First Words — 07 September 2014
South Florida: see it like a non-native

By Mark Gauert

For years, the only natives we knew here were our children.

We had seen them born in the delivery room, so we were sure – at least for in-state tuition purposes – they’d entered the world on South Florida soil. Or, well, delivery-room linoleum.

Everybody else we knew was from someplace else. New York. Ohio. New York. Port au Prince. New York. Caracas. New York.

Together we formed a United Nations – a United Boroughs – of non-natives, all sharing the same interstates, the Publix, the sandy patches of beach we claimed with umbrella stakes as our own. (At least until the meter in the parking lot expired).

Then our children grew up, and the only South Florida natives we knew began lives as non-natives themselves someplace else.

“You grew up in Florida?” people ask my son, now in California.

“Yes,” he says.

“Is it true you have bugs the size of mailboxes?”

Bugs the size of mailboxes! Ridiculous! Oh, the stereotypes people in other parts of the country have about South Florida.

Because we must correct such false, fantastical, groundless misinterpretations of our home – and because we needed a place to go while our home was being treated for bugs significantly smaller than mailboxes – we traveled out West this summer to see the Florida native in his non-native environment. He’d been living in the Golden State for about a year, and was he ever homesick. Except for the bug part. (Not that we have any!)

“What do I miss?” he said, looking up at the blank and pitiless sun of the San Joaquin Valley.


Not the weather?

“No, just weather,” he said. “Clouds. Rain. I miss thunder and lightning!”

Here was a South Florida native, living in a beautiful state people famously had crawled across deserts to get to, missing something so simple we take it for granted.

Our sky.

“No matter where you go, you just don’t have the clouds like we do here,” says Florida photographer – and former Californian – Clyde Butcher.

“I feel so lucky to live here,” says Lauren Tannehill, former Texan, who talks about her life with Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “Every day I wake up, I’m like, OK, this is like living a vacation.”

We have many reasons to feel lucky to live in South Florida, and several are featured in this issue. The best new restaurants, serving worldly influences.; the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, screening movies from around the globe; the higher educational system, attracting students from around the world; – and bugs demonstrably smaller than mailboxes!

If you are just back from vacation, seeing South Florida again with fresh eyes, maybe you will understand how I felt looking up at our sky, just off the red-eye from the West.

Sometimes you have to leave a place to know when you are home.


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