online adjustment for the text size, so you don't have to go find your bifocals.
Smack dab in the middle of everything, is an awesome, old fort: The Castillo de San Marcos. This venerable, beautifully made structure was made to last. It'll probably be here for the Second Coming, if the tourists don't tear it up.
The walls are made of coquina stone that is comprised of seashells. All over the fort, there are signs that entreat the guests not to sit on the walls or climb in fragile areas.
The wonderfully polite, courteous, Florida Park Rangers remind people -- constantly -- to please sit on the benches and not on the coquina walls.
I would lose my mind in their shoes. They were all so polite and nice. They all had nice, pressed uniforms and genteel voices. I would have to find me a bullhorn and a horsewhip. I swear the tourists looked at them like cows chewing cud, "Oh? Me? Off the wall?"
I would have been like Gunnery Sergeant Carter from Gomer Pyle, "MOVE IT, MOVE IT, MOVE IT!"
I checked the salary for a Florida Park Ranger. U.S. National Park Rangers make about $24,000 and up. Now, the most commonly held degrees by Park Rangers are Business Administration, Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice, Biology, and Environmental Sciences.
With ANY of those degrees, you could get a higher-paying job -- right? The working conditions are nice enough, surrounded by history, but the munching, photo-hound masses would have me pulling my hair out by the roots!
We were walking around the interior of the Fort when one Ranger announced, "The Ranger show will begin in 10 minutes." Now, I kid you not -- there was a woman on the stairs who asked, "What is the show about?"
Standing in the middle of a massive, multi-storied, military fort in the oldest city in America, and she had to ask what the show would be about?
I noticed that the same niceness I saw with the Rangers was pervasive in the whole city. We saw it in the tour guides with the Fountain of Youth (bleachy-tasting, by the way). We saw it in the horse-drawn carriage owners.
The one who really impressed me was the garbage collector. We had harbor-side breakfast on Monday morning when the dude came around to collect the trash. He got out of the truck, came inside, spoke to the owners of the restaurant, chatted for a few more minutes, then took the trash and left. No rush, no rudeness, just like everyone else down there -- just nice.
Maybe, it should be called the Fountain of Life, instead of the Fountain of Youth, because those folks in COSA are making the most of it.
Denese Rodgers is executive director of Connecting Henry, a social-services, networking, community organization in Henry County.