Making Sense Of Place

Beautiful Cape Elizabeth….

I’m seeing another state.

We’re in the early stages of a relationship, but I can see myself getting serious about Maine.

This summer marked 36 years of living in South Florida, with most of that time spent in Delray Beach.

I’ve spent just about my entire adult life in Florida and the Sunshine State has been very good to me.

I’ve made the greatest friends here; have experienced so much and have learned a lot since leaving New York in July 1987 in a rickety 1978 Toyota Corolla.

Little did I know what was in store for me.

We seldom do.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

I thought I’d be a newspaper lifer.  I felt it was my calling and I dreamed one day of owning my own paper.

When I sat in the back row in Commission Chambers reporting on Mayors Doak Campbell, Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin, I never dreamt I would do that job.

In fact, I used to joke around with former Boca News reporter Darcie Lunsford that she would be mayor one day. I volunteered to be her campaign manager. (P.S. Darcie would have made a fine mayor.)

But life is strange in so many ways. It’s the twists and turns that add flavor. The twists and turns….

I turned 59 Saturday. The same age my mother was when she passed.

That number has weighed on me since she died in 1998.

She was young when we lost her; but now that I’ve gotten to this age it feels odd. The truth is at 59 you feel old and young all at once—hard to explain, but if you know, you know.

By this time in life, you’ve travelled a lot of miles, seen many things, and learned and re-learned a bunch of lessons. Life could look completely different in three years, three months, or even three days. That’s the terrifying and beautiful thing about being human.

Yes, perhaps the most profound lesson is how fast life can change. Three years ago, I felt a little tired. I took a Covid test at Bethesda and that night I was in a fight for my life that would last 39 days.

Who knew from bats, Wuhan and pandemics?

Three weeks ago, we lost Carl DeSantis, a wonderful soul who changed the lives of so many people; me included.

And so, I am reminded about the role that serendipity plays in our lives. I had no idea that someone whose vitamins my dad sold in his pharmacy would play such a large role in my life.

When I gassed up that old Toyota in Binghamton, N.Y. I had no idea what awaited me. I just wanted sunshine, palm trees and to live near my best friend. I got that and more.

I tasted local politics, helped run a beverage company, worked in public relations, was founding editor of a local magazine, did a whole lot of consulting and even co-owned a local newspaper for a while.

I’ve loved it all.

Along the way, I took a deep dive into the community. I got involved with a capital I.

Education, economic development, business, the arts, and health care—I learned a little bit about a whole lot.

And I fell in love with this place. I fell hard.

Most of my activities were in Delray, but I’ve also been involved in Boca, Boynton, Palm Beach County, Broward County and in statewide organizations such as Leadership Florida and the Florida Redevelopment Association.

I list these things to encourage you to get involved in the community. It’s your community and we all need to pay our civic rent.

My experiences through the years have been rewarding in ways that I could never adequately quantify. I’ve met just about all my Florida friends by getting involved. So if you aren’t involved in something, you may want to consider volunteering. It makes the world a lot less lonely and infinitely richer.

That said, I find myself needing and seeking both more and less.

Let me explain.

I want more time with loved ones.

I want more time working on fewer projects that have deeper meaning.

And I want less quantity and more quality.

I also want to experience other places— namely Maine.

I’m seeing Maine—for bits and pieces of time—the greater Portland area to be specific, and I find myself falling in love with a place all over again.

Oh, I still have fidelity to the sunshine. I still love the Florida sky, the beautiful sunsets and walks with our dogs along Lake Ida on mornings when it’s not scorching hot outside.

I take great pride in the evolution of Delray Beach and the role my friends and civic heroes played in our city’s success.

Despite the stifling heat, rising cost of living and ridiculous politics you find in Florida, I still feel the good outweighs the bad. Those palm trees and mild winter temperatures will always thrill this native New Yorker.

But I want to see other cities too.

