Last week marked exactly one year since I quit my job in Manhattan and committed to forging ahead as a freelancer. I knew I was setting myself up for big changes, but I resolved to make this lifestyle work. Slowly, I slid into a path I willfully designed. It’s been one year of growing to feel more certain in my own skin, moving toward a more mindful sense of peace and self. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined what April 2013 would look like, or where I would be, but I’ll tell you, my current scenario hadn’t crossed my mind — except perhaps, in the folds of wishful thinking.
Sitting here in my Miami sublet, drinking tea under a canopy of air plants, trees and tangled vines, watching lizards jump across my path is splendid, and soothing, and feels like home. More like home than I’ve felt in a very, very long time. Except that it isn’t. Funny how that whole “location independent/digital nomad” thing works.
After working from New York City through mid-February, Ayaz and I took off to pursue lives as digital nomads. First stop? Coconut Grove, Miami. Oh, man. I love it here. I love the Grove: having a small but satisfying world of the bookstore, restaurants, and shops in walking distance from my home. I love my daily strolls to the marina, where I can gaze with awe and envy at sparkling white sailboats and catamarans, growing squinty-eyed from watching sunlight twinkle off the water.
And I’m entirely enamored with what have become my routines, like setting off for Key Biscayne’s Crandon Beach, having a very specific space on the sand I prefer to sit, reading and watching cruise ships depart Miami’s port in the distance, and grabbing happy hour beers and fish tacos on the bay at sunset. We’ve even made friends. Heck, we’ve built a pretty decent social life! Then there’s our house. In the midst of all its Florida vermin and landlord weirdness, it just feels like a home. Our home.
Except, as I mentioned, it isn’t.
We leave on Tuesday for the next leg of our adventure, heading west to Santa Fe. I can’t believe my time in Florida is almost finished. But not because it went by too fast; in fact, it doesn’t feel that way at all.
See, here’s the secret. With this lifestyle, my days don’t fly past. Life doesn’t become a blur. I have space and opportunity to feel wonder, and feel it often. Every day seems new and fresh and hopeful. Time slows down. I appreciate it.
I think it stuns me to be leaving the Grove simply because of how comfortable I’ve grown, and how happy and at peace I feel. I’m wistful.
But I know the next leg of the adventure promises to be pretty damn great. I love the West, and there’s nothing quite like a good canyon to explore on horseback..
These things I’ve grown enamoured with in Miami — the places, routines, people — I wouldn’t have known any of them had I not chosen this life. With each new place and adventure, my world grows that much bigger, my perspective that much wider. I have more to love, and more to be grateful for.
I can’t even imagine April 2014. I have no clue where I’ll be, what I’ll have seen, who I’ll have met. Maybe I’ll be done with it; settled in a Brooklyn apartment, content to be still. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll be departing an island bungalow, somewhere in Southeast Asia, clutching Ayaz’s hand, happy to have created and loved another home.
A wise man once crooned, ok, growled, “There ain’t nothin’ like Miami’s heat!” And you know what? He’s right. When Miami wants to turn up the temps, you best learn the routine: grab a beach towel, don a swimsuit and hit the nearest sandy shores. Or, you could find an air-conditioned enclave, I suppose, but come on, now! I didn’t move to Miami for 2 months to sit inside all day.
As February turned to March turned to April, the days’ humidity and high temps have steadily climbed, which has had a number of impacts on my life.
- Hair product consumption has skyrocketed. There is no gel strong enough to combat the situation. At least none I’ve been privy to. And it ain’t pretty.
- Beach time is on the rise. Good for the tan, bad for the skin cancer anxiety. Thus, sunscreen consumption: also skyrocketed, as have incidents of “ghost face.”
- Nighttime is indeed the right time.
When I arrived, Miami was enduring some sort of freakish cold spell. Read: High temperatures in the low 70s. But seriously, there were a lot of 40 degree nights, when even the toasty Fire Fish couldn’t warm my bones. But now warmer evenings mean more nighttime exploration around town. And Miami after dark is pretty much the best thing ever.
Start, if you will, with the sunset cocktail. Preferably sipped after an afternoon at Key Biscayne’s beaches, and ideally drank while overlooking Miami’s sexy skyline. That’s right. I called it sexy. The city’s shiny white buildings tower toward the sky and serve as a sparkly backdrop to Biscayne Bay’s turquoise waters, perfectly viewed from Whiskey Joe’s marina bar.
