Why I Left Crazy South Beach For Lazy Central Florida
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.
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:
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
You Deserve More Than an Ordinary Vacation.
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