South Florida: Expat Returns

Posted on 22. Sep, 2008 by in uncategorized

I spent Saturday through Tuesday at a sales show in Florida, my first time in the States in six months – the longest I’ve ever been away. I wondered what the people would seem like after being among Peruvians for so long. I was curious if the cleanliness, modernness, and bigness of America would surprise me.

I landed at MIA decided to check out South Beach before driving a rental across the state to Marco Island. I played in the ocean. The water’s warm but filled with floating debris. Not human trash, but marine plantlife. I don’t know if it’s the season or if this is the norm. South Beach is a popular destination among Europeans and topless sunbathing is tolerated. Not bad.

Miami’s beautiful but the beach culture has NOTHING on Southern California. I’m spoiled for having lived in Orange County for a year, arguably the best beach culture in the world. Around South Beach you see ugly people, fat people, old people, corny Midwesterners, etc. Not so much in SoCal.

As opposed to Los Angeles’ horrendous radio, I enjoyed Miami’s stations for the drive through the Everglades. In what may be the biggest swamp in the world, signs line the freeway advertising airboat tours and alligator shows. I knew there were gators and snakes and other nasty animals in the Everglades, but I was surprised to see “Panther Crossing” signs.

I got to Marco Island around 3 pm and checked into my room. Marco Island is a section of swank isolated from Naples by a thirty-minute drive. There isn’t much industry outside of hotels. They’re designed so you never have to leave the grounds. I stayed at the Marco Island Marriott Resort Golf Club and Spa. A photo’s at the bottom of this post.

After checking in I went to the beach and played in the water for a while, only because I wanted to say that I played in two different seas in one day (Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico). Not many people can say that.

I’d planned to have dinner at the beach in Naples but it was all residential. Naples has no beachfront scene with bars, shops, and beach culture. A shameful use of what should be public space. 5th Avenue, not far from the beach, is a retail district of posh bistros and high-end shopping. Lots of people with white hair. It prompted me to dub Naples, FL “Tommy Bahama Land.”

Tommy Bahama is a tropical-themed, business casual, men’s clothing line.  “Tommy” is about as gringo as names can be and “Bahama” implies beach / tropical. Typical Tommy Bahama is a Hawaiian shirt.  In my opinion, if you’re going to wear a Hawaiian shirt, it should be a cheap, light, cotton piece of shit. Preferably bright red or otherwise loud and ugly. And it should only be worn with shorts and flip flops. On the other hand, Tommy Bahama incorporates fine fabrics and earth tones while retailing for $40 or more. The sorry bastards wear it with a belt, light khakis or even white pants, and penny loafers. Disgusting. I used to see the Tommy Bahama section in department stores and wonder to myself: Who buys this shit? Answer: Naples, FL. I’ll never be old and corny. Old, yes. Corny, no.

I bought vodka and lemonade, and a bottle of Chartreuse. I’d never seen Chartreuse in a liquor store. I love that shit and decided to bring a bottle to Peru. At the hotel I went to the pool with my vodka, lemonade, glass and bucket of ice. Then I realized I was in America again. This strange land has fascist rules. I’d probably be breaking some rule with the booze so I hid it as well as I could and gained access to the pool undetected.

The huge pool had islands in it with giant palm trees shooting up and fountains sprinkling water. The pool staff had a thatched-roof hut next to the pool and I situated my booze out of their sight. I drank and swam and looked at the stars and the ocean and palm trees. For the first time coming back, this wasn’t a bad way to do it. When the pool closed, I hid from the pool staff behind one of the palm tree islands. They didn’t see me as they locked the doors and left.  I drank and swam for another hour or so.

At some point after the staff closed the pool, I noticed the “Pool Rules” sign. I marveled at how many rules there were. I was breaking four:  no night swimming, no food or drink in pool area, no glass allowed in pool area, and people under the influence of alcohol should not enter the pool.

I spent Monday and Tuesday pitching my products to various buyers. There was interest from bigger retail chains chasing the Hispanic demographic. Small to medium chains weren’t interested as the shipping costs of smaller purchases would kill their margin, or because they didn’t have much of a Hispanic clientele.

One cultural difference applies to business. Cold gringos can be abrupt and direct. Some uninterested buyers left after just a minute or two. In Latin America, there’s an important relationship-building process. Even if someone can tell he won’t buy anything, he’ll talk with the seller and act interested. I couldn’t have cared less when gringos ended things abruptly, it saves my time, but it’d be seen as insulting in Latin America.

I don’t own a camera so no pictures of beautiful South Florida. But this is the hotel I stayed at:

Marco Island Marriott

Marco Island Marriott


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