You know those places you swear you'll never move?
For me, it was anything south of the Mason-Dixon and east of the Mississippi.
Ironically, my new address will be in Florida, which is both east and south of those things I said I wouldn't cross.
Daytona Beach, to be exact. The awesomely 80s hot spot for Spring Break and party-going. That strange mix of affluence and blue-collar (perhaps no collar) America. The retirees and the college students. The coming together of so many Americas.
Alan and I drove from Flagstaff to Daytona last week. 2000 miles, 24 cans of LaCroix, 7 states, 6 tanks of gas, 4 days, 3 LaQuinta Inn and Suites, 2 liters of iced coffee, and 1 lost "Hook 'em Horns" bumper sticker later, we rolled into our new city. Our AirBnb is in Holly Hill, the blue collar neighborhood between Ormond Beach and Port Orange. "The salt of the earth kind of people" as one apartment manager told us after furrowing her brow at hearing the name. We are staying in a mother-in-law apartment attached to a small house in the neighborhood. It's small, but big enough for us right now.
We've found a cute duplex VERY close to the beach to rent starting sometime in the next 10 days.
Florida is hot and humid. Thailand-level hot and humid, dare I say. Actually, it was hot and humid starting in Texas, and got progressively hotter and stickers through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. You probably know that I've traveled around the world, but you might not know how little of the US I've actually seen. We overnighted in Amarillo, Shreveport, and Tallahassee, none of which had I ever been in.
I guess I want to say something about the American-ness of it all. I've always been a bit wary of the deep South. My mind goes to Confederate flags, sweet tea, and strange accents immediately. I've also never lived in a very diverse place. In fact, even living overseas, the places I was were very incredibly homogenous. I happened to be a minority in those places, but the people around me were fairly uniform. Part of the beauty of the US is its diversity. People of all colors, shapes, and sizes share the same cities and streets here.
If I may go on a related rant, yesterday's events in Charlottesville where a car was driven into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters during a white supremacist rally broke my heart. One person, a 20-something Caucasian woman, was killed when the car plowed through the group of people and then reversed back out, injuring dozens. This is an act of terrorism on our own soil committed by an American who is full of hate and fear. This is not ISIS or Boko haram. This is the state of affairs inside our own borders. There are some people who are consumed by hate for their own neighbors. I think we can all agree that hating your neighbor is a problem. No religion accepts that behavior. No true patriot believes in betraying his neighbor. The governor of Virginia condemned the attack and said that there is no place in America for white supremacists. Good for him. International news coverage of the event points out that the US president did not call out white supremacist groups. It's not a stretch of the imagination to think how the rhetoric would be different if the driver of the car had been Muslim. The future of America depends on each one of us, and especially our leaders, to condemn hate crimes and terror attack, no matter who commits them. There is room for all creeds in this country, but there is no room for hate.
I'm bringing up this rant because I am going to have to face a lot of my own stereotypes about this region of America in my new place, and I am going to continue to learn and grow as a proud American, to love my neighbors and treat the people around me with respect and dignity. It sounds a little too "peace and love," but what can I say? Clearly there is already enough hate and negativity in the world. We all need more love.
So, let me just say some of the things I already love about Daytona: the sun is bright, the sand is clean, the ocean is warm, and the people are nice. I excited to see how this chapter unfolds.
Until then, sending you my positive vibes from beautiful Florida.