We needed spring break more than ever this year and we made the most of it. Normally, we head north for spring break. Those Wisconsin water parks are a powerful draw. This year, we traveled in the opposite direction to Clearwater, Florida.

What a novel idea, going to Florida for spring break. I wonder if it will catch on. I had my worries, though. After a year of lockdown, I was as jittery as a newborn kitten. I hadn’t flown in 15 years. I noticed security was tighter, same with the legroom. Our plane was packed with Midwesterners grateful to be escaping to paradise.

Paradise was all around us in Clearwater. From our 12th floor balcony, we had breathtaking views of the white sand beaches. We could also see every attraction and restaurant we wanted to visit. They were all within walking distance of the hotel. If we did want a lift, the free Jolley Trolley was circulating through the streets.

We didn’t need the trolley to get to the beach, it was a brisk walk from the hotel pool. The surf was gentle and the water was tasty. It was filled with refugees from the north. One woman I spoke with had escaped Ohio three years ago. She said that the slower southern pace was going to add years to her life. So the rumors are true — Florida is home to the Fountain of Youth.

Speaking of legends, I had heard about Florida’s fabled open-air restaurants but had never dined at one. We dined on fresh seafood while basking in the mild breeze. One of these places had their own fleet of fishing boats. The food was so delicious, we witnessed a minor medical miracle. Our traveling companion could actually taste his appetizer. He hadn’t tasted anything since December.

After dinner, we strolled the pier to watch a spectacular sunset. As we walked back, we witnessed a magnificent moonrise. They even had full moons during the day. Mostly at the beach. To say that people dressed skimpily would be an understatement. I put on a shirt with a collar and felt like I was wearing a tux. The scanty clothing revealed more than the usual number of tattoos.

We also saw more than the usual number of people hobbling around on walking boots. I asked one woman how she got hurt and she said she slipped on ice in Syracuse. She wasn’t only a refugee but a casualty. A number of the walking wounded were northerners. They eased their pain with tropical drinks.

Our hotel didn’t just serve drinks at the pool. The servers handed cocktails to guests who were in the pool. It was heavenly and the water had the same flavor as the gulf. There were only a few things that bugged me. It seemed that everyone around me was focused on their phones. I don’t get it. You’re surrounded by natural beauty and staring down at a device.

The best decision I made was to leave my phone in Forest Park. It was liberating to be free from my electronic leash. The saddest sight I saw was a little boy at the aquarium playing a game on his phone while a giant sea turtle glided by the window.

Seeing this phone addiction was depressing but we also noticed more people than normal reading real books. So there is hope for the human race after all. After four magical days, we returned to Chicago.

It wasn’t all bad. As one Floridian said, “In a few months you’ll be glad to be there and not here.”

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball...