My Year of Blogging (Almost) Daily
Discovering Tallahassee, One Post at a Time
It was a Friday night and I was squeezed into the smoky back room of a creaky bar on Gaines Street. It was standing room only and filled with Tallahassee’s drag queens and kings; men in dresses with a flirtatious hip-swinging swagger and women wearing ties cracking bawdy off-color jokes that had the room shaking with laughter.
The ensuing burlesque show was just the right mix of entertainment and titillation, and as I left the bar I thought, “That’s why I started this blog.”
I did not attend the performance because I’m some thrill-seeking party animal or knew someone in the show. I was brought there by my sense of loyalty — I had to fulfill a questionable commitment I made to the World Wide Web a few months earlier.
On January 1, 2011, I promised to find one new thing to do in Tallahassee each day, chronicling my journey in a blog I called “365 Things To Do In Tallahassee.”
I’m the furthest thing from a Tallahassee lassie native oozing love for my town.
I moved to Tallahassee from Austin, Texas, in 2009, only lured here after my soon-to-be-husband made one promise: that we would leave someday.
At first, I stubbornly refused to see anything good about my new hometown. Austin, which regularly landed on the “Best Places to Live” lists and is world-renowned for its music scene, had imbued me with a sky-high list of expectations for my new hometown.
It was easy for me to find things to criticize. I was daunted by the subdued downtown, a nightlife that seemed confined to a few square miles adjacent to Florida State University and the town’s inexplicable healthy appetite for chain restaurants.
But after a year and a half living in Tallahassee I had learned the town did have its enchantments. Tallahassee doesn’t shout “Hey! Aren’t I Cool?” the way Austin does, preferring to hide its pleasures underneath a healthy dose of Spanish moss.
Then I read an article my friend had written in the Austin American-Statesman about a woman who blogged about 365 things to do in Austin.
Finding fun, new things to do in Austin was a cinch. A real blogging challenge would be to pull that off in sleepy Tallahassee, I mused. Could it even be done?
Before I could convince myself this was a terrible idea, I snapped a picture of a “Welcome to Tallahassee” road sign on Jan. 1 and started my blog, making a promise I would come to regret — to post every day. My motivation was simple. I wanted an excuse to push aside my list of expectations and discover what Tallahassee had to offer.
I began with an easy, understated assignment on Day One. The park just outside my house in SouthWood was gorgeous, and the perfect spot for a leisurely afternoon walk.
I snapped a few photos and that was Day One. No sweat, I thought, I can do this.
To my surprise, the blog immediately had a profound impact on how I viewed Tallahassee. As I drove through town, I examined every restaurant, bar, store, park and event as a possible blog idea. My goal was to avoid chains as much as possible.
The ideas flowed easily at first. My usual routines easily became blog fodder. Sipping a peanut butter and jelly smoothie at organic retailer Earth Fare. Check. A blissful morning running on dirt trails at the Miccosukee Greenway. Check.
To have enough material to post all seven days a week, I packed my weekends with activities. This wasn’t easy for me. I’m not a social butterfly; I prefer Friday evenings cozied up with a book or a good television show.
My new life meant I was rarely at home. A Friday night playing a hysterically fast-paced game of bingo at the Moose Lodge followed by a Saturday that included a stop at the flea market followed by a visit to the Mary Brogan Museum of Art & Science and a Sunday brunch at Cabo’s Island Grill & Bar.
I discovered Tallahassee treasures that would have taken me years to get to otherwise. I especially liked finding things off the beaten path. One Sunday afternoon, Day 66, I watched the odd Southern tradition of Civil War re-enactments, with eardrum-cracking cannons you could hear for miles. On Day 148, I had New Orleans-style beignets at Angelette’s Cajun Kitchen, a new restaurant with no sign, but a line out the door on Sundays.
The blog succeeded in its mission. I got to know Tallahassee very quickly. I went dancing at a hip hop club on the west side of town and explored plantations in Thomasville, Ga. (Anything within an hour’s drive counted). I went to baseball games, basketball games and softball games, and ate at new restaurants every week. I was poked with acupuncture needles and frozen in the cold waters of Wakulla Springs.
