When you tell people you spent your freshman year—and only your freshman year—in Florida, at a small school in Clearwater just a quick drive from white, sandy beaches and surrounded by year-long sunshine, the most typical response is confusion, especially when they find out you later transferred to the northern woods of Wisconsin, just a half hour from the U.P.
What can I say? The truth is, Florida and I never quite hit it off: first, there was the intense heat when I arrived in August, with humidity that made my hair frizz any time I stepped out the door. Then there were the bed bugs, the failed French test, the homesickness and the time I passed out, trying to give blood. Mostly, there was Christmastime, and while I loved the beach on spring break in high school, it was an entirely different thing in December, when white twinkling lights and waving Santas dotted yards of palm trees and colorful flowers, and we still didn’t need coats.
One thing I will say for Florida though, and this is something important: it makes a good orange. More times than I should admit, my friend Liz and I hopped in her bright yellow Volkswagen bug, the one with daisies propped up in the console, headed to the retail shop for a local orange grove. I guess some people would make the trip for the oranges, or the juice maybe. Us? We went for the ice cream.
Orange Blossom Groves in Clearwater, at least in the 2000-2001 school year, made the most amazing orange soft serve ice cream, totally worth our driving over in the middle of the day, even more than once a week. That soft serve was perfection: silky, creamy, icy cold, incredibly fresh. Of course the entire place smelled like citrus—the way your hands do when you peel one and the fragrance sticks to your fingers, your palms, the knife you cut it with—but the ice cream’s taste was the smell times ten. You know that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where they’re in Italy and Robert gets the peach gelato and says it’s like he’s never tasted a peach before? That was what this soft serve was like, only orange.