About two years ago, we bought a cozy little townhouse in a wooded section of Portland not far from Old Port. It was a post Covid promise we made to ourselves. Sort of a “tomorrow is here” recognition of life’s frailty.

I recently spent a few blissful weeks there enjoying cool breezes, lighthouses, the rugged coastline and squirrels the size of big cats. These are precious days spent with the love of my life, family and friends.

I love the small villages of Biddeford, Saco, Bath and the Kennebunks which ooze charm and character.

I like getting lost in the huge cemetery up the street that has gravestones dating to the Revolutionary War.

And frankly, I like not knowing anyone other than a few neighbors and the kind strangers you bump into along the way.

I still can’t look at a lobster or eat a steamer, but I sure love Allagash beer.

It feels good to explore a new part of the world. To learn the stories, read the history and wonder about the visionaries who made this place all that it is.

I have no desire to get involved here. But I do want to explore.

I want to experience this place. Then maybe, just maybe, I’ll pay some civic rent.

I’m not talking about starting a “Save Portland” Facebook page, but maybe I’ll change my status to “in a relationship with Delray and Portland.”

Wherever you are, I hope you fall in love.

Thanks for reading.

Bill Fay Jr.

Note: Delray lost another local treasure with the passing last week of Bill Fay, the retired principal of Banyan Creek Elementary School. I adored Bill. His humor, his love of children and his passion for education. He was a good man—despite his admiration for the Boston Red Sox (only kidding). As a New Yorker and a Yankee fan, you would have thought that his affinity for Boston sports would have been a deal breaker for the two of us.  But Bill proved that oil and water can mix. He gave me the business when his Sox were riding high, and I loved him for it.

When Bill retired in 2015, I wrote the following blog

If you don’t want to click through, I’ll leave you with this thought from the blog: “Every now and again in this world you run into a larger-than-life figure.

Someone whose spirit lights up the room and whose humor, intelligence and warmth make you feel like you’ve known him forever.

Bill Fay is that kind of guy. In fact, he’s the epitome of that kind of man.”

At the time, I wished Mr. Fay decades of life to enjoy his family and legion of friends. Alas, he got less than a decade. I wish he had more time. I adored that man. He made a difference for generations of children. Rest in Peace my friend.

Friendship in the Age of Zoom

Like many of you, we’ve been keeping in touch with family, friends and work colleagues via Zoom these days.

I’ve had three Zoom happy hours, a bunch of Zoom conference calls and I have a feeling we are just getting started.
Welcome to corona world.
But this isn’t a lament. There’s plenty to lament of course, starting with the death, sickness and economic carnage this damn virus has caused. This is flat awful and extremely scary.
But even in the darkest of times, there are some bright glimmers of the indefatigable human spirit.
For me, the amazing thing about Zoom is we are reminded that we need to see each other’s faces.
It’s not the same as being in the same room but it’s still good to see loved ones. And isn’t it interesting how “seeing” each other via Zoom or FaceTime just feels good. Better than a text or a regular phone call. It’s a reminder that we need to see each other. That’s a very good thing.
I have three standing Zoom calls a week and I look forward to each one.
My first is with colleagues at the office. It’s a brief call to update each other on what we’re doing and how we’re doing. We are trying to move forward with our work projects despite this “situation.”
The second call is a late night happy hour with my childhood buddies scattered across three time zones.
I’ve written before about now fortunate I am to still be in touch with guys I’ve known since I was a first grader. It’s truly amazing. Because these friendships are 50 years old and we still enjoy each other’s company.
We have a guy in Southern California, another in Milwaukee, one in New Jersey and this week a new addition from Arizona.
Hanging out with these guys has been a real morale boost during these scary times.
We talk current events, politics, books, movies, comedians and a whole lot of nonsense. It’s therapeutic. These faces are familiar to me, comforting too. I still see the young guys we once were and I marvel at the men they’ve become.
One of the guys and his wife had the virus and was able to give us a feel for what it’s like. While he recovered nicely, it was a battle. It was somehow comforting to hear about the experience from someone you know and trust.
I’m so glad he recovered. I realize all over again how much I treasure these friendships.
If you’ve been blessed with old friends, now is a good time to reach out to them. Now is a good time to tell them how important they are to you.
I also had a local “happy hour” with some Delray friends whom I also love and treasure.
It was fun to see into their homes and talk to their kids while having wine, sharing laughs and thinking about what’s next for our community.
What will Atlantic Avenue look like? Will rents adjust? Can they?
Which of our local businesses will make it through and which will sadly go away.
The faces on the other end of the line are my local heroes, the men and women who have done so much for this town. They haven’t always been appreciated by the cognoscenti but dear G-d I appreciate them. I love them too.
The onset of this crisis was like a game of musical chairs where all of a sudden the music stops, there’s a scramble to survive and life changes.