As I explored every nook and cranny of the Tallahassee area, I developed a greater empathy for the Austin blogger. As I balanced the daily demands of the blog with a full-time job covering the legislative session, I questioned the sanity of posting daily.
There were nights I panicked at 9 p.m., with three hours left to write something new.
That’s how I ended up at the Corner Pocket Sports Bar on Apalachee Parkway, watching a game of poker played by a dozen patrons slurring their words while I sipped a mediocre White Russian.
When I went out of town, my lovely, supportive-of-my-crazy-ideas husband would take over the blog and contribute some dude ideas, such as drinking beer Miller’s Ale House.
By July I had to admit defeat. The romantic notion of blogging my way through Tallahassee was replaced with the reality of missing nights out with friends, an empty bank account, not reading a book in months and having unsatisfying meals at new restaurants.
I was afraid I was letting my fans down when I announced over the summer that I was scaling back. I would still find 365 things to do, but I wouldn’t finish by the end of 2011.
But I was so warmly embraced by readers of the blog, who encouraged me, wrote lovely emails praising my idea and offering their own unique suggestions, that I came to the corny realization that what I had found was not so much things to do in my new city, but a fellowship of other newcomers who felt exactly the way I did.
Formerly a Tallahassee Magazine staff writer, Lilly Rockwell, is now a political reporter. You can read her blog about things to do in Tallahassee at 365tallahassee.com.
Lilly’s Top 10
» Lofty Pursuits: Early on in my journey, I discovered soda fountain shop Lofty Pursuits, and I have been in love ever since. The adorable store — it’s like time traveling back to the ’50s — has an exhaustive menu, from old-fashioned egg cream sodas and phosphates to traditional ice cream sundaes. Even snobby out-of-towners will be impressed.
» Mission San Luis: Locals may be bored by it, but I loved this living history museum not far from Florida State University. I felt simultaneously entertained and informed about the community of Native Americans and Spaniards that once lived there. It helps that there are guides dressed in period clothing.
» Au Peche Mignon: Clearly, I have a sweet tooth. This charming French bakery with not-so-great hours took me three tries to get to. It was worth the wait. I felt transported back to Paris with its delectable chocolates and warm pastries.
» Tallahassee Automobile Museum: I am not a car enthusiast, but I loved this museum. It is a bit pricey, but the collection of cars and other items DeVoe Moore has amassed is astounding. It becomes a walk through time and I was especially intrigued by the Batmobiles from the “Batman” movies.
» Liam’s Restaurant: Though it is not in Tallahassee, Liam’s is easily the best restaurant in a 100-mile radius. Located in the charming town of Thomasville, Ga., Liam’s offers gourmet, organic meals that will satisfy your palate. They are especially known for their European brunches on Saturday, which offer French-style breakfasts and cheese plates that will have you reminiscing for months afterward.
» Golf at SouthWood: I am the type of person that makes fun of golfers. But in the spirit of the blog, I was dragged out to the SouthWood golf course on a spring day and finally got why so many people like the sport. It was fun, relaxing and I even got to kid myself that I was rich enough to afford this hobby. Even if you have never played golf before and don’t own clubs, like me, it’s worth trying once.
» RollerGirls: Show up early. Bring chairs. Follow that advice and you will have a great time watching Tallahassee’s roller girls duke it out on a “rink” at the North Florida Fairgrounds. I loved seeing tough women celebrated, instead of the emphasis on girly-girls you so often see in pop culture.
» Big Easy Snowballs: This New Orleans-style snowball shop on Monroe Street brings a little bit of New Orleans to Tallahassee. Perfect on a hot summer day, the snowball shop makes snow cones with soft serve ice cream packed in the middle. It’s very kid-friendly and extremely affordable.
» Goodwood Museum & Gardens: I love a good plantation tour, and Tallahassee’s own Goodwood has a pretty entertaining history. If you get a good guide, you will learn all about the historical twists and turns that led to the founding of the plantation and its impact on Tallahassee life.
» All Saints Cinema: With the closure of Miracle 5, All Saints Cinema has stepped in to fill the void for independent films. For an affordable $7, you can sit in an old train depot and watch top-notch movies that you simply cannot see anywhere else.