That was my quick and dirty answer to everyone when they asked why I was moving out of South Florida and leaving my job as guide in the Everglades. It had, in fact, broken me.
I knew prior to moving south from Gainesville to Boca Raton that if I was to ever grow tired of anything, it'd be the people. And that's exactly what happened. I actually loved what I did in South Florida. Even though people who are close to me heard me bitch quite a bit about my job, I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. From the time I picked my guests up, until the time I dropped them off, it rarely felt like work. The rest of the time, however? I really REALLY didn't enjoy.
Sure there were some bright spots.
I met some cool people. Got to experience some fun things that aren't offered anywhere else. But for the vast majority of my time in South Florida, I simply didn't like it. West Palm Beach to Homestead is essentially one massive city. The biggest city that I've personally ever been in and after a while it took its toll. Commutes to and from work ranged under 10 miles but took hours. The cost of living was outrageous. And the people? I won't blow smoke up your ass...
The people are shit.
Like I said, I met some cool people, but for the most part, the people are terrible. And not even one demographic over another. Just the people in general.
I've read several "studies" and reports about urban living. How it can lead to aggressiveness, poor mental health, etc. Though I won't argue with anything they have to say, I really think it just boils down to this: Too many people, too close together.
The way I see it, you're allowed to be a terrible person and essentially get away with it there. Say, for example, you're at a bar. You drunkenly decide to completely show your ass. Fight the bouncer, throw drinks on someone, whatever. End of it all, you get kicked out.
There's so many people that there's almost ZERO chance that you'll ever run into any of the ones you just pissed off ever again. Try that in small town USA and you'll suddenly find yourself with no friends and a bad name for yourself quite quickly. There's no accountability, and I think that just leads to worse people in general.
Another thing was that I found it extremely challenging to find people who shared the same interests as me. Aside from beer drinking, the only other hobbies I have revolve around the outdoors. Fishing, kayaking, spearfishing, hunting, etc. But when it came to many of the people I met, the most "outdoorsy" they ever got was laying out on the beach. Many had never even seen an Alligator, despite living in South Florida their entire lives. So what in the world do I have in common with them?
There was one evening after work that I stopped by the bar in Deerfield Beach and sat down to unwind before heading home. It wasn't long before two girls my age sat down right next to me. I introduced myself, told them what I did, and chatted with them for a while before finally one of them, Chelsea, stopped me mid sentence...
"Oh my God...so I have to ask...Would it be weird if I got your number to give to my boyfriend?"
"He's a huge outdoorsman and he's been down here for years and hasn't met anyone who's into what he likes"
Fast forward a week and Chelsea's boyfriend, Shaun and I are spearfishing off of the Pompano Beach pier together and are still friends to this day.
Yeah I made a few friends, but bottom line, I simply wasn't enjoying living there. At one point I actually managed to get so stressed I successfully gave myself Shingles (listen to Terry Bradshaw, it sucks).
Yeah dude. Live around the ancients long enough and you catch that kinda shit.
I needed to make a change. ASAP.
As luck would have it, I have friends scattered all over the state of Florida. I knew that I didn't want to move back to Gainesville. Yes the town is great, but I'm not in school anymore nor am I 21. Unlike most people from Pensacola, I'm still avoiding moving BACK, so that was a pass too. My sister lives in Jacksonville, and that region was a place I'd yet to spend much time in, so why not? I began looking for places and it just so happened that one of my best friends Kiersten was looking for a roommate in a beach house in Saint Augustine. For cheap.
Put me in coach.
So I quit my job, led a couple of friends through the Wilderness Waterway one last time (at least I keep telling myself one last time), packed everything up in the truck, and drove myself up to Saint Augustine Beach.
A 3 story beach house that overlooked the ocean sounded infinitely better than pretty much anything I'd encountered in South Florida, so I was ecstatic. In order for the house to be so cheap, however, it meant living with 4 other people.
