On Saturday Ethan went out to do the chores very early so we could drive to South Florida to visit Ethan’s Grandmother for her birthday (she’s 97 this year!).
It’s amazing how different it looks out there in the morning. We are usually there in the evening for the late afternoon/sunset. The shadows, light, and wildlife are totally different in the morning. I almost don’t recognize the place when we are out there early.
Being around Tampa was interesting. You drive through a stretch of beautiful, marshy farmland on the way there, which abruptly gives way to the most twisted indulgence of human materialism – the stucco/OSB suburbs.
In a way, it is it’s own little hell. It reminds me of some places in California. Everyone has either a massive, fancy car or a tiny, expensive fancy car. I people-watched while we were driving. It’s amazing to see how ugly, mean and aggressive everyone looked. A beefy, bloated-looking man glaring over the steering wheel of an elegant black SUV. A hunched, decrepit-looking young man in his 20’s slamming the door of a blue Corvette. A long-nosed, cherry red sports car that you would expect to see being driven by a blond trophy girlfriend with fake breasts actually contained a bitchy-looking old hag with well-developed jowls. She was probably that trophy girlfriend like 40 years ago.
As soon as you get to the begining of the ‘burbs, you can tell business is flagging a little. It appeared that they had rounded up the few homeless people who were hanging around the highway exit with “Will Work For Food” signs and had them dancing around in funny hats with “NEW HOMES” signs for a Happy Meal.
Ethan couldn’t help joking, “Oh yes, we decided to buy this house because there was a scruffy fat man in a funny hat waving a sign in front of it!”
It made me feel sarcastic and bitter to drive past the neighborhoods named after nature. Pine Woods, was one. Boot Ranch. Ooo…that one’s kind of country-sounding. So unique. Fern Meadows. Oak Forest, with the word LUXURY written in curly font on the sign. You look, and all the oaks were cut down. It’s just a CAFO of cheeply-made houses as far as the eye can see, baking in the hot sun, each one a little island of toxic chemistry, paste-board, and climate-control. There’s a fancy-looking fountain and a one-brick-wide brick wall they slapped up along the drive in, to make it look distinguished. There’s a sense of trying to re-create the landed gentry of Europe, except fast and cheap.
Ethan’s uncle lives in one such little neighborhood. When you get out of the car, all you can smell is chlorine off-gasing from all the private pools. It’s like the trenches. The lawns are small and non-functional. You are supposed to spend all your time inside if you are not driving your fancy car around. The whole neighborhood exudes self-centeredness, a “look how rich I am” opulence, and an attitude of if-you’re-not-this-way-too-you-don’t-count-as-a-human. But it’s all fake. The houses are all stucco and the 1/4 inch wide brick facade on the outside, and chinese drywall and OSB on the inside. There’s no way they’ll last even 50 years, and the next really good hurricane down there will either sweep them away into a pile of rubble or humidify the glue in the OSB so much all the houses will melt like an ugly illusion.
It’s a relief to drive away from it all, back to the marshy pastures and the countryside. I couldn’t help thinking then about Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, No Exit. The whole place is almost a metaphor for the parting shot:
“Hell is other people.”