The Last Newspaper

Ken Tingley has written a love letter to the local newspaper.

A few weeks back, I wrote about cleaning out a junk drawer and finding an old Delray Times newspaper from 1995.

I worked for that paper for about a decade from 1987 to 1996 when I left to start my own education newspaper.

I’ve been blessed with a lot of interesting and great jobs/roles in my life, but none better than being a reporter for the old South Florida Newspaper Network.

It wasn’t the pay (we made very little money).

It wasn’t the perks. (There were none unless you count free parking).

It was the people and the job itself.

Newsrooms attract funny, smart, talented, creative, and idealistic souls.  It was a joy to work with them in a wide-open office where every day was an adventure.

You get to hear about the interesting stories your colleagues are working on, the colorful characters they are chasing and the “you can’t make this stuff up” things you see when it’s your job to report what’s going on in town.

I know it’s fashionable to bash the press these days. “Fake news” is the latest adorable saying meant to undercut the credibility of the only industry protected by our Constitution. It is protected because a free press is essential to a Democracy.

I’ve been on both sides of the pen so to speak. I spent years as a journalist covering people making news and I’ve been written about, which is far less fun.

I’ve seen amazing reporters and I’ve seen some bad ones, but there’s no doubt in my mind that a free press keeps us a free people.

I’ve been thinking about the role of local newspapers a lot these days.

When I moved to South Florida in 1987, Delray Beach was covered by four newspapers: The Sun-Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, The Boca Raton News and the Monday-Thursday Papers (my alma mater and the precursor to the South Florida Newspaper Network). On big stories, the Miami Herald came to town.

You had to work hard not to know what was going on in Boca and Delray.

And the level of coverage spurred civic engagement. More people voted. More people attended Commission meetings (they weren’t at 4 p.m. when anyone who works can’t attend) and more people volunteered because they knew what was going on and when you know what’s happening, you’re more likely to want to be involved.

Everyone knew their city commissioners, county commissioners, school board members and state legislators. They attended charettes and visioning conferences, they showed up to protest or support projects and they relied on the local papers for information. In other words, there was a community  ‘water cooler’ and local reporters competed fiercely for readers, so you saw a lot of “enterprise” reporting not just dry meeting coverage.

In hindsight, it was a golden age. Not only for newspapers but for civic engagement. We never thought it could end.

But it did.

Not with a big crash, but with a slow-motion agonizing fade that saw newspapers shrivel up, or in the case of the Boca News—die. Even the vaunted Monday-Thursday Papers went away.

My friends in community journalism found other careers in public relations, marketing, advertising and sometimes in fields that had nothing to do with writing or communications. One former senior newsroom guy that I knew, ended up living in his car in a Boca Raton parking lot. The last time I saw him, he had his arm broken by someone who tried to rob him while he slept. We met and he was offering to sell me memorabilia from his career. It was a sad and terrible end to what had been a good run.

But as much as the people in the field suffered and were forced to reinvent themselves, the communities they covered suffered as well and continue to pay the price.

Today, there is no water cooler.

We have Facebook which often spreads misinformation, one monthly newspaper that has an odd bent (in my opinion), a few lifestyle magazines, a few newsletters (one is anonymous which undercuts its credibility) and a podcast or two with limited audiences.

We are poorer because our newspapers have gone away. The Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post are sad shells of their past versions, and the few reporters around don’t seem to have any history in our community. We lose something real and valuable when institutional memory becomes forgotten history. Coverage suffers without context; it’s like coming into a movie that’s half over and pretending to know the plot.

I recently finished a wonderful book called “The Last American Newspaper” by Ken Tingley. It’s a poignant book that tells the sad story of The Post-Star, an award winning newspaper in Glens Falls, N.Y.

The paper was a local powerhouse and even won a Pulitzer Prize for its editorials, an almost unheard-of victory for a small newspaper.

But the Post-Star was ambitious and committed to the community it served for over a century. The newsroom—led by Mr. Tingley— reported the news fairly and accurately, surfacing important issues from teenage drinking and domestic violence to homelessness and the financial troubles of the local hospital, which also happened to be a major advertiser.

Because the Post-Star did its job so well, the paper sparked important conversations that often led to meaningful change.

But over time, as the Internet came to dominate, the Post-Star lost revenue and no longer had the resources to produce the in-depth journalism that communities need to thrive.

The diminishment of local journalism is an important issue that needs to be addressed by every community in America. But especially here, in fast moving complicated South Florida.

I’ve long believed that it is easier to find out what is going on in Kabul, than it is to find out what’s happening at City Hall. That’s not good if you value community and if you care about your tax dollars.

Rogues thrive in the darkness where brave reporters once shined a light.

I don’t have any answers. In my opinion, nobody does.

I keep tabs on my old profession and see a few promising seeds: local newsletters that sell subscriptions, online newspapers, city-oriented podcasts etc. But there’s nothing like a newspaper. The magic of opening something you can touch and discovering something interesting and noteworthy.

We will lose a lot when the last newspaper vanishes. We already have.

 

 

Living Life In Crescendo

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

― Pablo Picasso

Pablo has a point.

I heard that morsel of wisdom during a podcast interview with Cynthia Covey Haller, the daughter of Stephen Covey, who wrote the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Ms. Haller has a new book out called “Live Life in Crescendo: Your Most Important Work Is Always Ahead of You.”
In the book, she tries to channel the thoughts of her father who was in his late 50s when he had his greatest success. Stephen Covey was living proof that late in life success was possible and having an “ever-forward-looking” attitude– as he described it— was a key to success.