But unlike  musical chairs, you can’t just switch the music back on. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were so simple?
But the world is not simple. The ground shifts underneath us, things change and things don’t get put back just so.
Driving Atlantic Avenue today reminds me of the 80s. It’s eerie.
Eventually this situation will lift. We will be able to buy a yogurt without a mask at our favorite ice cream shop on Linton.
But things won’t be the same. Families will lose loved ones in the most painful way imaginable.
Still, the crisis will end. Most of us will make it, but we will be altered by this experience.
I think we will treasure our friends and family more. Just seeing their faces will fill our hearts. Whether in person or on Zoom they will fill our hearts.
Seeing faces we love….never more important t than right about now.
Stay safe.

Swearing In..

16 square miles…and endless possibilities.

“Our finger prints don’t fade from the lives we touch”- Judy Blume

Tonight, two new commissioners Shirley Johnson and Jim Chard will be sworn in at Delray Beach City Hall after a short but grueling campaign.

The old joke is first you get sworn in and then you get sworn at—and there’s truth to that statement.

Serving in local office can be a contact sport.

Unlike state and federal offices—being a local elected official means you vote around the block from where you live and you do so in front of your neighbors. That’s the beauty and challenge of local government—ideally it should keep you grounded and hopefully accountable because unlike Washington and Tallahassee where you tend to vote with a team, far, far away from your constituents here at home you have to face your neighbors at the grocery store, soccer field and in the school pick-up line. That’s a good thing.

So what does it take to succeed?

In my book “Adventures in Local Politics” I mention 7 traits that leaders need in order to find success. They are: integrity, passion, emotional intelligence, vision, a thirst for knowledge, courage (because you will be tested) and judgment.

The rub is you need all 7 to succeed because if you are missing one, it will trip you up.

Think about it: Lack of integrity is a deal killer– you can be brilliant and charismatic but if you’re corrupt or fundamentally dishonest your toast.

You better have passion for your city and the people in it because if you aren’t genuine you’re going to fall short.

Passion is usually twinned with a thirst for knowledge—if you’re passionate you tend to want to learn all you can about the subject matter.

Courage is a must, because you won’t always be popular. As for judgment, that’s  something that gets measured over time.

While nobody bats .1000 you need to get most of the big decisions right or you won’t be fondly remembered. Judgment also means that you know how to prioritize—therefore you don’t major in the minor, you understand the job (where it begins and where it ends) and that you know who is real and who is playing you.

I think demeanor and tone is important as well. Your words matter. How you interact with people—and whether you interact with people–counts.

As noted before, you need to develop chemistry and trust with your team and your team is the staff at City Hall—especially your direct reports and you only have two—the City Manager and the City Attorney under our council/manager form of government.

While I’m a believer in accountability, I also believe that a supportive culture is what builds championship organizations. It’s hard to innovate when you’re being chased by a lion.

In other words, if your staff fears you, you won’t get their best efforts.

