Why do people even live in Florida?
As we Floridians crank up our generators and begin to sort out the damage, some in the media have been wondering aloud whether we should be living here at all. The weather is scary, the people are scarier, and the bugs are monstrous. It’s gradually getting hotter and hotter and there is little doubt that the whole state will eventually fall into the ocean.
With the grim certainties of climate change ahead of us, the question of whether anyone SHOULD live in Florida seems slightly more reasonable. This is a place where alligators roam the streets and police plead with residents to not shoot guns at the hurricane.
The spectre of Florida Man looms over us: Florida is a joke state, a laughing stock. Something ridiculous happens here, and people rush to post the gif of Bugs Bunny sawing off the state and letting it sink into the Atlantic.
But here’s the thing: Floridians don’t give a shit what you think of us. And we’re not leaving.
We’re accustomed to wallowing in the muck. One needs a certain toughness and tolerance for discomfort to be at ease here, and we pride ourselves on being hardy and gleefully dirty. We swim in shark-filled oceans and alligator-infested swamps. It’s fine, we say, just don’t get bit.
This same philosophy carries over to large scale worries, like hurricanes. To many outsiders, we are foolish yokels who aren’t smart enough to heed evacuation orders (a take that ignores the reality that many do not have the means to leave during a major storm). But among those that can leave but choose not to, most do so out of a very Floridian mixture of hubris and sense of place. To evacuate and abandon your home is to concede victory to nature, which is entirely out of the question for a dyed in the wool Florida person. The shark won’t bite me, the alligator won’t eat me, and the hurricane will NOT drown me. It’s that simple. To acknowledge any other outcome is a display of weakness, and screw that.
There is a sense of pride among us Floridians that is rooted in a total embrace of what a dank hole it is. There’s a perception elsewhere that Florida is a land of misery and unmitigated stupidity, a sinking swamp teeming with urban sprawl, racist cops, and grannies in rhinestone MAGA caps. Of course, this perception is entirely true. Florida is a shithole. As we continue to get pelted with megastorm after megastorm, when do we finally tap out?
Never, that’s when. Because Floridians would rather go down with the ship than have to live anywhere else.
By the end of last week when Irma, then a Category 5 hurricane, directly threatened the entire state, most people I talked to just shrugged and laughed, expressing the common sentiment that “it probably won’t be that bad, and if it is, fuck it.”
That fuck-it vibe carried over to Publix, our state’s beloved supermarket chain, where the bakeries were laying out hurricane themed cakes and cookies, decorated with broken lawn chairs and cheerfully colorful depictions of the storm’s radar image. Cinotti’s, a bakery in Jacksonville Beach, sold out of hurricane donuts twice, evidence that Floridians have a pretty good sense of humor about our impending doom. If you’re going to flood, might as well eat some joke cake before it goes down.
Look: we know it’s a wreck here, and that it’s zany and dangerous. That’s why we like it! We also like Florida for the same boring, obvious reasons that anyone likes their home: because this is where our families and friends live, where our favorite stuff is, and where we’ve created memories and built futures. The trend toward writing Florida off as a lost cause hints at a very gross brand of elitism and classism that ignores the sense of humor, cultural bonds, and feeling of belonging that define what it means to feel like a Floridian. People who love Florida would rather live here than anywhere else because they enjoy the challenge, they love the state’s plentiful natural beauty (have you ever been to a freshwater spring?), and because it’s where they feel they fit best in the world.
On Tuesday, I was chatting with a friend about about the perception that Florida is an unlivable dump. The friend, staying at my house because Hurricane Irma had knocked out her electricity, balled her hands together in a gesture of mock concern, imitating a generically smug not-from-Florida person. “Why would anyone ever live there?” she whined.
So why do we live here, among the hurricanes and toilet-dwelling snakes and giant flying cockroaches? Florida Man is forever on the loose, committing brutish, viral crimes, and we’re perpetually one storm away from falling into the ocean. Hulk Hogan lives here.
But my friend shakes her head and answers her own question: “Where the fuck would you like for us to live?” she says. “You want us to come live where you live? No thank you.”
- Orin Heidelberg teaches writing and composition at the University of North Florida and is based in Jacksonville.