Florida Election Fever

October 2020

Palm Beach County is gripped by election fever. Lawns signs from both parties have popped up on every residential street, highway and byway. Given the fairly even distribution, there’s no clear majority. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has committed $100 million to the Biden campaign in Florida– a hefty sum to allocate to one state, even a toss-up one with 29 electoral votes. Many of my friends who have returned here from New York are committed to Biden, but they don’t vote in Florida. Others with homesteader status to avoid New York income taxes have come down early to vote in person. Some are skeptical of voting by mail in Florida. My local friends are still fervently committed to Trump. At all levels of education and economics they still believe in Trump and nothing he says or does will change their minds. The latest Twitter rant from the Oval Office, or excerpts from the Bob Woodward book, Rage, don’t move them a bit. They’ve heard it all before. Florida is a big state with a diverse population. From Miami to Jacksonville to St. Augustine, there is a wide range of voter sympathies. In my conversations with people on both sides, it seems many are voting for the man not his policies. The boat brigade from Jupiter to West Palm, past Mar-a-Lago, who display their Trump flags with pride all along the Intercoastal, seem outdoorsy, water-friendly types. Then there is the gang that stands at the entrance to the bridge to Mar-a-Lago. Unmasked, bearded, tattooed, waving their flags, hoping to catch a glimpse of the President. If asked, they will tell you Covid is a hoax. Florida is not an open carry state, but I have seen their type around town with guns slung over their shoulders in flagrant defiance of the law. Scary folks. Any firepower is concealed at the bridge, which is closely monitored by the Coast Guard, Secret Service and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Department. Cross that bridge and enter the manicured grounds of Mar-a-Lago, the palatial former estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post that now serves as the President’s Florida White House, and the cohort of Trump supporters couldn’t be more different. The composition of the typical black-tie guest is educated, sophisticated, professional, wealthy. Do they believe in the man and his policies? They turn a blind eye to everything but his economic policies, which impact them the most. A strong, albeit volatile stock market benefits them more than any concerns about a national plan to deal with Covid 19, or inhumane immigration practices or rioting in the streets. If the tax rate is friendly, they don’t mind any of that. They’re not bothered that our traditional allies have been demoted and dictators have been elevated, because Trump’s efforts to bring peace to the Middle East means more to them. Several of my Trump-voting friends and acquaintances are single-issue voters for that reason alone.

Recently I had lunch at Trump’s International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. It reminded me of a delicatessen on Third Avenue in New York City: the menu, the clientele, even the black-and-white photos on the walls of the men’s room (all of Trump, of course); reflections, perhaps, of his New York roots. Now, with Florida as the battleground, will the personal fortune of a former New York mayor thwart the Presidential re-election of a New York real estate magnate? We’ll have to wait for Election Day to find out.

New York City

October 2020

Well, I finally made to New York City. The traffic down from Maine was easy but once we crossed into the New York area it was a stressful six-hour drive. The ferry route to the North Shore is easy with an hour and a half of sitting outside and reading while someone else drives across the Long Island Sound. The traffic in New York City has built up since I was last here only a month ago. Seems more people around, probably due to families returning for school— classrooms were supposed to open but then didn’t. My 11-year-old grandson attends school remotely and my teenaged granddaughter goes in for one day while the rest is online. The little guy is with his mom in the country as she works from home. His father is the only one back in the office. Everyone one is without a plan. That’s why I headed to Florida, where the weather is warmer, the beaches are open, my exercise program is open, painting classes are beginning again, and outdoor dining is available.

