Bicentennial Florida Vacation
Continuation of Sunday, July 2nd Blast (from the Past)
Banks are a big thing in this section of Florida. Huge white structures that seem to rise, Phoenix like, from the sands. They are invariably tall, square, white (squinty-white) buildings dominating horizons and telling everyone: “I’m clean! I’m stable! Just look at me, so square, so white, so unshakable. Bring me your money and don’t worry --- it’s safe.” These banks are big on symbols, too --- lots of eagles (stylized, of course): formidable logos make good banking. They all look as though they’ve been designed by a guy who heard one Frank Lloyd Wright lecture (probably on tape) and decided he really understood form and structure, art and the environment, man and his architecture.
The only edifice that can challenge a mall or a bank around here is a condominium. These appear, to the untrained eye, to be high-rise apartment buildings. No so. Certainly, there are high-rise apartment buildings along the coast --- and high-rise(rate) hotels for tourists. But developers have discovered cluster housing and, given their clientele (older people and “retirees”) have decided: “No space? Stack’em! Give’m the ocean and a pool or two, an apartment with enough trappings to make it seem ‘homey,’ have all the ‘services’ taken care of for one all-inclusive fee and we’ll call it a ‘condominium.’” Better to call it by its first six letters since these people shoot a load of dough into these places for what seems to be getting an apartment you could simply rent.
Since this is a big suburb --- and most of the folks are older --- the highways and byways are very important to the “industry” and life here. Lots of highways and turnpikes and the like --- all major roads --- have their lanes and exit-ramps marked with raised-rubber (or metal?) “bumps.” These “indicators” (for want of a better word) divide lanes. Some are amber and some are white --- designating the “safe” side from the “caution” side and they are, I’m sure, great safety factors (and a Southern luxury, since they won’t be plowed into oblivion after a first snowfall). I can’t help but feel, though, that, given this population, these curious little indicator/road-minders are simply this: Braille for cars.
The mass media in this section of Florida is a universe unto itself. FM radio from the Miami area is not hip, avant-garde, jazz, or rock. It is not classical or talk. It is two things: Top-40 rock or dentist’s office Muzak. It has been caught up in the pervading commercialism of convertibles and age-extremes and that’s what its settled for.
Television is another matter. This is the place that made Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas “stars.” Their gossipy little talk shows, their prepubescent intellects, their “cuteness,” their weak voices but clean cut approach, make them naturals here. They could transmit live from Key Biscayne and never have to worry about packing the house from now until Social Security runs out. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Norman Lear’s satire soap opera shown at 11 p.m. in New York (WNEW), is shown on the PBS station at 7:30 p.m. (the “kidult” hour) from Miami.
Two more notes: one good, one bad. I’ve seen more anchorwomen and female reporters here than anywhere (a plus) but I’ve also seen more homemade commercials (“Hi, I’m Milton Moore and I’m here to tell you about the Moore Store in Binko Beach where you get more for your money and more on your . . . ) than I’ll ever care to see.
Well, as usual there’s only a 20% chance for rain tomorrow. The rain seems to sneak in when you’re asleep at night or while you’re in some air-conditioned mall. It leaves puddles but seldom confronts you. Too much rain, of course, would upset the balance everyone and everything has worked to achieve here. This corner of Florida is, indeed, that “place in the sun “ many worked long and hard for. And it surely is that vacation paradise many are still working for. Maybe it’s my own jaded perspective --- that same thing that makes me so uncomfortable as a tourist --- which causes me to scrutinize this area so thoroughly. It’s just that the implications of this society/environment do give me pause; they jostle my values cart. The harder I look, the more I see an environment predicated on consumer growth for many unnecessary --- or media created --- “needs;” a society growing disjoint --- polarizing age groups, races, “natives,” and “tourists;” a society demanding energy in unrealistic amounts; a profit motive big-for-the-sake-of-big culture. Indeed, I was a tourist this past week --- a hippie tourist, if that’s possible --- looking for the sand and sun and tan. Yes, I found myself in Lum’s, in the midst of this Mall-American state and I discovered I was upset with myself. But more than that, I think it was everything around me, everything that led me there and was then (now?) preying upon me, which led to these notes.
But hell, don’t take my word for it. Go to Lum’s. Get the BaconBurger Banquet with a cold Michelob and sit back and look around. You decide. What do I know? I’m just a middle-class hippie on vacation.
April 21, 1976 2 a.m.
Final Thoughts: Re-reading this essay 41 years after it was written is pretty interesting. Seeing that I had never experienced raised-road dividers before and remembering how important FM Radio was in those years both date the piece, as does the comment about female news-people. The essay was written pre-cable broadcasting and just as cassette tapes were taking off. It was the beginning of the Steinbrenner Yankees in New York, which was then a city in serious decline. The last section’s (X) concern about society, about seeing Florida in 1976 as a distant precursor to our current divisions as well as our wildly consumer-driven, energy eating world made me feel this was worth sharing on Independence Day weekend, 2017.
Happy Birthday, U.S. of A.