Eleven Signs Your City Will Succeed

The city won a second All America City Award in 2001. So much has changed since, with many of the values that made Delray special abandoned.

Five years ago, award winning journalist James Fallows wrote a groundbreaking article in The Atlantic entitled “Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed.”
The article was a summation of James and Deb Fallows’s 54,000-mile journey around America in a single engine plane. The trip became a best-selling book “Our Towns” and a compelling series on HBO. I highly recommend both.

Considering the tumult in Delray Beach, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the article to see how many signs of success we can check off.

Sadly, even if we grade with a curve, we are not scoring too high these days. But sometimes a poor grade will force you to buck up and do better. We’re still a great town. We just have lousy politics and that can be corrected by electing better leaders. Take the test yourself and let me know what you find.

Here’s a list of Fallows’ 11 traits of successful towns:

  1. Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.

Grade: The City Commission in Delray Beach is a non-partisan body. Partisan politics has no place in city government. But the last two election cycles were highly partisan affairs, and I would argue that the results turned on party affiliation and  not on ideas about how to make Delray a better place. This is not a healthy development. For the record, my party happens to have a majority of voters in Delray, and I still don’t like partisanship on the city level or anywhere frankly. The divisiveness is endangering our Republic and it has hurt Delray too.

 

  1. You can pick out the local patriots. A standard question the Fallows would ask when they landed in a town was “Who makes this town go?” The answers varied widely. Sometimes it was a mayor or a city-council member. Sometimes it was a local business leader or influential real-estate developer. Sometimes a university president or a civic activist, an artist, a historian, or a radio personality. So, who makes our town go?

Grade: As noted in a recent blog, I would suggest that the volunteer and donor class in Delray have been told to pack their bags. Example: Old School Square eviction. When you lose the patriots, the people who roll up their sleeves and get it done, you risk shredding the civic fabric.

 

  1. “Public-private partnerships” are real.

In successful towns, people can point to something specific and say, “this is what a partnership means.”

Grade: In our town, that project was Old School Square. But after 32 years, OSS was treated as a tenant not a partner and shown the door. Other opportunities to partner are being ignored or bitterly rejected. Example: The Set Transformation Plan has languished because the city refuses to engage the residents in the northwest and southwest neighborhoods. This is in stark contrast to the Southwest Plan, which was done with city commissioners and the CRA at the table with the community.

What resulted was a citizen driven plan that the city and CRA helped to fund with millions of dollars in improvements ranging from a gateway feature and a new streetscape on Northwest/Southwest 5th Avenue to the new Catherine Strong Park and an expansion of the Village Academy.

Today, we don’t see these types of efforts. As noted earlier, the Set Transformation Plan and Congress Avenue plan sit on a shelf gathering dust despite the best efforts of citizens.

  1. People know the civic story. America has a “story,” which everyone understands even if some challenge it. A few states have their guiding stories—California is either the ever-promising or the sadly spoiled frontier, Vermont is known as its own separate Eden.

 

Successful cities have their stories too. New York is the Big Apple, always resilient and always at the center of the national conversation, Chicago is the Windy City, the capital of the Midwest and a place where bold visions come true.

Grade: Who is sharing and teaching our civic story? The local press corps has been deeply affected by changes to the industry and new methods of delivering and consuming the news and many of our past civic heroes have been sidelined by personalities who don’t want to hear from the old timers. That’s a big mistake. There’s a place for elders in every community and if they are silenced or ignored or in some cases disparaged it’s not healthy. That’s what happening in Delray.

 

  1. They have a downtown.

Grade: We have a downtown and it’s robust. However, I would argue that we need to diversify beyond food and beverage and add offices, creative spaces and other uses that will sustain us as a regional activities center. Who is having this conversation?

 

  1. They are near a research university.

Grade: Our proximity to FAU is a plus, so is our closeness to Lynn University and Palm Beach State College. But the question is are we taking advantage of that proximity and are there programs and initiatives that involve the local universities?

 

  1. They have, and care about, a community college. See above.

 

  1. They have unusual schools.

 

Grade:  Village Academy and Spady are “unusual” in that the former is a deregulated public school that has the authority to innovate, and the latter offers a Montessori program. Atlantic’s International Baccalaureate Program has always been impressive and important to Delray Beach.

