How To Cure the Doldrums In Palm Beach
Copyright Vladimir Kagan, March 29, 2013
Ten days of sitting by the poolside, baking in the sun, or alternately dodging the wind, can become tedious.
sittin' by the pool and getting bored
When the small kids got restless, we headed for Disney World. Now my adult family is afflicted with the same syndrome: boredom. We all need diversion.
What’s a better thing to do than to see how the world beyond ours lives? Our world is Palm Beach Island – separated from the mainland by three bridges, an active water channel from Lake Worth to the ocean, and shielded from the real world with serene seclusion behind high-hedged mansions, Condos and expensive boutiques… A two-minute drive over any of the bridges transports you into the real world. West Palm Beach is a beehive of diversity. The downtown area is awash with half empty high-rises, Condos built during the Real Estate Frenzy. There is a weekly Farmer’s Market, a plethora of cool and noisy restaurants and some quite hidden and secret “finds”. There is a huge, impressive new County Court House to deal with lawsuits, land deals and criminals that inhabit the neighborhood. This week there is the West Palm Beach Boat Show. For culture there is the Kravis Center, The Norton Museum, the Armory Art Center, the Science Museum and a delightful Zoo.
There are man-made lakes, the byproduct of swamp drainage – Disney wasn’t the only smart cookie finding Florida’s hidden treasure: land development! There are new strip malls and abandoned malls. The Palm Beach Lakes mall is today a ghost with only J. C. Penny remaining its sole occupant all else is flattened. There are new malls; City Place, is a highly successful complex of restaurants, movie Theater, shops, residences, plazas, fountains and parking for thousands of cars. A few miles further north you have the Palm Beach Garden Mall and the famous golf courses with their gated communities.
US-1 is the major north – south road known in these parts as the Dixie highway. Heading south on Dixie you’ll find “antique heaven” with tempting boutiques block after block. Going north and the atmosphere changes. You begin to experience West Palm’s underclass. There are mysterious one-story buildings, cheerfully painted bright yellow, pale blue, and orange, mostly windowless, except for the few that are clad with iron bars. These buildings conceal huge liquor stores, small manufacturing and a brightly painted pink house hiding Bush Bros. the finest butcher and purveyor of prime meats to every pricy restaurant in Palm Beach Country. Drive one block east and you find enclaves of Old Palm Beach’s well preserved mid-century villas, pleasing low-profile architecture with palm trees, gardens and streets carefully paved with brick speed bumps.
Continue North and these little communities give way to another world: Cheap motels cheek to jowl, fifty bucks a night and probably negotiable for shorter stays. You have entered a no-man’s land. Loitering is the chief occupation of some of its residents. Drive on and within minutes you are in the Port of Palm Beach, a bustling container ship port serving the Bahamas, which lies 90 miles across the “pond”. Tied up to one of the piers is an massive converted ferry that served as a gambling ship, but now lies bankrupted and seeking new suckers to invest to the tune of 20 million! There is a colossal power station under construction to replace the old coal guzzling one. One hopes it will be eco friendly, but that may be wishful thinking., knowing Florida’s disregard for it’s own survival in favor of fast-bucks. For years the cooling basins for the generators was a tourist attraction to see hundreds of Manatees enjoying the warm waters. These aquatic mammals are now on the endangered species list; harmless creatures that are being decimated by careless speedboats, whose propellers cut deep ridged into their back and they eventually die.
Less than a half-mile North of this industrial complex is Riviera Beach, a salty enclave of fishing boats, entertaining waterfront bars and the ferry to Peanut Island. Riviera Beach comes right out of central casting with all the salty seafront characters to add color and interesting conversation. Sport fishing boats return at the end of the day, their captains’ gut the day’s catch right at the wharf, slinging the entrails to the hungry waiting pelicans poised in the water with open beaks. These awkward, rather unusual looking birds are the same glorious flying creatures idealized by my wife Erica in one of her poems:
Passage Of The Pelicans
Erica Wilson Kagan
April 15, 2009
The sea is glistening silver blue
The sky is washed, the clouds are new
The pelicans, a measured band
Unwavering, fly where sea meets sand
They’re motionless, yet moving fast
On unseen air they’re sailing past.
For the grownups there is a salvage ship that goes regularly off-shore on treasure hunts for sunken galleons and sailing ships that sank three hundred years ago off the Florida coast
We were fortunate enough to meet one of the crew, who explained the awkward contraption on the boat's stern: they are huge underwater blowers that dislodge the sand around the sunken ship, clearing it enough for divers to go down and inspect it.
If your taste is for antique yachts, there was a beauty tied up to a nearby pier, most likely available for charter.
AN ARIAL VIEW OF PEANUT ISLAND
Peanut Island (I don't know how it got its name - perhaps because it is so small) is a ten minute boat ride from Riviera Beach. It is nestled in a lagoon between Singer Island, Palm Beach and the Lakeworth inlet.
Peanut Island is a man-made 80 acres of dredged sand and stone, tossed there by the Army Core of Engineers as thy created the Lake Worth Inlet. The island’s initial mission was to serve as a safe-haven bunker for President John F. Kennedy. (Coincidentally so was the Naval Station on Nantucket Island) Today, Peanut Island is a delightful recreational oasis covered with lush vegetation, Palm trees, Palmetto trees, sea grass for nesting birds, incubating fish and camping grounds with man-made lagoons for snorkeling. There is a small museum dedicated to JFK memorabilia. No motorizes vehicles are allowed, so I left my electric scooter at home and manipulated with my walker.
While the brave were out snorkeling, Vanessa and I explored these peaceful man-made lagoons
Snorkeling is a gentle family pastime; we were all poised to dive into the water, until the children, one by one cooed “it is COLD!” that was enough to deter Vanessa and me. We spent a delightful 2 hours exploring a little bit of the island until our chilled snorkelers returned to dry land.
Our return drive down Dixie provided one additional revelation. We have for years passed a little one-story building with a discrete sign painted on its walls, “Middle Eastern Bakery”. This time we did not pass it. Entering its inconspicuous driveway we came across a little Mom and Pop grocery store laden with exotic Middle Eastern goodies. The friendly proprietors were as hospitable as we were happy to discover them, except we were not the first to discover this hidden treasure. Anyone in the know knew about this little oasis. For us it was a revelation. We stocked up on hummus, French feta cheese, babaghannuj, mint yogurt, baklavas and just two of their twelve differed selections of halva. Thus fortified, it was no hardship to return to the pool and an unexpected feast in the Cabana.
the check-out ounter with our delicious pic-nic
Not bad for a day of prowling through new territory just to escape the doldrums!