A City Cat Moves South

When I first moved to New York City, I wish I had done a few things. The first is I wish I had kept a journal of all the details that felt new upon moving to the city for the first time. I remember thinking I had grown up in multi-cultural areas like Miami and Orlando but nothing compared to the exposure I had to other languages and cultures simply through riding the subway to and from work. I also wish I had kept an obsessive log of all the restaurants I dined in throughout my 5 years in the city. If anyone asks, I have all of 5 fail-safe restaurants off the top of my mind to recommend.

I’ve been back in Orlando 17 days.

I moved down here on somewhat of a sabbatical under the assumption that I’d just stay with a friend, with no real plans other than to hit the springs, rejuvenate and give myself a month to apply to jobs. Since then, it looks like I’m starting a job opportunity I could not pass up on the 26th, making my time in Florida much longer than originally planned. I suppose I knew there was a chance of that when I bought a one-way ticket for $78 bucks.

Moving back to Florida has not been without it’s own series of culture shock. Here’s a look at a few of the #justsouthernthings (or #justsuburbanthings?) I’m still grappling to get used to again.

1. The sheer size of everything.
New York City is super compact. Like, I once had a friend whose kitchen you had to shuffle into sideways. Needless to say, the kitchen occupied one person at a time. Can you just imagine? That’s like building a kitchenette in one of those closets that hold ironing boards. Well, it happened. On the Upper West Side.

Meanwhile in Florida, I saw an outdoor shopping mall with a sign for Planet Smoothie so I pulled in, parked, got out of the car and just stared at the sheer size of the shopping mall. Where was this place? I saw a sign for it. Now, getting to it was it’s own challenge. It turned out to be behind the strip of businesses I had parked in front of, some 200 yards away. The open sky bearing down over the asphalt where Planet Smoothie remained in the distance made me feel so insignificantly small. Maybe that’s why New Yorkers feel so important, because everything is at hand and we feel like giants in the intimate corners of our restaurants and bars. Or the dorm-room size apartments we pay $1600/month for.

2. If you don’t have a car, you’re out of luck.
I have not owned a car in 7 years. Before moving to New York City, my life was compactly organized within a 5-mile radius of Winter Park. That’s when I paid $200/month in rent and had a front porch, a backyard full of rose bushes and a full-size garage. That we used for storage. I’m currently using my 17-year-old brother’s 2003 Honda Civic until I get my own but after doing some research on public transportation in Orlando, it would take you nearly 2 hours of transfers and waiting (in the Florida sun or rain, mind you) to get all of 5 miles North. The public transportation system here is atrocious. Even with a system as broken as the one in this city, 29 million passengers used public transportation services last year. The Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, or LYNX as it’s more commonly known, has an operating budget of $127,045,444. Compare that to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority budget of 14.6 billion, servicing 1.7 billion New York commuters in 2015 alone.

3. Everything is so clean.
This point may only be magnified by the fact that New York City is famous for being so dirty. Between the subway stations that haven’t been power-washed since the 1940’s and the growing rat population, suffice it to say that you get used to living with a certain level of grime in New York City. It doesn’t matter how hot the water in your shower is, you’re just going to leave your apartment and get dirty again.

In Florida however, decency and order is rule. The stores are impeccably organized and the streets are pretty clean, too. Between going from the AC in the apartment to the AC in a newly washed car, I feel like I’m in a bubble of cleanliness and comfort. I have no criticism against this except that I feel like it heightens one’s disconnection from humanity at some level. What happens when we encounter circumstances, or even people, that threaten these comforts? There’s a disconnect between the have and have-nots in New York City, certainly, but in Florida, or in the suburbs let’s say, it feels like that disconnect is all the more grievous. You don’t have to think of kids that don’t have clean running water because you can just avoid that area of town. You don’t have to face things that make you uncomfortable because well, the windows in your car are tinted and you don’t have to make eye contact.

You don’t have that privilege in New York City.

4. Southern hospitality can be weird.
Shopping for groceries in Manhattan at rush hour resembles a dystopian Lord of the Flies experiment sponsored by Trader Joe’s. It’s every man for himself. Shopping carts are smaller for optimal aisle navigation, everyone has their headphones in and elbows out. I went to Publix the other day (if you don’t know what Publix is, imagine a grocery store experience in heaven) and I was in your average suburban-sized aisle (see point one) when two different men said “excuse me, ma’am” as they walked past me in the cereal aisle. I do not own the cereal aisle. Why do they need me to excuse them? They were at least two feet away from me when they passed by. How absurdly polite.

During this same Publix experience, two different produce attendants asked if I needed anything. Do you know how much eye contact these exchanges required? Do you realize how much eye contact they make in the South? What is everyone staring at all the time?

Which leads me to my next point…

5. It’s a village.
I feel observed all of the time in Florida. I’ve now begun to observe others, if only because I ran into two different people from high school in the Metro Orlando area of town. I went to high school 20 miles away from this region. The Cheesecake Factory is not safe, the gigantic Target in Millenia plaza is not safe. You will see people you know and will have to account to why you are in town and have not called them.

I went to Epcot earlier this week, you know, the Disney theme park that averages 31,000 visitors a day, and saw an old teacher and another couple I knew from the church I used to belong to. Greater Orlando may have a population of 2 million people but it’s actually a provincial town at heart.

The townspeople do not use turn signals.

Author photo

Author: RJ Bohyn

My name is RJ, I'm a writer and consultant based in the South. If you're reading this, you've arrived at the corner of the internet I've cultivated to share life, reflections on faith, style, and just about everything in between with those generous enough to read.

Leave a Reply