ON BECOMING A SNOWBIRD
One of my retirement goals is to never have to buy snow tires again! Yes, I like to keep my life ambitions simple and modest. Always have. But, where to spend the winters? I remember looking at a map of the world before I retired and reading up about where people who live in the northern hemisphere go to escape the cold.
Europe seemed like a good option. But online temperature stats for the months of January, February and March didn’t look too promising, except for some of the Mediterranean islands. We took a cruise there in the fall of 2013, my first retirement trip, but didn’t find what we were looking for. We visited friends who wintered in Mexico, near Cancun. It’s a beautiful area but we’d have had no car and our favourite fitness pastime, cycling, would not have been an option. None of the six countries we toured in Central America fit the bill either. Arizona? Maybe, but we’d miss the ocean.
And so, it came down to Florida. Pros: accessible by car; cycling opportunities; beaches; accommodation options; weather. Cons: traffic; exchange rate; finding suitable rentals each year; the American way of life. In 2016, we took the plunge and rented a condo for the month of January. In 2017 and 2018, our stays grew to six weeks and, for 2019, we booked the same condo for two months, January and February. Last August, I received a text from the condo owner out of the blue advising that she’d changed her mind. No explanation! Back to square one! Try and find a place to rent four months out? Not an easy task.
Long story short, we’re staying in a mobile home park called Poinsettia, a nice place with a community feel to it, and home to very friendly people. The location is excellent. Residents are solidly blue-collar, not snobbish like the condo crowd. While our unit is very dated, we’ve gotten used to the place and remind ourselves every day how lucky we are to be able to escape the worst of an Island winter. We plan to return here in 2020, in a nicer unit hopefully.
Any place is what you make of it; a positive attitude and an open mind go a long way. Elva and I ride three or four times a week with our cycling group, the Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club. Rides take place almost every day and we choose a group according to ride speed. The terrain is dead flat and winds are usually moderate. Traffic is an issue for sure, but you’re either comfortable riding on the road or you’re not. We are.
We absolutely love downtown Fort Myers. Older buildings have been lovingly restored, much like they have in Charlottetown. There’s something going on every weekend: bike show, art show, car show, food festival, music festival, etc. Twenty-three metal sculptures by the Columbian artist Edgardo Carmona are displayed throughout the downtown area and they attract a great deal of attention. We spend a day on Fort Myers Beach every week and we take in a movie at least once a week. Life is good!
We’ve met many people in Fort Myers and some have become good friends — Canadians and Americans both. I’ve discovered that a key to fitting in here is to purposefully avoid four topics: politics, religion, gun control, and health care. Most Americans we’ve met know very little about Canada, and what they do believe is often tainted or outright false. As a result, it’s difficult to have an informed two-way conversation on these topics.
To illustrate, a cyclist I met for the first time began our conversation by asking me where I was from. He said that his daughter had done post-graduate work at UBC. “The school was fine,” he said, “but she didn’t like Canada”. “Oh!”, I replied. “No, she couldn’t carry [a concealed handgun] and didn’t feel safe there.” What do you say to that? Last week, I came upon two of my cycling buddies I’d wrongly assumed were Trump supporters. They both looked at me, shook their heads, and said how disappointed they were with how their leaders were behaving. These are sensitive times in America, and Americans are divided on many important issues.
I hold strong opinions on the four topics mentioned but keep them to myself. When someone tries to draw me into a conversation, I politely decline, saying only that I’m a visitor and that we enjoy spending time here.
When it comes to the television news outlets, it’s all Trump all the time! CNN is anti-Trump, Fox News is pro-Trump, and MSNBC falls somewhere in the middle. I distinctly remember turning in at 11:00 pm on November 8, 2016, secure in the knowledge that Hillary Clinton would succeed Barack Obama as President of the United States. The silver-haired CNN genius, John King, had guided viewers through a seemingly inexhaustible series of impressive electoral maps, declaring definitively that “There is no path to victory” for Donald Trump. I slept well knowing that. We all know what happened the next morning!
And so, we watch the circus unfold every day. The same talking heads that predicted a Clinton victory explain how the noose is tightening around the Trump team. (I’d have fired every friggin’ one of them after the 2016 election.) The Mueller Inquiry indicts yet another campaign insider and the talking heads smell blood. “This time, they’ve got him”, they hint. Trump manoeuvres and creates yet another diversion: régime change in Venezuela; peace talks with the Taliban; withdrawal of US troops from Syria; new hope for a trade deal with China; a second summit with Kim Jong-Un. We watch as the wily Nancy Pelosi teaches The Donald a hard lesson about the realities of governing the world’s most powerful nation. He sticks to his plan to build The Wall and to have poor Mexico pay for it! Yes indeed, truth is stranger than fiction.
We’ve created a bubble for ourselves, a place to spend a few months each year. It may not be luxurious but it’s home for now. The internet makes it much easier to stay in touch: to read La Voix acadienne and The Guardian; watch Compass; FaceTime with friends and family; and even watch Netflix. We have each other, warm days, and lots to do. It is indeed true that home is where the heart is!