I Have No Desire to Waste Away in Margaritaville

Wastin' away again in Margaritaville. (Photo: Latitude Margaritaville)

I am not, nor have I ever been, a Jimmy Buffett fan. I've never seen the appeal in his song "Margaritaville," which never made it to the top of the charts in 1977 but has developed a serious following among the easy listening crowd in the years since. I didn't know that Buffett’s fans, known as Parrotheads, support a casual dining restaurant chain called Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, casinos, hotels and online shopping for everything from furniture to food to flip-flops.

Restaurants, casinos and resorts are nice places to visit for meals and a pitcher of margaritas, but I wouldn’t want to live there. However apparently, some people do, so Margaritaville Holdings, Buffett’s company, is teaming up with Minto, a big Canadian development company that also builds retirement communities, to build Latitude Margaritaville near Daytona Beach, Florida. It's a big, billion-dollar project proposing 6,900 homes, 200,000 square feet of retail and a band shell for live performances. The company describes it in a press release:

Featuring world-class amenities and design, LATITUDE MARGARITAVILLE, Daytona Beach will reflect Margaritaville’s authentic, “no worries,” tropical vibe, offering an immersive brand experience. Current plans call for walkable neighborhoods and a Town Center featuring a fitness center with an aerobics studio, indoor lap pool, spa, and group fitness classes; indoor and outdoor dining with signature Margaritaville food and beverage concepts, as well as others; arts and learning programs for residents and guests; and a resort pool area with beach entry.
sales office
Get your Magaritaville home here. (Photo: Latitude Margaritaville)

Reading the lyrics of the song that started it all, it just seems weird, developing a retirement community around a song with the chorus starting “Wastin' away again in Margaritaville,” a song where Buffet is spending his days in an alcoholic haze, not quite knowing why he's there or what he's doing:

I don't know the reason
I stayed here all season
Nothin' to show but this brand new tattoo
But it's a real beauty
A Mexican cutie
How it got here I haven't a clue

Then there's the pristine beaches that are promised by the developer, “a private beachfront club with breathtaking views and beachfront amenities will be set on the Atlantic Ocean, which residents can access via a continuous loop shuttle service.” This seems quite unlike the song where he comes back from the beach bleeding (back in the days when beaches were littered with pull tabs from canned beer) and has another good reason to get drunk again:

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

According to Wikipedia, there is a “lost verse” that was dropped from the song to make it more radio friendly, but one that Buffett often uses when performing; it sets up the worst imagery for Margaritaville that one can imagine:

Old men in tank tops,
Cruisin' the gift shops,
Checkin' out chiquitas, down by the shore
They dream about weight loss,
Wish they could be their own boss
Those three-day vacations can be such a bore

Evidently there are a lot of Parrotheads interested in this lifestyle. Minto Vice President William Bullock tells Senior Housing News:

“It’s been honestly overwhelming,” Bullock said of interest since the partnership was announced. “We have a landing [web] page, and you can register to receive updates. We got thousands of registrations in two days.”

They are not alone; this lifestyle evidently appeals to a lot of people. As Alex French wrote in a fascinating Buzzfeed article after touring The Villages, a huge retirement city:

Increasingly, this is how Americans are spending their golden years — not in the cities and towns where they established their roots, but in communities with people their own age, with similar interests and values.“

But Margaritaville? It just seems an odd choice, as if the intent is to spend the rest of one's life in a permanent state of alcoholic haze, trying to forget. Perhaps it’s just me and Jimmy Buffett; perhaps it’s the choice of the music. David Dudley at CityLab has his own preferences:

But the real question looming in advance of the world’s first dad-rock-icon-branded planned city is: Who’s next? The Rolling Stones can’t tour forever, and it’s frankly surprising that more boomer idols haven’t dipped their business models into the senior living sector. I’m ready to put down my deposit to move into a cabinette in Led Zeppelinopolis.

Personally, I wish there was a David Byrne-designed Talking Heads community; he went to the Rhode Island School of Design and has written a book, "Bicycle Diaries." Byrneland would likely be car-free and covered with flowers.

However while I may be the right demographic for these communities, I still believe the city is the best place to retire, with so many things to do and so many people of all kinds of ages, interests and values. Or as Byrne wrote in "The Big Country" about suburbia (and I think about Margaritaville and the like):

I wouldn't live there if you paid me.
I couldn't live like that, no siree!
I couldn't do the things the way those people do.
I couldn't live there if you paid me to.