Father’s Day Vibes

I’m not ready to leave Father’s Day just yet.

So indulge me, if you will.

It’s an important day and deserves more than 24 hours.

Close readers of this blog know of my deep regard for my father.

Simply said, he’s my hero; has been, always will be.

As an avid reader of biography, I’m keenly aware of how lucky I am to have a good father. So many people either don’t have a father or the one that they do have is deeply flawed or in the worst cases abusive or absent.

I may be lacking in lots of areas, but in the dad department I won the lottery.

My dad checks every box:

Good provider, always there for us, good husband to my mother, attentive father, solid, reliable, loving, honest and generous. The list of his positive attributes goes on forever and at age 83 I’m still discovering new traits to admire about my father.

I’m so lucky have him around playing a prominent role in my life and the lives of my children.

As for me, I’m 56, with 35 years of professional experience and at this point a whole lot of life experience too.

So you would think I could go it alone. And the truth is I can.

But why go it alone when you have a dad who is so smart and so pure in his intentions.  He just wants the best for his son and everyone in our family. There’s still not a big decision I would make without his input.  And not because I need his advice but because I want it and because it’s always so good.

Yes, I am a lucky man.

So many of my friends have lost their dads by now. I knew these men and they were good people, so those losses loom large. I think you always need your parents and if they do a good job and impart the right stuff you’ll always be able to summon those lessons even when they’re gone.

In this Covid era, I can’t help but think of all the children who have lost parents to the virus in 2020-21. And obviously it’s not just Covid, but the usual culprits too and the not so usual reasons such as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is too much violence in our world today.

I ache for those experiencing a painful Father’s Day.

So while obvious, it’s important to say it: savor the moments.

The special moments. The ordinary moments. The great conversations and the pedestrian ones as well.

Take long walks.

Meet for lunch and dinner.

Share books and articles and jokes and greeting cards and weekend trips if you are able.

Hit some golf balls. Watch a ball game. And for goodness sakes tell them how you feel.

Don’t leave things unsaid.

Today is a blessing. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

 

Note: Delray Beach lost a wonderful community leader last week. Shirley Israel passed away in Los Angeles where she was living after moving from Delray a few years ago.

She was a long time leader at the Pines of Delray back when western condo presidents wielded a lot of political power in our town.

Shirley was a key advisor to a slew of mayors and commissioners who valued her support, advice and friendship. It was always given generously with the best of intentions for Delray Beach at its heart.

Back in the days when Shirley was out front leading,  the western communities were very active  raising money for charity, supporting police and fire and volunteering for worthy causes and projects.

I miss those days. Those lions and lionesses were never replaced and we are a poorer community as a result.

Once upon a time, we had a whole lot of heartfelt civic engagement. It went beyond complaining on social media and included volunteering for the Citizen Roving Patrols, Community Emergency Response Teams to help out during disasters, fundraising for police and fire and reading to children in our schools.

Shirley was one of those people and she was passionate about Delray and her community at the Pines.

Two quick stories that I will always remember.

The Pines is located across from our wastewater treatment plant. And back in the day, when the wind blew in a certain direction, you could smell that plant from miles away. The odor was especially strong in the Pines of Delray. As city commissioners we had the honor of serving on the board of the plant along with city commissioners from Boynton Beach.

Shirley lobbied us to do something about the odor. Eventually, we did. But to make sure we understood what was at stake she organized a big group to greet us at a board meeting. A few of the people got heated at the meeting and went after the supervisor of the plant who was a wonderful guy but he didn’t like to be pushed. I remember walking into the meeting, wading through the crowd of angry people and catching Shirley’s eye. She smiled, shrugged and winked as if to say “we like you commissioners, but we mean business. Will you help us?”

Of course we will.  And we did.

Later, when Shirley was sworn into another term as president of the Pines she invited me and my colleague Vice Mayor Jon Levinson to the swearing in festivities at Benvenuto restaurant. We went, thinking we would be there for the ceremony, say a quick hello to our friends in the Pines and go back to our busy lives. Well…we spent the whole day dancing, schmoozing and celebrating with a banquet hall full of people who were thrilled to be a part of Delray. How could we leave?

Shirley and her husband Herman kept in touch when we left office with Hanukkah cards and occasional emails. Over time, the cards stopped and my emails to the Israel’s were sent without receiving a reply. I read a few of the emails early this morning. Shirley’s funeral is later today. They were a mix of inquiries about my children and observations about Delray. They were filled with warm sentiment and genuine love for this community.

I don’t how many people are still around who will remember Shirley Israel and the many other leaders who made a big difference in this town.

They supported bond issues to improve older neighborhoods, attended visioning conferences and goal setting sessions, backed good candidates, wore uniforms and patrolled our shopping centers and helped us after so many hurricanes.

I will remember them. Always. Shirley was very, very special.

 

 

 

Making A Dent In The Universe

Coco at the Delray Beach Tennis Stadium.

The New York Times ran a fascinating interview with Martina Navratilova recently.

The tennis hall of famer is 64 now, living in Fort Lauderdale and enjoying life.

Martina was a landmark athlete—she changed both the men’s and women’s games, but she’s also an influential cultural figure paving the way for female athletes while being outspoken on a range of topics ranging from LGBTQ rights to animal welfare and a lot in between.

Martina matters.

Like Billie Jean King, Jim Brown, LeBron James and Muhammad Ali, Martina is an athlete who transcended sport to leave a large mark on the world.

Those of us who live in Delray Beach and love tennis have been following Coco Gauff’s burgeoning career and wondering whether she will follow in those large footsteps.

There is no doubt that she is a special talent.

Her results as a teenager have been astonishing. Like other greats, she shows no fear on the court and actually seems to thrive on pressure.

But there’s something else about her that shines through—at least to me anyway. She seems to understand that she has power off the court, and she seems intent on using that power to make a difference.

