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florida: are you okay?
tales from an exotic land
There is a particular kind of upper lip sweat I’ve only ever experienced in Florida. It’s the kind of nervous steam that appears when you drive by your fourth “Cheap Guns” billboard that day.
For the first time in over a decade, I returned to Florida, the place I spent my early childhood. It’s a state of extremes: home to some of the most pristine natural spaces and deeply unnatural phenomena.
Artificial lakes, Disney propaganda, fluorescent strip malls, alligator shows, swampy lowland, QAnon bumper stickers, vibrant Latino and Caribbean enclaves all existing together. And yes, every third person you meet is happily retired.
While dining at a soul food restaurant with my Dad in central Florida, he mentioned how horrible the barbecue ribs where when he ate there last time. But this humble joint was one of few Black-owned restaurants around, so my Dad wanted to give them another chance. But not without a stern talking to.
See, my Dad is the kind of plucky, Caribbean retiree who isn’t afraid to tell a restaurant owner their ribs ain’t shit.
“Dad, that’s insulting. They’ll probably spit in our food,” I said, as he looked at me in horror.
After so much time spent up North, I’d grown mistrustful of my fellow man. In New England, the normal thing to do when you hate restaurant food is say nothing in the moment, and eviscerate the business on Yelp.
I spent a weekend in St. Petersburg, visiting a former mentor. If you haven’t heard, St. Pete is a tropical Manhattan for those over 65. Arts, culture, good food, and the no-income-tax shelter that elders love.
It was the end of hurricane season, so I asked my mentor how her and other transplants weathered storms in Florida’s Tampa Bay.
“Oh, we just evacuate,” she said nonchalantly. My older relatives, who fled to Florida hoping to escape harsh winters up North, responded the same.
Here was a state on the frontlines of deadly heatwaves, eroding coastline, and destructive storms — with fossil-fuel loving Governor Ron DeSanctimonious at the helm. But I struggled to meet a single Floridian over the age of 50 who was concerned about any of this.
As the gunshine state confronts its own extinction, I wonder if the “Florida retiree” cliché — spending one’s days golfing, barbecuing, and sending horribly formatted texts to your grandchildren states away — is also on it’s way out.
In fifty years, the popular retirement destinations will no longer be warm, southern, and tropical, but northern, closer to freshwater, the mountains, and the Canadian border.
Geriatric millennials will not be day-drinking on the beach in Palm Coast, but subsistence farming behind the remote cabin they share with two platonic life partners. And thank God, because if I see another souvenir seashell with googly eyes I might die.
For Sierra, I wrote about why we should take the “degrowth” movement seriously
Things I’m shouting about
My favorite thing about Florida is the Publix sub sandwich. IYKYK.