Sunday, September 29, 2013

Jupiter to Stuart: Discovering Wild Places As Old Florida Vanishes

It is hard to find places with a vista uninterrupted by development in South Florida, like this birding sanctuary in Jensen Beach.
It is right off U.S. 1. No one was there on this hot September Saturday.
One of my favorite things-to-do on a beautiful blue-sky day is drive north to discover things I've never seen or that have changed since last I saw them.

My first September in South Florida, 1982, I was surprised every time I went outdoors the palm trees and heat.

I traveled from New York State on Labor Day weekend, 1982, accompanied by the annual snowbird migration; it seemed as if every fifth car on that great flyover route, I-95, had a northern license plate.

I would soon learn that September can be one of the hottest months of summer, the autumnal equinox that ushers in Fall notwithstanding.

There is a shaded picnic hut for bird watchers well down the trail; I doubt you can see the tiny speck in this this photo.

In this direction, you may see some high-rise condominiums just on the horizon line.

The first time I saw this area, it was so undeveloped, one followed foot trails between the sea grape bushes -- particularly nice one left -- and scrub palmetto to the ocean. We emerged from the dark canopy to the stunning vista of sky so blue it hurt the eyes and sand as white as salt.

L'Ombre, my Doberman Pinscher, mistook the sand for snow. He threw up a snoutful and chomped down to eat some, as he did with snow.

But Mother Nature had played a cruel trick on him and was about to pay another.
He ran to the ocean to get the sand out of his mouth, only to be confronted with another thing he had never before encountered -- salt water. Poor doggie.

But he loved the beach and to swim in the ocean, something none of my other dogs ever did. They feared the water and hated the hot sand on their feet.

The next set of photos is from a detailed mural with sections in relief, in an arcade leading to a small hole-in-the-wall bar and little gift shops. I think this is Port Salerno, but I'm not sure.

The first photo blends trompe l'oiel with a real potted plant. Other depictions are a sailfish, a popular sport fishing catch; underwater scene with mermaid, and a school of fishes under the gift shop window.

In an art gallery just around the corner from the arcade, I found beautiful art that captures the South Florida ambiance I love. Some of the photos turned out darker and more shadowed than I could rememdy.

This mermaid sculpture is a lovely piece for home that would need to be larger than mine to accommodate it.

The charming watercolor depict the insouciance of a Florida that is decades gone and never to return.

On the way home, I took a wrong turn and wound up in an area that seemed deserted -- even of cars. It is unnerving to think about being stranded miles from anywhere on a road for which I don't know the name and could only be sure that I was driving generally East.

Assuming there is cell phone coverage -- and I wasn't -- how would I tell the tow-truck to find me on a road off the Kanner Highway with a sign pointing toward I-95?

At first, the fields had cows grazing; after a mile two there was what you see in the photo.

I like knowing there are still wild places in Florida -- even though this looks like second growth -- but I don't necessarily want to live or be stranded in such a place.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Warehouse with Artistic Mural Captures Eye of the Hurricane

Even our warehouses are better in Fort Lauderdale.

This ordinary gray cinderblock warehouse is probably will not be on any tourists' list of things-to-do in Fort Lauderdale.

Located on a street parallel to Dixie Highway, the muralist made the best of the dull gray exterior by using it for an eye-of-the-hurricane scene.

I like the energy of the storm and the way the palm trees are shown bending in the wind.

So far, we've escaped any hurricanes, but I learned this morning on the Weather Channel, that 49% of all hurricanes hit the East Coast USA in September. And 82% come in September or October.

I remember some doozies late in the season. Wilma, for one, had schools closed in November. Tropical Storm Irene, later upgraded to hurricane, knocked down our fence and closed roads.

Going back to the Eighties, I remember the time a tanker washed up in the back yard of Palm Beach socialite Molly Wilmot. She fed the Venezuelan crew finger sandwiches and adopted their cat. If you are intrigued, you can read her 2002 New York Times obituary here.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Customer Service Lacking When US Postal Services Charges But Doesn't Deliver

The first time the U.S. Postal Service shrugged off a confirmation tracking claim, I figured it was an anomaly best forgotten. Today I learned USPS Priority Mail is a scam. The customer service philosophy, "We don't guarantee anything."

Case in point: On July 31, I sent an Priority Mail envelope from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa .

Today is August 7. The tracking information at shows it was scheduled for Aug. 3 delivery, and there is no updates since then. The recipient contacted me yesterday to let me know the packet was long overdue.

