Sunday, March 14, 2010

A fiction writer's sense of place: Why I love where I live

This week, my daughter has brought home four friends from college (in Ohio) to enjoy the southwest Florida sun. In addition, my wife and I invited two of our best friends in the world, from Kansas, to join us. The more the merrier, right?

This is the time of year when Floridians open their doors for their friends and family who have been shivering up north for months. And it reminds me of the things that I love the most about where I live. Here they are, both the warts and the diamonds.

--Our Conch Republic dress code. We so worship leisure and comfort here that dressing up for dinner at a four-star restaurant means choosing the khaki shorts that have pleats. My executive wife loves the fact that she can go to work on most days sans hose.

--With surf shops, Trans Ams, flowing beer, and a plethora of tanned, tattooed bodies, Fort Myers Beach is the Gulfshore's Coney Island and a fascinating study of human sexuality and hedonism.

--Sunsets anytime, anywhere, though I am partial to the sharp-edged, hot-pink lozenges common in mid-winter.

--Dolphins in the bay. Pelicans in the air.

--All the fruit trees that grow in our yards: Mangos and cherimoyas and lychees, oranges, grapefruit, papaya and tamarind.

--Sanibel Island's bike paths, independent shopkeepers, shell-laden beaches and lack of neon. The slow, bumper-to-bumper navigating drives me mad, but the same collective attitude that eschews traffic lights also successfully won a fight to banish McDonald's from the islands.

--The fact that flip-flops can be worn anywhere. At a recent, formal bar mitzvah we counted them on nine young women. "But they’re nice ones," my wife whispered. "Look – leather. And those over there have rhinestones."

--The azure-and-emerald feathers I find on my street, shed by the noisy flock of wild parrots that resides somewhere in my neighborhood.

--Violent, humbling summertime thunderstorms with rain that can fill an overturned Frisbee in minutes and lightning so frequent and deafening and close it is hard not to think of it as a censure delivered from above. Also cherished: The humid aftermath of these storms, steam rising from baked asphalt, a sated frog sitting atop the hood of my truck.

--The Puerto Ricans and Cubans and Jamaicans who, with their happy, Spanish-language radio stations and royal-blue and pink and lemon-yellow houses and cars, give our region a feel of the Caribbean.

--Our population of interesting retirees whose lives have touched us in countless ways. Over the years I've bumped into the designer of the Edsel, a scientist from the nuclear project at Los Alamos and a former United Nations ambassador from France who sat near Nikita Krushchev when he banged his shoe on the table in anger.

--Flowering shade trees: The fire-red blossoms of the poinciana, the purple of the jacaranda, the orchid-like pink blooms of the kapok.

--Cayo Costa. The undeveloped barrier island north of Captiva, preserved by the state for generations to come, is one of the few places in Southwest Florida where the patient sheller can still stumble upon a perfect, large whelk or conch.

--Cocktails in the lanai, on the deck of the pool.

--Kayaking on any of our meandering waterways – the Orange River, Hickey Creek, the Imperial River – surprising an egret or heron perched upon the copper-colored root of a mangrove.

--A multicultural combination of restaurants that some cities twice our size can't offer … from the street-vendor tacos on Palm Beach Boulevard in Fort Myers to the fishy fusion offerings at Roy's in Bonita Springs. So plentiful are the options that when my wife and I begin the awesome task of winnowing through the choices we first ask each other, "Western hemisphere … Or Eastern?"

--What my family calls "water glitter," the way the bays and rivers and Gulf sparkle like diamonds in the mid-afternoon sun.

--Drinking a margarita or mojito beneath a chickee hut (a shelter constructed from tree limbs and palm fronds) at any beachfront hotel or restaurant.

--Direct flights and fast boats to Key West.

--The fascinating, tragic and grisly crimes perpetrated by a service-worker population living on the financial and emotional edge. Two that come to mind are the Fort Myers man who butchered his wife with a machete, and a mother, tormented by a belief that the plethora of palm trees around her were agents of the Devil, who shot her sons.

--Historic McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers, with its stately royal palms lining the road and the multicultural neighborhoods it dissects, where kids sell mangoes on the street and walkers stop to share stories about their dogs.

Ad Hudler's most recent novel is "Man of The House." Catch his blog at or follow him on twitter or facebook. He is feverishly working on a humorous memoir.

1 comment:

K. Harrington said...

Does the FL tourism board know you wrote this? They should. I'm ready to pack a bag right now. Great post, Ad!