July 7: Bookfest Adds Spice

Posted on July 7, 2015 7:42AM

Posted by Kitty Oliver - guest blogger

Bookfest Adds Inspirational Spice to Summer Fun

Some of the country's top African American authors who have made a mark in the literary world will gather in Greater Fort Lauderdale at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center for the South Florida Book Festival July 17-18 to introduce their latest work and tell other aspiring writers and book lovers how they did it.

Award-winning journalist and talk show host Tavis Smiley will be one of the featured authors making a special appearance at the "Evening to the Stars," a dressed-up affair and book signing on Friday night that kicks off the festival. On Saturday, the NPR radio and television commentator and interviewer will talk about his new book, My Journey with Maya Angelou.

Other highlights of the free Saturday lineup show why this festival has become one of the country's top book events drawing hundreds of visitors and residents to the library, a cultural gem in the heart of Fort Lauderdale's historic Black community. Pulitzer Prize winning author Nick Chiles and co-author, Georgia attorney Robbin Shipp, are set to provide timely insights into crime and punishment in the U.S. as they discuss their new NAACP Image Award finalist book Justice While Black: Helping African-American Families Navigate and Survive the Criminal Justice System. Eric Jerome Dickey, a perpetual New York Times bestseller and prolific contemporary fiction writer with more than 21 books to his credit, will read excerpts from his latest provocative thriller, One Night, and his new novel, Naughty or Nice. Nationally heralded entrepreneurs, including rocket scientist and media maverick Mary Spio, will share stories about brash, inventive routes of financial success and Sex and South Beach author Dr. Sonja will lead a frank conversation on the intimacies of modern relationships.

A new event this year will be the" Chef Smackdown" on Saturday night, a special evening of competitive cooking and samplings of soul food creations that closes out the weekend. Ticketed events are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

The South Florida Book Festival kicks off what is shaping up to be a summer of inspiration, information, recreation and family reunion fun for the multicultural traveler in Greater Fort Lauderdale.

The National Urban League brings its high-profile conference to the area for the first time July 28-31 with high-profile speakers, presidential candidates and "Save Our Cities" agenda that looks at issues relevant to the African American community nationally and strategies for solutions. Pre-and post-conference activities will include informative events highlighting local culture, youth involvement, health initiatives, and business and career opportunities. Radio personality and entrepreneur Tom Joyner will bring his nationally broadcast program to Fort Lauderdale for a live feed from the Convention Center during the conference.

As work continues on a plan to create a permanent home for the American Tennis Association in Greater Fort Lauderdale, the country's oldest Black tennis organization has made tennis a summer family reunion tradition in the area.

Thousands of Black tennis players, tennis enthusiasts, and their families will once again converge Aug. 2-8 for the 98th Annual Conference and Championships of the ATA. Players from 8 to 80 will take over four of the area's top tennis courts for enthusiastic rounds of competitive matches, youth development workshops and special events, parties and camaraderie.

This summer, the area is teeming with visitors from around the country enjoying summer fun.

July 6: Parrot Heads

Posted on July 6, 2015 11:44AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Usually you'll hear them before you see them. Though brightly colored, these are creatures whose sound is even more distinctive than their appearance. And a lot easier to notice. I'm talking about the wild parrots heard everywhere around South Florida, always a treat for tourists. Lots of locals also love our flocks of parrots, including me. (The birds are not to be confused with that other species of parrothead found locally and elsewhere, of course, which belongs to fans of Jimmy Buffett, the folks who soon will get their own resort in Hollywood. The Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort is set for its grand opening later this summer. You can click here for details about this big addition to Greater Fort Lauderdale: But okay ... about those real parrots. The flying kind with beaks and very loud squawks. Where can you go to reliably enjoy them with your own eyes? And ears?

Over the 4th of July weekend, I found myself again sitting at one of the most predictable flocking areas, even snapping a couple pics of a parrot pair hanging out on the low branch of a huge oak tree. And that's when I thought, "I need to let our tourist friends know about these parrots."

