Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate Florida. Or, I did for a while, anyway. (Before anyone takes offense, please read on, and I’ll explain.)
In 2003, after graduating from Syracuse with an expensive magazine degree and big dreams of being an editor in New York City, where I’d interned the previous summer, I packed up my life and made the 1,400-mile journey to…Palm Beach. That’s right. It wasn’t exactly what I’d planned for myself when I set out to make a living in magazine publishing, but the industry was fickle and I went where the best job offer took me. After all, post-graduation, many of my classmates were living at home again, back in their childhood bedrooms, trying to figure out what was to happen next. Make no mistake: I graduated with a job offer in hand, and I was grateful. But, South Florida?
As it turned out, that low-level job I’d gotten in that completely foreign corner of the country was pretty great. I spent my days at five-star resorts, trying spa treatments, eating at restaurants I could never have afforded on my own, and trying on million-dollar diamond necklaces, all in the name of research for the stories I would write. Then, there were the cocktail parties and benefits at Saks Fifth Avenue and the like, my attendance at which was part of the job description. I had even made some great new girlfriends at work. Most days, I had so much fun that my $19,000-a-year take-home salary hardly fazed me (except for a new, nagging worry over the credit card debt I was beginning to amass in an effort to look the part I was barely paid to play).
The trouble was my post-6 p.m. life. While Palm Beach’s wealthy young style makers and socialites were heading out to the Island’s swank bistros, cafes, and lounges after work, I rushed home to inhale a microwaved dinner, change wardrobe, and sprint out the door again to the part-time job I worked at a local Anthropologie to earn some extra cash. Getting home at midnight too many nights, and still without a comfortable income, I was left worn out and wondering what I was doing there.
On a more serious level, there were some darker issues I had to deal with, too. There were several terrifying weeks of trouble with a perverted anonymous “admirer” whose hobbies included leaving filthy, explicit, and threatening letters under my windshield wipers and, on occasion, my front door. There were four massive, devastating hurricanes, one of which knocked out my power and air conditioning for 11 days. In the heat and humidity of September in South Florida, that proved plenty of time for my carpet to mold and for an entire ecosystem of insects to colonize my walls and floors. And then there was the unexpected, crushing death of the kitten I’d adopted four months earlier to keep me company. That’s when the proverbial camel’s back, after 16 months, finally broke. Taking my string of misfortunes as a sign that this wasn’t where I belonged, I tearfully turned in my resignation to a horrified publisher who stopped short of scooping me up in a fatherly embrace. On the day of my 24th birthday, I slammed the jam-packed trunk of my Nissan Altima (a merciful delivery from my dad after my Jetta died on a West Palm highway not long after I’d arrived there) and left Florida in a billowing wake of thick, bitter dust, bound for the bright lights of New York. I cried all the way to the Georgia border, and I never looked back.
Over the course of the next eight years, including a move from New York to Boston, I did everything I could to avoid setting foot in that poisonous place, save for the occasional connection in Miami en route to someplace else. This was no easy feat, as, when you’re the editor of a luxury lifestyle publication with a focus on coastal destinations, trips to Florida present themselves frequently. But when an opportunity recently arose to spend a weekend at Brazilian Court, the legendary Palm Beach hotel I’d grown so curious about during my time there, well, I couldn’t pass it up. To help me brave the occasion, I used the trip as an opportunity to reunite with one of my favorite friends, who I met while working at that fateful first job and who had long since moved back to her native Midwest.
This time, touching down in West Palm Beach and exiting into the clear, warm November air with the friend I had missed for so long, I was surprised to feel a wave of nostalgia as we loaded into our cab bound for Brazilian Court. We spent the next three days lounging on the beach that we’d once driven past daily en route to work; lingering over lavish meals at the hotel’s Boulud-helmed restaurant (by the by, Boulud’s cheese grits are worth every hyper-inflated penny they cost and calorie they contain); cat napping next to its palm-shaded swimming pool; getting pampered at its Frederic Fekkai Salon & Spa; and window shopping along Worth Avenue, site of so many mid-day lunches and after-work events all those years ago. (We also enjoyed a fabulous late-night dinner at Buccan. I regret not taking any pictures, but trust me when I recommend it.)
Over the course of our stay, the sunlight that filtered into the hotel’s gorgeous courtyard and places beyond was a tonic, and I wanted to drink it. The grass was green. The sky was blue. The air was warm and light. The palm trees were restless in the breeze. This was the Florida people gush about, and I was enjoying it. The visit turned out to be relaxing, even healing, if only because I knew my time there would be fleeting. Regardless, this was a Florida I could live with, and I dare say I’d be happy to go back.