Now that we’ve been in the States for a few months, we are getting back into the swing of a ‘normal life’. Dave is working full time, I have a teaching job lined up for the fall and we’re in the process of selling our boat. Although things are really moving in a positive direction for us, it hasn’t been an easy transition.
When we first arrived in the States we were so excited to have all of the conveniences we once took for granted – fast internet, quick access to anything we needed, flushing toilets and air conditioning (just to name a few). As we were indulging ourselves in all that we missed, we suddenly became aware of bigger, cultural differences that surrounded us. There were parts of the American way of life that we couldn’t quite understand anymore.
Strip malls and consumerism
Somebody once told me that Jacksonville is the ‘strip mall capital of the world’. I couldn’t quite understand the comment until now.
Recently, Dave and I started to look for apartments to make our transition to land. We were met with what the locals call the ‘Florida Sprawl’ and it’s about as appealing as it sounds. A seemingly endless system of highways, shopping centers, condominiums and housing developments are at the center of this behemoth. Completely void of pedestrian niceties such as sidewalks, bike lanes, parks or any green spaces, ‘the Sprawl’ seemed other worldly to us.
It was overwhelming.
As we drove past parking lot after parking lot filled with people racing back and forth between stores, we both started shaking our heads. “What is everyone buying?”, Dave asked.
I couldn’t give him an answer because I couldn’t understand it myself. Why were there SO MANY people buying stuff? Why weren’t they at a park having a picnic or swimming down at the beach or doing something other than being surrounded by all of this concrete? It all seemed so unappealing.
Over the last two years aboard, we have become the anti-consumer. Buying only food, boat parts, the rare piece of clothing and plane tickets, we are an advertising agency’s worst nightmare. We have become hyper sensitive to all the commercialism and consumerism that surrounds us and choose to stay as far away from it as possible.
It’s been freeing to not have a car. No insurance, no routine maintenance, no stops at the gas station, no aggressive drivers with road rage or traffic jams.
Now I’m struggling with the fact that I need to buy a car in order to get to work. Jacksonville is huge and very spread out. It can take an hour to get from one side of town to the other. Aside from smaller neighborhoods like Avondale and Riverside (which we’re thinking of moving to), it’s extremely unwalkable. Like most American cities, the public transportation here is a joke. According to the bus schedule online, it’d take me 2.5 hours to get to work versus a 20 minute car ride. What the heck?
If we needed to get somewhere in the islands, we walked, hitched a ride, moved the boat or took a ride in the dinghy. In Grenada, we took the bus every week to get groceries. It was an event to say the least, but only cost $1USD for the round trip. Here’s a blog from our friends Lauren and Brian to give better detail.
After heavily relying on our own two feet or public transit over the past year, it was shocking to come back home and see so many people driving. Why doesn’t anyone walk to the grocery store or ride their bike? We live in Florida, it’s beautiful out!
Oh wait, remember that thing I said about strip malls and unfriendly pedestrian areas? That’s probably why. In America, if you don’t have a car, life is much more difficult (especially in Jacksonville). Why deal with the hassle of a crappy/nonexistent public transit system when you can just go in debt and take out a loan for a car that pollutes the environment? Ugh. Basically, if you don’t have a car, you’re not going anywhere.
*Sidenote-Being in a car that’s going over 60mph makes me feel like I’m on a rocket ship. Naturally, I feel anxious and freaked out a little. Just another thing to readjust to, right?
This was an issue before we left and it still remains to be one. Everyone seems to have a device in their hands or are staring at some kind of screen. Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, on and on and on. There is no end to information and imagery that we can tap into.
While fast internet was a luxury abroad, it’s another one of those everyday conveniences here. So yes, when we returned you better believe we binged on Netflix and other media. However, after a few days, I couldn’t stomach it anymore.
My threshold for screen time these days has dwindled. I check the internet for the information I need and shut my laptop. Otherwise, it just feels like I’m wasting my day. After watching a couple of episodes on Netflix, I can’t take anymore. I need to get up, move and go outside.
In the islands, people didn’t walk around with their heads down, looking at their phone. They weren’t talking about Instagram or Facebook posts either. They were busy trying to earn a living.
If the locals weren’t working, they were most certainly hanging out with friends and family or sitting outside on their stoops watching people walk by. They always seemed content and were unconcerned with anything other than what was right in front of them. They absolutely lived in the present.
Good ol’ fashioned freak outs
Aside from the glaring dissimilarities between Caribbean and American cultures, we need to talk about the biggest changes we have been going through.
Moving from one extreme to the other can undoubtedly bring up overwhelming emotions like panic, anxiety and stress. We have felt all of these at one point or another during the last 3 1/2 months. Most recently while traveling to New Jersey for a family wedding, I had a panic attack in the middle of the Orlando airport. Try holding back tears while you’re starting to hyperventilate and frantically search for some place void of humans – at the airport! As you can imagine, it wasn’t fun. Apparently, I’ve become much more sensitive to being around large groups of people in confined spaces.
Remember the Florida Sprawl? Dave had a big ol’ freak out that day too. Organized chaos and sensory overload have seemed to become our biggest trigger.
In addition to panic and anxiety over changes in our environment, we’ve each been going through an emotional rollercoaster with the sale of our boat. A place we have adventured with and lived on for the last two years will no longer be ours to enjoy. There have been tears of joy and sadness with the celebration of selling her and the colder reality of losing her. Sigh. It’s been tough.
In spite of it all
We’re choosing to stay here. In any town, in any state there will be things that we love and hate. First and foremost, we came here to protect our boat during hurricane season, which has officially started. With Alli Oop sold and both of us with jobs, Jacksonville has proven to be a good place for us.
Since our return, we’ve decided there are pieces of the American lifestyle that we don’t wish to participate in anymore. Some we can’t avoid, but we’ve taken a bit of that ‘island time’ mentality home with us and find joy in simpler things nowadays. As long as we have our health, our families, a home and each other (including Darby Cat) we will always be a-okay.