Florida has always been breathing down my neck.
And its breath has been particularly pernicious in the last couple of weeks.
It all started two Mondays ago when my cousin Caroline posted pictures on Instagram of her and her sons, Dom and Ryan.
In a plane.
In the air.
On their way to Fort Lauderdale.
(The one in Florida.)
“Vacation,” she wrote. “Woo-hoo!”
Yeah. Cool. Whatever.
Two days later, my sister-in-law Joyce texted me: “We’re going to dinner on Saturday for Talia’s 25th…”
Talia, my niece, is turning 25 on March 15. So, why are we celebrating 10 days early?
“Because,” Joyce said, “she and her boyfriend are spending her birthday week at Disney.”
As in Disney World.
As in Orlando.
(The one in Florida.)
I went to the Sunshine State last May (to Tampa) for my cousin’s wedding (in Bradenton) before driving south (to Miami) where so many of my dearest (but no longer nearest) friends have moved in the last 40 years or so.
These are the same friends who, when I posted photos of my icy front steps on Facebook three weeks ago, gleefully posted photos of their backyard palm trees, swaying in the warm breeze and baking in the piping-hot sun, around the kidney-shaped pool filled with water that is so sultry you could simmer lobsters in it.
When I was growing up, my family vacationed at inexpensive Italian American resorts, including one in Highland, New York, called the Hotel Di Prima. It was about 90 miles from our house in Queens and allowed us to go far away from home — without going too far — and still enjoy Italian food, Italian music, Italian games and the reassuring sound of loud, crazy Italians screaming at each other.
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Most of my friends and relatives took similar vacations, with the exception of my father’s sister, who had in-laws in the Sunshine State.
Aunt Carmela would drive down there with her husband, Joe, and spend several weeks in the sun before coming home and regaling us with rip-roaring tales of greyhound races, daylong fishing excursions and cocktails served in honest-to-gosh coconuts.
She also gifted us with several strange-looking ceramic alligator ashtrays, all in an unappealing greenish-brownish color that looked like petrified dinosaur poop.
The first time I went on vacation without my family, I went to Fort Lauderdale — yeah, the one in Florida — and took a guided hydrofoil tour through the Everglades. At one point, I saw an exotic flower in the water and was about to reach off the vessel and grab it when an enormous REAL alligator jumped up at me.
OH. MY. GOD.
Gators aside, I was thrilled to be there. Maybe even dazzled, by the beaches and palms.
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This acute fascination is a common ailment among vacationing northerners, especially in the winter, which is probably why, in the next three years, seven more of my friends are moving down there.
And they all want to know when I am joining them. My niece has said she wants to move there, eventually. My brother has talked about it, too. So have a couple of my cousins.
They call it “paradise” and insist they want to live someplace warm, even though, once they’re down there, they sit in air-conditioning 24 hours a day.
My older friends tell me how friendly the state is to retirees and how they can swim, fish and lie out in the sun year ‘round.
“Are you going to spend the rest of your life in Jersey?” they ask. “With those taxes? Enjoy your retirement!”
The fact is, though, I like having seasons. And, as much as I enjoy catching some rays, I have a body that looks better in heavy sweaters than it does in bathing suits.
I do hate the traffic here, but traffic stinks everywhere. Doesn’t it? Besides, I grew up in this area. It’s in my blood. I need the intensity, the insanity, the pizza…
Through the years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to leave the state, but I didn’t want to leave my family. Or my friends, like Tom, Troy, Ginny and my dear, sweet Olga who called last week to tell me…
“You’re not going to believe it, but I sold my house.”
“Yes! I got a great price for it and I’m packing up and moving to Farmington at the end of May.”
My heart was pounding. “In Florida?”
“Florida? No. I hate Florida. Farmington, Maine. You should move up there. It’s paradise. Fresh air, friendly people…”
“It’s only seven or eight hours away. Low taxes. Cheaper health insurance. And lots of free services for seniors.”
“There are plenty of services for seniors right here, too!” I insisted.
Although, in five years, I may be the only senior left to enjoy them.