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Carl Wernicke: The Pleasure Of Small-Time

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I have always loved newspapers. They’ve been called the first draft of history, an elegant phrase. And what I have found is that the smaller the paper, the more intimate the news. So as a traveler I have long made it a practice to buy the weekly and other small publications wherever I go, to try to get a sense of that community.

This also applies locally. So given that I live near Milton, I subscribe to the Santa Rosa Press Gazette. And this being the digital age, I also like to look at sites like NorthEscambia.com, and NorthSantaRosa.com. There are other publications as well; when I lived on Pensacola Beach I read the Islander, a quirky publication mainlined into the island’s heartbeat. I think the Island Times fills that niche today.

While I was with the News Journal I tried to keep up with a wide range of local publications, including the Navarre Press,  the Gulf Breeze News and the Mullet Wrapper on Perdido Key. I took guilty pleasure in claiming that all this reading in my office was part of my job. And it paid off when new editors came into town; some of them must have thought that everyone in Northwest Florida must be calling me with news tips no one else had, when I simply had the patience to read publications a lot of my professional colleagues saw as small-time. For me, they revealed a whole other world.

In that vein, a recent front-page article in the Press Gazette showed some of that world, but not to its credit. As also reported elsewhere, the article was on the cancelation of the Chumuckla Redneck Parade. Basically, it had become taken over by a lot of drunken jerks who ruined a good thing. What had been for years a quirky, self-deprecating, family-friendly little event that raised money for charity became too popular, but to the wrong people. One of the organizers put it this way: “We’ve dealt with alcohol issues, vulgarity, vandalizing, fighting and a tremendous amount of litter.”

That’s a polite way of saying that people who can’t control themselves in public ruined a 14-year tradition. That same individual said that while the parade started as a family-friendly event, “I wouldn’t bring my children now.”

That’s sad.

Maybe it’s inevitable that when small events become popular they lose their character; "grow or die" seems to be an ingrained philosophy, and of course there is a natural inclination for people to flock to whatever looks fun or worthwhile. But I always end up wondering why so many people can’t understand their stake in preserving that which attracted them in the first place.

It’s why I have always avoided criticism of people who try to protect a special place, be it a restaurant or a neighborhood, from becoming too popular. Critics call that the “I’ve got mine” syndrome, claiming that people are just too greedy to share. But if you love a piece of beach because it is isolated, that’s lost when it is no longer isolated. Unfortunately, people don’t just hate limits, they all too often seem unable to understand when limits are needed.

I’m sure that if the organizers of the Chumuckla Redneck Parade could do it over, they’d opt to keep it less popular, and true to its beginnings. They’d probably ban alcohol, even if they themselves enjoy a beer or two.

Anyway, it’s too bad people couldn’t come to the Parade and enjoy it for what it was. If it wasn’t exciting enough, they could stay home and drink on the sofa. They wouldn’t have been missed.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.