Peregrine in Paradise: First Impressions of Life in the Sunshine
My first take on Florida (forget that I've been here before,
that was vacation, this is a look-see exploration-do-I-maybe-want-to
immigrate-again-eek trip) was supreme irritation at the idiocy
rampant at Miami international airport. Damn trolleys! After trekking
across the world via Amsterdam, I finally made it to Miami 22
hours later, only to arrive at arrivals (duh!) to be told by a
big Island dude in a uniform, that you cannot take the trolleys
(called "carts" I believe in US lingo) beyond the arrivals
hall to your car. I was thrilled of course to see that Clive*
was nowhere in sight either. So I stood around next to the dude
wondering what the heck to do, I couldn't very well schlep my
own suitcases outside to look for Clive. How on earth can an airport
prevent someone from taking the luggage cart to his or her car?
What do the never-ending influx of geriatrics do? How can they
schlep luggage while walking their walkers at the same time? I
was pondering all this as my clothes became sodden in the Miami
humidity, when Clive appeared!
I barely recognized him - his hair had gone golden from the sun,
he'd slimmed down and he was clutching a big bunch of red roses.
I think the first thing I said to him was - "Americans are
so dumb, how can we expected to leave the trolley here?"
He looked perplexed - what was this exhausted looking lil' redhead
mumbling about trolleys for?
Anyway, we dumped the trolley and my muscular boyfriend schlepped
my luggage to the car. Well actually, he tried to; the problem
was that we couldn't find the car! He remembered the name of the
garage but it comprised 6 levels and was rather big. So we had
a lovely walking tour of the Pelican Garage of Miami Airport.
We even saw some wildlife -- a big rat. Nothing in this country
is small. Well, one exception springs to mind - the brain of George
W. Bush (can I get deported for saying that?). So, sometime later,
we finally found the car and the exit. The drive from Miami to
Delray Beach, where we were headed, took about an hour. Some other
weird American perversions were spotted along the way. On Florida
toll roads, instead of throwing money at a human trapped in a
little cubicle, you just throw the money (and I mean throw!) into
a sort of basin beside the lane. Somehow the falling coins activate
the tollgate - a veritable marvel to behold. There is also a special
lane on the highway for carpools (i.e. more than 2 people in a
car) and G-d help you if you're caught alone in that lane! With
no bomb scares or violence in these parts, the cops have nothing
better to do than to be on the lookout for sneaky single drivers
driving in the carpool lane.
Actually, come to think of it, there is one more thing top of
the Police Force's agenda here: Trees! In Clive's parent's neighborhood,
their ever-vigilant neighborhood residents association mandates
how many trees you can have in your yard. There has to be a minimum
of four! And God help you if you try to pass a shrub off as a
tree. They'll tar and feather you in fertilizer, and don't even
bother dialing 911, the cops uphold the bylaws set by the residents
association. In addition to the tree quota, before you get out
those axes and gardening shears, you better check the state law!
Clive's parents have a huge olive tree in their front garden,
which they are obsessed with replacing with a boring, characterless
palm tree! Personally, I was horrified. It has nothing to do with
our shared roots harking back to Israel - a Florida olive tree
looks nothing like an Israeli one - it has to do with murdering
a damn nice tree. Surely there are anti-tree abortionist organizations
over here. Luckily, the state legislature foresaw the victimization
of defenseless olive trees and stepped in to ban their uprootment.
Yes, it is illegal to kill an olive tree in the state of Florida.
It's okay to kill your ex-wife and her friend - ask OJ Simpson,
he lives the good life in South Florida - but hands off those
olive trees! I wonder if there is a death penalty on it? We are
in Florida after all where they love to fire up the electric chair.
So my housemate's name is Tom, he's 34 and a very cool dude.
He was with the coast guard for 10 years - his whole house is
done up in the sea motif and filled with stuff he's collected
on his travels to Australia, Far East etc. Tom is a great chef
and loves cooking - much to delight of me and Clive! If we wash
up he is happy to keep cooking for us. Anyway, I have my own room
and bathroom and the whole house is air-conditioned. We also have
a hot tub (jaccuzzi)! I have had the pleasure of meeting Tom's
sister and brother - a real adventure into meeting different Americans.
