Is Florida in the South?
Mike Wilson's FiveThirtyEight is trying to figure it out. The Washington Post riffed on it too. The answer, of course, is yes, and also no. I once used McDonald's sweet tea as a way to address this ongoing state-specific conundrum. And former Times staffer and current Sports Illustrated writer Thomas Lake? He took a drive when he worked in Jacksonville:
The biscuits shine with shortening at Pouncey's Restaurant. The iced tea could be candy.
The quail wallows in buttermilk and turns golden in hot fat. You're at the crook of the Panhandle, 35 miles southeast of Tallahassee.
They call this town Perry, the Tree Capital of the South. You will soon leave the South if you stay southbound on U.S. 19. You have been warned. Don Lincoln, publisher of the Perry News-Herald, tells you the frontier lies just 67 miles away. "Once you leave Chiefland heading south," he says, "you are heading into enemy territory."
He means Yankees. Sherman is dead, but they've come nonetheless. Now they want sunshine. Transplants outnumber natives in Florida more than 2-to-1 (in Jacksonville it's about even), and the bulk of them come from the North.
More than 300,000 people moved from New York to Florida from 1995 to 2000 alone, the largest state-to-state migration in the nation. Census figures show another 500,000 came from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
They are squelching the South in Florida with money instead of muskets, culture instead of cavalry. They have taken the Sunshine State south-first. They push north each day, carving subdivisions into the countryside.
Don Lincoln's front line is 35 miles off the mark, though he may have a bull's-eye in 10 years. To find the edge of the South in Florida today, mark one point 90 miles north of Tampa, between Inglis and Crystal River, at the mouth of the tea-colored Withlacoochee.
Mark another just south of Melbourne, halfway from Jacksonville to Miami. Then draw a line between your points, curved north in the middle to shut out Orlando. Northerners have made incursions north of the line, in places such as Palm Coast and Ponte Vedra Beach, and Southern towns still flourish in the state's lower interior.
But this reverse Mason-Dixon line -- mapped by the Times-Union after an 1,800-mile exploratory road trip -- shows where the cultural balance of power tips from South to North.