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Why I Left Crazy South Beach For Lazy Central Florida

April 20, 2009 By Doug in Miami: Local News  | 20 Comments

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As a place to visit, Miami’s South Beach offers charms like no other adult vacation destination: sun-drenched beaches, stylish accommodations, and a lusty nightlife.  Your senses are overloaded with a dazzling array of colors, smells, rhythms and tastes as soon as you arrive. Indeed, people flock there from all nations, eager to have a little sensual escape from their often less-dazzling existences back home. 

After a day of frolicking in the electric turquoise surf and sunning in the sand, they parade along Lincoln Road or Española Way at nightfall, still smelling of piña colada-scented sunblock, clad in white linen or sexy beachwear, their eyes catching sight of artfully-presented entrees being served to sexy diners outside stylish cafes.

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They watch the coconut palms rustle in the evening breezes, displacing South American parrots, as the backbeat of a distant trance melody hits their ears, and they think, “Screw home, this is what living is all about!”

Ah, Miami! It’s a city where no one knows your name, and you really don’t want them to, a place where you can momentarily shed your façade and experience life at a greater intensity, without ever setting down your mojito.

LIVING ON VACATION

However, for those who’ve become so smitten by the Magic City’s charms that they’ve decided to make a permanent home there, these same selling points that make it such a vibrant getaway can turn into liabilities fairly quickly. Many make the move and lose themselves in that 24-hour party buzz for a few months or a year, only to burn out.  Others commit to defining the city on their own terms, carving out comparatively normal lives on the sidelines of the club culture, only to discover that there’s not much else to do when the sun goes down: all this carefree transience that makes South Florida such a fun place to visit also robs it of any resilient sense of chummy neighborhoodiness.  As a result, locals can be abrupt and self-involved.  After a while, it can start to feel like you’re swimming upstream, or stuck on a roller coaster in Six Flags.

Similarly, that savage sun that kicks the sexiness up a notch during your dream vacation begins to get tiring after a couple of weeks. In order to remedy this, locals have two options:

  1. Become a vampire.  They say the hours on South Beach are 9 to 5 and 9 to 5.  For those who choose the darker version of the two, it is very easy to become a creature of the night on the Beach.  Unfortunately, however, the temptations are greatest during the moonlight hours, and you’ll experience much of the same vice that inspired the Don Johnson show.
  2. Run for the shade.  South Floridians become accustomed to hopping from one air-conditioned room to the next, and when their journeys inevitably take them outdoors, they seek out the shadows wherever they may find them.  The only problem is, unlike the locals, palm trees aren’t very shady.

While many would argue the merits of living on vacation, the statistics do show that the vast majority of people who move to the area tend to leave within five years.  For anyone contemplating a move to South Florida—or an escape for that matter—it would be useful to become familiar with these factors lead people to tire of the seemingly paradisiacal life there.

GOOD-BYE CITY LIFE

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For me, it was the sheer claustrophobia of it all that led me to move away from this otherwise fascinating place.  Basically, this little corner of South Florida is a flat—albeit well-landscaped—urban sprawl nudged in between a swamp and the ocean.  Most remaining open land has been allocated for golf.  Unless your income is substantial enough to afford a home with a private yard or patio, you’ll be sharing your outdoor space with other people nearly all the time…people with worldviews who frequently clash with your own.

Can you trust them to fix your car for a fair price? Will they look out for you at the doctor’s office? Or will they be on the next plane to Bogota? That sense of unknowingness that gives the city an air of mystery on a vacation can bequeath it a sense of mistrust on the everyday level.

Hence, many like me eventually have their Green Acres moment, and opt for fresh air over Times Square.  The vast majority of those having this epiphany in South Florida set their sights on booming North Carolina. 

DELAND OF MILK AND HONEY?

