Why I Love Florida — Especially in 2020

Wet prairie with partly cloudy sky reflected in the water.
Payne’s Prairie in North Central Florida. Photo credit: Michele Sharpe

I love Florida because it knows how to take the heat. People from Florida can handle criticism, trash-talking, jokes made at our expense, and the outright contempt of others. Florida-bashing is a legacy sport, played for decades by folks who want to believe they come from a much better place. At least here in Florida, we have no illusions; we know we’re flawed.

In the Summer of 2020, while Covid-19 cases surged all over Florida and our governor played stupid, Florida-bashing in the rest of the country only got more mean-spirited and petty than usual.

Cartoon drawing of Florida as a mullet haircut over face of man with moustache and glasses

Well, y’all can keep on with this meanness if you feel called to do so, but it won’t make you any safer in these End Times. You’d be better off taking a few lessons in survival from the Sunshine State, where disaster is a way of life.

Disaster looms daily in Florida. There’s the natural disasters, like alligator attacks, nineteen-foot exotic snakes, hurricanes, collapsing sinkholes, sea-level rise, fire ants, algae blooms bigger than most states, and a loose kangaroo hopping around Fort Lauderdale. And don’t forget, Florida is #1 in the world in unprovoked shark attacks.

There’s the human-made disasters, too: the European genocides of Native people, the enslaving of Black people, the lynchings, the Jim Crow laws, the mass incarceration, and voter suppression and Republicans. Those last two are connected. Somehow, many Floridian families have survived all of these atrocities.

Many of us still vote Republican, even though we know the Republican politicians are more corrupt and incompetent than the Democrat ones. But once those Republicans get elected in Florida, we hate them. The current governor, Ron DeSantis, is rivaling Donald Trump for who has killed the most people via government incompetence. He’s following in the footsteps of his predecessor Rick Scott, who spawned a cottage industry making popular “Rick Scott is an asshole” bumper stickers and t-shirts.

Tweet from 9–11–20 showing billboard with message “Killing Florida with his stupidity, Ron DeathSantis
Tweet from 9–11–20 showing billboard with message “Killing Florida with his stupidity, Ron DeathSantis

But we have trouble with long term memory. Thankfully, in an emergency, our muscle memory kicks in. When news of the pandemic reached Florida, everyone ran out to the supermarket and bought beer, BBQ supplies, bottled water, and toilet paper. We filled up the gas tanks of our vehicles. Like it was a hurricane.

Like a lot of traumatized people, many of us Floridians have trouble practicing self-care. Out of habit, some of us keep trying to punish ourselves the way some alcoholics keep drinking even though it’s not in their interest to do so. Some of us dismissed the idea of wearing masks to protect our communities from Covid-19 (even camo masks!) because it’s our habit to punish ourselves as well as those around us. Well forgive us for being human. We’re not the only ones.

While we have our share of jerks, most Floridians are friendly, open, and polite. We can’t help it; it’s sunny here. We don’t spend much time with our heads squished down into our necks as we endure biting winds, cold rain, blizzards, or ice storms like you poor folks up North. Instead, we open our arms and faces to the sky and to other people.

We tend to be less judgmental than our neighbors to the North, since there but for the grace of God we all go in some embarrassing “Florida Man” or “Florida Woman” headline, like “Florida Woman Dances Naked with Alligator.” Could be us; could be our grandma.

Sure, it gets hot. But guess what? Global warming means the heat is coming for everyone. We’re prepared. We know how to take the heat because we live in the kitchen.

Florida cypress swamp with gnarled roots and red cardinal flower
Florida cypress swamp with cardinal flower. Photo credit: Michele Sharpe

Florida is beautiful, complicated, and surprising. Some days, I’m so thankful to be here, I kiss everything I see. Except the reptiles.

Deep in the lizard brain of every Floridian lies our collective memory of palm trees swaying in warm breezes. There’s also our memories of the most recent Republican atrocities, like how Republicans have pillaged our statedisenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters, and denied working people the unemployment benefits they needed in this pandemic.

I’m hoping all our suffering isn’t for nothing, that we’ll reject the ways we’ve been used and abused by the GOP, and we’ll rise up like Adrienne Barbeau and The Swamp Thing to spread love, science, and good will across our state.

And if Florida flips blue in the next election, I’ll be kissing every reptile I see.

[Originally published on Medium.]

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