In some ways it’s hard to take Florida seriously. Home to no one except Seminoles and Caloosas and other assorted tribes, many of whom Andrew Jackson murdered before he frog-marched the survivors to Oklahoma 180 years ago. Refuge for hucksters and schemers, for East Coast/midwest retirees and snowbirds, Cuban refugees and gangsters. Folks who come to this sandspit, where any bump twenty feet above sea level counts as a mountain, come not to put down roots and build new homes in a new land, but to get rich and get out or just get it over with in warmth and comfort.
The whole place is a giant real estate scam, set down among swamps and alligators, there’s neither the culture nor the crops of the rest of the south; e.g., particularly places like New Orleans. It’s home to the country’s oldest city (St. Augustine), but no one seems to know or care much about that. They’d rather promote Ringling Brothers (winter home/museum) and spring training, for crying out loud. Who could be serious about that?
But we’ve learned from time to time, counterintuitive though it may be, that we need to take this place seriously, haven’t we? It’s not all Anita Bryant and orange groves. Corrupt Florida Real Estate was a major component, for example, of the 1929 crash. Fast forward eighty years, and we Though not alone in creating our 2008 financial debacle, Florida house and loan and land grabs contributed more than thier fair share. With a population only half that of California, it nevertheless had a foreclosure rate four times the national average. Perhaps its most important contribution to national snafus came in November 2000. Although electoral votes from a number of other states could have thrown the election to Gore (his own home state’s eleven, for example) Florida became the low point of that particular unholy example of democracy turned sideways–the incompetent tools (Presenting, ladies and gentlemen, the “hanging chad.”) The corrupt denial of thousands to even get a try at hanging a chad. The certification of the uncertifiable by a sexy blonde secretary of state. (And don’t throw up JFK’s narrow win in Illinois bequeathed by Mayor Daly, or LBJ’s Texas Senatorial victory via a “lost” ballot box. Those were cases of calculated, well-executed corruption. This is something different.) Malfeasance and fraud on a scale probably unique in the country since the voting rights act of 1964. If not in scale, certainly unique in impact. And, finally, the undeniably unique highjacking of the state’s election apparatus by the U.S. Supreme court. How can we blame Florida for what the Supreme Court did? Because they they put themselves into a situation that required, in Barack’s words, “adult supervision.
A land of endless beaches, condos, and a revolving population of tax dodgers doesn’t have enough people with a permanent stake in the place to monitor things. All right, so maybe I’m being unfair. My wife says I’m a snob, and I guess I am. Her family (my family now, too, of course.) sees Florida as, if not paradise, at least as THE r&r place. And there’s something to be said for warm. A friend’s daughter–she truly is a resident now, after stints elsewhere–was horrified at my wife’s mention of Minnesota as a desirable place to live. She held her palms up, balancing like a scale Minnesota/Florida, Minnesota/Florida. Florida tipped the scales by a large margin. She likes living where a temperature of sixty means getting out the parkas. What about hurricanes? Oh, I didn’t list hurricanes among the negatives above, did I? Oh, well, let’s not pile it on.
There are some cultural items here. A couple from Cleveland funded and stocked a Dali Museum in St. Petersburg that’s the largest in the world. And it’s splendid, and they’re building a new and bigger model. But how many of the folks flying in come for that? There’s a reason no one I ever talked to mentioned it, and we were left to more or less stumble on it. What people come here for is spring break, Fort Lauderdale, Connie Frances, Where the Boys are, skipper the almost-talking dolphin. But I was being positive, wasn’t I?
Mentioning beaches reminds me that they are the best. There’s no about about that. And there’s a fine movie called, I believe, Sunshine State with Tim Hutton and Jacqueline Basset that–but I think that’s negative too.
Anyhow, if you want pastel and flat and lots of water (though not a lot of it to drink. There’s a drought and water rationing right now) and fishing and boating, it’s the place for you. And doubtless the population is not nearly as transient as I’ve represented it. Probably there are families who have been around for a couple of hundred years before Castro. And there’s NASA and the space shuttle, and I’ve no complaints about them. And then, of course, there’s the military. Forgot about that part. Lots of bases particularly in the north. Anyhow, if there’s a place in Florida for me, it will have to be, I guess, Key West. Full of funk and life on the Hemingway edge. As far south as you can go on the continent. Of course, it is an island. A small one, too, and I have my problems with that. I don’t think I’ll be required to make a choice about where to live in Florida. If I am, these words will make a large meal for me to eat. I’d rather just leave them all on the plate.