BEARD | Heading South: Reflections on the Sunshine State

Like Canadian geese in winter, Cornell’s student body threw away their thousand-dollar Canada Goose jackets and fled south for vitamin D rehab and some much-needed rest and relaxation away from foreplay, deadlines and CHEM 2090: General Chemistry Engineering. Many have decamped to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, California or wherever a sunburn is possible. Along the same lines, my fair skin and I left New York and headed to the warmer waters of the state of Florida, specifically Tampa. In the space of 10 brief days in the Sunshine State, I saw things worthy of the famous “Florida Man” headlines, learned some important life lessons, and returned to Ithaca with my skin a few shades brighter. red.

Our Florida odyssey began when we headed south on I-75 toward Tampa. When you think of Florida, your mind tends to conjure up images of beaches and sunshine. What you don’t realize is that the interior is mostly made up of cows and mosquitoes. Here’s a question for you: In a state with such an abundance of water, why are so many cities inland? Seriously, think about it; Orlando: inland, Tallahassee: in the middle of nowhere and inland, Tampa: sort of inland, and Gainesville: inland and built on a literal swamp. Everything in Florida feels like a mix of hyperbole and paradox. It’s beaches and cows, infrastructure built on top of fragile ecosystems for no rhyme or reason, and urban areas that will be underwater before most of us have a chance to grow hair. gray.

After eight hours of driving past land rovers adorned with sorority letters going 20 miles over the speed limit, my friends and I arrived in Tampa. By Tampa, of course, I mean St. Petersburg (my apologies to any furious locals). The sun was shining, the sky was blue, a man at a gas station scolded me in the name of Satan, etc, etc. Seriously, Tampa is an interesting city. The road to the city was highlighted by various political billboards, one of which even depicted our current president dressed as a Taliban fighter.

The waters of Tampa and St. Petersburg are lined with mansions – palaces of absolute opulence whose prices run into the tens of millions. Banking skyscrapers line the horizon. The government buildings look like a listing from a Berkshire-Hathaway property booklet. In near perfect contrast, dozens of homeless people slept in the shade of these testimonies of wealth. And so the Florida juxtapositions continued.

Because I was traveling with the Cornell Triathlon Team, our foray into the sunshine state was filled with type two fun. Sure, we tanned, we laughed, we swam in the ocean – but we also cycled 130 miles. It was a trick or maybe just a tour de force of all that Florida has to offer. Somehow the bike started and ended with the threat of law enforcement.

Our seven-hour bike ride from Tampa to Gainesville started with a bang and provided me with my first lesson. Prior to deployment, in a hidden University of South Florida parking lot with no bathroom in sight, we each sought relief in the bushes. Without wasting a moment, a security guard appeared on the scene and gravely warned us of our arrest if we did not leave immediately. Unfortunately for the would-be dictator, we were getting away. Either way, it was a hell of a way to start a bike ride. Which brings me to spring break lesson number one: if you’re going to pee in public, make sure no one is watching.

My second life lesson came towards the end of this massive ride. At mile 65, we pulled into the parking lot of one of our “aid stations,” exhausted and drenched in sweat from the Florida humidity. Immediately I noticed that the lot belonged to a tiki bar with motorbikes taking up most of the parking spots. It was as if we had walked on the set of Sons of Anarchy. My teammate prophetically remarked, “Hm, we might have to get out of here quick.” Funnily enough, not even two minutes later, the bar owner came out with a baseball bat and asked why we had ended up in his parking lot. Now, in all honesty, no threats were made, but it was abundantly clear that we weren’t welcome at the tiki bar. Sensing this, the five of us rushed our tails between our legs, not wanting to challenge the Jason Statham look-alike in the parking lot. Lesson number two: read the play. If you’re staring at the trade end of a baseball bat, chances are you shouldn’t stick around.

Despite the madness of the trip, Tampa and the bike ride, I came back safe and sound from the Sunshine State. Classes have resumed on campus and, unfortunately, spring break is in the rearview mirror. But there are a few things that bother me. On the one hand, my sunburn and the risk of skin disease that accompanies it. For two, the lessons I am giving you now. Whether you’re heading south or not, exercise caution when urinating in public, don’t overstay your welcome at tiki bars, and watch out for alligators.

Brenner Beard (he/him) is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. It can be reached [email protected] agree to disagree takes place every other Friday this semester.