South Florida: All about the people

Time with Pops

It’s only been a bit over a month since I left my old life behind to roam the earth with all my possessions on my back. Truth is, I’m not used to the idea yet, though I’ve somehow adapted to being homeless incredibly quickly. I think it’s because I feel like I’m just on vacation. It’s all a bit surreal. While I’m making time every day to work, and some days that’s all I do, I know things will get harder as I go along, but then again that’s why I’ve chosen the specific locations that I have. In the past month, I left home in Montreal, spent about 2 weeks with a friend in Toronto, an easy transition both from a work standpoint and a financial one, then I spent another 2 weeks with another friend in Flushings, Queens, NYC, and part of that spent with V in an AirBnb in Manhattan. Another relatively easy transition, safe and familiar but still different enough to feel like an adventure. From NYC, a flight to South Florida where I’ll spend a month or 2 with my Dad in his Ft. Lauderdale condo. I’ve been looking forward to this. The truth is, since I left home (Haiti) in 93, I’ve never spent any significant amount of time alone with my dad. So, this is a particularly nice opportunity and one long overdue. Sure we’ve had a week here or there, but never quite alone all the time. There have always been other people or distraction in the picture. But now, it’s just me and him and considering we’re both very private and often quiet individuals (yes, I got that from him), we’ll need as much time as possible to open up and share the things that are important in the end to us as father and son and as 2 men and friends.

I smoked my last cigarette in NYC and plan on going without for the next couple month while I’m here. Hopefully I can keep that up when I get to Mexico, but who knows. One step at a time. In the meantime, I’ll use the time in the beautiful South Florida climate to run, exercise, work, and prepare for what’s to come. The condo is small but has everything I need and is pretty stylish. The walls are covered in Haitian art and the house often smells of Haitian food. Over the years, he’s gotten absurdly good at cooking. Apparently he was always a good cook, but I never knew it, or just don’t remember him cooking when I was young. But over the years and having come down here a number of times in the past 20 years or so, I’ve come to really appreciate his ability to make healthy and authentic Haitian meals. He’ll cook everything from fish, to chicken, quail, rabbit, turkey, beef and pork. His rice is consistently good, the salads are simple and flavorful, and the sides like boiled potatoes or yam, or whatever other veggies he’s in the mood for are always perfectly cooked. I continue to be impressed, and even while I write this I find myself missing dad’s home-cooked meals. Not your typical Haitian male when it comes to that or to many other things but I like it just fine.

What we haven’t done much of yet, and as expected, is talk. I mean really talk, man to man. Instead we walk the periphery of intimacy with existential conversations on topics ranging from aliens to politics, physics to psychology and sociology. Don’t get me wrong, all topics I’ve always appreciated, but they also stand in the way of sharing the more personal and emotional experiences and thoughts that we’ve essentially never broached. This time is no different. Neither of us will take the first step, as expected, but we’re having fun together and who can complain about that?

My new cousin asleep at the wheel after a long night of drinking. Lucky she has a designated tow truck friend. My new cousin asleep at the wheel after a long night of drinking. Lucky she has a designated tow truck friend.

During this time, he’s doing his best to not so subtly convince me that South Florida would be a great place for me to settle down once I’ve finished exploring the world. And to that end, he’s trying to keep me entertained by taking me to restaurants, movies, canal tours. It’s cute and makes me feel like a kid again, but unfortunately, while it’s certainly keeping me from being bored, it’s not having the desired effect. I am enjoying meeting his girlfriend and her daughters, seeing my aunt, my cousins (new and old), my bed-ridden grandmother (who’s dementia and physical weakness suggest that this may be the last time I get to see her), old family friends, and of course Mona, who’s been with the family since I was a baby and who to this day still manages to make the best Haitian food I have ever tasted, though my dad gives her a run for her money with every meal he cooks. And I wouldn’t tell Mona, but sometimes, he even surpasses her. (Our little secret). It’s good to catch up, spend some time at my aunt’s in Miami, see some childhood friends and their new family and home in Boca. This is great.

Tati Michelle and Mona. 2 amazing women that always make SF feel like home.
Tati Michelle and Mona. 2 amazing women that always make SF feel like home.