His brother is a fertilizer salesman from North Florida, and his
sister (Betsy) and brother-in-law are real characters! The brother-in-law
is the spitting image of Willy Nelson, complete with US flag bandana,
tattoos, long braids etc. He is often mistaken for Willy and usually
plays along. He gets mobbed now and again too. Now Troy (that's
Willy's twin) and his wife are from rural Tennessee - and they
are the kind of folk whom I have never met in my life. The real
salt of the earth rural Americans. He was a steel miner, and is
in the American Militia! They also believe considerably in the
legalization of marijuana. I found it fascinating talking to them,
seeing pictures of the cabin they live in, in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, they couldn't understand a word of my accent, but they
nodded politely and kept talking to me. It was quite scary emerging
from my room in the morning to see Betsy brushing out Troy's waist
length hair and braiding it. I enjoyed their visit immensely -
especially after I realized Betsy had totally cleaned my bathroom.
Tom mentioned afterwards that she is a compulsive cleaner. I hope
she visits again.
Being out of the war zone is truly amazing. It took me a week
to unwind and stop jumping every time I heard a bang. July 4th
was still a challenge for me! People seemingly live here without
a care in the world. My favorite comedy on TV here is the local
Five 'o Clock news. They are extremely dramatic in describing
the silliest news story. Last week, amidst much seriousness and
puckered lips, they announced a big breaking story that police
had arrested a prescription drugs gang! Middle age housewives...
The only other news is usually the weather...."and in breaking
news this hour, it's been confirmed, today is HOT." or "we
now go down to the hurricane center for the latest hurricane update.
Scott, how does it look?"
Scott: "Still no hurricane Sally. But one is forecast in
the next three years, so come back to us every half an hour, just
I haven't had much time to watch TV - but what I did manage to
see is the much talked about "Weakest Link" quiz show
and the ridiculous "Fear Factor." For those of you lucky
enough not to have seen the latter show, it's about six particularly
stupid people who compete for $50,000 by agreeing to do particularly
stupid scary things like lie in a coffin full of maggots, or eat
human flesh. Is there nothing that Americans will not stoop to
(I hate rhetoric questions.)
I'm still looking for a car -- seems cheaper to buy than rent;
cell phone - also cheaper to buy than rent etc. It's misleading
to think that everything is easier here! The language may be English
but there is such a plethora of services and variety, that it
takes forever to decide on anything. For example - Bellsouth does
my local phone line, but they have no long distance plan. There
are 300 long distance telephone companies here - all with varying
rates and you have to sign up with one. Hence the reason I still
have not made any overseas calls! I long for Bezek, can you believe
It seems the general populace delights in schlepping around to
the various mega stores such as Target, Kmart, Publix, Albertsons,
99c Store etc. Shopping is very much part of the culture here
- people seem to live in these stores always on the hunt for a
bargain, armed with their little bargain coupons. Floridians spend
many an hour stooped over their local newspapers clipping and
saving their precious coupons. I think to be a cashier here requires
an MBA! Even Israelis could learn from Floridians! Another psychosis
I've discovered centers around food storage. After a meal in a
restaurant, Floridians bring any leftovers home. That includes
half a slice of cake, a few lettuce leaves or a quarter baked
potato. Of course this poses a huge problem for me. I have never
eaten everything off my plate, so Floridians look at my leftovers
with jealous delight as they coerce me into bringing it all home
for tomorrow's lunch. How do I tell them that I have no use for
three French fries in a state of advanced rigamortis?
My greatest happiness here is undoubtedly the ocean! I am now
the proud owner of flippers and goggles - I go swimming a few
times a week around sunset. The waves are gentle and beautiful;
I have never swum in the sea before. I mean I have jumped around
and been thrown about by big waves, but I've never really swum
with flippers and a board. I love it! I enjoy going in deep and
swimming around. And don't get your tits in a tangle worrying
about shark attacks. One kid had his arm bitten off last week
and I already had dear Mom on the phone urging me to beware of
the sharks in Florida! No shark is going to go for me, I'm not
even a snack worth, and he'd have nothing for leftovers the next
My work colleagues might be interested to know, that I finally
attended a reform "shul" service last night. I went
for the cultural experience. Well, it was certainly an experience.
