Whoever came to this place first, fought the swamp, the Indians, the disease, the bugs and thought this place was a great place to live… that person was insane, said the patron at the bar. Indeed, considering it was 94 degrees and humid, even with the entire apparatus of the modern world at our disposal, it was unbearable to be outside for but a moment. We were under a grass skirt of a roof and beers were served in sleeves to prevent them from sweating out their cold in moments and being but a degree or two cooler than our own warm mammalian blood.
The other week it rained 7 inches in 2 hours, the lady at the front desk told me. The cars across in the lower parking lot just floated away, she informed me. The news reported that in Detroit and parts of Long Island floating cars had also been spotted. They seem to be migrating this time of year. The rain is different now, she reflected, but no mention of “globe” nor “warm” was made since this was not a scientific or political discussion. That much of this state will vanish in the coming years is a matter to play out, to be fought over by future generations since those here, now, are rooted in their ways they packed with them when the finally packed their bags and moved here.
This time of year in Florida the sunshine state pounds its citizens with a mixture of heat and driving afternoon rains. It is a punishing mixture perhaps sent to thin the herd and make room in certain time shares for the next round of settlers. The area around Naples, Florida is a strange zone of frantic development. Out of these low and flooded lands is coming a civilization of retirement communities and manicured gardens. Not an unbecoming area, but somewhat disturbing in that this perfection seems…. well… too perfect as if something will break at any moment leading to a cascading failure of the entire world of make believe. Constructed lakes are part of each development, some have large boat houses, others encircle acres of golf courses or provide each house with their own private waterfront access. Spanish style bridges with towers, plantation style drives that needlessly wind about constructed hills in an altogether flat land that are topped with clusters or straight rows of palm trees since these communities of practice manage to cut themselves off from the rest of the world and create an endless postcard vantage. There are the palm trees in scores. While these various palms do grow quite well and are mostly from the region, anyone who has seen the native Florida forest.. that is the swampy bramble that grows in the still wild areas knows that if Nature were left to His/Her/Its own devices, S/H/h/e/It would not have these acres of romantic plants springing up overnight (since they are planted fully grown) nor allow for the gardens of colour where each plant mingles not with its brethren but remains in appointed confines and minds the edges – as if by dark magic – of the sidewalk and decorative rocks but make again the jumble of all manner of plants some with sharp bits and thorns and bugs with pointy little eater parts who nip and suck at passersby.
This is not to say we can’t have some part of the world turned in to a huge tropical formal garden. We have done so already and by the look of the gathering earth movers and “Coming Soon” signs, more is on its way. Who knows how many tons of fertilizer it takes or how many pests must be rounded up and murdered each year to maintain this order, this Empire of Arboretums or the Fountain of Old, as the case may be. Each planned and gated retirement community has a clever name and a sign, each one more respectable and classy than the last, each gate more formal and picaresque than the next, each guard and private security detail in spiffy uniforms while on patrol more spiffy and more on patrol than the last. You can live behind the walls and moats and hedges of Bear Claw Glens, Lakeside Downs Estates, Cedar Box Community, Pushing Up Daisies Gardens, Kick the Bucket Condos, Last Rite Resort each name a brand lifestyle that to many will fit the brand of their final chapter, lo’ the Golden Years of their lives. It is the garden pasture we turn out to when we have won the game, this is where we go when we have the most toys and for a few of those Golden Years see our Gold of the Years go to various doctors, specialists, the eye wear place on Davis Avenue and least of all those ungrateful grand-kids.
