The wind is blowing dead leaves into my pool.
It’s a warm and windy day here on the Gulf coast of Florida. The white caps fly across the intercoastal, the fronds on the palm trees are swaying, and my biggest problem is those leaves. Actually, it’s not really my problem. The pool boy comes once a week. He’ll clean them out.
We’ve been here almost exactly six months, and six months is a good time period to take stock of all that’s good, bad, and ugly in a place or a situation. Before we moved here, I knew four things about Florida: warm weather, Disney, beaches, and hanging chads. Now that I’m a resident, though, it seems that every story about some weirdo doing something really wacky comes out of Florida. And, yes, unfortunately there’s also a lot of violence, not only of the Trayvon Martin variety, but it seems that parents abuse and murder their children on a regular basis here in the Sunshine state.
So what is it about Florida? Why do the weirdos and others who can’t seem to cope with the daily stresses of life all seem to be located in the state that 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy once called “America’s penis?”
I think the combination of good weather and a low cost of living attracts a number of people who, for lack of a more delicate way of putting things, aren’t in complete possession of all ten jacks and the little red ball. That is certainly the only explanation I have for seeing things such as a woman in the back of a pick-up truck, sitting on an office chair and holding a mounted moose head in her lap.
The people of Florida are a wonderful mixture of contradictions. The flat land and great weather makes everyone a jogger or bicycle rider. But they also all smoke like chimneys. Have you ever gone running, only to find yourself behind another runner who is puffing away at the same time? It does spur you on to greater speeds as you attempt to pass her and remain upwind of the cigarette smoke.
There are bikers of both kinds, the cyclists and the motorcyclists. What these two groups have in common is that neither of them believes in helmets, and the state of Florida acquiesces by refusing to pass a law making them a requirement. I know nothing beats the feeling of the wind blowing in your hair, or what’s left of it (a lot of these motorcyclists are fat, bald old men). But cracking open your head against the pavement isn’t the world’s greatest feeling, either, and if I were a biker, I’d give up the former to avoid the latter. But most biking Floridians don’t agree with me.
The architecture seems to mirror these contradictions, at least in my own little corner of St. Petersburg. Where we lived in Maryland, zoning laws kept commercial establishments well away from residential areas, and HOAs made sure that all the homes in the neighborhood looked alike. There’s none of that foolishness here, which is why I live within walking distance to some very cheap motels and the houses around me look nothing like the one I live in.
Florida has also helped prove Darwin right, if not in terms of human evolution – there are several lines of humanity here that should have died out if survival of the fittest were still in play – but in how lower creatures evolve differently in different types of weather. Darwin went to the Galapagos Islands to discover that in isolated settings, larger species become smaller and smaller species become larger. What that means here is that instead of having your ordinary German cockroach prancing around your kitchen on occasion, we have the much larger Palmetto bugs who branch out into rooms such as bathrooms and bedrooms. Oh, and they can fly. In some cases, right into your hair. And then there are the rats. In Maryland, I was used to the concept of rats being small disgusting furry things that congregated in the dumpsters in urban alleyways or unfortunate NYC Burger Kings. In Florida they have evolved into fruit rats. Instead of garbage, they feast on the orange trees or whatever trees you might happen to have in your backyard. They run up and down the trunks of trees as you are trying to enjoy your nice outdoor meal in downtown St. Petersburg. They also enjoy backstroking in your pool and setting up shop in your attic. But luckily they are still small, disgusting and furry. Some things should not be tampered with.
On the whole, though, the weather and the beaches make up for the bikers and the bugs. So I hope we’ll be making Florida our permanent home, although the jury’s still out on what the foreseeable future might bring. Although if you read me posting about picking up smoking and driving around on a motorcycle without wearing a helmet, someone might need to shake some sense into me.