For a Boston kid, me and my family never did the whole snowbird thing where we flee from our bitter northeast weather to warmer and welcoming destinations. We typically celebrate the holidays at home – if we go anywhere it’s to visit family who live in as cold (or colder) areas. So this year we totally switched up all traditions by taking a trip to Florida. None of us had ever been before and the prospect of a tropical getaway for just the three of us seemed too good to pass up. We left on Christmas day, arriving at a nearly dead Logan airport. We had a brief stopover in Bmore where there was also snow on the ground but when we landed a few hours later in Fort Lauderdale, it was as if we had entered a different world. From the window of the plane, Florida’s sprawling development butted up to turquoise-blue water and for the first time when we walked off the plane, it was WARMER in the connector tube to the airport.
Standing outside waiting for the courtesy van from the chain hotel we stayed in the first night, we gawked and gaped at the birds, the breeze, the palms and pink skies. The first of many “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments. Driving from the airport down to the hotel, we saw egrets and herons, coconuts and people in shorts and t-shirts. It definitely felt like the twilight zone, going in a matter of hours from being bundled and scarfed, knit hats and multiple layers to a place where a thin cotton shirt could feel heavy.
Where we were staying in Fort Lauderdale, since it was only for one night until our real place was available we picked the cheap hotel closest to where we had to go rent our car. So for the first night we were somewhat stranded in a sprawling series of big name stores, car dealerships, big hotels and the like.
As we walked around as a family in the oh so lovely strip mall and chain hotel haven it definitely did not feel like any Christmas before. We went to the only place open for Christmas dinner – Pancho’s fine Mexican cuisine. The food was great, burritos and fajitas with little Mexican flags on toothpicks triumphantly sticking out of the top. After our holiday meal, we made our way the mile walk down desolate and empty roadway to the beach – where enormous hotels and condos lined the soft sandy strip. We found our way to water, kicked off our shoes and in the dark, on Christmas day went walking through the tides.
The next morning we picked up our car and the REAL vacation started. We drove down the A1A, a scenic highway going down the coast of Florida. The endless palms and tropical plants were distributed amongst truly gigantic beach-front high end luxury towers… The architecture and distribution of buildings was unlike anything I have ever seen, with turquoises and whites and giant glass – mega towers along the entire beach with random smaller buildings everywhere else.
As we got down towards Miami Beach, the architecture changed, and the classic art deco hotels with their sexy neon and stylish lettering of a bygone era. These buildings had the look of an old Cadillac, with pastel colors trimming creams and taupes – all finished off with sleek metal and highly decorative facades of geometric shapes and clean patterns. The nomenclature and typography of these establishments were a romantic throwback to the era from whence they came, and despite an influx of tourists, modern cars, name brand stores and chain eateries, they were breathtaking to an architecture geek like me.
We kept driving south, on highways which seemed to bounce up and over the massively sprawling and developed area of Miami, eventually ending up on route 1, the highway to the Florida keys. We made a brief yet oh so worth it detour to the Robert is Here fruit stand, a tourist attraction and fresh fruit stand boasting 50 years of fine produce purveyance.
They also specialise in fresh fruit milkshakes – so while we stocked up on mangoes, grapefruits and kumquats, we had key-lime strawberry, tamarind, and banana cantaloupe smoothies which were TO DIE FOR. Getting back on the road, laden with fresh fruit and veggies and sweet beverages, we kept on our southward trek to the Florida keys. The farther we went, the smaller the islands got until we were going on Bridges connecting little islands in a long chain. We are staying on Long Key, in a small house right on the water of a protected estuary which literally comes up to the side of our porch.
Watching the sunset over the water – sipping on cool drinks and munching on pretzels, I had a profound sense of peace and relaxation – a calm I have not felt in months.
It’s been a hell of a year – for all of us. Deaths in the family, new jobs, tough school semesters (for me and my schoolteacher mom), drama amongst friends and people I work with, pain and heartbreak and in general – a loss or change of many of the things I drew stability or strength from in my life. We all needed a vacation, and even though this certainly doesn’t help me feel grounded or connected to the traditions and securities I yearn for, it gives us all a well-deserved break.
I have no idea what time of day, nor day of week nor season of year I am really in – and even though we didn’t change timezones we may as well have because it’s warm enough to be out later than when the sun goes down here. I have no sense of the Boston I left behind, weather-wise, life-wise – but sitting on this chair, looking out at this calm water – watching the pelicans and herons swoop in and out I don’t much mind. I know it’ll be a reality check when I walk off that plane in a week, to put on my hat and gloves and face whatever I am not dealing with now…
But at least for now a vacation from reality, a little excursion to the unknown is just what the doctor ordered.