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I, on the other hand, opted for Central Florida, moving to a small college berg of about 28,000 called DeLand, located about four and a half hours north of Miami.  The times I’d passed through it in the past, I was impressed by its ability to retain a flavor of old Florida.  Unlike many downtowns throughout the Sunshine State, it managed to preserve a certain down-home Mayberry quality to it, a walkable core with a prize-winning, villagey main street.  Its Wal-Mart and Publix exiled to the edge of town, the heart of the city felt timeless and cozy, kind of like a Thornton Wilder play.  I figured that the college population from its resident Stetson University, combined with nearby skydiving facilities, would ensure a sense of youthful energy in an otherwise sleepy, moss-laden Southern town.

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Ideally situated between Orlando and Daytona Beach, DeLand’s location suggested that it would be possible to enjoy the best of city life and the best of rural life.

The latter scared me—small town living was not something I’d experienced at any point in my adult life.  I wondered if I would fit in, or if I’d find crosses burning on the front lawn.  I’d concluded in the end that the Internet had transformed life as we know it, and that my concerns were overblown.

And while on the southern fringes of the Bible Belt, Volusia County did nonetheless tolerate a certain philosophical diversity: just 7 miles away, the Spiritualist town of Cassadaga brought in metaphysical and New Age aficionados from the world over.

The most promising part about my decision to move here? I would be trading in my boxy South Beach one bedroom apartment for a sprawling 2 bedroom, 1925 Florida bungalow, complete with front and rear porches, as well as a detached two car garage.  It sat on a good half acre grassy lot with towering pine trees, sabal palms, azalea bushes, and a picturesque camphor tree, with nightly serenades by hoot owls and crickets. 

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CAN’T LIVE WITH IT, CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT

But would all this country serenity outshine the lights of South Beach? Was it enough to think of that deco-dent kingdom as an occasional pressure valve? Did it have more appeal as the road less traveled? Or would the excitement and sophistication of the city lure me back? Well, a year has now come and gone since I made the leap.  And my hindsight has been illuminating, to say the least.  I found that many of my preconceptions of Central Florida were flawed, while others were right on.  Next week, I’ll separate the fact from the delusions, debunking five myths, both good and bad, of Central Florida living.

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Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

Douglas Eames is a freelance writer, homespun philosopher and budget bon vivant who divides his time between Southern California and South Beach.

See more articles by Doug.

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20 Comments on

"Why I Left Crazy South Beach For Lazy Central Florida"

Mike says:

After living on South Beach for the past 7 years, I can certainly understand why many people “crash and burn” when they move here.  It has certainly taken some resilience to last this long.  Having lived 1/4 block off of Bourbon Street prior to moving here, however, I can say that the transience and downside is far worse in New Orleans.  I’ve found that the key to living peacefully on South Beach is to live on the fringe… not in the mix.  Forget the clubs.  Go for the pubs!

Posted on 04/20/2009 at 1:06 PM

Sungal says:

When you moved out of south beach did you consider mid-beach or maybe Coral Gables? The guy I’m dating now has a 2 bed/2bath apt with a nice balcony. Also 2 garage parking spaces, and in a building with a gym and pool. Can you get a bit more for your money in mid-beach?

The one thing that annoys me about where I live in sobe—Everyone is on holiday except me. If I walk on Lincoln to get take out from Pascha’s there are tons of people enjoying a leisurely dinner. If I go to the beach for an hour I see all the tourists on their cushy chairs sipping pina colodas.
And sometimes I just get the urge to go out at night because I think, everyone else in town is partying it up..why am I staying in?

I really can’t wait to get another job so I can have a sense of normalcy. It’s very hard to tell myself, you are not on vacation like everyone else.
That’s the main problem for me.

I’m glad you found a place with lots of private outdoor space!

Posted on 04/20/2009 at 3:09 PM

Doug says:

Mike, I’m with you on the French Quarter, being a New Orleanian myself.  The nightly vampire tours, muggings, and general tourist trapitis sent me packing to the Lower Garden District after a couple of years, which felt a lot more homey.

Sungal, I did look in Mid-Beach; my landlord even owned a subdivided house just south of Arthur Godfrey Drive on Royal Palm.  We could’ve shared a back yard with the other tenants in the house, but that still wouldn’t be really private.  Keep in mind my total budget for rent is under $1000 a month.  To get our own place with a yard, it’s going to go at least a little higher than that.  And also, keep in mind that even if you are lucky enough to find a peaceful neighborhood in Mid-Beach, you’re surrounded by impatient traffic on all sides.