In music, the term crescendo describes a gradual increase in loudness or intensity. Applied to life, it means we should always be building toward something. (Like my friend Randy).

I like that approach. It’s aspirational.

And that “crescendo” mindset should apply to your business, your town, your volunteer work… everything, especially your relationships. Basically, it’s a belief that life can get better.

The opposite is something called a “decrescendo” which, when applied to life, means that the best times are in your rear-view mirror.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I find myself thankful for the people in my life who are living a life of crescendo. They energize and inspire me and everyone around them.

Now living life in crescendo doesn’t mean that you will experience ever growing success…people, athletes, businesses and even relationships experience peaks and valleys. But it does mean we should continue to aspire.

Aspire…what a beautiful word. It comes from the Latin “aspirare”, which means ‘to breathe’.

To breathe is to live and to aspire is to pursue great deeds.

So, this Thanksgiving I am grateful for all those who aspire to do great deeds.

Everywhere I look, there are good people who wake up every day trying to make their corner of the world a better place.

Old School Square’s board of directors are a prime example. Kicked to the curb by an ungrateful city government, the volunteers continue to support schools and local artists. They are the best people I know.

At the Knights of Pythagoras Mentoring Network, my friend C. Ron Allen works day after day, year after year, with our youth giving them experiences and knowledge that they will use to navigate a difficult world.

The EJS Project is also remarkable. This non-profit is doing important work in the heart of our city with our children. They are building a better tomorrow.

The Milagro Center is aptly named, because they work miracles for our children as does Ali Kaufman and her team at Space of Mind. The Community Classroom Project is the kind of innovation we need.

I’m a big fan of our Public Library and especially of Kae Johnsons who works tirelessly to make Delray a better place.

And the list goes on…especially of those people of a certain age living a life of crescendo.

For instance, there’s retired Fire Chief Kerry Koen, who teaches me something every time we speak. Now granted, I have a lot to learn, but Chief Koen’s lessons are profound and lasting.

My dad, at age 84, remains vital and vibrant, a positive example of how to live a life of grace and humility. Fran, his significant other, is special too.

Frances Bourque is an inspiration to generations of civic leaders in Delray. For those of us who know all that she has brought to our community; we are thankful. For those who have missed this wonderful woman’s gifts—well it’s not too late to call on her for advice, she’s awfully generous.

The team at the Delray Chamber is to be commended for building community and looking beyond the important interests of the business community to care about the entirety of the community. They present a powerful message of inclusion and hope for the future. We Are Delray is their motto. And we are.

My wife and best friend Diane, who has embraced retirement with gusto—rescuing pets, helping neighbors, staying in touch with friends, learning Italian and shining a light on Parkinson’s lives a life in crescendo. For Diane, I am eternally grateful.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Ties That Happily Bind

Rex’s Hairstyling has been a community institution and a source of community for close to 40 years.

I miss the movies.

I miss newspapers.

I miss magazines.

I miss bookstores.

I miss albums (and getting lost in a great record store).

I miss civility.

I miss the America I knew in the 70s and 80s. But I’m still filled to the brim with patriotism.

I miss sleep.

I miss endless summers.

I miss boring hurricane seasons.

I miss Blood’s Groves.

I miss Ken and Hazel’s.

I miss seeing my buddy Perry at Boston’s on the Beach.

I miss 32 East.

I miss Chip Stokes at St. Paul’s.

I miss listening to stories in Mr. and Mrs. Pompey’s living room.

I miss Joe and Carolyn Gholston.

I miss visits with Libby Wesley.

I miss Sister Mary Clare’s brogue.

I miss roasts. (And when this town had a sense of humor).

I miss charrettes.

I miss optimism.

I miss the sense that anything was possible.

Because it was.

 

Celebrating A Friend

A few months back, I wrote a tribute to Karyn Premock who died tragically in an accident in Tennessee. http://yourdelrayboca.com/remembering-our-friend/

Karyn, who used to work at Rex’s Hairstyling, is beloved in Delray Beach. She touched so many lives.

I had the honor of speaking at her “celebration of life” at The Dunes over the weekend. The place was packed, and it could have been filled four times with the number of people who wanted a chance to mourn and celebrate.

Karyn is missed. I find myself thinking about her often, especially when I pass her old house in Lake Ida on the way to the park near the Delray Playhouse.

The celebration was closure for many of us, but it’s still difficult to reconcile that she’s gone. One minute you’re here…the next your gone. It’s sobering but also clarifying because it’s important to cherish the people who enrich our lives and communities.

We live in coarse times.  And you have to ask why?

Why?

Karyn was a bright light. She made us smile. You can’t put a price on what that’s worth. Her warmth, her energy, her caring made a real and lasting difference.

Earlier in the week, we learned that Rex’s will be closing Dec. 30.

Another Delray institution passing into the history books and memory banks.

Words cannot express how special a place Rex’s has been. How important it has been to this community. The scene of countless first haircuts, endless conversation, loud laughs and love. Lots and lots and lots of love.

When you walk through the doors you got more than a haircut, you got community.

The special people who work there adore each other and their customers. In today’s often toxic world, you can’t put a price on that.

Karyn created a family in that shop. She leaves behind a legacy of love and warmth.

So does Rex’s Hairstyling.

We need more of these great places….

Untimely Loss

Speaking of untimely loss, we were stunned to hear the news of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson’s death over the weekend.

The MMA legend was a neighbor for a few years and always kind and friendly to everyone, especially the children in our neighborhood who loved his big truck. He died after an illness at 38.

Rest In Peace.

