Sun, fun and law enforcement in Florida

27 02 2014

So last weekend I went to Florida to escape this unbelievable winter here in the Northeast. The endless weeks of cold and the series of snow dumps has certainly toughened me up, but my, it does get tedious after a while.

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Boston.

The first half of our flight to Florida was uneventful, my mother was happily watching CNN on the seat-back television while I closed my eyes to get some rest. It was a late flight, and I’d had a long week.

About an hour and a half from Boston, the two young adults in the row behind me (siblings, it seems) were getting louder as the flight wore on. Their voices carried far naturally, both wore earbuds and talked and laughed over the volume. This grated on me so I turned around to ask them to please tone it down. The girl just looked at me, clueless and pretty liquored up. For the next 15 minutes or so, she and her brother discussed whether or not they were being too loud (in their typically loud voices). During this conversation, expletives began to fly in my direction in, I will assume, an attempt to provoke me. I pretended not to hear. I generally am not easily provoked by immature strangers.

Numerous alcoholic beverages later (that they seemed not to have to pay for) and shortly before landing, they turned aggressive. During the tirade, once again directed at me, “stupid f***ing blond b**ch” was the nicest thing I heard. The flight attendants repeatedly told them to simmer down. When the chick reached over the seat back and slapped me in the head, the party was definitely over. Other passengers called over the head flight attendant, who told them that the were now in very serious trouble.

Mom, just turning off the TV, was like, “Huh? Whats going on? What’s all this about?”

And the girl still wouldn’t stop. She repeatedly pushed the seat-back, and began threatening me (“I’m gonna  get you, you f***ing c**t”), while her only slightly less inebriated brother repeatedly told her to put a lid on it. After landing, her parting shot: “I know what you look like. I’ve got you out on the street. Just wait till we get out on the street. I’ve got you, you dumb b**ch.” This is when the flight attendants finally took them to the back of the plane for a time out.

Still on the taxiway, the captain told the passengers to remain in their seats once we arrived at the gate. There was “a situation on board that needs to be sorted out.” Mom & I were told separately that law enforcement officials were coming, that we would be the first to disembark and that police wanted a statement from me.

When the door opened in FLL, three of the biggest and scariest-looking Sheriff’s department dudes I have ever seen headed straight to where the flight attendants had corralled the foul-mouthed little ones. Mom and I grabbed our bags and headed out of row 21, while a planeload of still-seated passengers stared at us, most of whom wondering what on earth was going on.

Officer Jackson, though scary-looking, turned out to be a very nice guy. Well, to us at least. Mom and I were still reeling from the experience, and the airline’s station manager came to apologize profusely. I have no idea what happened to the girl but I did see her sitting in handcuffs as we left the building.

Ah yes. Florida, LIVE! As we know and love the place.

That plus the 84 degrees F (29 degrees C) and the sunshine is why we keep going back.

Florida.

Florida.

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Snowbird City

27 01 2012

The Canadians have landed.

The annual exodus from winter to warmer climes began about Thanksgiving (American Thanksgiving, that is…) and usually lasts until Easter. That means, we here in Hollywood, Florida, are currently in the thick of it.

A caravan of vehicles bearing the license plate “Je me souviens” begins moving south down I-95 just as Florida’s hurricane season is ending, and Quebec’s deep freeze is beginning. The colony grows by the day until South Florida is saturated.

Bienvenue! And spend some money here, you Lexus driver, you!

And they really are ALL French Canadians. In all my years of coming to Hollywood between November and April, I have never seen a Canadian license plate from west of Laval. I have no idea why.

One telltale indication that the snowbirds are back in town are the signs in the stores that say “On parle français” and…I walk by this one every day….

Yuck.

For those of you unfamiliar with this culinary delight from north of the border, it is truly disgusting. A heart attack on a plate if there ever was one. Fries drowned in cheese and gravy, basically. I had the honor of making its acquaintance once while at university in Canada, many, many years ago. My cholesterol level has not yet recovered.

R. and I have started playing a drinking game when we are out in one of the bars downtown or at the beach. It’s called “Identify the French Canadian”. I can’t say what it is about them, but we are generally 98% right (and therefore drink a lot). French Canadians just have this look, and they all seem to look the same.

But despite the invasion of les Français, we are thankful for their cash, which they toss around liberally, as every vacationer should.

To keep our French Canadian friends and neighbo(u)rs happy and entertained during their annual sojourn to Florida, Hollywood offers Claude, the two-step king.

Monsieur "MC et DJ prof." in action at "Disco-Karaoké".

He is out a few times a week in the bandshell on the beach, crooning old favorites from the 60’s and 70’s. Hundreds of retired Canucks spend their afternoons in the sunshine, tapping their feet to Claude’s rendition of “Mustang Sally” and other favorites I never new had French subtitles or translations. His finale today was what seemed to be some kind of folk song that had everyone joining in in a sing-a-long.

