My aunt cried when she moved to Florida. This is something I didn’t know until last week and there must have been some kind of anti-Florida force in the air that day, because later that evening my neighbor wondered out loud why anyone would move to the Florida Keys. God bless them both. Because really, why are so many people convinced Florida is some sort of Nirvana? These people look at me as an object to be pitied when I tell them Florida isn’t for me, as if I must have a two-digit IQ. And the first digit isn’t a big one.
I’m not saying the state isn’t a fabulous vacation destination. I live pretty much smack dab in the middle of the Midwest, putting me 700 miles from the nearest ocean and the soothing sound of the surf, and meaning a few days with sand between my toes and fresh shrimp on my plate would not be unwelcome. Particularly in the middle of winter when our highs are down in the range of my suspected IQ. But for year-round living? Let me count the ways I hate that idea:
1) Florida is hot.
And the heat isn’t just in the summer; my husband and I once strolled the University of Miami campus in early December and I was dying for some air conditioning an hour into the walk. We were both sweating. One should not sweat in December, not unless one is working out in a gym or in labor delivering a nine-pound baby. The average January high in Miami is 76 degrees, which is at least three degrees higher than I would ever consider setting my furnace’s thermostat, making the entire outdoors the equivalent of an old person’s stuffy house. And the summer? Let’s not even go there.
2) Florida is humid.
Imagine you’re in a barber’s chair, getting heated moist towels wrapped around your face. Now slap those towels around your arms and your legs and the whole rest of your body. That’s Florida the minute you step outside your air-conditioned space. I once worked with a woman who sold advertising in Florida and she told me she’d given up wearing make-up. Why, I asked? Because her stops were too frequent to let her car’s air conditioning get good and cold, and by the day’s end her make-up had just melted off her face.
3) If you have an accident you can drown.
Seriously, people do it all the time. Somebody runs a red light and whacks you in the fender, and the next thing you know you’re hanging by your seat belt upside down in a canal. The risk is big enough that the state has even uploaded a video showing you how to escape a submerged car. Their video claims that less than one half of one percent of accidents involve submersion or fire, but that’s still 1 out of 200, about the same odds as being chosen for an IRS audit. I’ll take a pass on both of those, thank you very much.
4) There’s no “there” there.
Sure, some of today’s Floridians were born in the state but an overwhelming percentage retired there or were transferred there or floated there from Cuba. Texas has its independent cowboys, Jersey has its brass balls, California has its Valley Girls, but if you try to conjure up an image of Florida all you get is Mickey Mouse. I crave a sense of place, a connection to souls passed that lingers in the food and the language and the stories one generation tells to the next about that one particular fishing spot or the water tower brother Jim climbed when he was young and dumb. I want to live in a community, not a climate.
5) Florida is just a little less nice.
I’m not saying the people there aren’t noticeably pleasant and helpful and that they won’t give you a smile if you pass on the sidewalk, but let’s face it–with all that heat how many people are out walking the sidewalks? Stop for sweet tea at any restaurant in Mississippi and somebody is going to call you Honey; drive down an Alabama river road and somebody is going to wave. I once braked in a Memphis fast food parking lot to let a lady and her husband pass by and her smile of thanks was so big you would have thought I was her long lost cousin. That’s the south, but Florida is this mashed up state of south and east and tourist attraction parking lots. Surely I can be forgiven for not feeling the love when I see bumper stickers that say this: If it’s tourist season, why can’t I shoot them?
6) There are alligators.
And home-eating snails. And pet pythons that have slithered off into the swamps where there is nothing that can eat a 20-foot, muscle-bound monster. I’ve never seen a coral snake in Florida but with coral right in the name (just like Coral Gables and Coral Springs) you know it has to be there. According to the Naples News, in 2006 one Bonita Springs coral snake moved into a camp already occupied by two homeless men who didn’t care to share. The men put down their Budweisers and picked up a palmetto branch to beat the snake away, and, when that didn’t work, broke a bottle to slash the snake instead. Not surprisingly, they got bit. Also not surprisingly, sleeping off the effects of a coral snake bite is probably not the smartest choice one could make. Rest in peace, Fernando. You have a home in heaven now.
7) Your house can fall into a giant hole.
Sure, our Midwest tornadoes can suck entire homes into the sky, but at least we know the storms are coming–we have sirens and weatherman warnings and my mother will call to make sure I’m awake and aware I could die at any moment. With a sinkhole it’s just BAM, down you go. The state is built on limestone and the underground is constantly dissolving under your feet, a lot like the cavities in your teeth, and when the hole reaches the critical mass where the house weighs more than the remaining rock can support, it’s goodbye house.
8) There’s no sunlight.
Yes, the sun is up there blazing away, but every home I’ve been in has been closed away from it to conserve air conditioning dollars. Heavy curtains drape the windows. Awnings hang outside. Tropical plants grow right up against the house and block out the view. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to stay cool inside their own home, but sitting in the dark is depressing and probably explains why so many weird things happen in the state. Sunlight burns the madness from your brain. Fresh air is restorative. The whole country might be better off if the Sunshine State would get a little more sunshine.
9) It’s not home.
Remember Dorothy clicking her heels together and saying, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home?” There really is no place like home, and none of my reasons to hate Florida would mean a thing if I’d grown up there. Florida was my husband’s home and I get that; I understand why he yearns to look out the window and see palmetto bushes instead of our maple tree and pelicans instead of our robins. It was his brother who climbed the water tower and his father who showed him that one particular fishing spot. Florida is who he is and losing that sense of self must leave him just a little bit unsettled. He misses the state and he’s not wrong to love it. There’s a reason they call the place of your birth the Motherland.
So it’s not your fault, Florida, and I really don’t hate you, you’re just not mine. And as long as the maple keeps turning a brilliant red in the autumn and the honeysuckle keeps stirring in the summer breeze, my Midwest home is where I’ll want to be. This is where my daughter is and my grandchildren are and where my husband and I have built a life together, which is as good a definition of home as I can come up with. At least I’m clinging to it every time my husband checks the Florida real estate ads.