 

I’m glad the Election is over.

What a waste of money…what an exercise in (fill in the blank).

I don’t care what side of the divide you’re on, all of us were inundated with an endless barrage of mud that did not offer a single thoughtful solution or a way forward, only reasons why should we fear/hate each other.

Let’s hope the upcoming municipal elections in March will offer us more substance.

There are real issues to discuss; the Delray bond issue, water issues, what do with Old School Square, where to site a new fire station now that we are losing our long term (and mutually beneficial arrangement with Highland Beach), issues at City Hall, workforce housing, dispirited non-profits because of attitudes at City Hall and the CRA’s politicization and implementation of draconian terms to accept grants.

As for the election results, it was a monumentally consequential election for Palm Beach County.

A political earthquake.

Reliably blue Palm Beach County turned red. Not only did Gov. Ron DeSantis beat Charlie Crist but two prominent Democrats lost County Commission races.

County Mayor Bob Weinroth lost his seat to newcomer Mari Woodward and longtime civic leader Michelle McGovern lost her bid for a commission seat as well.

While both races surprised me, the Weinroth loss was a stunner.

Bob was a hardworking and highly visible elected official with lots of experience in city and county government.

I went to his opponent’s website to learn more, and she seemed to be a one-issue candidate with lots of words about Covid lockdowns. It will be interesting to see how she performs.

But it’s clear to me, that experience matters less than the team you’re on. You are either a D or an R. And neither side will consider voting for the candidates outside their tribe.

In those kinds of races, money (Weinroth had a bunch) matters less than turning out your team.

Personally, I don’t understand why the County Commission is a partisan body.

And love him or loathe him, Governor DeSantis had some serious coattails.

 

Photographs & Memories

A newspaper from 1995 and an old Flip digital camera were some of the treasures recently unearthed.

We replaced our bedroom set recently and that prompted a long-delayed dive into my dresser’s junk drawer.

You know, the drawer where you throw change, store greeting cards and keep things that don’t quite fit anywhere else.

The exercise was hard for me. I’m sort of… kind of… borderline-ish…. a hoarder. There, I said it.

I think it’s my sentimentality and my desire to someday revisit these treasures although I hardly ever do. So, opening that drawer and confronting what to do with its contents was a challenge for me.

What to keep?
What to toss?

I found a 27-year-old Delray Times newspaper featuring a front-page story I wrote entitled “The Delray Decade.” The subhead read: “In the past 10 years, the city has gone from pauper to prince.”

That was interesting, but more on that in a later column.

I found a keychain with a picture of Diane and I after one of our memorable outings—a visit to “Capone’s Dinner Show” in Orlando where we dined on spaghetti with a ketchup like sauce while watching actors and actresses dressed as 30s era Chicago gangsters ham it up.

I loved it!

Diane? Not so much.

Granted, the show wasn’t “Hamilton”, but Hamilton didn’t have an Italian buffet either. Regardless, they must be doing something right.  I looked up the show and it’s still running 30 years after its debut. Maybe it the music or the period dress.  Or, maybe it’s the Italian buffet. (I kept the keychain).

I also found an old “Flip” digital camcorder. Remember those? They were hot for about 10 minutes in 2006. They were discontinued in 2011. But I have one. According to eBay it’s worth about $24.99. I’m going to hold onto it a little longer. Someday it could be worth $30.

Besides when I looked at the digital videos I found one of my late cockatiel Butters singing the tarantella. I also found a slew of material that captured the day we filmed a commercial for Celsius featuring Mario Lopez. Heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko showed up that day—as a surprise. We quickly wrote him into the commercial. Today, Mr. Klitschko is in Ukraine fighting the Russians. I find myself thinking about him from time to time. He was a very nice man. I’m going to hold on to my Flip.

There were more treasures, an old business card from Gov. Charlie Crist (no comment), an All America City pin from 2001 and a photo marking Plastridge Insurance’s 100th birthday—all keepers for sure.

But the best treasure was an autograph book I found dated June 1975.

We were moving from South Setauket N.Y. to Stony Brook, and I would be leaving my elementary school for 6th grade at William Sydney Mount.

Apparently, I had my 5th grade friends sign the book so I would remember them forever. I’m not sure kids do that these days, but autograph books were all the rage back in the 70s. I signed a bunch, and I kept this book for the past 47 years. It’s in great shape.

Unfortunately, most kids signed the book with bad poetry—the roses are red, violets are blue style prose that usually ended in some sort of insult. The nicer kids said they were only kidding. I think all of them were, but it was interesting to see a book of sophomoric insults written in ’75 that referenced Nixon and Kennedy, divorces, horses and The Fonz.

Here’s an example:

“The Nixon’s had their Richard. The Kennedy’s had their Jack. The Perlman’s had their Jeff and want their money back.”

That gem came from a girl named Pam, who happened to be the heartthrob not only in the class, but the whole school. Knowing me, I probably was thrilled that she took the time to sign my book—the actual content wouldn’t have mattered. I’m shocked I had the nerve to ask her to sign.

Apparently, I took the autograph book to my new school. Because there were a few 6th grade classmates who signed as well.

The most poignant signature was from Mike Boyle, a friend of mine who would later join the FDNY and perish in 9/11.

“Roses are reddish, violets are bluish,” Mike wrote.

“In school you are newish.” In parentheses, he said to stick with him, and I did.

I was the new kid in school andMike was popular and athletic. He welcomed me into his circle of guys who had been together since kindergarten and all was well, even though our 6th grade teacher was a dead ringer for Nurse Ratchet, only meaner.

