February 12, 2009

Fort Lauderdale

It was a long beautiful drive from Sarasota to Ft. Lauderdale. Alligator Alley is no longer the outpost of my youth; it is a smooth four-lane thoroughfare lined on one side by cypress swamp and on the other by freshwater marsh grasses. The cypress appear to be dying, and I have to wonder if it’s due to the strain of overpopulation diverting water from the Everglades. At its healthiest the Everglades was a river 100 miles wide and 100 miles long, running a foot deep from Lake Okeechobee to the southwest Florida shoreline and the Gulf of Mexico. The Army Corp of Engineers began changing its configuration to “reclaim” the land from the marshes, I believe in the 1920s. We have spent billions in recent decades to undo the harm of our intervention, but it will never again be the expansive wetland of the past.

I expected to see more evidence of wildlife in such open expanse. I did see a gloriously dark pink flamingo fly overhead. I’ve only seen domestic flamingos, whose diet of expensive shrimp is augmented with foods that leave them a pale pink in comparison. A lone bald eagle was doing its darnedest to escape the harangue of two smaller birds who took turns nipping at its taloned heels.

I zoomed out of the wilderness into the pastel civilization of Fort Lauderdale. I pulled into the parking lot of a beachfront high-rise to find Father Tony on the leash of a small white dog, whose care he undertook for vacationing friends. Tony’s greeting was warmer than the dog’s.

We took off right away for lunch in a nearby deli. Food and conversation were equally delicious, as you might expect. When Tony asked about dessert, I produced a tiny box of truffles which I’d brought to celebrate the occasion. The chocolates did not disappoint.

Tony took me to Java Boys for coffee. We bumped into a man whom Tony had met the night before, and we were off to the races. A discussion of local politics somehow turned to religion, and we stood for maybe an hour discussing modern Christianity, the Catholic Church and our own beliefs. It was a spirited, friendly debate that both men commented was rare in Fort Lauderdale. People come to Florida to turn off their brains for awhile. I know that the days’ names and dates disappear the minute I set foot in the state. But this conversation was like a party to me. I love good discourse.

Our new friend had to leave and we wandered through some of the local shops. Tony toured me through some of the neighborhoods, which were starting to look depressingly like newer Sarasota, which is to say like Italy. Mediterranean architecture is replacing beach bungalows and sixties angular homes, and I don’t like it. Am I feeling territorial, or is it just good taste? Why didn’t they pick Grecian influence of white and blue? Orange stucco and red clay tiled McMansions are everywhere. It’s ostentatious.

I still had about a three-hour drive to my destination in the Keys. Tony and I lingered for a while in the parking lot and agreed that the afternoon had flown by. He confessed that I wasn’t quite what he expected but he was pleasantly surprised. That is the nature of Internet introductions, isn’t it? Tony was everything I expected and more. Such a delightful, gracious and enormously intelligent man. His brain races and it is a fascinating marathon to keep up. He is a one-man party.

It was getting late; I really had to go. I set my GPS for Marathon Key and took off. During rush hour in Miami. Do you remember reading about all the shootings in Miami traffic? I understand it perfectly. If I’d had a gun, I’d have taken out a number of drivers whose absence would have raised the collective IQ of the city. These people are nuts, and that’s the opinion of someone who learned how to drive in Sarasota, where every car is the enemy. At least in Sarasota they are crazy and slow; in Miami they are insane at 90 to 100 mph, two feet from your bumper.

After wrangling with a GPS which wanted to take me the “fastest” way through the middle of the city, I wrestled with the spaghetti bowl of state highways in southern Florida and emerged victorious onto the Keys. It was dark by then and I saw nothing but roadside signs and businesses. The moon was rising as I pulled into my colleague’s condominium. We chatted, I had too much wine, and we went to bed.

The sky outside this morning is bright blue and the open balcony is bringing me that intoxicating ocean breeze. The WiFi here is like Tony’s foster dog: it acknowledges my presence but it won’t let me near. I’ll have to find a way to post this elsewhere.


Patrick said...

Oh, I would have had you smooch Tony for me as well, if I'd remembered he was in FLA right now! Now you and I have TWO bloggers in common. I'm glad you had such a good time, including a nice juicy conversation. I know how much you enjoy those. Hope you get many more.

THIS IS ME....ONLINE said...

Your writing is so beautifully picturesque. (Did I spell that right?) Anyway, I love it when you travel and tell. Happy that you met up with Father Tony, too.

Tater said...

I am glad the two of you had such a pleasant afternoon. Your description of him as "a one man party" is quite apt, until you meet his husband Chris. The two together, are completely well balanced and entertaining, with enough sizzling intelligence to power a klieg light. Enjoy the beautiful weather, I will suffer with the windy cold of the upper midwest for the both of us.

Ur-spo said...

I hope you have a jolly good time in the Keys
Email me if you want a list of restaurant recommendations!

Bear Me Out said...

Oh, to visit the keys, to meet Fr. Tony. Wonderful delights I'd love to have.

It's always worth a few extra miles for a bridge. And one like THAT!! Whoa. (I'm such a geek)

Java said...

I read Father Tony's account of your meeting, and now having read yours I'm doubly enthralled. What fun!

Enjoy your stay. When do you see Jeaux? Give him a hug for me.