It’s been a rough spring largely because I missed it.
In December, we made a sudden decision to spend February through April in Florida. Our primary reason was to spend time with elderly mother-in-law in assisted living before she forgot who we were. Secondary reason is spousal unit’s desire to skip winter in Pennsylvania.
Who could blame her? It was a rough winter as well. My initial fear, however, is what would it do to the time I reserve for writing. I’d just come off a promise to the long-suffering muse in my head that I’d not neglect her; (click and read – The Silent Light of a Winter Night, December 2018).
Turned out, I wrote more than usual. Cranked out 40K on the book I’m rewriting, and still had time to format and post blogs on our group’s GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ blog about every three-four days that began in mid-January through the end of March. Lot of work, but something had to give.
Yep, bless me readers, but I haven’t blogged since February.
During this rather busy period, I heard from an ex-colleague who used to follow humorous articles I wrote for a travel magazine overseas. Would I submit something for a quarterly newsletter they do? More specifically, would I write about our first ever snowbird experience in the same voice as my former writing experience? How could I turn down a fan from yesteryear? It published a few weeks ago, and he’s given me permission to post it here.
The article is in a different voice from what I pen today, but as penance for not keeping up in blogosphere, I offer it below. I hope you find it humorous, and perhaps it will brighten your day as well.
Never thought I’d be a Snowbird, defined as those who abandon the bitter winters of Northern America for sunnier climes in Florida. I like the change of seasons and don’t mind shoveling the times Nature dumps solidified water on my driveway. It’s also my most productive season as a writer, when I don’t have to answer the WYWA (Worldwide Yard Wrestling Association), or involuntarily submit to projects assigned by my wife.
It was an impulsive decision, sparked by a need to spend more time with my 90-year-old mother-in-law in an assisted living facility in Naples. Wheelchair bound, she’d weakened the past year after her husband passed-away in 2017. My bro-in-law knows everybody in the South Florida boating industry, and he found a place in Ft. Myers beginning February if we were willing to take it for three months.
Three months? What the heck do I do for three months in a territory commonly known as “God’s Waiting Room”.
We left early February in bone-cracking, five-degree temperatures. We hit a blizzard outside of Harrisburg. When we stopped for the night at my sister’s in North Carolina, the car had a veneer of crusted salt. CNN breaking news repeatedly looped a federal indictment against Punxsutawney Phil for fraud.
The place we rented is in a sizeable community built in the 80’s, advertised as; “riverfront splendor and boasts an 18-hole executive golf course, 13 lighted tennis courts, competition-sized swimming pool, 18 stocked lakes to fish, landscaped paths plus a private harbor and marina.” We arrived late afternoon, just in time to meet residents bearing Pyrex dishes who invited us to join them for the weekly poolside soirée. I noted my pallid skin was a lighthouse among the well-bronzed cocktail drinkers. The only tan on my body were skin moles. We took a rain check and went to an onsite restaurant, where the drinks were stiff, and a brisket burger happily spackled my arteries. The check arrived with “what’s your member number?” I gave the server our condo unit, 205. Next day, we learned every unit had a 205. Red-faced apologies offered, it didn’t seem like a very good start.
We ventured out on Ft. Myers famous Route 41, Tamiami Trail, to shop for victuals. It was a pinball rally of elderly drivers in luxury cars cruising the left lane at ten-mph under the speed limit, versus millennials who weaved traffic at twenty-mph over the limit in monster pickups with thunderous mufflers and earsplitting hip-hop. Observation through the rear window of older drivers often revealed a pair of headless hands on the steering wheel. A 70’s song lyric came to mind amid this chaos – “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you”.
The wakeup call came promptly at six with the greens keeper in a misfiring two-cycle tractor engine and headlights the brilliance of a supernova. The condo’s heated pool acted as a morning meeting place for women’s water aerobics to discuss the latest gossip, much of it centered on husbands. Though I shellacked myself with lotion, by noon, the intense southern sun left an alabaster imprint on my belly of a Kindle reader framed by painful crimson. Following day, all I could do while clothed in full body cover-up was to wait for the afternoon shift when residents arrived for mid-afternoon adult beverages and lies about their golf score. Cocktails start early in sun country. Be prepared to have your ‘check liver light’ activate with regularity.
Our condo is advertised as a community of ‘active seniors.’ Where women outnumber the men by at least two-to-one, I hoped the definition of active meant outdoor activities. USPTA regulation tennis and Pickle Ball, a kind of a mini tennis game with paddled wiffle balls for those who failed at tennis, are quite popular. I assume Pickle got its name from the usual state the players were in. The tight knit 3,078-yard golf course has nine lakes (drainage pits), and forty-five sand traps (yawning sink holes), which came with the frequent shout of fore and resultant whack against building walls. A sign by the pool warned to be observant of stray balls. Nothing like a nice float and the risk of concussion. Our second floor patio gave us a referee’s vantage on the seventh-hole ladies tee-box, where we had front row seats to deep-divot, shagged shots, followed by un-ladylike potty-mouthed epithets. And to think many of them were grandmothers.