I would’ve enjoyed a nice backyard bungalow behind some Coral Gables mansion, assuming the owners weren’t too intrusive.  If it were near a walkable area like Miracle Mile.  But then there is still the ever-present social alienation of Miami to contend with.  Its transience makes lasting friendships and the “neighborhood bar” thing almost obsolete.  People are much more mistrustful and/or surface-friendly, since every con artist and his cousin set their sights on South Florida.  Unfortunately, this is becoming the way of the world these days.

Posted on 04/20/2009 at 4:35 PM

Sungal says:

I meant to include the rent that my friend is paying $1500..I thought it was a good deal..

In NYC they call backyard bungalow carriage houses, and they’re always in high demand.

So you’re saying mid beach is not walkable?

Doug, I think a good idea for your next article would be to write a little blurb about each area in Miami..or maybe that would be too long..I think I’d like to learn more about mid-beach and Brickell..

Posted on 04/20/2009 at 8:06 PM

Doug says:

No, I do think Mid-Beach is pretty walkable, if you’re not adverse to crossing wide, busy highways.  It’s just that almost every time you want to venture out of your little bubble of tranquility (in your car), you’re going to have to hop into some pretty heavy traffic.  I like the basic layout of Miami Beach, I just think that it’s become way too overcrowded, due in part to the overdevelopment with all those high-rise condos.  I recently had the opportunity to compare it with another urban beach community, namely Ocean Beach in San Diego, and the restriction on high-rises out there really keeps the traffic down.

Posted on 04/20/2009 at 9:40 PM

pod says:

Being on the fringes is the trick. My business is nightlife, in a support role, not in a primary role. Thus, it doesn’t matter what is hot this season or not, the nightclubs need the services that my website provides. Plus they can’t get enough of our resident muckrakers, hacks, pseudo-journalists, and real talented writer types on occasion.

So whatever’s hot this season, I really don’t care. To be honest I find the current hipster culture that’s finally ebbing to be quite distasteful. But I don’t mind their money.

As for burning out, yeah I’ve seen that happen so many times. I’ve been in South Florida for twelve years now, and have seen people come and go, often in a season or less. They get here, hit the party scene, do lots of drugs (yes, they all do drugs), probably catch an STD or three, and then the season after they are burnt out to a crisp. They move to more laid back locales, or to New York, where it’s usually “so much better…”.

Posted on 04/20/2009 at 11:57 PM

Jess says:

Doug, once again your writing hit home with me. Loved the article, especially the two types of 9-5 jobs. I am one of the only people I know working daytime 9-5…and most of my friends are the vampires.
I’m not following you to central Florida yet though, I’ve only just settled in after being inspired by your relocating to South Beach story!

Posted on 04/21/2009 at 10:43 AM

Doug says:

Thanks again, Jess.  Your kind words are much appreciated.

I think a lot of it has to do with where you’re at in your life at the moment.  If you’re in your 20’s, single, and have a job that gives you an after work social circle, you can more easily overcome the liabilities I described, and really enjoy life there.

Since I’m…ahem…a little past the 20’s…not really on the prowl, and work mostly at home on the computer, South Beach’s shell was a little harder to crack for me.  But I still enjoy it on many other levels.  There’s nothing like enjoying a nice tuna tartar and a glass of wine in the evening moonlight on Lincoln Road while a lilting samba plays.  It may just be more appealing for me as an occasional indulgence than a steady diet.

Posted on 04/21/2009 at 12:36 PM

Lukasz Kn. Dykacz says:

First I left for Ft.Lauderdale where I pay 25% of what I paid on Miami Beach and only live three more blocks from the ocean than on South Beach. There are bars and a famous night club with live acts around the corner. Then the local book stores closed and the antiquities shops - I used to go to the Shows on Lincoln Road before they became boring and listless - so now I spend half a year in France and England and half a year in Ft.Lauderdale. I must say I don’t miss the Beach with its traffic, not-too-bright cops, and prices beyond human imagination, and service at restaurants that you won’t give a Nazi war crimminal!

