I — and many others — can kvetch about Florida all day long. But in the end, it has an abundance of something I've been missing my whole life and would be hard-pressed to leave behind: sunshine
St. Pete, in fact, averages 361 days of sunshine a year.
Madison, Wisconsin? 185. For many of those, the ground is still covered in snow.
Sunshine is enough to convince families to pack into a car and drive across the country, just to spend a weekend soaking up rays. It's enough to cause retirees to uproot the lives they've always known to start a new one "someplace warm."
The sunshine was enough to enamor me with Florida at the thought of moving here. Never live through winter again and finally get some color on my translucent Midwestern skin? Yes, please.
It was enough to make me feel lucky to be here for the first few months. Winter came that first year, but the cold never followed, and I thought I was home.
Sunshine is even enough to make me hesitant to ever leave. I dream of big-city life and bigger opportunities (with The Penny Hoarder, ideally) in New York one day... but there's never snow on the ground in my dreams. I'm never bundled in a scarf to shield my face from stabbing winds on my walk to work. Or trudging through the black slush a city calls snow in heavy boots with a pair of indoor shoes stashed in my bag for later. Or carrying an extra sweater everywhere just in case it's freezing at the end of the day, even though it was warm and sunny at the beginning. Or lying in my room depressed, because it's 4:30 p.m. and dark, and it's been cold for six months.
These past two years, winter hasn't completely ruined my life. I didn't have to sit through months of sadness and discomfort and rebuild myself come spring. I didn't get pale and dark and confused about life. I went to the beach at Thanksgiving and watched fireworks on New Year's Eve in a light jacket down by the bay.
Sunshine is Florida's siren call. It's one thing this place has that hardly any place in the country can match. Even Los Angeles has only 292 days of sunshine, and you have to live on a freeway in the desert there. In Phoenix — 296 days — you have to worry about scorpions and racists.
The sunshine is so good for the soul. I understand why people retire here. I understand why families schlep from colder places for a break in the middle of winter.
Everyone knows Florida's dismal reputation for drug addicts, proud idiots and decrepit weirdos. But when I tell anyone I live here, they all say the same thing: "Nice weather."
We all envy the decrepit weirdos, because at least they can get a tan.