 

 

  1. They make themselves open. Trying to attract and include new people.

Grade: Here’s where I see our biggest deficit. There was a time when the entirety of city government was designed around the notion of civic engagement, involvement and education. We had charrettes, visioning conferences, neighborhood dinners, town hall meetings, citizen goal setting sessions, citizen academies, police academies, a robust volunteer effort (1,200 police volunteers at the height of the program) and a Youth Council. We sent neighborhood leaders to school so they could become better leaders, we held training sessions for neighborhood associations, supported a race relations initiative and held regular mayoral roundtables. It worked. And then a lot of it, maybe even most of it, was abandoned (and well before Covid). This has been a crippling development. When your involvement is limited to social media, you don’t get good outcomes.

 

  1. They have big plans.

Grade:  I will argue that no city of any size had bigger aspirations than Delray did. We dared to dream, and we executed as well. Yes, we have a state mandated Comprehensive Plan, but I would argue that it’s not a vision and the process— which included citizens— was not citizen driven. There’s a difference. A big difference. The magic happens when the community is involved.

 

Another lesson I learned along the way is that the journey needs to be as fun or more so than achieving the destination. Today, there’s little fun and a lot of division.

 

  1. They have craft breweries

Grade: One final marker, perhaps the most reliable, according to Fallows: A city on the way back will have one or more craft breweries, and probably some small distilleries too, according to Fallows.

“A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur, and a critical mass of mainly young (except for me) customers,” Fallows wrote.  “You may think I’m joking, but just try to find an exception.”

This one I struggle with. I love craft breweries and I can see where they are important and send a message but I’m not sure they are an essential trait of a thriving city. Anyway, I love Saltwater Brewery and wish we had more.

 

Conclusion…we have some serious storm clouds to deal with.

And if you think we’re invulnerable because Atlantic Avenue is busy, well there’s no such thing.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Rituals, New Favorites & The Simple Pleasures

Amar is a welcome addition to the Ave.

The older I get the more I value the little rituals.

Sitting in the backyard on a cool night and watching the birds.

Taking a walk with my wife after the evening news.

Losing myself in a podcast (Tim Ferris or Guy Raz) and listening (ever so softly so as not to disturb my colleagues) to Spotify while I work.

After spending six weeks in an ICU/Covid unit flat on my back with a mask glued to my face, I’m finding that it’s the little pleasures that are giving me the greatest joy these days.

So I’d thought I’d share a few and I hope you share some of your favorites with me and others.

–Amar, a new Mediterranean restaurant, is a solid addition to Atlantic Avenue. Delicious Middle Eastern dishes and attentive service. Don’t miss the appetizers and the kebabs.

–I’m finding I get more joy these days from Instagram than Facebook. The golden retriever videos and photos of nature never fail to brighten my mood.

But if you do find yourself on Facebook,  don’t miss Gaetlyn Rae, an adorable monkey who bakes, whips up salads and opens packages in the most entertaining way imaginable. For me, a few moments with the monkey is almost as good as a meditation video whenever I need to relax. (P.S. I never thought I would ever write the previous sentence).

Streaming gems“Imposters” a dark comedy on Netflix, “Allen v. Farrow” a very dark documentary on HBO and  “I Care A Lot” a dark drama with great performances. I just realized I have a “dark” theme going so if you can recommend anything light please let me know.

I also recommend “Tina” about the amazing Tina Turner and the “Last Cruise” about the now infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship which experienced a Covid outbreak in the early days of the pandemic. Both are on HBO and well worth your time.

—Hillsboro El Rio Park in Boca just celebrated its first birthday. This park on Southwest 18th Street was once home to the city’s landfill. It’s now an idyllic escape with walking paths, a playground, pickleball and picnic pavilions. It’s a great place to picnic before the heat sets in.

–We recently peaked our heads out and visited the Living Room Theater at FAU, a pre-pandemic favorite. With only 10 seats available for sale when we went and masks required, we felt safe and saw “Nomadland” on the big screen. Nomadland is a majestic film that was made for the big screen.

Only five seats were occupied on the Friday afternoon we snuck away, but we enjoyed the experience and were reminded about the magic of the movies. Seeing a movie in a theater is an immersive experience. As good as streaming can be, the big screen is still magical.

We really like Wood & Fire restaurant in west Delray. The food is good (the Delray salad is awesome), the service is excellent and the ambience is very appealing. In this era of Covid, we like how the restaurant is open on two sides with ample ventilation and two large outdoor dining areas. Things are really picking up in the western part of our community.

As for books, I’ve got a few recommendations: Delray’s own Steve Leveen has written “America’s Bilingual Century” which I deeply enjoyed. I remember talking to Steve about the merits of bilingualism at a Christmas Party so to see the book come to life is very cool.

