Saying Goodby To The Old Life…

Enough with all the election bullshit.  Time to move on to more important matters.

I’ve begun the process of making Hawaii my permanent residence.  It’s going to take a few more months to complete, mainly due to logistics and tax purposes, but by the spring, if all goes right, and the new government does not plunge us into economic chaos and global thermonuclear war, I’ll officially be a transplanted Hawaiian.  In the meantime, I have found myself being a bit nostalgic and somewhat torn about leaving my adopted home of Key West and Florida.  You don’t live in someplace where you wanted to go for a long time, stay there for 38 years, and then leave without feeling some attachment.  But, time will make things more better.

I moved to Florida from the cold arctic north in March of 1978.  When I left, it was so cold one could drive across the Chesapeake Bay without the need for a bridge.  By the time I arrived in Daytona Beach, it was near 80, sunny, and full of motorcycles.  (I didn’t know about Bike Week and arrived at the same time).

I eked out a living in Daytona for 6 years, eventually moving to Ft. Lauderdale, back to Daytona, then the suburbs northwest of Orlando, a brief stay in Ocala (avoid this shithole at all costs), and finally the Florida Keys where I have lived for the last 8 years.

I worked in the scuba industry, moving into motorcycles, then paddlesports, before technology finally allowed me to go my own way online.  My adventures took me all over the state.  I dove the reefs from Ft. Pierce to Key West and the Bahamas.  I explored the springs and caves of the north central region.  Rode my murdersickles everywhere including the Panhandle all the way to Pensacola.  I got to see lots of concerts, football games, and more.  I watched launches down at the space center and saw the Challenger explode from my back yard.  And no matter where I was, nor what I was doing, I almost always managed at least one trip to the Florida Keys every year.

One thing I never did was go to see the rat.  I had no desire to visit the theme parks and only on a couple of occasions, for work purposes did I go to the the lesser ones.  They held no interest for me then nor now.  I much preferred the natural beauty of kayak fishing the lagoons south of New Smyrna or exploring a river in the interior.

The weather was probably the biggest draw for why I moved to Florida in the first place.  I wanted to get far away from winter’s cold grasp.  Springs through late fall were always beautiful.  But even down there, the winter fronts would come through.  It would freeze as far south as Melbourne and even in Key West, on occasion I had a need for heat.  Not acceptable.  I was in more than a few hurricanes over the years, but they were more exciting than scary.  As time went on and I owned less, the threat of a storm meant little to me.

I bought and sold two pieces of property in all the years I spent in Florida.  A small house halfway between Daytona and Orlando where I lived for 13 years.  I thought at the time, buying a house would settle me down and help my financial situation.  It did neither.  I regretted the purchase nearly as soon as I moved in.  It wasn’t a bad house, kinda nice actually, but I did not want the responsibility of taking care of it nor did it hold any sentimental value.  In all the years I lived in it, not once did it feel like home, just a place to keep my stuff, my cats, and a place to sleep.  I was so happy when I sold it.

The other place was an rv lot on Cudjoe Key.  I thought for sure I would like it there.  Nice resort, the price was right but for some reason it just didn’t click.  I was unhappy and a year later I sold it.  Looking back now, had I kept it, I would be living without any rent in the Keys, but as I said, it just didn’t feel right.  In between, I lived in everything from house trailers, to rv’s, and of course a sailboat or two along the way.  Guess I am too much of a nomad to stay in one place all the time.

I met a lot of people in my years in Florida.  Made some good friends, lost quite a few.  Met some real pieces of shit too, many of whom I wound up working for.  There is something about Florida which attracts the low life of this country.  Everyone who came there, it seemed, was either in trouble with the law, running from something, dependent on drugs or booze, or came to run some sort of scam.  Working in retail taught me to expect the worst in people and I have never been disappointed.

As places go, Florida is very affordable to live in, Keys aside.  If you know your way around and have done some research, ahem, Florida is no more expensive than anyplace else.  There is no state income tax, just a sales tax.  It’s very welcoming to the retirement community, and property can be had on the cheap if you know where to look.  The further away from the coasts and the cities you get, the less touristy and more cheaper it is.

