Saturday, November 21, 2015

My Hometown

I was born in Vero Beach, Florida. Shortly after I was born--though, obviously, the details are fuzzy--my parents bought a lot off a dirt road in what was then an unincorporated part of Palm Beach County, built a house, and moved me to Snug Harbor Drive off of Prosperity Farms Road where I (mostly) grew up. Our mailing address was in Lake Park, but at some point in time, our neighborhood would become a part of Palm Beach Gardens, though we were closer to Jupiter and I would end up attending Jupiter High School in 1986.

The Jupiter, Florida I grew up in is, I believe, a very different place than it is today. In the late '70s and early '80s I like to believe that the Jupiter, Florida I grew up in had more in common with Henry Flagler's Palm Beach of the 1930's or '40's than the place it is today. Though we had air conditioning and a few other modern conveniences, I remember a unique place habitable to only those inclined to feeling uncomfortable. It was hot, covered in scrub brush and palmetto trees. There were alligators, mosquitoes, cockroaches, snakes, and opossums. There was little to do. There was not yet a generation of stand-up paddleboarders or people doing CrossFit. As far as natural beauty was concerned, there was the ocean and sunsets, as there is now. People fished. They drank beer. In the afternoon, a county truck would drive through the neighborhood spraying pesticide to ward off the mosquitoes. It had a certain, rustic charm, I suppose. As far as hometowns go, it was fairly emblematic of small town America in that it was the exact type of place people left when they got old enough escape. Except for those who didn't.

In short, it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

I may have written something similar in this blog before. I do recall struggling to articulate my feelings for Florida here. I have tried often to put into words why I feel the way I do for Florida, for Jupiter, for my hometown. I've even tried to Google, "What's wrong with Florida?" (Interestingly enough, search results often show weird shit people do in Florida. My favorite is titled "Florida Man" which features the zany misadventures of the typical Florida Man or Woman such as "Florida Man on Meth Robs 7-11 with Dead Stingray") I have this innate dislike of the area, but I couldn't tell you exactly why, because--on the surface--it seems nice enough, and maybe that is part of the problem. It has palm trees, beaches, nice weather, shopping, fancy restaurants, because it is a place most of the rest of the United States comes to visit. Developers have paved over and air-conditioned most of Florida. They've eradicated the mosquitoes and bulldozed all the scrub and replaced it with towering coconut and royal palms swaying in breezes, and created a picture-perfect oasis where it is impossible to feel even the slightest bit of discomfort. Like Disney, everything is a facade and everything feels the need to conjure the image of some other place, anything else. Very little is Old Florida anymore, and that, too, has become difficult to define. Instead, there are miles after miles of strip malls invoking the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Venice, Tuscany, Martinique, and Barcelona. We wouldn't keep coming back if my parents still didn't live here.

Controversy on the internet currently is focussed on the proposed development of an old waterfront trailer park. The parcel is slated for a super-dense mixed use project of residences, office, restaurant and commercial space along with a five-story parking garage. The density mimics a similar, new development nearby which features a luxury hotel and Tiger Woods' new restaurant. I suppose it would be hard to watch any small fishing village transform into a towers of concrete which ultimately benefits only a very small percentage of the town's populace...and most of those who will visit are seasonal residents. 

I am cautious not to let this devolve into a diatribe piting the haves vs the have-nots. Most--but not all--progress is good.

I think of so much in Florida as not being real. It is a vacationland pandering to those who are on holiday. This is good for me, because I only come on vacation, but I think it lulls those who live here into a false sense of paradise. That used to be me once, and I don't know why it bothers me so much that most who live here don't see it. I readily acknowledge I should not care as much as I do.

Of course, I could be making it much more complicated than it is. My favorite things in the world to do are run, ski, hike, rock climb and drink good beer. None of which (except recently drink good beer) can be done in Florida (you can run in Florida but 359 days a year it is an absolutely miserable experience.) 

Next week we depart for Elise's hometown in Washigton State which is much more my speed. It will be cold and snowy; much more my speed. 

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