We saw it when she spoke out at a local Black Lives Matter protest in Delray Beach shortly after the murder of George Floyd. And we saw it last week when she made a generous donation to the Achievement Centers for Children and Families in Delray Beach.

Teaming up with Microsoft, Coco is helping to refresh the main computer lab and build two additional labs at the Achievement Center, a wonderful non-profit that has served this community’s most vulnerable children for over 50 years.

Here’s what the Achievement Center had to say in making the announcement:

“As a professional tennis player and full-time remote student, Coco Gauff saw firsthand the ways that technology could benefit education. While completing classes alongside her rigorous training schedule, she was inspired to provide some of the same tools to students in Delray Beach, where she and her parents grew up.

“This community has given me a lot, so it’s definitely important to give back,” she said

Coco thrilled the kids at the center recently with a virtual appearance and coaching session.

Due to COVID-19 limitations, Coco used Microsoft Teams to surprise the kids. During the event, Coco helped students complete a coding workshop, where they learned about game design. The kids were also able to ask Coco questions  including how she became a professional tennis player and what her favorite subject is in school.

 

“Maybe this can give a kid the opportunity to find their own passions,” Coco said before offering advice to the students. “Make your dreams as big as possible, because you never know how far they will go.”

 

It’s hard to quantify how important it is for our children to see someone from their community succeed on a worldwide stage. Children need to be encouraged to dream big and they need to be given the tools necessary to achieve those dreams.

The Achievement Centers for Children and Families is a model non-profit that has done just that for half a century and in process the organization has done a lot to break the cycle of poverty.

To see Coco giving back is not a surprise to me.

While I don’t know Coco, I do know her family.

Her grandmother, Yvonne Odom, is one of my heroes, her grandfather Red is a wonderful man who has coached generations of local kids and her parents Candi and Corey are really special and caring people. The Gauff/Odom family are committed to Delray Beach, especially our children.

Coco had a big week professionally reaching the quarterfinals at the French Open, one of the the cathedrals of the sport. She’s still only 17 years old. She has a game as big as any prospect since the Williams sisters, who also have ties to Delray Beach.

But beyond sports, she seems to be a young woman of compassion and substance. She has a platform, and she appears willing and able to use it—like Martina, Billie Jean, Venus and Serena before her.

Coco’s grandmother Yvonne was a groundbreaker in her day too. Fifty years ago this September she became the first Black to attend Seacrest High which later  became Atlantic High. Three years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 7 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, Yvonne Lee Odom integrated Delray’s high school. To this day, she remains brave, outspoken and respected. She’s a treasure.

I have a feeling her granddaughter is going to leave a mark far, far beyond tennis. She sure has had some great role models.

 

Big Dreams & Big Bets

The Delray Beach Market

The Delray Beach Market is the talk of the town.

As well it should be.

At 150,000 square feet, the market is said to be the largest food hall in Florida.

It’s big, bold and brave.

It also represents a colossal investment in the future of Delray Beach so it’s audacious too. I like the audacious part. We cheer big, bold and brave bets on this blog. Small bets too. We like people who try. It’s the risk takers who leave a legacy.

Basically, the market is a food incubator enabling chef/entrepreneurs to pioneer concepts at what’s probably a reasonable cost of entry.

Downtown Delray Beach has become a foodie haven but with that success, the barrier to entry has gotten very expensive. Rents of $100 a square foot are common, build out costs can be exorbitant and competition is fierce. Atlantic Avenue has become its own ecosystem with eye popping statistics accompanying the buzz. Hand’s Stationers just sold for a whopping $1,100 a foot. That’s an astonishing number especially considering the limitations of what you can and can’t do with a building in the downtown. Let’s just say you’d have to sell an awful lot of number two pencils to make those numbers work.

Meanwhile, the new food hall allows entrepreneurs to get into business for much less than the cost of opening a full-service restaurant. It also enables them to gain exposure to the hordes of people flocking downtown these days without having to consult the Forbes Billionaires List to find investors.

I’m sure the model hopes for the vendor’s to succeed so that they can launch traditional restaurants and allow for other fresh concepts to come into the market.

We went to the grand opening party a few weeks back and couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t floored by the sheer scale of the ambition behind this project. It’s a big bet.

Subsequently, I’ve heard a range of opinions (mostly positive) but a few who are questioning how or whether this $60 million investment will work. Speculating on a business model is above my pay grade. I’ve been involved with can’t miss deals that fizzled and have also been involved with impossible dreams that turned into wild success stories including one multibillion dollar brand (Celsius) that was left for dead on several occasions and now has a market cap of $5 billion plus. Go figure.

Personally, I wouldn’t bet against Craig Menin—the developer behind the market and several other huge bets in Delray Beach including the Ray Hotel and The Linton. There’s a strategy unfolding here and it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a little time with Mr. Menin and he’s a fascinating man. A visionary with a lot of courage.

My advice is to never bet against the innovators. Not every bet lands you in the winner’s circle and you have to have the cash to play, but the big winners in business are those who find the courage to roll the dice and think big.

What I’m seeing is a company that believes in distinctive architecture, luxury amenities and the power of food and beverage to drive value and community.

Anyway, we sure have seen a lot in Delray over the years.

Leaving the party that Friday night, I found myself experiencing a bunch of different emotions.

I thought about how much we have changed since I came to Delray in the summer of ’87.

I thought about how when we did the Downtown Master Plan in 2001, we were dreaming big. Those dreams matched or maybe even exceeded the ambitions that were attached to Visions 2000, the landmark charrette process that led to the Decade of Excellence in the 1990s. Yes, my friends, we were swinging for the fences.

Back then, we were trying to get on the map and build something sustainable—something of value.

We can and we do argue over whether what’s happened here has been good or bad. And I can argue and empathize with both sides of the growth/change divide.

But…here’s one thing I think is immutable. Change is a constant. It’s inevitable.

We can and have sought to “shape” the growth with height limits and other tools designed to maintain our scale.

