| By Rod Thorell |
Several years ago, my wife and I determined that we had enough of snow, slush and Boston drivers.
It was time to move South.
We had vacationed in Florida for a long time, so we knew all about it, right? There are some things I have learned in moving from Massachusetts to Clermont that were a complete surprise to me. Some were unpleasant surprises like, “Oh, that thing we smell in the garage is a dead mouse,” and others were more pleasant like, “Oh, this town has a very nice lake to walk around.”
I knew Florida would be hot. I knew there would be mosquitoes. (Southeastern Massachusetts is mostly a big swamp, so skeeters are actually less of a problem here than at our previous home.) I knew that the coasts and Orlando are full of tourists.
However, I didn’t realize that once you get a few miles away from Mickey, everything is so… Southern.
Here in the South, politeness is not only expected, it is enforced. Your children are expected to say “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” at all times as long as you are still alive to ensure it happens. I have watched grown men covered in tattoos who were clearly not on their first beer respond to their mother with a “yes, ma’am.”
This is not true in all parts of the United States. Just over a year after moving here, my 14-year-old son came back with me to Massachusetts. When we stopped at a convenience store, the woman asked if he wanted a bag. He replied, “No, ma’am.” She screeched at him, “I am not a ma’am.” Ahhh, back in my home state, where the customer isn’t usually right. Once at a winter football game up North, a guy in front of me complained that his coffee wasn’t hot. “It’s got &$#%*! steam coming off it,” the vendor told him. Well, that certainly isn’t the way Walt would have customers treated.
There are hills in Florida. Don’t believe me? Take a bicycle ride from the start of the South Lake Trail at Oakland Avenue to Downtown Clermont. It’s only about 8 miles — all hills. A detour of a few miles will take you to the 616th highest peak in the continental U.S., Sugarloaf Mountain. Seriously, it is ranked 616, set between Crawford Hill in New Jersey (380 feet above sea level) and Anne Arundel County High Point in Maryland (300 feet). Not to be confused with Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine at 4,240 feet; the skiing is much better there.
Among those hills, lakes and waterholes, Florida is teeming with wild fauna, from microscopic amoeba to brown recluse spiders to rattlesnakes to black bears to American alligators.
Every one of them wants to kill you.
Oops, sorry, forgot sharks.
Did you know Florida Panthers — the animal, not the hockey team; the hockey team never hurt anybody — can leap up to 15 feet vertically and 45 feet horizontally? I did not leave the house for three days after I read that. And then for two weeks afterward, I kept looking up.
Furthermore, if these millions of little lizards ever get their act together, we are in trouble.
Even if the animals don’t get you, the ground may open up to swallow you and your home. Sinkholes just “suddenly” appear. Floridians shrug their shoulders, fill the holes in and move on like it never happened.
Much to my surprise, Florida also has plants that try to kill you. About a year after purchasing our home, I saw a weed in the yard that looked somewhat like a maple leaf. Weeds must be dealt with severely, else they get comfortable, take seed, and overrun the yard. I bent over, reached under the large leaves, grabbed it hard by the stem and proceeded to swear with great creativity and vigor. As it turns out, that particular weed is the tropical soda apple (Solanum viarum), an invasive species native to South America. Among the main features of this plant are large spikes along the stem and underside of the leaves, long enough to painfully pierce the skin. My hand was sore for days.
Oh, and while we are on the topic of lawns, there are ants trying to kill you and your pets. You only have to make a wrong step once to determine there are fire ants in the lawn. By the time you feel the first bite, 10 more have already bitten you. They don’t possess the common decency of other animals to make noise and announce their presence.
After all the animals, plants and geological hazards, there is the weather. Hurricanes want to kill you. You should have 15 gallons of water, eight days of food, five flashlights and a bicycle helmet for every person in your household (something close to that, I kinda glaze over when Gov. Scott comes on this time of year).
If the hurricane misses you, there are still tornadoes. Every time the weather radio goes off we all run to the closet, put on our bicycle helmets, turn on our flashlights, and drink some water. Then we find out it was actually for Marion County.
The only thing more precious for your car than a Sunpass is a sunshade. There is nothing worse than the smell of roasted flesh when your shorts ride up as you sit on 200° leather. Well, maybe the feeling of roasted flesh is a little worse. For the same reason, you cannot walk barefoot outside in months with no ‘R’. (That’s May, June, July and August, for those of you seeking the assist.) Even walking on grass in summertime can burn the bottom of your feet. But it does cauterize the ant bites, so there’s that.
I found that in Florida it is going to rain every afternoon starting in June and running until September.
And this is not an ordinary rain that the rest of the country experiences. You can be standing in the middle of a bright sunny day, then within 60 seconds a firehose has been opened above your head, leaving you in ankle-deep water. This has the side effect of making the grass grow like crazy, bringing it to a height that helps hide the fire ants. We should be disturbed that the weather, plants and animals appear to be working together against us.
Once the rainy season ends, the weather eases into a mild winter. Winters are really nice. Until they are not. One night below freezing kills everything in your yard that you did not cover with a tarp. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. This happened in winter of 2017/2018, when we had two nights in a row where Jack Frost danced freely around our property. The lawn guy said, “Don’t worry, this should all come back.” It is now June. I am still staring at dead twigs sticking out of the ground. Pretty sure those shrubs aren’t coming back.
The final surprise is that I run into far fewer people “from here” than I anticipated. On the day we moved in, I noticed that our neighbors across the street had a New England Patriots plate on their car. Three doors down is a guy with a New York Jets plate. I bet they aren’t friends. Most of the people I encounter on a regular basis are here by choice instead of birth. Seems like many people have been pleasantly surprised by Florida and made the choice to stay. My primary retort to people who sneer at living in Florida is “Really, Fred? You just spent $8,000 to spend a week here. That could have paid my mortgage for 5 months. Who’s the dummy now?!” But like a true Floridian, I don’t really want them to come. I want growth to stop now that my family is here.
Most of the country looks at Florida as full of gators, weirdos and retirees. And while I would love to disabuse them of that notion, if more people knew how truly great it is to live here, they would all come down (although if you look at all the construction along routes 50 and 27, it would seem there is lodging being prepared for them).
As for me, I have my yard fenced, sprayed and dusted against potential predators, my central air is cranked up and I have a stack of books ready for summer reading. I will venture back out in September when the weather eases and all the tourists leave, ready for more surprises. And ants. Always, more ants.
Grumpydad Rod Thorell and the love of his life, Donna, relocated to Clermont in 2015, where he works from home helping create software. You can follow his misadventures on Instagram, @grumpydad_goes_to.