neither Northern nor Southern, but an amalgam of everything
July 24, 2018 1:43 PM   Subscribe

"Florida is no place for those who want to view it from a safe distance. This state is invasive, creeping, needy. Hardy and scrabbling, our peninsula’s sour with poison and rot and choking vines. You fight for the right to live in its greenery, and once you’ve finally carved out a space, you stay tangled in the wreck. Once you’ve left, there’s no coming back. The best you can do is hack out a different life somewhere else. This place isn’t yours to write about. It’s barely mine." Kristen Arnett: The Problem With Writing About Florida
posted by everybody had matching towels (84 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Also, Kristen Arnett's twitter is a delight.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 1:43 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]


This article talks a lot about nature, and I'm sure it's there somewhere, but the parts of Florida I've seen were primarily composed of parking lots.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:54 PM on July 24 [11 favorites]

I'd make a joke about paving paradise, but mosquito-infested swamps aren't exactly my personal idea of paradise to begin with.

The natural-ish parts are genuinely impressive, though. Some of the woods around Okeechobee have only a few mosquitos and are very pretty to camp out in.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:05 PM on July 24

Also, there's no experience quite like rounding the curve of a stream in a canoe and finding yourself a handful of yards from a huge gator sunning itself on the banks.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:06 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]

I was shocked by how much I liked Florida. I spent 37.5 years reading about Florida Man and people complaining about heat and alligators and all that stuff. Then I spent five days, and wow. It's unlike anywhere I've ever been before, and I mean that in a good way. Sensory overload. Now I'm looking for excuses to go back.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:07 PM on July 24 [11 favorites]

I keep meaning to read Joy Williams' guide to the Florida Keys, even though I've never been there.
posted by lagomorphius at 2:13 PM on July 24

But like the traffic islands and drainage ditches in those parking lots are full of weird lizards.
posted by vogon_poet at 2:14 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]

This was amazing and lovely and so accurately raw about how native Floridians feel. We love our home and hate it at the same time we're embarrassed to say we're from here. And just in the first comments in this thread are the attitudes the essay talked about, people who aren't from here-they've just passed through-but they have scathing commentary about a place about which they know very little.
posted by hollygoheavy at 2:24 PM on July 24 [19 favorites]

I grew up in Florida, spent close to 30 years there before I managed to escape, and I don't miss it in the slightest. The oppressively hot part of the year is oppressively long and oppressively humid, and a majority of the flora and fauna are weaponized and actively hate humanity.

On the other hand, I have a friend who moved there about 10 years ago and utterly adores it.

posted by Greg_Ace at 2:25 PM on July 24 [7 favorites]

Also wasps and fire ants. I can't decide which one I detest more.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:26 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

I thought the daily thunderstorm at precisely 3:30pm (Daytona time) was cool, but only once.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:34 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]

Also, any spam, malware or online scam not coming from the former USSR is almost certain to be from Florida, and this has been the case from the time the spammers trashed USENET.
posted by acb at 2:43 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]

I born in Orlando, which now that I think about it, explains a lot about my life.
posted by KHAAAN! at 2:46 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

I mean, I only spent three years there, but that was enough to feel exactly what she was getting at about Publix subs. And, needless to say, there is absolutely no equivalent in the northeast to Tacos al Carbon.

But it's still kind of a shithole state, and the climate is not fit for humans.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:52 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I spent ten years in Florida. Had some fun. All in all, wouldn't go back. Don't be too proud of someplace because it's hard.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:54 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]

Then I spent five days, and wow. It's unlike anywhere I've ever been before...

What part of Florida did you visit? I've gladly had my preconceptions overturned in places like Arkansas and Texas, finding quite a bit to like, as well as quite a bit that doesn't fit anything like the state's stereotypes.

And I've been to Florida, and found it to, unfortunately, be basically as I expected: I went through almost the whole middle of the state from Cocoa Beach to Tampa/Clearwater and found it to be a place where Florida Man (or in Clearwater, Sea Org zombies) could've swung around any corner, or come out from behind any run-down strip mall.
posted by tclark at 2:57 PM on July 24

Fire ants. Wasps you know you’ve killed the nest. Fire ants it’s always a rear guard action.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:58 PM on July 24

well I for one love this big-headed, toothy-grinning, tail-wagging, ready-to-tear-your-throat-out-with-not-so-much-as-a-warning-bark pitbull of a state.

the quality of pubsubs have proven inversely correlated to their popularity, sadly.
posted by sibboleth at 3:04 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]

Mothers, fathers, deacons: everyone wished to go back to the plague of frogs so we could forget about the dead things out back.