The book was also signed by two of my oldest friends—Scott Savodnik and Howie Cohn. We didn’t go to elementary school together, but we did spend summers at the “pool club” in Stony Brook. Both signed the book and said we would always be the best of friends and 47 years later—we are.

In many ways, the book was prescient.

In the front of the book, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire:
Favorite authors: C.S. Lewis and Jack London (Not bad, young Jeff).

Favorite Saying: “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” (Odd choice)

In the future I will be a: Journalist (Bingo!)

Favorite Song: “Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” by BJ Thomas (very odd for an 11-year-old) and “Philadelphia Freedom” – by Elton John (good choice, big hit during those patriotic bicentennial days).

I’m keeping that autograph book, bad poetry, and all.

Roses are red, violets are blue.

Let’s give old memories—and junk— their due.

 

Quotes From The Edge

Dare to be different

I’ve always loved quotes.

I used to collect them, but my computer crashed years ago, and I lost them all.

I haven’t had the heart to start over.

But I still enjoy reading quotes and sometimes I save them in my phone—for what I don’t know. Future inspiration I suppose.

I came across a few this past week that got me thinking.

This one is from filmmaker George Lucas.

“The secret is not to give up hope. It’s very hard not to because if you’re really doing something worthwhile, I think you will be pushed to the brink of hopelessness before you come through the other side.”

This is an interesting thought and largely true. I think of the businesses we’ve been involved with and the fits and starts that they all seem to have. It’s never a straight line. It’s almost always a bumpy road full of pivots, near death experiences and a slew of ups and downs.

My first venture was an education newspaper that started in Delray. It was called “Student and Parent”, a boring title but it told the story of what we were focused on. We covered local schools, wrote about teachers and exceptional young people, and reported on the hot issues in education.

Unable to afford a sales staff to sell ads and wanting to keep our monthly paper free of charge, we decided to try and get corporate sponsors who believed in our mission and would back us for a year.

Frank McKinney was kind enough to loan us one of his oceanfront “spec” houses for a launch party. We figured the novelty of seeing the home would entice business leaders to attend. We were right, and ended up attracting enough sponsors to pay our expenses for a year. They didn’t even mind that my mom incinerated the hors d’ouevres in a convection oven she had never seen before.

We expanded to Boca and then Boynton and then went countywide with a name change. We were now “The Education Times”. We dropped off papers at every school that would have us, bundling papers and putting them in teachers’ mailboxes so they could be sent home in back packs. We also delivered papers to city halls, libraries, community centers and places where we felt families with kids might be.

It was a lot of work. And we did it on a shoestring. No investors; a modest credit line. All the (meager) profits were re-invested in the biz.

Along the way, we were pushed to the brink of hopelessness, as Mr. Lucas says, not sure if we would ever see the other side. My low point happened when my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and my partner injured his back and was unable to work. Was it time to throw in the towel? We were growing, but still not out of the woods.

We decided to push forward. And eventually we came out the other side when a media company decided to buy us out and hire us to run our paper and help run their publications.

Today, I’m pitched a steady stream of ideas from young and not so young entrepreneurs, and I always ask them whether they have the resilience to keep going when the going gets rough, because it always does.

It’s hard to measure grit. Most people think they have it, until they’re severely challenged and then they find out if they really do.

Mike Tyson used to say that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. He’s not a role model, but he’s sure right about that.

Sometimes it is prudent to know when to fold them, as the song says. But that’s an art as well because you never want to walk away too early. Life is one brushback pitch after another. You must stay in the batter’s box and wait for your pitch and then deliver.

Wanting to quit is a common feeling, but you must press on even if you have to start something else.

The second quote that grabbed me comes from Kurt Vonnegut.

“Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. Big, undreamed-of things. The people on the edge see them first.”

This one intrigues me because I am a “center” kind of guy. I’m in the middle politically, appreciate compromise and like to think I’m reasonable. (This is where my friends and wife may chuckle, but they know deep down that I don’t mean to be difficult. For example, because I’m left-handed, I require sitting on the side of the table where my arm won’t bother people. I think that’s considerate, not difficult).

Still, “the edge” intrigues me. I admire the risk takers, the people who go against the grain, the game changers that the old Apple computer ad celebrated.

I’ve known a few and I work with one—Carl DeSantis– who bet big on vitamins and won and bet big on Celsius the beverage and won again. Let’s just say, he’s a human thrill ride and I mean that in a good way, because through it all he has remained humble, down to earth, kind and generous to everyone he comes across.

My friend Carl has a favorite painting of sunflowers. The painting depicts a sea of sunflowers facing in the same direction but there’s one stray facing the other way.
“That’s me,” he told me.

Yes, it is.

Bless the souls that think differently. They make a dent in the world. They make magic.

The final idea I wanted to share came from an essay I saw in the New York Times. The writer, Lydia Polgreen, just lost her dad at 73. She talks about our need as humans to have an anchor, to know what’s next. But life is uncertain and that makes us vulnerable. We live in rough seas.

Turn on the news and you’ll hear about heinous crimes, the threat of nuclear war, the ravages of a hurricane, the doomsday scenarios surrounding climate change. We have high inflation, divisive politics, institutions we no longer trust and different sets of “facts” depending on where we sit on the political spectrum.

“But to tolerate uncertainty,” Ms. Polgreen writes. “Is to become buoyant, able to bob in the waves, no matter the tide.”