“How I Built This” by Guy Raz is a quick read based on the stories covered on his amazing podcast chronicling the journey of some very talented entrepreneurs. If you dream of starting a business, currently run a business or just want some inspiration this is the book for you.

“Who is Michael Ovitz?” is the autobiography of the super-agent who once ran Hollywood. Lots of insider tales of how the entertainment biz works and sometimes doesn’t.

“How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan is the story of how psychedelics affect us. I was turned onto this fascinating read by a childhood friend who sent me an article in Fortune magazine about the growing research into how psychedelics might treat anxiety, depression and PTSD.

“Unreasonable Success” by Richard Koch came to me from the Tim Ferris podcast. It’s a great character study of people throughout history who leave an outsize mark on the world. That book led me to “The Hidden Habits of Genius” by music professor Craig Wright who teaches a very popular Yale course of the same name. I learned that I might be the opposite of a genius—but at least I have self-awareness.

I’d also like to give a plug to the vaccination site at the South County Civic Center where my wife and I recently received our first doses of the Moderna vaccine. The site was so well-run, the vaccinators so kind and the location and parking is very convenient. Get the shot wherever and whenever you can, but if you are lucky enough to score a slot at the Civic Center you’ll be delighted by how well it is run.

Hope you had a great Easter and Passover. Stay safe this spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smart Capital + Vision= Transformation

Boynton Beach’s new city hall anchors an ambitious vision that includes culture and business.

Have you seen the blizzard of news coming out of Miami?
It seems like every day there’s a major announcement; one headline more exciting than the other.

–“SoftBank makes $100mm bet on Miami as next US tech hub”—Financial Times

–“Why Miami is the next hot tech hub”—Crunchbase

–“Miami is becoming a magnet for companies trying to escape high taxes”—CNBC

And the list of interesting news goes on and on.

But the headline that intrigued me the most came from the real estate site Bisnow: “Miami Billionaire Launching Downtown Innovation Hub.”

The story details how Moishe Mana has broken ground on a downtown building that he intends to make the center of a burgeoning tech and startup community.

The 13-story “Nikola Tesla Innovation Center” will have 136,000 SF of space, mostly for offices with 2% reserved for retail. It is expected to be completed at the end of this year, with occupancy to begin in Q1 of 2022.

Mana and his team assembled about 60 properties downtown; which is an impressive feat. But he has also laid out an audacious goal: make the area the “economic engine of Miami.”

While the real estate “placemaking” is an interesting part of the equation it’s only one part of the vision. Mana is also doing what he can to assemble talent and connect key players who can make the dream come true.

In January, Mana announced a partnership with California based Plug N Play, a “global innovation platform” that works to build relationships between startups and large corporations.

Also at the table is city and county government and that’s important and essential.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is getting a lot of buzz these days for using his Twitter account to talk with tech titans and sell them on the virtues of Miami. Mayor-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, was my Leadership Florida classmate, and I can say with certainty that nobody will work harder to make things happen. Daniella is the real deal.

So yes, the stars are aligning in Miami.

While vision is also important and essential so is the ability to execute.

I researched Mr. Mana’s career and learned that he has done something similar before; he played a key role in transforming Manhattan’s Meatpacking District from a derelict section of the city into a trendy area driven by art and culture.

Mr. Mana’s strategy for Miami also includes art and culture. The concept is being called “Mana Common.”

On a recent webinar discussing the projects Mana had this to say.

“I totally understood we needed to do something exceptional,” Mana said. “The problem is, every time there is a neighborhood built, then come the real estate funds that basically destroy the whole ecosystem. So I said, ‘We’re going to buy a big critical mass of real estate and we’re going to build a sustainable community where we do not need to trade with the real estate.’ This is a home for the brain. This is a home for creation. This is a home for changing a city.”

The operative word in that thought is exceptional—the desire to do something special and transformational.

Closer to home, I recently took a tour of Boynton Beach’s new City Hall complex, innovation center, library, children’s museum and amphitheater. If you haven’t seen this project yet, it’s well worth the drive.

The vision shown by this public private partnership is inspiring and the potential is enormous.

The City Hall— which includes ample community space— is beautiful with natural light and cozy meeting rooms available to the public.

The plan is to add a café and build out a space that will be used to grow local companies.

Post-Covid there will opportunities for art, music and events in a beautiful open space anchored by the amphitheater.

As I took the tour, I thought to myself “hey, Boynton Beach has got it going on.” I think it’s the nicest City Hall I’ve seen.

