Category: "hometown"

Hurricanes always remind me what a tree lover I am. Perhaps it’s because, since college, I’ve lived in cities, where they seem more precious because of their scarcity. In South Florida they’re not rare, but those that aren’t palms – which a Midwestern friend of mine could never accept as legitimate trees – are often imported. Even some of the fruit bearing ones we think of as indigenous.

I live on a man-made island on the New River that contains six condos of five stories each and an eclectic collection of trees, a few of them as tall as the buildings. These last few days I’ve looked at them with a kind of pre-wistfulness. The reason there are so few tall trees in this part of the country – apart from the flexible palms – is that they don’t survive hurricanes. And I’ve tried to console myself with the knowledge that they are not native, and that a post-Category 5 landscape would be, for all its bareness and brightness (the former Herald reporter Michael Browning, writing his first story after Andrew, began with the words: “There is too much sky.”) a more authentic South Florida landscape. But I would still dearly miss the trees.

By Thomas Swick • Category: hometown

25 years ago

08/23/17 08:49

The morning before Hurricane Andrew I stood on our new balcony – we had moved into the condo one month earlier – and watched an unending parade of boats heading up the New River. Not a good sign, I thought. Then I turned and looked at our wall of floor-to-ceiling windows unadorned by hurricane shutters.

Inside, I took my oldest books down from their shelves, wrapped them in garbage bags, and placed them on the sink in the bathroom. Then I closed the bathroom door. A few minutes later I locked the apartment and headed to the newsroom. It would be safer there, I thought, and there would be people to keep me company. (Hania was in Russia on a business trip.)

A little before midnight a few of us took a walk down to the river. It was a perfectly still night. I was scared but also, like any recent transplant, a little curious.

I slept on the floor underneath my desk. The wind howled for a few hours, suggesting mayhem. But that was taking place much farther south as, just before hitting land, Andrew had taken an unexpected left turn.

I got to see the extent of it the following Sunday when people in features were recruited to relieve the exhausted reporters. Driving through south Miami to attend a service at a roofless church, I got disoriented. Streets signs were gone, stoplights weren’t working, the trees that still stood bore no leaves. In Florida’s greenest season the world had turned brown. My curiosity had been sated.  

By Thomas Swick • Category: hometown

against the wall

07/25/17 08:39

Speaking of tennis, the "improvements" to the Hardy Park courts seem to involve tearing down the practice wall and replacing it with a parking lot.

By Thomas Swick • Category: hometown

summer Sunday

06/26/17 08:46

To brunch at Voo La Voo Café in Wilton Manors for real Breton crêpes (galettes de blé noir), then down to Miami to watch the Marlins play the Cubs. There were so many Cubs fans in attendance that when Giancarlo Stanton hit an insurance home run in the 8th I almost expected a fan to toss it back onto the field. After the game I drove downtown, stopping in Books & Books before heading over to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral for evensong - possibly the most beautiful word in the English language. Because Sunday was the 250th anniversary of Georg Philipp Telemann's death - a fact that went unremarked upon at the ballpark - the service featured his music, sung by the Anglican Chorale. On the drive home I was serenaded by Gilberto Gil and Maria Bethania on WDNA’s Café Brasil.

By Thomas Swick • Category: hometown

I recently read an article about a proposed makeover of Las Olas Boulevard designed to make our main street more attractive to pedestrians and people on bicycles. Apparently, it would involve reducing the number of traffic lanes, removing the median, and replanting the trees that now grace the median on the side.

Unfortunately, the problem with Las Olas has little to do with landscaping, though the sidewalks are too narrow, and the street (like most in the city) should be made safe for bicycles. The true problem with Las Olas is that the rents are so high that they keep out any business that is quirky, innovative, cutting edge, or, conversely, endearingly old school. Restaurants have to be expensive in order to survive there – I stopped going to Noodles & Panini years ago because I didn’t want to pay $14 for a chopped salad – and they have to follow a tested formula. Which is why it’s easy to find burgers and Italian food on the boulevard but impossible to find tapas or curries or even black beans. Don’t bother looking for a bookstore or a vinyl record shop.

 Las Olas, most of which is owned by The Las Olas Co., has a dubious distinction: It is a main street – a symbol of American small town values – that is not really for the people. One doesn’t find this exclusivity in other similarly sized Florida cities. The main street in Sarasota – a city perhaps more upscale than Fort Lauderdale – contains a number of affordable ethnic restaurants as well as two bookstores, one selling new books and the other dealing in secondhand ones. (None of these businesses could afford the rents that The Las Olas Co. demands.) West Palm Beach’s Clematis Street has the attractive and very popular Field of Greens, where downtown workers can grab a healthy lunch for under $10, something that is almost impossible to do on the leafy blocks of Las Olas west of SE 11th Avenue, the section that’s being considered for a facelift.  

 The best thing about Las Olas is that it has, by default, helped create interesting new neighborhoods like North Beach Village and FAT Village, where innovation is not only welcomed, it’s encouraged. But it would still be nice to have a main street that serves everyone, not just the well-heeled and tourists who, I suspect, can get burgers back home.   

By Thomas Swick • Category: hometown

time to move?

03/29/17 07:28

I posted a message on Facebook addressed to "South Florida friends," and of the dozen or so people who 'liked' it, none were from South Florida.

By Thomas Swick • Category: hometown