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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hit or miss

Saturday: welcome to sunny, boat-spangled Boston, devoid of snow.

This time we had reserved a chair. The front wheels, large casters really, were a bit technical for the sweet young Jamaican woman who took me on, and each member of the flight crew knelt by turns, as if bowing to me in ceremony, to untangle the wheels and help lift me across the minor obstacles posed by the joints in the airport gangway. We now began a zig-zag journey from one end of Logan to the other, featuring long corridors, some filled with running passengers, others virtually empty. We came to a junction with a few desultorily attended shops, where our attendant made inquiry as to the location of the mysterious B13, and was directed across the wild traffic of arrivals to another building entirely.

If you know Boston drivers you know that our lives were now in her hands.

She flagged down a policeman who set about waving cars to a stop, the first few of whom ignored him at about twenty miles over the posted limit. He fairly leaped into the stream then, forcing vehicles to halt rather than run over him, and delivered them some stern language as we scuttled past. I don't that he heard my thanks, but he has my undying, if anonymous, gratitude.

It was necessary, here, to go through Homeland Security again. Beloved had to take off her shoes and deal with my laptop and a dozen other stressful details, with a long line behind her and nervous and harried officials in front of her, barking contradictory orders. I, meanwhile, was wheeled into a space called “Female Assistance,” where I was carefully, gently, but thoroughly frisked by a woman in Federal uniform. I was calm enough throughout all this (Beloved wasn't), but the thought did cross my mind that if this frisk was going to go another six inches in that direction, things were going to get really interesting really fast. But the guard seemed satisfied and waved me on with an apologetic smile.

Boston to Fort Lauderdale is a surprisingly long flight compared to Denver to Boston. We of the glaciers and icy cascades sometimes forget how far away the subtropical realms really are. Beloved slept the entire way, and I slept much of it, not having, as I generally do, access to the windows for reading the gleaming dreamscape below – which in this case consisted of the Atlantic Ocean, farther east over it than I had ever been, except perhaps for part of the approach to St. Johns, Newfoundland, nine years ago. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I dreamt fantastic scenarios of bungled encounters with Florida airport officials.

Upon landing, two very exhausted and crabby Bears worked out their frustrations in a quick, not very energetic tiff, made up, dealt with the missing luggage and the car rental, and made their way into the rental garage. We dumped our carry-ons into the trunk. Beloved was the designated driver, but she looked like she might collapse at any moment.

“And,” she pointed out, “I can't find my sunglasses.”

I took the keys and opened the driver's door. “Hop in. It's not a bad drive, and I'm feeling very up to it all of a sudden.”

She immediately fell asleep in the passenger seat and missed the entire ride. I drove through Hollywood, past Haulover Beach and into Bal Harbour. Passing the Bal Harbour Shops on my right, I watched, for, and found, the causeway turnoff, 96th Street, a.k.a. Road 922. Beloved awoke and looked about her.

“Toll Road? All the money is in the back.”

“S'okay, we're not going all the way to the causeway.” I crossed a bridge. Underneath, pleasure boats and pelicans made passage. “See, here's the hotel. Right on the water.

While we found the hotel to be a bit odd and mysterious (bar with no patrons, banquet hall with no banquets, swimming pool with no swimmers), and our room smaller (and painted a darker green than we could have anticipated), everything seemed acceptable. Funky, but acceptable.

Service is rather hit-or-miss. The hotel is run by students of Johnson Wales University, which is a vocational school for the hotel and restaurant trades. They seem very focused on specific routines. The continental breakfast, for example, is excellent, though Beloved says Florida in general could use better coffee. On request, they build very nice omelettes, otherwise it's the usual fruit, rolls, fruit juices, milk and cereals. This is served from seven to ten a.m. in the otherwise mostly disused banquet hall. If you want room service, however, or just need to make a spontaneous request or solicit information, it can be difficult to find someone, or, when you do, your request seems to stress them.

Our bathroom is unusual in having a walk-in shower with no ledge to step over, a special chair to sit in while showering, and hand rails. Perhaps this is why the doctor likes to use these rooms. There is a lightning-fast ethernet connection. The television has the minimum number of stations, and no DVD or even VCR, but who wants to watch television? The beauty of this place is not in its rooms, but its dock.

The dock runs the length of the building and has tables and chairs placed at random in an informal and welcoming manner. Here one sits, in the sun or in the shade of coconut palms as desired, supplied with water, or wine, or coffee, and waves to the parade of yachts and speedboats, all of whose passengers wave back. Pelicans, gulls, cormorants, and anhingas pass by, tiny minnows congregate in the clear water at your feet, larger fish jump and splash from time to time, and, best of all, the water humps up here and there due to the activities of manatees.

Across from the island is the larger island of Miami Beach, with the towns of Bal Harbour and Surfside and their enormous beachfront motels. The older neighborhoods line the river, however, so that the worst of this gigantean architecture does not command the view. Sunsets, in which the hotels and other buildings glow yellow, pink, and orange, are especially lovely, and one stays out in the cool, almost cold (in March) evening breeze, to watch the moon come up and throw its handful of mysterious glitter on the river.

The commercial district of Bay Harbor Islands is dominated by doctor's offices, with the largest building, four stories high, containing a number of specialists' suites. Half of the third floor is taken up with the offices of Dr. Harold Reed, my surgeon.

It was still Saturday morning; we went straight to bed. It was a good three hours before we could contemplate setting up shop and exploring the vicinity.

Saturday is the Sabbath to many of the island's inhabitants. Most of the shops were closed. Groups of men walked about in suits and wide-brimmed black hats, wearing beards. A small boy ran past us, dribbling a basketball. On the back of his head he wore a yarmulke. He was exactly that age which, in my culture, would regard anything older or younger than their peers as beneath contempt. Accordingly, I gave him a wide berth.

Sitting on a bench by the street, I watched him dribble up the street toward a young woman and an older woman, pushing a baby in a carriage. The boy stopped to talk with the ladies.

The infant reached for the basketball. The boy leaned over, and, briefly, for it was so large and heavy, and the little pink hands still small and week, gave the baby the basketball.

--risa b


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