Seventy miles northwest of Orlando International Airport, amid the sprawling, flat central Florida nothingness — past all of those billboards for Jesus and unborn fetuses and boiled peanuts and gator meat — springs up a town called Wildwood. Storefront churches. O’Shucks Oyster Bar. Family Dollar. Nordic Gun & Pawn. A community center with a playground overgrown by weeds. Vast swaths of tree-dotted pastureland. This area used to be the very center of Florida’s now fast-disappearing cattle industry. The houses are low-slung, pale stucco. One has a weight bench in the yard. There’s a rail yard crowded with static freight trains. The owners of a dingy single-wide proudly fly the stars and bars.
And then, suddenly, unexpectedly, Wildwood’s drabness explodes into green Southern splendor: majestic oaks bearing spindly fronds of Spanish moss that hang down almost to the ground. What was once rolling pasture land has been leveled with clay and sand. Acres of palmetto, hummock, and pine forest clear-cut and covered with vivid sod. All around me, old men drive golf carts styled to look like German luxury automobiles or that have tinted windows and enclosures to guard against the morning chill, along a wide, paved cart path. It’s a bizarre sensation, like happening upon a geriatric man’s vision of heaven itself. I have just entered The Villages.
Alex French does a great job capturing the excitement of The Villages. Read the article and then let me know your personal experiences. Do you live in The Villages? What do you think?