Friday, January 28, 2022

Shock to the System

I still can’t believe this is my backyard. PHOTO BY MELINDA GRAY

I still can’t believe this is my backyard. PHOTO BY MELINDA GRAY

Melinda Gray

In my 35 years, I’ve traveled all over the world. My mother and grandmother loved to see new places and experience different things. As a very young child, I was taken to various tourist destinations and third-world countries. I’ve known my fair share of culture shock.

Yet, as well-traveled as I am, I never expected to find myself so amazed at how different life could be just six states away. Goodland has delivered its own dose of culture shock; it’s unlike any place I’ve been in the world, including my former home in Ohio.

Here are the top five things that surprised me:

Time Warp

My first impression of Goodland brought to mind Kellerman’s Resort from the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing.” Goodland really does have that “Old Florida” feeling — something that harkens back to family vacations of the 1950’s where road-side stands and bungalows were commonplace.

The ambiance here is aimed at attracting tourists for our economic survival, but is balanced by the tightly-knit, working-class population that lives here year-round. Affluent travelers and “snow birds” travel across the U.S and around the world to see what we enjoy here every day. They are accepted into the community and made to feel welcome while they’re here, and then they go home.

My daughter said once that every day in Goodland feels like a vacation, and I think that’s the point.


Something I noticed right away about my new home was how the animal and plant life native to this area coexist seamlessly with the people. I wake up in the morning to a cup of coffee and a pelican on the boat dock; driving over the Goodland Bridge on my way to work, there’s a dolphin playing in the water.

My kids and I jump in the car for a game of “let’s get lost,” and we see manatees, gopher tortoises, ospreys, alligators and burrowing owls. Palm trees, mangroves and exotic plants of all kinds grow in my backyard. Every day is a science lesson, and I love it!

Topographical Polar Opposites

My sense of direction is impeccable, but here on this tiny sideways-oriented, shell island, I feel like a compass spinning in a magnetic vortex. Anytime I relocate, I quickly learn my way around, and that hasn’t changed. Still, I need my GPS if I want to know which direction I’m facing here.

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, I became used to rolling hills and valleys, thick forests filled with towering oak and maple trees, and the distinct landscape of factories dotting the horizon. In contrast, it’s absolutely flat here with condominiums marking the skyline instead of smoke stacks. Standing atop the Goodland Bridge, I can see so far I’m able make out the curvature of the earth.

Isolation Suits Me

Not a fan of fast pace of city-living; I’m happiest away from civilization. I wander where I want and set up a life when I get there. Once I had my children, I had to forgo my need for seclusion in favor of my kids’ need for convenience and socialization.

Goodland suits me because I’ve found the isolation I crave. We close up shop around 9 PM every night. Even on weekends and holidays, people are home by 11 PM. There are no 24-hour gas stations or fast-food spots; no traffic lights or night traffic; no sirens screaming at 4 AM. There are no car stereos blasting bass that shake the house, and no night-life raging into the early morning hours.

I love that there is only one road in, no sidewalks, and for a few months each year, everyone goes home, and we are left with just a handful of full-time residents who look out for one another while still respecting privacy.

Golf Cart Mania

Street-legal golf carts are something I have never seen — anywhere. I did grow up in a in a rural town where people would ride their horses to and from the bar in hopes of avoiding a DUI. On a lazy summer day, one could see four-wheelers and tractors cruising by but never legally. If I had to get somewhere, I drove my car. The sheer distance would allow no less. Before I had my license, I would ride my bike seven miles just to visit my best friend.

In Goodland, everything is a stone’s throw away. I can leisurely walk and see the entire island in less than an hour. The only time cars outnumber golf carts here is on Sundays, when a throng of tourists come to visit Stan’s.

I’m in awe each time I see something here that I could never have seen in Ohio. I wake up happy each morning because I love Goodland; and my kids love it, too, which is so important to me. This truly is a unique place to live.


Melinda Gray studied journalism and political science at Youngstown State University in Ohio. Before relocating, she wrote for The Vindicator and The Jambar in Youngstown, and is currently a contributing writer for an emergency preparedness website. Melinda now lives in Goodland with her two children. She can be contacted at or 239-896-0426


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