From The Observer News
In many ways Pine Island is a throwback to what Florida was before the boom began. It is quiet, you can buy a home without being an executive on the run from a major corporate financial scandal and there are few, if any, tourists. In fact, I don’t think that St. James City, the island’s main town, even has a motel.
Pine Island is also a reminder that the longing for what was, the memories of the past, are often painted with a rose colored brush. Simply put, there is a reason that it is quiet, there is a reason that you can buy a reasonably affordable home on this island in the Gulf. The reason is simple: There is nothing there.
It is a working town filled with manufactured and mobile homes. The one grocery store is a far cry from the monster-mega-markets found on the mainland. Nor is it a pricy boutique-style stores such as those found on neighboring Sanibel. The St. James City General Store is much like the island itself, a no nonsense affair that provides the things you need and not much more.
But it also has something else not typically found in those other stores - real people who are courteous and friendly in a real southern way. There is no artificial facade in St. James City, it is a real town where what you see is what you get. It is a place where you could pull up a chair and chat with the store clerk while she waits for customers.
They will call you ‘Darlin’ in the Ragged Ass Saloon and when they ask how your lunch is, they really want to know. On the other hand, if you are a demanding, obnoxious tourist with an attitude, they may well ask you to leave. The food, by the way, was excellent and the service was, again, courteous and friendly in a real southern way. The saloon overlooks a boat yard that contains a mix of commercial fishermen and small private boats, some of which have seen better days.
But change is coming to St. James City. In what years ago may well have been mobile homes and fishing shacks, new homes are going up near the water overlooking Sanibel. Construction equipment is lined up at the small canal marina near the Ragged Ass Saloon. The winds of change are blowing through Punta Gorda, through the town of Matlacha and swirling around the end of the road in St. James City.
But for now, it is still there, a genuine little town where everyone knows each other and people call you ‘Darlin’. For now, there are still people who wake up and go to work and come home to watch TV or visit with neighbors. For now, it is a picture in time of what Florida was - a genuine place with courteous people who actually mean what they say. What they say, whether it is good or bad, depends upon you. There is no facade in St. James City - it would be best if you did not carry one in.
The real Florida is still out there in St. James City. In our memories, the Good Old Days are often seen through rose colored glasses. It is so easy to forget that the Good Old Days, by necessity, lacked the conveniences to which most of us have become accustomed. The Good Old Days did not have giant mega-markets and 24-hour pharmacies. The Good Old Days did not offer 50 varieties of breakfast cereal. The Good Old Days did not have seven figure home prices and every imaginable convenience that kept you from thinking for yourself. The Good Old Days had none of that and neither does St. James City.
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