LauderBlog

Jan 21: Letters to Friends

Posted on January 21, 2015 4:36PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Dear Friends Up North:

It is a lovely day in South Florida. As I write this letter to you, our temperature is 70 pleasant Fahrenheit degrees. The sun is out full. The leafy green trees appear as month-of-May trees would look up where you live. Outside my windows, I can see red bougainvillea in bloom as well as mango trees flowering as they prepare to sprout fruit in the coming weeks. But perhaps you already know this. I'm not sure. If my weekend drives around Greater Fort Lauderdale were any indication, you probably have friends down here. Lots of friends ... and family members ... and casual acquaintances ... even some Facebook friends. So yes, I have to wonder if you may have heard about our delightful mid-January from all your contacts who seem to be visiting South Florida.

 

Maybe they've texted or emailed you about the temperature and sunshine. Maybe they've sent you selfies snapped near red bougainvillea and flowering mango trees. Maybe ...

 

But maybe not. Because my weekend driving also suggested to me that your friends and family, your casual acquaintances and even your Facebook friends are pretty busy in South Florida just now. Busy having fun. Hard to believe though it is, I didn't see a single tourist stopping for a selfie this weekend. Not in front of red bougainvillea or in front of flowering mango trees or in front of anything else. No doubt I may have missed a few selfie-snappers among the big tourist crowds. I did see something else. I saw lots of folks lying on the beach. I saw lots of other folks sitting in lush parks beside the water or wandering down city streets in shorts and t-shirts. Still others were motoring around town, like me - with their windows down and sunroofs or convertible tops open to the fresh air, like me. And I saw many, many, many folks eating and drinking in our restaurants and bars and cafes, all talking or laughing or munching or sipping. All of them, yep, busy having fun. So please consider my open letter on this day as a kind of service, a report sent northward to you from sun-soaked South Florida. Just in case your busy friends and family and casual acquaintances and even Facebook friends somehow forget to tell you just how busy they are ... having fun. I can assure you that good times are being had by all. I am totally sure that you'll be given the chance to enjoy their many smartphone pics sometime soon. Maybe they'll even get around to that text or email or Facebook post. Based on what I'm seeing, though, I wouldn't hold my breath. They all look pretty busy to me.

 

Jan 15: Tony N' Tina

Posted on January 15, 2015 12:17PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

And while we're talking about love ... If you've been reading these blogs lately, you'll know what I mean. Love has been a theme for the past week or so. How refreshing, eh? In a time of such tragic news from so many places, in an era where hate gets more PR than affection, we all can use a nice dose of love. And so we've been celebrating the start of gay marriage in Florida. And the launch of the new Love Is Love campaign here on this website, including the mass gay wedding planned for the Fort Lauderdale beach on February 5: http://www.sunny.org/love-is-love. Love really is love, gay or straight. And that brings us very nicely around to our friends, Tony n' Tina.

It turns out that you're invited to their wedding. Yep, all of you, every person reading these words. Or as many of you as can fit into the Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts anyway. And it'll only cost you $65 per person, dinner included.

Okay, some explanation is needed. If you're not familiar with it, there's a very long-running Off-Broadway show called Tony ‘n Tina's Wedding. And it is just what the title suggests - a theatrical presentation about a wedding. With a difference. This is interactive theater, meaning you get to take part in this show as if it were a real wedding. Oh yeah. So if you attend, plan on doing what people do at weddings. You'll eat and you'll drink. You'll dance and you'll chat with folks. You'll help these two fictional Italian-American families celebrate as their kids, Tony n' Tina, tie the marital knot. What could be more fun? No gift required, by the way. Heh-heh. All kidding aside, though, this should be one big hoot. The show certainly has been around long enough to suggest that many theatergoers enjoy it. Tony ‘n Tina's Wedding opened in 1988 and now has been performed in more than 100 cities around the United States as well as in Asia and Europe. That's more than half a million wedding guests. The Broward Center will offer up Tony-and-Tina from February 12 - 22, with two performances on Valentine's Day. You can find out more and also buy tickets at this link: http://www.browardcenter.org/events/detail/tony-n-tinas-wedding. You'll get an Italian dinner along with wedding cake and champagne for your ticket price. And you'll have the chance to party for love. Because love is love, even if it's only a show about love. The same kind of spirit will be there, infectious and joyful. And just now, there aren't many better spots to celebrate love than in this community. The news may seem grim in other places. But in this place, in Greater Fort Lauderdale, love is what everybody's talking about.

