It was just another early morning shift at my job. We rolled in at 6 AM, yawning, ready to unpack and sort through boxes and boxes of shipment that we had received the day before. Pandora music playing full blast through a cell phone and slap-happy, half-awake conversations are the only things that keep us going through these wee morning hours. But on this particular morning, the conversation took a terrible turn.
My co-workers–these people I thought I knew–started trash-talking Florida, my home state.
It wasn’t intended to offend me. Some of my co-workers didn’t even know that I’d recently moved from Florida to Pittsburgh. They shrugged when I told them, and continued to list Florida’s supposedly many flaws.
It shouldn’t have bothered me that much. But to stand there and listen to my co-workers speak so matter-of-factly about my state (which some of them had never even visited!) at 6 AM, running on very little sleep, REALLY pushed my buttons.
You don’t see me bullying other people about their states. I’m not walking up to a Texan and acting all like, “Texas is the WORST. It’s so big and boring…and stuff. Florida’s way better!” I’ve often heard people say, “Don’t mess with Texas,” and I’m not about to start.
It may have less to do with my co-workers hating Florida and more to do with the bizarre Pittsburgh pride phenomenon that I’ve witnessed over the last (almost) year that I’ve lived here. Talk to any native within the city limits, and they will swear up and down that Pittsburgh is the BEST and ONLY place to live in the entire country. Oh they’ve visited other cities, sure. New York City? Been there, done that. Los Angeles? Not as great as it looks on TV. Philadelphia? Psssh….boring. Pittsburgh is the ONLY place they would ever want to call home. Read: the only place they ever HAVE called home.
If you run across someone who admits that Pittsburgh isn’t that great? Ask them when they moved here. You’re not talking to a born-and-raised-in-Steel-town Yinzer. And if you don’t know what that means, that’s probably a good thing.
Pittsburgh is okay. I don’t want to bash it, necessarily, like my co-workers were bashing Florida. It’s a pretty nice town. But it’s just not heaven-on-earth, that’s all I’m saying.
So you can imagine my surprise when the guy standing next to me, tagging sweatshirts with security sensors and handing them to me to be put on hangers, randomly says, “Florida is basically where people go to die.”
And everyone in the room gets a good laugh out of that and starts agreeing with him.
And I, perhaps taking this comment a little too seriously, demand, “What would make you say something like that?!”
He vaguely responds, “Well, you know, because there are so many old people there…”
Oh really?! And there aren’t just as many little old ladies here in Pittsburgh, jamming up the grocery line at the Giant Eagle to buy their scratch-off tickets?
It wasn’t just the elderly that my co-workers had issues with. They also complained about alligators, bugs, heat, and Disney World.
How long have you lived in Florida, again?
Oh, that’s right…NEVER.
So allow me, friends, to explain a few things about my home state.
Florida, despite what some may think, is not hot ALL the time. Just because we don’t get any snow doesn’t mean it doesn’t get a little chilly in the winter (especially if you’re living up in the panhandle). And I think it’s kind of poetic that when I was growing up, I didn’t realize that in the wintertime, for most of the country, the landscape was turning brown and dead and full of muddy snowy slush. I didn’t realize it because my state stays lush and green year-round. It’s always pretty in Florida.
While my Pittsburgh co-workers were all high-fiving each other about scoring season passes to Kennywood (Kenny Rogers’ own theme park), I was visiting Disney World about twice a year, eating breakfast with this guy:
I was also outdoors most of the time during my childhood, riding my bike and climbing trees even in January and February. I once got fussed at by my mom for climbing over the chain link fence that bordered my cousins’ backyard and taking some oranges out of a huge, commercial orange grove. My excuse was that we eat the oranges that grow in grandma’s backyard…isn’t this the same? 😉
Every summer we would visit one of Florida’s many beaches and stay in a house or condo there for at least a week. I spent those weeks feeling sunburned, waterlogged, and happy, not even able to fathom how my neighbors in the land-locked states were spending their summers.
Some of my Florida friends have spotted alligators and even black panthers in their backyards–it’s true. You’re talking about the state that advertises the “World’s Largest Alligator!” at nearly every rest stop exit along I-95. But doesn’t that make life a little more exciting? Everyone else around the USA seems to just get boring old deer in their yards (excluding Alaska, of course), and hey!–we have deer in Florida, too.
In Florida, we don’t follow pro-football like we do college. I grew up in a state where everyone knows the difference between FSU and UF, and they have very strong opinions about each of them.
Yes, we have bugs in Florida. And lizards. But nothing near as bothersome as Pittsburgh’s stinkbugs or cicadas. The bugs and lizards in Florida just serve to make everything feel a little more tropical. In the summers, Florida follows an almost rainforest-like schedule of storming every day at 4:00 PM on the dot, often with fantastic displays of lightning and thunder, and then clearing up and becoming beautiful and sunny again within the hour. Then, in an almost magical way, as twilight falls, a harmonic cacophony of crickets and frogs herald the start of evening. And even though the sun has set, the evening feels just as warm and comfortable as the day, inviting you to pull up a chair and stay outside awhile to enjoy the stars and sounds of the owls hooting in their trees. Or perhaps a late night swim in the tepid waters of the pool. Oh, I miss it. 🙂
I spent my rosy, childhood years in Florida, so I’m a little biased, I’ll admit. But I know I can’t be the only one. Do you get that same swell of pride when you talk about your home state?