Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stories from the Road -- Coral Gables, FL

I have missed writing these blogs, so I return once again to tell some of my stories from the road.


I was in Florida one weekend in the fall of 2009 with a friend of mine, and she had gone to a football game with a friend of hers. This left me with an evening of exploring Coral Gables, a city that television actually gets right.

When I think Coral Gables, I immediately think of Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia. The Golden Girls is set in this city, and the images of Coral Gables always consisted of warm-colored buildings and palm trees. I always thought this was a cliche, but it turns out that these two things are essentially Coral Gables. Not surprisingly, this made me a bit happy. Not often I was able to see the "tropical" architecture, natural and man-made. It turns out that I can no longer think of palm trees without seeing those buildings. They are forever intertwined.

Walking in the streets of Coral Gables, I immediately grasped two concepts central to life there. First, everything is always done outside. Eating indoors is what hosts and hostesses ask at restaurant entrances, not outdoors. Shopping in a store lasts for short periods of time. People tire of the air conditioning, artificial lighting, and echoes from the walls. Most restaurant seating features lawn chairs and umbrellas. To be honest, I could get used to this, but I wonder if this is true in August rather than October.

Second, the more, the merrier. Sure, there were a lot of couples, but there were even more groups. I would see groups of eight or more everywhere -- shopping, eating, walking, talking. The outsiders were the loners, and here I mean the "tourists", myself included. I'm afraid I stuck out like a sore thumb in Coral Gables, so worthy of mocking or those knowing glances from the locals.

My evening was spent walking around and around, watching a group of drunks falling into tables and a family of six order the exact same thing for each person. I loved it. People wear their hearts on their sleeves here, and are unabashed in their public behavior. Loud conversation is encouraged, and not distracting. After all, everything is outdoors -- public and open for discussion. Such a place would sound scary to me, but I found all of it to be strangely comforting. A small town attitude in the midst of an urban sprawl.

I noticed that most people walked as far away from roads as possible. One glimpse of the traffic, and you'd fall in line. Crazy. Speed limit signs aren't suggestions; they're eye sores. Pedestrians here are those empty trash bags in the open plains. Merely something to run over and watch swaying in the breeze behind you. It is best to look both ways before crossing the street, and then closing your eyes anyway when taking the leap.

When I walked into the more residential sections of Coral Gables, I was immediately struck at the familiarity of the scene. Although I didn't see the Golden Girls house, I constantly felt like I was walking down their neighborhood. The houses were beautiful -- typically long and single-storied. Colors were orange, yellow, maybe an occasional sky blue, often colors I couldn't see (probably red or various similar hues). The houses here looked happy, airy, warm, comforting. Just like the downtown area.

Going indoors in various places throughout the city was a letdown. Whereas the buildings on the outside looked colorful and inviting, the insides were dark, empty, and drab. Maybe the lack of people inside most stores and restaurants added to the mood.

I would quickly exit the buildings and go back outside. A slight breeze, the clanging dishes and silverware, and the recognizable laughter of group camaraderie. And those palm trees, happily sitting beside the next store. It was dark now, and I ordered an iced tea. Sat down at a table and listened. I could get used to this.