Jan 12: Love is Love

Posted on January 12, 2015 2:01PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

A week later and many of us are still smiling. Equal rights gained important ground, afterall, and love came out ahead of prejudice. All fine reasons for those prolonged smiles, surely. Oh yeah, a big change came last week to Florida. At last. The ban on gay marriage was lifted, allowing this state to join 35 others around the U.S. in permitting same-sex nuptials. This means, of course, that only 14 states now prohibit gay marriages. And it means that the Sunshine State can offer what it couldn't until now: tropical weddings that also are legal weddings. Which leads me to Greater Fort Lauderdale, naturally enough ... a very gay-friendly destination long favored by same-sex couples.

This is a place where gays can feel entirely comfortable being themselves, something that's still not true in many other parts. In some communities to our north and west, the vestiges of anti-gay bias remain. But not here. Not in Broward County, or any of South Florida really. Quite the opposite.

Greater Fort Lauderdale openly and actively welcomes the LGBT community. And now our area can boast a new service to gay folks. Wedding planning. This link will take you to a page with information about wedding packages, honeymoons, marriage licenses and more: http://www.sunny.org/loveislove. You'll also find details about a mass gay wedding planned for Thursday, February 5 in Fort Lauderdale. Just try to picture the scene. It's almost dawn on the beach. One hundred couples, as well as their friends and families, all are assembled on the sand for this moment. They are standing directly in front of the trendy W Fort Lauderdale hotel, a prime spot along the city's beachfront. Now the sun begins to radiate just above the horizon as this joyful ceremony opens with words from Reverend Dr. Durrell Watkins, who's come from the Sunshine Cathedral to join together 200 individuals in marriage. Those smiles I mentioned are everywhere. Men marrying men, women marrying women and every person wishing for the same thing newlyweds always have wanted: a happy, healthy and long life together. It should be something to witness. From now on, Greater Fort Lauderdale will see many, many weddings like these, if mostly on a more customary and personal scale. Weddings of men to men, weddings of women to women and, as always, weddings of women to men. As the saying goes, love is love. What better way to enter the commitment of marriage than with a trip to a top honeymoon destination that now also is certain to become a top wedding destination for everyone, straight or gay? Whether you do your "I Do!" with 99 other couples or with only a Justice of the Peace on hand - hey, that's not so important. What's truly important is the chance to marry who you want, where you want. And ultimately, to live your life as the person you are. And if you can stretch out on a sun-soaked beach under a coconut palm at the same time ... well, why not?

Jan 7: Happy & Gay

Posted on January 7, 2015 10:02AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Those two words once meant the same thing: happy and gay. In Florida now, they do again. And they do because many LGBT folks can say two other words. "I do!" That, of course, is because this sunny state at last has sanctioned gay marriage. The change was overdue. Way overdue. But this week the change arrived, and with that change gay couples soon began arriving at courthouses around Florida. Doesn't it just make you smile, though? It's a wonderful thing to see people celebrating love in this way. I sincerely hope they all remain in their loving marriages for a long, long time. As a marriage veteran now divorced, I can tell the newcomers that marriage is a tough slog, gay or straight.

For the moment, though, the everyday realities of life with another human being seem on the backburner. The frontburner issue is equality - the right to love who you want, when you want, as you want. Where you want. Why should anyone have to hide their love for someone?

Florida now officially says no one should. Late Monday night, I watched on live television as some of the first LGBT couples gathered here in Broward County to marry at midnight. How cool was that? Gay men and gay women lining up, all smiles, holding hands. Some of them told reporters they had been together for many years, others for just a few years. But the opportunity to legalize and formalize and, in a way, to de-trivialize their relationships ... well, some of these couples just couldn't wait another day. Who could blame them? So what all this means is that a vacation destination favored by many gay couples now also can become a wedding destination. That's a game-changer. No more ceremonies without official significance. No more need to get married there and hold the beachside vows here. One-stop wedding shopping for all is here, my friend. Next week, I'm going to tell you a bit more about that. As it happens, Greater Fort Lauderdale already is a top choice for romantic getaways among the gay community. Just walk around the Fort Lauderdale beach, for instance, and you'll see what I mean. Some 1.3 million LGBT travelers enjoyed this community's hospitality in 2013. That figure is likely to jump a lot higher in 2015 with legal gay marriage. Anyone and everyone is welcome now to do their "I do!" somewhere under a South Florida palm tree or beside the tranquil waves of the Atlantic Ocean or wherever else they prefer. On February 5, there's even a mass beach wedding planned by the fun folks who run this website, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. Go to http://sunny.org/loveislove for details. For the moment, whether you're gay or straight, I hope you'll join me in that smile. Despite so much troubling news in the world, this is another sign that many things really are getting better. Love is love, people are people - and Florida's recognition of that truth is good news for us all.