You'll discover this small park off Las Olas Boulevard, walking distance from downtown Fort Lauderdale. I've written about it frequently for other reasons, my own personal fave among all the great spots to spend some chill-time around this community. Colee Hammock Park is a tiny but lush refuge from the bustling South Florida streets. Click here for a map that should help you find it. On Sunday, my girlfriend Gwen and I parked ourselves on a shaded park bench there, just kicking back on a warm July afternoon to watch the passing parade of boats. Everything from the Jungle Queen to inflatable dinghies, from grand yachts and tall-masted sailboats to a kayak that held a man and a woman and two small kids. You're likely to see vessels of many kinds when you're at Colee Hammock Park. But almost certainly you'll also see and hear the wild parrots. I've rarely visited this park without at least a couple of parrots joining me at some point. Look for that enormous oak tree I mentioned. It's one of the most popular perches for these loud and colorful birds. Then listen for their distinctive call, those shrill screechy squawks that tell you parrots are in the area. If you search among the oak branches, you may glimpse the green parrots tucked in among the leaves. Often you also can follow their flights back and forth across the New River, typically small flocks squawking their parrot heads off much of the way. Our wild parrots are part of South Florida's unique environment, something to tell your family and friends back home about during your vacation to Greater Fort Lauderdale. They definitely are Facebook-worthy, especially if you can manage to catch them in a photo or two. And Colee Hammock Park is one of the best parrot viewing areas I know. Pick a nice bench in the shade, relax and keep an eye out for them ... and an ear. Believe me, they'll let you know when they're around.

July 1: Celebrating Us

Posted on July 1, 2015 9:27AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Three cheers, please - for you. And also for me and for all of us as we approach the 4th of July 2015. It seems a fine year to celebrate our freedom, a moment when our economy remains strong and more of our military members are at home from foreign conflicts and same-sex marriage now is the law of this land. These and many other good things are cause for a joyful commemoration of our nation's birth. Yay! Of course, Americans always have been great at throwing parties. And here in South Florida? Well, we know more than a thing or two about party-throwing, as pretty much the whole world recognizes these days. Our region is famous for big bashes.

So where better to spend the 4th of July weekend? If you're lucky enough to be hanging with us over the Fourth, you've got plenty of tri-colored party options. You'll find some of them listed at this link:

As you'd expect, you'll find fireworks displays among the offerings. And a lot more too. Like, how about a 4th of July fireworks cruise? You can do it through the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six hotel. Then there's the 4th of July All-American Swim Party from noon to 4 p.m. in Tamarac and Hollywood's 4th of July Star-Spangled Spectacular. Maybe you'd like to begin early with the Red, White & Sailor Blue Independence Day Party, which actually happens the night before Independence Day - July 3 at 7 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale. Or check out some big band jazz that same evening or ... You get the idea. No shortage of patriotic parties in Greater Fort Lauderdale, for sure. It's all really only the first wave of our summer parties, including some shindigs that are part of the big Broward 100 celebration happening this year. You can find a listing of those events by clicking here: They'll lead us right through the warmest months and into October's huge Broward 100 Duende grand finale weekend party, something I'll be telling you a lot more about in these blogs during the coming weeks. For now, though, let's do the 4th of July as the 4th of July should be done. The Founding Fathers probably didn't anticipate hot dogs and hamburgers and backyard barbecues, leisurely days at the beach and family picnics. But I imagine they would be pleased to see us having fun on the 4th, if they could. We are the fortunate heirs to their vision of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This weekend is a perfect time to remember that, oh yes, and to enjoy it.

June 29: Rainbows

Posted on June 29, 2015 9:24AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

South Florida loves love. The U.S. Supreme Court seems to agree. So today as a new week begins and a new era dawns in this country, we have to just pause for a moment here at to say something: Wow. And to add a few words more too. We have a very large gay community in Greater Fort Lauderdale as well as in South Florida generally. And we attract many many gay friends to our Blue Wave beaches each year as vacationers, both singles and couples. As with our straight friends, love is a common theme among lots of our visitors. It may be a family expressing love by sharing precious time together. It may be a single guy or woman looking for love of one kind or another here in the subtropics.

Often it's couples, folks who come for a romantic getaway ... or to formalize their commitment to each other through marriage. Same-sex marriage has been going on for a while in the Fort Lauderdale area. Well, for several months anyway. Early in January 2015, gay marriage became legal in the Sunshine State.

But now - at last, no more questions about what's legal where. Not in this country anyway. So yes, a big "Wow" is definitely in order today. It's our way of celebrating this great victory for the LGBT community and for the United States as a whole. There's sure been plenty of celebrating on our streets. In Wilton Manors especially, home to a big LGBT population, the partiers came out on Friday night to hug and kiss and shake hands and pat backs, eating and drinking and toasting each other until the early hours of Saturday. Around the nation, hundreds of thousands of other people have been doing much the same thing for the past few days, in places such as New York City and San Francisco. In places such as Chicago and Seattle. Lots and lots of rainbows everywhere, accompanied by lots and lots of smiles. Speaking personally for a moment, I work closely with LGBT organizations through the nonprofit group I founded. Because of my connections with these good people, I know something about the importance of this absolute, no-more-questions victory for same-sex marriage. It's a hugely significant step in helping gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons to recognize their true identity, labels aside. And in helping the rest of us to see them the same way: As human beings. That's a great reason to celebrate, if you ask me. And it makes this a very appropriate time to stop, draw a deep breath and appreciate the magnitude of the moment. Wow, indeed.

