Fort Lauderdale is to Pompano Beach as Cadillac is to Ford.
Fort Lauderdale has location, money, reputation, retirees. The boulevards are a little bigger, the canals a little deeper, the yachts a little bigger, the bling a little brighter, the stories much much more full of deception.
Pompano Beach seems more comfortable, more downscale, more livable. Pompano Beach seems like an old pair of beach shoes that fit your feet perfect, don’t care if sand gets on them, and fit on the floor of your car like they were made to be there.
At Sand Harbor there is an ancient hotel that retains the charm of the fifties, a bar and restaurant that serves great fish sandwiches, plus a nice view of the Intra-coastal Waterway.
After lunch Ruth and I walk the beach and it reminds me why half the east coast moved to Florida and stayed. Ruth moved her 90 year old mom down to Florida from New York into a second floor condo above her.
It is a slightly cool afternoon and at a little snack bar on the beach folks are gathering to chat, have coffee, eat, lounge under palm trees and be glad they don’t have to work at jobs they did ten years longer than they should because their kids were in college.
Pompano Beach, this afternoon, is one of those old fashioned postcard shots that tells everyone you are in Florida and having a great time, and eat your heart out.
The bond between mothers and daughters is sometimes tenuous, but, more often, tough and durable.
Love and duty are inextricably linked.
Tomorrow, I fly back to the desert.
You stay in Florida too long, you start to get webbed feet.
According to Ruth, we are in a Mob Bar.
Everyone in the place is well dressed and it is questionable whether I should be let inside with Levis, a nice dress shirt, hiking shoes and uncombed hair.
South Florida is a place with comfortable weather this time of year and an inclination towards leisure and decadence. There are banks, mortgage companies, pawn shops, tattoo parlors, restaurants and hotels, strip clubs, car dealerships, lawyers and anything else you might want or need to keep your equilibrium.
Once you drive away from the Fort Lauderdale International airport you are welcomed by wide streets, manicured lawns, palm trees and canals, million dollar yachts, almost cloudless night skies and a full moon this evening. The parking lot of Ruth’s favorite lunch place is full and Coral Springs is a long way from Miami Beach, West Palm Beach, or any beach.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays Travelino’s features live music or live comedy. Tonight, on a Monday, they don’t have a dinner that fits so our fall back choice is chocolate mousse.
When served, the dessert reminds me of Roman orgies.
The waiters in this club wear white shirts, black slacks and black ties. The bartender shows us a new tattoo on her left wrist. When tattoos appear on middle aged bodies one has to wonder how much longer our Republic is going to survive?
On second thought, maybe it was Al Capone I saw in the washroom talking to his accountant, smoking a Cuban cigar.
I didn’t see any bodies on the washroom floor with bullet holes in their forehead, but the night is still young.
While I enjoy mousse, my ears are cocked, listening for slamming car doors in the parking lot and someone saying the name , ” Vinnie. ”
Ruth brings her mom here for lunch, so it can’t be all that dangerous.
In fact, Ruth and I decide, after consideration, that this is the kind of place Al Capone would bring his own mom.
She would probably not have tattoos.
Florida is close to being underwater.
It is incredibly flat, incredibly wet, incredibly dense with vegetation, increasingly populated by people coming to paradise to restart lives, escape boredom, find wealth and prosperity, or just escape the cold. In the summer the humidity here nears a hundred, the temperature nears a 100, and citrus orchards are the only ones who think it is a paradise.
The canals are a necessity and you see them in most residential neighborhoods along with the nature that goes with them. They give water a place to be, catch runoff, hold flood waters and keep residential homes high and dry. There is grass everywhere, plants, oranges and grapefruits, palm trees, flowers. Tropical plants grow in empty untended lots that gardeners elsewhere would kill for.
Spanish explorers came here seeking the Fountain of Youth. Florida does have fountains and a lot of youth so those old Conquistadors were definitely in the right search area.
Florida, one of our fifty states, protrudes into the Caribbean Sea like a giant nose and doesn’t seem to belong in the U.S. Most everyone here comes from somewhere else and Seminole Indians stay close to the Everglades, out of sight and hearing.