They should respect you and the sentiment should be mutual, but a fearful or bullied workforce won’t produce over the long haul. If your staff is reluctant to write a report or make recommendations because they fear getting shredded you have a problem because you’ll be surrounded by “yes men and women” and that’s how mistakes get made. That said you should feel free to respectfully challenge assumptions and encourage staff to justify their advice. But when they call the roll—it’s your vote and ultimate accountability resides with you, the elected official. It’s also important to make decisions–and not let issues linger for months or years. Former Mayor Tom Lynch gave me great advice when I was first elected: you have to make the best decisions you can, with the information you have at the time you are called upon to vote. Most mistakes aren’t fatal or final–but allowing issues to linger can be damaging. Vote and move on. Never make it personal–you’ll win some and lose others. Vote your conscience and explain why–most people will respect that.

Ideally, you want a team that will run through walls for you and for each other. That only comes with time and when you invest in relationships and when they know you have their backs as well. I will never understand elected officials who refuse to build relationships or those who think they have all the answers.

Serving a community you love is a rare honor.

There are 19,429 municipal governments in the United States. Many have three, five or seven elected officials meaning there are roughly 100,000 city elected officials at any given time out of a U.S. population of about 325 million.

As you can see, being a mayor and commissioner is a unique privilege. That’s why it’s important for elected officials to understand that it’s a job to do, not a job to have. And there’s a big difference.

In Delray, you are only guaranteed three years—and it flies by. Even if you get two terms, that’s only six years; a blur in the scheme of things. So you have to have a sense of urgency in order to make an impact.

We started this post with a joke about being sworn in and then sworn at. It’s true.

If you step into the public arena, you can count on meeting the critics in your community. Listen to them; they may have something to teach you. But there will come a time—hopefully early in your tenure when you’ll have to make a choice on who you hope to please because you will not be able to please everyone.

The elected officials who make a lasting impact and make a true difference are those who seek to serve the people in their communities who are hard at work building the community. The hard workers at City Hall, the men and women in your public safety departments, the community leaders and volunteers who are involved in schools, neighborhoods, children’s issues, charities, business, the arts and more.

When your time in office is over—those are the stakeholders that you will want to have helped. It’s about achieving their goals. Remember this is supposed to be about service to others.

The naysayers—here’s a prediction based on experience: you won’t be able to please them. And chances are that even if you do— on an issue or two— you’ll find that you won’t on something else and they’ll dump you.

But the community builders they are a different story; even if you differ with them on a few things. They’ll stick by you, because they know they can’t win them all and they are in it for the long haul.

Those are the people you want on your side. And ultimately their verdict will determine whether you succeed or fail. If you help them leave Delray a better place than when you found it, you will be a success. If you take the city backwards or dismantle the progress made by others you will fail.

It’s just that simple.

There are people who build things up and people who tear things down. Just remember whose side you’re on.


The Human Touch Is Essential

Theo Epstein’s leadership created world champions in Chicago and Boston.

Fortune Magazine released its list of the world’s 50 best leaders recently,.

It’s a diverse list—from a variety of professions—and includes 25 women among the top leaders, which is very cool.

Topping the list is Theo Epstein– the architect of the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win–which broke a 108 year “curse”/ drought for Cubs fans. Epstein was also at the helm when the Red Sox ended their decades long curse in 2004 with a World Series win.

The profile of Epstein was fascinating to read.

Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci describes the evolution of a man whose understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—enabled him to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history.

It’s an important message in an era where it seems like we are being overwhelmed by technological change all of which seems to be displacing humans. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, data analytics, augmented reality, automated driving, robotics—all have some wonderful attributes but you can’t help but feel that people may be rendered obsolete by all these “advancements.” As Bruce Springsteen sings:  “I just want something to hold on to…and a little of that Human Touch.”

A tech blogger recently surveyed Silicon Valley “disruptors” to determine where they see all this going. The prevailing sentiment is that we will become a society in which a few amazing minds will render everyone else unemployable through technology that replaces jobs. Nice.

These tech geniuses—said to be benevolent—will make enormous sums of money and governments will be forced to tax them heavily to pay for the rest of us to sit around and consume. Next time you have a moment; search Google for “universal basic income” and you’ll learn more. You may not sleep again, but at least you’ll be informed.

