Miami is not my favorite place in the world.
This should not come as a surprise to long-time readers of Hidden City, and cannot possibly be surprising to those who know me personally. My tendency to sweat any time the temperature rises above 70° F is legendary, as are my complaints about it. At one time I even considered using the tagline, “Bitching about the Miami heat for over forty years,” but realized that people might get the idea I care about basketball.
A reasonable person might ask why I haven’t moved away, if I hate it so much. In fact, a good number of reasonable people — and a few unreasonable people — have done just that. The answer, though, is a bit complicated.
(I doubt that comes as a surprise to anyone, either.)
I was born in Paducah, Kentucky. My parents were living in Carbondale, Illinois, at the time. (These things happen.) Sometimes I wonder if this discontinuity between birthplace and first home — coupled with the frequent trips back and forth between the two to visit my grandparents — is the root cause of my lack of passion regarding place. Most other people feel a strong tie to their country of origin, their city of birth, or even where they have chosen to live; I never have. Oh sure, when people ask I tell them I’m from Kentucky, that my family’s heritage is Irish (mostly), but I’ve never lived in the former, and never been to the latter. As far as where I’ve chosen to live, well, so far I haven’t.
For the first few years of my life we moved around various towns in the Southern Illinois area, eventually ending up back in Carbondale, where we owned our first home. It was a brand new place in a new subdivision, with a bay window in the living room for my mother to decorate, and empty lot behind clearly intended to get young boys filthy. Once there we settled in. I made real friends, began to understand the world around me, and at age ten I even fell in love. This was the universe’s cue have my father transferred to Florida.
In August of 1970 we moved into an older home in the older community of Plantation. There was no bay window for my mother, only turquoise cabinets and terrazzo floors. And while there was plenty of sand and dirt for us to play in, there were also fire ants and sand spurs to keep us from having too much fun. My father was good at his job, though, and eventually we were able to make a good home of the place, even if my mother never did get over the loss of her bay window.
Excepting my brief stint away at college, I lived in that house until I’d left my teenage years behind. When I moved into my own place — a one room efficiency near Fort Lauderdale Airport — I stayed there for years, even through having two roommates. Friends would ask me why I didn’t move into a larger place, but it just didn’t matter enough for me to make the effort.
Eventually the building was sold, and I was forced to move. There followed a rather chaotic period of sudden relocations, tragic circumstances, and even a (thankfully brief) period of homelessness. When the dust settled I’d moved through more South Florida communities — Miramar, Hollywood, Hallandale — before landing with my eventual wife in Plantation again. I stayed in that apartment for many years, until my separation forced another move, this one taking me out of Broward County and into the wilds of Miami.
I’ve lived in this small house in a slice of unincorporated Miami-Dade County for more than a decade, the longest I’ve ever lived in a single place. I’ve lived here through my divorce, hurricanes, burglaries, deaths, and being laid off from the longest term job I’ve ever had. You would think that if I was going to form an attachment to a place, it would be this one.
In truth, the only place so far to which I’ve developed a strong sense of place is the Internet. Since childhood I’ve lived largely in my mind: reading stories, telling tales, puzzling out people and the world (and myself) from the relative safety of my skull. I’m attached to my stuff, sure — often too attached, if I’m to be honest — but the most important items I own, the tools I use to live in the world, are all inside me. The Internet gave me a place to store those tools and memories, a place to form friendships which won’t end due to an unexpected move, a world to explore: a place to live.
Today, it’s as close to a home as I have found.
So again, if the things most important to me are intangible, and I don’t have any particular attachment to the area, why do I stay? Why keep whining about the blistering summer sun? Why stay in a region dominated by politicians who aren’t just corrupt, but are arrogantly corrupt? Why stay in a place which — while improving culturally — has little to offer my admittedly esoteric taste? Why stay in a place where the state’s leadership is committed to besting Arizona for the title of “Batshit Craziest Legislators in America”? Why stay in the worst urban job market in the nation, when the state’s prospects continue to trend downward?
I’d have to be stupid to stay.
There are good reasons. I know my way around South Florida, both geographically and culturally. People I love and care about are here, including my father and brother and sister in law. My cats are here and my stuff is here. My history is here. And yes: Moving is insanely difficult, and expensive, and a lot of work, and more than a little bit scary, even at this age. Especially at this age.
I’d have to be stupid to leave.
This is a dilemma.
These last two years I’ve had a lot of time to think, perhaps too much time. Over and over I’ve been counseled to get out of Florida for professional reasons; over and over I’ve stayed put, certain that things would work themselves out in the end. Eventually it became obvious — even to me — that the reasons to stay were becoming outweighed by the reasons to go. In the end I came to wonder: Have I become too old and lazy and frightened to save myself?
“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” or so the saying goes. Well, at the end of August, nearly forty-one years to the day after I moved here, I’m going to stop bitching about the Florida weather.
I’m going to start bitching about the weather in Washington, DC.