This is great writing. Thank for posting it.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:08 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]

My grandma tells me that she’s lived in Florida her whole life and can’t recall the restaurant that used to sit two blocks over from her home. I went there once with my grandfather and begged for apple pie. When he bought it for me, I looked at the thick chunks of pale fruit and remembered reading a story about a pastry made out of baby flesh. He was embarrassed I couldn’t finish, but he still walked me home and held my hand.

Really enjoying this writing. Thanks for posting it.
posted by lostburner at 3:09 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]

My husband is from a bourgie area of south Florida. I am extremely Midwestern. The first time he took me down to meet my future in-laws we stopped at a Publix with valet parking.

I still don't get it. If you are fancy enough to valet at the grocery, then can't you hire an assistant to do all your shopping for you? Or do the assistants valet as well?

It doesn't make sense. Florida, man.

On the other hand, my mother-in-law just sent us the annual box of mangoes from their backyard. She always encloses the same note: "be sure to wash these, they might have iguana doodoo on them." I'm certain there is nothing in the state of Ohio more delicious at this moment than those mangoes on my counter.
posted by mostly vowels at 3:17 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]

Yes, but did you wash them?

BlueHorse Florida trip:
Beach was beautiful, the tar balls were a disappoint
We did a way cool drive through the edge of a minor hurricane. The edge was more than enough.

Go back. Nah
Live there. HELL NO
posted by BlueHorse at 3:21 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]

I was born in Daytona Beach and spent a lot of childhood growing up in Flagler Beach and DeLand. The majority of my dad’s side of the family is still there, and most of that side is from Bunnell. Great times hanging out in Florida, I think about it often.
posted by gucci mane at 3:30 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]

If you've never been to Florida or your idea of Florida is strictly either Orlando and/or all other points south, it always comes as a shock to realize Northern Florida exists and is its own weird beast. My dad and his family are all from around the rural area an hour outside of Gainesville. My dad is the police chief of a tiny picturesque island called Cedar Key and hardly anyone knows about it or goes there (well, if you're looking for franchises and other ubiquitous things like that, you're out of luck).

I have mixed feelings about Florida, having spent early years of my childhood there as well as spending summers there as part of a custody arrangement.
posted by Kitteh at 3:36 PM on July 24 [19 favorites]

Cedar Key is close to heaven. I don't mean Alachua.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:06 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]

Is Travis McGee still there?
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:13 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]

On the other hand, my mother-in-law just sent us the annual box of mangoes from their backyard.

Another data point for Queensland being the Florida of Australia.
posted by acb at 4:14 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]

That was a delightfully accurate essay. I grew up on the coast east of Orlando, then spent a decade in the city before moving to Seattle. Good post timing too—I’ve wrapped up my trans-Continental bicycle tour from Seattle to Titusville, Florida and am even now on the train back.

She absolutely nails the tone and bizarre flavor of central Florida. And Kitteh’s entirely right about north Florida. It feels very much its own southern beast, less influenced by the population growth of the southern half of the state, still closely linked culturally to Alabama and Georgia even while still being distinctly Floridian.

It’s certainly a unique state, and I’m pleased to have had a chance to visit again, and cycle across it, but dear God that heat and humidity … I’m so very glad to be heading back to my adopted and beloved Pacific Northwest.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 4:36 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]

Come to think of it, I do miss smoked mullet (the fish, not some sort of incendiary hairdo).
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:39 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]

Travis McGee

The thing that tickles me about those books is how the sidekick character, Meyer, increasingly becomes a megaphone for the author to rant about What The World Has Come To. Now, he's not wrong, and John D. MacDonald was pretty much right with his nose for rot in politics and business and what you might call the national character, as we lurched into the Reagan era. But it was amusingly unsubtle.
posted by thelonius at 4:46 PM on July 24 [4 favorites]

All I can say is, appreciate the weirdness of southern Florida while its still above water.
posted by happyroach at 4:46 PM on July 24 [12 favorites]

My family lived in Florida during my toddler years, my sister was born there. After we moved back to Michigan, we vacationed there every year from age 7 to 14. My grandparents live there, my partner's father lives there, and his grandparents died there. We still visit the Florida family annually. To be sure, Michiganders with a sort of Florida half-life are common enough.

