November 17, 2011

It really is possible to change your attitudes, even in…well, let’s say late middle age. Case in point: Florida. Which is to say, me and Florida. To reverse Dr. Johnson’s remark on free will: All reason is against it, all experience for it.

I admit I’ve been a Floridaphobe. The first time I came here, in 1975, it was on a business trip to Miami. Miami was hot and muggy—in April. The sticky air was mixed with traffic fumes in an acrid miasma. Our liaison for the business we were doing was fat, stupid, and wore double-knit—which had even at that date been pushed out to the socio-sartorial fringe inhabited by timeshare salesmen and unsuccessful preachers. Whether his fault or his suit’s, the business thing fell through.

Twelve years later I took my new wife to Disney World. She wanted to go and I wanted to please her. (She was a new wife.) The only thing I knew about Disney World was Space Mountain, which I thought might be neat. Space Mountain was out of service. We had a fender-bender in our rented car—my fault this time, from living too long in Manhattan and forgetting how to drive.

Fifteen years further on, I was tooling around the Gulf Coast and thought I’d like to see the Redneck Riviera, so I drove to Pensacola. Blessed time has erased any memory of the place except that of a dead, dried-out dragonfly the size of a crow in a neglected corner of one of my motel’s bare concrete walkways.

“Life is good: in all probability, better than the other thing.”

So Florida wasn’t my cup of tea, which didn’t matter much, as I can’t afford to retire and don’t care for alligators. Then I started getting paperwork for this year’s National Review Caribbean cruise, which sails from Fort Lauderdale. I’d had a longstanding offer of hospitality from an e-friend in Orlando. This was a pure e-friendship: I had never met the guy. On a whim I emailed him, suggesting a brief visit pre-cruise. His house was our house, he e-assured us, so we flew down three days before cruise date to spend time in central Florida.

I should give up flying. I have ear trouble and was recovering from a cold. I called on our family doctor pre-flight. He recommended an over-the-counter decongestant. That’s what doctors do nowadays—recommend stuff from the shelves at Walgreens. I don’t blame our doctor; he’s a nice guy and very professional. I blame the accursed lawyers.

Nearly forty years ago I had to take a plane from Hong Kong to Bangkok but was recovering from a cold. I went to a Chinese doctor in Yau Ma Tei the day before my flight. He asked what time my plane left. I told him midday. “Drop in on your way to the airport,” he said. I did. He gave me a shot that left my mucous membranes dryer than the sands of the Kalahari and opened my Eustachian tubes to a width in which you could have planted turnips. I had the most comfortable flight of my life, no ear trouble at all. The shot—I made a point of asking—was atropine. I know nothing about atropine other than the blessing it conferred on me that day, but I feel certain that any family doctor in the USA of 2011 who gave his patient a shot of atropine without a notarized, triple-sealed personal waiver from the FDA’s head would be barred from medical practice for life.


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