I admire cities and entrepreneurs who aspire.

Smart capital + Vision= transformation.

It’s not a sure thing. But you miss every shot you don’t take.

Farewell T.J.

Coach Jackson has been a valued mentor to scores of young athletes.

Last week, T.J. Jackson, the decorated football coach at Atlantic High School, announced that he would be leaving for a new opportunity which has yet to be announced.

When I saw the news, I was happy for T.J.

He’s a really good guy and a great football coach. It’s not surprising that his talents would take him away from Delray Beach.

 

Mr. Jackson was the Eagles’ head coach for eight seasons, compiling a record of 68-23. His 2017 team made it all the way to the Class 7A state championship. And this past season, the Eagles won the Class 7A Tri-County championship after going 5-1 in what was a shortened season because of the pandemic.

 

But T.J. is so much more than his impressive win/loss record.

He is a beloved local figure, an inspiring young leader who earned the love and respect of hundreds of young men that he has coached.

Lee Cohen, a great supporter of Atlantic High football and all-around good guy, had this to say about his friend when news of the resignation was announced.

“Coach TJ understood the importance of not just having a winning team, but in creating a successful program.  Over the past 8 seasons, he led the Eagles to incredible success both on and off the field.  Following a challenging first season, the Eagles’ overall record was 66-16 over the next 7 years and included a trip to the state championship. He created a winning culture that included attention to education, discipline and respect.”

Delray’s current Chief of Police Javaro Sims and former Chief Jeff Goldman praised TJ for his mentoring skills and for his leadership in the community.

In scrolling through the congratulatory comments, my mind drifted back to when I first met TJ a number of years ago.

He was running a non-profit at the time called “Prep and Sports” which was teaching football skills and life skills to kids in our community. He was doing great work and was passionate about making a difference.

T.J. was quiet, almost painfully shy.

But as the saying goes, still waters run deep. T.J. knew kids, had his fingers on the pulse of the community and had a passion for football. That’s a great set of tools if you want to make positive change in the community.

T.J. and a partner brought scores of NFL players and prospects to Delray to train for the season or the NFL Combine, the annual showcase where aspiring players perform physical and mental tests in front of coaches and scouts. The players seemed to like Delray and I had a few lunches with players who expressed a strong desire to help kids find a positive path and they did.

T.J., former Delray Police Capt. Michael Coleman and former assistant community improvement director Jamael Stewart and a few others led that effort.

It’s the kind of activity that often goes undetected, but this is the type of work that builds a community by changing lives.

So let’s say it straight out: these guys change lives.

Michael and Jamael no longer work for the City of Delray. That’s a longer and sadder story for another day. But I sometimes fear that we are losing sight of the special efforts below the radar that make all the difference. If my instincts are correct and those efforts dry up we will be in trouble. Because if we care about the entirety of this community we need to care about the men and women who do this work.

And we should care. We either rise together or we will we fall.

It’s really that simple.

T.J. is a guy who helps people rise.

Losing him in this community is a big deal.

So was losing Jen Costello, a neighborhood planner who went above and beyond because of her passion for Delray—her hometown.

Back in the day, we had Officer Skip Brown organizing Haitian Roving Patrols and working with a wide cross section of the community. I don’t think anyone ever quite replaced Skip or Sgt. Adam Rosenthal who died 10 years ago last week while on the way to work in his police cruiser. Adam taught self-defense classes to women in our community and worked with kids interested in martial arts.

We also lost Officer Johnny Pun, who along with his partner Fred Glass, founded a charter school to teach kids marketable automotive repair skills. The Delray Police Department became the first department in the state to charter a school, an effort that the City Commission at the time was proud to support. Johnny died tragically in a motorcycle crash. He is deeply missed.

When these guys and gals move on, retire, pass away (or are shoved out) it leaves a void. You just don’t go to a job board and replace people like this. It’s not that easy.

Their success is borne of passion for a place and for the people who live there. When you find that, it’s gold.

When you lose it, well you lose a lot.

See you down the road T.J. We all know you’ll do great things at your next stop.

Many in Delray are sorry to see you go.

 

Special Places Lift Our Spirits

 

 

 

 

Old School Square in patriotic splendor.          Let’s  start with the obvious.

This has been one horrendous year.
Let’s be honest,  if years were things, 2020 would be a smoldering dumpster fire.

I don’t have to or want to recount the craziness and tragedy, we know it all too well. We are engulfed by it.