What does the USPS say about this? "We don't make any guarantees." And there is no refund.

I could drive to Tampa and back with time to spare.

Four or five years ago, I sent a $90 textbook using Media Mail with a tracking confirmation number. It was not only delivered to the wrong address; it was delivered to the wrong city to an address that had no resemblance to that of the addressee.

What did USPS customer service say? The equivalent of, "Well will you lookee that?"

"Are you going to do anything about it?"

"What can we do?" they shrugged.

I'm not a legal scholar, but isn't there a law against tampering with mail that is not your own? Perhaps the mail carrier could go up to the door and ask for the package back.

What about that sign in the Post Office that says 2-day Priority Mail with the price. I looked and looked and I couldn't find anything that said, "No guarantees."

Isn't that sign an implied contract?

USPS fraud is occurring, it would seem, every day with no help for those of us who are dumb enough to believe what the signs say.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ernie's Barbecue: An Institution Best Avoided If Ketchup Is Not Your Idea of Good Sauce

Ernie's Barbecue has become a Fort Lauderdale institution of local popular culture during its half-century-plus in operation. Somehow, I strayed onto websites that suggested it was the top ribs joint in town and should be high on the Fort Lauderdale things-to-do and restaurants to sample list.

I don't look for ambiance in a barbecue restaurant. Ernie's has some Florida murals, an interesting floor that may be terrazzo and looks like it needs a thorough cleaning, and the ever-present TV screens of the sports bar.

The first sign that this would not be a meal to remember in a good way was the menu description of the ribs threatening it would be "smothered" in sauce.

I've come to favor Memphis and St. Louis spice rubs. But I've got nothing against a good sauce, either. I've sampled some of the best in Georgia, can whip up my own with a complex layering of flavors that includes the subtlety of leeks, and I'm not against Bone-Sucking Sauce in a jar in a pinch.

Ernie's sauce was all but inedible. Lumps of diced onions that had not been cooked thoroughly enough to dissolve floated in a mixture of catsup and vinegar. I couldn't scrape enough of it off the ribs fast enough.

Slaw was served in a tiny cup. C'mon folks, cabbage is cheap. Why be stingy?

The Bahama bread was okay. On the plus side, real butter was served, and the ice tea was strong and flavorful.

The waitress was indifferent, and the barkeep could barely pry his eyes off the TV long enough to summon her.

Like the fast-food restaurants that litter the American landscape, Ernie's is another example of Americans insensate palates. That it has such a long history proves the bankruptcy of popular culture food preferences. You can find plenty of poor reviews along with the raves; I recommend trusting the former.

Ernie's is located at 1843 S Federal Hwy (US 1), just slightly south of 17th Street with its Causeway, on the West side of Federal.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Storage Wars Barry Weiss: An Old Smoothie With A Great Tan and a Fast Quip

I watch Storage Wars (A & E) for one reason – Barry Weiss.

The millionaire produce broker and collector looks like he’s having the time of his life buying the contents of abandoned storage lockers.

Most of the regulars on Storage Wars own resale stores, but according to Wikipedia, this is just a hobby for Weiss.

Tanned and silver-haired, Weiss is a smooth-talking quick-witted Man of the World in the style of George Hamilton, and Cary Grant, and with just a touch of swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks.

One of his priceless remarks as one shop owner snapped up several lockers, “He’s bidding like he makes a living doing this.”

Barry showed up for the 2013 Fall premiere with two attractive blonds young enough to be his daughters: the Auction Angels.

“Barry must have a new shipment of Cialis,” quipped Brandy, a show regular with her husband Jarrod.

The director, a personal friend of Weiss who asked him to join the project when the show was in the planning stage -- used the Charlie’s Angels theme intercut with the familiar silhouette images from the popular Seventies show, and ended with the women -- and Barry -- shaking their manes like high-priced fashion models. Or Hollywood babes.

Barry Weiss is popular with female fans, young and old (Wikipedia). And why not? Weiss has found fame in his 60s for being himself. Who wouldn’t like that.

When Barry lost only a few hundred dollars for the purchase of one locker, he said, “I’ll count that as a win.”

It’s easy to believe he has lost as much at the gaming tables in Vegas.

When he won a storage locker with a quilt draped over the contents, he quipped, “I’ve paid more than that to peek under the blanket.”

I’d certainly let him unbuckle my swash.