Polgreen continues: “You have to be incredibly vulnerable to admit that you think the world can be better, to believe that what you do could actually make some kind of change. We live in a time dominated by pessimism and cynicism. These poses are a kind of armor against the vulnerability of hope. To be cynical is to close the door to the possibility of disappointment. To be pessimistic is to foreclose the risk of being made a fool by optimism.”

The vulnerability of hope….

Think about that phrase for a moment. I can’t stop thinking about those words.

I believe most of us are naturally attracted to the dreamers and the optimists in our world. I know I am.

My favorite words are love and aspiration.

In a world where we don’t have to travel too far to see, feel and witness the destructive power of hate we must somehow find, teach, and spread love.

And in a world where every idea seems to be met with resistance, cynicism, and snark we must find a way to aspire.

Aspire or expire…that’s what I say.

 

It’s All About Soul

There’s a darkness in the center of town.

It’s been said that placemaking done right builds on “the soul” of a place.

I like that sentiment.

Too often, we think of placemaking as construction when it’s really about storytelling.

I believe that every place has a story to tell and that our job as citizens is to honor that story.

If we do, we will be good stewards of our communities and we will make sure that change—which is inevitable—will be authentic and feel good. But if we don’t, we will lose our soul and the essence of what makes a place special.

Losing what’s special about a place, doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen. If we keep pulling threads, eventually the garment falls apart.

I believe that good design helps build great places, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

The other part—the most important part— is the people equation.

A great place must be “people friendly.” It must be warm and inviting and above all it must be respectful of its past, mindful of its present and always thinking about the future.

Those thoughts hit me when I drive past a still vacant Old School Square on my way to work in the morning.

To me, those beautiful buildings—once bustling with activity—seem sad and lonely. The Crest Theatre, home to so many magical performances over the years, is now an abandoned construction site. The classrooms once the home of art and photography classes are empty. The newly renovated Cornell Museum has had its walls stripped of art.

It didn’t have to be this way, but that’s a whole other story.

Meanwhile, The Downtown Development Authority is poised to come in and pump some life into the grounds and I have no doubt that if given ample resources, they will.

But as good as that agency is—and I’ve been a supporter over the years—I don’t think it will be easy to replace the soul of Old School Square. And as Billy Joel sings: “it’s all about soul.”

Old School Square’s soul was embodied by the special people who gave their time, passion, love, and hard-earned money to that place on the corner of Atlantic and Swinton for 32 years before the City Commission on a 3-2 vote kicked them to the curb. The public had no opportunity to weigh in before the vote, because the item to terminate the lease was never on an agenda.

But I suspect, based on the thousands of people who signed a petition to reverse the decision, that the community would have asked the commission to stop. Sadly, that never happened.

For 14 long months, there have been clumsy efforts to replace the non-profit that created Old School Square.  But that’s not proving to be so easy. And I know why: you can’t dial up soul.

You can’t issue an RFP and ask a group to bring love and passion as well as operating chops and tons of money. That’s what we’ve lost–love, passion and 80 percent of a $3 million operating budget. And it’s not a one time loss. It will be felt every year until you find a way to bring the soul back to what was Delray’s signature civic project.

Into that vacuum, comes the DDA. They are taking on a difficult and expensive assignment.

Again,  I support the agency.  When I was an elected official, and the downtown was humming, I would get occasional calls from citizens who wanted to disband the taxing authority.

“We don’t need the DDA anymore,” they would declare. “The downtown is busy. Their job is done.”

I would disagree, because the first rule of success in life, business, cities, and downtowns is this: you are never done.

Complacency is a killer.

Just when you think you’ve got it made, life will remind you that you don’t.

So, for the record, I hope the DDA succeeds.

But I will always believe that the Commission’s decision to terminate Old School Square, the very creators of the concept, was a tragically bad one. Costly in so many ways and while the politicians mercifully come and go, you the taxpayer will be saddled with those costs for years to come.

The biggest cost is the people who were thrown to the curb. They were awfully good folks—as good as it gets. Contributors who were generous and passionate about their town who were, in the end, told to get lost. People who ought to know better but don’t are lying about them and when they do they reveal who they really are.

That’s tragic and hurtful. And it matters. More than dollars and cents.

My friends, it’s the people who provide the magic.

It’s the people who provide the soul of a place.

People and only people can animate a brand, a community, a non-profit, a neighborhood.

So, it’s not about plugging in another entity or designing a great looking space. Of course, the entity is important and the space as is well, but it’s who comes/volunteers (and stays) at the table and who replaces them when they move on that matters most.

There was a time when our city government had multiple “connection” or entry points. There were Citizen Police Academies, there were Resident Academies, a Youth Council and more charrettes and more visioning exercises than you could count.

Old School Square was the heart and soul of those efforts to connect us.

It was a place to gather and celebrate our history, discuss our present and plan our future.

Old School Square was the physical and spiritual embodiment of our community. And it was wiped out without notice, forethought, or empathy.

I would be the last person to argue that what we lost was perfect. But Old School Square was good and there were times when it was great.

And that’s why you work to make it better. You don’t throw it away. You don’t kick it to the curb and then flail around asking the Boca Museum to help you (think about that for a moment, call on a Boca institution to run our community’s cultural center? Come on, folks) before resting on the DDA.

The DDA has promised to enlist volunteers and engage stakeholders as they embark on this new task. They are even suggesting the creation of a non-profit so they can solicit donations. Hmm….sounds familiar. It sounds like Old School Square.

All that is fine, but  I also hope they take some time to heal some deep wounds. Reach out to some of the people who loved Old School Square. Reach out to the woman who gave it life: Frances Bourque.

I know that won’t be a popular move with some of the powers that be. So what? It’s the right thing to do.