It strikes me as an ersatz place, with even expensive homes and fancy modern bridges and buildings coming across as compositionally temporary. I have driven by elaborate gated estates, completely abandoned when something financial went all wrong. I have been in Miami when the ocean makes itself known a couple blocks past the ostensible coastline. I have driven on highways that hover in a fragile, saucy way over the ocean. I often stay in senior communities, places unsubtly reliant on a certain amount of turnover among residents.* Heck, part of the draw for retirees is that they pay less in taxes, folks who have limited interest in long-term development.

Humorists and pulp writers have done the best job capturing Florida. A Floridian John Waters could really do something with its fusion of banality, weirdness, and decay.

*literally cannot wait for the MILLENNIALS ARE KILLING RETIREMENT VILLAGES thinkpieces in 20 years
posted by palindromic at 4:53 PM on July 24 [15 favorites]

All of these people are doing it wrong. What you really need to do is live every other place on Earth for forty years and put up with all that awful everything everywhere else, and then move to Key West. Ask me how I know.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:07 PM on July 24 [7 favorites]

I lived in Florida for a little while and liked it a lot. I consider moving back there at some point, I like the heat and humidity, and with some looking the food is generally pretty great.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:08 PM on July 24

I loved this. I'm also a native Floridian writer, and I've struggled for years with the right approach to writing about Florida. This piece absolutely nails the combination of fierce love and awkward embarrassment I feel for the place. I can say with confidence that those who think Florida is entirely ugly parking lots, creepily efficient theme parks, and fetid alligator-infested ponds are missing out on some remarkable and relatively little-known wonders. Swimmable springs, some of the oldest buildings in the Western Hemisphere, pristine beaches, evocatively beautiful ruins, and the list goes on. This Atlas Obscura article is a nice place to start. I also am a big fan of the little-known (and unfortunately named) Florida Cracker style of architecture, which doesn't look anything like the crappy McMansions that most people associate with the state. Or perhaps you prefer Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, which is delightfully weird and is everywhere in Florida.

I sure as hell share her irritation with people (including some in this thread) who make sweeping pronouncements about how shit Florida is, but have really only ever been to Disney World or to visit aged relatives. It's an entire larger-than-average state, for God's sake, and there is much more to it than Orlando and assisted living facilities.

I find it rather suspect how acceptable it is among my fellow white progressives to disdain Florida. In my circles, people have mostly learned that it's not OK to blanket-denounce the South, or the Midwest, or even Iowa, but it's still fair-game to mock Florida. This is despite the fact that Florida is massively more diverse and more populous than (most of) the Midwestern states we are regularly implored not to make insulting generalizations about. I suspect but cannot prove this is because many white progressives have themselves only experienced the whitest, wealthiest, and most horribly boring enclaves of the state. They then lazily assume that must be all there is to it.

Which, no. No, it is not. To take one example, ever read about the struggle for farmworkers rights in Immokalee, Florida, where 98% of the nation's out-of-season tomatoes are grown?

Even the Florida Man trope is deceptive. Florida is the third largest state in the nation by population, and weirdness is guaranteed by sheer force of numbers. Florida's remarkably progressive open-records laws also permit journalists to access much more detailed information about weird crimes and sordid drama than they might be able to in other states. Florida is indisputably weird, but it's not actually the center point around which all American weirdness flows, much as those who fancy themselves majestically above drug-fueled alligator theft sprees might wish it to be.

Anyway, I loved this.
posted by faineg at 5:12 PM on July 24 [48 favorites]

Ok, one more thing. If you're looking for a good novel that captures the abject weirdness of Florida (beyond Carl Hiaasen), I can't recommend Karen Russell's "Swamplandia" highly enough.
posted by faineg at 5:21 PM on July 24 [9 favorites]

Elmore Leonard set books in Florida, Carl Hiaasen still does. So you can write about Florida.
posted by acrasis at 5:22 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]

...put up with all that awful everything everywhere else, and then move to Key West.