This is why it’s great to see that leaders like Theo Epstein succeed by valuing what makes us human.

Sure, he has numbers crunchers looking at how players perform with two strikes, a man on base, in humid conditions on the road against southpaws who throw wicked curveballs. But Epstein also values character, chemistry and discipline.

From the Fortune piece:

“A few weeks before spring training of 2012, in the ballroom of a budget hotel in Mesa, Ariz., Theo Epstein stood before nearly every person connected with the baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs and told them how the Cubs were going to win the World Series.

Epstein devoted the first three days of the session to on-field strategy: hitting philosophy, pitching philosophy, defense, and baserunning. But the entire last day was devoted to character. The Cubs, Epstein insisted, would acquire only players with outstanding makeup. Even Epstein realized himself how far he had evolved since he put so much faith in numbers when he began as general manager of the Red Sox. Now character did not just matter. It was essential to Epstein’s blueprint to win the World Series.

There was a reason character loomed so large in Epstein’s thinking, a reason that helped explain why Epstein was spending spring training in Arizona with the Cubs and not in Florida with the Red Sox. Epstein’s devotion to a Moneyball ­approach—data-driven analysis that helped teams identify and accumulate players with little-noticed but crucial strengths—had succeeded inestimably in Boston, where he steered the team to six playoff appearances and two World Series titles in nine seasons as general manager, helping the team break its own 86-year-old championship drought along the way.

But character and chemistry were strengths that a “quant” approach couldn’t capture, and in 2011, in what turned out to be Epstein’s final season in Boston, their absence was painfully clear as the team underwent a late-season collapse. The more the team lost, the more it broke apart from within. Players ­feuded with one another. The egos that had created cracks in the clubhouse while they were winning caused deep fissures as they lost.”

This story resonated with me on a deep level.

We’ve all been part of winning organizations that soured under the weight of ego and hubris (fatal arrogance).

As Delray Beach was making its ascent, former City Manager David Harden would warn that the biggest challenge would be “surviving success.”

I have to admit, I didn’t understand that sentiment, until I saw it play out.

When businesses, organizations, agencies and cities reach a certain level of “success” there’s a tendency for one or more of the following afflictions to crop up: complacency, arrogance, egomania, fear.

The worst thing to assume is to think you’re bullet proof or that the cash register will always ring because it happens to be ringing now.

Despite our sometimes heated discussions—that always end amicably and usually with laughter—I have learned a lot from Fran Marincola, who owns Caffe Luna Rosa. Fran is part owner– with me and three others –of Four Story Media Group which publishes the Delray and Boca Newspaper. As he might put it, he owns enough to have a voice, but not enough to insist that something he suggests actually gets done. But despite his lack of voting power, he has influence. Why?

Because he makes sense and because he has succeeded in a very tough business over a long period of time.

Fran sweats the details and he’s constantly trying to get better. Paper or cloth for the tables, how much do the forks weigh (seriously), menu tweaks, where photos are hung in the place and on and on and on. No detail is too small, because Fran believes it all counts and it does. He’s the opposite of complacent and that’s why he’s successful.

I’m sure there are analytics and data out there that you can purchase to try and build a successful restaurant. But there’s just no substitute for judgment and experience. The human touch…

It has worked for the Cubs…it works for cities, schools, non-profits and for just about any sustainable business or organization you can find.

Even Google is going to learn that lesson.

Thanks to “programmatic” ad buying by automation, major companies saw their web ads placed on websites next to hate speech including sites promoting the Islamic State—embarrassing the companies and creating revenue for the hate and terrorist groups. It’s shocking and terrible.

So AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson and others said enough. Take our ads off You Tube and off these sites—we’re done with you Google, until you find humans who can fix  the problem.  Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., will lose tens of millions of dollars as a result and will be forced to address the issue by hiring people—what a concept.

Let’s hope humanity spreads because it’s truly irreplaceable and needed now more than ever.