Jun 24: Foreign Service

Posted on June 24, 2015 12:15PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

A friend flew this week nonstop to London - from Fort Lauderdale. And that got me thinking about all the international cities served these days by our airport. And about how truly international our community has become in other ways too, attracting millions of foreign tourists each year. It wasn't always like this, I assure you. Not too long ago, FLL was mainly a regional airport serving the United States. From here to there in this country ... not too difficult. From here to anywhere in another country ... more challenging. Reaching international destinations usually meant leaving from Miami or connecting with another flight in a larger city such as Atlanta. But as my friend's jaunt to London shows, that's not so true anymore.

The expansion of direct flights has brought us more travelers from far-flung parts, predictably enough. No one wants to ride on any more planes than necessary to get where they're going. And so in 2014, Greater Fort Lauderdale welcomed 3.3 million foreign tourists. This includes nearly 900,000 from Europe and Great Britain alone.

Naturally, all these non-U.S. visitors add to the vibe that you can feel in our streets. Their culture and customs, their tastes and habits contribute to our own culture. It's not unusual to walk down Las Olas and hear several different languages, perhaps Japanese or Chinese, or Swedish or Norwegian or German. Or French or Spanish, obviously. Or any of dozens of other tongues spoken locally in 2015. For those of us living in Greater Fort Lauderdale, the access to our airport from international cities really means access from our airport to international cities. Just as my London-bound friend found out. Cities all over the world that include spots such as Bogota and Frankfurt, Copenhagen and Lima. And Mexico City and Stockholm and Montreal and Oslo, as well as Port au Prince and Quito and Panama City. The list goes on ... Click here if you'd like to check out the many destinations for yourself, foreign and domestic alike. It's impressive. To me, that list also is one more indication of Greater Fort Lauderdale's growing sophistication as a vacation mecca. We're not Spring Break Central any longer, not by a long shot. Haven't been that for decades. And we're no longer a tropical hangout with non-stop beachside partying of the beer-swilling and wet t-shirt contest variety. That era is gone too. Today, we have something much more upscale, offering a casually chic place that attracts families and couples from around the United States. And around the world. Our airport is making it very easy for them to visit us - and for us to visit them too.

June 23: A Relaxing Warmth

Posted on June 23, 2015 7:40AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

South Florida summers are for relaxation. And where could you find any place better to chill? Figuratively, not literally of course. Yes, our summers are hot. And humid. But when you've been around a while, as I have, you begin to recognize that those things are part of this season's charm in our region. As a full-time Greater Fort Lauderdale resident, I've gone over the years from just putting up with summer to genuinely enjoying it. For one thing, the heat and humidity themselves offer real relaxation. Why else do health clubs have saunas and steam rooms? Because heat relaxes the muscles - and the mind. It's a tonic for our air-conditioned stress.

When I open my sliding glass door in the morning to step outside on my patio, I find it pleasant to feel the muggy warmth on my skin. I sit in my chair and gaze out at the herons fishing in my little lake and I try to let go of any tension I'm carrying inside me. Ahhhhh... The summer climate helps me do that, my own personal steam room if you will.

The slower summer pace helps as well. From October through April, things move at a pretty good clip around town. Lots of tourists, lots of snowbirds, lots of cruise ships, lots of cars. From May through September, though, that cascade of visitors slows. Let's call it a stream instead of a cascade - still plenty of folks but things don't feel as hurried and busy all the time. Which means this is a great period for a visit or staycation, with bargains among the many seasonal benefits. To check out how you can vacation like a VIP, click here. But for me, it's more than the warmer weather and smaller crowds that make summer so pleasant. The longer days are an important part of it. After I'm done with my work, the extra hours of light allow me to linger over a cocktail while I watch the inky blue cloudbanks roll across the evening sky, often followed by a lovely splash of sunset colors. Or I have time to head on over to the swimming pool at my condo complex, cleansing away the daytime strains as I float quietly on my back. Summer twilights are special in South Florida, as I explained in a recent blog, click here to read. All in all, this is a time of year embraced by true lovers of the subtropics. Now that summer officially has begun, we can kick back a bit more than during the other seasons, settling in for some serious relaxation. It's not like going to the spa exactly, but it probably is the next best thing. It's summertime in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of FtLauderdaleSun).

