Chicago - Oct. 15, 2021
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Florida

For those who have never lived there, Florida remains a sunny, steamy, golden enigma.

You want Florida, and will abide no evidence that suggests you don't. We lust for it.

Fabulous foreign wealth and consumption teeter-totter there on the other end of dire poverty and human frailty, all fueled by conflicts so deep it's a marvel how humanity can survive itself.

Or maybe, why should we hope humanity survives its depravities and pastel pants? We hope it does, because Florida is your rich playboy cousin you hope invites you to live with him when you're 20. Florida is simultaneously beautifully steamy and seamy.

Speaking of dire poverty, I was a newsroom guy in Fort Myers, which in 2019 U.S. News & World Report named the best American city in which to retire. Fairly cheap. It's hot and sunny, even at dawn, dusk and night.

You should never be surprised by Florida's quirks. That a near-Miami condo fell down and killed dozens is tragic, but surprising only because it hadn't happened sooner and more frequently. South Florida is always one loose rebar away from architectural catastrophe in the porous limestone they call dirt.

For acquiring such insight, temporary visiting doesn't count. But because I lived there for 7.334 percent of my life, my insights are at least 7 percent true. We press on to enlightenment.

To those of us who lived in the eternal sunshine as permanent residents and (twice) moved north - imagine that - nothing bad or odd or weird that happens in Florida is unusual. It's inevitable genetic disposition.

Floridians elected a vain, intellectual thug as governor this time, and seem to like him. Florida always has drawn its full allotment of transplanted murderers and worse, many of which your tax dollars hired and kept in power.

Half of South Florida wants to reanimate the corpse of dead Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and reinstall him in Cuba, which he once ran and leased to the Mafia. Batista's Frankenstinian return would dovetail nicely with Florida culture, sort of Mengele's Sunny Weekend with Bernie.

Florida is built on two inches of topsoil, which is barely soil at all. It is a sandpile constantly inching back into the ocean. The Everglades has dirt, but it also has 20-foot pythons. You always have choices in Florida.

South Florida's social hierarchy is populated by all flavor of Hispanic and Latin cultures. They stir a grand, rich sauce of real culture to which Anglo immigrants offer no competition. Try pico de gallo, a chunky and raw tomato-based salsa. But it's not clear if Latin cultures blend in South Florida or merely replicate old national disdains.

Guatemalans hate the Nicaraguans who hate the Chileans who abhor the Brazilians who loathe the Dominicans who distrust the Colombians who despise the Haitians. They all hate the Haitians, who speak Creole and French. Haitians sometimes speak Spanish just to irritate Cubans.

The Cubans hate everyone, except, of course, Gloria Estefan and Pitbull, who are Cuban royal Windsors.

With some valid historical reasons, they all hate yanqui imperialists. That's us.

As for the condo collapse, theoretically laws order condo builders to inform prospective buyers of any architectural perils. They never do that because it's bad for business. If you want laws, move to Ohio.

You would have had to experience Florida historically first-hand as a resident to appreciate its manic obsession to build and sell high-rise condos - and golf courses. The state at last count had 48,000 homeowner associations (the most common method of condo buyers' self-protection) inhabited by 10 million owners, all wearing pastel blue and pink golf pants.

Of the state's 20 million residents, the U.S. Census says 98 percent live on the coast or near enough to drown after a brief drive.

In fact, the entire state is predicated on temporary existence that gets more temporary by the hour. Disney World is one bad hurricane season from being a seaside attraction.

Miami someday will be a 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Disney theme park.

But, really, who cares? It's always warm and sunny. Go to Duluth if you insist on freezing.

However, the state's pending return to the sea does obscure cultural oddities.

Example?

The groundwater table is so close to the surface that Floridians have no basements and no efficient way to bury dead people. It's either mausoleums, cremation or ship grandma's corpse back to Ann Arbor by cargo plane. As a result, Floridan culture literally is wide but not every deep, like a parking lot with palm trees.

As American Airlines Cargo advertising advises living customers: "Dry ice is not necessary to pack unembalmed remains. When using dry ice, remember that it will be subject to dangerous goods shipping regulations." Good to know, though no sentence that includes the word "unembalmed" is a happy sentence.

Cargo shippers also transport leftover body parts north separately, in case grandma had a few good components left for sale.

Florida civilization, using that term loosely, is built atop Putt-Putt golf greens. I once asked a physician acquaintance in Fort Myers to describe Florida's cultural values. "Aren't any," he said. I looked. He was right.

But the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are coming to reclaim their property. This is not theory but meteorological fact.

A state with no shared culture is defenseless against such natural forces.

Now the best guess ahead by federal scientists? Miami's sea level is rising on an average of 1 inch every 3 years. It is 8 inches higher than in 1950. Scientists now think that in the next 15 years, the sea level will rise another 6 inches, at a slightly faster rate.

By 2030, at least 800,000 who live in Miami's Dade County will have to live somewhere else.

Zillow's real estate statisticians list 20 urban areas in America that will suffer the most from rising seas; Florida has five: St. Petersburg, Tampa, Miami, Miami Beach and Panama City.

In 2016, Zillow predicted that one out of eight homes in Florida would be underwater by 2100, a loss of $413 billion in property. That was before the pace of polar icecap melting picked up speed.

The Union of Concerned Scientists surveyed the issue and verified that Miami Beach and the Florida Keys will be under water in 30 years.

Under water like Atlantis and your mortgage.

Climate change prevention? We don't need no stinking climate change prevention. Bring me a margarita.

But still they come, as they always have. There are 35 billionaires there but 40 percent of Dade residents live below the poverty line. Just like Guatemala and Paraguay.

The rich are very rich there, and the poor are even poorer.

Batista was one of the rich ones.

In one of his occasional required escapes from Havana, Batista resided in Miami at the large pink home at 640 NW North River Drive, Miami. The walls were solid concrete. The next owner found an open safe there that contained 1,000 photo portraits of Batista's dead political rivals - all shot once in the head. Your tax dollars.

In South Florida, your next door neighbor could be a retired death squad organizer from El Salvador or a retired insurance salesman from Hoboken.

We were all jumbled into a gumbo of strangers. But we were warm. At the same time I lived in Delray Beach, Batista lived in the pink home down U.S. 41.

That was 1952, and I was 5 at the time.

That also was the year the U.S. State Department organized a coup and gave Cuba back to Batista. So he left the pink house.

Little has changed there.

Even now, no one talks much in South Florida about their good old days. As Tim Elfrink wrote for the Miami New Times of South Florida's allure to former U.S.-paid-and-installed torturers, dictators, and right wing assassins: "We make Casablanca look like a Daffy Duck cartoon."

None of this is new to the state. Orville Elias Babcock Sr. was a Union Army general and President Grant's right-hand man until tax corruption forced him to leave Washington.

Grant put him in charge of lighthouses in Florida, and he drowned on the job in 1884. Hey, it's Florida.

They embalmed him and put his body on a train headed north.

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David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was Shit Jobs. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.

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1. From Steve Rhodes, who lived in Florida for 18 months - six in Winter Haven and 12 in Lakeland:




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Posted on June 30, 2021


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