Florida – The Rules Are Different Here

1970's AD CAMPAIGN FOR THE STATE OF FLORIDA

1970’s AD CAMPAIGN FOR THE STATE OF FLORIDA

If you’re under the age of 30, you’re probably too young to remember the Florida Department of Tourism slogan that was coined in the early 1980’s:  FLORIDA – THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT HERE.  I adore that campaign even though it bit us in the ass by becoming a well used punchline!  The thing is…it’s true!  The rules ARE different here.  

I love living in Florida.  I started out here by chance, I decided to stay by choice.  I grew up in New York, in a suburb that was 8 miles as the crow flies, or an hour in traffic, from NYC.  For as long as I can remember, I always thought New York was a great place to be FROM.  But I didn’t own it as my home.  From the moment I settled in Florida though, I felt at like this is where I belong.  It was 1979 and even before the Department of Tourism nailed it, I already knew that the rules ARE different here.

Some of the jokes about my adopted home are true.  “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.” When I first came here, I was lucky enough to live in an ocean front condo. From the balcony, I could survey the beach for miles around and see the sun shining right next to torrential downpours.  Seriously, I could actually see the rain clouds unloading on the terrain and tourists below…ahhhhh, good times!

thumbnail-1.aspxFlorida is heaven’s waiting room.”  Also correct!  I can’t argue about the extreme number of retirees here.  Certain pockets of the state are so crammed with old people that you can smell the Ben-Gay from the interstate.
But I think the thing that sets us apart from the rest of the US is that even a shitty day ain’t so bad in Paradise!  As Hurricane Isaac passed by early this week, I spent the greater part of one day holed up during an unusual Monday where the rain stayed constant.  It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t hurricane-y, it was just overhead all day!  Stuck inside for the day, it made me remember back to August 2004. 

SHANDS MEDICAL CENTER - GAINSVILLE, FL

SHANDS MEDICAL CENTER – GAINSVILLE, FL

Steven had spent the entire year fighting Stage 4 non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  He was just starting to get his hair back, and starting to get a little color in his face, instead of that pasty grey look that comes with almost an entire year in bed.  We had an appointment at Shands Medical Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville (go Gators) with Dr. David Lynch, one of the country’s experts on lymphoma.  Our oncologist here wanted Steven to see Dr. Lynch for a consult to determine what we should do next.  The appointment had been made in June, and it was now the end of August…and a hurricane was coming…tomorrow night, probably.  But, dammit, we were not going to miss that appointment.  So even though I did as much prepping as I could between my real job, my nursing job at home, my dog whispering job and all the rest of the little part time jobs that filled my day, we were so NOT ready for 4 major back-to-back-to-back-to-back hurricanes…and a major road trip. 

As I drove us up to Gainesville, Steven sat quietly in the passenger side seat.  We left early in the morning to make a 10 AM appointment on time, and I was WAY under-caffeinated  But ever since Steven’s first chemo, he couldn’t tolerate coffee…even the smell made him shpilkes, so no To-Go cup for me.  We made small talk for hours, because we were both trying to ignore our nerves.  Our doctor had told us that the tumor was gone and that all the tests looked good, but he didn’t want to make a call without an Expert-expert giving us the ‘poll the audience-call a friend-final answer’.  So we were off to see the Wizard!

Dr. Lynch was great.  The appointment went great.  It was something neither Steven nor I will ever forget!  In the calmest and most laid back way, Dr. Lynch assured us that the red alert of lymphoma was over. He agreed with our home doc that radiation was a good next step just for shits and giggles (and to make absolutely sure all the cancer was crushed).  And then he gave us the easiest, hardest, simplest, most complex direction, “Go live your life, enjoy it and try not to worry.”  Oprah calls these ‘Ah-ha Moments’, I call them WTF?  Either name still designates something etched in your brain!

That little statement was massive.  But it changed Steven faster than any medicine he had been given.  It was a miracle.  We left Shands with grey and ominous skies overhead.  As we were walking to the car, Steven put his hand out for the keys and said, “I’ll drive.”  WTF?  

In the car, we were giddy, laughing, crying, kissing and fumbling around trying to adjust seats that hadn’t been moved since last year.  As we headed to the interstate, we passed a drive through of some sort.  I don’t remember what it was, I just remember Steven saying, “I need some coffee”!  WTF?

He drove straight through, without a single stop to get rid of that coffee that was sloshing in my bladder. 

SUMMER HOME DECORATIONS - HURRICANE PANELS

SUMMER HOME DECORATIONS – HURRICANE PANELS

He listened to the weather report as we drove through the alternating bursts of piddling rain and blinding sun that come with a nearing hurricane.  And he talked me though his plan for putting the hurricane shutters on the house.  Steven had been getting winded just walking from the bedroom to the kitchen, now he felt good enough to hang hurricane panels on 12 windows and 2 sliding glass doors?  WTF?  

We got home and he went right to work outside.  He was hanging shutters by flash-light well into the evening.  Each time I came out to help he sent me back in with, “It’s OK…I got it!”  WTF?  It hadn’t happen slowly or gradually or expectedly.  It was an instant.  He was better and ready to take charge during what turned out to be the WORST hurricane season the Space Coast had had in eons.

thumbnail-Palm TreesWe got hit with a succession of back-to-back storms that didn’t do any damage to our house, but wreaked havoc in our yard.  We had 15 palm trees that either fell, broke, uprooted or leaned over.  Two of which must have fallen in slow motion onto our house.  I say slow motion because the damage was only 2 cracked roof tiles, so we were blessed with a mess that didn’t cause any major problems.  Just projects…for Steven…that lasted half-way through radiation and kept him so busy that he didn’t seem to have any side effects.  Or maybe it was that feeling of getting a second chance at life that gave him energy and drive.  Or maybe it was weathering the hurricanes and coming out on top.  Or maybe it was because we live in Florida…and the rules are different here.

So as Hurricane Isaac passed us by yesterday, I reminisced of that 2004 hurricane season that was so horrible for so many people.  How odd that the same time brings a smile to my face.  As I was daydreaming, thunder rattled my windows and the BOOM was so convulsive that I could feel it in my chest, instead of being startled, how odd that my first thought was that it sounds like a Shuttle launch.  Flashes of lightning normally would make many people run for cover, how odd that I merely held my breath just hoping the AC wouldn’t go off.  And as the weather forecasts flooded the news, how odd I that just looked forward to tomorrow for the sun to come out.  Because that’s how we roll in FLORIDA-THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT HERE!!

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