Saturday, May 07, 2005

Endless Summer

One of the greatest things about Florida is that, in the immortal words of the Beach Boys, it features an "Endless Summer."

I guess I should qualify that by pointing out that it can get quite chilly in the Sunshine State if you're in the northern or central regions. This past winter in Celebration, we had some frost warnings and we had to use our heat pump several nights. But "cold" has a much different meaning here than it does in Illinois.

Floridians consider temperatures in the 30s and 40s to be almost arctic; in Chicago, we don't start worrying until the mercury dips into the single digits or dives below zero. I've lived through many bone-chilling, body-numbing days when the wind chills dipped to more than 30 degrees below zero. For the hearty souls who dared to venture outside, every breath burned like fire and any exposed flesh was instantly flash frozen. If your car wouldn't start, you could count on a wait of several hours if you happened to belong to a motor club; on days like that, their lines are jammed with calls as auto batteries give up the ghost by the thousands.

Then, of course, there's the snow. Usually, it's only a few inches at a time...just enough to mess up traffic and cause a few heart attacks among out-of-shape shovelers. But every now and then, Chicago gets dumped on by a blizzard of legendary proportions. I've lived through several of them, although I was too young to remember anything about my first monster snowstorm, which occured in 1967. The next one came along while I was in junior high; that winter, it was quite de rigour to wear a t-shirt proclaiming "I Survived the Chicago Blizzard of '79."

There have been many other blizzards of lesser might that have still managed to bring things to a standstill. A few years back, we had a doozy in March, just when we thought it was finally safe to start fantasizing about spring. At our condo, all twelve garages are situated in a row, in the same building. The snow drifts were so high that they reached more than a quarter of the way up the garage doors.

Back then, we still had some sociable neighbors; sadly, over the years, the original occupants moved out, and a less friendly (and sometimes downright surly) bunch moved in. But at the time of the March whiteout, we were all friendly enough to band together and dig out our garages as a group effort.

Actually, I shouldn't say "all," as there was one couple that never really meshed with the rest of us. They were a married team of lawyers, and I never understood why they chose a condo, as they seemed unhappy from day one. They had an enornmous chandelier in their entrance foyer, which might not seem odd unless you could see the condos. The units are quite nice, but the foyers are not conducive to huge, fancy lighting fixtures. For one thing, the ceiling is too low, and for another, it just didn't fit in with the 1990s can lighting schema.

They lived kitty corner from us, but I can count on one hand the number of times I ever saw them in the flesh. If you pulled up in the parking lot at the same time as they did, they would literally wait in their car until you went inside before emerging. At first, I thought I was imagining things, but my other neighbors confirmed it.

I did see (or rather, hear) their human side once, on the day of a Jimmy Buffet concert which happened to be held near our town. Apparently they had attended and had gotten more than a litter snockered. You could hear them fighting (at least, I think it was fighting) all the way up the stairs and out in the entrance hall before they finally staggered into the Chandelier Palace and slammed the door behind them.

But on the day of the blizzard, they were the only neighbors who were conspicuously absent from our shovel crew. They were definitely home, but they never came out to join us. And when we were done removing the snow, every garage door was cleared...except theirs. Finally, when the rest of us had all retired back into our respective condos, they emerged to do their solitary shoveling.

As you might imagine, they didn't live in their condo too long. Within a year, they had headed for a more suitable (or perhaps "snoot"able) environment. I can just imagine how traumatized they would be if they lived on my street in Celebration, where neighbors dropping by is the norm.

But in Celebration, we don't have to worry about blizzards, as long as you don't count the soapsuds on Market Street every Christmas season. And when you're from the Windy City, the 40s, and even the 30s, feels downright balmy in December, January, and February. What Floridians call "winter weather" is more like early spring to a northener.

In Chicago, by the time March would roll around, I would be practically climbing the walls from cabin fever. March and April were "teaser" months, interspersing a nice spring day here and there with weeks of nasty, gray residual winter. In late April, I would be chomping at the bit to fill my flower pots, but I knew there was always a chance that Jack Frost wasn't done with us yet. I could only really feel safe in mid-May, when spring was finally firmly entrenched.

In Celebration, I have been enjoying weeks and months of balmy weather already. At times, it's been a bit on the "cool," side, but that is defined as temperatures in the 60s. We've had the windows open since March, although now we're relying more and more frequently on the air conditioner. Those few-and-far-between spring days that I used to savor like rare truffles in Chicago are just a fact of life in Florida. As I head outside in shorts in March and April, feeling the sunshine caress my face and basking in the warm breeze, I wonder why everyone else in the United States hasn't moved to Paradise.

My spring flower garden has been in place for weeks, and I won't have to give it up in October. In Florida, I can switch to mums that will last well into the winter season, or at least until I switch over to poinsettias for Christmas.

I suppose I'll feel somewhat differently when I lose northern hardiness. Right now, I can still swim with freezing to death even when the temperatures are in the 70s. It really is an endless summer for me, at least where pools and water parks are concerned. But by next winter, I'll probably be shivering and reaching for my jacket with the rest of the Floridians as soon as it dips below 80.

Living in the Sunshine State is such a treat. I could never go back to the long, cold Midwest winters that feature a monotonous parade of gray, depressing days. I know there are some people who thrive on the cold and snow, but I'm not one of them. Make mine an Endless Summer!

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