Barry Weiss deserves his own show; he’s a heck of a lot more fun and less pompous that Doctor Pill, er I mean Phil.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Upholstered Door: Challenging DIY Project Saves Money But Burns Time

My objective in upholstering some bi-fold closet doors was to update them more cheaply than buying new doors and to use creativity for something a little different than money can buy.

The doors had old-fashioned panels out-of-keeping with my own contemporary-eclectic tastes that tend to mid-century modern and Art Deco.

I considered a number of upholstery fabrics, including reed matting that was too expensive and grass wallpaper. I have used the latter on an old cedar trunk, and I don’t have the room to tackle that messy project in my apartment.

I settled on polished burlap for an early texture effect and the relatively cheap price at online fabric store. I also snagged a 2-pound box of round-headed brass look upholstery tacks for $20. At Jo-Ann Fabrics, 75 cost $21.

I started with one of the smaller doors. My first step was painting the door edges in high-gloss super-white.

My second step was padding the inset panels. I want a single upholstered panel for a sleek look.

I used two layers of polyester padding, fitting it into place with hot glue. That used up one of the 72"x90" rolls I bought at Jo-Ann Fabrics for about $15.

Right away, I came up against how hard it is to measure and cut large panels of cloth straight when I don’t have a large table for laying out fabric.

I also could see that a single door would easily use up two or more rolls of polyester batting. I wasn't even sure that four layers of batting would be enough.

I decided that old mattress pads would provide more opaque and firmer padding. I couldn’t find any at three local thrift shops. A white quilt for $4.50 might work in a pinch, but it had more loft than I want.

A king mattress pad that I’m not using anymore is taking up space in a closet – and who doesn’t need more space? – so padding problem solved at zero cost.

Total price for two bi-fold doors (second project not pictured) is $80.

Recycle – repurpose – reuse!

As I looked at the doors while cutting away the elastic edge of the mattress pad, I could see that the interior level of the panels was even deeper than the outer edge. So I cut some additional layers of batting to even out the depth. I secured these with a spray craft glue.

I was concerned that the batting was too porous for this, but it worked fine.

I measured the mattress padding strip, but that is not a guarantee when I am on the floor rolling the strip as I go. Plus, the edge of the mattress quilt was not completely straight either.

To cut plumb burlap panels, I used the technique of pulling a thread to create a runner or ladder down the fabric. When you pull a thread, do this carefully. You don’t want it to break, because you won’t be able to pick it up again.

The next step was nailing on, with upholstery decorative tacks, the final layer. If you live in a condo apartment, you have to wait for a reasonable time of day for this – because the nailing is going to go for hours and hours.

By the time I had one six-foot edge done, my knees and back hurt. I suggest you not tackle this if you have arthritis without a good-size, stable work table out in a garage.

I also learned that it is better to space the tacks. Photos of upholstered furniture show the tacks in a row. After placing 10 of them – three to anchor the top and seven down the side – I realized I would spend the rest of my life on the project if I continued.

If you are not practiced at tacks, you may find it challenging to place a tight row so it is perfectly straight. I was worried about how the final product would look.

I went to 2-inch gaps. These work out to about 1.75-inches in between, as the hobnail tops also take up space.

Leaving spaces between the tacks is more forgiving than creating a line of tacks, as you see in the corners of the finished door, last photo.

By the time I was done with one 6-foot length, I was dreading having to complete the rest of the job. I still have three 6-foot lengths to complete – plus a matching door next to this one that has to be done.

The final challenge: I am not strong enough to lift the door into its holders.

This project gave me a realistic perspective about tackling the super-tall bi-fold closet doors in the bedroom.

Then project is too expensive in terms of time and effort.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Black-and-White Is Divisive Descriptor for U.S. Rich Diversity

I am tired of being a white person. More accurately, I am tired of the divisive language of black-and-white to describe race and ethnicity.

The term people of color is the preferred choice among many academics, but it hasn't spread much beyond those boundaries.

And it still leaves out me. As Barbara Jordan so brilliantly said at the Watergate hearings of Richard Nixon’s Constitutional violations as she quoted the Preamble to the U.S Constitution:

"'We, the people.' I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake."

Surely it is a mistake that I am divided by language from people of color. I am not white, after all. White is the absence of color. I may be pale or even pasty, but I am not white.

And I have never met a black and person. No matter how deeply pigmented the skin, it is not black, the result of all colors.

The introduction of black to signify race was a verbal innovation in the late 1960s-early 1970s when it gained traction.

It was a dignified counterpoint to the widespread use of white to denote Caucasian. The slogan, Black is Beautiful, expressed a desire to claim black as a state of being completely unique unto itself and with its unique standards for measuring beauty and other values.

