At Home He Feels Like a Tourist

I’m sorry Florida, I can’t front no more. I straight up hate you. I feel like I’ve been to enough of you, over a sufficiently long period of time, to be able to make that statement. Granted, I haven’t been to Miami, which I imagine has its own thing going on–a random person said to The Wife the other day, “I wasn’t born in America, I was born in Miami.” But me and Florida ain’t grabbing a beer together any time soon.

I had to go down to Boca Raton for bidness, which in itself was okay. The folks I dealt with were extremely nice, the working environment was pleasant, no complaints there. And even though I’m not a warm climate person, around this time of year I can appreciate the allure of 80-degree weather.

But here’s the thing: Florida has zero local culture of its own. None. Everything is a strip mall, everything is a chain store, everyone drives on horribly cluttered highways to get to and from work. Everyone lives in a pseudo-Caribbean-looking Miami Vice-colored faux terracotta condo. Everyone shops in places that look the same. It’s Everywhere, USA, except for palm trees, hurricanes, and highway snipers.

Contrast it with California. I’m not a huge fan of that state, either, but at least it has its own steez. Cities like San Francisco and LA (and their environs) have indigenous character that you either dig or don’t, but you can’t say that they don’t have a local flavor. I would say the same of virtually every major metropolitan area I’ve visited in These Here United States (c): you get a feeling when you are there, a sense of what it’s like to live there, a sense of what makes the locals tick.

But Florida is the exact opposite. Being there makes me feel like I’ve been placed inside some kind of environmental experiment, a biodome or an enormous terrarium. It’s completely artificial, with no native plant or animal life, and someone wants to see how all these disparate things can survive together. Even what little physical beauty it may have once possessed has been landscaped the shit out of existence. Everything there is made to look like what we think Florida should look like, but it just looks fake and sad. No wonder people go there to die.

Speaking of which, dear sweet Christ almighty, old drivers. Look, I think Old Jokes commit that most heinous of Humor Sins: the Cheap Laugh (see also: Fat Jokes, Gay Jokes). But when you have so many 80+year-olds in one place, it becomes a major public safety hazard. Here’s what I witnessed in the span of roughly four hours:

Incident #1: While waiting outside the hotel for a cab to arrive, a tiny elderly man came around to the front of the building driving his Buick (of course) as slowly as you can without having the car in reverse (hey, at least he had his hazards on). Despite his unbelieveably slow speed–seriously, I have never in my life seen a car move this slow–he came within a hair’s breadth of snapping off his passenger-side rear view against the side panel of a hotel shuttle van. He stopped short in front of the hotel, and his ancient red-haired wife tried to get inside, but he apparently had some trouble opening the doors. Once that small ordeal had been passed–only took him 10 minutes–he “drove” away just as slowly as he’d entered. Leaving the hotel. To drive on real roads. I shuddered.

Incident #2: In the cab riding back from dinner, we chatted with our cabbie (ex-NYer) about the danger posed by elderly drivers. He told us a story about his former days as a tow truck driver, when he had to pick up a senior couple who had completely destroyed a convertible with their Buick by driving halfway on top of it (!). And just as he’s finishing this story, we make a left turn into a lane where an ancient driver in a Buick is facing the wrong way. At first I think that we’ve accidenally turned into the wrong lane, but no, it’s this wizened old man who has no idea he’s gonna get creamed by oncoming traffic once the
light turns green.

Incident #3: As we’re still recovering from Incident #2, we pull into the access road leading to a whole buncha hotels (ours included). And there again is an old man in a Buick sitting in the wrong lane. But this is a one lane road, and there’s no way we can get past him. He backs up a bit and stops, as if this is gonna help. Our daredevil cab driver hops the curb for a sec to get past him.

Tomorrow I leave for a seven-day trip to Ye Olde British Isles, which is pretty much the opposite of Florida in every sense. As soon as you step off the plane, you are bludgeoned with history and tradition and Very Expensive Things. It’ll be my first trip to London and my second to Dublin. I plan on eating lots of pub food (with Indian thrown into the mix in Blighty), drinking much ale, and not getting behind the wheel of any car. And if I come back with a fake Madonna accent, shoot me.