Said Epstein, “ If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough, well, maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop and how we put them in positions to succeed. Maybe our environment will be the best in the game, maybe our vibe will be the best in the game, maybe our players will be the loosest, and maybe they’ll have the most fun, and maybe they’ll care the most.”

So where would you rather, play, work, live? A place that values and honors humanity or a cold, purely analytical environment?



More from the Fortune piece.

What Business Can Learn From the Cubs’ History-Making Win


  1. Hire for character

How employees treat one another or cope with adversity can be more important to your success than their sales numbers or skill sets.

  1. See data’s limits

A statistics-driven strategy won’t help you if all your competitors are using similar techniques with similar data. Do you truly have an analytical edge?

  1. Foster connections

Epstein credits the Cubs’ success in part to the years-long relationships among their core players. “People don’t like working in isolation,” he says.





A New Year; Let’s Make it a Good One

2017 Calender on the red cubes

A new year.
A new set of possibilities.
As we turn the page on ’16, a year many are happy to see pass let’s endeavor to start fresh and dream big.
In that spirit here are some predictions and wishes:
-America begins to turn the tide on its opiate addiction. Maybe this is the year when doctors stop over prescribing pains meds. Maybe this is the year that government gives prosecutors, cities and regulators the tools they need to hold irresponsible sober home operators accountable. Maybe this is the year we appreciate responsible providers who are trying to save lives.
-Perhaps 2017 will see the formal adoption of the Congress Avenue Task Force’s vision and catalytic development on the old Office Depot site as well as near Saltwater Brewery.
-We’re rooting for new FAU football coach Lane Kiffin to build a winning program in Boca. Kiffin is a bold hire with baggage, but he’s got a pedigree that’s intriguing to say the least.
-Boca continues to reel in companies, grow new ones and build its downtown. It’s economic development office shows what’s possible– even with a small team. We predict more of the same in ’17.
-We see The South Florida Garlic Festival thriving at its new venue at John Prince Park attracting foodies and taking advantage of the “glamping” trend.
-We’re hopeful to see iPic open in ’17 and predict it will function well and enhance Delray’s downtown.
-We predict that Impact 100 for Men will have a successful launch and attract more donations as a result.
-We believe ’17 will be the year when Old School Square and President Rob Steele will soar. With sometimes contentious lease negotiations with the city in the rear view mirror, the organization can concentrate on growing and fulfilling its historic and important mission.
-We predict big things for the Via Mizner project anchored by the Mandarin Hotel. It’s a landmark project. Make no mistake.
-We hope that plans to revitalize 20th Street in Boca gain traction in the New Year.
-14 years ago a new “central park” was envisioned where a surface parking lot once existed near Old School Square. Let’s hope ’17 is the year that the park takes shape.
-Let’s also hope ’17 is the year that stability returns to Delray City Hall. The ability to hire a new City Manager is a golden opportunity.
-We predict this is the year that positivity begins its slow march back to the public square. As a result we predict a better Boca Delray.
Happy New Year.


On Teaching, Walkability & The Future


Streets like this one in Denver, just feel good.

Streets like this one in Denver, just feel good.

I’ve always had a desire to teach.

I think it correlates with a strong yearning to learn.

My early career was in the newspaper field, where your job boils down to learning about subjects and then sharing (reporting) what you’ve learned with your readers.

Working at a community newspaper is a dream job—if you discount the long hours, low wages and dim prospects for the future. As a young man I did—because the job itself is fascinating.

You get to write. You get to satisfy your curiosity by researching things you’re interested in. You to get meet interesting people and cover fascinating subjects; no two days are the same.

I’ve always liked the excitement of deadlines, it focuses you and you have to produce, which is a cool way to work. When everybody around you is on a similar deadline, there’s an energy in the room that is hard to describe.