Where all you have to put up with are devastating hurricanes and rising sea levels!
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:30 PM on July 24

As a queer native Floridian, this essay made me feel SO SEEN. There truly is no escaping Florida -- you can move away and it might take a while to catch back up with you, but then one day you find yourself exclaiming that the Publix down the road from you is having its grand opening tomorrow and you can't wait to get you a sub.
posted by zebra at 5:42 PM on July 24 [10 favorites]

a majority of the flora and fauna are weaponized and actively hate humanity.

God, accurate. It's like Australia except also somehow, horribly, damp.
posted by sciatrix at 5:45 PM on July 24 [4 favorites]

Great post - thank you for sharing it!

I grew up in Winter Park, next door to Orlando (The City Beautiful - man, that rang a sentimental bell in my heart). This was in the late 60s until we moved to the Chicago suburbs in 1977 (my Dad worked for CNA in a building that, at the time, was the tallest in Orlando). We moved away when I was 11. I get very nostalgic about my childhood. Except for the palmetto bugs. I've been in the Northeast since I was 13 - can I still call myself a native Floridian?

Many years ago when I was in college in Rhode Island, I flew to Orlando to visit a childhood friend. She still lived in her childhood house over by Winter Park Hospital. I rented a car at the airport and drove to her house - my first time driving in FL. As I cranked up the radio (and the a/c), "Take Me Home" by Phil Collins came blasting out of the speakers. I cried as I drove to my old neighborhood, to my old friend.

My old house was a one-story ranch that my parents had painted lime sherbet green. It had those crazy jalousie windows that cranked open. I loved that house. We had orange trees in the backyard. One of my chores was picking up all the rotten fruit that fell from the trees. I miss the Bermuda grass - so thick and sharp that you could separate it into strips. Which I did on boring Sunday afternoons.

Disney opened in 1971 and I have photos of myself there with the date in the border that say "DEC 71". Going to WDW was nothing for us - the equivalent of going to the local carnival. I haven't been back to WDW since I was 10 - I'd rather remember it as a cool little carnival vs. what it is now.

Good lord, I do miss my home state. It really is where my heart is.
posted by sundrop at 5:57 PM on July 24 [11 favorites]

I am a New Yorker who loves reading about Florida, especially stuff written by Floridians. Any other Florida recommendations? So far we’ve got

Carl Hiaasen, all things
Elmore Leonard (any in particular?)
Karen Russell, Swamplandia

Anyone got more? Fiction, nonfiction, columnists? This is shameless book grubbing, and I do not apologize. I don’t know why I love Florida — I burn easily and my body can’t handle heat or humidity at all — but I do.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:59 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

I’m sure some people would turn up their noses at Dave Barry, but they shouldn’t.

Tim Dorsey is another one in the genre of zany Florida crime novels.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:05 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]

When I moved here in 1970, a friend described it as a thin (coastal) veneer of civilization over the heart of darkness. That’s a little harsh nowadays but not far wrong ... although I’m not sure of the civilization part.
posted by sudogeek at 6:05 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]

a tiny picturesque island called Cedar Key and hardly anyone knows about it or goes there

Well, hardly anyone in a global sense, sure. But Cedar Key and, over on the other side, Crescent Beach are halfway to being colonies of Gainesville.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:10 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]

Any other Florida recommendations?

Read the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. I have all of them (including the Quizbook). I still go back and re-read them from time to time. Once when I was in Ft. Lauderdamndale, I went to the Bahia Mar marina hoping to catch a glimpse of him, lol.

MacDonald perfectly captured the beauty and the beast that is Florida.
posted by sundrop at 6:10 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]

Rollerskating rinks, big block stock cars, swamps, beaches, yachts, and booze is pretty much what I remember from my childhood in florida. To be fair, it was the 70s.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:20 PM on July 24

Michael Gruber's Jimmy Paz trilogy (Tropic of Night) is set in a Miami that is definitely a veneer of civilization over the heart of darkness. Very well written cop thriller, dark and erudite.
posted by supermedusa at 6:25 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]

Everything I know about Florida I learned from Annihilation.
posted by JohnFromGR at 6:34 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]

I just read Sunshine State, an collection of essays by Sarah Gerard, and it was really damned good book.