We are careful and wear our masks everywhere and stay distanced. I am working remotely with Zoom and hold office meetings all day to keep the wheels turning. My office is busy as the demand for real estate in proximity to New York City is stronger by the day, while in a harsh paradox, the homeless population in the City has also grown. The shelters were emptied and the Mayor moved most homeless folks into hotels. Many choose to stay on the street, where the homeless women seem to outnumber the men. I wonder if sleeping in the open is safer for them, while the men crouch in doorways. I carry cash to hand out. Amid the sad sidewalk scenes, the City has clearly come back to life since Labor Day. Often it seems with as many dogs as people. During the pandemic, the shelters couldn’t accommodate their four- legged residents with reduced staff, so many of the animals were adopted by families in quarantine. Offices are still empty and there are no evening lights on along Park Avenue and the lower Wall Street financial district. But there are glimmers of normalcy as so many of the restaurants have spilled out onto the sidewalks and bike lanes, some enclosed with plastic shielding and heating devices to keep their patrons comfortable. People are eating much earlier before dark as the cold sets in from the river on the east side. The empty stores are like pauses between the busy restaurants. Broadway and Times Square are abandoned as is the West Side around Lincoln Center. From above large areas of the city are dark. It is like a wartime blackout. Perhaps it is a war, but one that wasn’t manmade, and in which the only weapon to ensure victory is a vaccine needle.


October 2020

I had some interesting conversations this afternoon. I wasn’t seeking them out, but from time to time, when I am behind the wheel of my old ’62 Jaguar, I wind up meeting and talking to people I would never have crossed paths with otherwise. Someone will stop me, wanting to take a picture of a vintage automobile or, more often than not, the car will break down somewhere, which can lead to some memorable interactions, which brings me to what happened today.

I have been back in Florida for a couple of weeks now, and this morning I took the old Jag out for a ride, having just gotten it out of the shop for a repair on the starter key. It was to be my usual route along Ocean Road, south to Lake Worth, where I gas up at the Chevron station for the return north along Dixie Highway. The Jag is in full restoration mode, with a brand new transmission. But that starter key issue that I thought was fixed, well it wasn’t. My gas stop was a dead stop. I spent four hours waiting for a tow back to the garage. It was during the wait that I met and spoke with some local people, there at the Chevron on the corner of Laverne and Federal Highway in the Lake Worth district.

First, there was a limo driver who pulled in because his car was overheating. He parked and got out, saw my predicament and helped me to push the Jag away from the gas pump where it sat, refusing to restart. While his engine was cooling, he offered to look under the hood of my car, but his investigation failed to turn up anything obvious. I asked if he was from Lake Worth. He said he was and then immediately shifted the subject to the election. “You know, Trump conned us all!” he said, furiously. I nodded but didn’t want to get into a round table political discussion with him. He was obviously hotter than his limo when it came to politics. He probably didn’t hesitate to share his views with his riders. But I was not one of them that day and excused myself to check on the status of the AAA tow truck. Next came two Palm Beach County Sheriff patrol cars. The two drivers parked conspicuously in front of the pumps and walked into an area marked Equipment. That was strange. After an hour they came out with what looked like video cassettes. Seems the close circuit security cameras at the pumps capture a lot of action. I have never been to a Lake Worth gas station after dark unless I am looking for trouble and these sheriff deputies took the videos to see about some recorded trouble. The conversation with one of the officers was brief. “Has the crime level gone down with the virus?” I asked, “with people staying home more?” “Not really,” he replied. “The virus didn’t make any difference here,” he said. “Same amount of violence and crime, with or without a mask, just more of it inside now. Big uptick in domestic violence.” Well, that was discouraging. “Sorry your baby broke down,” he said as they drove away.

I was just finishing the New York Times, sitting out a rain shower in the driver’s seat of my lifeless car, when a young fellow on a moped pulled up next to my door and asked if he could take a picture of the Jag. “Sure” I said. I put on my mask and got out. By the way no one was wearing a mask so far except for me. Not even the sheriff deputies. So, it turned out this fellow was a lawyer who did foreclosures–a robust business apparently in Florida. It seems in Florida a homeowner can stay rent free after foreclosure for two years. They try to pay for the key – a concept common in foreclosures. This fellow recounted his life story, how he relocated from Connecticut to his grandparents’ cottage in Lake Worth and never left. I guess he spends his off time riding about on his scooter talking to people in broken down old Jags and taking pictures. After that I had a few waves from passersby who did a double take when they saw the old Jag, and one young woman who shouted “cute car” above the music blaring from her car speakers. After four hours and two rain showers the tow truck finally pulled into the gas station. Despite the breakdown, the long wait, the rain– I loved every minute of my day and have the old Jag to thank for it.