I would imagine that teaching has a similar adrenaline rush. If you’re in the flow and connecting with your audience there’s just nothing like it. My daughter is a brand new teacher in Tampa—I plan to talk to her about what she feels when she’s working with students.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that when a friend called and asked if I would speak to his urban planning class at FAU—I jumped at the chance.

Still, it’s nerve wracking to walk into a room full of strangers; most especially young people who are beginning to look even younger to me with every passing year.

Can you connect? Can you relate? Do I have anything to teach them? And what can I learn from all these young minds?

We talked about how cities evolve and transform– one of my favorite subjects.

I love to tell the Delray story, because I think we are a good case study and that past leaders and city staff used sound strategies for over 20 years to achieve success. Success, not perfection.

For example, we went from 35 percent vacancy and little going on downtown in the 80s to a glowing feature story in the Wall Street Journal last week.

We talked a lot about Boca too.

But the best part is to hear from future planners, urban designers, developers and architects.

What do they see? What do they expect and want from cities? Here’s a few takeaways from an admittedly small sample, but the sentiments seem to match surveys I’ve seen.

Affordability—not just in housing but also reasonable costs for food and entertainment.

Mobility—The young aren’t car centric. Study after study show that millennials are delaying getting driver’s licenses, don’t feel a strong desire to own a car and appreciate and seek out walkable environments. They also believe in services such as Uber and Lyft and understand that driverless cars will change our urban environments.

Environmentally Sensitive and Realistic—They know that Florida is a popular place and that even if  “they want their own slice of heaven” i.e. a suburban home on ½ acre they know sprawl is bad for the environment and that we may need to grow vertically rather than sprawl to accommodate a growing populace.

Design Savvy—My small sample of future urban professionals were keen on good architecture and design. They appreciate art and culture, good looking buildings and a mix of uses.

They also talked about wanting their cities to be safe, diverse and chock full of amenities.

A few of the students have been interning in Delray. I hope that many end up staying here after they graduate FAU.

As for me, I kind of wish I was 20-something again, so I can experience it all again. The future is exciting indeed.


Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Rex's Hair Salon in Delray. Billie, Karyn, Rex, Billie C and Hazel.

Rex’s Hair Salon in Delray. Billie, Karyn, Rex, Billie C and Hazel.

Rex’s on North Federal Highway is an old-fashioned barber shop/ hair salon.

There’s nothing fancy about its décor or its prices, but it’s an extraordinary place. An absolutely extraordinary place.

It is Delray Beach.

The real Delray.

Monday night, a standing room only crowd gathered in the bar at Fifth Avenue Grill to celebrate Karyn Premock’s retirement after years and years of cutting hair at Rex’s in Delray. It was a celebration of a wonderful person, someone friendly, kind, warm and funny. But it was also a celebration of a small business,  a craft and a community.

One by one, friends (there are no customers or clients at Rex’s just friends) came to the microphone to express their gratitude for having known Karyn and for being part of a very special town.

They shared stories, memories and experiences. Many came to the microphone twice, reluctant to let go of a treasured part of their town.

We talk often about what makes a place great, we strive to create policies and rules that will preserve our “village like” character and that’s all well and good and important too. But the truth of the matter is great places come about because of great people. Karyn, Rex, Hazel, Billie, Billie C and the rest of the cast of characters at Rex’s are great people. They love the people who come through their doors to get their hair cut and colored or to share some gossip while getting a manicure.

There’s a lot of talk about Delray that happens in that small, modest but very vibrant shop. Rumors are discussed and discarded, jokes are told, lives are shared and there are stories galore.

If you want to understand Delray—it’s a requirement to visit Rex’s.

Over the years, Rex’s and especially Karyn began to attract a series of aspiring politicians. If you want to get elected—the story goes—you had best find your way to Karyn’s booth. If she liked you, she would talk you up, get your petitions signed and you would win come Election Day. If she didn’t or if you ignored the power of Rex’s Salon, well Mr. Politician good luck to ya.

The power of that story attracted city commissioners, mayors, state legislators and other wannabe’s over the years.

