It's the holidays, and I'm riding a trolley packed with tourists and locals through one of our gulf beach towns when a them-and-us scene unfolds.
Three punky teenage boys holding skateboards on their laps are talking smack, loudly, showing off their use of newfound bad words. A Midwestern-looking mom turns and says to them, "My kids are sitting here. Please watch your language."
One of the boys says something about free speech, and at the next stop, they saunter off.
On the trolley, several people say encouraging things to the tourist woman who spoke up. They were glad she said something.
"I just knew," she tells the trolley at large with a trace of smugness, "that they had to be locals."
And, she lost us.
When the snowbirds and assorted Not-From-Heres alight, sometimes we can't seem to help the them-and-us mentality. I admit it: Florida born and raised, I'm guilty myself.
To me there are generally three kinds of visitors: the ones who love the weather, the beaches and assorted other things Florida, but wouldn't want to live here. It's buggy, it's hot, it's not like where they come from.
I get that; it's how I feel every time I'm in New York City — great vibe, so much going on, but it's crowded, and don't they miss seeing stars at night?
A second category of visitors are the ones who fall in love with the place the first time they see a great blue heron wading in the surf. Or stop at a roadside stand for strawberries. Or hear the wind in the Australian pines, or realize we have those amazing sunsets pretty much on a regular basis.
I think some of them start figuring out very quickly how long before they can actually move here.
A third group thinks of this as one big theme park. Given how we market ourselves, you can't really blame them, except when that translates to thinking of this as a place to be used up and forgotten.
They are the ones you see walking off the beach with buckets of starfish and sand dollars for souvenirs, no matter that some of them are likely alive. Sigh. They are the ones who, when a busybody Floridian tries to explain, roll their eyes. (I knew she was a local.)
During the holidays, I sympathized with everyone everywhere else dealing with hellish weather, except maybe there was the tiniest bit of smugness in there, too.
What do I know from snow? The only blizzard I ever actually was in was one Christmas in New York City, and then it was magical, an adventure, since I didn't actually have to figure out how to get to work in it.
Maybe the Not-From-Heres feel the same when we are frantically buying our plywood and bottled water and borderline panicking at the approach of a hurricane.
The other day a visitor stopped me on the beach. He pointed out a purple sea urchin on the shore and asked what it was.
He looked utterly charmed. Fascinating, he said.
I wondered if he was already thinking how long before he could live in a place like this.
And if he is that reverent about a sea urchin on the beach, I for one would be happy to have him.