Monday, January 17, 2022
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Plan B as in Beach: Christmas in Florida

As a public service, I’d like to share these safety tips I ran across for driving in snow: 

  1. Install winter tires.
  2. Drive south.
  3. Continue until you see palm trees.
  4. Apply brakes and sunscreen.

We skipped Tip 1 but otherwise followed the instructions to the letter. They worked.

Plan A had been Christmas in New York. We had a full dance card: Christmas Eve dinner with Susan and Gowen, Christmas night jazz with Jo and Vinnie, birthday dinner with Heidi and Josh. 

You know what happened next: omicron. In New York, it was Spring 2020 all over again, only with fewer patients on ventilators. 

We began feeling trepidatious. So did Heidi. Five days before we were supposed to hit the Big Apple, she called with an idea. She had checked the forecast for northern Florida: 70 and sunny from Christmas to New Year’s. She also checked the COVID numbers for that part of the Sunshine State. They were low. And she found a condo on the beach.

One thing the pandemic has taught us all is to be ready to pivot at a moment’s notice. And so Plan B as in Beach was born. 

Forget Rock Center, the lights of Broadway, the shop windows of 5th Avenue. We would meet in Chapel Hill, N.C., spend the night, and drive to Amelia Island the next day. 

We “arrived at our destination,” to quote our Google Maps navigator, around 4 p.m. Nice timing: The light was turning golden, the sea, purple and pink. We kicked off our shoes and went straight to the beach. The two seven-hour driving days were immediately worth it.

Then we hit the condo. Or tried to. The keypad numbers didn’t work. 

This was not the first time I’d been defeated by a newfangled door lock. Ever arrive exhausted at a hotel, experience key card failure and have to return to the front desk to get the card reactivated? Recall that ever happening with a metal key? Neither can I.

We phoned the management company and waited half an hour for a metal key bearer to let us in. A person less mindful of how lucky he was to be spending Christmas at the beach might have been put out. I try not to be such a person.

When we crossed the condo threshold, we wondered why we were so eager to get in. You know how décor that’s due for an update is described as “tired?” This place looked like it had run an ultramarathon and crossed the finish line on hands and knees. 

The theme, of course, was “beach.” I’ve never understood why beach houses need to be so beachy. You know: lobster trap coffee tables, lighthouse lamps, cutouts of whales, fishes and mermaids, and witty signs that say, “It’s a Shore Thing” or “Happiness Comes in Waves” or the classic, “Life’s a Beach.” 

This place was the bad trip version of beach-house chic. Think “Finding Nemo in Graceland.”  Think Vacation Rentals by Ogres.

The kid’s room was the stuff of kid nightmares: goggle-eyed papier-mâché fishes and crustaceans. 

Our room had a bedside lamp with a crab perched on it that was so lifelike, it startled us into wakefulness the first time we switched it on in the middle of the night. 

The living room had a lamp that appeared to be a parable of the food chain: turtle on the bottom, bird on turtle’s back, fish in bird’s mouth. 

The dining room chandelier was strictly ballroom. The fake flower arrangements looked like they’d been swiped from a cemetery. 

To forestall nautical nausea, we hid the more hideous furnishings in a closet.

Beach-house chic. Photo by Russell Frank

I’m not complaining, mind you. The décor was like a movie that is so bad, it’s good. It was like a bulldog that’s so ugly, it’s cute. In other words, it was a source of endless amusement.  

Besides, who cares what the interior of a beach house looks like? Outside, as predicted, it was 70 and sunny. From the terrace we could see turtles and armadillos – real ones — in the dunes, and beyond, pelicans diving and dolphins leaping in a flat-calm sea. 

What is it about beaches? Living in a house in State College, I don’t feel cramped the way I might if I lived in a New York shoebox, but on the beach there’s this feeling of openness and vastness, a feeling that you can fling out your arms, that nothing’s in your way, that you can breathe more freely than you can anywhere else.  

The beach is also life, stripped down: to shorts, walks, talks, books and quick dips.

Granted there was no snow to escape from in Central Pennsylvania, neither when we left, nor when we returned. (Have you seen the robins?) But Florida’s no snow is nicer than our no snow, at least in winter.