It’s fun for the whole family, as Claude’s elderly line-dancing groupies – also out for every afternoon performance – will attest.

The ladies doing their thing for Claude.

We Floridians just sit there and gape at the crazy tourists.





Of paint, outlets and doorknobs

7 12 2011

So for the last two weeks or so I disappeared into renovation-land. As some of you may know I still own my father’s condo in South Florida. He died about four years ago, and we decided to keep it as a (very expensive) vacation place. Some would call it a “money pit”.

Two years ago, when R. was unemployed for a few months, we decided to start upgrading the place that seemed to have not been upgraded since it was built in 1973. The kitchen’s dome lighting was vintage, and the appliances were slowly taking leave of their functionality, one by one.

The pink bathroom was classic, too.

Gorgeous. Just Gorgeous.

So thanks to my unbelievably resourceful and flexibly unemployed husband, we managed to redo the kitchen and the two bathrooms within about four months. He flew from Europe to Miami five times within that span of time to supervise the construction.

For the past two years we have thoroughly enjoyed our half-new vacation place. But every visit we said to each other that the place kind of needed a new paint job. And every time we came, we also said – “Okay…. next time.”

This past September we attacked the project head on. R. is no longer unemployed, but he now has a job where he can literally take every fifth week off. (PS.: I want one like that too…) So he flew over to Miami and started the long and arduous task of covering every ceiling and vertical flat surface within the four walls of our condo with a fresh coat of white paint. It took him eight full days.

But once the walls and the ceilings were white again, we noticed that the closet doors, room doors and door frames were a kind of seedy beige-y color that depressed us. And the doorknobs, fashionable in the 1970’s, I’m sure, just had to go.

A second working vacation was planned.

We arrived a week and a half ago, and in those ten days the place has turned from dowdy to rowdy.  For the trim and every other surface that needed something fresh, we chose an airy, light turquoise that carries the name “ionic sky”. I kept calling it “iconic sky”. It looks unbelievably Florida-y, South-Beach-y even. Oh-so-cool.

But renovating comes with its pitfalls, too. For example, I never knew painting was so hard, that one can make so many mistakes, and that it is possible to get a cramp in one’s hand from holding a paintbrush for 8 hours every day. I thought that kind of thing only happened when you were writing exams at school.

During our renovation extravaganza, no day was complete without a visit to one of our two local Home Depots. We always seemed to need some tool / widget / screw / nail / cable / switch / outlet / paintbrush / cover / glue that we did not have at home at that particular moment.

On the bright side, I discovered a new, marketable skill I never knew I had: replacing doorknobs. My apparent expertise earned me the endearing title “Miss Doorknob”. My dear, sweet husband, whose native language is not English, was previously unaware of the colloquial connotation of calling someone a “Doorknob.”

Of course, he meant well, and I love him for it.

And hey, if I don’t get a job in my field by the end of January, maybe I can make replacing doorknobs my new career choice!

My handiwork. All mine.





Columbia, Challenger, Endeavor, Discovery, Atlantis and me.

22 07 2011

Though I thought I was kind of over getting emotional about big world events, I surprised even myself at how emotional I got as I watched the space shuttle Atlantis return to earth for the last time yesterday morning.

It was still night Florida – an hour before sunrise. A shadow in the dark, the workhorse of the U.S. space program for the past 30 years arrived back on earth as she had left it 12 days ago, and as 134 shuttle flights before her began and ended: with dignity and grace and mystery.

Isn't she beautiful?

Atlantis’ touchdown was the last shuttle landing, ever. And it was like saying goodbye to a friend I grew up with, who was just kind of always around, at some times closer than at others, but always somewhere near. You know… just… there.

I can’t think of a single person I have been friends with that long.

Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavor and Atlantis and I grew up together, and we experienced the ups and downs of every lifetime. We celebrated successes together – the awe-inspiring successes, and mourned the failures – the lives and confidence lost. And then we celebrated new successes – the confidence and spirit restored.

I always wanted to see a launch live and in person, but never had the opportunity. A few months ago I came closer than ever, but in the end it just didn’t work out.

The space program was and still is something to believe in and be proud of, at least for those of us whose inclination is aeronautical rather than terrestrial or aquatic. Something fantastic and fantasy-like, a way to also escape these bonds of mental gravity, while everything and everyone else is mired in reality here on earth.

In April 1981 as Columbia blasted off, I sat in my family’s basement, to where the television had been banned. I planned my career as an astronaut – a child with big dreams.

In July 2011 as Atlantis lands, I sit in an office at a desk in front of a computer, with a live-stream direct broadcast open in a window on the left hand side of my screen. I am an adult in my second career, neither of which have had even the slightest thing to do with astronauts.