It was a good thing.

We are now a half-century past that innovation. Yet the language of black-and-white, a language of division and exclusion, clings like skin to all our conversations about race and ethnicity and social justice. It provides the container and the limitation.

I became aware of how irritated I am with this language as I was listening to a completely mundane report about gun violence on National Public Radio.

Women of all races die of gun violence less often than men. Men, mostly living in rural communities in states such as Wyoming and Alaska, die of suicide. A Wyoming health official said just about everyone knows a suicide there, but they would run him out of town if he suggested a gun control law.

Men in urban environments die of homicide.

I deliberately left out the terms in which the story was told: white rural men and black urban men.

Does the report lose anything by leaving out the racial marker? I don’t think so. Most of us surmise that the rural communities are white. And who is to say that men of color living in such rural communities are also at increased risk of suicide by gun – a detail the report did not cover.

Most of us who have been paying attention know that homicide has been claiming lives of young men of color for decades in an epidemic of violence.

I discussed my irritation with my students, as I was teaching an older group ready for mature discussion. It was they who suggested that the story could be told without racial markers using references to geography.

One student pointed out that the trouble with white-black language is that it implies there is nothing in common -- almost two different species instead of all human beings with a great deal in common.

The matter is black-and-white, we say to indicate that it should be easy to see the polarized issue.

"Black is black, and white is white," we say to enforce a view of right-wrong, coding black as wrong.

Another student pointed out that there are times when race matters, such health issues. African-Americans want to know that they are greater risk for a disease such as sickle cell anemia and about new discoveries for treatment.

These legitimate reasons for using racial description make sense, too.

In our discussion, students said they don't like the use of black-and-white "but you learn to accept it."

For my students, coming from so many other cultures and histories, the innovative impact of using black to describe race is lost. American history is not their history.

My students come from Haiti and Caribbean Islands. I have students from all over Central and South America, too. I also have students from Russia and Poland and Romania and other places around the globe.

They are attending a career college so that they can better their families through careers in health, law, and criminal justice. They are the latest generation of immigrants or even native-born children of lower-income families pursuing the American dream of self-betterment through education.

But most of my students are people of color, and when I walk into a classroom, I am the minority.

Perhaps I feel as racial minorities have long felt in our country -- separate from and different than. I don't like it, and I don't want to be white in world that offers only the descriptive choices of black-and-white and me-or-person-of-color.

So I have been thinking about how I want language to change, knowing that my tiny voice means less than nothing.

Let's describe people as beige and brown. These are in the same color family, just as we all are part of the family of humanity. Some of us have more pigment, some of us have less. We are simply different shades of color, not different, separate, and opposing species.

As far as diseases with genetic risk factors, let us use the language of genetics. When we speak of Tay-Sachs syndrome, for which people with Jewish background are at risk, language does not separate out the group as racially different and apart.

As more and more inter-marriages occur, like that which produced our President, the black-and-white descriptor is increasingly inaccurate.

Genetic background will impact disease risk factors, but color should not be invoked. We have the advanced medical technology to identify these diseases; why cannot language become advanced enough to describe this world?

I don't want to be white anymore. I don't want to be that colorless carbon-based life form devoid of all hue and tint. I don'’t want to be separated from all people of color by polarizing language. I want the rich resources of English to change to encompass the unity of all that we humans are and can be.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Jason Statham: Taciturn Eye Candy in Fast Moving Actioner Flicks

Jason Statham, a 40-something action hero, embodies the definition of the "strong silent type" in action films such as The Transporter series, The Expendables, and The Mechanic.

He doesn't say much in any of them, and his acting range apparently extends from A to B. Yet this old gal who can't take her eyes off the guy. Or maybe it's her ears: His voice is deadpan, soft, assertive, and sexy.

I've dated a couple of radio announcers, and they could make reading the phone book sexy. I heard somewhere that women respond erotically to voice while men respond to visual images; hence pornography (or erotica if you prefer) being one of the chief money-making online businesses.

Statham was apparently discovered by Madonna's X, director Guy Ritchie. A former Olympic diver, Statham packs a lot of energy and muscle into his 5'10" frame.

These actioner flicks are non-stop car chases, fights with lots of martial arts kicks and jumps, explosions, and dramatic stunts, such as Transporter character Frank Martin riding a bike down a staircase railing.

Plot? We don’t need no stinkin' plot: We got Jason Statham.

