Florida

FIVE MYTHS

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - By Adam We­in­stein out­look@wash­post.com Adam We­in­stein, a se­nior edi­tor at Task & Pur­pose and a Florida na­tive, is cur­rently work­ing on a mem­oir about gun cul­ture in Amer­ica.

Or­di­nar­ily at this point in the slow, hot sum­mer, Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists would be out of sto­ries and look­ing to Florida — my al­legedly strange long­time home — for “weird news” in­spi­ra­tion. We don’t have that prob­lem this year, be­cause Amer­ica elected a part­time Florida Man as pres­i­dent. But Florid­i­ans still have to deal with an un­earned rep­u­ta­tion as a nexus of the bizarre and the tragic. “Some­times I think I’ve fig­ured out some or­der in the uni­verse,” Su­san Or­lean fa­mously wrote, “but then I find my­self in Florida, swamped by in­con­gruity and para­dox, and I have to start all over again.” Here are five com­mon myths about Amer­ica’s sun­soaked southerly pro­boscis.

MYTH NO. 1

Florida is a cul­tural waste­land.

Per Gawker, “The mid­dle of the state is a cul­ture­less void from which crys­tal meth (or, like, mov­ing away) is the only es­cape.” One can find de­fenses of in­di­vid­ual cities (for ex­am­ple, Jack­sonville) or par­tic­u­lar coastal hot spots, but one of the most-Googled ques­tions re­lated to Florida is nonethe­less “Why is Florida so trashy?,” and that seems to re­flect the na­tion’s gen­eral sen­ti­ment.

Sure, we’re the land of Dis­ney World and Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios and stucco and strip malls. We have that weird dou­ble ex­is­tence that char­ac­ter­izes a lot of fron­tier or colo­nial des­ti­na­tions: We’ve been stereo­typed as the ex­otic “other,” then we cap­i­tal­ized on the stereo­type’s al­lure to drive the lo­cal econ­omy, then we lost track of what was real and what was just a re­duc­tive stereo­type. Now, it all blends to­gether. As they said in our old tourism ad from the “Miami Vice” days, “The rules are dif­fer­ent here.”

But Florida’s proud, con­trived role as a lazy, breezy, es­capist state of na­ture yields some­thing no­body could have pre­dicted: lots of cul­tural he­roes, large and small. Con­sider these icons: South­ern-rock le­gends Lynyrd Skynyrd, Doors front­man Jim Mor­ri­son, Flo Rida, Johnny Depp, Tom Petty, Nor­man Ree­dus, Zora Neale Hurston, Tao Lin and Kate DiCamillo. Don’t say we never did any­thing for you.

MYTH NO. 2

Florida is sep­a­rate from the Deep South.

Ac­cord­ing to the Sun Sen­tinel, “Florida is not the South.” If you wanted graphic ev­i­dence, the Miami New Times sup­plied 19 maps in 2015 “That Prove South Florida Is Not Re­ally the South.”

It’s pos­si­ble that we have more Mets fans than Queens, and it’s cer­tain that we have more Mets fans than Marlins fans. But if you’ve ever trav­eled down the Pan­han­dle’s Red­neck Riviera to eat oys­ters in Apalachicola or made a pil­grim­age to watch col­lege foot­ball in Doak and the Swamp, you know there’s a lot of twang to go with the Tang. There re­ally is a place called the Flo­raBama, si­t­u­ated ex­actly where you’d ex­pect, and it re­ally does host an an­nual mul­let toss (the fish, not the hairdo, but you al­ways see some of both).

The cliche about the dif­fer­ences be­tween north­ern Florida (red-state red­necks) and South Florida (pasty in­vaders and “Latins”) aren’t right, ei­ther. Drive a few miles west of Fort Laud­erdale, and your car will have to yield for horses. Re­mem­ber Bob Gra­ham, the soft-lilted cow­poke who served for decades as a left-cen­ter gov­er­nor and se­na­tor? He’s a Miami na­tive. Yes, you can grow up sound­ing like that in Miami. Even South Florida’s deep-blue ur­ban­ites can see so­cial and cul­tural rem­nants of the South — for in­stance, the state park that used to be a blacks-only beach, and neigh­bor­hood di­vi­sions that per­sist years af­ter Jim Crow.

That’s all of Florida, in its beauty, ug­li­ness and guilt. We are com­pletely South­ern. We are also com­pletely Yan­kee, com­pletely Latin Amer­i­can and com­pletely com­mit­ted to be­liev­ing in math­e­mat­i­cal im­pos­si­bil­i­ties.

MYTH NO. 3

Florida is ready for the next big hur­ri­cane.

“Cut­ler Bay Florida is hur­ri­cane ready!” de­clares one mu­nic­i­pal ad; last year, Florida’s “top fi­nance and in­sur­ance reg­u­la­tors” con­firmed to the Miami Her­ald that the state was in­deed pre­pared for another hur­ri­cane sea­son. Oops.