And though this is an end, it should be another moment of celebration rather than mourning. The shuttles are done flying but they are far from on their way to being forgotten. They will be on display at museums across the country and will continue to feed the dream of space exploration.

So yesterday I’m glad I watched history happen, even if only virtually, and from so far away.

At 05:56 Eastern Daylight Time Atlantis glides out of the inky black into view. Main gear touchdown, chute, rotate nose gear, touchdown, roll out, full stop. As the sun rises over Florida, the shuttle Atlantis, resting on the tarmac, takes on form and color.

Job well done, America. Thanks for 30 years of friendship and inspiration.





Taking South Beach at night, on eight wheels

3 04 2011

OK, folks, “cool” does not begin to describe Friday’s night skate on South Beach. I don’t think there is an adjective in the English language that can adequately portray this athletic carousing on the streets of one of the hippest towns in North America. I am still reeling.

Friday night, Lincoln Road in South Beach, Miami. I knew I was in the right place for the “official” SoBe night skate as wheeled, helmeted, spandex-clad aliens emerged from the gutters to congregate at a street corner downtown. They really stuck out among Miami’s beautiful people, all dressed up, walking their doggie-carriages and preparing for a night out in Party-Central, USA.

A SoBe mama and her canine baby.

The police who would be accompanying us on our tour announced their presence with a blip of sirens, piercing blue and red lights flashing (cops also just want to have fun after all).

As we pushed off at 7pm sharp, I looked around and counted 34 skaters and five cyclists. Escorted by no less than ten police cars.

I asked a fellow skater more familiar with the ride why the cops take two hours out of their (surely very busy) Friday nights fighting crime to escort three dozen weirdos on skates through town – closing streets, blocking traffic and otherwise making themselves generally unpopular, especially among motorists. He said they use the monthly skate events as practice for when someone really significant comes to town, like the President. (Who, incidentally, showed up last month, forcing the cancellation of the SoBe night skate because the cops had to get back to their day jobs.)

And the escort service was quite professional, if I might say so. Skaters were more likely to get hit by a speeding police cruiser, racing up from behind to block off the next intersection, than any other vehicle.

Stay right or perish.

The nice policemen and -women also transported bottles of water for the participants and were kind enough to dispose of the empties afterwards, too.

The 12-mile (20-km) route led through some of the most expensive and attractive neighborhoods in the country. One community of mansions even opened its massive iron gates for us to cruise through. Don’t bother asking the price of a property here, you definitely can’t afford it. (Even if you win this week’s PowerBall jackpot, currently standing at 218 million green ones.)

What the SoBe skate lacks in masses it more than makes up in exclusivity.

Following the sanctioned event, a small group of about 15 skaters gathered for the second, unofficial skate, which, in hindsight, can only be accurately described as a mildly insane, suicidal free-for-all. But of course I didn’t know this before I enthusiastically declared my participation… I was skating here for the first time.

Strength in numbers gave us the confidence and the adrenaline rush we needed to take back the streets on our own (who needs cops?): Careening down tourist-trap Ocean Drive at speed; using parked and moving vehicles for slalom practice; whistling, howling and whooping it up at puzzled passers-by and baffled restaurant patrons. As we passed Gianni Versace’s villa, one skater launched into her rendition of “Strangers in the Night” while three others discussed the harmful health effects of carbon monoxide. Oh, did we just run a red light? Oops.

By the end of the hour-long late skate the group was crooning Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” while evading traffic on Washington Avenue, downtown’s main north-south four-lane thoroughfare.

It appears that this is all normal weekend behavior in South Beach, and it did not elicit a single noise violation, rowdiness citation or traffic ticket. My kind of town.

Lock these people up, they are a danger to my health.

By the end of the evening, I had close to 20 miles (32 kilometers) in my legs. Not quite a marathon, but then again, I never did a marathon in tropical heat and humidity while dodging SUV’s and chatting with a Swiss geophysics professor skating next to me. My ankles were screaming for mercy and the next morning the rest of my body expressed similar sentiments.

So…. when do we get to do this again? Ooooo I can’t wait!





The sad state of inline skating in the USA

1 04 2011

Coming to the land of new innovative sports and the birthplace of inline skating, I thought I would arrive in an El Dorado for rollerbladers, the likes of which I will have never seen before. Especially in Florida, where the weather is conducive to outdoor sports pretty much the whole year round.

Sadly, that is not the case.

Before I arrived here in Florida, I found a group on the Internet that conducts a weekly night skate. I was ecstatic. I imagined hundreds if not thousands of skaters, collectively taking back the streets, just like they do in every European capital at least once per summer month. (Think: Skaterparties in Paris, Berlin, London…) Even in Zurich our Monday Night Skate attracts anything from 2000-6000 participants every second Monday from May to September.