Come nightfall, if you can get tickets to see the Miami Heat play basketball, by all means, get thee to a game. I’m a fan of seeing sports live, but admittedly, not a huge hoops fan. If you’re like me, a Heat game will change all that. Trust. Particularly if you attend during a “Noche Latino,” when “El Heat” t-shirts are on sale, mojitos flow like water, and the crowd cheers “Ellllll HEEAAAATTT!!” at every basket (and since the Heat are like, the best team ever, there’s a lot baskets and subsequent cheering).
If a game is absolutely not your jam, get your arts and culture on at a Wynwood Arts Walk. One of the things I couldn’t wrap my head around my first few weeks in Miami, was where to find the hipsters, the artists, the grungy musician-types. Apparently, it’s Wynwood. The neighborhood has morphed from a down-and-out warehouse district to the hippest arts scene in town. There’s galleries, boutiques, gardens filled with graffiti art. The Design District? That’s so 2009.
I’m no maven of graffiti, but damn, there were some breathtaking displays of wall art. It’s corny, yes, but it’s me, so…I admit to getting teary-eyed at some of the talent, creativity and wild genius that went into many of these displays. As for seeing grungy anything, it should be noted that even Miami’s hipsters are as shiny and clean-cut as the city skyline.
Then, there are evenings when you want to spice up the night with a visit to South Beach. I’m generally not the biggest SoBe fan — it trends toward Jersey-Shore-tacky a little too much for my tastes, but there’s so, so much to be said for strolling Ocean Drive admiring neon and Art Deco design, or stopping by the Delano pool for an after-dark drink — or simply a peek at how the other half lives and travels. From what I can tell, it’s rather fab.
Yes, 2 months into my stay here and Miami and I are still very much in love. I’m grateful the affair will continue a few weeks longer.
(Photo of South Beach by raffik via Flickr)
Oh, come on, now! You didn’t think I’d write my first post about Miami and not prominently feature the finest moment in Golden Girls history, did you?
Granted, the clip has nothing to do with my first 2 weeks in Coconut Grove, (and in fact, after chasing a 3-inch long cockroach out of our sublet, I had to re-watch the clip to remind myself that Miami is, indeed, nice) but the song is damn catchy!
With the perils and perks of a drive down I-95 behind us, we scooted off the highway and into the lush tropical environs of our home for the next 2 1/2 months: a 1-bedroom cottage in the heart of Coconut Grove. For those unfamiliar with the Grove, it’s a perfectly charming neighborhood just south of downtown Miami. Once upon a peaced-out time in the 70s, the Grove was a hippie enclave, filled with writers and musicians. Today, such relics as The Last Carrot cafe remain as testament to the area’s original vibe. But more prominent in 2013 are trendy restaurants like Greenstreet Cafe and LuLu’s, boutiques, galleries and a stunning marina I walk past daily while exercising.
Our cottage lies in the midst of a little mecca of 3 other cottages, in what seemed like a Balinese-style hideaway. The reality? Not so much. No one mentioned the sublet came with a landlord straight out of a Carl Hiaasen novel. This is for better and worse. First, I love Carl Hiaasen novels, so, having the man tell me after a good storm he heads out in a kayak to collect debris and fallen plants to decorate our property with, was kind of exciting. Of course, it also means mysterious piles of brand-new Coleman sleeping bags, Oster kitchen appliances and golf clubs appear in mountainous piles around the yard then just as mysteriously, disappear. Still, it’s a pretty awesome-looking space.
Miami has been as spectacularly strange as I would have expected: We’ve already witnessed a man who could have starred in Scarface (complete with slicked back pony tail, chunky gold jewelry and sunglasses indoors, at night), saw 2 bottles of champagne with flames shooting out of them, and ate dinner a restaurant that spontaneously turned into a disco – complete with the descent of 6 mirrored, spinning disco balls and laser lights – for a few minutes, then back to normal — periodically repeating. And that was just the first 24 hours.
