My feelings for Florida fluctuate between fondness and fury. (Say that five times fast!). The fury should be evident to anyone who knows my political leanings—Florida’s role in over-riding the fundamental one person-one vote tenet of Democracy back in 2000 and probably 2004 as well and the resulting havoc and chaos it unleashed. In fact, it was Volusia County where New Smyrna is located, where, according to Wikipedia, “… a Global Election Systems voting machine showed that 412 of the 585 registered voters had voted. The problem was that the machine also claimed those 412 voters had somehow given Bush 2,813 votes and in addition had given Gore a negative vote count of -16,022.” And if that isn’t worthy of fury and outrage, I don’t know what is. Even if it is eleven years later.
But riding my bike on the beach, with some of the finest-grain sand I’ve experienced that packs down while wet and makes for great biking, I thought about the fondness I’ve always felt being in Florida, the in-the-moment feeling of breathing the fragrant air and listening to the varied and ever-present birds and wading in the Atlantic waters. The kinds of things that help me forget, for just a moment, the tangles and horrors of politics. And so while pedaling along the water, I found myself wondering where that affection came from.
Well, really no need to ask, why not just trust my feelings and enjoy them? But it did make me remember that Florida was the first truly different place I traveled to back at the bare beginnings of my life. Five-years old to be exact, when my father, mother, sister and I bundled into our old green 1954 Plymouth back in Roselle, New Jersey and began a long drive down to Florida. Though it was April 1st, there was a light snow, which made it all the more appealing to head South. Five is an age just on the cusp of conscious memory and I have no memorable impressions of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia or the Carolinas. But Georgia I will always remember. It was here that I was in the back seat of the car one moment looking at a comic book and tumbling out on the highway the next, courtesy of a drunk truck driver who tried to pass, sprang open our door and drove off the edge of the road himself into a large ditch. Later, my parents told that they themselves came within inches of tumbling down another ditch, with my sister and I still out on the road somewhere.
Fortunately, traffic was sparse. I do remember the sound of the ambulance, a moment in the doctor’s office getting stitches in my chin and elbows, a strange stop at some family’s house with two doors to their bathroom and then me proudly walking around with my bandages eliciting sympathy from strangers.
We then made it down to Miami and here memory mixes with old slide shows and 8-millimeter films—there was the oldest house in St. Augustine, a slave market platform, a Sea World show with leaping dolphins, a calypso band at our Blue Mist Hotel in Miami Beach and the swimming pool where I ventured further and further out from the stairs, making my first tentative stabs at real swimming. It was all a very different world from suburban New Jersey and made its first indelible marks on me as a future traveler. Hence, fondness for Florida. With the sun peeking out after two days of overcast skies, I’ll leave the fury alone. Lie down on the beach, listen to the gentle lull of the waves, remember what it feels like to be five years old and in a magical new world.