Not a very long experience mind you, as I couldn't take more than
about 10 minutes. I still haven't processed it all - it was extremely
weird. I felt like I'd entered a hybrid matriarchal coven and
geriatric church. On the raised "pulpit" were three
women -- the chazan in a red robe, some elderly matriarch in bright
green, and some other old chick in bright orange. I kept asking
questions as to who they were, but the congregants didn't seem
to have a clue either. Most of the service was in English with
people in their dotage (mainly) reading aloud in unison. Frankly,
it was hilarious and I stood biting my lip throughout. Then I
lapsed into deep thought. Is it better that these folk recognize
their Jewishness in this way? Is it more logical for English speakers
to do a service in English rather than rattle off stuff in Hebrew
without knowing what we are saying? If I had a choice between
this and nothing, what would I choose? It felt so foreign to me,
so devoid of spiritual upliftment. It felt cold, like a church
service, and the chazan's singing was eerie. And yet, this was
a huge population of the world's only experience of Judaism. The
whole experience left me with lots of questions....
I am now MOBILE. I have taken to the roads in my rather bizarre-looking
Toyota Echo rental vehicle. My family once owned an over-pedigreed
Scottish terrier named Cleo (the name was not my idea!) who used
to suffer from the aptly named disorder, Scotiasis. What has this
to do with the Toyota Echo you ask? Well, as a consequence of
Cleo's scotiasis, she would run a few meters and then trip over
her own little front legs sending her rear end up into the air.
The shape of the Toyota Echo looks like it is caught in a perpetual
Scotiasis spasm - it has a very high rear end. This abnormality
took some getting used to. As you all know, I am not accustomed
to having a big rear end like most Americans. I have, as a substitute,
acquired a pseudo rear-end for driving with the help of a rather
large velveteen pillow which enables me to see over the dashboard
and beyond the boot (read trunk for Americanese).
At first, I was rather nervous driving. Actually, I was panic-stricken.
As you know, we drive on the left in South Africa, and though
I have my Israeli license, I have never had the balls to drive
there. So there I was, back in the driver's seat, repeating my
mantra nervously under my breath: "Right and right, not left
not left...." Having gotten used to the weird proportions
of my Echo, I am now feeling extremely confident behind the wheel.
It is fabulous to be independent again and not to have to "manually"
drag home my grocery shopping. In Israel I could only buy what
I could carry, which given my matchstick frame, is not much alas!
So you can imagine my joy, driving 3 minutes to a choice of 16
supermarkets, selecting what I want in an orderly, air-conditioned
store, and driving home. G-d Bless America!
One thing I have noticed however about living here, is that in
many ways it is far more dangerous INSIDE the supermarkets than
on the roads. You've heard of road rage, well, it seems to me
that all the geriatric inhabitants of South Florida express their
pent up rage with their shopping carts. It's like kamikaze bumper-cars
in there! Just today, as I was doing a pre-shabbat shop in Albertsons,
I was side swiped by a trolley belonging to a 3-foot woman with
a goiter the size of a golf ball on her neck. Not two minutes
later, I had a head-on collision with an old man who looked like
a cemetery escapee. He had bi-focals as thick as George W. Bush's
skull, but I still don't think he saw me. Perhaps the scariest
apparition to haunt the isles of American supermarkets, is the
elderly in motorized shopping carts (in effect a wheelchair joined
to a cart). They tear down the aisles with gay abandon frightening
other geriatrics, no doubt in revenge, who are still able to push
their carts. One has to be especially careful when proceeding
from one aisle to another, as these lunatics take corners at top
speeds. I can well understand that these elderly folk don't get
out much, but I seriously think they should not be let loose on
the innocent American public. At least not unless they have been
properly sedated. The luge-wannabees, not the public.
Oh the joys of living in America! I was flabbergasted to learn
that not only do the mailmen and women deliver the mail to your
mailbox; they also COLLECT ready stamped mail you wish to send
out. What a fabulous, logical idea! I was terribly excited to
learn this, having always been fixated on writing letters and
receiving mail - that just yesterday I decided to take advantage
of this radical postal offer. I wrote and stamped a letter, and
placed it in our mailbox. Excited, I checked throughout the day
to see if our mailwoman had collected it. AT 4pm, oddly enough,
it was still there. Enter Tom; the esteemed housemate praised
in Part one, who informed me that in order to alert the able mailwoman
to the outgoing mail, one is required to hoist the little red
flag on the mailbox. Could this be one of the reasons underlying
the psychosis evident in the "Going Postal" Syndrome
(when postal employers crack up and murder a few of their colleagues)?
