I thought that I knew what Florida was like. I had been up and down the east coast by car as far south as Key Largo, and had made a couple of trips around the Orlando area to visit my grandmother and to go flying at Quest air park, so I thought that I had a good grip on the “feel” of Florida before starting out across Mobile Bay from Dog River to travel down the west coast of Florida on the Gulf ICW. I figured that the coast would all be low and muddy, that there would be plenty of retirement communities and trailer parks, and that the water would be shallow. I was right about most of those things, but the “feel” of the west coast of Florida is distinctly different than that of the east coast.
The east coast of Florida draws people from the east coast of the northern states, and from other big cities. It has a big-city feel. The people remind me of New England. It is bustling and commercial and filled with traffic. When I lived in Georgia and used to drive south to visit some of the coastal Florida towns on the weekend I used to think that I could go no farther south than Georgia because once I crossed the Florida border I was back up north again.
The Gulf coast, however, is a bit quieter. It seems that most of the people who winter over or vacation on the west coast of Florida come from the midwest section of the US, and bring with them their midwest mannerisms, accents, and attitudes. I feel more likely to randomly strike up a conversation with friendly strangers here on the west coast than out east. The towns are less bustling and more laid-back, which makes me feel more at ease. All in all, the west coast has been a very pleasant surprise and I hope to visit again.
Some Floridian details are the same on both coasts to remind me that I am still in Florida, such as the large back-lit street signs, and loads of retirees, or “Q-tips” (for their white hair and white sneakers), as a friend of mine likes to call the seas of oldsters in the Retirement, I mean Sunshine State.