June 17: To Our Dads

Posted on June 17, 2015 11:14AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

As Father's Day nears, I want to tell you about one special dad. Mine. I hope your own father is as important and helpful in your life. Or was. My dad is gone now - and I miss him. A lot. So in honor of the approaching day to celebrate our fathers, in honor of your dad as well as mine, yes ... let me tell you a bit about John William Knotts. The night he passed away, I was on a cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean west of Ecuador. I toasted him that evening during dinner with these words: "My dad was a great guy!" He was that, for sure. Dad was witty and quick, loved to make bad puns. You know, the real groaners. When he got those groans from the family, something in his eyes revealed a delight in our cringing amusement.

Dad was a naturally creative man as well. He drew a cartoon character that he'd invented named Oswald, a goofy skinny guy wearing a hat and pants too large for him. He also played the organ by ear, often improvising his own tunes during evenings with my mother and me. By this time, my older sister and brother had moved out of the house and dad was a sales manager at a small chemical company. But creativity was a big part of him and he found outlets for it often, including gardening. And writing, whether reports for work or some verse about life. He loved to write.

My fondest memories of Dad all center on the two of us playing catch in the mostly empty street outside our home. After a lengthy day at the office Dad would say enthusiastically, "Let's throw the ball around!" During the spring and summer, the baseball mitts came out. During the fall, it was football time. We'd go into the middle of the quiet residential road without any agenda except to have fun. Dad wasn't trying to teach me anything, as far as I know. He wasn't making me into the next star athlete or forcing me to be macho in some way I wasn't. He was simply spending time with me. Very, very precious time, as it turned out. My mother also was a loving person - gone now too. Elizabeth Jeanette Knotts. But Mom was more the perpetual analyst, observing and commenting and sometimes criticising. Warmth was harder for her to show. Dad, though ... he was kind and sentimental and unconditionally loving. Dad was a gentle soul. I wish he was here for me to call on Sunday. There are lots of ways to spend time with your father this weekend, with some good ideas at this link: Whatever you do, do something please. As my catch-playing with Dad reminds us all, there's nothing more valuable we can give each other than our time. My father was generous with that. And it taught me an important lesson. Which makes me wonder now about those many grand hours we spent throwing the ball back and forth - maybe Dad was trying to teach me something afterall.

June 15: Oceanbound

Posted on June 15, 2015 11:31AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Sometimes, every now and then, I meet special tourists. People who just kind of represent many others like them in some way. I remember writing a blog about a group of folks who were visiting Fort Lauderdale during the winter - from Minnesota, as I recall. They were having a total blast in their flip-flops and shorts, several friends who had come down together to play and party ... and thaw out. Their excitement was contagious. And there was another blog about a German couple who chatted me up at a local Starbucks, two eager tourists who wanted some advice on where to go and what to see. On Friday, I met another out-of-towner who made an impression.

This experience was different from those others. It was only a brief moment, but one that I found charming. I had stopped at a red traffic light just south of the airport, driving home to Dania Beach after an appointment in Fort Lauderdale. The breeze was pleasant and I sat with my car windows open, waiting for the light to change.

Then I heard a voice. "Excuse me," a man said politely, "can you tell me where DON-ya Beach is?" With equal courtesy, I hope, I corrected his pronunciation by explaining that DANE-ya Beach was just beyond the intersection. The man was about my age, someone I took for a business traveler. He smiled and asked, "Can you tell me how I would get to the ocean? I've just flown in from D.C. and I want to see the beach." I gave him directions, wished him luck and welcomed him to South Florida. I noticed his rental car had Ohio plates as he hurried off toward the sands of Dania Beach. And that's all there was to it - on the surface, not any big deal, right? But here's the thing that struck me: A businessman who had a childlike enthusiasm for his visit to Florida. Isn't that something a kid would want immediately after they left the airport? You know, "Let's go to the beach! I wanna see the ocean! Please, please, right now, please!" And that was exactly my impression of this man when I thought about him a bit later. Nice guy, small rental car, just landed in town, racing off to see the ocean ... Right now, please! So yeah, I found my latest tourist encounter to be very cool. Because the truth is that it's not only kids who are excited to hit the beach the instant they arrive here. As this business visitor proved, adults also can feel a passionate need for the tropical surf to wash over their toes. Once in a while, if you're lucky, you get to meet one of those adults. And when you do ... well, you really just have to smile.


