Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Real South Florida - True and False, Part I

This is what the Everglades look like in real life. Few trees, lots of grass.
As I mentioned in my last post, our trip to Florida, specifically, southwest Florida, confirmed a lot of things I remembered from past trips or suspected.  It also surprised me in a few ways.  First - my background.  I have been to Florida about a half-dozen times between 1998 and early 2000, which really means not once in the last 10 years.  My past trips have been for bachelor parties (South Beach Miami), weddings (Key Largo), my own honeymoon (Key West), and a wetland contract at Southwest Florida International Airport (Ft. Myers).  Anyone familiar with Florida will note that all of those locations are in the southernmost 10% of the state's acreage - which I knew but perhaps did not appreciate - are not representative of the 90% of the acreage to the north.
Assumption #1:  access to the outdoors is amazing in Florida.  TRUE.  Sort of.  Access to mediocre to good-ish quality resources in Florida is great!  Access to high quality beaches, marshes, and fishing grounds (some of the best in the world) is very challenging and mired in many of the same "private access only" concerns that are common up north.  There is a lot of beach, a lot of scrub, and a lot of water.  Much of it is in public land.  That public land could, in general be managed "a wee bit better," but hey - it's there, and you can go there.  You will catch fish.  You will see ducks or quail.  You can paddle the mangroves.  Just don't expect to have a "legendary" experience on the taxpayer's dime.  However, when you add dollars into the equation, the "legendary experience" does come back into play in south Florida.  An example - a guided tarpon, redfish, or snook trip there (in one of the world's most productive fisheries) costs about as much as a mediocre guided smallmouth trip in Michigan or guided trout fishing (on stocked, not native waters) in Virginia. I know which trip I'd be more excited to pay for!
Assumption #2:  Floridians, and the state of Florida, are by default highly tuned into environmental issues, since so many of them moved there to experience the tropical environment.  FALSE.  And very disappointing.  Outdoorspeople in Florida seem to be as tuned in (or out) as they are anywhere else.  That's fine, and a separate issue (one of environmental priorities). 
However, many of the locals in towns we visited do no serious outdoor recreation at all, and are not really keen on the environment, which is portrayed down there as a "liberal issue" and "government interference."  They've never heard of coral bleaching, aren't concerned about wetland filling, have no idea that sewage overflows go to the river, and then the beach, and don't understand why pythons in the Everglades are a bad thing. In addition to the locals, many of the retirees - exiled from areas as close as North Carolina and as far as Canada - have no connection to the local environment, other than their golf game.  I don't know why this surprised me so much, but it did.
Assumption #3: Florida is full of old people.  True. Mostly.  A non-scientific study conducted by me during our diagonal drive through the state (twice) tells me that a huge percentage of Florida residents are white and over the age of 65.  This changes north of Jacksonville and up to the GA and AL state lines, where the population appears to be about 50% black......but still mostly over the age of 65.  It also changes in southeast Florida, where actual cultures thrive (and profit).  Another key demographic in Florida, the idle rich yacht clique, were basically unobserved by us.  At least in southwest Florida, they seem to be a little younger (35-55), business owners, and purveyors of the only real local culture to be found on many of the coastal islands. Of course, the old folks refer to this as "snooty," because the Cabbage Key Restaurant (boat access only, ahem) does not feature a 2-for-1, $8.99 steak buffet like the Golden Corral.  Moving on....yet another demographic in south Florida that I didn't expect, but should have, was the extreme white trash action.  As in "Faces of Meth."  I don't mean "rednecks" or "good ol' boys."  I mean, half-dressed girls walking down dark country roads in the middle of the night, miles from any address.  Mid-day domestic disputes in parking lots.  The waitress with the giant scabs under her nose.  During a half-day in south Florida, it's easy to see that not everybody got rich during the last real estate boom.  I was shocked at just how many people seem to be barely scraping by - and whether that's a factor of meth or simply good ol' American poverty, I don't know. 

More photos and admitted stupidity real soon, y'all!  Click here for Part II.


Budd said...

Do you have pictures of the meth addicts or parking lot disputes.

Good read. I heard an NPR story once about a developer in the everglades who said he was "reclaiming" the everglades by draining them.

Kirk Mantay said...

I do have a funny parking lot picture from's a bunch of empty fried chicken boxes, some energy drink cans, and a broken tennis racket.

WTF is that about?

Toure Zeigler said...

For the "Faces of Meth" comment I guess FLA lived up to its acronym, Fucking Lower Alabama

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