The Roads Less Traveled

How a 1939 Florida guidebook led to a journey of rediscovery.

Backroads of Paradise Reading & Signing

Sat., Oct. 8, 6:30 p.m.

Gulfport History Museum

5301 28th Ave. S., Gulfport.

In the fall of 2011, Cathy Salustri embarked on a Florida road trip that few people have made since, oh, about 1939 — the date when the Federal Writers’ Project and the state of Florida jointly published A Guide to the Southernmost State, a collection of essays by FWP writers like Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy that included 22 recommended driving tours of Florida’s main roads.

That is, they were main roads. As Cathy explains in the introduction to her new book, Backroads of Paradise: A Journey to Rediscover Old Florida (University Press of Florida), “Florida’s roads did not stay where the Guide writers left them.”

click to enlarge Ochopee - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
Which she found out the hard way. Cathy decided to retrace the routes in the Guide as part of her master’s thesis for USF’s Florida Studies Program. “The trip took forever to plan,” she says now, “because I was working off 1939 road numbers and the map in the front of the book was never intended for true navigation. I had to play connect the dots with city names to figure out what roads the Guide referenced.”

But after months of research, she and boyfriend Barry hit the road for a month-long, 5,000-mile odyssey in a 21-foot camper van “guided by a dog-eared, broken-spined, 1950s-era version of the Guide” and a contemporary Florida Gazeteer. Out of that trip, plus subsequent excursions along routes A1A and US98, arose the thesis and, eventually, the book — which is both a love letter to Floridas long forgotten and a clear-eyed analysis of the Floridas we are living in today. It’s funny, salty (the first UPF book to use the word “fuck,” she’s been told), informative and poignant — a combo familiar to readers of CL, where Cathy has been A&E editor since late 2015.

We’re happy to be the first publication to reprint excerpts from her book, which is available now at Amazon, and at fine bookstores near you. You should go buy a copy; it’s a trip.

Read excerpts from Backroads of Paradise.

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