The Wednesday night gang.

The first time I joined the skate group here in Hollywood, I found eight people waiting at the assigned meeting point. And I asked… “Is this the skate group? This is it?” One of the other skaters answered, “Oh, this is a great turnout.” Last night’s group was 14 strong, a real army.

This is how I discovered that the skater demographic here is um… small and not really, shall we say… sustainable.

The folks I met in the group and also when I’m out skating on my own are great – very friendly and chatty people, we have a grand time. But they are all… well… middle-aged. There are Tom and Dave, who are in their late 40s probably; Karen is a few years younger. Then there’s Harry, who I would have guessed is in his late 40s but is actually 62 (a true testament to the youthful effect of skating). Those are a couple of the regulars. I have never seen anyone at the meetings that was under, say, 35.

Then there’s also George, who looks like he’s 70, but is probably 85. He is out every morning at 7:00 a.m., skating his laps along the beach like there’s no tomorrow.

They all complained to me that for some reason young people are not interested in the sport. And even though the group officially has more than 370 members (according to their website), only a fraction of those show up for the weekly meetings. Kids don’t seem to find skating “cool” anymore.

There is no decent skate shop in a 100 mile radius and I know of no organized races within a day’s drive.

George told me that for a few years, Disney organized an annual skate marathon in Orlando, but declining participant numbers prompted them to cancel it. Unfathomable for us in Europe, like the folks at the Berlin Marathon, who have to turn away hundreds of skaters every year because the event is sold out six months before the race.

My skate friends here say that for the monthly Miami South Beach Friday night skate (the epitome of coolness if there ever was one) usually about 50 skaters show up. If the weather is good, maybe five more will come. That event is tomorrow night, and I can’t wait to cruise through the Art Deco streets, escorted by police, past curious onlookers and irate motorists. I’m sure it will be a blast.

And I will be wondering where the thousands of other skaters, who would make it truly an experience of a lifetime, are hiding. They must be out there somewhere.

South Beach at sunset.





Just another Saturday night

23 03 2011

A cacophony of voices, a throng of people of all ages, all shapes and sizes, black, white and brown, mingle on the beach promenade. The stroll, skate, sit, eat, talk, run and bike away the lazy day.

I spread my towel on the beach facing the water, take off my sandals and let the clean beige sand slip through my toes. The wind comes out of the Northeast, and the late afternoon sun warms my back. My shadow gets longer and longer as the sun sinks westward, behind the beachfront restaurants, the intracoastal waterway, the Everglades, and the earth beyond. I take out my journal, and write down what I see around me.

Watching my shadow.

To my left, four generations of an extended family chatter away in Spanish. All at once and without punctuation or paragraphs. Some of them sit on blankets in the sand, others on coolers, a colorful umbrella angled away from me is their shelter. Turning right, I see some teenagers play 3-a-side soccer in the sand while, other, smaller kids watch as ice cream from their too-large cones drips off their faces, and between their fingers.

A disembodied orange flag in the ocean mysteriously creeps closer to shore, snaking around to the right. Only as the flag, floating on a buoy, approaches the shallow water do I notice the scuba diver, dressed in black neoprene, attached to it by a cord. He emerges from the waves, takes off his over-long flippers, gathers up his flag-buoy and walks out of the ocean. He looks around at his surroundings as if he was a Martian, just landed on earth.

In my line of vision to the open sea, a small girl sits in a hole in the sand that it probably took her all day to dig with her tiny white plastic shovel. Her head is the only part of her body still sticking out above ground. The incoming tide inches ever closer to her construction site. And just a few minutes after her mother calls to tell her it’s time to go home, her hole is inundated with water, the waves rolling in like last week’s Japanese tsunami.

Beyond the beach, a triathlete swims parallel to the shoreline, his labored strokes witness to the fact that he’s probably got a few miles in those arms already today. But he soliders on, bobbing up and down with the surf, moving slowly and steadily from right to left. After a few minutes he disappears to the north, continuing on his way.

Miles off shore, huge cruise ships – cities on the water – march steadily out of Port Everglades in the opposite direction, one after the other, heading towards Caribbean points south, unknown.

On the beach promenade behind me, Tony the Pizza Chef serves up his pies the size of hors d’oevres platters to a hungry clientele. Still, eyes grow wider yet when they see dinner arrive at their tables.

As dusk falls, the blood-red, radiant supermoon surfaces in the distance. Cheers go up, cell phone cameras are aimed and thousands of underexposed, shaky photos are shot, filed, emailed, messaged, uploaded.

An honest attempt with a compact camera.

A rock band strikes up the first chords of its evening set in the bandshell. People dance, tap their feet, embrace life.

On just another Saturday night at the beach.