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Everything changes in Florida
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If the state of Florida were a man, he wouldn’t be wearing any socks.

On the weekend, he’d be going to places like Greg’s Taxidermy, the world’s largest marine taxidermy. He’d be thinking about visiting Bare Excellence, a gentlemen’s club in Ft. Lauderdale, with food, spirits and a poolside bar, or maybe dialing 1-888-admit-it, for a gambling addiction.

If Florida were a woman -- and in Broward County -- she’d be living in a house that cost $400,000, the average price for a single family home last year. If a lawyer, she’d be specializing in immigration, divorce or bankruptcy -- and sticking advertising flyers on telephone poles at busy intersections like the aptly-named Powerline Road.

When getting her hair foiled, she’d think nothing about running over to Croissan’Time, in her gown from the salon, in her foils, for a little nosh, maybe a tuile and a cup of coffee to go.

Gross generalizations? Of course, but yet somehow so Florida. We are all using the same currency and speaking the same language -- sort of -- but when we get to Florida, that great melting pot for people seeking sun and light and a new beginning, everything changes.

Every time I visit, I think this sun-drenched, gun-shaped state, lined with tripoded trees where similar trees used to stand before being mowed down in the name of development, might as well be another planet.

Which makes the occasional visit, a straight shot down I-95, the busiest north-south thoroughfare in the country, a highway that traverses 14 states, so interesting.

Not that anything having to do with Florida or I-95 is easy. If it’s not trying to find the right Atlantic Boulevard -- which rivals Atlanta’s Peachtree Street(s) in its frequency of use -- it’s trying to keep the names of all the palm trees straight.

This time it was the pencil palms that stood out for me, some of them growing out of the base of a live oak tree.

Then there are the Norfolk pines -- you know, that sweet little house plant that always dies? -- some easily 40-feet tall; and the Australian pine -- not really a pine -- which whistles in the wind and is outlawed in some counties for its invasive nature.

No matter that a mature date palm can cost between $2,000 and $5,000 apiece. The dates still get stuck in your lawn mower.

On the palms at the entrance into Miami Beach along Arthur Godfrey Boulevard (don’t you love the name?), some artist once wound strings of neon around a stately stand of palms for one of the city’s many weekend festivals. People liked the look so much, the city kept it.

But forget the McMansions. Some day when I’m really old I’ll rent a little sublet on Miami Beach with a Murphy bed and a hot plate, something within walking of Arnie and Ritchie’s Deli. I’ll eat chopped herring, blueberry blintzes and kasha knishes.

Then I’ll go to Fort Lauderdale and swim in the 30-lane aquatic center. It sits next to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, where a display of and about swimming credits Plato for having said, “Greeks who cannot swim are not educated.”

For now, I’ll just visit friends, this time a former work compatriot. And relatives. Though I doubt I’ll ever be crossing hands, swaying back and forth and singing songs from Camp Michigama, the way I did last week.

I was attending an 85th birthday party for my Uncle Mickey (real name, I just learned, Milton), married to my late aunt, Boots (real name, new to me, Bertha), and great-grandson of Schmoyl and Fredyl Begin (changed at the border to Fishman).

Mickey and my late Uncle Herman started the camp on Peach Lake in Michigan after they got out of the service in the mid-’40s. Most of us at his birthday party -- daughters, nieces, partners, one great-niece -- had gone to the camp, but some of us, until a few months ago, had lost touch.

One cousin, Sheila, who is my age, made the trip from Los Angeles. Of our time together at camp, where we shared a cabin, Sheila recalled, “You were a faster runner, but I could jump higher.”

But there we were, in some Florida-style house off I-95, where Mickey and his wife Bunny have lived on and off for the past 20 years, “nine streets to the right” (said the guard), past and through several flat, South Florida golf courses, toasting Mickey, remembering camp lyrics we hadn’t sung in 45 years and watching video tapes of a 1932 trip our grandparents took to Horoduk to visit their parents, Schmoyl and Fredyl, in Horoduk, now a part of Belarus.

On the tapes we saw our fathers as young boys. We saw the shtetl where our great-grandparents lived. We saw people who seven or eight years later would be killed by ethnic-cleansing Nazis.

We did not see pine trees, McMansions or delicatessens.

We can only imagine how many other birthday parties, wedding celebrations and/or funerals were taking place that same weekend somewhere in Florida, somewhere off I-95, that great highway to the past and the future.


Jane Fishman writes a weekly column for ConnectSavannah. She can be reached at