To the east of Naples are the Estates, vast plantations that grow oranges, or alligators, or switchgrass or lost tribes or whatever and whomever may hide in those burned fields and browned bush. There is no daily watering of these lawns from little clever timed reclaimed water buried sprinklers. There are no fake rocks to hide the controls to the pump that keeps the waterfall going until 11PM. These empty lands are crossed by the straightest roads I have seen outside of Texas. Ditches on either side make sure the fields are protected by moats and in these moats are actual alligators. Were I told there were also piranha in the festering and malarial waters, I would believe it. Part of me wants to just believe that. Dotting these Estates are settlements quite different from those of Naples. These are the mostly immigrant settlements of farm workers. Old school buses lurch about the roads taking these workers hither and yon in the boiling heat and driving rain. These lands are being slowly – or really, not that slowly, converted to ever more and new estates, those that grow savings accounts and immigrants are replaced by migrants of a different sort as time shares and Snow Birds come South in winter or cluster about on golf courses speaking in a Patquas of investment advice and bundled amortized fungible compounded price transfer dividends. The surrounding area of Naples is this mix of chain restaurants and familiar outlets, of course the doctor offices, and then signs that not everyone here has deep wallets. There are food pantries attached to just about every mega church. There are thrift shops hiding in plain sight in each commercial zone. There are some signs that there are two strata of society out here and they do indeed need those guards in their sharp uniforms and epaulets.
To the west of Naples is… apparently the ocean. Since I was crushed for time and too cheep to spend the entrance fee to the beach for just a quick pic, I had to take the local’s word that indeed the beach was close by since that beach is well protected from view by all manner of hotels, resorts, and event spaces as well as those official parks one can access on a day pass. There are some places that one can park without being towed or paying that if you stand on your tip toes, you can see the waters.
As most on work, the majority of time was consumed by those remonstrative activities leaving the remainder as a tour of the hotel, which due to a sale was well within my budget since this was an off season and certainly the clusters… swarms really… of Euroweenies about the pool reinforced this notion that I would not at other times in the year be able to afford this pleasant local. Thankfully none had the speedo or that new sling for men…. I floated on my back in the water as soon as the sun moved off the courtyard and stared at the palms waving in the wind far above. This was indeed a slice of heaven. The water was the temperature of pee. I lay there just floating along, just enough effort to maintain my air supply when the evening clouds gathered for the nightly storm and of a sudden rain fell out of the sky. By fell, not pitter-patter but in one dump. The pool overflowed moments later, the water cresting over and into the well arranged chairs thankfully not of any real depth enough to arrange them differently, but the pee had been tempered by a nice dose of cold water if not the chlorination somewhat diluted so now I had to worry about the patrons actual pee. I did not resume use of the pool.
The highway is right outside but the building had been created long before to shelter the interior guest quarters, the POOL FOR GUESTS ONLY, the bar that was NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HIGH HEELS from the passing traffic. And there was traffic. Considering how elderly many drivers are, seems to this casual traveler not to be a strong transportation system or any real plan to reduce traffic other than to build more lanes. In the short time I was in Naples center to get some coffee from the bakery there was an accident right in the parking lot where an older lady, a grand dame, had rammed her Dodge into the retaining wall rather than back out of the parking spot. I can only assume, since each strip mall has a bevy of services for failing bodies and minds, that this may be a very dangerous place to be on the road and perhaps suicide to ride a bike on the side since that fog line may be what the widow Johnson uses as a guide and she lines up the hood ornament on her Cutlass Supreme and just flows down the highway. On the side of many a highway was a small Drive Safely sign memorializing some member of the public who had expired on that very spot. In some areas there were frightening clusters of these signs.
In the resumed heat and humidity I sipped at my quickly warming cocktail which was just crude blending of ice mixed with some corn syrup and a dash of some evil smelling booze and listened to the elders of our contemporary tribe discuss how their investments were doing and how little they expected to get done tomorrow since they’d be up early for a well-earned day of loafing. The majority of these patrons were leathery and smoking heavily, and I wondered that perhaps these were not retirees but locals our for the day. I applied some more sunscreen and hid in the shade until nightfall where like the many little lizards I scuttled to my room to sit in front of the air conditioner. Everyone goes to bed early on the Old Coast, and I did too for the night belongs to the security details, the bugs, the swamps, the rains, the Indians and whoever thinks this place is a great place to live.