“People who don't want to think about outlawing handguns haven't seen firsthand the kind of damage they do." -- J. A. Jance, "Payment in Kind"

Saturday, January 28, 2023

What's Interesting About Florida?

     I've been on the road, traveling to and through Florida, for about ten days. For those of you who don't know Florida, I thought I'd tell you what's interesting about the state.

     The beach. There's lots of it. There's so much of it that even though Florida is crowded, the beaches are not. Well, maybe there are a few crowded beaches -- South Beach? Fort Lauderdale? Lido Key? -- but that's only because people want to see and be seen. There are miles and miles of beautiful uncrowded beaches. And the sand is nice too. Where we go in South Carolina the sand is silty, almost muddy. The Florida beaches are made of warm golden sand that feels great between your toes.

     The water. Not the water you drink. In fact, the drinking water in Florida is pretty bad. Stick to bottled water. But the ocean water is blue and clear and usually plenty warm. The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are even warmer and bluer, although they occasionally get Red Tide or some other kind of tide -- but that's unusual. For the most part the waters are beautiful.

     Historic downtowns. Really? Am I kidding? For the most part Florida is one giant strip mall, with more muffler shops and pawn shops per square mile (I swear) than any other state in the Union. But, actually, a few towns have made efforts to make a small part of their downtown nice-looking and walkable. On this trip I've been to two of them:  The little settlement of Eau Gallie in Melbourne, and the downtown riverfront in Fort Pierce.

     The weather. It's been sunny and in the 70s every day since I crossed the border into Florida. We had a shower one morning, but it cleared up by noon. And . . . wait. I'm mistaken. On at least one day, maybe two, the temperature got up into the low 80s.

     Fishing. I'm not a fisherman, so I don't know first-hand. But the guy downstairs in my airbnb said he caught two big ones this morning. "Is that your dinner?" I asked. "No, I threw them back," he said. And who am I to doubt him?

     Golf. There are even more golf courses in Florida than there are strip malls . . . and that's saying something. Honestly, the courses are not spectacular -- they're flat and sandy, with lots of water and hardly any trees -- but where else can you meet up with a few friendly strangers who, by the third hole seem just like your old golfing friends at home?

     The food? Well, about 99% of the food in Florida is fast food from the likes of McDonald's, Wendy's and Waffle House. But if you look for it, you can find some great local dishes. I found a super Mexican restaurant in Fort Pierce. And a fellow I played golf with told me about Sharky's out by the beach. The guy lives in Delaware and winters in Vero Beach. He told me Sharky's makes a good Philly cheesesteak, "Not as good as home, but pretty darn good. They also have a fantastic Mahi sandwich." Then his friend chimed in -- "And the shrimp is to die for." I can't stomach Philly cheesesteak. And I'm allergic to shrimp. So I got the Mahi sandwich, which was every bit as good as my new friend promised.

     Family. A lot of people come to Florida to visit parents and grandparents -- and lots of times brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews show up. We used to come to Florida when our kids were small and my parents were still alive, retired in South Florida. It's good to get together with family, especially when it's on vacation and it's sunny and in the 70s outside. I've been traveling alone so far, but in a couple of days I'll be meeting up with B, and then we're visiting my sister, and a few days later -- well, not in Florida, but in South Carolina -- we'll be meeting up with children and grandchildren, and for this old geezer, at this time of life, that's what it's all about.

     So if Florida is so wonderful, why didn't we retire here? For the rest of the story check out my post from last year Why Didn't We Retire to Florida?

Saturday, January 21, 2023

30 Seconds Of . . .

     This is the first time I've been to Florida since before the pandemic. As I sit here staring at the ocean, I don't have much to say. So I thought I'd just share a moment of peace and tranquility -- the kind you get staring across the sand as the waves roll in -- for anyone who can't get to the beach this winter. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Florida ... or Bust?

     I just read that Florida is the most popular state where retired Americans moved in 2022. No surprise there, I guess, although you'd think that the hurricanes might slow things down a bit. Apparently not.

     According to a study that came out in December, Florida was number one. North Carolina took second spot. After that came Michigan (Michigan?!?), Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania?!?), and Washington state.

     Well, I can explain Pennsylvania, if not Michigan.

