The Real Florida Is No Longer the Real Florida

Eric Green


 If Ray Charles can sing “Georgia On My Mind,” maybe I’m allowed to sing about its neighboring state: “Florida is Out of My Mind,” based on what my wife and I experienced during our just-completed trip during “snowbird” season in the Sunshine State.


 Our trip was not exactly what you read about in the tourist brochures, or what its Chamber of Commerce might advertise as the hotspot for sun and surf.


 Plenty of press coverage has been devoted to the conservative policies of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, especially his possible presidential aspirations, so I won't go there.


 Instead, my reasons for vacationing in Florida were personal and nonpolitical. One reason was to see if the sea breeze would help with my eye problem, which had been diagnosed as severe dryness from the cold air where I live up north. Secondly, we were visiting my wife’s relatives in Jacksonville and Bradenton.


 Our first day in Jacksonville was cold and rainy as we walked the deserted beach huddled in overcoats. I wondered what happened to the balmy weather we had expected to enjoy after we took the sold-out 500-passenger Amtrak Auto Train from Lorton, Virginia, to its final destination of Sanford, Florida.



We had visited this same beach in Jacksonville a few months earlier, when the temperature was a boiling 95 degrees, and we encountered what had to be a stereotype of the Florida politically right-wing voter--a group of about eight men and women with large beer guts who guzzled Budweiser. By their tent, huge Trump and Confederate banners flapped in the sea breeze. Country music wailed in the background. This show of force for Donald Trump might be what you call “in your face.” Maybe they were trying to provoke others on the beach who didn’t exactly share their same enthusiasm, to put it mildly.


After Jacksonville, we drove down to the Kennedy Space Center but the $60 per person entrance fee and the sense that the place was a tourist trap/theme park made us (truthfully, only me) want to skip touring the grounds.


Instead of viewing the rockets on display, we proceeded south on Interstate 95 toward Miami. What you see along the way, as Florida natives might say with sadness, is that massive amounts of rural acres of wilderness are being sold for commercial development for condos and high-rise office buildings.


 As one Florida resident wrote online, “There has to be something we can do to stop this before the Real Florida is dead.”



From what I could tell, The Real Florida is no longer The Real Florida.


What immediately grabs your attention, especially during the January-March snowbird/tourist high season, is the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate. It starts from the city of Melbourne about halfway down the Florida Space Coast, along the Atlantic Ocean. The lack of public transportation in the state certainly fuels this auto-dependent culture.


 In spaces where the traffic eased on I-95, we followed the speed limit of 70 mph. But it seemed we were crawling along, compared with other drivers who apparently thought this was the Indianapolis 500-mile race as they roared past us going at least 80 -90 mph. Many cars had darkened windows, as if they were exhibiting the stereotypical Miami Vice drug dealer or convicted felons escaping from the law.


 Conversely, Florida – as a well-known retirement haven --  also has its share of slower drivers, going 30 to 35 mph, well under the minimum speed limit, which is 45 to 50, depending on which road you’re on. The slow drivers are just as much a road hazard as those trying to break the land speed record.


 The traffic barely let up until we arrived 174 miles later at our hotel in downtown Miami, where the parking fee in the hotel garage was $43 a night.



Miami welcomed us with warm weather, around 82 degrees. The elderly fellow we solicited to take our picture in the downtown Bayside Marketplace generously insisted he snap our photos free of charge from all different angles, as if he were a professional photographer and we were fashion models. Though he didn’t speak English, as is not that unusual in Miami, I used my rusty Spanish to thank him profusely for his earnestness in getting the job done right.


 What left its mark on us in Miami were throngs of joggers and roller-bladers whizzing by on the streets in the fashionable Brickell neighborhood. I can’t forget the determined, even fierce, look in the eyes of the joggers, young and not so young, in their skintight workout outfits to get into the best physical shape possible, as if their life depended on it. And maybe it did.


 The highlight of our stay in Miami and nearby Miami Beach was trying to avert our eyes from a guy and girl on the beach fondling each other to the point that they were in a pornographic movie. We expected at any moment they would tear off what little garment they were wearing.


We’re not prudes. But we could have asked the couple if they might better enjoy continuing their festivities in a hotel room. Maybe they couldn’t afford the daily rate for a hotel, or they were just exhibitionists, but since this was a public beach, what they were doing certainly captured the public’s attention.



From Miami, we drove west along Florida’s Alligator Alley. My wife claimed to have seen an alligator, even if I didn’t. But happily, the 124 miles to Florida’s Gulf Coast was a breeze, with barely any traffic, other than more than a few state trooper cars guarding, I guess, against alligators or snakes trying to cross the highway.


 However, the second we drove north after Alligator Alley by the city of Naples, the traffic again became a nightmare toward our destination near Bradenton.


 What the world must know about the Bradenton area is that it’s the home of the Eggroll Queen of America. That’s what I have dubbed my sister-in-law because in her one-woman business, she makes an unbelievable 100 eggrolls a day to fulfill orders from customers.


 In addition to eggrolls, she also cooks her special recipe for empanadas, consisting of pastry and filling that my sister-in-law has made a proven hit on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Keep this up, and she might become a captain of industry, a brand name, the next Julia Child, the late TV star of fine cuisine.

From Bradenton, we passed the famous senior citizen development, The Villages, along the Interstate 4 corridor. Political pundits say The Villages and the I-4 corridor represent the epitome of a swing region. Whichever candidate wins there will win Florida in presidential and state elections.



But as how one young guy on the Auto Train regaled us, what’s more notorious than politics in The Villages is the amount of nightlife going on in the senior adult community. By nightlife, if you can believe what he said, we’re talking sex-a-thons that are initiated by loofahs hanging from the antennas of golf carts, the primary means of transportation in The Villages. I don’t know if it’s true what our fellow Auto Train passenger said about loofahs being code as a come-on for hookups, but it certainly gives a whole new meaning to The Villages and its “swing” vote.


 On that note, that’s where our journey to the Sunshine State ended, other than to catch the not-sold-out 383 passenger Auto Train in Sanford to head home to the cold, dark, wintry north. It was definitely a “trip” – in every sense of the word.


Author Bio:

Eric Green, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is a former newspaper reporter, U.S. congressional press aide, English-as-a-second-language teacher, and now a freelance writer in the Washington D.C. area. His articles have appeared in various newspapers and websites, including the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun.


For Highbrow Magazine


Image Sources:

--Erikaalvesm (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

--AG-Pics (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

--Hummelmose (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

--WikiImages (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

--Monica Silvestre (Pexels, Creative Commons)

--Los Muertos Crew (Pexels, Creative Commons)


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