Oh, my sweet electoral battleground of a home state…
Your summers are an uneven mix of hellish high humidity and “it’ll pass” afternoons of five minute thunder bumpers. Dog days are announced by the piercing scream of cicadas, a battle cry for the invertebrate swarms. Palmetto bugs. Mosquitoes. No-See-Ums. Moments outside demand defensive maneuvers. Oscillating fans. Citronella. DEET.
Here, winter is a fallacy. Fall is a northern-born fantasy. Orion’s appearance in the sky announces cooler weather as if in jest and we build our gardens and plan our beach days like we are in on the joke. The seasons range from summer, to please-god-no-hurricanes, barely-not-summer, and a couple weeks of magic somewhere between March and April where the highs barely touch 75° and the lows are cool evenings spent on bikes chasing shadows through ancient live oaks.
We live in the sunshine. From sunburned midriffs to open records, we inspire headlines considered rival for satire. Florida man is both disparaging and yet a badge of honor. Hurricanes are a chance to stock up on beer. Evacuations, like proper footwear, are elective. Alligators are the promise of a good time and viral fame.
We range from flamboyantly conservative to traditionally liberal and everything in between, behind, and in front. Snowbirds and snowflakes. The nation’s oldest cities and newest PUDs. Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Santeria, and Atheists. Arroz con Leche for Christmas, Hoppin’ John for New Year, and Pub-subs for lazy beach days. Pine groves, orange groves, and mangroves. Gulf Coast, Gold Coast, First Coast, and the Conch Republic. I-95 north is a trip south. I-75 south takes you to Cuba. Or New York.
Bless our hearts, some southern stereotypes hold true. Sweet tea, collard greens, and grits forever and always. But our palette is adventurous and our neighbors too outgoing for us to hold only to “traditional” staples. Fresh seafood, crawfish boils, raw oyster parties, key lime pie, rumrunners, conch fritters, or ropa vieja washed down by award-winning local craft beers.
There will always be reasons to leave for saner (or higher) ground, but there will be many more opportunities to stay…for tradition and for change. For who we are and who we might be. I understand that nowhere is perfect, but at least here in Florida, the irony in the façade of that perfection is entertaining. It doesn’t hurt either that no matter where you are in the state, you’re never more than 80 miles from the beach.