I’ve been looking forward to this writing collaboration with my good friend Sandro for a long time. He and I were absolutely cut from the same cloth and have shared some hilarious, heartfelt memories. I remember being introduced to him while he still lived in Minnesota over ten years ago. We’d text each other everyday, and he’d enrich my taste in music (for which I’m still grateful), build me up spiritually, and become a fast friend. I’ll never forget the day our buddy Darren’s dad mistook me for him one summer afternoon. I got to Darren’s house early while Sandro was still en route. Imagine our shock when greeting each other at the door to find that we were sporting the same monochromatic get up: black cap, black tee, blue jeans, and checkered Vans. Real life is stranger than fiction. I’ll also remember with piercing clarity the way he read a troubled expression on my face one morning and quickly helped me avert what would have been a traumatic encounter.
Our lives played out in parallel fashion a couple of times when we ventured onto the same banking and interpreting career paths. I had the pleasure of working an assignment with him for the better part of 2018. We bounced creative ideas off of each other constantly.
Sandro has a unique story that beautifully intertwines with our storied coast. He was kind enough to carve out time from his demanding schedule to write what follows. I want to celebrate him for his talents, values, and his way with people. Meet my brother in Christ, a loving father of two, husband to a heroic woman, and a creative on the rise. Come see STA through his eyes.
I fell in love in St. Augustine, not with St. Augustine. Let me explain. The year was 2007 and I was on the cusp of turning 17. I was visiting Florida for the first time with a friend who had roots here. We were staying in Jacksonville and I had just met a supernova of a girl at a bonfire a few days prior. We hung out as a group a couple more times and the local kids floated the idea of a trek down to St. Augustine.
I had never heard of St. Augustine. I was given the Cliff Notes rundown: oldest city, big ancient fort, fountain of youth, weird Ripley’s museum, etc. I really didn’t care if we went or not. As long as that girl was going, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.
My first impressions of the city were mixed. The Fort was interesting in its scale and age, and the hustle and bustle of St. George street felt very European, but all and all it felt less like an actual city and more like a tired relic for snowbird tourists (socks and sandals included).
As we ambled across the seemingly endless network of dusty streets and narrow alleyways, we settled on a quaint coffee shop called “The Rockin’ Bean.”
It was the quintessential mom n’ pop café with a laid back vibe and unmistakable mid 2000s charm (it would have fit in nicely on an episode of “Friends”). It was in that very coffee shop that I sat across from the girl of my dreams and thought “I’m going to marry her one day.” *Spoiler alert: we totally got married*
I left St. Augustine taking nothing with me but the memories of the girl in the coffee shop. The overt tourism of the city really didn’t appeal to me, and the memory of The Oldest City faded as quickly as it came.
Flash forward a few years and I’ve now moved to Jacksonville and married. I quickly assimilated and found my favorite spots around town. St. Augustine remained a faint afterthought, a friendly neighbor to the south but nothing more. All of that started to change when I started to mingle with the deaf community.
I became involved in a deaf ministry when I moved to Jacksonville (through my wife). A few years later I started interpreting as an occupation. Anybody who knows St. Augustine knows that it’s a bit of a Mecca for the deaf. My new job led to working almost exclusively in St. Augustine daily. My stigma of the city as nothing more than a tourist trap started to melt away. Everyday people with jobs and lives call this place home.
As I started to become more familiar with the topography of the area I started to see how life here is so much more than The Fort and The Fountain. Things became even more crystallized when I started Dusty Nomad. I felt it important to network with other small businesses and makers all over Northeast Florida, not just Jacksonville.
This gave me yet another lens through which to see the city: a hotbed for intensely creative souls. As I started to make connections and meet friends of friends, it occurred to me that St. Augustine (and more specifically Flagler College) was pumping out a seemingly endless supply of hungry thinkers with passion and vision as far as the eye can see.
Through my clothing business, and now as a podcast host, I have had the pleasure of picking the brains of many fine folks from the south end of The 904. Nearly half of my interview subjects are St. Augustine based, and their influence extends all over the country. There’s something in the water, and the “iron sharpens iron” ethos definitely seems to be at play.
Such a concentration of innovation in one town has lead to a stew of creative passion and peer to peer support. In St. Augustine, I have found a second home - a place where so many have encouraged and inspired me.
I get it now. St. Augustine is a tourist destination on its face, but beneath the exterior is a vibrant evolving city full of promise. It’s an ancient city with fresh blood coursing through its veins. If you only think of The Fort when you think of St. Augustine, I highly recommend you dig a little deeper. It’s absolutely worth a second look.