June 10: Buffett's Buffet

Posted on June 10, 2015 11:23AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

It is rising along the Hollywood beach. Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffett's contribution to laidback luxury in South Florida. I've driven past it a few times this week, going and coming to the beach. Already the resort has one distinctive artsy feature facing out for everyone along A1A: a mural of a sunny scene with a grand palm tree in the middle, all rising several stories tall. Very cool, very tropical, very Buffett. I glanced at his website today, by the way, and Hollywood's Margaritaville is among the featured posts: "Margaritaville Beach Resort, Hollywood Beach, FL. Now taking reservations!" Then there's a tab to "Book now." Yep, after lots of debate and lots of planning and lots of construction, Margaritaville is almost a reality.

I believe it will be a gamechanger on Hollywood's famous Broadwalk, that lovely paved strip running north and south right beside the Atlantic Ocean. For one thing, we'll all be glad when Margaritaville brings more parking for everyone. The resort will add 1,000 parking spaces, with 600 of them for the public. Good news for sure.

Margaritaville also will offer 349 rooms directly on the ocean - oh, and eight bars and restaurants. Buffett's buffet, indeed. Guests also can enjoy a spa, conference rooms and ballrooms and swimming pools scattered everywhere. It's going to be the kind of resort where folks can come, settle in and never have to leave until they check out if they like. Or they can saunter down the Broadwalk to any of the many longtime bars and restaurants, ice cream stands and shops and all the rest. Still, I call this new resort a gamechanger because I feel sure Margaritaville will infuse the Hollywood beach with a different vibe. Something a bit more upscale than it's been. Even Jimmy Buffett's website says Margaritaville will have guestrooms and suites that are a "blend of coastal casual and luxurious comfort." Teak-finished furnishings in rooms of seaside colors, and large rain showers with sea glass colored tile in the bathrooms, and private balconies with waterfront views. And more. Including entertainment, as you would expect at a place called Margaritaville. Somehow I imagine we'll hear many many versions of that great Jimmy Buffett song as played by some top local and regional musicians. I'm very much looking forward to checking out this resort when it opens sometime this summer. It will be the Broadwalk's centerpiece, a symbol of the new Hollywood beach. Good for Hollywood's businesspeople, good for tourists and residents alike who love Hollywood. But remember, it's Margaritaville afterall. Above everything else, Margaritaville will be good for fun.

June 8: Playing Huki

Posted on June 8, 2015 8:38AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Any act called Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid gets my attention. So does an event with a real Gilligan's Island cast member, who will take you on the water for a three-hour tour. Mind you, these are only two among many fairly wild entertainment options for this weekend's The Hukilau 2015. It is Greater Fort Lauderdale's wackiest annual shindig, a blend of tiki culture kitsch and over-the-top entertainers and rum drinks with little umbrellas. And yes, it really is called The Hukilau. I can't explain the name, but I can tell you how to pronounce it: As in, HOO-keel-ow. You also can catch acts such as King Kukulele, Kinky Waikiki, Slip and the Spinouts and the Intoxicators. Among others ...The list goes on.

All right, so let me back up a moment to make a bit more sense of all this for you. You may already know that tiki culture was a big deal in the years after World War Two, when vets came home with stories about places like Hawaii and other South Pacific islands. During the 1960s, the Mad Men era, restaurants and bars and clubs celebrating this tiki culture sprung up, including the famous Trader Vic's.

And the famous Mai-Kai, right here in Fort Lauderdale - which, by the way, recently made the National Register of Historic Places. The Mai-Kai is more than 50-years-old now and still celebrating the food and music and dance of the South Sea islands. So where better to hold a big yearly tiki bash than in Fort Lauderdale, with the Mai-Kai handy for added atmosphere? This time around, the event hotel is the lovely Hyatt Regency Pier 66 along the 17th Street Causeway on the Intracoastal Waterway. Good timing because Pier 66 just completed a $20 million renovation. Anyway, tiki fans from all over will be descending on Pier 66 and the Mai-Kai and our subtropical environs for the four-day event, June 10-14. For more info, surf on over to this website (with your speakers on, please - you'll hear what I mean): You too can hula at The Hukilau, or something like that. At the very least, you'll have the chance to catch Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid. Who could resist an opportunity like that, right? Then there's that three-hour boat tour with Gilligan's Island star Dawn Wells, who of course played Mary Ann on the show. Some 300 guests will join Mary Ann on the Lady Windridge yacht as they float around Fort Lauderdale. And return safely to the dock. By now, I hope, you're getting the idea here. Some serious throwback fun, some fun but unserious entertainment ... Oh yeah, and lots of rum. Sounds like a pretty good weekend to me.