When one grows up in or about Gotham everyone you know has an elderly aunt, uncle, something who has retired to Florida and of the many places to spend The Final Years, it seems or perhaps is my imagination that I have heard “oh Boca?!” I got an uncle down there! Constantly. At least when speaking of uvuncular family ties or Florida or death and taxes.
And today the once sleepy hamlet, nothing more than an airstrip and a hotel, and before that, jungle, is today a retirement Mecca of privilege and wealth that seems to feel the need to build ever up and out to increase in size and scope.
“They’re tossing those buildings up all over Boca,” my cultural informant vis bartender told me. “Their current tenants are slowly leaving, dying actually I mean leaving this world,” he was laughing that way bartenders laugh about death, “so they’re trying to attract a younger crowd. Ones with money of course.”
Why yes, with money, I agreed, also thinking of the many fancy cars I had seen, and not wanting to offend. The couple next to me, two older gentlemen, both on the high end if money+age and who seemed to have some long term arrangement that was not quite a relationship agreed. The place was changing. More places to eat and some open past 9pm – an ungodly hour for most retired people apparently (having reached the age where 11:30pm is late, I am fast understanding).
I exited my bar into a wall of hot, moist, still evening air. I went for my customary post dinner walk and regretted it at once. It couldn’t have been sweat covering me. There was far too much of whatever was dripping throughout my clothes, puddles filling in each fold my money in my pockets ruined and dank, each layer of cloth slowly clinging to each other and all to my shitty body.
How have people here survived here?
Turns out, in the past, they didn’t. This part of Florida had untouched beaches for so long because the are was protected by a tangle of mangrove trees that then led to swamps and marshes protected by vipers, bugs, and violent illnesses. Europeans did not have much luck for settling a good deal of the coast. Boca Raton, translated almost literally to “The Mouse Mouth” or “The Inlet With Sharp Rocks” was but a dot on a navigational chart un-populated by indigenous people – at least for generations since the Pleistocene. The land between St. Augustine and Miami was for eons passed over by Spanish, Hispanic, Latino, Creole, and finally American settlers as they traveled to better property and more promising jungles until one day air conditioning was invented. That and the steam shovel. And real estate agents. The first of which was shipwrecked in 1895 and at once started selling swampland to retirees.
The steam shovel dug trenches, drained swamps, created boat channels protected from the nasty biting toothy winds of angry green grey storms. The real estate agents sold dreams, paradise, and hope. And air conditioning made the summer bearable and allowed people to work and live there year around. Allowed those members of our population that can no longer regulate their body temperature through will power and the natural humors and juices of the body electric.
I walked down the beach from town back to my hotel. The sun had set in a blaze of glory rare for by eyes but perhaps just another boring day for locals. The ocean was scattered and glowering with dark summer storms that flashed about and distant and lonely wind thrashed the water but did nothing to regulate the temperature on the mainland. I counted my steps back to the path in the mangrove that separated the beach from the road and strip of naked hotels and estates. The trees formed a break in Oceanside hotels and brought respite from the metastatic landscape of wo/mankind that I believe (and certain photos I have taken from jet propelled airplanes seem to prove) stretches unending from Jacksonville to Key Largo. Just a few scant miles if that.
Nature is contained and safely so. However, the drunks, the retired peoples of America, and sun burned blonds and fat yelling children of all races, colours, and credos, share this beach with sea turtles that lay their eggs in the sand. I was tracking my path using these nests marked off with stakes and orange plastic tape and warning signs threatening fines, and prison, and rape for disturbing these endangered animals as well as the proud towers built for the life guards. We must be threatened to protect nature, such is our inclination to evacuate it from the planet.
Finding my path I was then plunged I to total darkness. The city town village area leaves the street-lamps off during… Uh… Turtle-come-out-of-egg season or whatever it’s called. Not all the lights. Just one road. And because of this they posted signs all over warning the humans that the lights were out. On one road. Intentionally. Apologizing for nature having to be nature.
Returning the next day I walked that mangrove boardwalk. What a wonderful interruption in development and while the majority of the space is used to park cars, acres and acres actually, there was enough tree cover to imagine what it was like back before that 1895 real estate agent had come here… Had there been a well manicured pathway in that primal jungle. Because who wants to stomp through all that crap. And spiders. Huge spiders. Shelob-sized monsters – shudder. I had a dream about those spiders later. Truly frightening and I was stuck on a balcony and… A lot of things that… perhaps best are saved for another sort of blog….
And so I’d spend my days. Morning walk on he beach as the sun rose. Breakfast at the hotel. [The activity or series of activities I had to do]. Afternoon swim. Happy hour drink. Walk the beach into town. Dinner. After dinner drink. Night walk on beach through spider infested darkened woods and then a quick and slightly drunken dip in the pool to repeat again the next day.
It was so easy to retire in Boca. Almost too easy. I can see, with the advent of so many wonderful comforts invented and maintained by an invisible army of workers, how this is a little slice of Heaven.
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