Despite the rhetoric of the last election cycle, we will never be another Fort Lauderdale. We won’t even be another Boynton Beach. Both cities —and Boca too— allow much taller buildings. We will always be a three and four story town.

But I can see why some people lament the congestion and activity and what they see as the loss of the laid back “village by the sea” aesthetic, although I would argue that you can still find quiet places to enjoy.

I can also see why others are cheering what’s happening.

They like the activity.

They appreciation the vibrancy and they benefit from the value being created.

If you own a home in east Delray, your property values—often a family’s largest asset—have appreciated substantially since the days when downtown Delray was rife with vacancies. If we lived adjacent to a dead and decaying downtown, it’s doubtful we would be seeing the real estate prices we are seeing.

I get it, it doesn’t matter unless you’re selling and it stinks if you want to buy in at this high level, but I think increasing values sure beats the alternative.

Choices.

Change.

The march of time….

Cities evolve.

We can and should do our best to shape that change—incentivize behaviors we want to see, restrict those we don’t wish to experience.

But market and societal forces are strong and it might be better to recognize that and adjust accordingly. It makes for a happier village and it also enables us to exert more control.

Change is going to happen. We are going to like some things and not like others.

You can’t shape what you don’t understand. You have a shot if you meet the world where it’s heading.

 

 

Oldies But Goodies

Phil Mickelson, a champion at 50.

Let’s hear it for the old folks.

Maybe they’re not so old after all.

Or maybe age and experience is an advantage and not a liability.

Look no further than Phil Mickelson who just won the 103rd PGA Championship at the ripe age of 50. Or Tom Brady who won yet another Super Bowl at the age of 44.

Or President Biden who became leader of the free world at age 78.

Other examples abound in every field you can imagine: Dr. Tony Fauci is 80 and has been at the forefront of the fight against Covid, Queen Elizabeth is still reigning at age 95 and Warren Buffett remains an investing legend at 90. His partner, Charlie Munger, is 97 and still at it.

I have a rooting interest in the continuing viability of the older set. I’ll be 57 in August. Granted that’s a long way from 90 but it’s comforting to know that there’s life after a certain age.

I have found the 50s to be a poignant decade.

In many ways we are better than ever. We’ve got patience, experience, history, perspective and savvy that can only come with age and hard won experience.

We’ve also got more than a few miles on us so we are a wee bit tired at times and we know how fast time passes. We’ll blink and be 80 if we’re fortunate to survive. And that’s the poignant part.

Just when we get good, we get old.

But the Mickelson’s and the Brady’s of the world inspire us. It’s getting dark, but it ain’t over yet as the song says.

Still despite these inspiring examples we are very much a youth obsessed culture.

We adore the prodigy, laud the next big thing and remain obsessed with appearing youthful.

But I’m finding the seasoned players in this world have a lot to give and even more to impart.

I think we “old timers” can learn a thing or two from Phil and other folks who are crushing it as they age.

The first lesson is we can stay in the game if we choose. We might have to compensate for being a step slower than we used to be. We might not hit the ball as far as the youngsters or zip a football with the same velocity, but we’ve experienced a whole lot and that’s an advantage.

We can take comfort in the fact that we’ve seen most situations before and we know how to make the odds work for us.

It’s called being seasoned.

If you are a smart young person, you should seek out the elders in your community. You should hear their stories, soak up their experiences and listen to the wisdom you are assured of receiving if you just take the time to ask some simple questions.

What was it like?

Why did you make the decisions you made?

What did you learn? How did you get past your mistakes?

How did you run your company, build your business, raise your family, serve your community?

There is so much to learn. The best school there is right in front of us. All we have to do is ask others to share.

Whatever success I’ve had in anything I’ve ever done—-business, politics, love and family life is a direct result of asking for advice from people I’ve admired. Most of them were my elders. My grandparents, my parents.

At Delray City Hall, I was mentored by an extraordinary array of department heads and staff who took the time to explain issues to me, teach me about urban planning, police work, the work of the fire department and how municipal law and redevelopment can be applied to build something special.

After a while you leave– in my case due to term limits—but I never left those relationships behind. I treasure them and regularly draw on the lessons I learned.

But as magical as those teachers were, I learned just as much from some predecessors who served on the City Commission and a bunch more from a slew of community leaders who built this city. From Old School Square and Pineapple Grove to the Spady Museum and local schools these special people did special things. They made a lasting difference and left us lessons— but only if we choose to look and to ask for guidance.

The same lessons apply in business which is changing so fast that it can feel overwhelming to keep up with technology and trends. But there are fundamentals that never change: how you treat partners. employees, customers and the communities in which you work. The seasoned veterans have learned these lessons and I have found that most are happy to share if you take the time to ask for advice.

In business, I have been so fortunate to learn from a series of older mentors including one gentleman who has helped to build two multi billion dollar companies.

Recently, a friend told me about the Halftime Institute, a non-profit built on a belief that the second half of life can be better than the first. I plan to explore a few of their programs and read their literature.

Yes, life in your 50s and beyond can be both meaningful and fun.

Sure those knees creak, that back aches and your hair may be gone (on your head at least) but there’s life in those bones and wisdom too. There’s also time to grab a few more brass rings (or Super Bowl rings). Thanks Mr. Mickelson for reminding us.

 

 

 

 

 

More Than Margaritaville

 

Miami and South Florida have been the talk of the tech world in recent months.

While high taxes and a panoply of problems plague tech hubs such as San Francisco, New York and Boston; low tax, great weather South Florida seems to be on every tech titan’s radar.

It’s a great story driven by the media, economic development professionals and Miami’s tech friendly Mayor Francis X. Suarez who is using Twitter to court Silicon Valley CEOS.

Star venture capitalists, billionaire financiers  and tech CEOS are coming to the Magic City and the Sunshine State and that’s a good thing. We need to diversify beyond tourism, paving the Ag Reserve and serving as a retirement haven.

