Monday, January 19, 2004

South Florida blog.

Just flew in from South Florida, and boy are my arms... well, they're not all that tired, but I did do the long haul down various airport corridors recently, lugging an assortment of electronic equipment -- two cameras and two tape recorders, to be exact -- along with the other things I took on a 72-hour trip to that subtropical destination.

It was a bid'ness trip, and I did my business. I attended the annual convention of the National Multihousing Council, the trade group of apartment owners large and small, but mostly large. From interviewing a number of people in the apartment business, I'll now be able to produce a whole feature article for my magazine.

The setting. The Boca Raton Resort & Club, a generic name for one of the more remarkable hotels I've ever seen, a warren of pink Mediterranean revival edifices and courtyards and gardens, originating in the Florida land boom 80-odd years ago and still sustained by vast cash inflows from wealthy patrons. As is Boca Raton itself, if posh appearances are any indication.

The weather. Growing up in South Texas, I didn't give much thought to a place like Florida, or anywhere known for its warm climate. It's mild in the winter and hot in the summer, big deal. That's the way it was in San Antonio, more or less. But now that I've lived through a decade and more of Northern winters, I understand the appeal of South Florida better. Not that I would consider living there, but I wouldn't mind returning for a longer visit in some future winter.

Certainly I was glad to leave the climate-controlled Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, through the sliding automatic doors, to a gush of 70-degree, mildly humid air. Earlier that day, it was about 30 F in Chicago. Not bad for Chicago in January, actually, and balmy compared with the temps in the Northeast in the middle of last week. But not very warm either. Once in Florida, it took me a little while to get used to going outside without a coat.

The flight. Booked an amazingly inexpensive flight on ATA's web site about a month ago, about $160 roundtrip for a Wednesday departure and a Saturday return, Midway to Ft. Lauderdale. In high season, no less. ATA, in my experience, is either grossly late or precisely on time. Fortunately, going to Ft. Lauderdale proved to be one of the latter, on-time variety.

I had the pleasure of keeping company on the flight down with a garrulous elderly couple -- in their early 80s -- named Harvey and Mitzi. They were talkative all right, but not bores. Harvey had been an apartment and retail developer, so we talked about real estate; they had had a good many friends with private airplanes, so we talked about aviation; and they had been interesting places in interesting times, so we talked about that. I especially wanted to hear about that.

For instance, they'd driven from Chicago to Mexico City and back in 1947. I wanted a time machine, so I could do that too. They had also visited Cuba in early 1959, immediately after Castro came to power. Apparently, the fighting that had ousted Batista had scared off most tourists, and the new government broadcasted encouragement for them to come back -- the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis, and the Embargo were all still in the future. Their tale of this trip also included bribing an official at an airstrip to get permission to fly back to the United States.

"I don't think he was looking for a bribe," said Mitzi. "He just didn't have the right paperwork, and didn't know what would happen if he let us go."

"I gave him $20, and that eased his mind," said Harvey. "That was a lot of money in those days."



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