I have been visiting Florida in February in recent years. The purpose of these visits is to do anthropological research on the customs and practices of the peoples of a land that is so very different from Oak Park. It is also quite a bit warmer. I thought it might be useful to provide you, dear readers, with some of my field notes. 

I am in Cape Coral, which claims to have more canals than any place on earth, even more than Venice, Italy. But I understand Venice has other stuff.

In Florida, there is a disproportionate number of old people. This enables me to easily blend in with the native population. They are a frugal lot, focusing their daily routine on a convention known as Happy Hour, which occurs around 5 p.m. each day. The prices of alcoholic beverages are steeply discounted, and inferior musical entertainment is often provided by an older musician who sounds better and better as the Happy Hour progresses.

The primary activities of the population include: sitting around swimming pools, planning the next meal, and going to the skin doctor. The more energetic drive to vast shopping areas that cover around 80 percent of the land. Giant parking lots are surrounded by scores of stores selling cheap clothing and colorful, decorative debris. However, there were two very interesting stores that I investigated in greater detail.

The first was a store called Ulta. I went with my research assistant, Marsha, who advised that she had done prior research on these stores, but this was my first visit. Ulta sells only products and services that are designed to alter the appearance of women. There were individual counters selling products designed to alter hair, skin, eyebrows, eye lashes and finger and toe nails. I am not sure whether these products actually worked, but I do hope so. In my opinion some of the customers might need to make repeat visits.

A highlight of my research was a visit to a gun store — Guns 4 Less. It was my first visit to such a place. I had hoped that my brother, a gun owner, would accompany me, but he was not available. So I was truly a stranger in a strange land. I was concerned that the employees would have “gun-dar” that would immediately reveal my poser status. I was relieved that my “just looking” was a successful ploy, allowing me to avoid any discussion about caliber, fire power or prey.

There sure were a lot of guns. Two main kinds, pistols and machine gun-looking rifles, looked kind of like plastic toys, not nearly as substantial as the ones in the movies. Surprisingly, there weren’t any political signs supporting the NRA or hating on Obama. There were stacks and stacks of boxes of different kinds of bullets.

It was similar to Ulta — just a store selling stuff people wanted to buy. There was a mom, dad and 6-year-old son doing the paperwork to buy a handgun, and a guy complaining about the sight on the gun he had recently purchased. Yet these little bits of shaped metal and plastic, fired from slightly larger steel and plastic, have caused and will continue to cause unspeakable pain and sorrow. Bullets speed through the air ripping into the flesh and organs of human beings from the worst criminals to first-grade schoolchildren. I was struck by the banality of it all. Potential lethalness sold with the casualness of prescription medicine. (I apologize for the dark turn this paragraph took.)

Oh well. To the beach, and research on ill-fitting swimwear. Just another day in paradise.

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John Hubbuch

John is an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976. He served on the District 97 school board, coached youth sports and, more recently, retired from the law. That left him time to become a Wednesday...

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