In re: to Cedar Key, it is such a flyspeck of an island town with nothing to do that I hated it as a kid and absolutely love it as an adult. WiFi is spotty, there are no chains, the town has the kind of streetlights that shine downwards so the sky remains clear, there are tons of cats (feral and otherwise), and the ocean is loud.
posted by Kitteh at 6:48 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]

I spent a week doing 15 hours days of palm tree pruning in Miami, and that alone was enough to make me hate the state with a seething passion. Vast stretches of parking lot, screaming with residual heat long after the sun had set, humidity that made your lungs ache, and trees that provided no shade or cover, only massive thorns and angry reptiles/insects.
posted by Ferreous at 7:09 PM on July 24

Also wasps and fire ants. I can't decide which one I detest more.

You misspelled mosquitoes.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:17 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]

Queensland is the Florida of Australia to the point that they have their own Miami and Palm Beach.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:17 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

Really enjoyed the essay but it struck me as being more about Orlando than Florida itself.

This is one thing that's missed when outsiders talk about Florida. It's really 3-4 different states in one long strip and a panhandle.

Pensacola, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Orlando, Tampa, Miami, St Augustine, The Keys and all their outlying towns could be completely different states. Bits of Tallahassee might culturally overlap with bits of Alachua County which might overlap with bits of the Orlando outskirts but they're very different overall.

Florida for me will always be Ichetucknee springs, finding rural BBQ trailers when driving out to Crescent Beach and summers near the Suwanee River during the folk fest.

Florida is weird in that it's more traditionally southern the further north you go. Parts of Florida are culturally very similar to Georgia or Alabama. As you hit the retirement enclaves, it begins to feel more like the tristate area. I hear a lot more New Jersey accents than I do cracker accents.

Miami is one of the great cities of the US; feeling both not "American" yet quintessentially American at the same time.

There's a lot of ftirndly/not so friendly divisions in Florida. I grew up thinking that anything south of Alachua County wasn't really Florida. That's ridiculous, but many Floridians feel a similar lack of ownership over Orlando even though it's all part of the package.
posted by Telf at 7:23 PM on July 24 [11 favorites]

Also, having left Florida 10 years ago for rural, northern Thailand, all this talk of humidity, heat, rain and mosquitoes is cute.

The rainy season is something out of The Poisonwood Bible. Everything rots and rusts and becomes covered in a thick blanket of mildew.

Florida is still loosely temperate compared to the tropics. Spending a full year in a tropical country is instructive. The climate conspires against progress and long term planning. The rainy season destroys roads and washes away foundations. The hot season is literally too hot for people to be out. The only safe times for manual labor are just before dawn.

It's unearthly hot in the day but chokingly rife with mosquitoes as soon as the sun begins to set. The hot season goes weeks in a row with temperatures above 100 degrees and the agricultural smoke brings visibility down to a few meters.

I miss moderate, humane weather of Florida and its refreshingly cool winters.
posted by Telf at 7:33 PM on July 24 [10 favorites]

This is one thing that's missed when outsiders talk about Florida. It's really 3-4 different states in one long strip and a panhandle.

Pensacola, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Orlando, Tampa, Miami, St Augustine, The Keys and all their outlying towns could be completely different states. Bits of Tallahassee might culturally overlap with bits of Alachua County which might overlap with bits of the Orlando outskirts but they're very different overall.


Grew up just west of FL line/Pensacola in Baldwin County, Alabama. Pensacola is Mobile, AL but the military and less industrial version. Southern flavor: moderately high ranging to pure southern any distance from Palafox street.

Spent long years supporting MsEld through PhD program at FSU. Tallahassee is a college town meets governmental town with most of the worst things that come from all three. Southern flavor: moderate to moderate high ranging to very, very high a few miles from town. Even Gamedays aren't as insane as in SEC towns (sorry ACC folks, tis true).

Vacationed during the FSU time frame south and west towards Panama City. From Tallahassee to PC Beach is 100% country/southern coastal with zero in common with the city centers. It's practically Alabama or Georgia with waves (note: this is not a bad/good thing, just a thing). Southern flavor: extremely high

Current job's corporate office is in Lake Mary, FL, which is essentially Orlando. It's Orlando. Completely different entity than the rest of the state, I'd guess it's what someone who was used to Jersey (not that I am) would create if they lived in FL. Toll roads, massive development, and resorts out the wazoo. Southern level: low to medium.