But as pertains to South Florida, it doesn’t take long before I start to remember why I never liked this place. Don’t get me wrong, I was always excited to come and spend my summers here. Being at my aunt Michelle’s was always a highlight of my year while I was in high-school and even on short vacations after moving out of Haiti, this was a great place to spend time, share jokes with the family, get guilt-tripped by Mona, splash around in the pool, share silence with my uncle. I always loved being here. I was restricted in my movements, because, well, it’s Florida and if you don’t have a car, you don’t have the right to be alive, but just spending time here, watching TV, eating Mona’s masterpieces, was always enough for me. This time, it was even better. I felt at home, grown-up, and part of the family in a way I hadn’t ever before and it really touched me. But I was also getting ready to make my next move into the unknown and that was always in the back of my mind. But for now, I’m just enjoying the warmth of the south.

As time goes by, I’m starting to get the itch and while I’m still enjoying myself, the lack of options, the huge geographic distances between anything of interest, the lack of independence and the high-cost of doing anything in South Florida are starting to get to me. My dad’s attempts to show me all that there is to do here are futile. Where he sees opportunity and excitement, I see so many of the things I dislike about the US in general and Florida in particular. Yes, South Florida and Ft. Lauderdale in particular are superficially pretty. Plenty of green lawns and palm trees. It’s always clean, there’s plenty of water everywhere. Ft. Lauderdale is surrounded and criss-crossed with canals. You can take water taxis to get around, though this is mainly for tourists, and for the most part, the water’s edges are infested with mansions of the rich and famous. Miami as well, while not blessed with the same canal system has lots of water, both on the sea-side and on interior. It seems people have forgotten that Miami was built on the everglades. You wouldn’t know it but they took a rich ecosystem, dried it up and put some of the most wasteful urban planning techniques in practice to create an unsustainable city that’s so spread out that it has lost any chance of being a socially rich playground. Oh, it’s full of money, but it also has its ghettos and the crime that comes with it. That’s understandable, but what I’m seeing is a culture of waste. Even on cool “winter” days everyone drives around with their windows up and AC blaring. Recycling is a foreign concept for the most part. Roads are unnecessarily wide, lanes are gratuitous, sidewalks are rare and everything is horizontal. Every block looks like the previous one and the next one. Traffic is bad, and here no one walks anywhere. This has infused the culture with a superficiality that I’ve never encountered anywhere. South Florida is all about beauty, money, status and it’s sickening. Everything is triple packaged, water is used without regard for where it comes from, just a few miles away, draining the everglades at an increasingly alarming pace. Floridians are wasteful and more importantly, oblivious. They don’t care about anything. How they’ve managed to ignore the relatively global trend towards sustainability is not only beyond me, but infuriating. So, yes, it may be pretty but it has no soul and that, more than anything is why I simply can’t bare the idea of living here. Yes, of course there are good people here. Of course there are exceptions, but in my experience, this is the majority, and a large majority and I just can’t see myself being happy surrounded by this blind decadence. Florida represents to me, a bygone era that I’m all too happy to see dissipating into a dark past, a time when we thought resources were limitless and the earth was ours to do with as we pleased. I hate that sort of thinking and I can’t help but see exactly that here and it’s getting to me every time I step outside and sometimes, even from within the house as I see my dad put any bones and other rejected/uneaten food in a tightly sealed plastic bag before throwing it into the plastic garbage bag in the kitchen bin. Yes, I get it, you don’t want it to smell, but in the end, it’s not bad enough that we have non-biodegradable garbage bags filling everglades landfills, we have to have another 20 plastic bags inside of them?

Yachts and mansions
Yachts and mansions. The American dream in your face in SF.

