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Observations: A Serious Adult

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image Somehow life’s winding trails have led us all here. There are certainly worse places. Mitch Traphagen Photo

My story may not be all that different from yours. And besides, we all have one thing in common: The trail of our lives has led us here. To Florida.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

I grew up in the 1960s and wanted to be a hippie, although I had no idea what a hippie actually was. I had assumed it was something like the Beatles. I really liked the Beatles. My first record album was the Chipmunks singing the Beatles greatest hits. I brought it to my kindergarten class and the teacher reluctantly played it as we all rolled out our little sleeping pads for naptime. Yes, that’s right, 20 five-year-olds fell asleep to a falsetto chipmunk singing John Lennon.

In the summer months, perhaps it was even the Summer of ’68, I tried walking around barefoot a lot with a leather strap tied around my ankle, but that was about as far into hippiedom as I had actually ventured back then. I remember seeing the results of a haircut given by my mom and shouting out in angst, “I look like a Beatle!” Apparently that, too, was a phase as years later I let my hair grow and even had a beard (sort of). Judging by photos from that time, I doubt that I would be allowed to board airplanes today had I kept that appearance. But that was the ’70s, and pretty much all of us looked bad in the ’70s. It wasn’t an attractive decade.

Back to the ’60s: I grew up in a small rural town where even the Democrats were Republicans and most of the unrest the nation was experiencing was far, far away.  Nothing happened in Worthington, Minn. Well, there were rumors of a passing motorcycle gang killing a guy but no one in town turned up missing.  I lived a “Leave It to Beaver” life until the age of 15 when my Dad suddenly died from a heart attack.  I saw it happen.  Things changed, but really not all that much, except for finding a new depth of sadness. Although astonished by it, I found that the world kept turning. Somehow my trajectory felt out of step.

I joined a rock band but didn’t do drugs and I didn’t drink much — and even that, not until college. I have never been arrested.

I moved to Colorado and finished college, graduating with honors after a brief and sadly inglorious collegiate record in Minnesota. Everything changed in Colorado — I cut my hair, shaved off the beard and believed that I was well on my way to becoming a Serious Adult. Colorado eventually morphed into a return to Minnesota, which morphed into a move to Florida, literally the last state I ever expected to live in.

I eventually wound up in a distant suburb (of sorts) of Tampa. Tampa is a big city that has no concept of being a big city. To an outside observer, at least those who dare to venture off the beaches, it is a seemingly haphazard collection of trailer parks, gated communities and strip malls linked by traffic-choked roads. But, of course, there is much more to it than that.

You can probably consider yourself a Floridian when you realize that you can recognize the license plates of every northern state east of the Mississippi from a distance.  I know them all, even with all of the variations that are so common today: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and the not-quite states of Quebec and Ontario.

And with that realization I began to wonder if, perhaps, I’ve been in Florida too long. I arrived here a mere child of 32 years with numerous dreams, and, two decades later, I see some of those dreams lying about forlorn and neglected. But at the same time, I found new dreams that have come true. I’m not sure those dreams would have happened anywhere but in Florida.

Florida has challenges. A good percentage of the population is from somewhere else, and, while they may stay in Florida, many still consider a different state their home. Florida is the only state for which the Associated Press publishes its annual weird news report. Generally speaking, Florida is as crazy as it is made out to be — but that’s a different Florida than what I seem to know. Everyone knows the stories of drunken guys calling 911 asking the operator to run out to get them some more beer, or the people who call 911 from McDonald’s to report they had been shorted on Chicken McNuggets — but I don’t know anyone who would do that. My personal favorite weird news story involved a woman who was cited for animal abuse for leaving a baby pig in her closed-up car while she was inside a convenience store.  Why would she have a baby pig in her car?  She was driving around the neighborhood leaving it on street corners for a few minutes, hoping to lure her boyfriend’s giant boa constrictor that had escaped from their mobile home. Now that’s just not something you hear about happening in Worthington, Minn.

The reality is that Florida is simply an easy target. Pick any state, even the supposedly staid and respectable states, and chances are good that you’ll find even crazier stuff going on there. Florida’s problem is that it is just too easy. And more, communities form slowly, if at all, and sometimes only with intense opposition. For many people, Florida is just a place to vacation, even if that vacation lasts from retirement until death — or until someone’s less-than-stellar past catches up with him or her from a northern state and is hustled off in cuffs.

I don’t know that I want to die here, but then again, none of us knows what tomorrow will bring. Each day is a gift. And this month, with polar vortexes and blizzards pounding the North, Florida is a gift of epic proportions.

Why am I telling you an abbreviated version of my life story? Time is ancient but life is short ­— yet it is amazing how many twists and turns we take in our time here on earth. My story may not be all that different from yours. And besides, we all have one thing in common: The trail of our lives has led us here. To Florida.

A lot has changed since the 1960s. What dreams may come seem to shape themselves to the times and the place. And Florida dreams are certainly not the worst kind to have. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I’m hoping I’ll have time to get a haircut. It’s long overdue. And then some Beatles music will be on tap while I am avoiding any boa constrictors that may be roaming the neighborhood. And then I’ll think some more about becoming a Serious Adult.

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