Wife and I did an extended week vacation down the west coast touching on Tarpon Springs (sponges and amazing Greek culture/food [highest percentage of residents in US]), Tampa (Burns steakhouse is... just out of this world and not to be missed. Says this former white-table cloth server, outstanding doesn't do it justice), and Naples (very very odd, I felt like I was in a posh part of California coast all of a sudden) into the Everglades (actually a tad disapointing but it was an off season, drought, and wildfire prone visit). Southern flavor: not much to very confused.

Wife and I have been living now in the north easternmost island in Florida and it's basically Mayberry with a beach for us. I admit it's a weird mix of white collar, blue collar, and tourist here due to a convergence of two papermills, a small-small port, a historical island, and some pretty well managed resort influence, oh and beautiful beaches! We like it... except for the storms this close to the coast, things are intense to say the least these last few years. Southern flavor: Savannah, Georgia coastal wannabe in an ok way. A few miles away and you're [literally] in GA so *shrug*.

Florida, don't try to catalog it, you'll just end up looking silly or running out of paper for your printer.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:40 PM on July 24 [10 favorites]

[In Florida for the first time, motoring east on FL-90, entering the Everglades]

"This is fantastic! I wonder if I'll see my first alligator!

[suddenly, spots one sunning on the edge of the watery ditch paralleling the road]

"Oooh, great! What a gnarly beast! Hope I get to see another one!"

[within 20 seconds, sees two more]

"Wow, two at once! What are the odds!"

[Immediately, three more]


[two more, babies this time, then a few seconds later, another two]

"... holy shit, they're like fucking caterpillars"
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:59 PM on July 24 [19 favorites]

From Tallahassee to PC Beach is 100% country/southern coastal with zero in common with the city centers.

Colloquially known as "L.A." (Lower Alabama).
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:06 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]

The Redneck Riviera
posted by thelonius at 8:14 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]

See, being from Baldwin County we just called it LA. Both areas certainly benefit from the nickname/jab though.

The Redneck Riviera

That's Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, AL until you hit the FloraBama where I come from.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:15 PM on July 24

A lot of this made me think of Los Angeles, where my dad lived for half my life, and where I lived for a significant chunk of my adult life. Strip malls, yeah! Weird sense of place because so many people associate it with entertainment, yeah! Snide dismissals of diversity and beauty by people who visited for a few days and drove from one tourist spot to the next. Sarcastic comments when you tell people where you live. Acceptable to openly hate. Yeah,yeah, yeah!
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:20 PM on July 24 [4 favorites]

Cedar Key, it is such a flyspeck of an island town with nothing to do

What's come to impress me is that long stretch of the Gulf coast where there's just not much -- the occasional fishing town like Cedar Key in the long stretches of swampy, mangrove-y Not Much until you get close to Panama City.

Florida for me will always be Ichetucknee springs

Went through late elementary through high school in Florida (Gainesville High 1988). For me, I'm glad to be out of Florida -- turns out buckets of snow and four seasons suits me better. Every time I get back to Gainesville, where I still have family, the humidity is just a little more intolerable, the town seems a little tawdrier, and the politics are even more fucked up.

But the Ichetucknee is a special, special place.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:12 PM on July 24 [4 favorites]

Oh wow, the Ichetucknee! I forgot all about that.

While in the Army I visited my on-again girlfriend at UF. Her roommate sourced us some blotter acid and we went for an intertube trip down the springs for an afternoon balls tripping. Everything was fine until an an elderly asian couple went snorkeling past us. I became super paranoid that they were spies. For where, I don’t know. Then we passed the live snail preserve nets with their millions of slimy monsters and I knew I was fuuuucked for several hours. I remained calm by asking her roomates’ friends every few minutes, “This is a Disney ride, right?”
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:55 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]

Man, this was great, thanks for posting. I was born in Lake Worth, grew up in St. Augustine, and after 15 years of living in NYC, just moved back down here (family in tow) in 2015. This essay was really beautiful and evocative, and a lot of y'all's comments were too. This state is wild and weird and enchanting, and it's nice to see a discussion about Florida that isn't just the same hack bullshit about Florida Man or whatever that you always hear.

