The Boca Bind: are we obligated to do travel-y stuff when we travel?

The Boca Bind: are we obligated to do travel-y stuff when we travel?People don’t walk in Boca Raton. Instead they drive their steel monoliths that pass for automobiles down the wide, palm-lined streets flanked by pink mansions. Or, in one case, they run, evidenced by the shirtless (six-packed) camelback-wearing dude burning off his mojitos from the previous night. And then there’s me: dressed for a New York autumn in a blue button-down shirt, a brown V-neck sweater and blue jeans. I’m walking back from the store to my hotel carrying a six-pack of Red Stripe and a bottle of my favorite mineral water, Aqua di Nepi, which I hadn’t seen since moving back to New York from Italy a few years ago.

I’m also trying to make some sense of this town, a place I dropped into unexpectedly for a few days last week. Here are some things I had just dug up about Boca Raton, Florida: this city of 75,000 is the “spam capital of the world”; it has a long history of being associated with confidence tricks (i.e. the work performed by confidence men or, as they’re commonly referred to, “con men”); and according to some U.S. federal indictments a few years ago, the Gambino family still operates here.

I wasn’t really sure why I was in this seaside, south Floridian town associated with wealthy geriatrics and cyber criminals (and wealthy, geriatric cyber criminals). When I told friends I was going there, I was often asked if I was attending a bat mitzvah. This was an impromptu trip, booked with frequent flier miles, and one in which I had a lot of downtime. Besides the beach, there are not many attractions in Boca. The National Cartoon Museum is supposed to be here. There are a lot of upscale restaurants. And something called the Sports Immortals Museum.

For a while, walking beside me on my way back to the hotel, a novelty: probably the only fat man in the entire town. “It’s nice to see someone else walking these streets,” I said as I passed him.

“Someone’s got to do it,” he said and then laughed.

But do they? I thought. And am I obligated to do something travel-y when I travel? I feel the pressure; I’m a traveler. I’m a travel writer. Is it okay to just sit in my hotel all day long, get some work done, read a little, watch old people struggle to do yoga on local cable access TV and await dinner and drinks in the evening? Or do I have to get the most of this place, even if it is a place I’m not wildly sold on? I wasn’t planning on doing any of the local things: hit an early-bird special, take oxycontin, enjoy a game of bocce, nap in the afternoon or pass away in my sleep.

Because I usually go somewhere in the world just for eating (and writing about it), I thought I’d give it a try. The previous day I had met with my friend and fellow travel writer Tom Swick, a longtime Ft. Lauderdale native. Fish sandwiches, he told me, were about as local as you could get in terms of food. So I got in a cab and directed the Haitian driver to a place across town, just a few miles away. The cab driver, though, had no idea how to get out of my hotel parking lot. He was struggling with the GPS, trying to put in the address of a restaurant just down the road. I sat there in quiet frustration, as we were stalled on the side of the road, the driver still trying and failing to type in the address, and the taxi meter going up and up and up. Yep, I should have just stayed in my hotel. Just another day in one of the most sedately, strange places in America. I got out of the cab and walked back to my hotel. I had a couple bottles of Red Stripe left and they would do just fine.