I am a sucker for an airport gift shop. What better way to fill the yawning hours pre-flight after disrobing in front of hundreds of strangers and emerging disheveled and hastily dressed on the other side of a TSA security area?
An airport gift shop offers a quick look at what’s “local,” which usually involves a tasteless variety of salsas, an assortment of chocolates tinged with coconut, and the perennial T-shirt emblazoned with the convention and visitor bureau’s slogan of the month. If I have had a particularly memorable time in the airport’s city or region, I’m happy to put a few more dollars into the local economy and buy one of those T-shirts.
Thus, my weekend walking attire will now include a yellow T-shirt on which a neon pink palm tree appears, outlined in purple, with the words “Ft. Lauderdale” placed just above it, printed in handsome cursive. Every time I wear it, I will remember my unexpected, love-at-first sight affection for this city.
Ft. Lauderdale offers, in this gal’s mind, the ultimate combination of qualities that add up to a near-perfect urban enclave: an easily definable size; safe, walkable sidewalks; a good business-to-residential ratio of downtown structures; and plenty of independently owned shops and restaurants.
Oh, right, and there’s the beach. This city has a great beach, an honest-to-God beach, with blue-green water and soft sand–all right there at the city’s edge. It’s a wide welcoming beach I could live near, walk along, and daydream forever on. In my next life–and I don’t know when that next life will begin–I know it will include a beach chair and an umbrella and Sundays and Mondays off to dig my toes into this sand.
I love this town.
I love how everyone–from parking lot attendants to store merchants to the local beat cops–all engage you in conversation, first. Are people really that much nicer here? Or is it simply the absence of the no-eye-contact, me-first, hurry-up edge that exudes from so many in my city? Whatever it is, I am pretty sure the five-second proximity to the beach has much to do with this relaxed “Hi, how are you?” attitude.
I loved getting seated at the worst table in one of the best restaurants in town, because a group of regulars with no reservation was soon seated next to us at the “back-pocket” table. We became fast friends when the senior woman of the group asked Mr. Restaurant Gal, “How’s your entree? That’s what I’m serving at an an anniversary party I am having here.”
Which led to a long discussion with me about what she was planning for this party, and her asking if I could I help suggest a simple flower centerpiece?
“What do you think about favors?” she asked.
I told her candy was always good, and that vintage candy from the 1960s was even better. And photos? She asked. Sure, I said, place photos from all four decades, of all her family, all over the place. And don’t forget the wedding album, I added.
There were no rules of etiquette governing how to make this party her own, I assured her. Would I look at the space with her? she asked. I told her it was my pleasure, because it really was.
I loved working the work I love, for those few moments, when I was very far away from work.
I love the colorful, tight-fitting, so “Florida” attire that everyone of every age and every shape wears. I watched my city’s black-, brown-, and gray-clad pedestrians scurrying home from work today, and I laughed to myself at how they would all look dressed in every-day vivid south Florida finery.
I love the exotic cars and too-loud choppers that parade up and down the boulevard. I love the tiny hairless dogs and too-huge spotted dogs that lumber along in the heat with their buff owners.
I hate having “beach hair,” but I love the warm, sultry air that makes it so.
I love a friend’s generosity and warm welcome that gave us a reason to experience this place for 48 hours.
In my next life, I swear….