Changes in Latitude

Not everything we see and do is educational or noble. Often as not, we’re up to no good or simply satisfying our curiosity about America’s enduring weirdness. This week involved one such visit to Margaritaville.


No, not that one. Not Key West where the song was inspired, we’re still on our way there. Rather we visited the branded, licensed, gated, active-living, “55 and Better,” retirement, lifestyle community of Margaritaville. “For those seeking a uniquely fun and relaxed lifestyle with FINtastic recreation.” Apparently, song royalties, concert revenues, restaurants, hotels and what must be a buzzing online retail biz of T-shirts, Hawaiian shirts and parrot hats wasn’t enough for Jimmy to retire on. So, he lent his brand to a developer who is peppering the tropics with pickleball and pool joints.


A resident was quoted online as saying “it’s like being in college again but without classes or tests.” Consider me intrigued. Though a Margaritaville-themed retirement community does put a little different spin on the idea of “wasting away” does it not? It was time to get the facts. We sent a Ramble On cub reporter to investigate. But they were too young, so we had to go.


The easiest Margaritaville active-living location for us to get to wasn’t actually in Florida. Wait... what? This one was near Hilton Head South Carolina, and we happened to be in the neighborhood, visiting my wonderful aunt there. It’s called Latitude Margaritaville which is probably to help avoid confusion with all the bars and hotels called Margaritaville. It sported a big, helpful sign/waterfall thing out on the highway that looked a lot like those Pirates' Cove putt-putt golf places. We drove straight to the sales office ready to dive in. The attractive, but not overly friendly, young lady at the desk informed us that we could get on a bus that was leaving soon to tour some model homes. I wasn’t much interested in the homes themselves. I figured they would look at lot like all the other “starting in the mid-200s!” spec homes dotting the gated communities up and down the coast (e.g. “Gulf Springs,” “Blue Gull Harbor,” “Morning Wood,” etc.). I wanted to see the pool! Would there be a tiki bar, maybe even a swim up? Would there be a bunch of slightly sunburned but seriously fun people talking too loudly and offering us margaritas with boiled shrimp? Would there be parrots?


Regrettably, we never got to find out. I had to pee (this being a 55+ place) and by the time I returned to the front desk the shuttle was gone (it was a long one). We asked if we could just drive through ourselves and she explained that “No... this is a gated community, full of private residences.” Oh... We live in an ungated community. People come in and out all the time, just willy-nilly, whenever they please. But I expect we must pay more for that convenience.


We didn’t really see waiting the half-hour for the next shuttle, so we satisfied ourselves with the sales office. And there was a lot to see there. In what I assume was a lucky coincidence, the song Margaritaville began playing on the sound system while were browsing. That seemed fortuitous and certainly got me in the right frame of mind. A tropical cocktail would have helped even more right about then. Recently, my friend Jeff went into a cowboy boot place when he was down in South Carolina, and they immediately offered him a glass of bourbon. He said he didn’t mind if he did. He ended up buying cowboy boots. And he doesn’t even wear boots. The marketing strategy should be obvious here.


Sans cocktail, but still buzzing with smooth Caribbean steel drums, I started with the full-scale model of Latitude Margaritaville taking up most of the main room. Right off, there was less blue and green than I had been expecting. Mostly, it was just a lot of black cul-de-sacs and little brown roofs, one after another, quadrant after quadrant. Other sections of the model were just blank space and read “To Be Developed.” No golf course–maybe a little disappointing?–but definitely some pickleball, which is the new Viagra for this age group. The pool looked kind of small and not very central. I guess I will be driving, or golf-carting, to and from my starting-in-the-mid-200s Conch Cottage spec home and the pool? That’s okay, but somehow the fantasy of cradling a coconut husk brimming with a rum runner while wisecracking with a sexy, fit, 55 and better gal with loose morals was starting to look more like association dues (starting at $219/month) and mowing my postage stamp lawn to avoid a fine from the HOA.


As I wandered through more exhibits, I saw lots of hammocks and guitars in the little dioramas. That was nice. I read “you never know when Jimmy might just drop by for an impromptu visit or concert.” Here, I’m skeptical. It might be in his licensing agreement that he must “drop by” to one or another of the properties at least once a decade or so, but I wasn’t about to start holding my breath. Plus, I heard he doesn’t even drink anymore (makes sense, the man has lived). So, what would he and I even talk about? Not rum and reefer evidentially. Maybe I could get his take on some of the songs I’m writing?



The “residents” were having measured Margaritaville-style fun in the marketing photos that were gracing the walls. They looked identical to those pharmaceutical ads on TV, where everyone lives in some weird Pleasantville alternate reality. The colors are unnaturally gauzy and bright, and no one is ever sad. They were models and not very convincing ones at that (note to self: grow hair, get a tan, and investigate 55+ retirement community modeling opportunities. Looks fun.). The real inhabitants of Margaritaville were trolling around the sales office with me, meeting with their “Attitude Adjuster” associate, looking to make all their dreams come true. The customers looked different from the models and different from the people I hoped to share coconut husks with. In fact, they looked like people who might have been too busy or shy in college to even go to wild parties and were now desperately trying to make up for it with one last push before the end.


I could be wrong about all this, and right this very minute be missing out on some serious fins-up fun. Nevertheless, I think this pirate is going to keep his anchor up for a few more years before dropping it in Port Margaritaville, where “Paradise just got a new Latitude.”


There are several issues. The fact that it’s located roughly twenty miles and two dozen stoplights from the actual ocean is one. But that’s nitpicking. I think my bigger issue is the playlist problem. I’m serious about this. Let’s say it’s Friday afternoon, or hell let’s get crazy and say it’s Thursday afternoon, and “it’s 5’Oclock somewhere.” I’m in my tiny backyard, Hawaiian shirt on, with a fresh pitch of the good stuff blended. Salted glasses are at the ready and the BBQ is ready to rock and roll (I grill my shrimp, never boil). Lori and I wave to Ted and Tina over the south fence, and Julie and Jeff over the north. I thumb the iPhone to Spotify and, here’s the problem, how much Buffet??? I mean what’s enough? What’s too much? Do you just go full bore greatest hits? Too cliché even for this crowd? Too much like a newbie? Or do you dig for the rare live takes of obscure songs so as to better brag to Jeff because “it’s a bootleg?” And what about the signature tune Margaritaville? Can you even play it? Or is it like in Wayne’s World with the “No Stairway” sign at the guitar store? And then what are the mix ins? I mean Reggae obviously (even though I don’t really like Reggae, I’ll have to put a few in there) but what else? Beach Boys for sure. Eagles always plays with this crowd. But what if some of my prog rock, like Rush or Yes, slips in? Is that a faux pas? Will Ted drop me from the Pickleball group?


Clearly some things to work out. Along with how to get through that damn gate.


Sing it with me now...


Wasting my day again in Margaritaville

Searching for an empty pickleball court

Some people claim that it’s their fav-or-ite game

But I know, it’s sort of a ludicrous sport

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