Editor’s note: We’re turning this space over to an actual snowbird this issue – contributing writer Dave Wieczorek, a former South Floridian who now lives in Chicago. It’s been a long, hard winter for him, and for everyone, of course, up north. It’s easy, sometimes, for us to forget how easy we have it here, December through April. Dave gives us reasons to remember – and to appreciate – as we splash around in free-flowing water, stretch out under a warm sun and page through a swimwear issue as winter begins to release its icy grasp, everywhere else.
It was a grimly gray, bone-freezing stretch of winter in the middle of January, mountains of record-breaking snow loomed on either side of us. A car up ahead at the stoplight carried a Florida license plate and a Florida Atlantic University sticker. Buddy, I wanted to shout through my frosted windshield: “Turn around before it’s too late – head back south!” No one in his right mind would be in Chicago at this moment if South Florida were an option.
Thirty-five years ago this month, April 1979, my wife and I moved to Fort Lauderdale, frostbitten and frustrated after one of the harshest Chicago winters on record. More than 18 inches of snow in just one day. Minus 19 degrees below zero another. Winds that sliced like a scythe. For the next 21 years, we experienced the kind of warming bliss that lures so many people to the subtropics.
Fourteen years ago, due to the career winds of fate, we returned to our place of birth – and from December through April I’ve been moaning daily ever since. The sun, the beach, the salty air, the balmy nights, they seeped into my blood, thinning it forever.
Which brings me to the winter of 2013-2014, surely the worst in Chi-beria history in terms of total snow accumulation and number of subzero days.
“No realistic, sane person goes around Chicago without protection,” Windy City novelist Saul Bellow once famously said. He was referring to the ruffians who befouled the urban streets but could just as credibly have been indicting the relentless assaults from winter.
Just to make year-round residents and snowbirds from Miami to Palm Beach feel smug: We survived, barely, nearly 75 inches of snow and 26 days when the temperature plunged below what it ought to have. Midwesterners grump about their nasty, seemingly endless winters, but really they take a perverse pride in bragging how they pull on six layers of cotton and wool to walk the dog down to the corner and back. Polar vortex, which sounds like a futuristic term for torture? Bring it on, Chi-berians say.
Not me. I’d trade my snow shovel for a sand shovel quicker than you can say “wind-chill warning.” I prefer T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops 365. If I never hear the growling of snow blowers up and down the street ever again it will be too soon.
During our 21 years in South Florida, I heard all the cliché complaints about the subtropics: It’s too hot and humid in summer, too many snowbirds clog the roads in winter, too many bugs that bug you. I’ll take a bit of discomfort any day when the only thing that brings a brief thaw during a Chicago winter is the arrival in February of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. About then I learned that swimwear would also be the cover of this month’s City & Shore. Shaken from my Icelandic nightmare, I awoke in Margaritaville.
When we saw a few blades of grass, brown though they were, poking through the melting snow in mid-March, we broke out the marching bands to celebrate. In South Florida when the sun burned off the morning cloud cover in March, I used to break out a beach chair and the 50 SPF sunblock.
To survive the seasons of my discontent, one must have a mind of winter, as Wallace Stevens proposed in his poem The Snow Man. The proper perspective, though, from my point of view, is from the beach, watching the sun rise on another 80-degree day in Fort Lauderdale or Pompano or Boca.
The memories of our arrival in South Florida 35 years ago are still warm, and memories of the past 14 winters are chilling to a frightful degree. The next time I see a car carrying a Florida license plate, I want it to be mine again – without a mind of winter.
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