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I'm an author, historian (Ph.D., WVU), musician, professor, and mountaineer. I have published two books, To Live Again, a classical myth set in contemporary Appalachia, and Defending the Homeland, a collection of essays on radicalism and national security. Welcome to my blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Cocoa Beach Journal - Entry III

The Hippies of Cocoa Village

I spent the afternoon meandering around Historic Cocoa Village. Ten years or so ago, this portion of the Cocoa Beach area was renovated and now hosts a few blocks of restored buildings newly inhabited by mom and pop stores, antique shops, coffee houses, art galleries, and restaurants. The buildings are pink and white and yellow with stucco walls and Spanish style architecture. Palm trees shade the sidewalks. You will not find an Applebee’s or a Starbucks here, thank God. Tourists stroll around from shop to shop sipping on smoothies or licking ice cream cones. Venders on the street sell fresh watermelons and peaches. A few locals can be found reading newspapers and drinking coffee on tables by the streets. The village sits by a beautiful park right on the Intercoastal Waterway.

Even more colorful than the buildings are the owners of the little shops. I hesitate to call them all hippies but, well, most of these proprietors can probably roll a serious fatty. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with hippies; they make the world a more interesting place. If not for hippies, where would we go to drink ice mochas and eat organic sandwiches on flatbread that are heated in stone ovens while staring at local art and listening to James Taylor? You won’t find any right-wingers running joints like that. They don’t want organic sandwiches; they want to use coupons at Subway. Hippies can come in many forms (whenever I get around to it, I intend to write a treatise on the Appalachian hippy – a breed unto itself). Some hippies are highly intelligent, thoughtful people, some are annoying and far too baked for their own good, and some of them just look like they need a lengthy bath. But I love their music and I love it when they inhabit small communities like this one. Here are a few of the “hippies” of Cocoa Village:

The first is a guy named Tom who runs a store called Ventana al Mundo (I’m not sure what that means but I think it may be Spanish for “pottery and other artsy crap”). Tom sells handmade crafts imported from Central and South America and, to be honest, some of it is very impressive. Tom is the type of guy who uses his hands the entire time he talks. Leaning back into the chair behind the cashier’s desk he spoke to me at length about the history of Cocoa Beach and told me tales of traveling to villages in Ecuador and Peru looking for nuggets of art to sell in his store. He tells me that he doesn't settle on crafts from a wholesaler in Cancun and I believe him. The interesting thing about the store is how each piece of art has a story. Point to something on the wall or a shelve and Tom is more than happy to tell you about how he found the piece, what small town or village he was in, who he bought it from, and what the weather was like that day. You can check out his shop at http://www.ventanaimports.com/.

There were others to be found. Nestled in between a gift shop and a seemingly out of place bar and grill. I found and small art gallery ran by an old man with long, gray hair, scraggly T-shirt, and sandals. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss it. The gallery sits back behind several flower bushes and tree and a stone path takes you to this tiny art studio. The guy told me that he used to teach art at a small college in California during the seventies. Since then, he moved to Cocoa Beach, became a scuba diver and makes clay sculptures of local marine life. The gallery is filled with well crafted renditions of sea turtles, grouper, and the like. His work station was also in the gallery and he let me take a look at his current project, a local bird, but I forget the name of the species. I had the feeling that he may have lived in a back room of the workshop/gallery. His name was Harry and on a wood sign outside his ship there is a sign which literally read, “Harry the Potter.” Cute.

I was surprised to find that the Florida Historical Society houses its headquarters and manuscript collections in Cocoa Village. The head archivist is Debra Wynne, an energetic woman who evidently doesn’t get many visitors. She doesn’t quite qualify as a full-fledged hippy (maybe she had retired from a “hippy period” in her youth) but she certainly fits in around there. "Everybody around here thinks we are a museum," she complained. Debra also lamented the fact that the Society doesn’t get any state funding. Florida politicians, she says, have no interest in pursuing state history and will not hesitate to tear down historic houses in order to make room for more condos. I told her about the fight in West Virginia over historic Blair Mountain and how the coal operators (and those in power funded by them) treat Appalachian history with the same respect that some Florida real estate developers and politicians do. But Debra’s problems go deeper. At least in West Virginia there is a growing awareness about local history and more professors are involved in preservation and research. In Florida, again, according to the archivist, the state’s three largest universities fail to give the Historical Society any real support. This is tragic, because the archives are filled with rich collections – some even dating back to the 1500s. A young historian or grad student could easily make a career out of the collections in this place. Even though my knowledge of Florida history is rather rudimentary I’m thinking of becoming a member of the society. I would’ve loved to have had a few days to rummage through some of their material. The society’s website is http://www.florida-historical-soc.org/.

The next time I visit Cocoa Beach I definitely plan on a return visit to the Village. The hippies alone were enough to keep me entertained for the afternoon. Not to mention I found a killer pizza place called Ryan’s. Their meat-lover’s is great. In the final analysis, my only real complaint with Cocoa Village was the fact that all the shops (not including the restaurants) close down at five o’clock sharp. Who knows? Perhaps that is the departure time for the Pineapple Express.
Taken from my personal journal - July 23, 2009

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