You know, when I think about it, I was fortunate to grow up in the little beachside community of Ft. Pierce, Florida, that is, taking the large leap of faith that I have grown up. Although Ft. Pierce, located on the east coast of Florida between Cape Kennedy and Palm Beach, was not perfect and was never confused with a subtropic version of either Ozzie and Harriet or Haight-Ashbury, it was . . . well . . . a great place for a kid to call home. Besides, it left you with the highly respected moniker “Floridian” for life.
Now that summer again has us in its death grip, I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember it being this hot growing up in Florida. I sometimes think others have the right idea by turning tail and running about the time we are ready to file our tax returns—some to the mountains of North Carolina and some for who knows where that RV will take them.
I get a kick out of people who hear my Southern accent and ask where I am from, expecting to hear Alabama or Georgia. They always look shocked when I reply Florida. And I take great pride in asking them, “How far south do you have to go before you are in the South?” For this Floridian, going south means driving around northern Havana (AKA Miami) on the Sawgrass Expressway on my way to the Keys (and we always call it “the Key”). No need to stick “Florida” between those two words; we know what state it is in.
I know if I am intelligent on my jaunt down the Overseas Highway, I’ll stop in Marathon and skip the foolishness Jimmy Buffett launched on Duval St. before he left our southernmost city, hightailing it north (around northern Havana) to his new little casita in the glitz and glamour of Palm Beach. Isn’t that the American way—make millions singing songs about Southern beach life so you can live with New Yorkers?
Yes, I know my state is often called the upside-down state and for good reason. The farther south you go, the more Northern you get. By the time you get to Miami, you are back in New York City. Any real Floridian knows Miami is a region (some would say its own state—maybe the state of confusion would be more appropriate) more than a city that begins just south of Jupiter and extends to just north of Homestead.
Growing up in the subtropics has taught me that a good parking place at the only grocery store worth shopping, Publix, has more to do with snagging a small slice of shade than distance to the door. I have given up carrying an umbrella because the Florida showers are over in three to five minutes, so what is the use?
We kids from the Sunshine State still have a habit of calling any temperature below 70 a cold snap, but those Yankees who say we have no change of season are just showing their ignorance. We also have four distinct seasons: hurricane season, love bug season, tourist season, and summer.
Speaking of hurricane season, my sixty years of hot, humid, laid-back “Floridays” has taught me not to bother with anything under a category 3. No self-respecting Floridian would use the word hurricane to describe a passed tropical tempest, as if it were the storm’s first name. We simply call them Andrew, Charley, Wilma, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.
When the newest category 2 is about to pass the Bahamas, I have been known to meet fellow Floridians in the parking lot of a Home Depot. We dangle our legs from the dropped tailgate of the pickup truck, pour some salted peanuts in our Diet Cokes, and watch the wild-eyed, panicking recent transplants try to load thirty-four sheets of plywood on the roof of their Toyota Prius. Don’t you just love those guys? My question is how did those guys win the War of Northern Aggression? Now, if we could just get them to stop feeding the seagulls on the boardwalk—hello!
As for Christmas in Florida, I know that everyone who had the misfortune to have been born north of the Mason Dixon Line, wants to whine and cry at Christmas. They can be heard saying things like; “it is just not Christmas without snow.” Well we make up for it in a number of small almost unnoticeable ways.
Here is one –>
I have not put the prefix alli- on the front of the word gator in my adult life. I know real Floridians usually describe a 6-foot gator and a 100-pound boar hog as “cute little things.”
As a son of the South, I know there really is a place called Yeehaw Junction and saying its name does not make me grin and look around to see if others are laughing. In addition, I know that it is one of the only named locations (I struggle to call it a city) in Florida with fewer buildings than it had fifty years ago. The acid test to test the authenticity of someone claiming to be a real Floridian is to ask him or her to pronounce Kissimmee, Withlacoochee, and Thonotosassa; their genuineness, or lack thereof, will be apparent . . . and I am happy to say that I have been way down upon the Suwannee River.
Although I love the dollars snowbirds bring to our great state, it is becoming more difficult by the year not to affix the bumper sticker I saw a few years ago that reads, “Would you please press the gas, some of us are NOT on vacation.” I got a chuckle from a bumper sticker I read on a pickup in St. Pete (the home of the newly wedded and nearly dead) shortly after the 2000 election. It read, “If you think we can’t vote, wait until you see us drive.”
In Florida, we have our special tropic-casual dress code built on the solid and time-tested foundation of flip-flops; I own nine pairs, the most expensive well over $100, and I think that it is normal to pay a C-note for good flip-flops. After all, as a Southern Baptist minister’s son, I was taught to dress nice for church. I guarantee you will never hear the phrase “Sunday-go-to-meetin’ flip-flops in New Jersey.”
It is difficult for me to see a pair of lace black dress shoes and not think about how my friend describes his life as an insurance agent, following many years of owning a surf shop—“I now wear big boy pants and shiny shoes.”
As a Floridian, I understand the logic of having several friends with nice boats instead of one of my own. Growing up in Ft. Pierce, I thought everyone was born knowing how to swim. I was 18 and in the Coast Guard boot camp before I met my first nonswimmer adult. What would possess a person who could not swim to join the Coast Guard? Oh, yes, I almost forgot. Can you say Vietnam?
So, when I call someone to fix my broken air conditioner or walk the beach while my Northern friends shovel their driveways, I’ll say a prayer of thanks that I was fortunate enough to be born in Ft. Pierce, finding myself here in our special version of semiparadise because, in retrospect, I could have done much worse.
Here’s to the sand in your shoes.
For those who were not “born” here in Florida and who have been going through your special identity crisis while reading this, all is not lost; you might have morphed into a native Floridian if . . .
- You think New York driver licenses should only be valid in New York.
- You feel cordial greetings such as “So, how’d you make out in the hurricane?” and “Hot enough for ya?” are natural and interchangeable.
- You know it’s not soda, cola, or pop; it’s Coke, despite brand or flavor. “What kinda Coke you want? Make mine a Nehi Grape Coke.”
- You understand that sweat tea is one word, and you can serve it anytime—yes, even for breakfast.
- You exhibit a slight twitch when introduced to anyone with the first names of Charley, Frances, Ivan, or Jeanne.
- Your winter coat is made of denim.
- You’re looking at paint swatches for the plywood on your windows to accent the house color.
- Your pool or porch is more accurately described as “framed in” than “screened in.”
- You go to a theme park for an afternoon and know when to get on the best rides (Space Mountain during the Electric Light Parade).
- You now understand what that little “2% hurricane deductible” phrase means, and you are still waiting to hear from your insurance adjuster about Charley.
- A mountain is any hill 100 feet above sea level, including Mt. St. Lucie County Landfill.
- You now own five large ice chests and can cook anything on a propane grill including lasagna.
- After a hurricane you stop what you’re doing to clap and wave at a convoy of power company trucks coming down your street. You’re depressed when they don’t stop in your neighborhood.
- You smirk when a game show’s Grand Prize is a trip or cruise to Florida.
- You now think the $6,000 whole-house generator seems reasonable. Your therapist calls your condition “generator envy.”
Finally, you might be a Floridian if . . .
- You understand the futility of exterminating cockroaches.