Saturday, April 5, 2008

Florida Fantasies

I loved Florida. More than I expected to. People warned me that Sarasota was strip mall hell, and they were right...but as an American, I'm used to strip mall hell. It's much more convenient than, say, Providence, Rhode Island, or Boston, Massachusetts, or New York City. Plenty of stores and restaurants, all easy to find, easy to drive to, with lots of parking available.

I really felt at home in Florida, probably because I grew up in a touristy tropical seaside-type place. A place where people will be fishing from every bridge, unless it's specifically posted "no fishing." Except that Sarasota felt much less crowded than Hawai`i, which was really nice.

People were fishing everywhere. Old and young, male and female, black, white, Hispanic, Asian. Kids with their parents, little old lades in prim dresses and wheelchairs, groups of teens, old married couples. I haven't fished since leaving Hawai`i, but there's a universal bond among fishermen that I instantly recognized. (No, I didn't go fishing myself. I didn't have a license, and I didn't know what the rules were. But I was tempted!)

Signs of the real estate bust were everywhere. Literally. On every corner, there was a sign offering distressed homeowners help with their mortages. "I pay cash for homes!" "Walk away, save stress!"

Still...I really liked Florida. To the point that if sustainability weren't an issue, I'd be tempted to move there. As it is, though...I don't want to live somewhere that may be underwater in 20 years.

Someone at The Oil Drum asked me if my road trip left me more or less optimistic. Neither, really. It just reinforced my existing views.

There are a lot of things I like about public transportation; I've used it extensively in cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco. I don't mind walking, either. (The ballpark ushers seemed astonished that I preferred the stairs to the elevator.)

And yet...there's no denying that cars are a hell of lot more convenient. When the weather is bad, when you have a lot of stuff to lug, when you're going off the beaten path or traveling at odd hours. Nothing beats a car. And a big, powerful car is much more comfortable and easy to drive than a small, fuel-efficient car - especially for long trips. (I'd kind of forgotten that, since I don't drive very much.) We'll pry people's cars from their cold, dead fingers, and I can't really blame them.

Driving across the country was kind of like watching Koyaanisqatsi: it left me both horrified at the way we're living, and awestruck at the sheer magnitude of our works. It's not sustainable. And yet, it's not going to go away overnight, either. We have too much invested in our current way of life. The collapse, when it comes, will be a catabolic one.

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