The best part of Florida that I have seen personally starts at the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico and goes inland for no more than a half-mile. Call it the Gold Coast or whatever you like, it is the only thing that makes visiting Florida worthwhile. The rest the state features terrain so flat that Illinois farm country looks hilly by comparison. The undeveloped wild is primarily pine trees growing out of hard-packed soil or a low, scrubby brush that burns with amazing frequency. Despite nine feet of annual rainfall, the Florida boondocks seem to be on fire all the time. My other impressions of the state are, in no particular order: it’s a land of hairstyles that went out of fashion in the nineties, it has bugs the size of small birds and some of the most idiotic politicians anywhere. It is also home to the largest number of people, per capita, who should have their drivers licenses immediately revoked. I wouldn’t give you two cents for any of it, except for a spot in the aforementioned and highly coveted half-mile strip. In other words, to be near the ocean is the only reason a sane person would go to Florida. And that is the reason Cheryl and I went there last week.
One of the perks of having a traveling job is getting reward points from airlines, hotels and so forth. All totaled, our share of the cost for airfare, rental car and five nights at the Marriott Resort on Marco Island was $17. Now that’s my kind of vacation. Still, we somehow managed to spend $1554.37. (Yes, I am one of those people who keeps track of such things.) Apparently those $12 drinks from the tiki bar add up in a hurry.
Bordered by Collier Blvd. on the east and the blue-green Gulf of Mexico on the west, the Marriott is a well run, semi-luxurious hotel and resort complex. The grounds have a tropical theme (surprise) and they are immaculate, tended by a small army of gardeners who keep the lawns and plants and flowers manicured to standards surpassed only by Disney World.
Walking seems to be the predominant leisure activity on Marco Island. Beach walkers can be seen day and night, strolling just out of reach of the tepid surf that laps at the shoreline. The side-walkers stroll up and down Collier Blvd., presumably because they don’t like the idea of sand in their shoes.
On Marco Island it is relatively easy to distinguish the full-time residents from the tourists. The locals are generally older, past retirement age, and they have sagging breasts, enlarged bellies and leathery skin the color of a tarnished penny. I’m speaking of the men here as well as the women. The only real difference between the two is the wiry gray hairs that sprout from the backs and shoulders of the gentlemen. Some of these people are so tanned it makes me question the conventional wisdom that too much sun is bad for us, because these dark brown white folks seemed to be getting on rather nicely.
Cheryl has this notion in her head that we should retire and spend two or three months of every winter on Marco Island. Personally I like the idea, but here’s the thing. There are a lot of wealthy people on the island, and that translates into expensive real estate and rents. Cheryl has always been the dreamer in our relationship, so I am left to take the role of the realist. This has made me unpopular on many occasions. What it means in this case is that Cheryl sees us in a high-rise condominium overlooking the wide panorama of the Gulf of Mexico, whereas I see us in a trailer park in Punta Gorda overlooking the koi pond. If you think for one minute I’m going to do that, I invite you to return to paragraph one.