Jan 5: Florida Dreamin'

Posted on January 5, 2015 1:52PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Meet Fred and Gary. They're new to this blog, by which I mean we've not written about them before today. Though we've known them all along. They could live almost anywhere in the northern United States. But let's say Fred and Gary live and work in Manhattan. And let's say they're office colleagues in a steel-and-glass skyscraper where they labor with hundreds of other people like them. Yes, I've never spoken to them, it's true. Fred and Gary are only imaginary guys ... in a sense. But I can hear them talking to each other anyway, looking out their window on this first Monday after the holidays. And this is what I hear Fred and Gary saying, perhaps similar to many conversations today in many northern cities:

Gary: "Happy New Year, buddy. You have a good break?"

Fred: "Didn't do much, really. Wish we could have gotten away somewhere, but ... You know."

Gary (laughs): "Yeah, tell me about it. I know, I know. I could use a real vacation too."

Fred: "So, like, what's the problem? Dude, you're single. You always talk about that snorkeling trip in Fort Lauderdale a couple years ago. You loved being down there in the winter. Pack up your snorkel and head to Florida, why don't ya? I would if I were you."

Gary: "Oh yeah, Mr. Carefree! And let's remember that your wife's mother lives in Pompano Beach. Free place to stay - why don't you and Allison go down to South Florida this winter?"

Fred: "I dunno ... I mean, well, not enough vacation time, really."

Gary: "Lame excuse. You get as much vacation time as me. What else?"

Fred: "Money, I guess. Uh, you know how it is ..."

Gary: "You make more than me and I can afford to fly to Fort Lauderdale for a week. And even pay for my own hotel and meals - not like some people with free room and board in Florida. So, what else?"

Fred (chuckles): "Hey, but just look out that window, man. All the beauty of Manhattan in January. With a storm coming this week. Snow, cold, ice. Why would I want to be in Fort Lauderdale?"

Gary (Laughs): "Yeah, really. Same here. Who wants sunshine and warm beaches when you can have snow and cold streets, right?"

Fred: "Seriously! I mean, Florida? In the winter?"

Gary: "Exactly! Who needs Fort Lauderdale?"

Fred and Gary look at each other for a moment now. Then they laugh again.

Gary (sitting down at his desk): "Yeah, ok ... We both need Fort Lauderdale."

Fred (sitting down at his desk): "Got that right ...Definitely got that right, dude."

Dec 30: Hanging Out

Posted on December 30, 2014 1:44PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

South Florida's a great place for it - especially this time of year. This is an ideal spot for just hanging out. Think about it. The weather is comfortable. The sun makes you smile. You have places to go that are made for lingering, whether strolling slowly along a clean beach or sitting in a park beside a glistening river or wandering through the streets of a delightful city. I've been doing some hanging out over the holidays, including some beach strolling and park sitting and street wandering. And I've found myself doing a fair amount of that hanging in Hollywood. I have to admit that I'm newly charmed by this community, feeling pleasant feelings for Hollywood I've never quite felt before. Hollywood, at last, seems to be hitting its stride. Hallelujah.

I say this because I've been rooting for Hollywood to come alive for many years - and I'm not alone. Somehow Hollywood always has seemed on the cusp of something better without ever getting there. But that's changed.

Just yesterday I took an afternoon drive, looking to get out and mingle with folks for a while before meeting up with a friend that evening. My Mini Cooper somehow ended up driving me to Hollywood Boulevard off the ArtsPark at Young Circle. And I somehow ended up doing some of that street wandering until I plunked myself down at Chocolada Bakery & Café. You know, for more hanging out. I sipped Perrier and espresso, then finished up with a wonderfully tasty chocolate milk shake for lunch. Like many other cafes in downtown Hollywood on this Sunday, Chocolada was all abustle. Buzzing with couples and families and singles who seemed to have wandered, like me, to that rejuvenated city for some relaxing weekend fun. One of the smartest things Hollywood officials have done to help attract crowds to their community is to offer free downtown parking. Whatever they lose in parking revenue, they must surely more than make up in business for their shops and restaurants and bars. Free parking along the main downtown streets has created a comfortable vibe. More and more, I find myself lunching in Hollywood. Or simply hanging out for a cup of coffee. The mix of ethnic restaurants alone is impressive, everything from Vietnamese to Greek to Colombian within a few short blocks. On Sunday, I wandered again for a bit before heading home, taking in the large mural artworks that you find everywhere in Hollywood's business district these days. I love them. Then I hopped in the Mini for a short drive back to my Dania Beach condo. But I have to tell you something. I'd visit today's Hollywood no matter where I lived in Greater Fort Lauderdale. It's that cool - and most definitely a destination for any hanging out you may care to do.