The downside is wages are very low and it’s difficult to make a decent living there.  Factory jobs don’t exist for the most part.  A lot of jobs are service oriented or, as in my case, retail…yuck.  Around the cities there are big industries such as tech companies and of course the space coast, but for the most part, it’s small businesses and here is where one has to be very careful.

It seemed to me, having worked for many said businesses and dealing with them, every small business in Florida was a scam.  All these little fiefdoms seemed to have some angle they were working, some way to not do things legit.  Everything had a scheme to it, a way to rip off the customer and employee alike.  Nobody who owns or manages a small business in Florida appeared to be upright and honest in their dealings.  This seemed especially true in Daytona where the entire economy is tourism based.  Be acutely aware and alert when dealing with any of the con artists in this town.

It didn’t help either as I worked in the motorcycle industry when Harley was in it’s heyday.  When the big ass motorcycles suddenly became as valuable as gold, it brought out all the slime.  Con games were constant and both dealers and customers were working more schemes than a casino.  It really made me jaded towards the corporate world and people in general, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Two other things turned me off to where Florida is going and why I most likely will never return.

The entire state is way overbuilt.  Urban sprawl is everywhere.  Both coastlines are solid city, the worst being from West Palm to Miami, a hundred or so miles of nothing but strip malls, condos, and housing.  It seems like every square inch of land is either under development or about to be.  Wetlands have been filled in, then paved over with miles and miles of suburbs.  Traffic is horrendous especially in the cities.  And every place looks the same, just an unending sea of wallymarts and housing developments.

With all this over building, the environment of Florida is in tatters.  Forests, wetlands, and swamps are gone.  The Everglades is dying.  And the reefs off the Keys are on their last legs.  The waters have been fished out and as the sea levels rise, flooding is everywhere.  High tides in Key West and some of the other islands regularly close off streets and roads.  With the new government about to take over, and filled with idiots who deny climate change, and can only see as far as their corporate profits, Florida is in for some bad times.  The recent storms which went through are only a predecessor to what is coming.

So with all the bad stuff, why would I miss Florida?  I still have good memories.  Thursday nights at the local pub for free wings and cold beer with friends.  Sunday rides across the state.  Paddling out on Mosquito Lagoon in search of the wily redfish.  The sunsets on Mallory Square.  There were lots of good times.

Despite the poor working conditions and constant budgetary woes, there was a lot I liked about the state.  Winter and storms aside the weather was agreeable.  I had fun riding around on my beloved Harleys.  It was a definite improvement over the hell of Pennsylvania.   But always in the back of my mind, was the lure of Hawaii.

I know enough about Florida to still be able to survive there if for some reason Hawaii did not work out.  But every day I spend here, the islands feel more and more like home.  I don’t get the vibe of scams and con artists like I did in Florida.  The weather is the best I have ever experienced.  I am quickly learning my way around and finding the good deals to make living here more affordable.   And if Maui does not work out, there are plenty of other islands to chose from.  For the moment, staying here looks to be the best option.

I met a lady the other day at the bus stop who needed some help with said busses.  She was up here from the Big Island on vacation with her husband.  She was grateful for the help and bought me dinner the next night at the Paia Fish Market in Kihei.  (Thanks again Tina!)  Try it if you are out here, good food and not too expensive.  In talking she said either the islands accept you or reject you.  So far, I have felt nothing but acceptance.  It’s a good feeling, something I never really felt in Florida nor anyplace else.

If I was in my 20’s again, and making a move to Florida, I would come down, find a good sailboat, get it ready, and head for the Caribbean, sailing the outer islands and exploring.  Florida would just be a stop along the way.  But I’m not in my 20’s, at least not physically.  The islands of Hawaii will do just fine now.

I’ll always have a special place for Florida and the Keys in particular.  But it’s time to move on with a new chapter here in the middle of the Pacific.  I like everything I’ve seen here so far and if the budget and income holds out, I can see staying here for a very long time.  It was worth the gamble and I don’t regret coming here at all.  Out of all my travels and adventures, Hawaii is definitely more better.

As I have said before, I just wish I had done it sooner.

Capt. Fritter