I’m swinging in a patio recliner gently rocking back and forth with my bare feet. The screened-in patio, in Florida known as a lanai, faces the lane, one of many quiet one-lane asphalted roads that wind around and up and down a semi retirement community in Riverside, Florida. Occasionally a member of the association drives by going the adhered-to 15 mph in a new sealed up Cadillac sedan that probably desires more excitement than his owner can offer. Maybe a trip up north in the summer to his daughter’s house; but today at the end of October it’s a luxury air conditioned ride to the grocery store or the doctor’s office. Chimes hanging from the car port on my left quietly pick up the wind and sound a repository of peaceful vibrations that usher in memories of long summer days, weekends at a beach cottage, or childhood afternoons with the grandparents.
I arrived outside of Tampa a few days ago, the last leg of my six day voyage driving diagonally across the US, from the northwest corner of Washington State. While operating from here for a few days, securing a place to live in Naples, getting administrative tasks completed before my teaching job at Immokalee High School, and reclaiming my walking legs, thoughts on this community roll out like the warm gulf breeze, reminding me indirectly of episodes from the Golden Girls. Insulated by a gate that requires a key card for entry, the community is a perfect world in microcosm, where every day is protected from the maelstrom of life outside the gates: climate change, recycling, unemployment, underemployment, war, poverty, elections, hate crimes, #metoo, ocean pollution, PTSD. Inside the gates, life promises visits from grandchildren, martinis on lanais, Christmas pudding in July, laps in the pool, a guaranteed income, a new car, attending a big band concert in town, air conditioning, and the freedom to not have to think about the distant future. When a future does loom, lawn decorations indicate what’s coming – any impending holiday or shout out boasts flags, lights, inflatables, whirligigs, flowers and an arcadia of garden art. Besides the joy involved in living a carefree life one day at a time, members participate in weekly coffee socials, Friday pot lucks, quilting corners and shuffle board clubs, any of which may or may not turn into medical chart review roundtables.
The heat and sun must play an integral part to the life-style here, promoting a justified ennui. Cold weather denizens, by contrast, ardently move: they hustle about, warming exterior limbs, accomplishing tasks and errands as efficiently as possible. Human nature expects this. Summer, however, allows for a respite to the hustle and bustle of winter life. School, work, our muscles – our lives seem to relax in kind. Dress codes slacken, three-day weekends extend to four, summer school rings its bell at noon, breweries release summer themed refreshers with a lemon kick, camp fires blaze under the stars, kids reclaim the streets after sundown. Until the dawns delay and the evenings hasten, days will stretch their offerings all the way downtown to street fairs, summer festivals and evening fireworks. Soon, with a lingering regret but appreciation that all things pass, yellow elm, scarlet maple and rust oak signal the rite of passage into fall, and pumpkins, dried corn cobs, spiced drinks and specials on leaf blowers make their way into our lives. School has started, labor day demands the white shorts retreat to the bottom of the drawer, and people shore up on sweaters and boots from the catalogs. What happens down here at the 27th latitude? Summer shouts all year long.
I go for a walk around the large complex. Each wide style, manufactured house displays unique properties. Unlike some subdivisions in new suburbs of some cities, which line up identically constructed prefabs in redundant array, these offer a homeowner a chance to keep an individuality while still belonging to a community. Each house has a cottage picturesque quality to it: large picture windows, either a front, side or back screened lanai, a driveway with a car port. The accompanying land on each property is the bare minimum: about 10 yards wide on each side. With these ten yards, flowering shrubs, palm trees, fountains, fica trees and tropical plants that bloom all year long hog their space and soak in the sun. Some homeowners put up plaques near the door indicating last names and where they originally hailed from – similar to flags from around the world on the masts of sailing ships that are docked at a foreign harbor – a lot from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota and Illinois. Those without mention nevertheless wave the banner of a favorite northern football team, hockey sticks, or an old license plate. Frank Sinatra blares from someone’s windows as a man hoses down his garden; from another house, Ritchie Valens croons how we belong together as a neighbor washes an already clean car; two seniors meet in the road and discuss a recent operation.
Naturally, once inside these houses, each life dictates its own rhythms of challenges, difficulties, hopes and accomplishments according to what and how it was lived out there in the real world, but as a visitor who ponders on the front lanai this place looks and feels like Pleasantville or Hill Valley from Back to the Future. Leaving the community requires a car, as the exit, invariably only turning right onto a three lane boulevard has few sidewalks. The air conditioned cars will take one to a fitness center, grocery store, restaurant, pharmacy, doctor’s office, or office, all lined up along the boulevards in fascinating regularity. A quarter mile down the road is another community, and on the other side of the boulevard, and past the three lanes going the opposite direction, are other communities and other commodity storefront. People come out to get what they need and do what they must before retreating once again to the safety and familiarity of a self-proclaimed identity.
But there’s only so many times Peggy Sue can get married. I’m leaving tomorrow for Naples,150 miles further south towards my new temporary digs.