I first set foot on the sandy, swampy soil of the great state of Florida at the youthful age of six, or maybe eight. I cannot remember exactly, but it was sometime in the mid-1950s. The trip also marked my first plane ride.
Mom and Dad, my sister and I flew to Miami to visit my grandparents. I believe it was during Christmas break. Grandma and Grandpa rented an apartment in Miami Beach for the winter. They fled north again before the hot, humid, perspiration-dripping weather arrived. I remember visiting two tourist attractions - Parrot Jungle and Monkey Jungle - and not much more…
One June decades later my two sons, hub and I visited relatives living year-round in south Florida. I cannot remember why we chose that particular month, but it probably had something to do with the intersection of school and work vacations, cheap airfares, and inexpensive hotels.
We stayed in an air-conditioned motel near my aunt and uncle’s small one-bedroom apartment in Century Village. For those unfamiliar with these communities dotting the East coast of south Florida, they were among the first planned retirement communities. Construction began on the first one in the barren wilderness on the swampy side of West Palm Beach in the 1960s.
Northern retirees suddenly no longer tethered to their hometown by jobs sought warm weather during the winter, eager to avoid throwing on layers of clothing and maneuvering treacherous icy, snowy, wet roads and sidewalks. Fixed-income seniors interested in cheaper digs and dining became devoted Early Bird Specialists.
Century Villages, along with the arrival of air conditioning, ushered in the golden age of the Sunshine State.
Back to my aunt and uncle’s apartment…Four of us sat around the apartment barely moving, breathing heavily, immersed in our separate pools of sweat, even the boys paralyzed into inaction by the oppressive heat and humidity. After a couple of days my uncle suddenly asked, “Are you hot? You know, we are used to the weather down here and don’t use the air. If you are hot we can turn the air conditioning on.”
Fast-forward to the present, and one of those stupefied boys is a permanent, full-time, happy Florida resident. After years visiting aunts, uncles and grandparents who migrated to the peninsula, hub and I now regularly visit the younger generations.
Florida is now the third most populous state in the nation, and continues to flourish. Housing values and the economy may not have completely recovered from the Great Recession, but signs of economic activity are everywhere.
The state annually welcomes more people and constructs more roads, more stores, malls and commercial structures, more homes, more golf courses, more gated communities surrounded by stone walls and manicured landscaping, and more wide six-lane roads cluttered with countless traffic lights. You can check your email, messages, and text your significant other while waiting for a light change.
Hub and I are currently in Florida spending time with the family, babysitting the grandkids, sightseeing and visiting snowbird friends.
Florida is on our minds, at least temporarily.
This post was going to end with the above line, but the TV show host and comedian John Stewart recently mentioned the state. Before introducing the evening’s guest, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Stewart threw a few light-hearted gibes at the Sunshine State. I could not resist including his monologue. Enjoy!