Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Florida Palms
We spent the last weekend visiting my Uncle Phil and Aunt Marge, running around Hollywood, Florida and its environs.

It was with more than a little shock that I realized that we had not been to South Florida in seven years. Seven years! That’s when we had gone down to celebrate Phil’s eightieth birthday. Since then, we’ve been to Eli and Toni’s winter hideaway in Citrus Hills several times... but that’s about five hours northwest of Hollywood.

During all this time we had been able to see Phil and Marge fairly frequently, since they were always all too willing to jump in the car or on a plane and come up to Atlanta... or wherever we happened to be. But time marches on, and mobility is becoming more problematic for them... which simply means we will henceforth have to do the Heavy Lifting, travel-wise.

Marge and Phil
Aunt Marge and Uncle Phil.

SoFl has changed a lot since my Snot-Nose Days, when we would make annual pilgrimages... and since my days with the Great Corporate Salt Mine, when I would visit clients in the area. The traffic is more fearsome than ever, with I-95 a frantic autobahn where frail seniors duke it out with hot-blooded Latins at 75 MPH. The Atlanta freeways are bucolic country roads by comparison.

Saturday, we met my cousin Debi and her husband Mike for a tasty lunch by the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Then we headed up towards Pompano Beach for one of the local Shopping Adventures: the Festival Flea Market Mall.

Years ago, there was a department store in my hometown that went belly up. Instead of razing the building, the Powers that Be converted it into the sort of retail space that would be immediately recognizable to anyone who has traveled the souks of the Middle East, the frenzied and fragrant markets of Asia. A flea market! In a (former) department store! Thus was the infamous Busy Bee Mall born.

The Festival is simply the Busy Bee writ large, a huge single-story interior space crammed with merchant booths, laid out in a grid pattern... a humongous Bargain Basement at ground level. My mother would’ve loved this place.

Looking at the merch made my teeth hurt, but the pain was more than made up for by the people-watching opportunities. It was a perfect place to observe Moronus Americanus (Florida Australis variety) in its native habitat. Anyone ever tells you that America has become a homogeneous mass of Monoculture, they’ve never been to this place. Trust me.

Dinner Saturday evening consisted of sushi at SushiBlues, a little joint just a few blocks from the Hollywood Circle at the intersection of Federal Highway (US 1) and Hollywood Boulevard. That circle still lives in infamy in my mind: When I was twelve, we went to the Gourmet, a (now long defunct) all-you-can-eat buffet place that sat on the southeastern quadrant of the circle, and I ate until I was in pain. It was an early lesson in the results of a mismatch between Desire and Capability. (We old guys know all about that mismatch... but that is a story for another time.) Our dinner this time was anything but painful, with a Bombay Sapphire martini easing the passage of the various Fishy Goodies to their digestive oblivion. The Ikura Shooter - a blob of salmon roe crowned with a raw quail’s egg, served with a shot of cold sake with which to wash it down - was noteworthy.

Swedish Pancake
Sunday morning, after feeding our faces at the Original Pancake House in Aventura, we took a spin along Collins Avenue - the legendary A1A - down into Miami Beach, and I was bowled over by the massive Wall o’ Hotels and Condos that has sprouted in Sunny Isles, just north of Haulover Beach Park. MB itself is still heaven on earth for fans of Art Deco architecture and Cuban coffee... and, for that matter, pretty much anything Cuban.

We drove back, crossing from Miami Beach into Miami on the MacArthur Causeway, a drive that afforded a nice view of the city and its port facilities. I remembered a similar drive on that same causeway back in 1962, back when the Goodyear blimp Mayflower was based on Watson Island, when we saw that legendary airship land there, seemingly close enough to touch. The blimp base is long gone from Watson Island, alas, but somewhere buried in the Elisson Archive is a photograph I snapped with my little Brownie camera that day...

All too soon, it was time to go. As thunderstorms rolled through the area, the operators of the Silver Aerial Bus somehow were able to find a window of opportunity in which to get out of Dodge, and a few hours later we were back in our familiar environs... with a weekend full of happy memories.

More pics below the fold.

South Beach 1

South Beach 2
Art deco hotel façades in South Miami Beach.

South Beach 3
The iPhone camera shutter distorts a moving target in a manner reminiscent of the old Speed Graphic.

Debi and Mike
Cousin Debi and Mike.

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