Making Friends in a New Town

We moved the family to Port St Lucie, FL from Fort Lauderdale, Fl and it has been a hell of a change. The cities are a little over two hours apart, but it doesn’t even feel like I’m in the same universe. The people are different, driving around the city is actually pleasant, and there is hardly a piece of trash to be found on the ground. The cons are pretty significant, though, and it almost feels like a real-life Pleasantville, sort of surreal and photoshopped.

Rich, Rylan, and Roman at River Park Marina

We scoped the area out while looking to buy a new home and chose PSL for it’s low crime rate, decent schools, and low home costs. Rich works from home, so commuting isn’t necessary and I stay home with the kids. The house we purchased was exactly what we were looking for, like a dream come true. We moved in and we are getting to know the new town we live in.

Rich and I are definitely progressive thinkers and tend to lean toward liberal views, but we knew we were moving in to a more conservative area. The people we’ve met are extremely nice, almost to the point of being absurd. Everyone smiles and waves when they drive by, Customer Service personnel at stores are friendly and actually want to help, parents that I’ve met at playgrounds are interesting and personable. This is very different from living in Fort Lauderdale, where no one talks to strangers and finding an employee in a store is like an episode of Finding Bigfoot.

Nonetheless, this thin veneer of camaraderie is destroyed by the view of Rebel Flags hanging from poles in my neighbor’s front yards, the “FUCK OFF, WE’RE FULL” anti-immigration bumper stickers, and the overwhelming white population ratio. I’ve come to realize that we are considered desirable here: white, young Americans. We fit their ideals of a perfect family. I’m starting to see that minorities and foreigners aren’t treated with this same courtesy.

I’m not saying this is a conscious, agreed-upon act by the populous, but a unquestioned normality. I’ve witnessed this type of behavior living in Texas and Virginia, and I’ve seen it in the towns along the highways between there and here. Racism, bigotry, homophobia, all the ugly things we want to think we aren’t a part of, but I see it and I’m surrounded by it. Port St Lucie isn’t different  from the average town and that is sad.

Fort Lauderdale was much more diverse in it’s populace. Haitians, living next to Jamaicans, living next to Dominicans, living next to Cubans, next to white, black, Asian people. All types of religions, skin colors, and ages being forced to interact with one another. It led to some conflict, but mostly everyone respected each other’s boundaries and got along. I realize that was a “big city,” while PSL is (sort of) a small town. That doesn’t make it less uncomfortable for me when I go to a park and literally only see white people. I don’t like seeing such a monochromatic population, but I guess that is what be bought into.

That leads me back to being “desirable.” In stores, every employee makes an effort to be polite to us and help us instantly. I know the employees don’t extend this sort of treatment to minority shoppers. I’ve spoken to a few people of color and they have agreed that they have faced more racism here than in Fort Lauderdale. The most uplifting conversation I heard during my discussions was from a High School Junior, who stated that the Rebel-Flag-wearing students received the cold shoulder from most other students, so hopefully, the younger generations will push-out this sort of behavior.

In West Palm Beach, Rich and I as “white people” lived in a majority black neighborhood and would feel racism whenever we would shop in the stores there. I would walk into a Family Dollar and receive no eye contact from the cashier, not even a word during the checkout process, while the African American lady next to me would be greeted with a smile and a short conversation. Knowing that sort of treatment is a way of life for most black people in white communities such as Port St Lucie makes me understand and accept their reaction to my intrusion into their little world; their neighborhood is their safety bubble from the daily racism they face.

I love living in Port St Lucie for it’s access to numerous parks, trash free streets, and profuse outdoor activities. I prefer to spend my day walking around the neighborhood or checking out the playground with my kids, so I appreciate living in a clean area. This city is remarkably well taken-care of, even in the lower income neighborhoods.

South Florida is notoriously unkempt. There are entire lots filled with trash that no one plans on cleaning up and empty chip bags float down the street like tumbleweeds in an old western. This is how every city and every county looks like in South Florida. Some neighborhoods are cleaner than others, but those communities are usually gated or extremely wealthy. Wherever we would drive or walk, there would be refuse in the streets and questionable materials floating in the canals. It’s just how the people living in South Florida treat their surroundings,

There are tons of pros and cons for living in Port Saint Lucie, but one thing I do appreciate is the number of families with young children living here. Each time my kids and I go out of the house, we are sure to run into another mother or father and children that we can associate with. They get the social interaction they need to develop before starting Kindergarten, while I get the adult conversation I lack from being home with kids all day.

The mothers and fathers I’ve met here are very friendly and inviting, and unfailingly they want to exchange numbers. I have yet to actually get together with any of them yet, but I’m sure it’ll happen eventually. I just hope that my assumption of the underlying bigotry doesn’t extend to all these nice people I’ve been meeting at the parks. I always get excited when I arrive at a destination and see a diverse group of children and parents, which is sadly a rare event. I live off these moments of cultural diversity and hope they become more prevalent as the years go by.

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