A warm gesture would be good for the soul.

And what’s good for the soul is good for the town.

True Love Stories Never Have Endings

The American Parkinson Disease Association is holding its annual Optimism Run & Walk Oct. 30 at South County Regional Park in West Boca.

There are certain phone calls you’ll never forget.Phone calls that change your life.Three years ago, I got such a call from my wife Diane.

But first some context.

Diane’s sister Joan had recently passed after a brave and brutal battle with a rare cancer.

Diane and her siblings went to Santa Cruz to spend those last sad days with a sister who had been larger than life. Joan was one of a kind—tough, independent, kind, spirited, smart.Losing her was like losing a limb, she was fundamental to our family dynamics even from her home across the country.When Diane came back she was understandably sad, notably tired and hurting. We all were.Cancer is a frustrating beast. You rally and then you get hit again.

While the impact  is hardest on the patient, the disease hits everyone and it’s path is broad.Still, I sensed something more might have been amiss when Diane returned home. She seemed to be moving a little slower than usual: her gait was off by a hair. But I noticed.Over the ensuing weeks which included holidays, I asked our kids and family to let me know if they thought something was “off” with Diane.Some thought so, others didn’t notice. Like I said, it was subtle.

But I knew something was not quite right, and I asked that she get checked out. She was suffering from pain in a shoulder and weakness on one side, but despite treatment the symptoms persisted.So she went for another opinion. This time, to a neurologist.The diagnosis: Parkinson’s. Just the word takes the air out of you. She could barely get the word out over the phone when she told me.It’s a heavy diagnosis and we were shocked.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disease.

There’s no cure—but there’s hope and Herculean efforts are being made to treat the disease and ultimately find an answer.Until then you do what you can to cope and fight back.You also load up on hope, love, information and support.And here’s where awe takes over.I’m in awe of my wife.

Just when you think you know someone, just when you think you can’t love or respect them more, you find that she possesses whole other reserves of strength, resilience and beauty.It took a few weeks for her “fight” to kick in. A few weeks of emotion and deep depression. I was worried. She didn’t seem up for this challenge. And she said so in worrying terms.But she was processing the news and the impact it would have on our lives.

In an attempt to sort through the noise and anxiety we were experiencing, we reached out to friends who connected us with people they knew who had Parkinson’s. We soaked up as much information as we could find, and came through this process with a strong desire to lean in to our new reality and live with gusto.

The people Diane spoke with were inspirational. Through a friend we connected with a retired airline pilot who was positive and upbeat and living an amazing life. He called Parkinson’s an “inconvenience.”  Diane was taken by his confidence and sense of self. We also spoke to a friend’s aunt who was traveling far and wide—living fully and in the moment. She was encouraging and urged Diane to strive for a full and adventurous life.

These calls helped enormously. I saw a change in Diane. She was processing the news rapidly. Her inner strength, which I have seen before, would be there once more.

But while we were grasping the meaning of this diagnosis, we were also beginning to shift as a family. For us, “someday” had come. Instead of deferring to the future, we would begin to do the things most important to us now.

The takeaway from everyone we spoke too about Parkinson’s was you have to keep moving. The best defense against Parkinson’s was exercise: boxing, spin classes, walking, exercise videos, “Rock Steady” classes anything that keeps you moving and works to keep your balance and strength.In typical fashion, Diane hit it hard. She works out every day—sometimes more than once. She’s in amazing shape.

She also found a wonderful doctor at FAU’s Research Park and has surrounded herself with a community that cheers each other on.To say we’re proud would be an understatement. Those who know and love Diane are in awe.She’s inspiring.

As her husband, I have long been fascinated by the different layers of Diane’s personality. Because she’s shy and reserved, only those closest to her see the depth of her character. But to me, that made uncovering her layers all the more special. She was sharing her professional gifts with the community during her very public career, but I got to see the rest and there was so much more to explore and discover.

To see her resolve kick in, to see her try and find the “gifts” in her diagnosis, gave all of us who adore Diane comfort and hope. This was important, because if you allow yourself you can easily fall down a rabbit hole of despair.

When Diane got the news I had just spoken at the funeral of a beloved Delray icon who suffered for years with Parkinson’s. I saw how this disease can level a strong person. I also thought about Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali, two people with all the resources in the world but still…

But we also learned that we don’t know our exact path. We are going to try and write our own story. We are going to have faith, do what we can and not allow this or anything else to define us.

I drew on those lessons a few months later when I got Covid and thought that I might die.

I was also told that if I lived, I may need supplemental oxygen for the rest of my life. But my doctor, Paige Morris, said “Jeff, let’s write our own story. Let’s try.”And we did.

I can feel the limits of my scarred lungs but I don’t need oxygen. And while I cannot keep up with Diane, who is in great shape, I do try and hang with her when we put on an exercise video.When we went to Maine this summer (because tomorrow is here) we took long walks every morning and I marveled at her stamina.She is doing well. And I love her even more if that’s even possible because she meets life’s challenges with a work ethic and an attitude that inspires all those who know her.

None of us knows what the future holds. Our lives can be changed with a phone call. Ours surely has been.But we move forward. We live. We are thankful and hopeful.

Always hopeful that we can write our own story….

In two weeks, there’s a walk and 5K run for Parkinson’s in West Boca.The event raises money for Parkinson’s research.Here’s a link. https://apdaparkinson.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=998

At last year’s event, Diane and I walked alongside brave families on the same path. The event was emotional for both of us. We saw a lot of brave people. But we didn’t see any broken people. Looking around the park that morning I felt the spirit of a community. I also saw Diane’s doctor, Henry Moore. There he was, early on a Saturday morning greeting his patients with a big smile and a whole lot of warmth. I knew he was the right man for the job. I knew Diane was in good hands.  It was overwhelming and emotional.

