I'm not off the plane from Boston for 24 hours when the luncheon room manager at the Palm Aire Golf Club & Resort spots me wearing a UMass Lowell hockey shirt and shouts across the room, "Hey, that's my hometown!"
It was 7:45 a.m., eight minutes before tee time on a gorgeous Florida morning in Pompano Beach, when Sandy made me feel right at home.
She handed me a hot cup of coffee, a breakfast sandwich, and told me how she left Lowell in 1989 and, despite missing the city, she has rarely returned. "My friends and family come and visit me here, all the time," she said.
Who could blame her -- or them, I guess.
Floridians pay no personal income taxes and excise taxes on motor vehicles; pay 40 percent less than Massachusetts drivers for auto insurance; and homeowners get an annual "homestead" tax exemption of $50,000 on their assessed property value which lowers their tax bill.
Plus, they get two-for-one happy hours (these are outlawed in Massachusetts), sunshine, beaches, palm trees and year-round golf, tennis, surfing, and outdoor recreation of all kinds.
And then there's no snow, no winter coats, no big furry hats and no thick gloves.
The Wine Goddess packs these things away every spring and every November I'm at a loss to find them. I've been wearing one brown glove and one black one for two months now.
Anyway, when I finished playing golf, a gentleman in the pro shop stops me and says, "Hey, you're our rivals."
Unless he was from Florence, Italy, the Campaninis of Campobasso -- and later Providence, R.I. -- have not rumbled in rival family warfare for at least five centuries.
He is pointing at my UMass Lowell shirt. Before I can reply, he says, "I played hockey at Merrimack College, right up the street. I used to live in Lowell."
Bob -- that was his name -- lives in Del Ray Beach. He loved the movie The Fighter, he says, and adds how the scenes in the movie were his only brush with Lowell in five years. "(The city) looked good in the movie," he declares.
I couldn't wait to rip off the shirt. It's the first thing I did back at the condo. The Wine Goddess took note.
"What's wrong, didn't you shoot par?" she asked breezily.
I broke 100, I lied (108). But that's not the point, I said.
"Everyone I met used to be from Lowell. Now they live down here. They were tanned, healthy and didn't seem to have a care in the world."
"So why take it out on your shirt?," she said rationally.
"Because they seemed to be a little too happy to be down here while we're all up there in Lowell. Geez, even Micky Ward's down here training boxers."
The Wine Goddess repressed a laugh. "I had breakfast with Janet Lambert-Moore this morning. She owns a condo five minutes from here. She owns a home in Lowell. We have a place here and in Lowell. Don't you think we have the best of both worlds?"
I went silent like a Capuchin monk.
Standing shirtless on the veranda I gazed into the distance. The sky was so blue it could have been painted.
I thought I heard a voice in a dream. Turning, the Wine Goddess handed me a cool glass of 2009 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, a Napa Valley classic produced by the Barrett family.
"Relax, reflect, enjoy -- and remember we're going to La Veranda tonight for dinner ," she cooed. "And if someone else comes in from Lowell, we'll celebrate with a bottle of Prosecco."
I ended my vow of silence for one of charity.
"Honey," I said, "we'll drink Prosecco even if someone from Billerica comes through the door. But when we get home, I need a favor. Can you please help me find my other pair of mismatched gloves?"
Read more at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/winenovice. Follow Jim Campanini on Twitter @suneditor.