But not everyone is on the Miami/South Florida bandwagon and there are some headwinds to overcome as well.

One of the doubters is influential blogger Tyler Cowen.

Cowen is an economist.

He is also a professor at George Mason University, where he holds the Holbert L. Harris chair in the economics department. So he’s got credibility.

But a large part of his influence stems from his blog “Marginal Revolution” which is eagerly followed by a lot of deep thinkers in the business and tech worlds.

Here’s what Professor Cowen had to say recently on his blog about Florida.

“In Miami and Miami Beach I had a wonderful time. But I don’t see the area as a new and budding tech center. Many tech entrepreneurs moved there during earlier phases of the pandemic, but many have since left. Perhaps the region is more of a place to spend tech money than to earn tech money.

 

The positives for southern Florida are clear: It is a major crossroads with significant connections to Latin America and the Caribbean, it is a fun place to live, Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez is pro-tech, and there is no state income tax.

 

Yet that is not enough. Miami does not have a top-tier university, and the city does not have much of what I would call “nerd culture.” The city’s first language is arguably Spanish, but the tech world is mostly English, and its current ties to Asia are more important than possible future connections to Latin America.

 

Renowned venture capitalist Keith Rabois is in Miami and is a staunch advocate for the city. It would not be surprising if Miami developed a few significant tech companies due to his influence. Miami could also become more of a center for crypto wealth. If you’ve earned a billion dollars through Bitcoin, and live part of the year in Puerto Rico to avoid capital gains taxes, is there anywhere better to hang out and spend your wealth than Miami?

 

All that said, I do not see Miami as a serious contender to be a major tech center.”

Ouch!

First, the University of Miami may take exception to not being considered  a “top-tier” institution. A few other local universities may also be chafed as well. Yes Dr. Cowen is right—we don’t have Stanford but we do have several institutions that are rapidly gaining steam and prestige. FAU has made strides, Lynn University is renowned for being innovative, Nova Southeastern is doing some cool things and so is FIU.

We are getting there—fast.

We have some terrific—although in the case of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County underfunded—economic development organizations that consistently punch above their weight and some local Eco Dev rock stars such as Boca’s Jessica Del Vecchio. I’m also pleased that Delray finally hired an economic development director—it’s needed and long overdue. Let’s hope the office gets some adequate resources and freedom to innovate.

In addition, Florida has some great CRA’s—if local and state politicians would give them some room to do their thing— which is build great places that attract investment.

But there are headwinds too.

At a recent meeting of economic stakeholders in Palm Beach County, there was good news and challenging news as well.

Here’s a summary of a recent Economic Forum call:

According to Kelly Smallridge, President and CEO of the Business Development Board of PBC:

  • A Task Force at the BDB asks the question “Are We Ready” with respect to infrastructure – not only physical infrastructure, but also support systems for employees.
  • The BDB is finding that there are no homes available for mid-level managers or support staff.
  • There are no openings in private schools.
  • The Task Force will make a presentation to the County Commissioners in the near future to outline the opportunities and the challenges facing the county.

 

Development Trends:

  • Many of the office buildings in West Palm Beach are fully leased. (Can this be true? If so, bravo considering Covid etc.)
  • Developers are snapping up infill property in the downtown core.
  • Zoning changes are needed to support quality infill development.
  • There are difficulties in obtaining building permits— especially in the county. There are quite a number of open positions in this department. Palm Beach Gardens and Boca seem to have zoning down “perfectly” according to the participants on the forum.

 

From our friends at the Housing Leadership Council:

 

  • There is a need to change the zoning for the old one story shopping centers on Congress Avenue and Military Trail and re-zone for multi-story housing.
  • The Council is trying to get a study done on this concept.
  • They are also working on a $200 million Housing Bond. The business community needs to come out in favor of this.

 

So as you can see there are opportunities and challenges.

As for me, for what it’s worth, I’m bullish.

A friend of mine is wired into Silicon Valley’s tech scene and he says the valley’s supremacy is here to stay. I agree.

But he also says that world class venture capitalists are finding their way to South Florida. That’s a great sign for the future.

As for talent– remote work and technology will enable Florida based companies to attract engineers from the region and all over the world. Many of the most gifted founders will end up living here at least for part of the year. My guess is that Boca and Delray will snag their fair share of the next generation’s stars if they put out a welcome mat.

The lifestyle is too good, the value proposition too compelling.

Are we ready?
We need to be because the switched on cities in the region will find the next decade to be a golden age. The places who can solve the problems of housing and schools will win. The places that don’t will be left in the dust.

 

 

 

Old Friends…

Old friends sit on the park bench like bookends.

What a slog we’ve been through.

What an exhausting and scary experience Covid has been for all of us.

Worldwide more than 3.2 million people have died from the virus and that number is likely an undercount. We have lost almost 600,000 Americans and despite a light at the end of the tunnel we are not out of the woods yet… but we can see the light that leads to normal.

Still, I don’t see us ever forgetting this experience. The pandemic has changed us—I’m hoping for the better.

Lately, I have been having some “Covid dreams”—it’s a phenomenon that I have read a few articles about. Some therapists call it a form of PTSD, others say it is how we humans process what we’ve been through. I don’t know what to call it, but for me the dreams are vivid and frequent.

I’m often trapped in a room, or a box with blank walls. In my dreams, I call out but no one hears me. I’m alone.

The other day, I  dreamt I was in a room filling with water chasing after a piece of paper. I’m not sure what the paper represents or what was on it but I just couldn’t get it. When I would get close, it would slosh away on a wave.

Like I mentioned before, I’m not alone in the crazy dream business.

A change in dreams due to a crisis is very common, says Deirdre Barrett, a dream researcher and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard. When we’re in a dream state, the brain is processing the same things we think about during the day. But when we’re asleep, the parts of our brain that handle logic and speech are damped down. The parts that handle visuals, however, are ramped up.