I have just come from a city that’s promoting and working on providing composting services, and that encourages recycling by giving out free biodegradable plastic bags for its citizenry to put all their recyclable items into so they can be more easily picked up by recycling services. I spent 22 years in a city that prides itself on it’s public transportation system. Montreal is not perfect and is by no means the most green or sustainable city around, but it has ambitions. All its electricity is provided by “green” hydro-electric power and it penalizes cars with relatively hefty parking fees. It’s consistently building up its bicycle infrastructure, and use of public lots for communal gardens. South Florida encourages the use of cars, gets all it’s power from coal-fired plants and other old, cheap, but highly damaging technologies and doesn’t seem to have any desire to change that. It’s conservative, backwards thinking, spoiled and wasteful. It has no public transport system to speak of, and even it’s taxi infrastructure is poor, because, let’s face it, you’d have to be crazy to live in a place like this without your own car. My aunt, as amazing as she is, only drinks bottled water. Spring water, which has taken hundreds of thousands of years to filter through rock to be purified and fill aquifers is being pumped up and out of the ground to fill plastic, single serving bottles because she doesn’t like the taste of the perfectly adequate tap water. Her house is filled with palettes of 600ml water bottles, and there’s no real recycling here. Every building has the AC on so high that you’re likely to catch a cold watching a movie. Every home has its AC on almost 24/7. No one cares. No one has any idea what the costs are or where all this bounty comes from. It all hurts to see. But these things don’t factor in to daily perspectives here. It’s just not part of the culture. For me, it’s all wrong and it permeates everything I do and see here, and while it’s super clean superficially, it just feels dirty to me.

The ridiculous but beautiful mansions that line the canals
The ridiculous mansions that line the canals

But those are the negatives. The positives are there too. Any place that has such beautiful weather almost every day, whether it rains or not, that allows you to go for a run, or jump in a pool or go play a sport, can’t be all that bad. South Florida has tons to do. Restaurants, bars of all kinds, cultures from all the around the world mixing it up and setting up shop. It’s a vibrant place that, if it were more concentrated would have a great vibe and would create more intimate interactions and a more sympathetic culture. There’s a ton of opportunity here from a financial standpoint. South Florida is still growing consistently at a rather impressive rate. It may be bad for the swamps, but it’s good for its economy and for people who are either willing to work hard or creative enough to come up with great ideas. It is trying hard to change its image and be a incubator for culture while promoting its image as a good party city. It’s got some pretty decent beaches and all the activities that come with it. There are tons of physically beautiful people all trying to be in the best shape they can be. Maybe that’s healthy, dunno, but it at least looks pretty. And yes, if you buy into the culture here and you have some money, you can have a blast. Unfortunately, that’s not really me, nor is it a me I want, but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it for what it is. I just have different priorities.

In any event, it’s time to get moving. The final days are approaching. I’ve chosen a date and bought my ticket. My next and you could say, first stop, is Cancun Mexico. I’ve never been to Mexico. Hell I have seen so little of the world that I’m often ashamed to speak about it, but that’ll all change soon. In the meantime I’ve been slowly buying a few missing items and packing and unpacking my bags to see what the best and most efficient ways of packing are so that I can keep things as accessible as possible while also minimizing the space needed for all my stuff. I know I won’t need everything over the long-run and I’ll likely give stuff away as I go, but for now, I rather have a bit too much than have to buy hard to get things while on the road. But now, it’s almost over and I’m realizing that while I’ve loved being with my dad, we still haven’t really had any intimate conversations. Hopefully we can change that.

On the final night, I buy some alcohol, and typical of 2 guys we’ve left it to the last minute to have a real talk… but we do. And it’s awesome. Finally we share real things, about who we are, about our experiences, the things we’ve done, not done, regretted, hoped for. It’s real, it’s intimate, and it’s fun and open. Sure I have to pry a few things out of him, but they come out and while we don’t have the time to ask all the questions or get all the answers, we have a good night and learn about each other in a way we never really have. We both end the night grateful and appreciative of the things we’ve shared and the people we are. It’s a good last night, and gives a bit of closure to North America and to the familiar.

Sunsets and storms. 2 of my favorite things, and South Florida has plenty of both.
Sunsets and storms. 2 of my favorite things, and South Florida has plenty of both.

The next day, he drives me to the airport, we hug, we smile, we tell each other that we love each other and I step into the terminal and away from the last known aspect of my past life and into the abyss of mystery. We’ll miss each other, we know it, but I’m ready for this next phase of the adventure, the real adventure and I know he’s happy for me. Thanks dad, thanks South Florida, I’ll see you again, but not yet.

 


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