     Pennsylvania provides a refuge from its high-tax, high-cost neighbors of New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Yet it's still in the Northeast with its cultural, educational and artistic advantages -- and easy access to the major cities like New York and Washington, DC.

     And by the way, Philadelphia has its own advantages with its world-class symphony, museums, universities . . . and this year, anyway, a great football team!

     But this week I'm joining the crowds heading to Florida. Not to live. Just to vacation for a while. Because (ahem, see above) Pennsylvania is in the Northeast where the winters are cold -- not New England cold, but cold enough. Right now the temperature is 32 degrees outside.

     So next week I'll be reporting in as your stereotypical retired Snowbird from hopefully sunny Florida. After that we'll be visiting kids and grandkids in Charleston, SC. (Surprising to me, South Carolina did not make the list.) Stay safe, stay warm, stayed tuned.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

How Has America Changed?

      I was born when Harry Truman was president. I don't remember him. But I do remember Ike and Elvis, and Ann Landers and and Billy Graham, and Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart.

     A lot has changed since those days of the 1950s and '60s. A lot has stayed the same.

     For example, toilet paper today is no different from the toilet paper I grew up with. The house I live in is no different, either. My house was built in 1965, and despite some renovations through its various owners, it remains pretty much the same. My wife and I did redo the kitchen after we moved in. But we still have a refrigerator, a stove, a dishwasher and kitchen sink that aren't much different from what was here in 1965.

     Of course, some things are very different. My phone, for example. My computer, which I have instead of . . . well, I still remember the Smith Corona electric typewriter I got when I was a junior in college. We used to get a daily newspaper delivered to our door. Now we get our news on cable or social media. The news is faster. But is it any better?

     Over Thanksgiving dinner my brother-in-law and his brothers started reminiscing about slide rules. Do you remember them? Haven't seen one of those in about 40 years.

     Other things are the same but different at the same time. For example, my car. It basically works the same way that our family Buick worked back in the 1960s. Except our car now has seatbelts and airbags and automatic headlights and a rear-view camera. It's also Japanese, not American. Our next car might be a hybrid, or fully electric.

     I wonder how much people have changed. When I was growing up people respected their elders and had a good old-fashioned Puritan work ethic. Now people are quiet-quitting, taking time off for paternity leave, retiring early.

     But maybe I'm just misremembering that old-fashioned work ethic. You know . . .  how we walked to school waist-deep in snow, uphill, both ways?

     Nevertheless, we did go to church on Sundays, we said the Pledge of Allegiance in school, and we had dinner as a family every night. And you could go all day without hearing a swear word. Today, perfectly respectable publications use the F-word, and you can hear it on TV as well -- not to mention the near ubiquitous use of lesser curse words that involve bodily functions and familial relationships. But one good thing. We do not hear the racial and religious epithets that were so casually thrown around when we were kids.

     However, we do have more school shootings. Does that mean we have more guns, or more mental health problems? I don't know. But one thing that's about the same now as in the 1960s -- the murder rate. It averaged about 5 murders per 100,000 people in the 1960s. After going up in the 1970s and '80s, the rate is now back down to about 5 again. Would that be considered progress? Something else that hasn't changed: In the 1960s there was no constitutional right to an abortion. Laws were left to the states. Today, again, we're in the same situation.

     We live longer than our parents and grandparents. Because we've given up smoking? But we're also more obese. Chalk up our longevity to advances in our much-maligned health care system. 

     We've certainly made advances in civil rights since the 1960s, for women, gays, people of color, people with disabilities. When James Meredith went to enroll in the University of Mississippi in 1962, only about 3% of  African Americans went to college. Today it's 50%. Back in the early 1960s about 10% of women went to college compared to 20% for men. Today, more young women than men go to college -- 70% of women and 62% of men. 

     We now have many more material goods than our families did when we were kids. The 1965 house we currently live in has a one-car garage. Because people back then owned one car. But today a married couple typically drives two cars. Our neighbors across the street, with two grown children at home, owns four cars.

     When I was growing up we had one TV. B and I still have one TV. But my friend Peter has four TVs, all of which get Netflix and various other streaming services. I'd venture to say that we all have more clothes, more books, more recreational equipment, more food, more kitchen gadgets, more knickknacks. (And also more debt?) We travel more than our parents and grandparents ever did. But here's the thing: Are we any happier?

Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Year in Review

     Another year over and done with. The years seem to go by faster and faster as we get older, don't they? So it's time to pause and reflect back on the important, memorable items of 2022.

     January.  For several years my wife B and I have been spending February in South Carolina. This year we decided to go early. We left on January 22. And what did we learn? South Carolina is freezing in January. We both came down with nasty colds (not Covid, we tested) but according to B our colds were especially bad because we'd been isolating due to Covid. Our immune systems were out of practice.

     February.  We spent the month in Charleston, visiting children and grandchildren. In the past, my sister would usually join us from Arizona. This year she was going to bring along her two-year-old granddaughter. But the girl was too young to get vaccinated, so my sister didn't risk the trip. B's sister did fly in for a few days. She got sick too. Aside from our own problems, Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24th. It's a terrible situation. We thought it would be over soon. But now it seems like it's going to drag on for who-knows-how long. Let's hope it doesn't escalate and involve European or American troops or, God forbid, "tactical" nuclear weapons.

     March.  When we got home we started in on our Center for Learning in Retirement. We hosted a discussion group on foreign policy and covered topics involving Asia and Latin America, as well as how changing demographics and climate change are affecting U. S. foreign policy. We had some lively and informative discussions. I remember how I used to dismiss older people as out-of-it and irrelevant. But our group has a good historical background. Some of them have lived and worked overseas. And all of them had sharp, cogent comments about the state of the world. Maybe it's not so bad to have an 80-year-old president.

     April.  Speaking of Joe Biden, a Federal judge struck down his mask mandate on airlines. A mistake, in my opinion. Also in April we found out inflation has risen to 8.5%. We're glad we already reserved our place in Charleston for next February when the price will no doubt be even higher. At this rate, how much longer will be be able to afford to go?

     May.  This month we crossed the threshold of 1 million Covid deaths. And yet . . . it's hard to find anyone wearing a mask, anywhere.  Partly because of that, we haven't been going to restaurants. But now it's getting warm enough to eat outside. I love summer!

     June.  The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 0.75%. That really doesn't affect us. We no longer have a mortgage. We paid off our car loan last year. Maybe this will mean we'll finally get some interest paid on our retirement savings accounts. In other news, Ketanji Jackson Brown was sworn in as the first black female on the Supreme Court.

     July.  Another mass shooting -- this one in Highland Park, Ill. Biden signed into law new gun-safety regulations. Do you think they will do any good?

     August.  We drove out to Madison, Wisconsin, to see my daughter and granddaughter. Madison is a university town and a "happening" place. Then we took a side trip to see the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Spring Green, WI. Author Salman Rushdie was attacked while giving a presentation at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. We spent a week at Chautauqua a few years ago. It's a great place. And I guess it goes to show that nobody needs a gun to inflict pain and suffering. At least the guy didn't shoot up the audience.

     September. We try to do an end-of-summer week or two in Cape Cod. But this year we decided instead to go to a place where the water is warm -- Charleston, SC. What we didn't count on was a hurricane. Hurricane Fiona brushed by the coast causing no rain but heavy surf. A few days later Hurricane Ian took dead aim at Charleston. We got out of there. Turned out Ian caused some flooding in the area, but nothing like what it did to Florida.

     October.  A U. S. House Committee subpoenaed Trump for documents and testimony relating to January 6, 2021. I don't know about you, but as horrible as the attack on the capitol was, I still think this investigation looks like revenge -- and it's certainly looking backwards. I wish instead that Congress could focus its efforts on bringing down inflation, on climate change, on the crisis at the border, the Federal deficit, the underfunding of Social Security and health care, and the list goes on and on. 

     November.  The election. Republicans main a few gains, but Democrats did better than expected. In other words, more gridlock, more fighting, more arguments and angst. But is that so bad?

     December. News reports say that travel has rebounded for the holidays. We just went to B's sister's house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, an hour-and-a-half drive away. My son and his girlfriend came down from New York for a day. We saw other family members on Zoom -- a technology I'd never even heard of in 2020 but now seems as simple as picking up the phone. So it's been a quiet December, at least for us, even if the world is still in turmoil.

     What did I miss? More importantly, what do you suppose 2023 will bring?