Homecoming Revisited

I landed in Orlando International Airport on Friday night for my first visit to Florida since I moved in July. As I drove the rental car out of OIA, I turned on the radio and immediately heard the six words that are heard the most in the Sunshine State:

“Morgan and Morgan. For the people.”

A fitting way for Florida to welcome me back. Instead of being annoyed at the commercial, like I used to be when the ad inundated my TV, I laughed at my timing with the radio. Because I no longer live in Florida, I wanted to be positive during my entire stay and show some extra appreciation for what the state has, which I should have done when my parents made my home there.

My definition of “home” has taken on the “…where the heart is” concept, rather than referring to a specific location. Because my parents finally accomplished their goal of moving back to Chicago, I was locked out of our old Orlando home when I returned to it on Saturday morning. All I could do was just stand on the driveway and watch the sunrise.

Those 10 minutes in the driveway gave me closure, though. Before my return, my final memory at that home was seeing my family get teary-eyed and cutting short my dog’s nap on my lap to begin my move to Connecticut. Now, my final memory will be watching that sunrise in peaceful solitude, knowing that I’m a lot more mature than I was when I left four months ago. The latter is definitely an upgraded ending for this era of my life.

But what I now lack in a formal family in Florida is compensated for with my friends in Orlando and Gainesville. We’re all on our separate paths now, but even after a four month (or, in one case, three year) break, we quickly find ourselves on the same page and just make each other laugh. Every one says it, but I have the best set of friends out there; I can’t ask for anything more than the laughter and generosity we give to each other.

Then there was that Homecoming game for my Alma mater, the University of Florida. One of the motivations I had for going to this game was to wash out the bad taste of seeing the Gators lose to FSU in my final game as a student in The Swamp last year. I was ready to ban myself from ever watching another game at The Swamp if Louisiana-Lafayette pulled off the ridiculous upset, but then that stupid special teams miracle occurred right in front of where I was sitting. It was ugly, but mission accomplished: I can now say that the last game I watched at The Swamp was a win, and it was the hilariously lucky, but exhilarating, one over the Ragin’ Cajuns.

The strangest part about my return to Florida was the role reversal I had to take up. I was now the Tourist and not the Resident, but with my Residential background, I found myself doing a lot of residential tasks in a touristy manner. To clarify that strange statement, here are some examples:

[1] Rushing to eat at all the restaurants I could only find in Florida. I don’t think I even got through half my list in the ~48 hours I was down there, but at least I exceeded my daily recommended intake of sugar by drinking sweet tea at each restaurant I managed to visit.
[2] Taking pictures of what I used to consider to be mundane, such as classroom buildings at UF and the spots in Downtown Disney my family and I used to frequent when we walked through the area on weekends.
[3] Walking around Publix for 20 minutes for no reason other than because it’s the greatest supermarket ever. Don’t argue with me there.
[4] Taking the longer/scenic highway routes when driving around Central Florida.
[5] Gassing up only at 7-11s after taking those longer driving routes, just so I could grab a Slurpee after refueling the car.
[6] Walking or standing idly outside as often as possible, because it was sunny and 80 degrees outside the entire weekend. Hey, Connecticut, why can’t you be like that?

But even after this trip, I still stand by my belief that Florida will never be a long-term destination for me. Regardless of that, my too fun, yet too fast weekend in Florida rejuvenated me. It’s that sunlight down in Florida that does that; it makes you happy and feel alive, unlike the cold and early darkness up in New England.

I’m lucky to be able to say that for 15 years, I lived in the state everyone wants to vacation to at one point or another. More importantly, it’s a blessing that Florida will always be one of my homes, regardless of where I may be living.


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