I was already elected when I went to Karyn.

I went to her out of self-defense.

Everywhere I went in town, I would hear rumors about this or that. When I asked where they were coming from I was told they heard it at Rex’s or from somebody who went to Rex’s. Most of what I was hearing had elements of truth, some were wild stories and some of the information contained great insights. I had to check this place out.

It’s not easy to get an appointment with Karyn. Her appointment book would make a President look lazy.

But I was able to get in and I never left. I was happy she kept me after I was termed out and became one of Delray’s “Pips”, previously important people. We became friends, like she is with everybody who comes to the shop.

The stories told at her retirement party by local legends Gary Eliopoulos, Ernie Simon, Bethesda Hospital CEO Roger Kirk, Fred Bonarde, Lloyd Hasner, Howard Ellingsworth and many many others were simply incredible.

Why? Because getting a haircut at Rex’s is an experience.

Often an exhausting one.

You walk in and it’s like a vortex—jokes, gossip, singing, dancing and lots and lots of talking. Gary joked that it took so long to get his haircut (and he doesn’t have much hair to cut) that it grew back by the time it was over. Ernie said that he went to Karyn for an ego boost (he’s also challenged in the hair department) but she would bring out clippers, make a bunch of noise and make sure that he saw hair on the floor, even if it wasn’t his.

“Karyn is what Delray is all about,” Ernie told the crowd. “Neighbors and friends caring for each other.”

John Miller, a member of a pioneering Delray family, said Karyn has cut his hair since he was 12.

Lloyd Hasner joked about haircuts that went on so long and were so exhausting that he prayed for sweet release—only to come back for more. More laughs, more friendship, more community.

Gary E. talked about how Karyn would cluster her appointments to make sure the person before you and after you were people who didn’t like you. Was it a plan? Or was it her attempt to help people mend fences. Sometimes, if you had a health issue, say a heart problem, she would cluster your appointments around others facing the same concerns. Hmmm…happenstance or was she really a maestro?

As for me, I’ll always remember Karyn coming to my house to cut my hair and Adam Hasner’s after  some hurricane; can’t remember which one. We were tired and hot, but Karyn set up shop in my kitchen so we could get the hair out of our eyes and get back to recovery efforts.

We shared happy stories and sad ones too. We shared a love of dogs; goldens for me, bloodhounds for her. She just lost her beloved Annie and the Rex’s community mourned. We knew Annie.

And we laughed. Laughter was a given.

Rex’s is Delray’s version of “Cheers” somebody said; the place where everybody knows your name.

That’s a village, my friends.

Happy retirement Karyn, we love you and we will miss you.

Some Points To Ponder for Boca/Delray

Well, here goes…..

If you had to name the geographic location of “downtown” Boca Raton, where would it be?
1. Mizner Park
2. Royal Palm Plaza
3. Palmetto & Federal
4. Other?
What would happen if you gathered a few 12 year olds, brought them to a basketball court and rolled out a ball? Maybe nothing. It just appears that today’s youths are so accustomed to organized sports with time clocks, statistics, uniforms, and officials that they have lost the real value of just playing in a park. Remember when we used to call our own fouls and balls and strikes, chose up our own teams, and played till we lost. Think about it. It was a real-life lesson. Just a thought.
Here we go. Entering prime time of Hurricane Season. How many have actually rolled out their generators and fired them up? I know one person who hasn’t.
Ever want just a regular slice of pizza? Stop by Tomasso’s on Palmetto Park Road, just east of I-95. Nothing fancy, just a good slice. This is what we call a pizza “joint.” A bit of a departure from the gourmet pizza, stone fired, etc. Speaking of pizza, isn’t there something wrong with putting pineapples on a pie?
Some things we take for granted here in Florida:
1. The most picturesque highway is the one leading down to Key West
2. Florida sunsets
3. The clouds. A friend once said that “Florida clouds are our landscape.”
4. South Florida is really becoming home. We’ve stopped asking – “Where are you from?”