 

Barrett has been collecting dreams from people all over the world since the start of the pandemic. She says common dream themes range from actually getting the virus to natural disasters and bug attacks. Healthcare workers have regularly reported the highest level of stressful COVID-19 dreams, according to her data.

 

“The typical dream from the healthcare workers is really a full-on nightmare,” Barrett told “Science Friday” recently. “Just as bad as you’d see in war zones.”

Barrett has a new book out called “Pandemic Dreams.” I read a few excerpts online and some of the dreams she shares are jarring.

I have a feeling we will be dealing with the psychological, physical, economic and emotional side effects of this pandemic for the foreseeable future. If you are someone struggling, please know you are not alone and it’s OK to reach out for help.

If I may, here’s what has worked for me.

A dash of music, a dollop of comedy and a big heaping serving of family and friends.

For me, it’s just that simple.

Music is a tonic, comedy is medicine and friends and family are good for the soul.

Admittedly, it sounds trite and simple and in the Covid era, its been hard to see people in person.  But that’s changing.  If we’re vaccinated, it’s safe for us to get out and “see the world.” (Great song by Brett Dennen by the way).

Luckily, thanks to medical science, things are opening up quite a bit and thankfully technology has been there to fill in some gaps.

Readers of this blog know that I have a group of childhood friends who gather via Zoom every other week to reminisce about the glory days, joke around and talk about the issue du jour.

These calls have been a lifeline for all of us during this strange time.

I’ve known some of these guys for 50 years—we went through school together, knew each other’s parents and grandparents, our siblings, childhood homes, first cars, first girlfriends, favorite teachers etc.

We played ball together, went to each other’s Bar Mitzvahs and weddings and were there through the good times and the bad. And there’s been plenty of both. That’s just the way it goes.

Every one of us has had a pretty nice life—we enjoy the love of good women, have great kids and tons of life experience. But we’ve had our struggles too—career crises, financial highs and lows and health challenges too.

But through it all– through the decades, the distance and the din of life—we’ve managed to stay together or find each other again and again.

We used to see each other every single day and that is where the bonds were forged—in school, at a summer pool club, on long summer nights spent driving to nowhere special. It was enough in those days just to be together and as a result develop a shorthand that in our case has lasted a lifetime.

Over the summer, when I thought Covid would mark the end of my story, I thought about these guys and some of my newer friends that I’ve also grown very close too. I thought how friendship is one of life’s greatest gifts and how I wasn’t ready to say goodbye and how sad it was for those who tragically couldn’t beat this damn virus.

When we pass, a whole world dies with us—but some of that world lives on in the hearts and minds of those we leave behind.

Still, as  I reflect back on the year or so of Covid, I can’t help but also think about the positives.

I’ve been surrounded by love, concern and friendship. My wife and I have grown closer, I feel closer to my children, my sister, in-laws and my dad and his wonderful girlfriend. What a gift.

What an amazing gift we’ve been given—another day.

And then there’s the friendships. The new ones and the old ones.

That every other week Zoom call is a real highlight—a precious gift because it connects me to a group of guys who are my brothers. We fill the gaps in each other’s memories, support each other in our current ventures and know that we will always be there for each other. We also laugh. A lot. Its been good for the soul.

I have a great set of local friends too—and I really wish there was a way these groups could meet because I know they would hit it off instantly.

Maybe someday they will—like the old Simon & Garfunkel song “Bookends”—on some park bench somewhere.

Someday….

Until then, the old friends plan to meet via Zoom and my local buddies will gather at some of our favorite watering holes. Now that we are vaccinated we are beginning to feel safer.

Meanwhile, we have been forever influenced by our pandemic experience.

The other week, after another particularly vivid dream, I woke up with a phrase on my mind: “love is the prize.” Four simple words—corny I know.

But I’ve been thinking about those words a lot.

We live in an area that has great wealth and great poverty. In Delray, where I live, we are America in 16 square miles. In Boca, where I work, I see a whole lot of bling and pristine beauty. We live in paradise—we truly do.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the craziness. I do all the time—until I’m grounded by a friend, a circumstance, my lovely wife or a situation at work and then I realize that love is the prize. I never had the words until that dream. Now I do.

Love is the prize.

I’ve found it.

I hope you do too.

Starry Starry Night

Vincent

“Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.” Don McLean

Awash in color, surrounded by music and lost in beauty I had a thought.

Art endures. (Yes, I know that’s not original).
A lot of other things fade over time but great art lasts forever.
That was the takeaway after attending “Beyond Van Gogh” at the Ice Palace in Miami.
It’s a hot ticket and for good reason. The exhibit is spectacular, moving and technologically impressive.
The exhibit runs through July. If you can swing it, I highly recommend you check it out.
The exhibit celebrates the life and works of Vincent Van Gogh, spotlighting not only his art, but also his struggles and his close relationship with his brother Theo.
It’s all uniquely presented, an immersive experience that is hard to describe. Let’s just say it’s quite a spectacle. You are placed “in” the art and the results are powerful. It’s worth the crazy drive to Miami.
There are lots of lessons in the life and in the art of Van Gogh.
Despite becoming one of the most influential artists in history Van Gogh was not commercially successful, and his suicide at 37 came after years of mental illness, depression and poverty.
And yet there is something powerful and exuberant in his paintings.  
Van Gogh failed at other careers including an attempt at being a preacher and while productive as an artist he just couldn’t quite make it either financially or commercially. 
He did however, have a great relationship with his younger brother Theo. The two exchanged heartfelt letters for years and they are a treasure,
In fact, the letters are a big part of the exhibit and shed light on their loyalty to each other and their philosophy on art and beauty. 
Theo was an  art dealer and his unfailing financial and emotional support allowed his brother to devote himself entirely to painting. Theo died at the age of 33, six months after his brother died at the age of 37.
One of the causes listed for his death was sadness. He kept everything his older brother sent to him, Vincent did not.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Vincent since seeing the exhibit. Been reading about him as well. 
I’ve also been mulling over the meaning of art in our lives. 
We are big music fans in our home and I’m constantly seeking out songs to sort through emotions that I experience. 
As a child of the 70s, I gravitate to rock music and count myself lucky to have lived in an era of so many great musical artists whose gifts have become the soundtrack to our lives. 
Along the way, I’ve found so many songs that have gotten me through the joys and sorrows of life. If you want to dance, cry, mourn, think, feel heartache, feel alive or smile there’s a library of great music to live by. 
Seeing the work of Van Gogh makes me hungry to explore the visual arts. Because standing in the exhibit surrounded by LED lights and digital recreations of his art, we felt moved deep inside. 
The issues of the day come and go or come and stay but great art goes deeper. Much deeper to the best parts of ourselves, where the good stuff, the real stuff exists. 
If we’re lucky, we find artists who speak to our condition; who touch our souls and express who we truly are as people. 
That’s why art endures and the rest of the stuff we deal with is ephemeral. 
We need art. It’s that simple. It’s just that beautiful.

