It’s beautiful here. Really. Florida is striking.
It’s not beautiful everywhere in Florida though. I thought it would be. Having been to the typical places as a kid….Disneyworld, South Beach…you think the entire state is turquoise water, rainbow sherbet hotels, girls on roller skates that have bodies that don’t quit, Cuban restaurants on every corner, and palm trees. Everywhere.
Oh, and seashell decorated Christmas trees on the beach. Why not.
Well, there are those things here. But, having traveled down annually since my in-laws retired just outside of Tampa seven years ago, there are a lot of other things the state has to offer too. Like dry, brown swamp land. The number of outdoor boards here for ‘fixing your sink hole’ are only second to the ‘beautiful solid oak caskets.’ Trees that once were green billowy but now haven’t seen rain in months and are brittle and stick like, as if a fire has gobbled up everything else and left them as mere Halloween decorations. CVS and Rite Aids on every other corner. Paradise really.
I’ve also learned that much of Florida is rural countryside. But different from the rolling vineyards or green cow pastures you’d see in the Northwest or the agricultural land with rows of artichokes or garlic crops in California. It’s rural as in mobile homes, broken down pickup trucks and dollar stores. You see, Florida is this fantastic meshing of two very disparate worlds: the retired and the locals.
In every city I’ve lived, you see a bit of this. Those that are born and bred, who still live in the same zip code their parents do and whose kids probably have the same 2nd grade teacher they did. Then those that willingly moved to the city for a job or school or for the lifestyle. So that exists in lots of places. The difference is more marked here though. Partly because the socio-economic AND age gaps between the two groups is much wider.
So the resulting culture is actually really fun. It’s unbelievable people watching. On any given beach, like where we sit today, Pine Island, you literally have this melting pot of all walks of life. You’ve got the retirees, golden skinned, pot-bellied and speaking with accents straight from the Jersey shore. I even saw one at Willy’s Grill, the snack shack on the beach, rolling in a tropical patterned Rascal. For those that aren’t aware, a Rascal is a brand name for a “mobility scooter.” So this lady had custom cushions, basket liner, and handbag made all of the same floral pattern for her Rascal. I guess if you’re going to call it quits on walking, might as well ride in style. So many good pictures I should have taken.
But then there’s the locals. They’ve got cut off jean shorts, they’re fishing right next to a toddler looking for shells- which hardly seems dangerous at all. They’ve got a cigarette hanging out of their mouth and Stairway to Heaven blasting from their radio/cooler.
So all this said, the coolest part is that my in-laws have nothing to do with any of this. They aren’t overly tanned, sedentary Northeasterners who’ve traded snow for sun but still complain about how they don’t have good bagels in Florida. And they certainly don’t consider themselves locals. No Harley Davidsons parked in the Jensen driveway and no, they’re not familiar with Honey Boo Boo. Somehow, as they always do, they’ve transcended the clichés and paved their own path. I swear it’s the European in them. Even though they haven’t resided in Germany in 50+ years, they still eat open-faced sandwiches for dinner, walk every morning and turn the TV off at mealtime.
They love Florida because it’s warm and sunny. They’ve found good, solid friendships with other German/ New York transplants and they ignore the fray and savor every day. They are living the American dream. Truly. And while I know Roy and I stick out down here like a sore thumb, I couldn’t be happier that they’ve made a life in Florida. It’s what retirement is supposed to look like. Pastel colors, watching golfers from the lanai, drinks at 4:00 and taking a siesta in the glow of the afternoon sun.
Rednecks and Jersey girls and Bermuda shorts and bad drivers aside, Florida is a piece of paradise. And right now, on Pine Island, I feel it. I know in 48 hours, I’ll be back in boots, wool and gloves. I raise a glass to the sunshine state and say see you in 30 years. We’ll be back, cutoffs and all.