My first exposure to Florida dates back to the winter of 1975. I was a physical crimes detective in upstate New York. Physical crime detectives investigate everything dealing with crimes against persons; assaults, murders, robberies, and so forth. We were investigating an armed robbery that occurred at a supermarket where the suspect fled the scene. After checking all the likely locations and coming up empty, we filed for a warrant and initiated an alert on our suspect. Now a fugitive, the message went out nationwide.
A few days later, the Daytona Beach PD called. They informed us that our suspect had been picked up in a bar fight and was being held at their lock up on a drunk and disorderly charge. He was going to be brought over to the local county jail later that day where he’d be eligible for a bail bond release. However, they’d be willing to hold him if we could confirm that we’d be responding within 72 hours to take him back to the frigid northeast. Ordinarily, the task of transporting a fugitive for state crimes falls on the local sheriff’s office. But since we had yet to present the case to the grand jury, our local sheriff told us the task fell on our shoulders.
The chief of detectives soon notified me that he couldn’t spare two detectives away from the unit, so I reached out to the initial responding uniform officer to see if he was interested in a trek down to sunny Daytona Beach. “Not a problem, detective,” he said.
So after packing up my swim trunks, sunscreen, and my designated court suit for the extradition hearing, we booked our tickets and headed off for Daytona Beach.
It was 31 degrees when we left Rochester, N.Y.
Upon our arrival into Daytona Beach, we were met by two Volusia County Sheriff’s Office detectives for the drive over to our hotel. Now 1975 happened to be one of the coldest winters central Florida has ever experienced. In fact, the temperature in Daytona only reached 19 degrees on December 19 of that year.
The VCSO booked us into a real nice high-rise hotel, but not for the reason you might think. Our status as two of “upstate NY’s finest” had nothing to do with our penthouse accommodations. The hotel staff informed us that the warmest rooms were the upper floors. (Hot air rises, remember.) All available electricity was being diverted to the local hospitals. Needless to say, the sunscreen and swim trunks didn’t get unpacked.
During the early morning drive from our hotel to the county court house in Deland, Fla., I noticed the white reflectors affixed to the broken white lane markings on the roadway. “Safety purposes,” our escorts explained. “Not all our highways here in central Florida are lighted.”
As the sun rose, I also took note of the broken black lines painted directly after the customary white lines separating the lanes. “The sun’s so intense down here that the road bleaches out the white lines, so we need black lines to differentiate the travel lanes,” they said.
“Just found my retirement home,” I said to my partner from Upstate.
Almost immediately, my new VCSO friend replied, “Don’t go where the coconuts don’t grow, Dave.”
It seems that coconut palms only grow in the sub-tropical climates of south Florida. “If you drew a line from Melbourne on the east coast to Clearwater on the west that would be about the dividing line,” our escort explained.
Fast forward to 2016. Here I am enjoying the warm sunny climate of southwest Florida, where most days you’ll find my beautiful wife, Anne, our chocolate Labradoodle “Bob” (who couldn’t care less about Coconut Palms), and moi walking the beautiful beaches of the Paradise Coast, watching the palm trees sway and thinking about how great the white reflectors and black lines look.