20 Years Down The Road….

The 2001 Delray Beach All America City contingent. A quilt entitled “A Patchwork of Pride” accompanied the group which was ably led by Joe Gillie.

It’s been 20 years since Delray Beach won its second All America City Award in 2001.

It was a big deal back then.

More than 100 people made the trip from Delray Beach to Atlanta to attend a three day competition which included presentations from 30 really cool cities from across the country.

I was reminded of that magical time last week when we sat down to watch a new documentary on HBO entitled “Our Towns”—which is based on the wonderful book by James and Deborah Fallows who crisscrossed America in a small plane to learn and then share the stories of cities that rarely if ever make the news.

It’s a heartwarming documentary at a time when we need a reminder that there are places in this world and in this country that are working. There are still communities that share, care and dare to do big things—or little things together.

If you watch the documentary or read the book, you’ll want to visit Eastport, Maine, Redlands, California, Bend, Oregon and Charleston, West Virginia.

Five years ago, the Fallows who are accomplished journalists, put a call out to their readers: tell us about your towns. The responses poured in.

The writers had a hunch that beneath the headlines of division and strife that somewhere in America things were working, problems were being solved, opportunities were being created and hope was being rewarded. They were right.

They learned that developing a sense of community and a common language of change can help people and towns find a different path to a better future.

Along the way, we meet people tackling racial division, homelessness, polarization and economic despair by employing a can-do collaborative spirit.

And I thought, these are the traits celebrated by the All America City Award.

Over the years, the award itself has changed and is now focused on education. But back in 1993, when Delray won its first award and 20 years ago when it won its second before becoming the first city to win three awards with another win in 2017, the All America City Award took a broader look; education was still a component, but so was how communities worked to enhance their youth and senior populations among other topics.

In 2001, Delray Beach won the award by spotlighting three programs.

The Youth Enrichment Vocational Program provided high-risk youth between the ages of 14 and 23 with opportunities to learn job skills. The program was founded by Officer Johnny Pun and Community Service Officer Fred Glass. It was a bold and ambitious effort that led to the Delray Beach Police Department becoming the first PD in Florida to charter a school.

Community Neighbors Helping helped minority senior citizens living in one of the city’s poorest areas to improve their health, receive services and meet people outside their established environment. Finally, the city, in conjunction with the school district and community, had developed The Village Academy, a public school regulated by members of the community instead of a school board. The vision was to address the needs of at-risk elementary students living in low-income neighborhoods. This too was a bold and ambitious vision and was spearheaded by a community planning process known as the Southwest Plan.

Today, a mere 20 years later, only The Village Academy remains.

The charter school had a nice run before finally closing its doors. Johnny Pun, the energetic young officer, who dreamed of teaching kids to fix cars instead of stealing them died tragically in a motorcycle crash. Those who knew and loved Johnny —and if you knew Johnny you loved him— will never forget where they were when they received word of his accident. His bright light went out without warning. Some losses are just incalculable. I remember hearing the news and being unable to catch my breath. How can someone so alive be gone from us and his family forever? His loss leveled so many.

I’m not sure what happened with Community Neighbors Helping or its founder Edith Thompson, who was a full-time postal worker who spent her off hours tending to her neighbors. I remember Edith going to a local Publix to collect bread which she would give out to people who stopped by the National Church of God on Southwest 13th Street every morning. That initial effort grew to more than 20 local churches and senior centers.

Running a non-profit on a shoe string while working full time and raising three children is almost impossible to fathom.

I searched for Ms. Thompson and found her on Facebook. I’m not sure what happened to Community Neighbors Helping.  The last news story was written 19 years ago. Efforts and people come and go. That’s life I suppose.

The world is a constant whirlwind of change. People and efforts can be lasting or ephemeral, but they all matter.

The stories in “Our Towns” and in Our Town matter too.

We tend to get wound up about the latest project or passing controversy and I get it. Change can be difficult. It’s also a constant.

But these other efforts matter too. They are often lost and forgotten and that’s not good and it’s not healthy.

It can be easy to forget that communities can work.

America is not just talking heads screaming at each other on cable news or blowhard politicians pandering to the base.

Its neighbors taking bread to church so the hungry can have something to eat. Its officers looking at crime stats and saying there’s got to be a better way than just making arrests and throwing away the key.

It’s a community gathering in a A/C deprived church and dreaming of a different kind of school and making it happen.

That’s America. That’s also the real Delray.

So if you ask me what I miss, it’s not necessarily the old-time businesses that sometimes close—that happens. Although, I wish I could have one more breakfast at the counter of Ken and Hazel’s. I also wish I could go inside Boston’s on The Beach and be greeted by my friend Perry just one more time.

What I miss are the special people, the can-do spirit and the community based efforts that made me and so many others fall in love with Delray.