We’ve also slayed the aforementioned 3-inch-long roaches. Ok, Ayaz has slayed them. Tried to ward off one sizeable vermin (squirrel?) in our kitchen wall, and battled the pervasive Florida ants and watched our landlord gas the property with a mosquito fogger (because, yes, there was an infestation of those, too). I know, I know. The price we pay to live in the jungle.
When we’re not doing battle with nature and losing spectacularly, we’re exploring the awesomeness that is Miami. Hot nights at the SoBe Wine & Food Festival (yes, I DID get a pic with Bobby Flay), sprawling on Key Biscayne’s lovely Crandon Park beach, Haulover Beach (yes, there’s a nude beach there somewhere; no, I didn’t see it, thank god), and biking around the waterfront Bill Bagg’s State Park and lighthouse while snapping pics of rad-looking water fowl.
Nights are quiet here; cooking dinner, drinking wine, staring at last week’s full moon, and enjoying the blazing warmth of our new Fire Fish — a rather touching, if I do say, gift bestowed upon us by the Landlord. It may have been dragged out of a swamp after a storm, or fenced, but it’s ours … and like Miami, I think I’m gonna like it!
As anyone who’s ever made the road trip south from the Northeast to Florida on I-95 will tell you, highlights along the route are few. There’s the hellacious, bumper-to-bumper traffic between Baltimore and Richmond, Va. that will make you want to poke your eyes out.
This, of course, is more of a road trip lowlight, but the horror of it will stick in your memory for a long, long time, so much so, in fact, it will be the first thing you mention in a blog post.
Then, there’s South of the Border and it’s mascot, Pedro, the rather unfortunate rendering of a Mexican who seems — if one is to believe the many magnets, bumper stickers and other tzchokes for sale — to perpetually be napping under a saguaro cactus or smiling a daft, buck-toothed grin.
Just when you think there’s little more for a wayward traveler to enjoy down the endless stretch of highway other than the occasional truck stop proffering all manner of Slim Jim flavors (I had no idea there were more varieties beyond regular and spicy!), you’ll run aground in a town like Titusville, Fla., pull into a seedy (if totally functional) Super 8 motel, learn about the front desk woman’s brush with thyroid cancer upon check in, and be gifted a list of the town’s major restaurants.
Intermingled with the likes of McDonald’s and Hungry Howie’s, you may, if you’re lucky, notice the listing for Dixie Crossroads and the blurb, “Turn right at the giant shrimp.” Now, come on. Who can resist that sort of absurdity and the chance to spy a giant crustacean?
Imagine our sheer joy upon discovering the Dixie Crossroads is a bit of a local icon, famous for its rock shrimp platter, which, while truly delicious, paled in comparison to some of the restaurant’s other, less touted highlights.
Take for instance, the Krabby Bites. Lord knows, there didn’t appear to be an ounce of crab in the whole lot of ‘em. But damn, they were delicious. Fried dough balls, with bits of corn in the batter, topped with copious piles of powdered sugar. Kind of like giant funnel cake balls. But better.
Then, there were the drink prices. A whopping $7.50 for a beer AND a glass of wine. What? No, really, and it wasn’t even happy hour.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the decor, which included a wide array of homages to the manatee, including fabulous tablecloths, (see Krabby Bites photo above) and slightly less fabulous, but much more questionable pieces of art.
Finally, I give you Mr. Rock, the top hat-wearing rock shrimp. The memories he gave us were, in a word, priceless.
And the perfect send-off for our arrival in — MIAMI.
To be continued …
Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow! My apologies. I’m prone to bursting into Little Orphan Annie’s theme song today, knowing that tomorrow — tomorrow! — is the official date of departure for my foray into location independence. Yup, in 14 hours, we’ll hit the road, not as New Yorkers leaving on a trip, but as digital nomads creating our new lifestyle.
While today marks the edge of something new, what I’ve been quiet about until now is that the actual adventure began on December 31st, when we packed up our apartment, moved all our worldly goods into storage, and set off for our first (of what will surely be many) sublets in Chelsea.
One look at the apartment’s hardwood floors, exposed brick wall and fireplace left me feeling very Sex in the City. Then one sorry day I saw a cockroach run across my bed, and, well, the romance pretty much died. Lest you wonder, roaches do not equal sexy.
Lesson learned: old brownstones are charming … at first glance. They also are, well, old. And apparently dirty in places you never knew could gather dirt. That said, the neighborhood totally rocked.