How many red flags does it take to drive a postal worker nuts?
It only takes one to get a Spanish bull pissed....
Floridian kiddies go back to school soon, and perhaps as a reward
to their poor suffering parents who have had to survive the long
summer vacation keeping their spawn entertained, Florida is launching
a free tax week next week. The good news is that no tax is payable
on school supplies, clothes under $50 and related accessories
for a week! As an outsider, I of course see through this whole
charade. The whole thing is a double bluff! First of all, obviously
this is just another ploy to get the ever-eager consumer public
to buy more crap made by slave laborers in the third world. And
secondly, we all know there are no kids in Florida! Hell, I've
been here over 3-weeks and I have yet to see a school age kid.
The state is a massive retirement home bordered by scenic cemeteries
disguised as golf courses.
My time here has been immensely educational. Having grown up
in the insular little South African Jewish community of Victory
Park; having never had a proper non-Jewish friend; and having
had a pretty conservative upbringing, I am learning a lot over
here. And it's all pretty much thanks to Tom, the esteemed housemate,
praised in Part One. I can't divulge everything that I have learnt
from being around Tom - my parents are at an age where they scare
easily - but I can tell you some stuff. Last week, I took a ride
with Tom to go drop off a paper in Boynton Beach (about a 20 minute
drive away). On the way back, we stopped off at a bar/restaurant
called Old Key Lime House. I'd never been to such a place, but
for the first time I felt like I was truly in the American South.
The dive overlooks a big body of water (I'm forever questioning
my companion as to the identity of a mass of water -- is it a
pond? dam? sea? intercostals? canal? There are a plethora of options
like everything else in Florida), and is frequented by extremely
um, interesting people: mainly white trash and crackers (the term
for Floridian rednecks, so Tom tells me, so-called because of
the way they spoke/speak). There was the classic pool table, jukebox,
and two drawling guitarists belting out songs. I found the whole
place mesmerizing - there I was, definitely the only Jew, sitting
in this surreal atmosphere, gazing at working class Americans
replete with tattoos, and lots of body hair, out having a pleasant
time with their families or dates. Tom ordered something that
sounded like Quasimodo in a taco (I forget what the dish is called)
and I had some deep fried shrimp with fat chips (read French fries
Back at the bar, our poor waitress - never mind that she had
a pronounced limp - was working alone, battling to serve the odd
20 tables and 20-something people seated at the bar. Tom informed
me that she was "in the weeds." Not wanting to appear
dumb, I took a few seconds to ponder the meaning of that expression.
She didn't look stoned to me! "okay okay," I confessed,
" I have no idea what the f*** you're talking about!"
The saying "in the weeds" apparently means something
akin to really really busy/ up to your eyeballs in.... The waitress
was "in the weeds" - she couldn't cope with all her
work. Speaking of expressions, another new one a la Tom this week
was "bait and switch." For those of you who care, this
refers to advertisements that for example say "Buy a TV for
$50," and then you get the store and ask to buy that TV and
the salesman convinces you to rather buy a better one. Get it?
Still on the American language -- now that I have a car, I have
had grave trouble communicating my transportation needs. I have
discovered that you go to a gas station to get gas (petrol). And
surprise surprise, it's all self service (a new skill I have acquired
- my car takes $14 to fill up the entire tank!) and that is ALL
you can do there. You can't check your tires or get any assistance
whatsoever at a gas station. For any assistance or servicing,
you need to head over to a service station! I haven't had that
pleasure as yet. And as for a "garage" - that is the
shelter you have attached to your home to store your car in! Oh,
life in South Africa is so much simpler. You go to a garage where
you get gas, you have men there to do it for you, you get any
service you need and when you go home, you park your freaking
car in a garage too!
One aspect of Floridian life I have yet to get accustomed to
is this business of eating dinner at 5.30/6.00pm! Every time I
go out to dine, my digestion gets all screwed up. Who can eat
a huge meal in the middle of the afternoon? Restaurants try to
lure people to eat early by publicizing their "Early Bird"
specials - meals that are much cheaper if you are seated in the
restaurant by 6pm. I usually enjoy the beach at that time of the
day when it's cooler -- but I am forever being warned that that
is shark-feeding time! In Florida even the sharks eat early.
* All names have been changed