A newcomer's guide to Jacksonville: The things they don't always tell you

Population-wise, Jacksonville has long been a growing city in an ever-growing state.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau numbers estimated more than 13,000 people moved here between 2014 and 2015. No updates have been announced, but based on how long we are waiting in traffic these days, we’re pretty sure the city continues to attract new residents.

Most newcomers probably arrive with some degree of awareness of the good things Northeast Florida has to offer, in a Chamber of Commerce-like way: a river and an ocean. Plenty of parks and trails for nature lovers. Great golfing. Job opportunities. Affordable housing. No state income tax.

A nice place to raise kids.

And don’t forget, this is one of the best spots for chicken and waffles in the nation.

Hey, after reading about the natural paradise known as Jacksonville on Visit Florida’s website, we couldn’t wait to move here, until we calmed down and realized we already had.

But there are always things “they” don’t tell you. Like the number of months your car will be coated with pollen, the percentage of slow drivers who stay in the left lane and the lawn weeds you will do battle with that you’ll never be able to defeat.

This guide for newcomers is designed to you help navigate, understand and perhaps better appreciate your new community.

1. Know your alternative routes. Road construction and traffic accidents can make driving a nightmare, especially if your route is an interstate highway with the number 95 in it.

2. Speaking of driving: It can be tough to learn your way around this sprawling city, which is the largest by area in the lower 48. Think of GPS as your new best friend.

3. Speaking of roads: Be skeptical of any kind words pertaining to traffic on Blanding Boulevard.

4. Speaking of boulevards: If someone says your destination is on University Boulevard, insist on more information. University Boulevard has a “North,” a “South” and a “West.” There is no such thing as “University Boulevard East.” Well, actually there is, but you’d have to be in places like Silver Spring, Md., or Tuscaloosa, Ala. If neither was your destination, a serious wrong turn has been made.

5. It gets cold here — sometimes for three days straight. It’s a damp cold that can make even strong men tremble. After you’ve lived in Jacksonville a while, you may catch yourself saying “I’m sick of winter” after two chilly, overcast days. That’s when you know you’ve become one of us.

6. Some people making such statements wear shorts year-round, because, after all, it’s Florida and darn it, it’s supposed to be warm.

7. Conversely, “Sunny Florida” can be relentlessly hot and humid by mid-summer. August tends to loosen its grip sometime in October. You may catch yourself Googling “swimming with polar bears vacation” around September as a coping mechanism.

8. To help you recover from the heat, commercial establishments tend to overcompensate with the air conditioning. There are three thermostat settings: 78, 72 and cryogenic. The third is what you typically encounter. Having a sweater or hoodie available in your car will help you get through the sweltering Florida summer.

9. There will be lizards at your door, on your steps and inside your house (usually at a window, looking for a way out). Most likely you’re seeing brown or green anoles. On the positive side, they won’t hurt you, and they can make a meal out of spiders or ants.

10. You will hear just enough stories about sharks in the ocean, alligators in the pond and snakes in the yard to make you somewhere between alert and phobic.

11. When out-of-state friends visit you for the first time, they will ask how far you are from Orlando and insist you take them there. Then, they will ask how far you are from Miami and insist you take them there. Give yourself about a year before you start saying “no” without feeling guilty.

12. When following college sports, you need to decide if you’re going to root for the University of Florida or the University of Georgia, and for the University of Florida or Florida State University, even if you did not attend any of those schools. It will help you feel like you are emotionally invested in the community.

13. You have the option of pronouncing the NFL team as “Jaguars” — or “Jag-wires,” if you feel like deferring to a regional accent upheld by generations.

14. Duval (with the accent on the second syllable) also has an alternate pronunciation: DOOOOO-val.

15. Some of the bridges are not referred to by their actual names. The Main Street bridge is officially the John T. Alsop Jr. Bridge. The Dames Point bridge is officially the Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Bridge. You can see why people prefer the formers to the latters.

16. A few spellings may trip you up, which will put you in the company of some sign makers and newspaper reporters. Philips Highway really does have just one “l,” and the Mathews bridge, just one “T.”

17. Most people will not be able to tell you with certainty the right way to pronounce “Mickler’s” in “Mickler’s Landing.” It’s MIKE-ler’s, but you’ll hear it mispronounced so often you may start to doubt yourself as you try to say it correctly.

18. Jacksonville is a Sunday breakfast and brunch town. It is not a Sunday dinner town, and many of your favorite restaurants will be closed.

19. Looking for a good spot to dine after a concert or play? Consider reversing your itinerary. You’re better off eating before the show, since it can be tough to find a place that serves after 10 p.m.

20. Falafel, gyro, hummus and tabbouleh will become part of your vocabulary. The Arab-American population here is significant, and this has helped to contribute to an abundance of good restaurants with a Mediterranean influence.

21. Pay close attention to The Weather Channel from August through October, which, we regret to inform you, is serious hurricane season. Some don’t even like to mention the “H” word, for fear they’ll attract Jim Cantore.

22. Sometimes the smell of coffee roasting fills the air downtown, courtesy of the Maxwell House plant. The aroma, while not as effective as an actual cup of coffee, may perk up your mood.

23. If you like country music, you’ll seldom lack for a concert with a big-name performer. Country artists play to adoring crowds at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on a fairly regular basis.

24. If you like outdoor concerts, put the St. Augustine Amphitheatre on your list. Yes, it’s south of Jacksonville, but not by much, and it is considered an ideal outdoor venue for music. There’s another amphitheater in the works downtown, Daily’s Place, opening on the Memorial Day weekend.

25. The arts community works hard to be vibrant and visible, and occasionally finds itself in the middle of some sort of controversy — which can be interpreted to mean they’re doing their job.

26. There are fireworks for every occasion. You’ll probably want to warn your dog.

28. You are never far from a Walgreens or CVS, or a Starbucks or Panera, for that matter. We’re not saying that’s good or bad. It’s just a fact.

29. The St. Johns Town Center, a shopper’s paradise, is ever-growing. It may be somewhat of a drive for you now, but don’t rule out the possibility it will continue to expand until it’s just a few blocks away from wherever you are living.

30. You need to ride the Skyway at least once, just to say you’ve done it. The humble people-mover, formerly known as the Skyway Express, has been the subject of debate for 27 years now. It’s a great conversation starter. “Really? You rode it?” your listeners will ask. “Where did it take you? What was it like?”

David Crumpler: (904) 359-4164

Florida Times-Union


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