What I do want to write about is what can soothe us during troubled times.
So here’s something to try— inspired by Yankee magazine—one of my favorite publications because it celebrates the best of New England.
Yankee’s basic premise is that places are special because they tell stories, have distinctive styles and personalities and that we ought to explore as much as we possibly can.
When I scanned the most recent issue it got me a little down because I know that at least this year, there’s no way to see any of the amazing places described in the magazine.
But then I had a thought, what are the local places that make me happy either because they are beautiful or trigger positive memories.
So I decided to take inventory of those places— first in my mind and then via a car ride—which is still possible even during this time of Covid.
I visited old homes and neighborhoods, cruised Atlantic Avenue, took a walk on Banker’s Row, went to Papas Tapas (love that place), cruised around the West Settlers District, swung by the Catherine Strong Splash Park, went north  then south on A1A, visited Lake Ida Park where I have walked all of my dogs over the years and parked across the street from Old School Square where so many of my “Delray memories” were launched.
I dropped by Knowles Park to visit the Intracoastal and took a drive west to the Morikami.
I drove the bridges at George Bush, Atlantic, Linton and Spanish River—for some reason I’ve always loved bridges. Maybe that stems from childhood when crossing the Whitestone Bridge meant we were visiting my grandparents.
Anyway, it did my soul some good.
It’s not the same as discovering a new place or going to Maine but somehow it was soothing.
I think it’s because the act of thinking about which places mean something to you triggers endorphins, memories and positive feelings.
I thought of the people I’ve met over the years at Old School Square, the photo shoot we did with my now 30 year old daughter at Morikami, great neighbors we’ve had, friends who live in certain neighborhoods and votes we took on the City Commission that led to new places and exciting things—-Bexley Park, Coral Trace, CityWalk, Ocean City Lofts, the public art program etc etc.
For a moment, I forgot about 2020 the nightmare and focused on the sense of place we enjoy.
This summer I had dreamed of going to New England, there’s something about the region that speaks to me. That dream has been dashed.
We’ve been grounded. At least for now.
So my visions of weather beaten cottages along the Maine coast will be replaced with drives around Palm Beach County.
Things could be worse.
And I promise they will get better.

My Generation

As this pandemic goes on and on, I’ve been struck with a recurring thought: I’m so glad I grew up when I did.

I’m a child of the 70s and 80s which means a few things.
I grew up with great music.
I experienced drive ins.
I saw ET, Rocky, Jaws and Animal House in the theater.
I remember watching the Watergate hearings on TV and saw elected leaders put their country over their party. Can you imagine that?
We watched Walter Cronkite every night, read an actual newspaper every day and believed what we heard and read. Why? Because it was true.
My friends and I played outside until it got dark. My parents didn’t feel a need to hover, they knew my sister and I were safe in our neighborhood.
We knew our neighbors, every single family on the block, and we looked out for one another.

I remember when a neighbor’s house caught on fire and we stood on the lawn watching the blaze and were scared that the house may burn to the ground and that our friends would be forced to move away. We cared for each other genuinely.
As pre-teens we roamed the mall, soon to be a relic of the past, visited bookstores (remember those) and saved our money to buy record albums (vinyl!) and baseball cards.
We didn’t keep the cards in pristine condition or look at them like investments.  We flipped them, traded them, put them in the spokes of our bicycles and memorized the stats on the back. We even chewed the bubble gum inside the packs even though it tasted like cardboard—dusty cardboard.

We took the Long Island Railroad to the city and wandered Manhattan and saw some things that… well …helped us grow up.
We bought old cars for little money. Rusty Mustangs and Cougars and we even managed to appreciate the unique design of the AMC Pacer—which in our optimistic eyes looked like a short squat Porsche.
We went to dances, proms, comedy clubs and Broadway shows which were affordable back then.
We went to Shea and Yankee Stadium and truly believed that the “Magic was Back.”  (It wasn’t).
Our friend’s mom worked as a store nurse for Macy’s (do they have those anymore—store nurses that is, Macy’s seems on the way out too) and she made sure to reserve us concert tickets which were $8 back then.

We saw Billy Joel, The Doobie Brothers, Styx, Aerosmith and a slew of other classic bands. We once slept outside to get tickets to see The Police at Shea Stadium only to get seats just below heaven. We didn’t care, we were there and that’s what mattered.
We had fake ID’s and we snuck into bars and it felt exciting. We could get caught. But we never did. And every time we got past the burly bouncer we saw another kid that we knew wasn’t quite of age.
We spent hours shooting hoops, throwing around a baseball or a football and trying to hit a spaldeen ball with a stickball bat over the roof of the neighbor’s house.
We listened to music, shared pizza and talked about what we were going to do with our lives.
There were no texts, no social media, no Tik Tok videos but we did have MTV when the station actually played music.
Can you imagine?
Last night, I shared 90 minutes of Zoom laughs with five guys who were there for it all.

