Friending Florida — Really?

Friending FloridaGeography is not merely about location — it can carry with it all sorts of emotional baggage.  It just depends on one’s history with the place in question, mixed with a little Hollywood, literature and sometimes music.  We use word associations to create images so powerful that we can’t wait to return to a treasured spot or we permanently cross it off our list. For instance, when one says Paris – many of us think “romance” and we can’t wait to return.  How about LA?  Movie stars and surfers may come to mind and so the place represents glamor and youth (or for others, traffic!). And New York, well, Frank Sinatra fixed our image brilliantly with his “New York, New York” as did Harry and Sally. Or perhaps the rat race image reigns supreme with our own personal experience buttressed by wolves and Wall Street.

Now what about Florida? What happens to your psyche when you repeat after me, FLORIDA.  Well, if you’re not from Florida or the south, and you were born north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I would imagine that Florida carries with it a completely different range of emotion.  And if your image of Florida is “The Bucket List” – two terminally old men trying to escape their lives…

What I learned during a recent trip to Florida was the stereotypes I had lodged in my mind’s eye have actually created an obstacle to going there and having fun.

So, what’s the big deal you say? If it doesn’t feel good, then don’t go there.  Well, but we just did because it actually sounded like a good idea on every spectrum except that it was FLORIDA: friends; sports; sun and a chance to check in on my Mom. We jumped at an invitation to take a long weekend trip to visit our friends, Fred and Judi, (who just inherited their recently deceased parents’ place), visit my mom for 24 hours and thaw out. It turned out it was a great idea. The trip was a huge relief from the brutal cold snap we were battling in New York and Boston and the warm sunshine actually altered my negativity about Florida.

I want to like Florida, I really do. My primary motivation to change my outlook is that Florida conjures up warm sweet memories for my husband, who had great visits with his grandfather in Naples when he was a young boy. He is way more relaxed in warm climate and never minds the heat; in fact he thrives on it. So, I thought I’d try to open my mind up a bit on the topic.

I put together a systematic experiment to create an attitude and mind shift to extricate myself from my self-imposed rut. I designed this Three-Step process:

Step 1: As we all know, change is hard and takes conscious discipline. My work began with stating my current reality. I made a list of the top seven word associations I have with Florida:

  1. Old People
  2. Slow & un-adrenalized
  3. Bad drivers
  4. Flat
  5. Strip Malls
  6. Widows
  7. Early Bird Specials

Wow – took me all of three seconds to create that list – no wonder I’ve got attitude issues! The truth is, the image I have of Florida is not wrong, it may, in fact, be spot on. The question is – should this get in the way of enjoying the place? No!

My top seven bummer Florida images needed to become overlaid with some new positive ones. (Oh dear, how would I do that?)

Step 2:  I challenged myself to a mind-shifting experiment. Could I layer some good images on top of the bad images to create a delightful feeling about the place? It would require real-time observations, like an anthropological intake assessment with field notes. My pencil was ready and I carried it with me during my four-day visit. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Bad Image: First night here saw man with walker being helped into driver’s seat by a valet at a restaurant and he drove away with a bejeweled, much younger woman in the passenger seat (maybe a wife?) – Who am I to judge? I can’t shake that image though, the valet settling the driver into his driver’s seat and then folding up the walker and putting it in the trunk.
  2. Good Image: My husband and I rented a Mustang Convertible and ramped up our RAP music. We felt delightfully rebellious and youthful, I must say.
  3. Bad Image: Apres dinner, we observed a parade of women coming out of a strip mall restaurant. They were all carrying Styrofoam boxes – could this be dinnertime party favors or, heavens no, leftover bread for the week? (Not to mention the environmentally insensitive Styrofoam!)
  4. Good Image: We became part of the parade strolling along the Main Street in Delray. The night life with “happening” bars was “hopping” and the food scene was exciting and inventive. We loved it.
  5. Bad Image: Needing a morning Starbucks fix, we had to drive down an ugly eight-lane road with strip malls lining every inch. Seems like anytime we had to go anywhere, that ugly eight-lane road was our gateway.
  6. Good Image: We rented a little motorboat for a few hours and escaped the mainland. What a spectacular afternoon!  It was a total blast to cruise the Intracoastal Waterway looking at Miami Vice-style homes and soaking in the gorgeous Florida sunshine.
  7. Bad Image: Watching rows of elderly people sleeping with mouths agape on lounge chairs at the pool.
  8. Good Image: Reading our books, drinking cocktails, and napping by the pool (maybe our mouths were open a little too).
  9. Bad Image: Travel Delays. Ice Storms Out of Boston. Jet Blue canceled for 2 days.
  10. Good Image: Affordable, frequent direct easy flights in three hours.

