Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Miss Manhattan Takes A Holiday: Part I

Hello, all! Happy new year! I was on holiday but have since returned. I am delighted to share my experiences with you now.

Far different from its more northern counterpart, South Florida is a bi- and occasionally tri-lingual mass of reggaeton radio stations, old people driving comparatively younger cars, mothers with an equal amount of plastic in their bodies and wallets, blue skies, delightfully warm winters, late lavender-and-pink sunsets, highways, beach roads, and better Chinese restaurants and delicatessens than those I have encountered in New York (yeah, I said it). It’s a cultural mish-mosh, collage, whatever, of a bunch of different kinds of people thrown together, a more spread out, beachy mini-New York, if you will. And, if you didn’t already know, it is the original stomping grounds of your very own Miss Manhattan.

So I went back to visit my family over the holidays. While in New York I perpetually seek the new, fabulous, unusual or all three, in South Florida I am happy to haunt my oldest haunts, drive the roads I have driven innumerable times, see the faces I always see and, dare I say it, have a routine of some sort. I love it when my family picks me up from the airport and The Macarena starts playing at baggage claim. The first sight of a palm tree, growing stately and tall in this “winter” sends a smile to my lips. Because I live in New York now, South Florida’s “same old, same old” is no more, and I appreciate it anew.


The day after Christmas I bundle myself up for the unusual chill of 40 degrees descending on my fair region. For the first time since I arrived home three days earlier, I pull my dad’s car out of the garage and head to see my friends in a town 30 minutes away. I am notorious for expressing my distaste for their town, whose gas stations are landscaped and has more golf courses than libraries, but I love my friends and I have always enjoyed the drive there.

I roll the windows all the way down, plug in my iPod via old school wire and cassette and I’m off. Cool air runs over my hands, steady on the wheel as I slice my way through a black night dotted with the gold of streetlamps. After a soft curve and two right turns, I am on the service road, a straightaway that will lead me to my friends. Cat Power moans softly in the speakers, interrupted only by the shifting of my handbag in the passenger’s seat. I remember what I love about driving: the solitude, the time to think, the independence. I answer to no one but myself and the stoplights.

I am a little early so I drive around for another 10 minutes, cold racing over my hands and numbing them in a way I did not expect South Florida air could. I arrive and turn off the car, my hands as stiff as they are when I forget my gloves in the New York winter. Geography has tricked my hands into thinking they can only feel this way up north. However, I’m happy to accept these consequences in exchange for driving with the windows open.

My friends arrive and we shoot the shit in a cigar bar for a couple of hours. Cigarettes are smoked, liquor is drunk, stories good and bad are exchanged and friends are given hell in the way that only friends can give hell. I do not recall the last time I shot the shit for no finite amount of time, or sat in leather chairs with people I don’t see often enough. I want to do this more in New York, and I am reminded that while New York is brilliant to see solo, it is also important to have company (groups of company, even) to share it with. Seeing the city through someone else’s eyes is just as important as seeing it through your own.

After the bar we head to the 24-hour gas station store and empanaderia Panna Express. I remember when we were all on breaks during college and were tired of sitting around in one place, we would move to Panna and nothing had changed. My friends ordered tequeños, cheese sticks wrapped in a sweet and salty bread, and I a cachito, kind of like a tiny ham calzone. We plop our Styrofoam-plated treats onto brushed metal tables and shoot more shit, give more hell between bites of bready goodness. But then it has become 2:30 and it’s time to go home. Hugs and kisses are given, see you soons and laters are exchanged. It strikes me that I don’t really know when I will see them again, since I won’t be home for spring break as I would have been in college. I hope they know nonetheless that they will always have my heart.

I get in my car and drift through the blackness again, and this time the road is much quieter. I roll the windows down again and allow the air to deceive me this time. Because it is so humid, my hands will not blister as they would in New York, so I happily accept the cold and warm my hands with a bowl of soup when I return home. I wonder if there is a difference between ‘home’ and ‘where you live,’ or if it’s possible to have two ‘homes,’ two places to which your heart belongs.