Every Wednesday, our village decorated the poolside veranda for the weekly BYOB get-together at five-o-clock. Attendance required a snack to share, which turned out to be a full potluck buffet. People lined up at 4:30 to get their pick of the best. My chicken tikka sat virtually untouched on a table groaning with meatballs, deviled eggs, vegie tray, ambrosia salad, and vegan pizza. Lesson learned, traditional American flavors are favored. A couple at our table advised we start with the dessert offerings while others queued for the buffet. All manner of sweet confections had defined our generation. I’m now officially pre-diabetic.
The reason we came was to spend time with Ann’s mother; our intent to get her out of the cloistered spaces of her otherwise excellent care facility. No one warned us about going to restaurants during Florida high season. The older generation eats early. All others know to wait until at least 6:00. We went to a wine bar in Naples that advertised jazz. Handicap parking occupied the entire front half and nary a slot available. I damn near needed a GPS to find my way back from a lower-forty lot of cars parked haphazardly at crooked angles. Zigzagging with a wheelchair around bodies and crowded tables, the shortest distance to our table was by way of Orlando. Younger folk congregated the bar with raucous laughter. The older table troops dined in groups of six or more – with more raucous laughter. Intimate conversations nearby were shouted, some of which I wished had been left unsaid. The jazz turned out to be a crooner in a fedora hat singing Frank Sinatra hits. Ann’s mother loved it.
Seafood is king in Southwest Florida. Oysters on the half-shell, shrimp and grits, scallops in spicy garlic butter, yellowfin tuna, and fresh catch of the day grilled, fried, or burnt. I love seafood, but I was one grouper entrée from becoming a merman. Imagine my joy when I spotted a Five-Guys Burger and Fries.
The complex had a nice exercise facility, and I took advantage of the elliptical machine to manage added pounds from eating too many Wednesday sweets. Adjusting to elderly men and women in stretch tights took a couple of days to undo the shock. The gym had mounted TVs, but instead of news or sporting programs, vintage reruns like Gunsmoke and Andy Griffith were popular (I’m not making this up). Color me happy when someone switched to Discovery Channel’s ‘Pickers’.
The complex had an amazing marina with a restaurant facing west for stunning sunsets and great views of boaters maneuvering thirty-foot cabin cruisers with the skill of a fifteen-year-old’s learner’s permit. You had to arrive two-hours prior to the setting sun to get a seat. Five-minutes after the sun disappeared, the place emptied as if someone shouted ‘cockroach’. We stayed and ordered another drink. The brisket burger called my name.
Hey, let’s go to Fort Myer’s Beach. I’d forgotten about the annual college ritual of spring break. Traffic backed up for miles waiting to cross a two-lane bridge. Police manned crosswalk islands, not on watch for underage drinking, but ready to cite drivers who weren’t wearing seatbelts. It must be a major revenue generator. Out of curiosity and a touch of naivety, we stopped by a gaudy multicolored hotel called the Lani Kai Island Resort for a drink. The place had the air of an unrestrained mash-up of college fraternity/sorority revelers at an inner-city bus terminal. Absent responsible supervision in any form, youngsters in various stages of undress swarmed beaches and bars like ants at a picnic. The acrid taste in my mouth was volatilized raging hormones polluting the air. The bartender took an immediate shine to us, thankful for a sober adult conversation in what might have been the first in days. I tipped her heavily and left post haste, my hopes for the next generation in question.
Once we adjusted to a slower pace, our days unfolded relaxed, and without the never-ending distraction at home of things that needed doing. How can you turn down skipping winter in Pennsylvania? We posted beachy sunsets. Our neighbors posted snowdrifts. I don’t look forward to wearing sweaters again and the itch of a peeling tan.
By far, our original mission to bring some light and happiness to Ann’s mother succeeded. Frequent visits enhanced her cognition. The succession of instances we settled her in the car, I noted improved strength in her ability to stand. She greeted us with a smile each time we visited. It was difficult to leave.
Will we return as snowbirds? The twinkle in my mother-in-law’s eye, and the open-armed welcome of both renters and year-rounders, has us considering next year. We enjoyed cruising the left lane as trained snowbirds in sunglasses, doing our part to govern the speed limit. If we do return, I’ll wipe the dust off golf clubs I’d left at home, and join the duffer ranks of carefree, congenial folks who play worse than I do.