There are several cities in Florida that seem like perfectly nice places to me, but I just don't have any strong feelings about them one way or another. Venice is one such place; Port Charlotte another. And then there's Naples. To me, Naples was always just an especially clean and upscale stretch of the Tamiami Trail; just another spot you passed through on your way to Miami. I'd always presumed it to be mostly elderly white people with immaculate lawns and used-only-twice boats in their driveway - kinda like Sarasota to the tenth power.
Turns out that Naples may end up representing to me the heart of Florida, though the old boy may be barely breathing. More than any other Florida city - even Miami - it seems to combine aspects of several other beloved cities, and sum up the best of what I like about the Sunshine State. But unlike other places that have numerous subcultures competing for control of the city's identity - like, say, Tampa - it doesn't feel erratic or uneven here. It works. (Or, at least, that's my naive and bright-eyed viewpoint of it so far. I may get cynical and discouraged in a few weeks, check back later.)
Naples also is of prime strategic importance to me and mine. It's like sitting in "the gangster seat" in a restaurant (you know, a rear corner seat facing outward to the whole joint, so no one can sneak up on you from behind) by being located at the very end of the drivable gulf. Marco Island is the end of the Gulf Coast unless you're taking a boat. From there, Florida descends into undeveloped swampland and the Ten Thousand Islands, all the rest of the way down the state till you hit the Keys. But Naples is just a hop, skip and a jump from Miami to the east, and is still an easily doable drive back north up to "the peninsula" to continue conducting business in Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
Best of all, Naples is ass-deep in excellent restaurants, something that's been sorely lacking during 2014, my "lost year" surrounded by lackluster eateries in the Gulfport area. Did I say "best of all"? No, wait, what's really best of all is that Naples is also a big cigar town. None other than my personal hero, the maestro himself Rocky Patel is headquartered in Naples, and has his world famous swingin' BURN club here. You can expect a report shortly.