Step 3: Reset and Relax

Once I’d had my fill of “good times,” my Florida attitude button needed to be reset with some additional strong imagery and there was plenty to be had:

  • Sunrises and sunsets over the water and palm trees.
  • Green grass, flowers, and warm sandy beaches…mid-winter!
  • Tennis, golf, and long runs – all outdoors!
  • Spectacular wildlife.
  • And most of all – I actually think that when my grandmother moved to Florida for the winter, she may have added years to her amazing life.

In conclusion, my husband and I are not moving to Florida  but  — we’re praying we were great guests and hoping to score another mid-winter invite from our friends… just sayin!

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Friending Florida — Really? was last modified: by


Felice Shapiro

Felice Shapiro Felice Shapiro loves figuring out what's next. Felice writes with honesty and humor about real life events, romance, tragedy, reinvention and family not to mention — fashion, beauty & travel. As a serial entrepreneur in the publishing space, she launched to meet the needs of women entering their next phase at 50. Inspired and armed with her love of publishing, writing, start-ups and women’s issues, Shapiro launched an online magazine for 50-something women to share personal stories, successes and relevant issues. She is proud of BA50 which is in its 4th year and has over 7 million unique visitors. 

  11 comments for “Friending Florida — Really?

  1. Loretta
    February 4, 2014 at 10:48 am

    My husband and I sailed out on our trawler to find the perfect retirement spot. The top contender when we left New York. Was Charleston. Somewhere between St. Pete and Naples, it occurred to us that the west coast of Florida could be perfect. But like Felice, we had a lot of old images to counteract. When we told our oldest son of our potential change in retirement venue, he replied, “Not with all the old people.” Comments not withstanding, we’ve just spent one glorious month in the Keys and are looking forward to one more month before continuing our adventure up the Intercoastal Waterway and back to New York. Throughout this time, I’ve stored quite a few positive memories to replace my previous anti-florida stereotypes. Perhaps enough to let me just wave at Charleston.

    • felice
      February 4, 2014 at 6:38 pm

      You are amazing that you have cruised so far
      thank you so much for your comment

  2. February 4, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    I vacationed in Florida every year through my childhood and even into young adulthood. I love Florida…as long as I am in certain places. As a child I couldn’t wait to get there, as an adult I love to dive there, my daughter went to college there, so I have many positive associations with it. However. I had an old man flip me off at the Tampa airport once! I couldn’t believe it…somebody’s sweet old grandpa. But hey, there are good and bad things about all places… There is plenty to enjoy in Florida!

    • felice
      February 4, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      Sounds like it’s the place for you — great visuals for sure.
      I’m coming around – yes indeed

  3. February 4, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    I’m southern, so Florida to me means summer, spring breaks, beaches, fresh seafood, and Disney. The only old person to come to mind is my great grandfather buried in Apalachicola, but he’s so far removed from our family experience he doesn’t seem to count. Plus the graveyard is wonderfully old and spooky, and smack dab in the center of a great town with fab oysters.

    I think it’s funny how diametrically opposed our perceptions of the Sunshine State are – mine youth, yours geriatric.

    • felice
      February 4, 2014 at 6:58 pm


      • February 5, 2014 at 11:31 am

        LOL! I say we go stay at Cathy Chester’s house and enjoy ourselves.

        • felice
          February 5, 2014 at 3:06 pm

          yes indeed

  4. Cathy Chester
    February 4, 2014 at 4:13 pm


    I grew up going to FL with my family cause Dad had clients down there and we stayed in downtown Miami at The Americana. It was beautiful and I fell in love with the beach, orange juice and palm trees. Jackie Gleason was all the rage, and I had the best food at Wolfie’s and Pumpernick’s (both now gone.)

    Since then my in-laws live in Palm Beach County and my best friend lives in Naples. We go down at least twice a year to visit, and since then many young people have moved there, with many communities changing over to a younger demographic after the older one dies out. Hallendale, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach come to mind.

    I know the stigma attached to FL, but that isn’t the whole of it. We hope to move down there, preferably in Palm Beach County where there is a lot of culture due to Miami and community colleges. Had enough of winter; I hate it.

    I’m glad you had an open mind….

  5. felice
    February 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    I totally get it Cathy — thanks for sharing

  6. February 5, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    My parents were both alive they wintered in Boca or as we called it “Boca Baby”. I loved visiting in the winter because it forced us all to slow down and relax. My family and my sister’s family would overlap some alone time and together. We would rent a suite and the kids would trade off sleeping at their grandparents so everyone got some quality time.We’d rent a van and who ever complained the most had to set in the third back seat, which curbed many bad attitudes. When I was a kid we visited my grandparents who stayed at the Bancroft Hotel in Miami Beach.

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