I was going to write a post yesterday about how I’ve “gone underground” to finish up the next version of my book, and how I’ll be on lockdown for the better part of the next week. But then I went to the Cuban Cafeteria for lunch, and just had to share.
I posted a couple of pictures on Facebook of the scene, my gorgeous carne asada tacos, and Materva, which is a Yerba Mate soda that originated in Cuba and that is made in Miami.
Honestly: there’s a lot to love about Florida in the food department, but I I have a bit of a love/hate with the rest of it. In the past few weeks the place has gone humid and buggy. The nighttime temperature is only about ten degrees less than the daytime temperature and more often than not I feel like I’m in desperate need of a swim or a shower. Just when I think I might brave the heat for a run the thunderclouds start brewing a storm.
Since 6:00am wakeups “aren’t my thing” I’ve been unable to run outside, so am stuck slow walking or inside on the elliptical. It’s not the worst thing in the world, and definitely classifies as a White Girl Problem.
But mostly I write. I took a break for a few days last week when my mom was here and we went to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary for a beautiful walk in the rain on the 2.25 mile boardwalk. We mostly talked, and if other walkers hadn’t been there we would’ve missed the alligators altogether. For real. Here’s my mom in her poncho that we bought at the gift shop.
We went to Clyde Butcher’s gallery and all I have to say is WOW. If you ever drive the Tamiami Trail across south Florida it’s worth the stop. His photos are timeless and evocative. Check them out HERE. You can also go on a walk in the swamp behind the gallery—no boardwalk on that walk. We couldn’t go, it’s October-March only, but here’s a photo of my soul sister Caraline thigh deep in the swamp with her mother, sister, and friend. These girls get around in the best way.
My mother’s final words at the airport: “Promise me the swamp walk.” I love this and look forward to that experience. I might even get a GoPro for the event so not a second is left uncaptured.
Then we went to the awesome Rod and Gun Club in Everglade City, where time seems to have stopped in a very good way. I had surf and turf, and didn’t expect my turf to be topped with onion rings but you don’t argue with something like that. I focused on the broiled lobster tail and brought most of the steak to a very lucky Luckydog.
But really I came here to talk about the Cuban Cafeteria. I’d driven by a few times, but finally today was the day. It didn’t disappoint.
In addition to the tacos I bought Nescafe Instantaneo (because I love the stuff. true story. i drink it with sweetened condensed milk.) and three perfectly ripe (and 1/3 of the price at Publix) avocados. And I took some pictures. Honestly, I could’ve been back in Honduras. Central America is big on mops and brooms. You can buy then absolutely anywhere, and there are even trucks that drive around selling them. I’m not sure if the wheelchair is for sale, but the old ceiling fans are as well as a slew of old stoves by the front door, which I couldn’t discretely get a photo of.
They also sell Florida Water cologne (which apparently has a wide variety of uses) and product for slicking back the hair. I passed on both. For now.
All this got me thinking about Florida. Before lunch I stopped at the Two Step Shop where I had a great conversation with Gary, the owner. I no longer have my Montana plates to identify with, but I wanted him to know I wasn’t your average Floridian in pink pants and a white shirt, so I told him I love boots and dancing.
I was the only customer at the time (and possibly all day), and we got to talking. Gary has been around some, and he told me that when he went to Wyoming he and his wife went to Jackson first, but didn’t like the scene and he said, “Let’s drive until we hit a roadside bar with dirty pickups out front; then we’ll stop.”
I couldn’t help myself. “Is there any place like that around here?” I asked him, and he told me Florida is short on cowboys, but does have its fair share of rednecks if you head east of the interstate. Then he gave me a tip about a place called Porky’s, and was clear that I not confuse it with the Porky’s on Marco Island, which is an entirely different scene.
He told me Porky’s (full name: Porky’s Last Stand) has great BBQ, great people and live music every weekend and some weekdays. He gave me some precise directions and even included how to enter the place. “You’ll see a bunch of Mercurys parked out front,” he said, “They’ll be all clean. But if you drive around back you’ll see the dirty pickups and the back door. That’s the door you want to go in.”
We made some jokes about entering through the back door just in case a quick getaway is necessary, and Gary said, “Nope. If you’re in trouble you go out the bathroom window.” Good to know.
I also couldn’t help but ask Gary about good places to let Lucky roam off leash, but he said that when you leave the developments “You’re only ever 30 feet–at MOST–from a snake. And I’m talking Copperhead, Diamondback, Rattlesnake, and Coral. 30 feet at the MOST.” Also very good to know. Gary couldn’t let me leave without telling me about the Swamp Buggy races that happen in the fall and spring. “More confederate flags on t-shirts, hats and belt buckles than you’ve ever seen in your life. I sell out of flags there every year,” he said. My visit to the Two Step Shop turned out to be far more informative than anticipated.
But it’s true: I’ve had a bit of a strugglefest with poor Florida. There’s a lot of good here—there’s no doubt about it—but nothing yet has compelled me to want to stay here long term. My mother bought a beautiful, comfortable condo and it’s been a long time since I’ve had such a nice bed to sleep in night after night, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t drive by the 1950s motels and crisp, white trailer parks with a bit of longing, and I understand that may be hard for some heads to wrap around.
In the “resort community” there’s a pool and a gym and more amenities than I’ve ever had at my disposal. I like the fact that I can play tennis with a ball machine whenever I want. It’s pretty here. The flora and fauna are magnificent. The grocery stores and restaurants teem with the best of the best. There’s really everything a person could want here, except something is missing for me: grit.
Downtown is gorgeous with palm trees wrapped in lights and terrific shops and restaurants. But there isn’t a single homeless person. There’s nobody playing a guitar for spare change. Everyone is remarkably well behaved.
Shortly after I arrived here I discovered a taco stand not far from where I live which is next to the John Deere shop and in front of a bar that feels about as far away from the glitzy downtown as a person can get. This is the back door:
I can already predict who’s going to wave a few yellow flags in my direction, and I love ya’ll for it…
As it turns out Southwest Florida might not have everything I want, but it certainly has a lot of what I need. It’s not in your face screaming “I’m grungy!” “I’m cool!” or “I might be a little dangerous…” (Okay, some parts might actually yell that last one….) But that isn’t actually what I ever like about a place; the overtly hip isn’t my thing. So what, I must ask myself, is my thing?
It’s nice, right? There’s a sweetness and simplicity to it that I adore. But really what I want—what I always seem to pine for—is to have been born fifty years earlier, and in lieu of that being a possibility, I’ll do my best to Be Here Now, and one of the best ways I know to connect with myself and the present moment is to do what I’m here to do: Finish the book. So….on that note…I’m going back underground, which also happens to be the place where some of the best surprises are found.
I’ll be back next week with a post about the awesome, serendipitous nature of my old-as-the-hills friendship with Caraline (pictured above in the swamp), and will also link to a piece I wrote as a guest blogger for Shaunanigans’ Taboo Tab, which she’ll post on 6/22. The topic: Body Image. In the meantime, check her out: Miss Shauna has a lot to say and she says it well.