Dec 23: 'Twas the Season

Posted on December 23, 2014 3:31PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Happy Holidays‘Twas two days before Christmas when all through the land;
The tourists had stretched themselves out on the sand.
They squinted as sunshine shone off the blue ocean;
And they covered themselves in sticky white lotion.
The sea was quite calm and the air was quite warm;
And they came to Fort Lauderdale's beach in a swarm.
From New York and Kansas, Illinois and Nebraska;
I think one or two even hailed from Alaska.
All here to bake in the South Florida sun;
And to find their own kind of subtropical fun.
Some sipped from a straw one mojito or two;
Or bicycled off to our butterfly zoo.
The Bonnet House offered a few monkey shines;
And parasails reached for the sky on a line.
As for me, I sat eating my breakfast this day;
At a delightfully sunny seaside café.
I couldn't help smiling all during my meal;
I sensed how happy those tourists must feel.
Who could blame them for feeling so joyful this way;
To sunbathe just hours before Christmas Day!
The cloudless December sky was so blue;
That I soon was aware I felt joyful too.
I admit that I live rather near to this beach;
Throughout the year it's well within reach.
But I still got caught up in the touristy joy;
As I sat eating eggs and real bacon (not soy).
I couldn't resist all the sunny elation;
That beamed from the faces of folks on vacation.
Those folks down from Kansas, those folks from Alaska;
Swimming at Christmas, what more could they aska?
Into the ocean and out on the sands;
Playing with beachballs or just holding hands.
Maybe stealing a smooch from their own special lover;
Or finding a palm tree for cool shady cover.
They'd left their cold places and come to the tropics;
And I saw very clearly, although I'm myopic.
No, I'd not overlooked even with my dim sight;
That view of a crowd soaking up sheer delight.
Delight in their sunshine, delight in their sea;
Delight so delightful it finally reached me.
Their seasonal joy had lifted my heart;
And inspired this small bit of verse on my part.
So I say "Merry Christmas" these two days before;
And sincerely apologize to Clement Clarke Moore.

Editor's Note: This blog originally appeared in a slightly altered form in December 2011. Reprinted here because, hey, it's a sunny blog classic.

Dec 22: Starshine

Posted on December 22, 2014 9:29AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Fort Lauderdale night skyThis is a December to long remember. I realized this over the weekend, when I looked up at the night sky. Stars. It was a sky of stars such as I've seen very few times in South Florida. And with the clear starshine came a clear understanding: This is the best December weather I ever have experienced since moving to Greater Fort Lauderdale in 1989. Yes, it's my 26th December down here. This usually is a good month, of course, sometimes warm enough for AC, sometimes cold enough for heat. Typically, we get a nippy spell right around the holiday weeks, a lovely chill to put us in the mood. That may happen again as December comes to a close. But since we're down to the last several days now, I feel comfortable looking back at the month. And adding the comment, "Wow."

To me, well ... weather can't get much better than it's been for just about all of this December. Sunshine each day, no rain to speak of, temps right around the high 70s in the daytime and low 60s at night. It simply doesn't happen that way in December. But it happened that way this December.

So there I was on Saturday night, with all those stars. I had just finished dinner with Gwen, my girlfriend, at her place in Lighthouse Point. We stepped outside about 8:30 to take a walk and look at holiday lights. But the real lightshow was overhead. "Look at those stars," I said, "that's amazing!" It was amazing. Brilliant pinpoints and bright clusters and even a whole constellation or two plainly visible to the naked eye. At least one planet was obvious too - Mars I think, judging by the red cast to its light. Even among all the city light pollution, the Saturday night sky looked like something from a Van Gogh painting. In all my years of living here, I've observed similar stars in South Florida perhaps only nine or ten other times. Just gorgeous this weekend, really. That's what made me reflect on the entire month of December 2014, with stunning weather here while so much of the country has suffered unpleasant times, unfortunately for them. Lucky for us. I plan to savor every moment while it lasts, with the hope that 2015 brings our customary delightful winter and spring weather. All I know is that truly this is a December to remember for a long time ... If you're in town enjoying it with me, though, I guess you don't need a blog to tell you that, do you? The moment you step outside, it's as obvious as the stars in the sky.

