It is the exchange of rubber ducks and waves that holds a community so tightly together in Gainesville. The swamp is home to more than just four-legged creatures with big teeth as it is home to metal boxes with large grills leaving behind trails in the mud.
“Gainesville Fl Jeepers,” a Facebook group, has brought together more than 1,500 people solely based on having a Jeep. It offers a place for local Jeep owners to not only share exciting moments with their Jeeps but also to ask for help with their vehicles in addition to celebrating a passion for Jeeps. However, members of the group believe that owning a Jeep goes beyond buying into a brand, it means becoming a part of a local population that fosters inclusion and adventure.
“Nobody tells you mannerisms or a code of conduct to follow when you own a Jeep,” said 51-year-old member Cherie Entrekin. “It’s just this innate thing that there is always some type of courtesy between Jeep owners.”
While in a Home Depot parking lot, Entrekin met a man who owned a Jeep and he invited her to the Facebook page. From there on, she has been an active member and attends many of the group’s monthly dinners.
“Jeep people are super kind and friendly,’ Entrekin said. “It’s like our own community inside Gainesville. I feel more connected to the community because I meet new people every month through this group and its meetups.”
At the first of every month, dinners are held at various locations, their most recent being at Daft Cow Brewery in Alachua, to allow members of the online group to meet in person and bond over their love for Jeeps. Monthly meetups also allow members to view and find inspiration through other members’ Jeep modifications.
“It’s a very positive, uplifting and resourceful event,” Entrekin said.
Buying a Jeep means buying into a community. And for the Gainesville community, they do just that through exercising Jeep traditions.
The Jeep ducking activity has evolved into a universal way for Jeep owners to contribute to the tight-knit community. It involves a Jeep owner leaving a mini rubber duck on another Jeep owner’s car handle. Some come with small messages or drawings to convey positivity. It is all about celebrating the small joys in life.
“It really does connect you more to the community,” said 54-year-old Mark Entrekin, husband of Cherie Entrekin.
The traditions and responsibilities do not stop there for a Jeep owner. As they pass one another on the road, they greet each other with the Jeep wave. It is executed by extending one’s thumb, pointer finger and middle finger up from the steering wheel.
“I was with my mom in my Jeep once when I waved at another Jeep and my mom asked if I had known them and I told her no, it’s just a Jeep thing,” said 53-year-old Sarah White, one of the administrators for the Facebook group.
Sarah White joined by her husband, Chris White, 54, were at the March meetup on the first day of the month, enjoying some food and the people around them. Six years ago, stumbled on the Facebook page when they were looking to paint their Jeep and they were referred to Rick Hughes. He introduced them to the group and they have been active members since. Hughes is another member of the group and a current administrator.
“Since we have been a part of the group, so many new people have joined,” said Sarah White.
While they have watched the Facebook page progress over the years, their friend circle has expanded with it.
“Once we joined this group chat, we not only meet other Jeep lovers but we met some of our now closest friends,” Sarah White said. “These are people that I invite over, have cookouts with, go to events, go out of town and state together with now.”
Members of the group took a trip up to Alabama to trail ride. Sarah White, along with the group, spent six and a half hours in the freezing cold being towed and wrenched out of a trail in North Alabama.
“Everybody stayed,” Sarah White said. “Not one person left and went back to the hotel.”
“One goes we all go,” said Chris White as he chimed into the conversation.
Getting stuck left Chris White to reflect that every Jeep has a different skill level as does every person in a Jeep has a different background. Not one singular Jeep is built alike. Similarly, not one singular person is the same.
“We don’t turn our nose up at anyone,” said Chris White. “Everyone’s Jeep is different.”
These local Jeep owners are part of something bigger than a brand and bigger than themselves.
“No other vehicle has the power to bring people together as Jeeps do,” Sarah White said.