|Mountain lion -- just chillin in the warm California sun|
Not exactly the kind of warm welcome one might anticipate. Everything bites? Oh yes, mosquitoes, alligators, and the endangered Florida panther.
The panther, named the state animal in 1982 doesn't roar (or should we call it a scream) like it's California cougar cousin, the mountain lion. The California indigenous mountain lions can be found in many places in the state of California and beyond, and despite the fact that an adult male can weigh 200 pounds, with a body length of fifty-four inches AND a three foot long tail, they are elusive and secretive creatures, seldom seen by its human neighbors. And thank goodness! They can jump 18 feet into the air from a sitting position and take down a deer or elk every week or two. With plenty to eat, the mountain lion population is thriving.
|This Floridian looks a little angry...|
We were assured that this endangered critter generally did not attend conferences; we were safe.
So, off to do business, and see what else Florida had to offer. Off in a rental car we came across our first (of many) toll roads. There are few toll roads in Southern California, but a lot a of traffic congestion. Very little congestion in Florida, but you literally have to pay for it. Maybe that's not a bad a trade-off.
And scenic? Residing in Southern California's High Desert region, we haven't seen so much green since visiting Ireland a few summers back. And water? No apparent drought here. Whereas Southern California is on nearly permanent water restriction, and the local municipalities will even pay you to quit watering your lawn, green things abound in Florida. Consider the Mojave Desert and Death Valley versus the Everglades, the 'River of Grass.' Water everywhere. Well, they did just have that hurricane. Hmmm. We have earthquakes and fires. Mother Nature does have her way of keeping us humble.
But it is the culture of Southern Florida which really caught our attention during this brief visit. There is a distinct tropical aura, more reminiscent of the Caribbean or Hawaii, than of California. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Los Angeles is more subtropical than tropical, situated at approximately 34 degrees north latitude, compared with Orlando at 28 degrees north. The cultural feel is that of a mix of Northeastern US, Canadian and European transplants. Even the Latin feel is different: Cuban and Puerto Rican rather than Mexican in influence. Couldn't say from such a brief visit, but there seems to be a general feeling of a slower pace than Southern California. Perhaps because Florida remains a mecca for retirees, with a median age of 42, eleven years older than that of California. No rat race here.
|Florida's version of a screening room|
Florida definitely has California beat when it comes to cost of living, taxes, and even golf (California comes in third behind Florida in the ranking of best courses). No wonder retirees love this place. Instead of sunscreen though, Florida golfing requires a generous dose of repellent. And do not even think about rescuing your errant ball from the water hazards. Those alligators aren't too quick on land, but they own the water.
Both coasts have always attracted tourists from around the world since the 16th century Spanish explorers "discovered" the areas (Native American residents notwithstanding). California has flown the flags of Spain, Mexico, and the US, becoming the 31st state in 1850 after gold was discovered. Florida became the 27th state five years earlier, after flying both the Spanish and British standards.
Clearly, SoCal and SoFla seem to attract dreamers from around the world -- very cosmopolitan. While crime, natural disasters, drugs plague these beautiful areas to a similar degree, families live and play with relative abandon at the attractions and beaches alike. There exists in both the Golden State and the Sunshine State, a general feeling that life is about as good as the weather. What more could you ask for?
About those beaches though...
California has the waves, the dramatic coastlines, whale watching, and...well, the occasional shark.
Florida has warmer water, two coastlines (Atlantic and Gulf), and...yes, there are sharks here, too. And manatees. There is, however, no wet suit required, and fortunately, the alligators don't surf.
|And this guy's just a baby....|