The state is more likely to bite you than bless you, more likely to sunbathe and drink margaritas than sit in church, more prone to faith healers and spas than cold hard science.
Florida Isn’t underwater yet, but, in the next hurricane, things could quickly float away.
If this state weren’t attached to the U.S. mainland, I would be worried about it.
In a La Quinta hotel room in Coral Springs, Florida I am distracted with television, something I haven’t been distracted by in over a month on the road.
On TV is a show called “The Basement Tapes,” about long lost recordings by Bob Dylan and friends shortly after Woodstock.
A music legend, Bob Dylan has entertained for decades with a distinctive and recognizable voice.” The Basement Tapes ” are an early experiment by 60’s musicians to break away from record companies. They are home recordings of jam sessions live from a friend’s basement when that idea was becoming technically possible and affordable.
One is surprised when returning to the U.S.
Streets are wide, neighborhoods are affluent, trash is picked up. landscaping is immaculate.
You can find any kind of food you want and it is fresh and affordable.
The U.S., that many of us Baby Boomers grew up in, is like living in a house where all the plumbing works, the refrigerator is full, riff raff don’t camp out on your front lawn, bills get paid.
When you come back home you see all the things you like about our U.S.
When you leave, you only see the bad.
South Beach is like beaches in the Caribbean.
The sand is white and grainy and blue beach umbrellas blow in the wind like the tops of stir sticks in one’s Pina Colada.
Some brave souls wade in the water even though it is cold this time of year. Bodies are spread under the sun trying to become a different color than they were born. This Saturday afternoon there is plenty of beach to occupy and lifeguards are so nonchalant that one has his feet up in the window of the lifeguard shack, his eyes looking at the plywood ceiling instead of the ocean.
A walk on the beach hooks me up with couples, kids, turistas, gawkers, and local vendors like Dave the water guy making a living off strangers who have washed up on shore and have credit cards and cash stowed away in their socks and bras.
It is a festive scene, and, as a small plane pulls an advertisement in the sky behind it, I trek up and down the beach in levis and a pair of hiking boots – feeling a little overdressed.
There are photo op’s galore.
The one, not taken advantage of, is a Latina sprawled on the beach, topless, tanned, not at all worried about nipple burn. She is bold and is probably one of the few to have a good enough physique to get away with wanting the world to see all of her. Her girlfriend, tanning next to her, looks mean enough to scare the junkyard dog.
Walking this afternoon, I have come, have seen, and have been conquered by narcissism bleeding like a cut finger.
I am a tourist with no responsibilities, no ambitions, and no agenda except blending in like the ingredients of your favorite margarita.
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There is much concern in this country about skin damage.
There is, on this beach, a lot of skin that will be damaged and this is a perfect poster for a Dermatology convention in Miami Beach.
Two big bodies are prone on the sand, turning their backs to the world and telling it to go to hell.They have claimed their part of the beach but there is still room left for the rest of us on a day like today.
The sun is warm, the breezes are cooling.
What else would one want to do on a balmy afternoon than lay on the sand and show the world their best side?
For all I know, people who live, visit and work in South Beach look this way all the time.
It is the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday and skies are threatening rain.
One side of Ocean Drive is dedicated to tourists and locals who want to walk, ride bikes, stroll hand in hand down a concrete promenade that parallels the Atlantic Ocean. The other side of the street is left to those who want to eat, drink and be merry. This afternoon there are cobwebs and skeletons as far as my eye can see. You can bet this scene will be crackling this Halloween night – like a light bulb in a power surge. The girls are already being party girls but an older man takes the cake when he strolls down the sidewalk flaunting his bare butt.
It is all in bad spirit and even hardened old timers seem pleased with this guy’s boldness, chuckling and saying ” this is messed up. ”
Girls, loving him, chase our bad boy down the sidewalk and pose with him while their boyfriends take their picture with him.
What this says about their relationships is suitable for Cosmopolitan, or discussion on ” The View. ” This experience gives new meaning to the phrase ” End Times. ”
Oceans, at the end of land masses,seem to bring the crazy out of people.
