I just returned from Florida. You know, that place I lived almost a decade ago that I often referred to as Hell.

Well, I’ve discovered a few things on this last trip. First, Florida wasn’t really Hell. The relationship I was in was Hell. I got the two confused and blamed Florida for all the ills in my world. Sorry, Florida.

Second, I’ve learned all the secrets of the Fire Swamp. If you don’t know what the Fire Swamp is, you should watch the Princess Bride. In the movie, the Dread Pirate Roberts and his beloved Buttercup escape from the evil clutches of Prince Humperdinck and his henchman, the Six-Fingered Man, by taking refuge in the Fire Swamp. There, they conquer the three dangers of the swamp: flame bursts, lightning sand and rodents of unusual size (R.O.U.S.).

Florida is my Fire Swamp. It has lots of dangers and secrets to learn, from poisonous caterpillars and snakes, no-see-ums and fire ants to muck fires, hurricanes and some crazy-assed drivers of Fort Lauderdale. After eight years of living there and numerous visits since, I have become quite comfortable with the idea of spending my retirement in the Fire Swamp as I have mastered most of its many secrets.

Yes, it’s terribly conservative and Christian down there (I guess that isn’t really a secret). Instead of a Starbucks on every corner, there’s a church. There are Trump signs everywhere. And lots of old people. And you know how much I like old people.

Even with all its Trump Lovers and Bible Beaters, Florida is still filled with really nice people. They don’t talk about politics or religion, at least to strangers. They don’t think it’s appropriate or polite. They’d rather talk about the nuances of the Daytona 500 crash and discourse about the best way to clean lovebug guts off your windshield during mating season.

Of course, none of this would really matter if I was just visiting. But Florida is the top choice for retirement as we look to our Golden Years and where to spend them. If the real estate gods cooperate, we will be selling off our home in the chilly-willy great white north in four years, heading for the sun-filled skies and warm beaches of the Sunshine State.

Yes, I know. Most people on the West Coast move to Arizona when they clock in for the last time. For us, that is a non-starter. First, I don’t know any of the secrets of that particular Fire Swamp. Plus, water is not exactly plentiful in the desert. I would suppose that’s why they call it a desert. Kat and I must be able to at least see water regularly, if not revel in it. And no, water from the tap doesn’t qualify. We need big bodies of water. Think gulfs and oceans.

So Florida it is. And for those questioning my sanity as to why I would once again move all the way across the country to live, I offer up these simple reasons:

  1. We don’t hurt. The pain of arthritis has made its presence known a scant 48 hours after returning to the soggy Northwest. In Florida, I made it up 105 circular stairs to the top of the Jupiter Lighthouse. Here, I can’t seem to make it up 13 steps to our bedroom without a lot of pain.
  2. People are really nice down there. Maybe it’s an east coast thing. Total strangers strike up conversations with you. The Seattle Freeze seems more real now that I’ve returned from the south. Case in point: Total strangers welcomed us to the retirement community we were considering and gave us a lovely tote bag for our groceries without us even asking or them asking that we return it. They were being nice and neighborly because that’s what you do down there.
  3. Depending on where you choose to live, the pace of life is very islandy. Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa are all big city nightmares., of course. But out in the coastal communities, life is pretty laid back and chill. There’s not a lot of hurry and scurry.
  4. The food is different. I love conch, lobster po’boys, gator bites and Cuban sandwiches. And thanks to Amazon, I can now get Snoqualmie Pancake Mix and Fisher Scone Mix anytime I want, so there will always be a little taste of home. While I will dearly miss Taco Time, I will get to enjoy Checkers and the multiple-choice test of “sides” at Cracker Barrel.
  5. There’s a tiki bar nearly everywhere. Kat, it turns out, has a thing for tiki bars. They aren’t very common as you travel north in the state, but once you get below the Orlando area, they start to pop up everywhere. Kat loves a good tiki bar and its laid-back feel, nonstop music and libations. It’s her happy place. Give her a tiki bar with mermaids and manatees and she will probably just move in.
  6. It’s new, but familiar. Upon returning to Washington, it’s become very Groundhog’s Day (yes, another movie reference), in that everything predictably repeats year in and year out, so much so that I don’t even need to look at a calendar to know what’s happening on any particular weekend. Over more than a half-century of living here, I’ve pretty much seen it all, done it all and then some.
  7. It’s a two-for-one. If I were to sell my house today, I could buy two in Florida for the same price or a lakefront home with a pool for the price I paid for this house four years ago ($389,000) and put a couple hundred grand into the retirement kitty.

Now, we’re onto the question of where. Picking Florida was relatively easy. But it’s a damned big state, so there’s more homework to do. We’ve pretty much ruled out the entire left coast of Florida, from Cedar Key to Fort Myers. Too much hub-bub for us. And quite frankly, the area feels like Oregon and Alabama went on a date and made a baby.

We also ruled out anything north of Daytona Beach. The weather there is too cold and the conveniences of life too far and in between.

Future trips will determine the Goldilocks Zone for us, you know the place that is “just right.” While this trip put 1,900 miles on our rental car (we could have almost driven home), we’ll stay put for a week or so in a single locale next time, maybe even renting a house to get a feel for the area.

Still, it’s a queer feeling, knowing that retirement is a scant four years away for me and that I have to do something as grown-up as figuring out where Kat and I are to live until we aren’t living anymore. But as Jimmy Buffett once warned me many years ago, “changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same.” And maybe that’s just as it should be.

In the Emerald City, tiki bar to the starboard side and mermaids to port,

– Robb