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  • Writer's pictureSusan Byers

Hot Hot Hot

After four days of driving (we try to limit drive time to four hours a day out of deference to the cats and old joints), we are in Florida.

We left in beautiful snow ...

... and arrived in a sultry heat wave.

For the last several days, we've been apartment hunting with Ben, our youngest. He has a job lined up in Jacksonville after graduation (yay!), and as we were on our way to Orlando to see my brother's family anyway, we flew him down for a few days to start scouting apartments.

When I was his age, I was barely squeaking by; the first jobs I had after college paid next to nothing (so much for a fine arts degree). But Ben will be able to afford to look in hip new complexes geared toward young professionals--and there are lots in "Jax," which is booming. So it's been fun to tour bright, well-laid out apartments that smell of fresh paint instead of stale, dingy ones sadly in need of renovating.

We toured five or six apartment complexes, and drove past a few more, quickly deciding they just weren't what Ben was looking for or the neighborhood was too far from the action. Only one or two apartments were over a year or two old; the rest were new and bright and beautiful--all hot properties.

Competition is fierce among the complexes, and they all vie to outdo the others. Almost all hosted regular social events and had lovely appointments like fire pits, grills, kitchens in the public areas--indoor and out--infinity pools with waterfalls, jogging paths and numerous gathering places for residents' use. The apartments were roomy and airy, most with huge kitchens, walk-in closets, washers and dryers, screened balconies and bedrooms big enough for king-sized beds. More than once, Len said, "Too bad it's in Florida ..." They were tempting, even for people like us who prefer old houses and cooler climates.

The really fun part is that Ben, my independent Ben, actually said he will let me come down to help decorate his first apartment. So next summer, I hope to desert Len for a week and fly back to Florida (although if I have to, I guess I'll do it remotely, like I did for my daughter in Manhattan). I'm already perusing Wayfair and Ikea's websites, and quizzing Ben to get a feel for his taste.

The second night, we squeezed in dinner with a dear friend of mine named Pat, with whom I worked for several years (I'll have to catch up with a couple other friends on the next trip). Pat quizzed Ben on the areas where he'd been looking, approved of some and recommended a couple other areas he might try. She also made sure Ben knew he had a friend and resource in Jacksonville. It was reassuring to know he'd have someone I trusted close by.

After two days of visiting all of the apartments Ben had found online, we decided to spend a few hours at the beach. Well, right after we toured yet another complex he had just found... And, of course, all of the hot properties were on the opposite side of the largest city, in square miles, in the Lower 48.

It was 3:30 by the time we curled our toes in sand. Big, gray clouds had rolled in, and the temperature, which had been in the 80s every day since we'd arrived, dropped into the 70s, a bit cool for the beach, but a relief after the heat. I had been in Florida before in winter; it was in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and that's what we were expecting. Our AC is old and struggling and needs to be replaced; we are hoping to put that off until spring. With the temperature outside about 80 and the humidity hovering around 70 percent, it's just been muggy. It feels wrong to sweat this much in January!

On the beach, there were broad, brown bands of sharp, roughly crushed shells to maneuver, but past them, wide stretches of very fine sand. The tide was out, exposing several rounded sand bars, one of which had been claimed by a flock of about three dozen gulls. Ben and I waded a bit, while Len decided to keep his feet dry and warm, and photographed us from shore.

Then we went back up the beach to stretch out on our towels.

After perhaps ten minutes, I grabbed my phone and returned to the water's edge, leaving my men snoozing. There was a lone sandpiper, dancing in and out along the waterline, who didn't seem to mind my company. I paralleled his path, snapping pictures. When I got too close, he stopped and looked indignant. I moved to an acceptable distance and he resumed his pas de deux with the waves.

Just ahead was the large sand bar held by the flock of gulls. When people walked past, they mostly stood their ground, some just staring nonchalantly, others strutting about as full of importance as young politicals (a reference only federal employees will truly understand).

When I invaded their space, some of those closest to me hedged away, but others largely ignored me, as if daring me to disturb them.

And then suddenly an ultralight buzzed by overhead. Dozens of gulls lifted as one ...

...swirled for a few seconds (watched by a few stalwarts on the ground) ...

... and then quickly reclaimed their territory.

That night we ate at Nudo, a restaurant not far from the area where Ben hopes to live. It was some of the best, most authentic Vietnamese food we'd had since we were in Viet Nam, a nice way to end our visit. In the morning, we toured one last complex; it would make the third spot on Ben's list. Then we had lunch and took him to the airport. The next morning, we packed up and drove to Orlando. And the heat wave seems to have finally broken.

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