I originally had my reservations, but it didn't take much time for me to fall in love with the beach life and not mind living with 4 others at all. I shared a bathroom and kitchen with a guy named Richard, and we happened to take over the 3rd floor of the house which meant every morning we awoke to a sunrise directly over the ocean. It also took almost no time for all of us to become very close friends. Myself, Richard, Kiersten, and the other two roommates, Casey and Brad, became almost inseparable during our time at this beach house. Days were spent lounging (as I had no job yet), evenings were spent walking the coquina littered beach with beers, and nights were spent partying as often as possible. Eventually (and drunkenly) we decided to name the house/group Casa De Pantelones based off of a painting on the wall that said "Ain't No Party Like A No Pants Party" (yes our name was wrong, I told you we were drunk).
The whole "moving across the state with no job" thing worried me at times, but thanks to years of seasonal work, I've learned to not be one to fret too much about employment. I'd eventually find -something-. Even if it meant scrubbing toilets with that 5 year college degree. Money is money, after all.
What I wasn't expecting, however, was to be browsing craigslist one morning and discover an opening for a Kayak/Naturalist Guide right there on Saint Augustine beach. Not to sound full of myself, but I was a shoe in for the position, and it was quickly my full time job. A fact that my mother, upon hearing of said position, and always worrying about my future, simply responded with a sigh and,
"You always manage to land on your feet...don't you?'
And so I spiraled into a life that I can only describe as being a massive beach bum. I didn't surf, but I kayaked every day. I showed people manatees and dolphins, talked about ecological change, and actually kinda used that degree that I got. I wrapped up work around 2pm at the latest, and I went back to Casa De Pantelones to party on the beach with my friends. Every. Single. Day. Days that I didn't work, I jogged on the beach in the morning, went kayak fishing, and celebrated that I had a day "off". There was a few week period that I didn't even bother wearing shoes. Barefoot, sweat stained, mildly hungover, and sunburned was how I existed. And to be perfectly honest...
I loved it. Who wouldn't?
It's during this time that I began to write my book. I was the proud new owner of more time than I knew what to do with, so why not be somewhat productive? Also, for those those of you who follow my snapchat, this was also the time when I unexpectedly made a best friend in the form of a cat named Jimmy.
As a lifelong rule, I've disliked cats. Jim, however, was an exception. Maybe it was his three legs, his orange charm, or my incessant need to draw on his missing arm using phone filters. Regardless, he remains one of my favorite animals to this day, and if you miss him, there's always this instagram profile that I may or may not have shamelessly made for him:
Then came the day that our
asshole, massive piece of shit, lint licking, mom-please don't-read-these-cusswords landlord decided to cancel our lease 8 months early to instead rent to some of his friends and take our entire security deposit. Casa De Pantelones was no more.
An easy solution would be to find another house, right? In theory, yes. But in practicality (and against equal opportunity housing laws) no one was willing to rent to 5 different adults who were unrelated and not married. The rental market in Saint Augustine is garbage. If it isn't snowbirds who'd rather rent vacation homes than monthly residences, it's bottom feeders like Phil Martocci (see previous "landlord") who renege on lease agreements. So in the long run, we couldn't find a place all together and had to split, just a few months after I'd settled into a new town.
I soon moved into a different house on the beach with Brad and Richard, while Kiersten and Casey found an apartment together a few miles away. Sadly, life on the beach was nothing more than a shadow of what it used to be. Was it still fun? Absolutely. Was I still a beach bum? Pretty much. I did pick up a second job as a salesman pushing Citrus, Pecans, Fireworks, and Wine (like I said, money is money). But my initial life and introduction to Saint Augustine was long gone. Looking back, it was one of the most memorable, enjoyable, and fleeting few months I've ever experienced. I quickly found myself in a gated old folks community on the wrong side of A1A. We were the youngest in the neighborhood by around 40 years and between nosy seniors and the homeowners association, my time there was VASTLY different than my time in the previous home (those stories are for another post).
My time in Saint Augustine was infinitely better than the time spent in South Florida, but much like my life in Casa De Pantelones, I would soon find it too, to be fleeting. After all, one can only be a beach bum for so long.