Florida, a State of Mind

February 21st, 2014

Some thoughts and pictures about a last-minute trip to Florida

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I think it was right about the time when the cat jumped through the flaming fire hoop that I realized this place wasn’t quite like any other. We were closer to Cuba than we were to the mainland US of A, but it didn’t feel any more like Cuba than it did our own country. Welcome to Key West.

We heard on the radio that 49 states had experienced snow this winter. All of ’em except Florida. “That’s where I wanna go,” I said to my wife, time and time again. Eventually she relinquished and pretended to accept the trip as a birthday present, when really it was a gift from me to me. We made cheap, last-minute reservations because we’re cheap, last-minute people.

So as snow was falling yet again all over Detroit, we drove to the airport. Along the way, we saw the most amazing sight, sun peeking from behind the snow squall along I-696. It was a premonition of what was coming. It looked like a giant flaming fire hoop in the sky (not really).

Once we got to The Sunshine State, we high-tailed it as far south as we could get, stopping only when the green mile marker hit ZERO. Nowhere left to go, except the pier.

We weren’t alone. Crowds gathered, mobs even. They wandered down the debaucherous boulevard where Ernest Hemingway used to drink, err, write. All of us were headed toward the setting sun, to watch it dip below the Gulf of Mexico. Once it bowed out, the picture snapping crowd erupted in applause. Well done, sun. Bravo. Author, author! Besides the setting sun, entertainers busked the crowd, telling jokes, playing flugelhorns, making their owners set hoops on fire so they could jump through them. I gave the musicians money; I gave the cat meOWWW mix.

There’s something about escaping Winter, if even for a brief moment, that makes you a lot less likely to pull your hair out as it drags into late February, March, July. You can tell by looking at my scalp that I’ve seen A LOT of winters.


° Some of the most expensive places to stay were also the least impressive. The hotel by the airport on our very first night had, far and away, the best accommodations and was the cheapest. Its large pool had a wonderful waterfall that pounded your back and shoulders like an angry masseuse and we slept like babies wrapped in winter’s summer warmth. We renamed the B&B down on Key West, Bed and Yogurt, since their “breakfast” was basically just a pile of Dannon containers and overripe bananas.

° One of the finer meals we ate, though, was ropa vieja. It’s a tasty Cuban dish that, translated, means either old clothes or dirty laundry. I’m not exactly sure why it’s called that; there was no stale underwear undercurrent infusing my meat. On a completely different note, due to Spirit Airline’s strict baggage rules, we mailed back our own ropa laundry to Michigan so souvenirs, shells and everything else would fit in our compacted suitcases. I don’t wanna be the unlucky one to open the package; surely it won’t smell nearly as nice as that fancy Cuban dinner we ate.

° They’re digging up a long trench from Miami across the Keys in order to connect a new water supply to the islands. Since all of the Keys are basically made up of dead corral, it kicks up a ton of corral dust into the air. My sensitive eyes were bullied by the corral particles which, I’m told, are toxic. The harried pharmacist explained that I’m one of a long string of visitors to come in seeking eye drops and antihistamines.

° You lose track of time when you’re suddenly thrust from winter’s bone to humid brightness. Walking into a whirly gig shop, I saw pennants saying Happy St. Patty’s Day and Welcome Easter. I laughed thinking how outdated they were; this was summer after all. Those fools think people will buy that crap THIS out of season?! (Authors note: I don’t much go in for whirly gigs; I’m much more of a thingamagigs guy.)

° It’s been 25 years since I worked on Cape Cod for the summer and fall, but since The Keys are so much like The Cape, swinging out into the sea, I constantly catch myself saying The Cape instead of The Keys. It’s important that I tell you that for some reason. Maybe it holds a cape to understanding me.

° Supposedly Florida law prohibits you from walking in front of a turtle. I thought that was a joke, but apparently it has something to do with interrupting their natural migratory or nesting instincts. They even turn off the streetlights at certain times of the year so as not to bother the turtles. Hey maybe THAT’S what’s happening in Detroit with all the outages at night. If the tortoise raced the hare here, the hare’d be booked for harassment.

° Ziplock baggies were washing up everywhere on the beaches. Turns out, it wasn’t SC Johnson polluting the Florida shores, but Portuguese Man O’ Wars storming the beaches. They looked other worldly, positively Devonian. I couldn’t get enough of their odd, plasticky look and was tempted numerous times to help them back into the water. But they were already dead and, besides, have a vicious sting. With my eyes already messed up, I figured I could leave the heroics to someone with more immunity built up, or wearing gloves . . or plastic baggies.

° We received a sad text from our 18-year-old daughter stuck back in Michigan, “It’s hailing here and it’s heavy!” Not to be outdone, her older sister in Minnesota texted saying, “We have a blizzard — and maybe also a tornado warning — so we may have a SNOWNADO today!” To show what fantastic parents we are, I wrote back, “We totally hear you. The clouds come out sometimes for a minute or two, even. This 81 degree weather completely blows.” And we included a picture of their mom and me smiling on the beach.

° Flying home, the pilot pointed out a cool sight. A rocket was being launched from Cape Canaveral. We got the rare treat of seeing something zoom into space, though in truth, it just looked like a really bright airplane from where we sat in the air, comfortably miles away. I’m told its payload was a satellite built to improve accuracy for GPS navigation on earth. Thank goodness, because just a day earlier, our own GPS had us inexplicably get off I-95, travel two blocks east, then make a U-turn and get the heck back on 95 going the same direction. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize those directions bombed.

As we came in low over Detroit, I was amazed to see all the vast expanse of white sand beaches, stretching out across the horizon. Beautiful bright white sand covered roads, parking lots, trees, everything. Kids had even made white sand men and white sand angels in their front yards. How wonderful. Ahhhh, paradise.

We’re back in the Motor City now and we’ve been told the weather’s been heating up a smidge. Heck, it’s been a couple degrees above freezing!! We’re having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave. Now I can face the rest of winter with a little knowing smile that eventually the sun will come out and start to warm things up a bit. Til then, I’ll remember the cat on the hot thin loop and wistfully yearn for my few days in the sun, at least until our dirty clothes arrive in the mail.

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