Queen Palm, Florida

(excerpt)

 

Queen Palm, FL

By Sam Mossler


Queen Palm spread gradually from a single small cottage on an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico in the late 1800's to a sizable city, replete with a Whole Foods and a Sur la Table, in the present.

It hadn't always been called Queen Palm. When the Sneads first began scoping out the town, they manipulated the city council into agreeing, for the sake of its vital tourism industry, that the city's name be changed from Sawnichikee to something that the snowbirds would feel comfortable pronouncing at a gas station. But until 1982 it had been Sawnichikee. A sleepy little beach town with a hybrid sensibility. Rednecks happily bred with hippies. And former circus employees. And drunken Lithuanian abstract expressionists. And mystery novelists. And the Chicago White Sox.

Then the Sneads showed up and they, like the locals, saw the beauty and sincerely got off on the haunted vibe and the lazy afternoons. But, whereas the average Sawnichikeeite saw that beauty and thought "this should never end", the Sneads saw in its purity a tabula rasa. In its lamentable lack of order, as they saw it, there was exceptional opportunity to concentrate their wealth and use this quaint wilderness as a laboratory, a testing ground for their global ambitions.

So they set about marketing it.

Sawnichikee became Queen Palm in 1983. Several schools, a hardware store, a shopping mall, and a long running community theatre retained the Sawnichikee but otherwise there was hardly any sign that it had ever been called anything but Queen Palm. And if you didn't live there before 1983 it didn't much matter that history meant nothing.

This was only the beginning. The hippies handled this affront with predictable resignation and begrudgingly moved to Asheville or Costa Rica. The dear, old, ancient Peican Key hoi polloi died off.  The drunken Lithuanian abstract expressionist retired to Long Island. The White Sox moved to Arizona. The handful of locals who remained were generally far too gentle or ethical to go toe to toe with the Sneads. Soon the majority sentiment was 'If you can't beat 'em…'

(In 2011 a single mother was picking out laundry detergent at a Target store in Queen Palm. A wave of youth rushed over her, suddenly, knocking the wind out of her. Were she omniscient, like I am, she would know that the rush of youth was owing to the fact that the spot upon which she was standing, in the laundry detergent aisle, was the same spot where she ate hallucinogenic mushrooms and kissed her first boy in what was then a remote spot in a cow pasture, far from civilization.)

(There was a Chinese restaurant on the main drag, The Golden Buddha. They had a menu signed by Ernest Hemingway who stopped in for Lo Mein one day in the 50's. The building is still there. But it's a Quizno's. Do not order the Peking duck.)