Dec 17: Flight Paths

Posted on December 17, 2014 1:15PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

FLL is hopping. The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, known in airport code as FLL, is taking off in a serious way this holiday season. That's because we have two major runways now, not just one. Which of course should make it quicker and easier than ever for you to get here, or to get from here back to there. Wherever "there" happens to be for you. I realized just how bustling this airport is these days when my sister and brother-in-law visited me last month. I live in Dania Beach, only a few miles from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. I can see planes taking off and landing all the time and, yes, I noticed the increased traffic for myself. But Sondra, my sis, put it in a clear perspective.

"When we used to visit you years ago, Fort Lauderdale seemed like a small airport," she remembered. "It was like one of those airports in New England or something. But now, it's gotten so busy. It's almost like a hub."

I felt the same way in the past about FLL when I landed in 1989 for my job interview as a reporter at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The airport seemed tropical and charming, but hardly like a hub of any kind. My landing in Fort Lauderdale back then also landed me that job ... and ever since I've been flying in and out of the airport toward destinations near and far, domestic and foreign. What a difference those years have made. Now Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is just as Sondra said it is: "It's almost like a hub." Only last night I watched two jets taking off simultaneously from the two runways, flying west to east over the ocean. At the same time, I saw another plane coming out of the northeast toward the airport and still another circling overhead. But the good thing is that the airport has expanded with the traffic. It can handle all that bustling - planes, cars and people alike. So if you're planning to come from there to here and back again, you can relax. Whether at the holidays or some time during 2015, FLL is ready to handle you and yours. Hey, our baggage claim carousels even play calypso music as well as the sounding of cruise ship horns. Very cool. You'll notice a difference if you haven't been at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for a while, but I think you'll like it. More runways but also more food and beverage options in the terminals. And a well-organized, easy to use airport that manages all those flights and human beings quite well. My sister likes it anyway - and that's good enough for me.

Dec 16: A Seaside Note

Posted on December 16, 2014 2:08PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

I am sitting by the sea as I begin this blog. Where are you? Yes, I'm dictating a quick few notes into my new iPhone, looking out at a nearly flat, skyblue expanse of water. There is little distinction between the color of the Atlantic Ocean and the color of the sky above that ocean. They're separated by only a faint band of pale white clouds as well as a thin line of darker sea that cuts across the horizon in the distance. It is a beautiful morning, with the sun out full and only the slightest movement among the fronds of the coconut palm trees scattered around the beach.

It strikes me that this is a very good place to be right now. The temperature is probably around 70, predicted to rise a few more degrees until things cool off again by evening. Most of us, locals and visitors like, seem to think the weather is just about perfect for mid-December in South Florida. I haven't taken an opinion poll, of course, but that's the feeling of everyone I happen to talk with about the weather, anyway.

As I sit by this narrow stretch of beach in the northern end of Fort Lauderdale, runners and walkers and non-exercisers alike stroll past. Some of them make eye contact with me, or maybe smile and say hello. I always smile back. People definitely are in a good mood on this morning - and why not? Where else would any of us rather be? If you're not down here in Greater Fort Lauderdale with us, please don't feel bad about that. As an ex-northerner, I well remember many cold snowy winters and I even enjoyed some of them. Especially around Christmastime. But yeah, most definitely I feel grateful to savor the tropical sunshine on this holiday Monday. And I have to wonder again where you are, where you're reading this. Wherever it is, I hope you are having a lovely holiday season too. And I also hope this blog may make you feel a little warmer if indeed you are living somewhere in the cold climes. It might help you to know there's a place in the United States today that's soaked in brilliant hot sunlight, a spot where you can wear only shirtsleeves as you linger beside clear seas that flow across softsand beaches. As for me, I'm still sitting by the ocean, still dictating this blog into my phone. The sea and the sky haven't changed much during my visit, though the air feels a touch warmer now. It really is a beautiful morning in South Florida. Wish you were here - really, I do.