Dave, who biked to my house to trade baseball cards when he was five and I was six. We’ve been friends ever since.

Joe, whose dad owned the pizza place with the best thin slices. New York style.
Greg, who drove a Dodge Dart Swinger and was our designated driver.
Scott, the Mets and Giants fan, who could hit the ball over the roof.
And Howie, whose mother was the store nurse and who had an older sister who would drive us around and talk sports with us. She would later become a famous pioneering sports journalist at ESPN. But to us she was the cool older sister with the driver’s license who thought we were funny.
When we speak via Zoom these days we gather from Southern California, Northern Virginia, New Jersey, Raleigh, N. C., South Florida and Stony Brook, N.Y.
Our conversation these days is focused on current events and we argue—politely. But those arguments always end with “hey, I still love you guys” which could be a lesson for all of us.
And we do.
There’s too much history and too much in front of us to ever walk away from each other over how we differ in our views of a virus.
I see the men these guys have become—all successful in their own ways every time we talk.
But I still see the boys we were too and that connection to the past is critical.

 I remember conversations from 1979 when a few us pledged to stop being so shy around the young women we liked.
That conversation prompted me to finally ask for a date with someone I had a crush on for years.
I was so nervous that I did not remember what she said when I asked. I walked away from her so nervous that I literally had no idea what she said.
Apparently, it was a yes because a day later she said she couldn’t go out because she was going fishing with her uncle or something. I never had the courage to ask again.
My supportive and sensitive friends responded by printing T-shirts of people fishing with a cutting remark underneath the graphic. Hey, this stuff makes you resilient. So thanks guys.

Anyway, we talked last night about how we feel so sorry for kids today. Cut off from their friends and girlfriends, denied proms and graduation ceremonies and unsure if they will be going off to school in the fall or if they will be cracking open their iPads.
One of my buddies kids is in limbo about college and another just had two boys graduate college and grad school only to enter a scary job market.
Sigh.
You wonder and you worry how this will impact a generation.
As I said, I’m grateful to have grown up when I did. We didn’t have much in the way of technology but we had each other. Still do.

Monday Thoughts

Random thoughts….
Question: how are we going to get a vaccine by the end of the year if we haven’t yet figured out a way to stock toilet paper in our stores?
A friend texted me the other day and said he hated the term “new normal.”
I agree.
We can’t think that we will be living in a pandemic forever. We just can’t. We will get back to living life which includes socializing with other humans.
What do I miss most?
Hugs. Giving them and getting them.
There is no acceptable excuse to avoid a Zoom call or Zoom Happy Hour. What are you going to say, ‘I’m busy’—it doesn’t fly.
The press is not the enemy of the people. It’s the guarantor of our Democracy.
I hate inaccurate reporting as much as the next person and have been on the receiving end of bad reporting. But our First Amendment sets us apart and we must get back to a place where we can agree on objective facts.  PS There is some remarkable journalism being practiced today. Look no further than the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and right  here at home I’ve been impressed recently by the work of C. Ron Allen in the Boca Tribune.
It’s alarming that Palm Beach County is one of three counties nationally considered high risk thanks to increasing infections.
We took a ride downtown over the weekend and didn’t see a lot of social distancing. Complacency in these times can get you and others in trouble. It can kill you.
One of the saving graces of staying at home in 2020: streaming services.
Can you call imagine how long the nights would be without Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime?
Here’s a few recommendations: “Never Have I Ever” on Netflix, “Upload” on Amazon and “I Know This Much is True” on HBO.
Also don’t miss “The Last Dance” on ESPN.
There is some talk about moving the start of hurricane season to May from June.
Between coronavirus, murder hornets, locusts and toilet paper shortages I would argue that we can do without hurricanes this year.
We’ve got enough on the plate for a while.
On a personal note, I wanted to thank everyone for the overwhelming support after we posted about the loss of our beloved golden retriever Teddy last week.
We received flowers, cards, comforting messages and even a poster featuring Teddy.
He was the best dog imaginable.
I believe he’s in a better place, free of pain and that we will see each other again.
Thank you for all the love and concern. You are the very best.  And again of you can rescue a pet please do so. You will find that they rescue you.