Life changing news will do that to you. That’s why it’s life changing news.

But a year later we are strong, happy, healthy, hopeful and grateful for each other, for those who struggle and for those on the front lines seeking answers. Someday we will get there. Until that time, we laugh. We love. We live; a precious day at a time.

“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is love.” – Sophocles

Odds & Ends & Leadership Podcasts

 

A slice of life from Delray-Boca.

News, notes and impressions.

Every now and again, I like to do a round-up.

I hope you enjoy.

Leader Gov

I’m a fan of the Leader Gov podcast, so I was thrilled when my publisher said they were interested in talking to me about my book “Adventures in Local Politics.”Leader Gov co-founder Bill Stark works with local government leaders across the country and understands what it takes to be an effective leader. He’s a wonderful guy and a treasure trove of knowledge.Here’s a link to the podcast. I hope you enjoy it.https://www.leadergov.com/podcast/

If you like the podcast, check out the book (shameless plug) https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Local-Politics-Jeff-Perlman/dp/1736105167/ref=sr_1_1?crid=Y9SKHF377Z61&keywords=jeff+perlman+adventures+in+local+politics&qid=1665404198&qu=eyJxc2MiOiIxLjg1IiwicXNhIjoiMC4wMCIsInFzcCI6IjAuMDAifQ%3D%3D&sprefix=adventures+in+local%2Caps%2C86&sr=8-1

Off the Beaten Path Dining

We are blessed to have a vast array of excellent restaurants to chose from in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.Here’s three you may want to check out.Wood and Fire in west Delray is home to my favorite salad in town aptly named the Delray salad. They also have great margaritas as well.

Fries to Caviar in Boca features an inventive menu, great service and an atmosphere conducive to conversation.There’s no better polenta on the planet and the bar has charm. Finally, we checked out the Palm Trail Grill on Saturday night and loved it.The service was stellar, the food and cocktails delicious and the atmosphere lively. It’s nice to see restaurants “off the ave” doing well.

Amy and Noreen: Delray’s Dream Team

We went to a gathering at the Delray Market last week hosted by Amy Stark Snook and Noreen Payne, the famous Amy and Noreen Team at Lang Realty.

Those two are so special.

The party exuded the warmth and attention to detail that have made them beloved realtors (and people) in town.

There was no specific occasion for the party, just a celebration of their success in a highly competitive market during a crazy time. Amy and Noreen just wanted to say thanks to clients, friends and colleagues.

We were honored to be included and we loved seeing everyone at the event because they were so many people there that make Delray Beach the unique place that it is.

We sometimes lose sight that it’s the people that make a community desirable (or not). The bullies and B.S. get our attention and we need to be vigilant, but it’s the quiet contributors, the good peeps that make a place sing.

Amy and Noreen are incredibly devoted citizens and super nice people. I saw firsthand how clients become friends. It was a powerful and inspiring dynamic to experience.

There are not too many good things in this town that you won’t find this team involved in; from organizations and charities to events and business they touch a lot of lives.

We are lucky to have these two and while they celebrated us (their friends) I couldn’t help but see how much they are appreciated by a grateful community.

Like a Rolling Stone

I just finished the Jann Wenner biography “Like a Rolling Stone.”
It’s a tome, 556 action packed pages of music, politics. history and journalism—the story of our times.

But an absolute thrill ride if you love rock and roll.

From Bono to Bowie, from Bruce to Bon Jovi—the book has it all.

So if you like rock and roll, dig popular culture and want to get the inside scoop on the golden age of magazine journalism this is the book for you.

And at 556 pages plus photos, it will make a good door stop when you finish.

Wenner is a talented writer and there isn’t anyone of cultural consequence since the 60s that he has hasn’t met, written about or partied with.

 

 

 

 

All There Is….

A blessing in my life for 34 years.

My sister Sharon and I lost our mother 24 years ago today.

Twenty-four years is not a landmark anniversary. There’s nothing special about 24 years, other than it feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed.

My mom’s name was Fay. If you Google her, nothing comes up. Google was founded September 4, 1998, almost exactly a month before she died. But even if she lived, it’s doubtful she would have done something that would have made her “internet worthy”. She lived a simple life. A good life.

Sometimes I feel people like my mom get lost. But they lived. And they matter. In my world, and the world of my family, nobody mattered more. She was indispensable.

And then she was gone.

Even now, the permanence stabs at me.

So much has changed.

My mom’s granddaughter Samantha is well into her career as a special education teacher and her two little grandsons will both turn 30 soon. They were little kids when they lost their grandmother. She’s a faint memory for them and that alone is enough to break your heart.

The years pile on, the world moves so fast.

A friend of mine lost a beloved sibling a few years back. She recently marked another year of loss and said that while the lump in her throat is gone, she still grieves— quietly.

I do too.

I think grief is the love you have inside that goes unexpressed. Your loved one is gone but your heart is still full. What do you with all this unexpressed love?

Our mother was 59 years old when she passed away after a brave and brutal 50-week battle with cancer.

I just turned 58. I am deeply aware that I am approaching her lifespan and it’s on my mind.

The age we lost her was front and center in my thoughts during my near fatal bout with Covid in July-August 2020. During my darkest moments—and there were many—I couldn’t help but think: ‘I will be younger than my mom when she passed, and she was so young’. She missed so much.

