Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I were living in the paradise that is the gulf coast of southern Florida. We spent ten days living on the beach of a little known barrier island that is one of the last remaining pieces of “Old Florida.” “Old Florida” refers to places in the Sunshine State that reflect the natural beauty and nostalgic charm of a state that was a wild and undeveloped place not so many years ago. I think of it in terms of what it does not have, like bumper-to-bumper traffic, theme parks, high rises, crowded beaches, and gated communities that resemble the suburbs its residents moved from “up north,” only with palm trees instead of pines.
“Our island” is an almost private sliver of land, eight miles long and a couple of blocks wide. Most of the island, which is all waterfront property, either on the Gulf of Mexico or the Intracoastal Waterway is populated by the magnificent homes of the rich and famous. One section of the island contains condos, apartments, and old timey motels, all rentals. There is a jetty at the south end of the island that is a good place to see manatee and dolphins and there are a couple of large public beaches. A beach concession stand, another at the Jetty Park, and a fishing shack are the only businesses on the island.
We love it there. We love Florida. We live in Illinois, but we don’t much care for our state of residence. If we lived a block and a half north, we would be Wisconsin residents.
I have tried to convince you before in a “My Turn” column that even though I live in Illinois, I am a decent sort of guy. You Wisconsin residents know us as… Well, I can’t type those words because they will get edited out, or get me kicked off of the editorial page, but I don’t think the letters F-I-B stand for “Fine Illinois Brethren” in the minds of most Wisconsin residents. Please try to understand, we can’t help the way we drive. It’s part of our survival training to live in Chicagoland. I guess we don’t make up for it by driving slower that an old lady leaning on a walker when we are trying to figure out where we are going while vacationing in your fine state.
The Land of Lincoln has sadly become the most dysfunctional state in the nation. Each Illinois taxpayer would need to send Springfield $45,500 to pay our state government debt of $184.9 billion. We don’t even have an approved budget. Yet, the state has a tax or fee for every conceivable product and service, and our real estate taxes are double that of Wisconsin. Then there’s the “Governor’s Wing” at the penitentiary where four of our last seven governors have ended their careers. However, Illinois does lead the nation in one category, population decline. Over 105,000 people left Illinois between July 2014 and July 2015.
Two of the top five states that Illinoisans moved to are Wisconsin and Florida. And that brings me to my dilemma. It’s my mental battle between wanting to live near family and our love of year-round warmth and outdoor beauty and activities.
Our two kids live in St. Paul, Minnesota and just down the street here in Winthrop Harbor. We like St. Paul, but it just too darn cold and snowy there in the winter. So, we have been thinking that in just a few years, we might punch our way through the cheddar curtain and re-locate in Kenosha or Racine county. Kenosha, and occasionally Milwaukee, are already our destinations for commerce and entertainment. We feel at home in Kenosha and enjoy your lakefront festivals and restaurants.
But Florida beckons. I have heard that there are so many snowbirds from Kenosha that winter in Arizona and the Sunshine State that they have their own meet-ups there. Yet, Florida would put us so far from family.
You see my dilemma.
This post was my July 24th Sunday Column in the Kenosha News. (My contract stipulates waiting 60 days before it is republished elsewhere.)