Sunny and Seventy

Being a person from Wisconsin in Florida in February

February is the time when The People of the North begin to plan in John Mellencamp’s apt words, their “vacation on the Gulf of Mexico.”

The bride and I are in an interesting place right now. All three of our little darlings have flown the coop. Hence we are unfettered by teacher meetings, basketball games and the constant threat of a half-barrel of Milwaukee’s Best appearing in our basement.

As a result, we have been able to make a few quick sneaks south the past few winters. As joyful as one feels when the jet door is cracked open, and the warm, humid air of the Tampa International jet way embraces your dry, pale skin, Florida does not guarantee happiness.

There is drama to be endured before achieving sunny and seventy.

First the wife searches online decades in advance for the cheapest plane tickets. In earlier years this meant that we would rise at 3 a.m. for a 5 a.m. flight from Madison through Cincinnati, Ohio; El Paso, Texas; and Dover, Delaware before arriving in Florida nine hours later.

Thankfully we now motor to Milwaukee and catch a direct cattle car to Florida. The only amenity this airline offers is a pretzel. One small pretzel. For everyone on the plane. You lick it and pass it down the aisle.

Upon arriving in Sunland we rent a car. I always argue for a convertible. The bride thinks the extra expense is outrageous. We engage in this conversation at the head of a line of four hundred people from Ohio until the HertzAvisEnterpriseBudgetAlamo agent throws his hands in the air and surrenders a ragtop for a dollar a year.

Then we attempt to exit the airport. This means several carousel tours around the international terminal, Fed Ex hangars and remote tour bus parking lots before stumbling our way on to the interstate.

In the old days we seemed to drive for hours from the airport to some exotic out-of-the-way Casa del Mar del Baha La Playa Captiva Cove resort. Now we just drive as fast as we can toward the ocean from the airport and pull into the first parking lot we see. A Badger has only so much time in the sun. It cannot be wasted tooling down an interstate.

The bride handles check-in. She has arranged for a cost-effective room over the parking lot, next to the maids’ station with three coupons for a reduced rate if we stay through nine high tides. While she is handling the deal, my eyes dart back and forth looking for a tiki bar.

Any tiki bar. Somewhere. Even if it’s in Tiki.

We check into a room with a rattling air conditioner and the faint scent of cheap, pineapple disinfectant.

Now comes the moment of truth.

I shuck my Midwestern jeans and long-sleeve top for shorts and a T-shirt.

The glare from my white body is only outdone by its vast size.

I step out onto the veranda, allowing warm air to reach parts of my anatomy that have not felt the sun since that one warm day in September.

Donning shades, I make my way to the pool. The first entry poolside by a person from Wisconsin in Florida in February can only be viewed as “The Walk of Shame.” You can hear the bartender, waitress and pool boy snicker as another Midwest albino steer ambles into the sunlight. No doubt they rate the guests daily, rewarding the whitest, fattest northerner of the day with a piña colada “accidentally” spilled in his lap.

Experience has taught me to make my entrance just behind vacationers from New Jersey. They are uniformly louder and fatter than people from Wisconsin. And they have hair everywhere. And tattoos.

Let me tell you; when you walk behind someone from Bayonne who is wearing nothing but a tight pair of size XXXL New York Jets bicycle shorts and an “Ultimate Cage Fighting” tat all over his back, you feel like Johnny Freakin’ Depp in the south of France.

And now all the hassles slip away. You settle in the sun, recline your chaise, crack your beer and book. You feel pity for your Madison brethren back in the winter wilderness.

You turn and see a leathered brown creature on the chaise beside you. When it speaks you can tell it is a female. She informs you that she fled Latvia when she was a girl. In 1904.

As the comforting howl of the drink blender sounds, your gaze settles on the pelican shaped thermometer over the bar.

It reads forty-three degrees. And then it begins to sleet.

Ah, Florida.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write johneroach@mac.com.

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