We haven’t been to Florida this winter. It’s just too easy. There's something unnatural, and even perverse, about leaving Long Island on a bitter cold, snowy day, and coming to earth three hours later on what might be alien planet. It confuses one's sense of space and time and, more importantly, one's sense of what's right in the middle of February. We are all geared up for winter. We are ready, and even eager, to be cold, uncomfortable and depressed for weeks and weeks. Then, all of a sudden, we are driving out of some futuristic Floridian airport on to a wide, almost empty highway lined with palm trees. The sun blazes down out of a blue sky. The car air conditioner has to be found and switched on. Adults, and even senior citizens, can be seen strolling in public places, blatantly wearing shorts.
The architecture of Florida’s resorts adds to the feeling of unreality. None of the hotels conforms to the standard Long Island square-box pattern. They are shaped like birthday cakes, rocket ships, or illustrations out of geometry textbooks. The beach curves away brilliant and white in both directions. Inadequately dressed young ladies are strolling on the sand. Suntanned youths are out in the ocean, windsailing, and roaring about on power skis. It’s just not natural.
Floridians, like southern Californians, live by different rules, or rather by no rules at all. For example, on our first visit there, we went to a rather good restaurant and therefore dressed with some care. However, the restaurant foyer displayed a large sign: "Any Apparel Acceptable," and the patrons had taken this very seriously. This was not the trendy New York dining crowd. This was The Muppet Show in human form.
Here in the frozen north our characters have not been undermined by too much warmth and sunshine. We still have at least minimal dress codes in our restaurants, so you don’t have the impression of dining in the circus canteen. Our beaches in winter are not crowded with annoyingly slender females and bronzed young athletes. They are not crowded at all, and can be enjoyed in peace by anyone with a strong constitution and a set of arctic exploration gear.
In short we are the true inheritors of the Puritan tradition that allowed these bleak latitudes to be populated in the first place. Our weaker neighbors may sneak off to Florida or the Bahamas. But, like General Custer, here we take our stand even if it kills us. It's no small distinction to be among the inheritors of that monstrous burden of guilt, obstinacy, and masochism that goes under the general heading of "Western Civilization."
Yet the warmth and freedom of places like Florida are seductive, even to latter-day Puritans. That's why so many people move south, and there is a real danger that the northeast will soon be abandoned entirely. The whole population will be down there, wallowing in comfort and self-indulgence, without a snow shovel anywhere in sight.
This clearly must be resisted at all costs. We need to be more positive about selling the character-building virtues of spending winter here, as a feat of endurance and triumphant survival, or at worst the stoical acceptance of death by heart attack or hypothermia. It may be miserable, uncomfortable and inconvenient, but nobody can deny that it’s really cool.
Copyright: David Bouchier