I’m back from a long weekend in Broward County visiting my old friend Lou. He and I met in seventh grade, shortly after my dad got a job at Spencer Gifts (remember them?) and my family moved to southern New Jersey.
Over lunch our homerooms would play softball against each other. Because I was the new kid — and smart — my classmates didn’t think I could play. But Lou, the other homeroom’s star left fielder, knew better. He remembered my at-bats and deduced (correctly) that my power was to center and right fields. So whenever I came to the plate he shifted the other outfielders rightward, moved himself practically into center, and conceded me all of left. I had no choice but to pull the ball, which led to easy grounders at the third baseman or weak pop flies.
I hated that, but admired Lou for figuring it out. I had to get to know him. When my glove was stolen and he, the only left-hander on the other team, let me borrow his glove, I got my chance. We remained besties through high school, and though life took us on different paths afterward, we’ve always stayed in touch.
After a lifetime in New York and New Jersey, Lou moved to Broward County five years ago. He’s grown accustomed to South Florida, but keeps a healthy perspective on it. He remains surprised by how many South Floridians dabble in the workplace, branding themselves as “life coaches” or “anti-aging consultants” while picking up spare money in various side-gigs. He’s also surprised at how hard South Floridians party. There’s always a lavish alcohol spread at social events; even Lou’s rabbi genially pours scotch at congregational get-togethers.
And then there’s South Florida’s built environment. Instead of open, flowing communities with storefronts and homes on the street, you get a never-ending series of isolated, half-hidden commercial complexes and housing developments, a consequence of cheap land (at least in the old days) and car culture — not much different from parts of Southern California and Arizona, actually. As a result, there’s only one way to move around: from your air-conditioned home to your air-conditioned car to your air-conditioned destination. Pedestrians and bicyclists are little more than rumors except on weekends, when you see an occasional family riding in the bike lane and a slowly melting jogger trudging along the sidewalk.
On Saturday Lou and I strolled the Hollywood Broadwalk. The beaches benefit from a cooling ocean breeze, but even so we spent more time in the lobby of the Margaritaville Beach Resort than in the heat and humidity.
On Sunday we took in the Miami Marlins’ last baseball game of the season. The Marlins are among the most futile teams in the National League—except when they play the Giants, of course. And perhaps the Reds, who they shut out 6–0. They play in a beautiful ballpark, though.
Here I got a vivid illustration of what Lou meant by South Florida’s casual economy. The ballpark is close to Little Havana, and lots of small merchants offer parking for a lower rate than the Marlins’ garage. We found a space a couple of blocks from the ballpark for just $10. Then Lou found a scalper who sold us great seats between home and third base for $15 apiece. Parking and two primo seats for just $40! That’s less than a single upper deck seat at a San Francisco Giant game. And here’s what’s even more amazing: Lou bought the tickets almost literally under the nose of a police officer, who couldn’t have cared less about the illegality of the transaction.
So it was an interesting trip! It was especially wonderful to catch up with Lou. Just the same, I’m glad to be home in the chilly, slightly more up-and-up (if expensive) Bay Area.