Sunday, July 27, 2014


It has been two weeks since I watched my family run down the jetway at PBIA. In the days and weeks leading up to our reunion, I imagined what it would be like, and just the thought of seeing them again caused me to tear up and a lump to form in my throat.

The actual reunion was anticlimactic. Elise's father, brother, and his girlfriend came to the airport with me, so I had an audience and had to be on my best behavior. As Sam and Clementine ran toward me, something happened to Peter. I am not sure what, but he ended up on the carpet of the jetway crying. Moreover, Elise had passed the invisible line of no return beyond which TSA will not let you retrace your steps or renter the terminal. So, there was Peter on one side of this invisible line, crying and visibly distressed and Elise on the other with a TSA officer warning her not to go back for her fallen brood.

Once Peter made his way over the invisible barrier, I swept him up in my arms, and we were all back together again.

The next two weeks were a blur. There was a wedding on the beach a few days later. We rented a house in Tequesta with a swimming pool in the back yard, and there were several afternoons of poolside revelry, an extended family reunion with great-aunts and uncles, small boys flying through the air, splashing down into the water, and beers drunk in the sun.

A few days ago, the newlyweds headed home, and Elise's parents got on the road to head north to South Carolina. The house grew less hectic, but in this vacuum was an unwelcome quiet. The chaos suited all, and now there is too much space and not nearly enough bodies lounging about. The house was seemingly made to accommodate large numbers of people dripping in wet bathing suits. Fortunately, we look forward to filling it back up on Tuesday when more company arrives and the second half of our Florida beach vacation begins.

I was recently talking to a colleague at work in India about Florida. As my flight from LAX to West Palm taxied into the gate, I distinctly recall not feeling as though I were coming home, but that I was coming to Florida to visit family. It has been almost five years since we moved from Florida, and I don't know if I suspected this feeling to come sooner or later. Perhaps, five years is just about right to emotionally separate from a place. We still own our townhouse here, but that stopped feeling like home a long time ago. Certainly when we rented it out to complete strangers and unquestionably when we had--not one--but two floods in the unit to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

I have a visceral disdain for South Florida. My colleague sensed this and asked why, and I could not clearly articulate my feelings. Don't get me wrong. Florida is a nice place to visit. The weather is generally good. It has nice beaches, good restaurants and Disney World, but perhaps not unlike a Nebraska farm boy who can't wait to get off the family farm, I had long ago outgrown Florida.

I grew up in Florida. I spent three years there right after I graduated from college and another ten after grad school. I ventured away. I went off to college in Baltimore and again wandered away to Colorado, but for some reason always came back. Maybe it was to return to my parents' safety net where I could regroup rent-free while plotting my next move. I was like a boomerang. Only no one had flung me far enough outside of Florida's gravitational pull until I took my present job.

I still do not really know why I left Boulder and came back to Florida in 2000, but I am glad I did. After meeting Elise, who is from Washington State, we quickly recognized that our joint fortunes lie west of the Rockies. Even before we left Florida in 2010 for my current job, I had been trying to move into a real estate job in Denver. I had one job offer in Portland to join the Department of the Interior, but the package wasn't quite enough to make the jump. A few months later, I'd be out of work.

Florida is still a nice place to visit. I just wouldn't want to live here. I have spent a lot of time in the last two weeks trying to figure out exactly what I don't like about Florida. That may sound like a negative pursuit, but it is important for me to know why I feel this way, and, perhaps in doing so, learn a little something about myself, because, on paper, Florida seems like a wonderful place. Sun, beaches, boats...who wouldn't want to live here?!

Therein lies part of the problem. Florida is paradise. So a large majority of the people around you are retired or on vacation. Especially in South Florida. So Florida becomes a stereotype of itself, and the tropical, Jimmy Buffet, "It's 5:00 Somewhere" facade replete with palm trees, boat drinks with tiny umbrellas, hammocks hung between coconut trees, cold Coronas, flip flops, and fishing boats that we sell vacationers and Snowbirds from the North becomes reality. Everyone lives the "Salt Life". I am not exactly sure what living the Salt Life entails, but imagine it has something to do with cleaning pools or waiting tables during the week, then anchoring the boat at Peanut Island on the weekends and drinking 27 cans of Miller High Life before passing out in the sun. To each his own, I suppose.

And after two weeks of serious contemplation, I think I have discovered it all just boils down to personal preference. I like the beach, but I like the cold better. I love snow, seasons changing, and leaves turning. I like the water, but I like to ski, hike, rock climb, camp more. I love to run, but running in Florida is miserable all but, perhaps, two days a year. I love coffee shops and dark beer.

I like mountains. Sorry, Florida. 

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