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Dan Lawlor: Florida - An Ocean View of the Sunshine State

Monday, January 14, 2013


It all started on Chalkstone Ave, at Tommy's Pizza. While waiting for delicious pizzas, a group of strangers began chatting about Florida. The excitement was palpable.

"My plan, when I retire, winters in Florida, summers in Rhode Island. They have no income tax you know!"

"I love visiting Disney, everybody's so nice."

"We love visiting Florida, it's great to getaway, take the kids. I've been saying we should go down for this Christmas - not spend the money on presents, just fly down for a few days."

Anecdotal I know, but there seems to be a particular Ocean State love for the Sunshine State. As of the latest census, a decent number of Rhode Islanders leave to go to Florida. If the exodus continues, in a few years we will have one less congressional district in the House of Representatives.

When I first began looking for jobs, I considered Tampa. I have friends who love visiting the beaches in the panhandle. I have cousins who've moved down to Orlando. What makes Florida so special?

"Lizzie," a Rhode Islander who vacations in Orlando at least once a year mentions, as far as she's concerned, Florida presents the opportunity to "bag me a prince. I'd like to visit Florida, but I don't think I'd like to live there."

A first year high school teacher writes, "I see Florida as a relaxing place to go to, to get away from the stresses of Rhode Island! Not only does “the sunshine state” (its name alone makes it pretty appealing) prove to be a nice getaway, but it provides variety; you can have the relaxation of the serene beaches lined with palm trees, eclectic nightlife, the magic of Disney, the freshest grapefruits and oranges, and competitive games of shuffleboard all within a fairly close radius! "

What do Florida natives think of Rhode Islander's attraction?

One I spoke with was blunt: "I have very few charitable things to say about Florida, so it's probably best that I keep my mouth shut."

Along with the beaches and tourism, Florida currently has a 8.1 percent jobless rate, down from 11.4 percent in January 2010. Rhode Island currently has a 10.4 percent rate, down from 11.9 percent in January 2010. In the 2010-2011 school year, Florida had a 71 percent high school graduation rate. Rhode Island's graduation rate was 77 percent. More than one fifth of Floridians lack health insurance, much higher than Rhode Island's group of 10 percent without coverage. Depending on your statistical viewpoint, the picture is more or less pretty.

Another Florida native, a friend and fantastic saxophonist, writes, "Life in Florida is pleasant, to a fault. The weather is generally agreeable, as is the countenance of each of countless bypassers. The value of this leisure, however, is questionable, as it affords one little opportunity to delve deeper than the surface of what life has to offer... For sure, within small geographic pockets reside communities of folk willing to experiment and explore, but they constitute the exception, not the norm."

Another Floridian, a law student and Miami native, writes of her home city,"I have often felt frustrated by the somewhat conservative political/social atmosphere...also by the superficiality...But then, I remember how incredible it is to have a city made up of so many folks from any number of places...particularly Latin America/ the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. I love that I "fit" in Miami. Everyone fits here! In a lot of the U.S., I still may not seem "American" to others because of the way I look/speak. The same is true in my parents' country of origin: I'm not truly "Guatemalan" to many because of my American ways/mentality. But in Miami, it all makes sense. We accept that -- as different as we all are & regardless of when any of us got here --we are all "real" Miamians. We may be pretty bad to each other (especially while driving), but we give each other that much!"

Rhode Islanders are looking for something different than what they see everyday. People want something new, better, healthier, uncomplicated. Thankfully, I don't think many of us would call Rhode Island superficial, but I don't know if "accepting" would be the state's top adjective. The latest I've heard is we're a mix of mobsters and hipsters. Florida won't save this state - but figuring out what people see as lacking in our description just might.


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