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To Appreciate Home, Leave It for a While

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I just returned from a 10-day family trip to Southern California. In some ways, it was three days too many. In other ways, it was just right, the perfect amount of time to force renewed soft feelings for my home state of Florida, a perplexing place locals know far too intimately, a madcap swamp we make Olympic sport of criticizing and memeifying.

A vacation can be a sacred teacher, a gift no one should take for granted. When possible, setting off somewhere other than home can help us see outside state lines and -- pause for twinkling therapy music -- inside ourselves.

Sorry to disappoint anyone who has paid for a blue checkmark on X, but this will not be a West Coast takedown nor a California vs. Florida slap fight. Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis already had one of those, a televised B horror movie in which our governor produced a literal map of human fecal sightings in San Francisco.

Truthfully, California was a stunner, the weather resplendent in cool June gloom split by bursts of warm sun. By day two, I was ready to move, leave Florida in the dust with its hostile politics and looming hurricanes, bound for a place with zero problems whatsoever, a paradise where I could drink pressed juice and wear two-piece knit sets with midriff! Yeah!

We watched La Jolla seals and sea lions issuing eye rolls to tourists and sunning their brilliant bellies. We strolled the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, drove past the filming locations of favorite old movies, stomped through a ghost tour of Hollywood Boulevard, peeped the spiny tops of Joshua trees.

But vacations are delusions and require a forceful commitment to the mirage. To plan a holiday is to believe that we will be blissful 1,000% of the time. We will not get locked in a standoff over the shared bathroom. We will not walk past a pile of sick en route to the prized taqueria we have researched. We will not bite into unadvertised gherkins smeared atop a sandwich inside a cafe fashioned like Central Perk from "Friends" while Ross yells "PIVOT" on surround sound.

Stay somewhere for 10 days, and you'll start to see cracks. Cracks in your brain and spirit! In Southern California, for example, the traffic is beyond description and must be responsible for a hypertension epidemic. Gas prices are reserved for railroad magnates. Earthquakes? Mudslides? What are those? And consuming local news on vacation is a real bubble burster. Every nation and state and city has people fighting with each other, fighting the system for a better life, the beauty and the warts inextricable.

 

Sounds familiar.

By the end of our journey, I was missing all the small familiarities of home. My bed, my uniquely disorganized chaos, my dumb Florida dog, the neighborhood gossip. I craved the ease of the Tampa International Airport, the predictable aisle of my local grocery store, the sound of an afternoon summer storm on a window. I never thought I'd say this, but I was missing the traffic. I missed manatees! We don't have seals, but we have our own roly-poly water blobs! No, I can't remember the last time I saw a manatee in person, but that is not the point!

The point is, even the most beautiful works of art look a little rough close up, and remembering that can be a balm in an imperfect place. This summer, if you can, get away. No, farther. Farther. Farther. OK, now squint back down at home. Isn't she pretty?

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Stephanie Hayes is a columnist at the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. Follow her at @stephhayes on Twitter or @stephrhayes on Instagram.

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