I miss the sense of community and of possibility—the belief that every year would be better than the last. For years and years that’s how it went.

The progress you see today has its roots in those special days. The problems you see today are because we have strayed from the formula that made this place so special.

The ingredients were simple:

Put Delray first.

Take your ego elsewhere.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Don’t be afraid to say yes, to seek out new voices and to try. That spirit gave us Old School Square, a revitalized downtown, historic districts, new schools and some cool special events.

Somewhere beneath the vitriol and division, that heart still beats.

It’s the part of our DNA we would be wise to rediscover. Until then, let’s find the magic wherever we can. And let’s separate the signal from the noise—don’t let the naysayers get you down.

I’m reminded of the old song That’s life.

“And as funny as it may seem some people get their kicks

stomping on a dream.  But I don’t let it, let it get me down

Cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin’ around.”

Yes it does. Thank goodness.

 

I wanted to note the loss of two very special people in recent weeks.

Dr. Henrietta Smith passed April 21. She was 98 and extraordinary.
Dr. Smith was an educator, librarian and storyteller. She edited four editions of the Coretta Scott King Award Collection published by the American Library Association. She won the 2011 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement for her body of work and lasting literary contributions.

She taught at FAU and later became the first Black professor at USF in Tampa. In 2006, at age 84, she accompanied a medical team on a trip down the Amazon River telling stories to the children in the small villages they visited. Like I said, she was something.

She was also the mother of retired Delray Police Officer Robin Smith, who had a fine career in our city.

We’d see Dr. Smith around town over the years at community events and she was always kind, gracious and understated. She will be missed and always remembered. A true legend.

We also lost Ben Ruby on April 25.

Ben was a wonderful man.

 Ben was married to Susan Ruby our terrific former City Attorney. I got to know Ben over the years and he was always great to talk to.

Just a nice man, with a great sense of humor and an unforgettable smile. He and Susan were married for 55 years and set a standard for us all. This was a love affair for the ages and it was great to be a witness to it.

Five years ago, we were blessed to attend a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for Ben and Susan. We were so fortunate to share in a celebration of a special marriage. It takes a lot for the spouse of a public servant to loan their loved ones to the cause of bettering the community. During late night commission meetings I would often look at Susan and think of Ben waiting for her at home.

Ben was a smart man and an accomplished technologist for DHL and the Miami Herald. He was active in the Sunrise Kiwanis Club in Delray Beach and an all-around good guy. He and Susan (whom I adore) are in our prayers.

 

Imagining A New World And The Good Stuff We Leave Behind

Remote work has the potential to upend our work lives forever.

Have you noticed how fast the world moves these days?

Big changes can creep up on you, at first you may hardly notice than all it once the ground shifts and an era is gone.

When I was a kid growing up in 1970s Long Island, malls were all the rage. It’s where we hung out week after week. There was a food court, a Herman’s Sporting Goods Store, a Walden Books, a movie theater and a Spencer’s Gifts. That’s pretty much all we needed unless there was an event that required some new duds—then we moseyed over to Chess King where the polyester flowed like Niagara Falls.

The mall, the neighborhood and school were our world.

My friends all lived within a few miles of each other. I really didn’t know too many people who weren’t from the Tri-State area. Most of our parents were born, raised and lived within the confines of the Island, Westchester, New Jersey and the five boroughs. When a kid from Pennsylvania moved into the neighborhood he seemed exotic. When a family from Oregon moved down the block we lined up to take a look—the Pacific Northwest might as well have been Timbuktu.

 

Today, that’s very different.

Thanks to tech and apps like Tik Tok, our children have friends all over the country and the world. “Friend” of course is a relative term. While my friendships were forged because of proximity and relied on me seeing my buddies every day at school, today young people may never be in the same room with their best friends. They chat, text and play video games with people from all over the world.

It happened slowly and then all it once.

As we begin to see the world post-Covid (we are still very much immersed in the virus and need to be vigilant) what might the world have in store for us?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the fate of retail and office—two big players in our physical world.

Changes in consumer behavior that seemed relatively marginal and slow-moving undermined the value of retail real estate very quickly in the U.S., especially the once beloved shopping mall. Experts believe  the same potential for disruption exists in the office sector, with changes in human behavior being massively accelerated by Covid-19.

I recently read an interview on an influential real estate blog that painted an interesting picture. Here’s what one British expert had to say.

“Offices are not dead; they are very much alive,” RealCorp Capital founder Chris Kanwei said. “But a word of caution I would sound: For most of us, we tend to look at how offices will work in the future from the perspective of our own orientation. An example, if you take UK shopping centers and look back a few years to 2006, shopping centers and retail parks were a huge deal, they were springing up left, right and center. But just on the sidelines there was Amazon. And no one figured out in 2006 where Amazon would be today, and where shopping centers would be. It is just that sort of parallel you have to look at.”

 

Kanwei said part of the inability of retail real estate to see change coming is because a group of people with very similar backgrounds and experience could not envision a future that might be radically different from their own past.

 

“There were arguments put up by mostly middle-aged people at the time: You will always love the shopping center experience, you will always want to go there with your family or your friends on the weekend. And it was a great argument, but it was being made by people to other people who saw life the same way, who had the same future aspirations.”

 

There is the potential for the same thing to happen in the office sector: an expectation that the behavior of future generations will essentially be the same as what has gone before. While the difference might not be as extreme as changes to shopping patterns, they have the possibility nonetheless to drastically alter real estate usage and value.

 

“We have a generation coming up now who are not seeing life the same way,” Kanwei said. “They are not always as interested in going out and playing with their friends. They making friends online in South America, in Russia, in Africa, playing chess games online and interacting. That is the trend: We see more and more people not wanting to engage with other humans directly. Humans collaborating will never be taken away. But we have to understand that there is a generation coming through that won’t just engage in the same way we did. This same generation will be moving in to the offices of the future, and will look to engage differently, and could see the office structure of today as archaic — why would you want to bring all of these people in to the office? And that might well change the outlook people have on offices, in the same way it has in retail. I’m not calling an apocalypse for the office. But if you are investing for the long term, you have to bear in mind, your office investment may have been worth £200M, but down the line it may be worth £5M, as we have seen with shopping centers.”