There often is a beautiful woman who needs protection and, of course, falls hard for the phlegmatic Frank. Or there may be a woman for sexual needs (The Mechanic) and who seems to be around mostly to add a bit of feminine interest and prove the character is not gay. In any of these generic films, the Statham character cannot be deterred from his ideals and course of action by such trivialities as a relationship with a female

Obviously, this is right in line with the tradition of film noir private eyes who bed an endless series of needy and impermanent women.

Online biographies say Statham does many of his own stunts. Call me a cynic, but I'm thinking it takes a bicycle pro to perfectly align the wheel rim with the staircase rail and keep it there at mega-fast speed.

Who knows? Perhaps some trickery was involved in having the tire fit into some kind of track to accomplish the eye-popping stunt.

Who cares? Realism is not the point. Suspend your credulity and enjoy the ride. Watch Statham move with the animal grace that I have previously associated with Alain Delon (a yummy visual treat back in the 1960s and 1970s).

Statham inevitably plays the kind of guy who isn’t going to be around to fix the toilet – even though he could – but a gal has got to hope he stops by on the day of the zombie apocalypse because there are going to be few people better at leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

Is it unseemly for an old woman to be so aware of the sexual appeal of a younger man. I'm going to fall back on a quotation by Tom Selleck in a recent episode of Blue Bloods: "I know I'm no spring chicken, but I'm pretty sure I'm not dead."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pompano Beach: Bright Murals and Renovations

A beautiful drive from Fort Lauderdale to Pompano Beach, traveling North on U.S. 1 and East on Atlantic Boulevard, yielded these photos of the ever-growing array of outdoor murals in this area.

This building, a former restaurant bar, has been a painted lady for a long time. It is vacant and may be in its death throes.

That's a shame, because the Federal Highway location would seem a good one for business. It's right in front of the Fox Cross condo complex for over 55, so a lot of foot traffic is possible. And it has a parking lot.

Nearby, this fantastically detailed mural is a newer one. It extends along the side of the building, as you see.

The curlicues and dots on the pineapple that are stunning.

Hours of work must have been spent creating this colorful art that all of us can enjoy for absolutely free.

The Star Ballroom reflects the somewhat shabbier side of Pompano Beach. But the two murals on the buildings facade show all the fun that goes on inside. The Star is a very active place for dancers.

A charming older element of Pompano Beach is this mosaic map on the side of one building. You can see the detail in the next photo.

This faux lighthouse is a remnant of the kitschy architecture of old South Florida of the 1950 and 1960s. I am sorry to see the passing of these quaint structures and glad a few remain.

Renovations are in progress at two strip malls -- and much needed, judging from some of the uninviting exteriors of others.

Last, here are two more photos of an op-art mural that has sprung up on the side of a stained glass art gallery. Viva the muralists.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Doris Market, Fort Lauderdale, for Yummy Meatballs and Handmade Pasta

I'm fast becoming a fan of Doris Market for Italian specialty items, meat, and fresh food.

In the prepared foods display, the meatballs are big, have just the right of meatiness, nicely seasoned and flavorful.

I hate rolling meat between my hands, so buying handmade when it's this good is a plus.

When it comes to Fort Lauderdale things-to-do and places to eat, if your hotel room has a microwave, you can do worse than pick up some prepared food from the Doris Market case to enjoy a nice meal ensuite.

I also tried the handmade pasta in one of the cooler cases, and I will never want to go back to the dry kind. It melts in my mouth with a creamy delicious taste.

In the meat department,I found a meat loaf package with ground veal, ground pork and ground beef that I can use for my own meat loaf recipe. I got mine decades ago when I used to type recipes from Miss Josephine Vasto, a prolific provider of delicious homemade foods at the Albany Times-Union back in the day.

Miss Vasto was a type of ethnic lady we don't see much anymore: unmarried herself but she doted on cooking for her nieces and nephews.

I also found some rosemary-cheese sausage on sale that looks good. Possible recipes include grilling this with peppers and onions and eating on a savory baguette or enjoying with more of that handmade pasta.

I would have expected to pay $10-$20 more for the same amount of meat products and other food where I usually shop, The Fresh Market, so I was pleasantly surprised by the check out price.

Fresh herbs were $1.50, same price as the farmer's market across the street. I rarely see fresh bay leaves or sage, so I was happy to snap up these. If you have recently moved to South Florida, add "find a farmer's market" for local produce to your list of Fort Lauderdale things-to-do.

In summary, if you live in Broward County and there's a Doris Market near you, I recommend the meatballs and fresh pasta.