The foray into charming, if over-priced and small, Manhattan brownstones lasted a mere month. Next stop: a fab apartment across from the United Nations. The space will handily rank as the largest condo I’ll have the privilege of living in in New York City, unless the market for digital nomads suddenly BLOWS UP bigtime and I find myself quite literally movin’ on up, to the east side.
Our stay here has been blissful, and a chance to breathe as we have mentally prepared for tomorrow — tomorrow! — and the road trip south to Miami.
Now, here I am, staring at our worldly goods stacked in boxes before me. Considering it’s all I’ve thought about for the last 2 months, I’m still struck by disbelief that this moment is finally here. I mean, what will tomorrow night feel like, when I know I won’t be sleeping somewhere familiar? When I’m unable to make dinner plans with friends? I’ve been down this road before, yes, but somehow, this feels different than the last journey.
Saying goodbye to the people I love here in New York has proven to be so hard and so sad, and yet, such a gift, as it offers me a tangible realization of the life I’ve been so fortunate to build here.
As I sit here typing, I’m scared. I’ve got a case of butterflies thumping in overdrive in mah belly. But I can pause, take a deep breath, and know I’m not leaving this city that I struggled so hard to love simply to get the hell out. Hugging friends goodbye, visiting places that have been ingrained into my routine just “one last time,” has been poignant. And I know when the time is right, I’ll be back.
For now, there’s a box of road trip snacks distracting me in the kitchen. And a million new experiences to be created. Tomorrow.
It’s go time.
So how will Passenger Conners — she of no ride to speak of since giving up cars for city-living in 2004 — traverse the great US of A?
Low and behold, I’ve bought a car; or co-bought a car, as the case may be. She’s a sweet RAV-4 that will hold all our worldly goods not currently in storage, which, for better or worse, adds up to a bit more than 2 backpacks-full o’ stuff. She’s currently chilling in the wilds of Connecticut (hey, parking in NYC’s a pain!) until we’re ready for take-off.
Alas, the RAV remains nameless. I’m hoping she’ll earn her moniker in due time — though if you’re struck with a suggestion, please send me the skinny.
I hope she’ll fall smoothly into the role of a good, ahem, third wheel on our travels. If all goes according to plan, I imagine you’ll be seeing quite a bit more of her.
When I returned from 8 months traveling around the globe, I immediately unpacked my backpack, settled back into a life in the Northeast, and enjoyed the simple pleasures of stationary life, which now felt like sheer decadence.
I peaced out. There were no planes to catch, no cities to explore, no backpack to unstuff and restuff with all 64 ounces of my worldly goods. That heady thrill of permanence lasted, oh, two weeks.
Suddenly, I peeked into my closet and felt nothing short of horror: why do I own all these clothes? Who wears this many shoes? Will my surroundings, my routine look relatively the same day in, day out? Yes. Yes they would. I wanted back on the road. Like, yesterday.
But, another part of me knew I was done with hardcore traveling.
I craved much-cherished time with family and friends; I wanted to work, and find a path more true to self, and learn to build a new home in a new city.
Still, beneath it all, ever-present and bubbling, was that spark of knowledge gleaned on the trip: it’s a big, beautiful world out there, filled will incredible souls, and I’m not going to see it or meet them to the degree I crave while here, at home.
And so, I plotted and planned, and wondered and hoped, and thankfully, Ayaz, my number one partner in life, love and all things awesome, felt similar.
For months we pondered, tossed half-baked ideas around until we just knew — we were going to do it; we would take off into the great, wide world we love so much. But this time, things would be … different.
We’ve decided to become location independent, or digital nomads, as many refer to the lifestyle. We’ll be on the road, but we’ll be working — my work is already remote, and we’ll finally have time to pursue the passions and projects that have eluded us in these past few months.
The plan is to stay in locations for longer stretches, 2 months or so at a time, immersing ourselves in places, people, cultures and lifestyles. For now, we intend to stay U.S.-based. First stop: Coconut Grove, Miami. Next Stop: Santa Fe.
Passenger Conners is back in business! We’re hitting the road in T minus 3 weeks, and I’ll be sharing updates and photos of the journey, my many new homes, and the towns and people we’ll be discovering along the way.
I am so thankful and so gosh darn excited to be, well, BACK.