Happy times, stone washed jeans and Long Island nights.

Lately, I have been dreaming of her. Those dreams come and go. While I think about her every day, I sometimes won’t dream about her for months at a time.

But these days, she’s a frequent presence in my dreams and a recurring one has me sitting in a park trying to explain to her what’s happened to everyone since we said goodbye at Hospice by The Sea in Boca Raton.

Her granddaughter is a devoted teacher. She loves her students, and they love her back. I revel in the stories she tells me about a child who makes progress, overcomes an issue, gains confidence, reaches a goal etc. I couldn’t be prouder.

Her grandson Ben…who was a wild child… “all boy” as they say, grew up to be an accountant. We didn’t see that coming.

Back when my mom was around, we were happy if we returned from the mall without losing him. You’d turn around and he’d be gone. But these days, he’s mature, smart and thoughtful. An old soul. Her other grandson, Andrew, is a Ph.D., candidate in Washington D.C. researching the Holocaust on his way to becoming a professor. He’s a wonderful writer and a traveler too. We didn’t see that coming either.

Had she lived, mom would have added two more grandsons to her brood; my stepsons Alex and Viktor, fine young men who would have enriched her life immeasurably.

My mom never met the love of my life, Diane. She didn’t get to see my dad age gracefully. At 84, he still turns heads and remains my go-to guy for life advice.

So much has changed.

Never miss a chance to dance.

America is a different place. I wish I could say that we are a better, closer country but I can’t.

Delray Beach and South Florida have also changed. Some of the changes are good, some are not so good.

None of it would have mattered much to my mother. She liked it here.

She was happy enjoying the simple things in life with family and friends. If family was around, she was cool. What a great example she was, if only I could follow her lead. If only…

So here we are mom…24 years down the road, 24 years without you.

We are doing well, blessed in so many ways. But there’s still that ache, there are still waves of grief that engulf me. The waves hit when I see Sam smile and see your smile in hers. When I talk to my sister and realize that she has your exact voice and so many of your best qualities.

I now realize that grief is the price we pay for love. And we should be grateful for both because you can’t have one without the other. If you are going to love, you are going to feel loss someday.  It’s a price worth paying. It’s taken me a lifetime to understand that. A lifetime to accept that trade.

For years after losing you, my sadness lurked in the bushes like a stalker. I could be having the best time only to be reminded of your absence and I’d find myself overcome with sadness. When the rainy days would come, as they do for everyone, I’d find myself wishing to be transported back to the days when everyone I loved was still here.

There you are with your friends playing Mah Jongg at the pool club, with grandma and grandpa and nanny speaking Yiddish and sneaking us chocolate kisses. Life seemed infinite. There was so much road ahead of us.

Those days are long gone. The losses pile up, like so many leaves.

But loss serves a purpose as well. The losses make us appreciate the here and now which is really good if we strip away the noise and distractions.

And we realize we carry pieces of those we lost in our hearts and minds—for all of our days.

So much has changed, but that never will. The love we feel endures.

They Rescue Us…

Emmett has been a welcome addition.

Wishing all who celebrate a Happy New Year! Wishing you a sweet year!

For Randy, Teddy, Casey, Sophie, Rusty, Snowball and Tina for rescuing us along the way.

There’s something special about dogs.

If you love dogs you know what I’m talking about.
If you don’t love dogs, well..,,if you don’t mind me saying,  you’re missing out on one of the world’s great pleasures.
Dogs are wonderful.
Dogs are magical.
Dogs are loving and sensitive souls who have a lot to teach us if we let them into our hearts.
We have a new “rescue” dog in our lives. His name is Emmett and he’s cute as a button, tough as nails and full of love.
He’s 12 pounds of personality with an underbite, pointy ears and expressive eyes. He doesn’t walk, he bounces.
As a result of his magical essence, our family is in love. We fell instantly. And it will be forever. Emmett has found his forever home.
Emmett came to us courtesy of Ellie’s Legacy Animal Foundation, a Maine based non-profit that rescues dogs in Texas.
Apparently, there are over 1 million strays in the Lone Star State. But Emmett’s story was a little different. His owners were murdered and while we don’t know the details, he was left alone for several days before he was rescued. He had some skin issues and suffered some trauma but he made it. The little guy has heart.
The non-profit transported Emmett and a few other rescues from Texas to Maine where my wife and stepson were waiting to welcome him to our family.
He made his way to Florida and for the past week or so he has been acclimating to our home in Delray where he has joined his golden retriever friends Gracie (our new year old puppy) and our grand dog Riley also a golden who is staying with us for a few weeks.
Watching this little guy play with the “golden girls” has been a joy. He’s doing great.
He has instantly fallen in love with our family, wrestles with the big dogs and eats like a champ.
He’s a little wary of me, but we are taking it slow and he’s warming up. I’m courting him and that’s OK.
He may be thinking it over, but I’m already in love.
  I have a feeling we are going to be lifelong buddies.
I really like this guy. I like his spirit.

Emmett is at home.

We’ve adopted a bunch of dogs over the years and have loved them all.
Dogs are an awful lot of work, but the rewards are many, varied and well worth it.
There are many local rescues and if you are so inclined I recommend you check them out.
It’s been said that rescue dogs actually rescue us. And I believe that’s true.
Out of a tragedy in Texas, a little guy has come into our lives and our hearts and our lives are a little fuller.
I want to tell Emmett that he’s safe, loved and we have his back—always. But somehow I think he knows. And I hope he knows what joy he has brought to our home.
They rescue us. They truly do.