I order a drink to meet this place half way.
Catching a taxi to the beach is the quickest way to get there from the Hotel Element.
For thirty bucks each way, I get a local taxi drivers music, pictures of his familia swinging from the rear view mirror, a few questions in Spanish to see if i speak his language, a driving style that saves time for phone calls, deciding which horse race to bet, or checking in with Baby Mama.
“Ocean Drive is over there.” Raul says as he turns a corner and pulls into a parking pullout not far from the Atlantic ocean.There is a green belt parallel to the ocean with sand paths leading through palm trees to the beach. The green belt also has walkways for casual strolling, roller blades and bicycles.
“If you go one block that way you hit Collins Street, ” Raul instructs me. “The food is cheaper there , because, you know, it isn’t close to the ocean.”
Raul taps his finger in the air as he talks, like he is conducting a salsa symphony.
Leaving the cab, I hike down Ocean Drive, immersed in Art Deco architecture that you find in Miami Beach, Havana, Los Angeles, all warm places on an ocean’s edge.
According to Wikipedia, Art Deco is famous for eyebrows, rounded corners, flat roofs, themes in threes, banding or racing stripes, columns, glass blocks, etched glass and portholes.
Enjoying a place I never planned to be, on someone else’s dime, is looking like more than traveler’s luck.
Why I am here, and not somewhere else, is always an enigma wrapped in a conundrum?
It isn’t fifteen minutes until I have my toes in the ocean.
The Hotel Element is close to the Miami International airport.
Their standard room has a refrigerator, a color flat screen TV, acceptable wi-fi, hot and cold running water, a door that locks, a clean bathroom, clean sheets, and, especially important in Florida, air conditioning. I don’t see ghosts and goblins running the halls but Halloween is coming towards us right on schedule.
I take an elevator up, slip my plastic card key into the hotel room door handle and let myself in, test the bed, get horizontal and slip into a car chase dream on a twisted road to Uruguay across a world map like the one on the first page of Scotttreks.
The next morning, for breakfast, us hotel guests are greeted by a diminutive She Devil with horns who is busy making sure we have our drinks, muffins, breakfast sandwiches and sweet rolls. Even in Hell you have to eat.
She poses for me and wants to change back into her cute red devil shoes for my snapshot. I tell her I am okay with her the way she is, part in our world and part in her demon world.
I get a few more scary Halloween photos after breakfast of two hotel desk clerks who are dressed to kill. Both of them suggest I visit South Beach since my rescheduled flight leaves late tonight and I have time on my hands.
God’s and demons, or fate – if you prefer, is always part of a traveler’s life.
I let the killer girls call me a taxi.
No respected travel blogger would pass up a chance to go to South Beach.
Even the best plans of men go awry and the best planned trips get caught in rough currents.
Boarding my plane in Albuquerque, all things are possible. I am scheduled to fly from Albuquerque to Dallas, Dallas to Miami, Miami to Montevideo, Uruguay.There is no doubt this trip will happen, in proper order, until the Captain of our American Airlines jet announces a ” maintenance problem. ”
We are stuck on an Albuquerque runway,our plane’s engines won’t start, so we taxi back to the gate for grease monkeys to determine what the plane’s problem is,and, if possible, fix it.
Sitting in our plane, an hour and a half assessment is completed. Finally, with supervisor approval, techs jump start engines and we taxi back out and get airborne on our second try.
The traveler seated next to me is from Peru. He makes his living explaining mutual funds to South American financial advisers and tells me Uruguay is nice which gives me some comfort that this trip will be better than it has begun.
In the Miami airport, a huge floral design on a wall above an escalator going down to Customs, reminds me that Peace and Love are the hardest words to live by in the English language.
It is two in the morning before a shuttle from the Hotel Element picks up six of us stranded travelers and gets us safe to our airline paid compensatory rooms for having missed our ongoing connections through airline error.
It isn’t an auspicious beginning for this trip, but at least I reach Florida with all my body parts.
Statistically, airline travel is safe, but fear of falling really kills us.
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