10 Things I've Learned Living in South Florida for Over a Decade
It’s been almost 14 years since I packed up my rose-colored 1996 Toyota Tercel and made the two-day trek down Interstate 95 from the Northeast to South Florida, where I’ve been living ever since. And though I’ve long since forgotten the giddy triumph I felt in permanently shedding my dense wool overcoat and the occasional snowy April, I still remember the important lessons I’ve learned over the years I’ve been a resident—and unapologetic fan—of the Sunshine State. These are my top 10.
Sunscreen is Really Important
The sun in South Florida is no joke. While I wasn’t a stranger to the sun in the Northeast, having spent summers at the beach and rollerblading outdoors, the sun’s effect on my skin back then wasn’t nearly as potent as it is now. So even though applying sunscreen with a 50 or 75 SPF may seem like wearing a flannel shirt, I know that it’s necessary. And you know those warnings to reapply the sunscreen after swimming? I now follow them religiously. I learned that lesson the hard way.
I Still Don’t Know How to Pronounce Boca Raton
Is it Boca Raton with a short o (rhymes with baton)? Or Boca Raton with a long o (rhymes with scone)? I remember asking a very flummoxed-looking bartender in my initial months of residency here. She didn’t know either. But it doesn’t matter—I just call it Boca. Everybody does.
… But I Can Pronounce Wakodahatchee
Native American names are abundant throughout Florida, so names of places like the Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, Okeechobee Lake, and Okeeheelee Park in West Palm Beach just roll off my tongue. And I’ve learned to love vowels.
Nobody Lives Like They’re in a Jimmy Buffett Song
Sure, I’ve spent the day at Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort and spent more Sundays than I can remember hanging out with friends at Fort Lauderdale Beach’s legendary Elbo Room. But I wasn’t working any of those days and neither were my friends. We all have jobs that—as much as we’d like on some days—we can’t just skip and go to the beach. So unless you’re independently wealthy or retired, you won’t be able to skip out on your job if you move here, either.
I’ve Learned to Live With Less Space
The water table is high here, which prevents houses from having basements. And, because of the relatively high cost of housing, few people live in homes as large as they might in other areas of the country. The upshot is that warm weather year-round makes it easy to find excuses to leave my little hole in the wall. Besides, I can vacuum my entire apartment without having to unplug the cord and relocate it to another electrical outlet.
Cruises Are Really Fun
I heard many misperceptions about cruises when I lived in the Northeast. But cruises aren’t just for senior citizens and you won’t get bored on the boat unless you hate sunshine, pools, hot tubs, casinos, live music, eating, drinking, reading, and playing games. If you’re prone to getting seasick, there are tiny patches you can wear under your ear that are very effective in preventing it. I’ve been on more than a dozen cruises in my time here, traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean, and have loved every minute of it.
Grownups Go to Disney, Too
One nice aspect of South Florida is it’s tantalizingly close to Orlando. It’s been decades since I’ve been tall enough to ride the roller coaster, but that hasn’t stopped me from going to Disney World, where those teacups rides were designed more for toddlers than teenagers. Everybody’s a kid in Orlando. And, besides, shaking hands with Goofy and waving hello to Cinderella still makes me smile.
Bugs Are Just Part of the Food Chain
Palmetto bugs are cockroaches that sometimes fly. Love bugs fly in pairs, in an amorous embrace. They’re not pleasant, but they’re a part of life here. Perpetual warm weather brings all kinds of critters—there’s no getting around it. So instead of seeing them as nuisances, I view them as a vital part of the food chain. Everybody needs to eat.
The Beaches Have Different Styles
When I’m asked how close I live to the beach, I usually respond by saying, “it depends on which one I’m going to.” For a beach that has a high energy restaurant with live music located right on the water, it’s hard to top JBs on the Beach in Deerfield Beach. But if I want to snorkel, there’s a great reef right off the shore at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Hollywood Beach’s Broadwalk is a great place for walking, jogging, rollerblading, and biking, and Delray Beach has an unofficial dog beach. Even though I don’t have a dog, it’s fun to join friends and watch their dogs play on the beach.
I Still Love My Family in the Northeast
I just love them less when I have to visit them during the winter months. It’s cold! I mean, bone-chilling, “I feel like my molecular structure is being permanently altered” cold. So they know not to be offended if I can’t make it for Christmas.