Posted on 04/23/2009 at 1:22 AM

Doug says:

That sounds like a nice life, Lucasz! I would love to be able to spend half a year in Europe.  I did a little looking around Fort Lauderdale before heading north, but it felt pretty hard to get around on foot (unless you’re downtown by Las Olas and the Riverwalk), and walking is a big thing for me.

Posted on 04/23/2009 at 1:40 AM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Great article, Doug.  I’m glad you only focused on South Beach, which is what you experienced directly.  Life is different on the mainland though, but nothing quite like Central Florida, I’m sure.

Posted on 04/30/2009 at 1:10 PM

Doug says:

Thanks, Maria! I do want to emphasize that the article isn’t really a diatribe against Miami, per se, because it’s still a place I love to escape to, but my thinking at the moment is that it works better for me as an escape, an occasional indulgence, kind of like a piece of key lime pie. 

I did get over to the mainland quite a bit during my time in South Beach, and while it was less dense, it seems like it would be kind of hard to connect with people like you would in a city where there were lots of coffeehouses and other informal social hobknobbing spots.  I really enjoyed the Books & Books in Coral Gables, though! They have lots of fun community goings on.

If I were able to zero in on the right neighborhood in a place with a private jungle-yard, with a decent informal social scene, I could easily see myself living there again!

Posted on 04/30/2009 at 8:55 PM

William says:

Nonsense, South Miami is just another name for Sodom & Gomorrah. It doesn’t surprise me that people only last for 5 years before leaving. Having experienced South Beach and South Florida for the past 4 years I am so ready to leave it behind…....for good!

Posted on 10/15/2009 at 11:40 AM

Doug says:

Thanks for your comment, William.  I won’t say that your perspective is untrue at all, just that some people are drawn to it simply because it can be a Sodom & Gomorrah.  Nobody wants to turn into a pillar of salt, but it can be refreshing to get away from other locales who push their values on you more frequently.  If the values are about treating people ethically, that’s nice, but if it’s “why weren’t you in church this Sunday”, it could get a bit old.

Posted on 10/15/2009 at 11:55 AM

William says:

I completely agree you with Doug, no one likes it when others push their values on someone else. I often said that South Miami is good to visit but to live - well that’s another story. Don’t let me get started about the latins out here or the way people treat one another in Miami….. I could go on & on - Jeez Louise!

Posted on 10/15/2009 at 12:13 PM

Kadie says:

Being born and raised (and still here) in Deland, ive always viewed it as bland. Have you ever been to Asheville NC? Its has the old charm of Deland but with a great downtown ‘scene’ (if thats what you would call it), and ive always prefured it to deland

By the way, this might sound weird but, do you mind telling me where that hill is in the photo below ‘deland of milk and honey’? We have a circle of longboard skateboarders and that hill looks sizable =]

Posted on 05/13/2010 at 3:23 AM

Doug says:

Hi Kadie, Sorry I didn’t see your post as I no longer write for the website.  The photo you mentioned was taken on West Rich Avenue near High Street.  I have not yet been to Asheville, but it’s definitely on my list of places to visit!

Posted on 01/01/2015 at 6:39 PM

luc dyrkacz says:

I paid 100 grand for a three bedroom house with huge mango trees n I have citrus trees n vegetable n fruit plants in front n back here in ft Lauderdale six parking spaces in front n in the driveway n I can walk to entertainment government buildings n shopping. Let my former south beach neighbors sit in traffic as I walk everywhere.

Posted on 01/01/2015 at 8:49 PM

Doug says:

Sounds great! What neighborhood are you in? It must be close to Las Olas!

Posted on 01/01/2015 at 10:55 PM

ELIE SINGER says:

HEY IM 21 GOING ON 22 IM PLANIN ON VISITING SOUTH MIAMI BEACH IS THERE ANYTHING I SHOULD BE ALERT ABOUT OTHER THEN THE GAY LIFE

Posted on 04/18/2015 at 9:08 PM

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