One thing I feel like don't see discussed enough in writing about Florida is our black population and their experiences of this state, which I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess is wildly different from my own as a white guy. If I'm reading the census right, there's easily 3.5 million black folks living in this state, around as many as there are people total in Connecticut, and yet I feel like I hear next to nothing about their lives and experiences except when they're being murdered by cops (or wannabe cops). It may just be my media consumption habits, but it feels like a void, and one that I'm more and more conscious of the older I get.
posted by saladin at 6:31 AM on July 25 [10 favorites]

Hey gang,
Really enjoying this thread. Thanks for sharing the memories.
posted by Telf at 6:40 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite Florida writers is Tom Petty (along with Elmore Leonard and James D. MacDonald).

He grew up in Gainesville, I believe, and the story of his first 20-ish years there is in the book "Petty: The Biography" by Warren Zanes (see here) from a couple of years ago. I always sneered at Florida, but after reading the book, I had a lot more sympathy for least the yearning teens around 1970, anyway.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:42 AM on July 25 [3 favorites]

My dad is the police chief of a tiny picturesque island called Cedar Key and hardly anyone knows about it or goes there (well, if you're looking for franchises and other ubiquitous things like that, you're out of luck).

My dad just moved back up to Tennessee after living in Bell, FL for a few years. He took me to the restaurant in town (singular) and we were the only ones besides the employees not wearing camo.

And yes, Cedar Key is a lovely mostly secluded spot that not enough people know about. The Seafood Festival was actually pretty fun.
posted by pianoblack at 6:46 AM on July 25

Spent my late childhood in Florida, went to high school there. I have not lived there since 2000. I still miss Publix. Publix is so good.
posted by millipede at 7:12 AM on July 25 [2 favorites]

god i love florida, every damp itchy creaking crickety antfilled soggy peeling-paint corner of it from pensacola to the keys. i love publix sheetcakes at 3am, i love it when the neighbors call to say "get the dog out of the yard, there's a gator in the road", i love how hideous bugs are made less hideous by the euphemistic "palmetto" prefix, i love the tiny frogs that live in your shower, i love driving south on I95 in blinding sunlight while on the northbound side a few feet a way there's a torrential fucking downpour. it's the promised land of the elderly jews, the home of the most latinx city in all the US. 70%!

sleeping on my gramma's screened-in porch took me a full week to acclimate to every time bc of the fucking outrageous ruckus of the night, the sound of a million tiny things shouting I'M ALIVE swallowing me up with their everywhereness. that place is mine now but i haven't gone down in years bc it's too weird being there by myself, as the adult who has to clean the bug zapper.

my favourite native floridian has been gone for 2 years now and i miss her every day and my god i wish she could read this.

also here are some florida doggos
posted by poffin boffin at 8:07 AM on July 25 [25 favorites]

why are those doggos under arrest poffin boffin
did they do a frighten
posted by moonmilk at 8:42 AM on July 25 [6 favorites]

Publix is also the largest employee-owned company in the United States, so it has that going for it as well.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:59 AM on July 25 [4 favorites]

they were makin their way the only way they know how but it turns out it was a little bit more than the law will allow
posted by poffin boffin at 9:27 AM on July 25 [12 favorites]

posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:33 AM on July 25

I was born and raised in Bradenton, FL and moved to St. Louis in my late 20s.

There is a lot about Florida I'm glad to never deal with living with again. Roaches and weevils, tourists, oppressive heat and humidity, beach traffic, beaches themselves honestly.

I probably should have been born in Iceland.

The cool things about Florida were all vacation-like experiences that involved several hours of driving to get to anyway. Swimming in a spring where you can look down through 80 feet of clear cold water, Disney World trips a couple times a year, etc.
posted by Foosnark at 11:52 AM on July 25

This is all quite educational, as I will be visiting the in-laws' condo in Titusville in a couple weeks.

Destin is weirdly popular here in St. Louis. It's one of the big vacation destinations, probably because it's really cheap. Then again, my idea of a vacation would be to escape the people I'm currently surrounded by, instead of vacationing where everyone else around me goes. But I'm odd that way.
posted by stannate at 12:19 PM on July 25

I spent a week doing 15 hours days of palm tree pruning in Miami, and that alone was enough to make me hate the state with a seething passion. Vast stretches of parking lot, screaming with residual heat long after the sun had set, humidity that made your lungs ache, and trees that provided no shade or cover, only massive thorns and angry reptiles/insects.

