Florida: Newly-Wed or Nearly-Dead?

(a well-due return to the blogosphere) (smiley face)

Our waiter described the city of Naples as fit for “newly-weds” or the “nearly-dead”! Being neither, we still managed to settle in without undue compromise. American Airlines (as chosen by Eoin at Trailfinders) delivered us to our white beach idyll with minimum fuss. In fact, the longest delay we faced on our six state adventure was experienced in Dublin airport at the dreaded security pre-clearance line which seemed to stretch to infinity. The security gate always reeks of latent aggression, a “Don’t Fuck with Me or You’ll Find yourself in a Jail Cell Pronto, Sir!” kind of vibe, more particularly this time with airports at high doh around Europe. At the booth denoting American soil stood an officer in full uniform emblazoned with badges and bristling authority. He sniffed when I was beckoned along, reacting only with a bare wince when drinking quickly and peremptorily from his thermos bottle; I couldn’t tell if the drink was hot or cold. He stamped my passport and recorded my fingerprints and I wondered how anyone could escape charge in such a thoroughly efficient organisation. We were through. Next to the white sands of Naples, Florida.

My first impression was the same as seeing a man after a nigh-due haircut. You know what I mean: all visible excess hair has been shaved, clipped and brushed away, literally not-a-hair-out-of-place, but in an excessive way? It almost looks too severe, as haircuts must in the immediate aftermath of a bazzer. Florida was the same. Paved pavements, manicured lawns, row upon row of hotel set-down areas, preened to the nth degree. Someone would nearly be up behind you to shine up your buttons with Brasso. The outskirts told a different tale. You can sanitise your hands with all the alcohol you like but there will still come a time when a good washing is needed. Driveways boasted Trump placards or tumbledown remnants of  never-ending car boot sales. There was no-one about but you knew people abounded because the First Purchase Methodist Church, Teeth-Whitening Services and Elementary School buildings all pointed towards population. Not moneyed but not poor either. Here was a place which seemed to cater for all sorts but when we reached the hotel, we realised that in fact we were members of a select club, where money bought you luxury.

If it hadn’t been part of our package, we couldn’t have afforded our accommodation. For us, a visit to a five star hotel is a major treat and although in the four star range, this resort (La Playa) had it all. Immediate beach access to white, unspoilt sands stretching for miles; valets to set up your lounger and umbrella or fix you a paddleboard, snack or beverage straight to your lounger; gourmet breakfast from pancakes to eggs Benedict; rooms in the lap of luxury; comfort from marital bed to grave. I could get used to it! So, in short, it was well beyond expectations. But there was something missing.

la-playa

La Playa Resort, Florida

 

The human connection in such establishments tends to be from a distance. The waiting staff engage but only barely to recite the specials. Newly-weds can entertain each other, older folks are comfortable in each other’s company but there is a dearth of warmth when you notice a glazed pair of eyes as you peruse the menu. I’ve seen the same thing in Killarney, where a weariness of tourists can subtly come across in an exchange. Not that you’d want to hear someone’s life story. I understand that some people who frequent such hotels need an escape from their busy schedules and this distance gives them the service they require but also a non-invasive privacy. There’s a fine line between service and intrusion. Let’s interact but we’ll keep it business-like. I’m not sure but the service and atmosphere felt a little over-done and I experienced it as functional and glib.

It was in a restaurant down the street that we encountered the waiter who set us straight on Florida life with his quip on the clientele. He had us so convinced of the merits of this balmy climate that we swooned a little as we took in the sheltered lagoon out back. The establishment was of the honest-to-goodness type and served fresh, simple seafood or burgers. This was more our scene in a human sense and we appreciated the service and fresh welcome we received. But inevitably, the residue of a life bookmarked by holidays in increasingly more luxurious surroundings overwhelmed us once again. The gathering clouds seemed to mirror our mindset, threatening a steady downpour as if to warn us that this would be our lot if we stayed put in the cheaper seats. “Regain your status” it seemed to say. We had gotten used to the luxury and although for a brief time we considered the dream of renting a room in the in-house motel for a whole summer, the draw of the deep-pile carpet and super king bed was too much and we reverted to type, settling in for our last night of dinner in style.  

Amazing location, amazing raw materials, a sunset from a storybook but it all lacked a little of that human touch. The food and accommodation were excellent but four days was more than enough. We had mind for a change by then and skedaddled to the airport with our Albanian chauffeur as our storyteller for the short journey. Neither newly-wed nor nearly-dead but human and on an adventure.

(TÓL August/November 2016)