Yikes.

Still, that scenario is entirely possible.

My 28-year-old son works for a large publicly traded corporation with offices in Palm Beach County. He got the job during Covid, which means he has never worked in the home office. Instead, he’s working out of his living room and thinking of finding bigger digs because his remote working arrangement may prove permanent. He also realizes that he can live anywhere and dial into the office.

He doesn’t seem bothered at all by the situation. As his boomer dad, I can see his point but wonder if he will miss out on the camaraderie, friendship and esprit de corps of working side by side with co-workers instead of screen by screen.

I happen to like the office.

I’ve worked in newsrooms (which are the best)—chock full of characters working on interesting stories and more “corporate” environments where I was able to make some lasting friendships.

As someone who values collaboration and who always has lots of questions for my colleagues the idea of working remotely forever doesn’t appeal to me.

I like the collision of ideas, the rhythm of the day, the ‘hey what are we doing for lunch’ routine that makes the day fly by.

As Seth Godin says: “The optimism and possibility that come from training and learning in groups is a miracle. It means that, with a little effort, we can level up, become more productive and enjoy the work more tomorrow than we did yesterday.”

So as we gradually emerge from our Covid cocoons, I hope we slow down and make some conscious decisions. Do we really want to give up the office?

After all, while millions enjoy the convenience of Amazon and a “one-click” society, didn’t we lose something by putting all those neighborhood retailers out of business?
Trade-offs.

Convenience versus camaraderie. Price versus personal service. Digital versus experience.

There’s no holding back the future—it will come. That’s the law. But we can and should choose wisely.

Here’s hoping we do.

Remembering Chief Strianese

Chief Strianese

Delray Beach lost a truly good man last week; someone who made a real and lasting difference.

Retired Police Chief Anthony Strianese passed away April 12. He was only 61 years old.

Chief Strianese started his career in Delray Beach on June 12, 1989 and retired August 31, 2014.

In those 25 years of service, Tony rose through the ranks from road patrol officer to the corner office. He came to Delray after spending a few years as a New York City transit cop. He told me he worked underground in the subways and being in Florida where the sun shined was a much better place to be.

I first met Tony when he was a young officer, but we became friends when he began to move up the ranks. I remember attending his promotion party when he became a lieutenant. A large crowd gathered at Boston’s on the Beach to congratulate Tony. You could tell that he was popular with his colleagues and respected as well.

Those traits came in handy as he moved rapidly through the ranks to become chief.

Being a police officer is an immensely difficult job.

Of course, I can’t speak personally having never done the job, but I have spent many a day and night “riding along” with officers and it doesn’t take but a few minutes to realize that law enforcement is a challenging profession, probably more challenging today than ever.

Law enforcement throughout our country has been on trial of late. And I stand firmly with those who believe that we must do better. But I am just as firm in my belief that the vast majority of police officers are good at what they do and that their contributions to society are invaluable.

We are blessed in Delray to have had many exceptional officers over the years.

Those men and women—Tony prominent among them– have made all the difference.

When Chief Strianese came to Delray 32 years ago, this was a vastly different place. Delray Beach in the 1980s was circling the bowl. Sorry for the coarse imagery, but it’s the best way I know to describe what it was like.

We had rampant crime, abundant violence and a crazy amount of drugs. Some neighborhoods were literally open air drug markets. I was given the education of a lifetime in the back of cruisers and police vans by generous officers who allowed me, a young reporter at the time, to tag along as they took on the extremely difficult job of making Delray Beach safe.

Delray in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s was an ambitious place. This city wanted to be something more than what it had become which was far from charming.

Here’s a brief summary of conditions that a young officer such as Tony encountered when they went to work.

Our downtown was dead, with 40 percent vacancy.

Our gateway, West Atlantic Avenue, looked far different than it does today. Yes, I know that more needs to be done, but there has been improvement. Back in the 80s and 90s, residents spoke of the fear that kept them indoors. Until community policing took root in the 90s, many residents had no relationship or a deep fear of their own police department.

That changed, because of Chiefs like Rick Lincoln, Rick Overman, Larry Schroeder, Jeff Goldman, Javaro Sims and Tony Strianese. It also changed because of generations of great police officers who went above and beyond.

Over the years, we’ve lost more than a few; including two amazing officers I considered personal friends: Johnny Pun and Adam Rosenthal.

So in this season of unrest, I feel that we have been blessed in Delray Beach.

We’ve had some truly extraordinary public servants protecting and serving us. I wish I could name them all, because they made it safe for this city to thrive.

We owe our quality of life to these special people. They made it safe to plan, invest, grow, dream and thrive.

P.S. Our Fire Rescue department is pretty special too.

I really liked and appreciated Tony Strianese.

He wasn’t comfortable politicking or schmoozing. He was at his best with his officers and with the community too. He was a regular guy. He had seen a lot over the course of his career. He played his cards close to the vest. He was a private person with a big heart.

He served Delray Beach well.

My lasting memory will be of him standing guard in my backyard while a slew of officers, K-9’s and a helicopter searched my neighborhood’s canal for a dangerous fugitive. We were locked down until the bad guy—who had perpetrated a home invasion robbery nearby—was apprehended. Tony quietly commanded the scene and kept us safe and informed. It was quite a night for me and my neighbors. For Tony it was another day at the office; doing what officers do every day. G-d bless those who protect and serve.

Today, I am praying for Tony and his family. And for the men and women who suit up every day never assured that when they leave for work that they will be coming home.

It takes a special person to do that. Thank goodness for brave souls like Tony.

May he rest in peace.