Next time maybe don't spend all your time out in the county. There's as much shade in my neighborhood as there was back in the woods in Arkansas. (Aside from a few teardown/rebuilds the newest houses here were built in the early 50s, and most are 1930s vintage) Miami proper is fantastic, and won't be at all the same place in 20-50 years when most of the county floods at least yearly.

Also, it's very nice to only be cold two or three days in a year. I love snow, but I do not miss the dry windy days with highs well below freezing. Granted, the heat this time of year can get oppressive, but it usually comes with enough stormy weather to get a decent break several times throughout. (Ironically, my last few winters in Oklahoma were the same, with multiple 70+F days in January and February) Moreover, within a mile or so of the ocean it doesn't get nearly as miserable as it does farther inland thanks to the moderating effect of the water.

Hell, even Central Florida is great if you can escape the ever expanding sprawl of Orlando. I'm sure it's not as dramatic as it is in my head, but it seems like the urbanized area has doubled in size in the past 20 years and the heat island effect has grown commensurately.
posted by wierdo at 2:21 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]

Also, you bastards have made me crave a chicken tender sub, so now I have to hope it stops raining soon.
posted by wierdo at 2:23 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]

Wait, hold on, there is such a thing as a chicken tender sub? Can you get it spicy if you want?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:23 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]

You can go full buffalo. Tenders dredged in buffalo sauce and then covered in bleu cheese. Regular hot sauce is also possible, put some fresh or pickled peppers on there too. (Jalapeños or banana peppers or bell peppers or black pepper, or all of the above.) All while having a nice chat with your sandwich maker and probably the friendly Korean war veteran standing next to you. This is Publix we're talking about here.

I've bought my own bottle of hot sauce in the store and then asked the makers to put that hot sauce on the sub. Oh, and then you can get it all pressed like a cuban sandwich to lock in the cheesey saucey tendery juices.

Having lived in Wawa country and Publix country, there is no comparison. Wawa apologists are compensating for the obvious inadequacies of their sandwich fare.
posted by Telf at 7:20 PM on July 25 [3 favorites]

I’m sold. Publix sounds awesome. Florida sounds awesome.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:04 PM on July 25 [3 favorites]

You can get anything they sell at the deli or that you bring in crammed into or onto a sandwich. When the lines aren't insane and/or they are actually making online orders in a timely manner, it's pretty awesome.

Even the preassembled sandwiches are better than average for what they are, and you occasionally find gems you didn't even know were possible, like chicken tenders on a Hawaiian roll. That one I have never been able to recreate, since it was a random find at a store far from home and have no idea what they call such a thing.
posted by wierdo at 5:53 AM on July 26

Thanks to this thread, I ended up chatting with a family friend from Florida about wanting to visit, and now we have an invitation. She doesn’t even live there, she just wants to go with us and show us around. Don’t know if or when we’ll actually be able to go, but we’re that much closer. She recommended swimming with manatees, seeing the mermaids, and eating smoked mullet. I said the easiest one for me to picture was the spicy chicken tender sandwich, because I don’t know what manatees are like, but I can picture a good sandwich.

So thank you, Floridians, you successfully got me and my girlfriend really excited to visit Florida.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:18 PM on July 30 [4 favorites]

seeing the mermaids

fun fact: the actual city of weeki wachee has a population of 12 bc it's only 1 square mile big and most residents in that area of hernando county therefore technically live outside the city limits.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:41 AM on July 31

man okay I get the general effort by those in the know to shower unfairly maligned Florida with a portion of the mountain of the praise it deserves but finally once and for all can someone please tell me wtf is with all the publix love? It is a damn sandwich. You get a roll with some boarshead products thrown on it and maybe it is marginally better than, whatever, Quiznos and that is a reason to get all Proust somehow. WHAT.

Here's a thing, the tomatoes on that sub are liable to be slaver tomatoes.

They still have not signed on to pay Immokalee workers, the greedy Ps of S, even though like McDonalds and every other store has.

and they won't cover PrEP for their workers. They're basically the hobby lobby of groceries.

They caved on the whole supporting Adam Putnam for governor/throwing money at the NRA thing after the Parkland kids got after them about it, but everybody I know is still boycotting their asses over Immokalee and PrEP.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:13 PM on August 8

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