Florida? It's a nice place to visit, if you like humidity, by John McGauley

I just returned from a two-week trip down south, tending to some family matters — namely the distribution of checks from the trust funds established by my grandfather, who developed rubber vomit.

That’s not true, of course, my grandfather developed a much wider range of gag products. But I did go to a place called Fernandina Beach in Florida, north of Jacksonville, just about at the Georgia state line, where one of my brothers lives.

Let me tell you about Florida. Those who vacation there may know some of this already, but for those sheltered residents who never leave Monadnockville, here’s the skinny on this amazing state.

It’s really big; a drive from Jacksonville to Miami will take almost nine hours. It’s flat, too — the highest elevation in the entire state is 345 feet. If you’re planning on a visit, it might be a good idea to do it now before the sea level rises. In fact, you can almost feel that happening already in the swamps and marshes around Fernandina, as the crabs have taken to walking on the sidewalks, bold as they please.

Oh, it’s crowded, too, with 21.6 million people and growing by about 400,000 each year, with 99 percent of the residents living with a mile of a beach, the population density best illustrated by the one-hour waits in the CVS drive-through. Most people eat at McDonald’s once a day and they have a chain of grocery stores called Publix, which are really clean and nice but overpriced. Oh, one thing I spotted there was a truck from C&S Wholesale of Keene, which made me proud, a little sign from home.

New highway construction is everywhere, and nearby I-95 is eight lanes wide.

Fernandina Beach is on what’s called “The First Coast” of Florida, primarily because St. Augustine is also located nearby, which was the original Florida settlement. It’s different from the other regions of Florida, not possessing the flash and verve of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but it’s the fastest-growing part of the state right now, engorged by retirees.

A lot of Yankees live there, and I don’t mean just Northerners, but New Englanders. The clement weather attracts them, but one couple I met here, originally from Connecticut, explained that most are there to escape higher taxes. Florida government is supported primarily by big business and tourism, and the state has no income tax. Take a lesson from that, Keene City Council: People vote with their feet.

Of the Yankees who I met, most of them spoke nostalgically about their states of origin and go back to visit regularly. They tell stories about friends who came down here, bought a home and then returned after discovering that Florida is very hot and humid for six months a year, about the same length of time New England freezes. If you wish to buy a used RV, come here. I was told a lot of old folks buy them, drive them down here, then die.

Very many live in houses with what’s called a lanai, which is kind of a screened-in porch attached to the rear of the residence. It’s designed to keep out the 2-inch-long roaches, slimy lizards and snakes, all things real estate agents don’t mention. They don’t tell you about the awful mess of critters you must live within the state, all of which have obviously become very adept at getting into homes.

Almost everyone below retirement age here works in two industries — real estate and medicine. Hospitals and clinics abound, including new satellites of famous places such as the Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson Cancer Center. It’s said that Florida is God’s waiting room, but ironically, cemeteries are few and far between, probably because real estate is at a premium. If you look at the entire place this way, it’s kind of like a huge, unending Hillside Village on flat land by the ocean, next door to a 5-mile-long cardiac rehabilitation center.

Average homes sell for about $350,000 and the nicer ones are about a million. I was told by one person that the standard time a house stays on the market is one week, with sellers bombarded by multiple offers. Eat your hearts out, Keene residents. I noticed that in many of the real estate advertisements both on billboards and in magazines, the agents have an especially predatory look about them; big unnaturally-white teeth and fake smiles.

There’s a lot more Donald Trump supporters around here, too, compared to the Northeast states. People readily admit to listening to Rush Limbaugh, even proud of it. It’s not unusual to spot a Confederate Flag, but those can even be seen in Keene from time to time. The Lost Cause, you know.

It rains nearly every afternoon, at least during this time of year. Humidity sits at nearly 90 percent, which is another reason you see so few people outside.

All in all, it’s a nice place to visit, this Florida, but like everyplace else, it has its drawbacks. My recommendation is similar to what I’ve heard from many others: If you’re thinking of retiring to Florida, rent first.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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