After Jimmy Buffett died on Sept. 1, too many national news reports reacted as if Florida’s beloved balladeer of boats, beaches and bars had written only two memorable songs in his 53-year career.
There was Margaritaville, of course, the most famous, and Cheeseburger In Paradise, the cleverest. But nestled within his 32 albums are gentler tunes — wistful, romantic and wise — that capture perfectly the Florida those of us living here know so well.
You could even argue that Jimmy Buffett once wrote a song about South Palm Beach and Briny Breezes, Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
There’s something ’bout this Sunday,
It’s the most peculiar gray,
Strollin’ down the avenue
That’s known as A1A
That song is called Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season, from his 1974 album A1A, and if the state Legislature agrees, A1A the state road will gain a new name when A1A the album turns 50 next year.
On Sept. 29, Rep. Charles Clemons Sr., a Republican from Alachua County, introduced a bill to rename the entire 338.752-mile stretch between Fernandina Beach and Key West “The Jimmy Buffett Memorial Highway.”
The name change would be only honorary, of course, with the Department of Transportation erecting “suitable markers,” like the 20 signs that appeared in 1998 when Florida’s Turnpike became the honorary “Ronald Reagan Turnpike.”
The Jimmy Buffett Memorial Highway.
Well, what do you think?
“That’s a disgusting idea!” Jake Soderberg fairly spat.
Soderberg, 42, was perched on a wall at Palm Beach County’s Ocean Inlet Park one Wednesday morning in October. He was vacationing from Key West, the town that made Buffett famous, so you might expect some affection for the proposal. But no.
Well, not all his songs.
“Jimmy Buffett is just the same tired old songs,” Soderberg charged on. “He had a couple one-hit wonders that are old and tired now.”
At Lantana’s Municipal Beach, Mayra Mir of South Palm Beach wasn’t crazy about the honorary designation either, but for a different reason.
“I love Jimmy Buffett,” she began, “but it should stay A1A. It’s like nowadays they want to change history. It’s frustrating. Ever since I was born it’s been A1A.”
Mir declined to reveal her age, but was happy to note that she’s a grandmother.
“I don’t agree with a lot of the things that happened in the past,” she added, “but it’s history.”
Taking the sun nearby, Angel Bartoszewicz, 49, of Lake Worth Beach welcomed the idea.
“Yeah, why not?” she said. “I grew up listening to Jimmy Buffett. I’ve been to his Margaritaville restaurant in Key West. And, oh, the one in Hollywood, too. And isn’t there one in Orlando?
At the BurgerFi across from the pavilion in Delray Beach, Marvin and Vickie Chambers, vacationing from Blue Ridge, Virginia, were happy to chat while their BurgerFi burgers cooked.
“I’ve been playing drums in bar bands for 50 years,” said Marvin, 65. He’s drummed in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, mostly in a band called Wasted Acres, so he had a professional opinion about the proposed name change.
“I can tell you,” he said, “you always get heckled for Jimmy Buffett. Well, not heckled, but requests, I mean. Jimmy Buffett always goes over, and Margaritaville packs ’em in.”
In Boca Raton, Tom Montgomery and his electric bike were taking a break in the shade of the South Beach Park pavilion. Three weeks ago, he pedaled that bike to Miami and back, so he knows A1A.
“It’s a great idea!” exclaimed Montgomery, 56. “He’s part of South Florida. He’s part of history. I’m from the Bronx, where they name highways for people I’ve never heard of, so I don’t have any problem with it.”
Montgomery has a point. You’d have a hard time finding any sentient American who hasn’t at least heard of Jimmy Buffett, and most could no doubt name at least one of his songs. Guess which one. But some honorees have a tenuous connection to their namesake roads at best, and some are long forgotten.
In 1989, the Gulf Stream Republican Club bid $25,000 at a public auction to have Northeast Eighth Street in Delray Beach renamed George Bush Boulevard after the incoming president traveled that short stretch en route to a brief weekend respite with a friend in Gulf Stream.
Perhaps you don’t remember Ben Sundy, but you’ve probably driven the Ben Sundy Memorial Highway. Sundy was a Delray Beach mayor in the 1950s whose memorial highway is better known as West Atlantic Avenue.
Highland Beach is home to one woman with a special relationship to the proposed name change. State Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman will be voting yea or nay when the bill comes up in the next session, beginning Jan. 9.
Jimmy Buffett was a lifelong Democrat, and Gossett-Seidman, 70, is a Republican. But also a big fan.
“It’s a brilliant idea!” she gushed by phone between meetings in Tallahassee. “He’s Mr. Florida. I remember seeing him at the old West Palm Beach auditorium when I was young.
His music resonates with everyone, man, woman and child.”
In his 76 years, Jimmy Buffett recorded more than 300 songs on 32 studio albums that sold more than 20 million copies, but none of those songs ever reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Even Margaritaville, which made him a billionaire balladeer through numerous licensing deals, reached only No. 8 in 1977.
I blew out my flip-flop
Stepped on a pop top
Cut my heel, had to cruise on back home.
But there’s booze in the blender
And soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on
Two weeks after his death at home in Sag Harbor, New York, of skin cancer, Margaritaville returned to the Hot 100 and reached the top of the Billboard Digital Song Sales chart.
At No. 1. At last.