If you’re from the Northeast -and maybe even if you’re not – going to Florida means one of two things: going to the ultra-hip, cool, and trendy South Beach, or going to see your Grandparents.
Of course Grandparents-in-Florida means a lot of things:
- – polyester pants –
- canasta by the pool –
- early bird specials –
- really really bad driving
- women sneaking rolls into their purses at the diner
- constant discussions over the price of a can of Tuna Fish
- constant monitoring of every single piece of food you put in your mouth because your grandmother is obsessed with being thin and you’re not. Thin, that is.
Oh, wait. Was that last one just me?
Anyway, the point is, those ideas of Florida are only about the East Coast of the Peninsula. The West Coast of Florida is a whole other story. Fifteen years ago, my parents bought a place on Longboat Key, a small, skinny island off the West Coast of Florida, about 20 minutes from downtown Sarasota. My extended family had been going down there for nearly thirty years. Before there was an Opera, or Ballet Company, or a thriving Jazz scene. Before there was architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, a world-class aquarium, or massive hacienda’s overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
Back then, Sarasota was still pretty up-and-coming. And it had a long way to up and go.
In the seventies, while the rest of Florida (i.e. the East Coast) was going condo-tower crazy, and seemed to be hot in pursuit of elminating any trace of nature as it was created, Longboat Key established zoning laws: no buidling on the enitre island (save those grandfathered in) was to be more than four stories tall.
So this is Florida without massive, hulking, concrete giants blocking out the sun. This is Florida without people upon people upon people. We go to the beach, and if there are more than five other families there, we think it’s crowded. We go to the GWhiz Science Museum and it’s not a mob scene (except maybe on a rainy day), there’s a beautiful Botanical Garden, and mini-golf, and a Jungle Safari place with flamingos and tigers. There’s a circus museum, (a kid favorite) in the former home of legendary circus-man John Barnum. What there isn’t, is an early bird special in sight.
When we first started going we were shocked by what we saw: people out jogging, and rollerblading. People bike riding and driving without breaking every thirty seconds for no apparent reason. And these were old people. We were perplexed. Where were the pants pulled up to the armpits? Whence the white leisure suit? And then it dawned on us: these people may have been old, but they weren’t Jews!!!! Seems that gentiles, as they age, don’t all turn into Jerry Seinfeld’s parents. They jog, and play tennis, and go out to hear Jazz, and see theatre. Who knew?
Maybe when I hit sixty, I’ll convert.
The thing is, Longboat Key makes you feel young. In South Beach, I feel OLD. Really, really old. Sure it’s hip and cool and star studded. But everyone there seems to be twenty something to my forty something. Or else they are agelessly botoxed and boob-jobbed and otherwise surgically aided and abetted. Plus, they look at children as if they are some kind of mutant alien invaders.
In Longboat Key, your kids are welcome. Hey, if their own grandkids don’t visit, at least they can fawn over yours. Plus, you can still go out to a cool restaurant, still hear great music, have great shopping, and not feel like a relic. As a matter of fact, you feel young! You are young, by comparison. Hell, this town even makes old-people seem young. And there’s something about being in your forties, and hanging out with a crowd mostly 60 and older(no matter how active they are) that makes you feel like a babe.
And if that ain’t worth the trip, I don’t know what is.