A New Old Boat

October 2020

At my 80th birthday dinner in New York, Lori and Ted–my friends and neighbors in Maine–said their gift was too big to bring to the party. When I returned to camp last month, I found a vintage 1968 Duratech—a classic aluminum motorboat—moored at my dock. With wooden seats and flooring, its retro style took me right back to my youth out on Irondequoit Bay in Rochester. I had talked about wanting a vintage boat for a while and Lori and Ted had taken note. It was a tremendous surprise, from two close friends. The boat was really the second gift they gave me. The first was three years ago, when they introduced me to the wonders of life on the lake. The Duratech was a new milestone, marking a big birthday, and a new chapter in my life. I could now explore the lakes and waterways of my adopted state of Maine in a boat reminiscent of my youth, and with the benefit of its 9.9 HP engine, seek out distant, yet undiscovered fishing hotspots.

My history with boats isn’t too romantic. I grew up on Lake Ontario in upstate New York, sailing with my best friend Bobby Spector. On Sundays during the summer, he would pick me up in his Chevy Impala convertible. He had an Eagle Daysailer that we would take out on the bay. I was filled with enthusiasm during these outings, but inevitably I would not duck sufficiently and get slammed by the boom coming about. It really was the school of hard knocks because I did learn to sail–at least the rudiments.

I never owned a boat until I moved out to Long Island. By that time I had a family and I immersed myself in the hobby of restoring a Comet sailboat over the winter in a friend’s garage on Three Mile Harbor. It was more an exercise in relaxing after working 10-hour days trying cases and making a living as a young lawyer in the early 1970s. I hired a helper who knew everything about restoring and he guided me along. Admittedly, he did a lot of the work, and I just got my hands dirty, but I put enough into it for bragging rights with friends and colleagues. I test sailed the boat on my own the following spring. Lacking in self-assurance going into the harbor without a motor, I launched the boat and off I went. It was calm starting off and I was able to keep the sail filled. However somewhere near the opening onto Gardeners Bay the rudder snapped off. Without the rudder I had no control and I quickly disabused myself of the notion that I was a competent sailor. There was a boy’s camp across the water and I paddled over to it with the sail down. I went ashore and found some kids swimming. I asked them if they would like my sailboat. They looked at each other and at me with amazement. I suppose I was the first person to come off the water and offer the gift of a free sailboat. Well, that was the end of my Comet experience.

Years later I built a family home on Georgica Pond and was encouraged by a neighbor and friend to buy a Beetle Cat sailboat. That has been a 20-year experience. I sailed the first year and learned what I didn’t know about sailing. I took lessons when no one was on the pond. Eventually I started competing in the local Sunday races. It was a disaster. I would get a good start, sometimes, and always come in last. After years of frustration, I decided, in anticipation of the annual end of the season regatta, to hire a REAL sailor to go with me. I found someone who had the credentials–he had sailed in Newport races. Guess what–we won. When I was asked to come forward to accept the winner’s dish, I thought I heard boos. After that, I gave up competing. The last time I saw the trophy my boat’s name-“Forever”-was still engraved on it. Now I take the Beetle Cat out on the pond with family. Since spending time on East Grand Lake in Maine, I have gravitated toward canoes rather than sailboats, primarily for the fishing. Recently, I took my grandson and his friend out on my new-old birthday motorboat. It was almost like a rollercoaster ride for them. My boating stories going forward will now have the energy of a 9.9 horsepower engine. Thank you, Lori and Ted.