Even when I was much younger, I entertained the idea of pulling up stakes and enjoying the charm of a colonial home, even if it meant enduring some extreme weather. I was thinking of that recently when Paul and I were driving to the Berkshires. The colonials I’m talking about were of the New England variety, and I was thinking about the extreme cold of Connecticut’s northwest corner. I was still new to Connecticut at the time, and that Hollywood “Mr. Blandings” depiction of the state still resonated. I was smitten with this flavor of rural life, yet I was just starting out in my career.
Maybe it’s not even a Colonial that I wanted. It was something special, some place distinctive, in a mode that set me apart from my suburban peers. And it was someplace other than wherever I was at the moment. It seems every time Paul and I travel somewhere, we end up supposing “what if we lived here?” and start looking at the real estate options. It happened in Montreal as well as Fort Lauderdale, which I think indicates how eclectic our tastes are.
Vacationing on Cape Cod three years ago, not too long after the market crash and about the time when we agreed to start envisioning that vacation/next-stage-in-life home, we were looking at a Provincetown condo with hardwood floors, a fireplace, and a narrow water view if you cocked your head just right. Cape prices were still sky high, so we listened with interest to another vacationing couple, visiting from Fort Lauderdale, when they extolled the virtues of the Galt Ocean Mile. This is a string of boxy highrises, boxy and charmless, but well built. It promised a carefree existence, with a doorman, a view of the beach, and so close to so many things like restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. Prices were bottom dollar, too. But you know what held us back (besides the feeling that we were selling ourselves short by not finding a distinctive, walkable neighborhood)? The market crash might have created a buyers’ market, but ongoing costs like homeowners’ association dues, insurance, and taxes were still there. After seeing what storms had done lately to high rises, I realized high-rise living wasn’t always so carefree. When the power went out in our suburban Connecticut house, we still had gas and running water, and I could access the street very easily. Once the elevator and water pumps cease to operate, however, high-rise living gets pretty bleak.
We had also visited friends in another Fort Lauderdale high rise, flashy, newly built twin towers painted pink. It was designed so your elevator opened up right to your own foyer, and only two units shared each floor. Our friends shared their level with a famous Mafia family from New York. One of our friends there was a concert pianist, but the residents above forced him to stop playing his grand piano. There were terraces on three sides of the unit, but ongoing construction deficiencies meant the sound of constant drilling from above, and a ban from actually stepping foot on those terraces. From twenty-something floors up, the ocean appeared as an abstract strip of blue. The view of the bay side was actually more interesting. And you didn’t escape flooding during a storm. Sideways rain seeped under the sliders.
Even still, we had a Realtor show us around. We tried to get excited about the midcentury bungalows along the area’s myriad lagoons, especially in gay-friendly (if not gay-centric) Wilton Manors. We just couldn’t get worked up. We also wondered how a city so associated with a demographic that is stereotyped as tasteful could have such homely street scapes. Low-rise strip malls and concrete parking lots everywhere. New Jersey with palm trees. It looked too much like where we were fleeing, but with more conservative politics. We returned to Connecticut still unsure of our next step, wanting to take advantage of the buyers’ market, but not knowing where to go.
If only our knowledge of the world was better. If only we could find a community that’s a little more off the beaten path, less cliché than Florida. A coal mine tested and approved by some brave canary, but not really on the radar of most everyone else. I would scour the Florida coast up and down (Sarasota? Delray Beach?) before finding a more compelling location. I had never even been to Mexico, and it was the last thing on my mind — until it became practically the only thing I could think of.