By James W. Dolan, Special to the Reporter
For a person who was not always so fond of Florida, I seem to be spending a lot more time there of late. I expect it has something to do with my lady friend, who just happens to own a home on Marco Island. Neither of us expected to get lucky a second time following the deaths of our spouses.
We both chose to embrace that somewhat shallow but joyful exhortation: “We’re not here for a long time; we’re here for a good time.” But why should we shrink into the dark recesses of remorse, loss and isolation, particularly now when we have more free time than when we were raising our families? We’re now fully formed, self-aware, and independent, wearing comfortably the joys and strains and the pleasure and pain of our earlier lives. They are etched into our faces and molded into our souls.
We have a history, a perspective that provides insight, awareness, and the comfort of a task well done, for the most part. With experience comes the compassion to understand, forgive, and accept our flawed humanity. Too many seniors flee to Florida seeking a refuge from the problems that beset society. They live and play in private enclaves, insulated from the turmoil of a democracy in crisis.
It’s not just the bitter weather they flee. The harshness of winter is a reminder that time is running out. It also serves as a metaphor for the disorder, poverty, violence, and confusion they wish to avoid in their sunset years. What some describe as “heaven’s waiting room” also serves as an elaborate refugee camp. That may account for the unease I occasionally feel in this comfortable world apart.
I was there for the last election and I was distressed at the large number of Trump supporters. He received overwhelming support from people who had “made it.” They had money, status, and security, and almost nothing in common with Trump’s traditional base. Yet they feared some of the same things. Overwhelmingly white, many saw immigration, social welfare programs, and the growing minority population as a threat.
There is something artificial about a lifestyle that on weekends drives residents to a joint called “Stan’s,” a legendary roadhouse on an inlet in a section of Marco known as Goodland. It’s stuck away in an isolated corner of the island like an eccentric relative. It’s not quite ready for prime time. But on weekends they all come to enjoy the sounds, smells, tastes, and companionship of an authentic southern honky-tonk.
The setting is open, the music country western, loud and brash. The dancing is lively and the food and spirits plentiful, but not overpriced. Unlike much of the rest of the island, it ain’t fancy, but it’s real. Characters are welcome and add spice to an eclectic mix of fun lovers who revel in the joint’s diversity. The playful atmosphere is infectious as young and old, bikers and BMW owners share a laugh.
When Stan Gober, the founder, owner, and impresario, died, they named the second bridge to the island after him. A fitting honor because “Stan’s” is a place that bridges differences. Its festive atmosphere brings together folks who might otherwise never appreciate just how alike they are. You would never mistake that roadhouse for a church, but it is a place where people gather to celebrate their common humanity.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.