Named storms are a sea­sonal fix­ture, but un­til Hur­ri­cane Matthew gave us all a se­ri­ous scare last year, Florid­i­ans hadn’t had a real blow since 2004 and 2005, when they got blitzed by six hur­ri­canes. Since then, the state’s pop­u­la­tion has grown by 15 per­cent — mean­ing at least 2.5 mil­lion new res­i­dents have prob­a­bly never lived through a storm of sig­nif­i­cant size, much less a Wilma or an An­drew. And com­pla­cency abounds, even among old-timers. “That is a very scary thought from an emer­gency man­ager’s per­spec­tive,” Or­lando’s emer­gency man­ager said, back in the mid­dle of our mostly storm­free decade.

Gov. Rick Scott’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is light on real storm ex­pe­ri­ence, too. Scott ap­pointed an out-of-state Wal­mart ex­ec­u­tive as his emer­gency pre­pared­ness di­rec­tor in 2011 amid a push to pri­va­tize some of the state’s dis­as­ter re­sponse pro­grams. (Lit­tle of that pri­va­ti­za­tion has ma­te­ri­al­ized.) Scott’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is also ac­cused of bar­ring state-em­ployed sci­en­tists from dis­cussing cli­mate change or sea-level rise. It’s not easy pre­par­ing 20 mil­lion peo­ple for one dis­as­ter when you’re busy pre­tend­ing another dis­as­ter doesn’t ex­ist.

MYTH NO. 4

Florid­i­ans are im­pos­si­bly di­vided along po­lit­i­cal lines.

In 2015, south­ern Florid­i­ans threat­ened to se­cede from the rest of the state, cit­ing po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences with north­ern Florid­i­ans. And prior to last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, pun­dits ob­served that the con­test could be de­cided by Florida, “the Di­vided Sun­shine State.” It has been con­ven­tional wis­dom since the 2000 re­count that Florida is hope­lessly split along po­lit­i­cal lines. Ap­par­ently, we’re a pur­plish state with a red­dish gov­ern­ment and bluish so­cial ten­den­cies.

But both sides are united by a love of the mar­ket. In­deed, the pro-busi­ness ten­dency is no less pow­er­ful among lib­er­als, from South Florida — where many a real es­tate de­vel­oper, D or R, has had a his­tor­i­cally easy path to a may­or­ship — to Tal­la­has­see, where even deep-blue Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial hope­fuls are known to boast about the size of their busi­ness tax re­peals. One party wants pro-busi­ness de­ci­sions made by bu­reau­crats, and the other party wants pro-busi­ness de­ci­sions made by transna­tional con­sor­tiums owned by shell cor­po­ra­tions. Ac­cord­ingly, Florida has been rapidly rising on lists of busi­ness-friendly states in re­cent years, even mak­ing the top 10 in a re­cent CNBC rank­ing.

We got there through a long, two-party ef­fort.

MYTH NO. 5

The Florida hous­ing mar­ket has learned its les­son.

That the Or­lando Busi­ness Jour­nal wants to let you in on “4 lessons learned” from Cen­tral Florida’s real es­tate bub­ble, and Florida To­day is al­ready ad­vis­ing cau­tion for home buy­ers based on the last big real es­tate bust, might make you think Florida has learned its les­son when it comes to in­flated mar­kets. But it doesn’t look that way.

Be­tween 2003 and 2007 was a hell of a time to be a Florid­ian: It seemed like ev­ery­one was a mort­gage orig­i­na­tor or a house-flip­per. Ob­vi­ously, that all ended, and a lot of peo­ple lost their butts on a “cor­rec­tion” in prop­erty val­ues. Prob­lem solved: Many Florid­i­ans don’t even have enough money to place another bad bet.

But once again, the Florida real es­tate mar­ket is do­ing great. There’s a boom in sales and prices, and buy­ers have a lot of op­tions — if they have half a mil­lion bucks or more to spend. In South Florida, even mod­est, fixerup­per apart­ments in sad neigh­bor­hoods are get­ting plucked up by cash buy­ers look­ing for rental in­come. Big-money and for­eign in­vestors are bid­ding up prices, per­haps pre­cip­i­tously so, on lux­ury and high-rise prop­er­ties. (Zdravstvuyte, Rus­sian friends!)

What hap­pens when the dol­lar strength­ens, the Trump real es­tate name fiz­zles and those in­vestors look to dump their stock? Oh, prob­a­bly another im­plo­sion, and three and even four gen­er­a­tions of work­ing fam­ily mem­bers liv­ing un­der one roof.

HUR­RI­CANE MATTHEW, ST. AUGUSTINE, FLA., 2016; JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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