Why Florida?

Posted on March 20, 2009
Filed Under Commentary, Travel | Leave a Comment

Michelle and I are in Gulfport, Florida, on the southern tip of St. Petersburg, this winter.

Several of my friends and acquaintances have expressed surprise. “Never figured you for a Florida guy, Dave,” seems to be the common theme of the comments. I think that is understandable. In a list of places to go that includes Paris, Florence, Rome, Venice, Capri, Pompei, Athens, Cairo, Moscow, New Orleans, San Francisco, Quebec City, Guadalajara, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and St. Petersburg, it is not difficult to pick one that, at first glance, seems not like the others.

Many people think of Florida as Disney World, beaches, golf, early bird specials, trailer parks, men in nipple-high belts and predatory widows in makeup deep enough to conceal murder victims.

All those do exist in Florida. And, yes, there are lots of old people here. You see them everywhere. It is not like Miramichi where really old people have the decency to stay discretely hidden in their homes behind snowbanks at this time of year.

Here they are out baring their flesh, riding bicycles, walking Greyhound dogs, lounging around pools and playing golf. Many of them move with mechanical assistance but they move. Behind many of those lined faces, are people who did some serious moving in WW II.

When people make fun of old people,

Some wise person said everyone finds the Europe he expects to find. I know people whose number one impression of Paris and New Orleans is that they are dirty. I freely admit my opinion of Florida, based on a one-week visit to Indian Shores, almost 20 years ago, was unfavourable. It was a corridor of condos with a narrow strip of dirty beach and water on one side and a noisy, wide thoroughfare on the other. I described it as Mountain Road with heat.

Even then, when we rented a boat in John’s Pass, we found a scruffy neighbour hood bar where everybody knew each other. It reminded me of home and was my favourite place.

Last Spring, after returning from a wonderful six weeks in New Zealand, I came to Florida to visit John and Joyce LeBlanc. They were on a UPM stimulated sabbatical here. John was planning his future and considering his options. It was a profitable sojourn. He has a much better job with a more promising future in the nuclear industry now.

On the recommendation of Tim Kingston’s mother, Jean, who has a place here, they wound up in Gulfport on the southern tip of St. Petersburg, on Boca Ciega Bay. Gulfport is a beautiful, scruffy, town where there does not seem to have been much in the way of new development for almost 20 years. I think the tallest building in the community is 11 stories.

It is an artsy little community with several good restaurants and where, often, the owner is in the store. On many streets, the trees touch each other from either side and two piers stretch out from the beach.

With downtown St. Petersburg 15 minutes away and Tampa about 45 minutes, it offers small town life with all the benefits of cities close but not too close.

Tampa and St. Petersburg promote themselves as Tampa Bay so they can promote their collective assets to attract tourists and Super Bowls. The Tampa Bay Rays Major League Baseball stadium is in St. Petersburg. The NFL Buccaneers stadium is in Tampa. The NHL Lightning play in downtown Tampa.

St. Petersburg bills itself as the arts capital of Florida. The area is so rich in first rate life professional theatre, symphonies, art galleries, museums, concerts and festivals that one struggles to decide what one afford to do in time and money.

Stacy Keach was just here with the Broadway production of the play, “Frost/Nixon,” on which the movie is based. It was excellent. The American Stage Theatre production of August Wilson’s “King Hedley II” was one of the finest performances I have ever seen.

Name a show and it is, was, or will be, here. Name an entertainer boomers liked and he or she is, was or will be here. Bonnie Raitt was just here. James Taylor is coming. A list of the name musical performers, acts, comedians and shows here this winter would fill several pages.

There is a blues festival this weekend and the multi-ethnic Renaissance Festival continues. The folk festival is next.

The variety of high quality ethnic food is staggering. Thinking of how our Miramichi restaurants struggle to introduce anything new or different, makes me wish they had a share of a market the size of the one here. Imagine if they even could offer you the choice of sitting inside or outside all year long.

There are all kinds of retro bars around. One of my favourites, Domain, is like being in room full of rowdy ghosts. The musicians and the audience are almost all grizzled boomers playing boomer music. Not a rapper or hip hopper in sight.

We’ve all got a lot of miles on us and we have all heard a world of great rock. The TomKats is the house band on Wednesday nights. It is as if one of the old Miramichi bars of the 70’s and 80’s was still going with the same musicians, drinkers, smokers, tokers and dancers including some of our favourites no longer with us. It’s like Rock ‘N’ Roll Festival every week.

There are, of course, fabulous beaches, pools, golf courses, parks, boating, biking and every kind of outdoor activity. Michelle and I are taking two Tai Chi classes every week. There is a glass blowing workshop coming up. I have found one of the flaws in my golf swing. A couple of dozen more improvements and I may get from pathetic to mediochre.

Instead of hunkering down and eating as if for hibernation, I am getting lots of exercise and eating summertime food.

I think Florida is good for me.

Having said that, I am beginning to get homesick for proper smelt, wild blueberries, fiddleheads, lobster, scallops, Maritime air, and the simple excitement of a Miramichi summer.

On the river!                                                                        DAC

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