Austin, Texas might get all the hollers from mainstream media, but I think it’s that other college town and Southern state capital a few hundred miles down I-10 East that speaks surprisingly to all-inclusive diversity and the rack of artistic expressions, cultural encounters, and eating options that entails. No, this ain’t your granny’s Tallahassee.
Nestled amongst the red clay hills, moss, and magnolias of North Florida, Tally indeed reminds folks that it was “the only Confedrit capital east of the Mis’sippi not captured by Yankee fawces during the waw of Nawthun aggression.” And while the atmosphere is still not exactly “We Are the World,” the city’s third black mayor currently holds sway over politically blue territory in a decidedly red region of the country, while students, alumni, and faculty of (my alma mater) Florida A&M University continue making socioeconomic headway at a percentage unmatched anywhere else in the state. Adding to the mix is a burgeoning Latino and Asian student population, especially at Florida State University, and many young people unaffiliated with government or university who’ve visited, liked, and stayed, and who’ve carved a niche of professionals and bohemians that have, in turn, spawned an explosion of alternative activities to traditional Homecoming games and massive barbecues (not poo-pooing either, mind you).
- If you’re in town on the first Friday of the month, head to the aptly-named First Fridays at Railroad Square, a gathering of eclectic visual and musical artists showcasing their wares among off-price wine and grilled snacks. I bought a t-shirt with an outline of Florida and the tagline, “No Other State Has Sunshine.”
- From now through March 23rd, Black art collectors Bernard and Shirley Kinsey display paintings and historical documents, including a hilarious Dear John letter from Zora Neale Hurston, at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art & Science. The exhibition goes to the Smithsonian when it leaves Tallahassee.
- Next week, hit FSU’s 7 Days of Opening Nights, wait til March for Handel’s “Xerxes” at the Florida State Opera, or swing down in the fall and rattle to FAMU’s Marching 100 at one of the football games.
- Saturday afternoon, stroll through the mangrove forest at the Tallahassee Museum and watch the black bears and Florida panthers frolic with man-sized yarn balls, or soak up the silence in Princess Murat’s modest plantation house. Saturday night, get yo salsa on at Atlantis Bar and Grill or have a drinky-poo in the lobby of the Aloft Hotel (a much more welcoming atmosphere than at the Hotel Duval down the street).
- Skip Chik-fil-A and TGI Friday’s. Head for Super Perros for Colombian fast food, Bahn Thai for (you guessed it), Uptown Cafe for the hot pulled pork, The Black Bean for comida cubana, and Bird’s (Aphrodisiac Oyster Shack) for the nominal oysters or the baddest-ass hamburger in the Lower 48.
Thanks, John and Nina, for the bomb Super Bowl weekend!