Friday, December 3, 2010

The Real South Florida - True and False, Part II

Sunset over Boca Grande, Gasparilla Island

As I mentioned in my last post, a week in south Florida reinforced some preconceptions I had of the region, while dashing others.  Here are some other thoughts I had coming into the trip, and how that worked out.

Assumption #4:  The sunsets in Florida surely can't be as amazing and consistent as people describe them.  FALSE.  Other than the one day it rained, the sunsets were basically perfect.  Every day.  No matter what island we were on.  They weren't necessarily "mind blowing" or anything, but they were certainly worthy of pulling up a chair and some beers on the beach and watching the show. Every night.  Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Assumption #5: Florida is full of local culture and foods. FALSE.  Sure, in areas like Miami and Tampa there are significant strongholds of culture, history, and food that scream "FLORIDA!"  The rest of the state is largely composed of whatever national companies can sell to the locals in depressed areas (McDonalds, Walmart, Arbys) and consumer demands brought south by the retirees (Starbucks, Outback Steakhouse, Pier One Gifts, etc).  I could list a hundred examples of the latter, but the most pertinent (and personally painful) is the placement of seafood chains like "Bonefish Grill" and "Red Lobster" within spitting distance of the local commercial marinas and fish markets (while their fish supply is shipped from thousands of miles away).  My assumption (that this wasn't the case in Florida) was clearly flawed - there are myriad Red Lobsters and Long John Silvers throughout the Chesapeake Bay too - as there are in New England.  What was I thinking?   edit: as I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, some of the barrier islands, catering to the sailing and fishing crowd, do in fact have pretty authentic island "Florida" culture and plenty of local food and drink to go around. Yes, that is where I will plan to spend most of my money on future trips to South Florida.

Assumption #6: Since Florida is so far south, people are "southerners", and likely "friendly." FALSE.  Not much I can say here, beyond the bumper sticker "I don't care how you do it up north."  While many local familes obviously got rich by selling land to developers over the last 40 years, and while many more local families depend (directly or indirectly) on tourism for their livelihood, they clearly haven't let that water down their negative opinion of northerners, tourists, and non-native Floridians.  What's worse is that many of the stereotypical northeastern retirees are mean and anti-social too. 

There is one group of exceptions - sort of.  Probably 50% of the locals I met who I could quickly talk to about fishing or hunting were fast to open up, share information, and wish us "good luck."  This is (I guess) similar to the % of folks who respond this way in the Mid-Atlantic (maybe 75%), and compared to the rest of the folks we met in Florida, it was a welcome change.  Thank you for your hospitality, Florida outdoorsmen and women.

Assumption #7: I've been to the Dismal Swamp and the Okefenokee. The Everglades is a similar place. FALSE.  My next post will focus on this quite a bit.  The 'Glades were not as I envisioned them.  It's an amazing place.  But not a swamp.  Five days after my visit, I'm still wrapping my head around the vast remoteness and isolation of the place. Look forward to telling you about it.


Marcy said...

1) You made it sound like Boca Grande itself is full of those useless food options. While it may be true of the surrounding mainland, no fast food retailers are allowed on BG. We have some great restaurants here.
2) I've been coming to visit BG since '78 and lived around here since '95. The only times I experienced the "Southern" attitude you described was when I richly deserved it. Other than a small handful of crabby people (like there are anywhere), the people I've known here are absolutely wonderful.

Kirk Mantay said...

Maybe I'll go back and edit that. It was more nuanced - and heck yes, Boca Grande, Gasparilla, etc had some amazing looking places (that our retired in-laws did not want to go), and I really, really, really look forward to going back and enjoying those local places. That's why I mentioned Cabbage Key. Snooty? Maybe. But maybe - just maybe - the food is good & unique too.

My real issue is that most of the (older) transplants and the local yokels will not recommend those places to you, which I was disappointed by. If you ask 5 people down there, "Is there a great place for subs?" most of them will tell you to go to Subway. When - in fact - I KNOW there are some amazing Italian delis in the towns.

So you're right - I didn't mean to make it sound like those options are NOT there. It's just that you have to find them yourself.

As for the meanness, I dunno. Guess we just found a lot of crabby people.

Jeb said...

For the real truth about Florida, especially SoFla click on this link for the "Top Ten Reasons to..."

Kirk Mantay said...

Jeb, brother, you have some issues! While you are going to scare some old people away from Florida with your tales of attack panthers and wild boars, I keyed in on the "pollution" aspects of your page.

That's why I mention that South Florida is very "nature centric" while being quite unsustainable in its current layout, water use, etc. I saw that giant landfill outside of Tampa and it almost (literally) took my breath away.

Kirk Mantay said...

And yes, I realize that "the unsustainable eco-resort" concept is hypocritical and highly ironic.

It's also not unique. Most vacation hotspots around the world are destroying their local environments. This is starting to enough? Don't know.

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