Observations from Florida
By Bryan Caplan
I just got back from a month in Naples, Florida. Due to coronavirus, we drove, passing through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and eastern Tennessee. While in Florida, we mostly stayed near home base, but I did take my sons on a daytrip to Miami. My main thoughts from the visit:
1. The day we left for Florida, the 7-day moving average for new coronavirus cases in the state was 742 per day. Yesterday it was over 11,000 – roughly fifteen times higher. Deaths have increased far less, but I honestly don’t know how much of the disparity comes from lags, younger patients, improved treatment, data issues, or something else. The old adage, “If you’re not confused, you don’t understand what’s going on” holds. Doomsayers still strike me as overconfident, but so do optimists. I wouldn’t be shocked if every state in the U.S. is doing well in three months. I wouldn’t be shocked if every state in the U.S. looks worse than Florida in three months.
2. If you think you know better, you should be publicly betting. End of story. If you don’t, I don’t take your idle punditry seriously. Neither should anyone else.
3. We stayed less than a mile from the beach. When we first arrived, the crowds looked frighteningly packed. After actually entering the beach, however, I realized that almost every group was socially distanced. The beach is a big place, and the ocean even bigger. Still, I was struck by the fact that hardly anyone walked an extra five minutes down the beach to increased their social distance by a factor of 5 or 10. Instead, they bunched up by the entrances.
4. When we arrived, Florida was obviously more legally open than Virginia. Though half the tables were closed, restaurants were often still packed. Some bars overflowed. There were no lines to enter grocery stores (even CostCo), and no obvious shortages on the shelves. Now, however, it’s hard to see much difference in what’s legally permissible. Floridians did however exhibit far less social anxiety than Northern Virginians. An optimist would probably say that our social anxiety is what keeps Virginia from becoming the next Florida, but I wouldn’t be so sure.
5. The main thing I miss from Naples is the Prado Theater. Their business model baffles me. My family bought an absolute majority of the tickets for seven out of eight movies we saw; we had the whole theater to ourselves twice. The theater had temperature checks, but the checker told me that he’d never detected a single feverish customer. Since tickets were only $5 and the theaters were huge, I wonder if we even defrayed the cost of the air conditioning. Perhaps the owners were consciously losing money, treating the reopening as a chance to rebuild customer goodwill? Or was their reopening an outgrowth of the Paycheck Protection Program, which effectively gives firms money to retain employees even if they sell nothing?
6. Other than The Wretched, we only watched old movies. The experience reminded me how light-handed Hollywood’s left-wing indoctrination was until 2015 or so. Trading Places shocked my sons; despite its anti-hereditarian theme, many moderns would quail at its ubiquitous stereotyping.
7. Though Florida is probably still my favorite state, I haven’t visited during the summer since 1986. Air conditioning, pools, and beaches make the heat bearable, but the mosquitoes are the worst I’ve ever encountered – in both quantity and potency.
8. Food was actually hard to get in Greensboro, North Carolina due to riots. By dinner time, both restaurants and grocery stores were closed, even in suburbs. Luckily a more remote town stayed open. We were planning on seeing Charleston, South Carolina, but locals told us that rioters had trashed the town so there was no point going. Living in a world where news personally affects me is eerie, though we easily diverted to St. Augustine. On the way back, we saw protesters (but not rioters) in Asheville, North Carolina. I wasn’t scared, but if I owned a local business I definitely would have been.
9. Restaurants in Naples were far inferior to Miami. I blame the lack of immigrants on the supply side, and the extra retirees on the demand side.
10. If you’re ever in Miami, go to this Sicilian bakery. Why isn’t it a chain?