Christmas Eve- Ft. Lauderdale, 2011
Christmas Eve in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida- 12/24/11
We were up early this Christmas Eve morning in Bonita Springs, Florida. The sun was shining and the temperatures were headed for the mid 80’s today. We finished packing, loaded our gear into the car and set out for Ft. Lauderdale at 8:45 A.M.
The Corkscrew Rd. exit, of Rte. #75, led us onto this busy freeway headed South and East. Traffic was already starting to build for everyone’s “run to grandma’s” on Christmas. We sailed along Alligator Alley looking for the saurian monsters in the drainage ditches and ponds along the roadway. We saw none today. Maybe the beasts were sitting around a campfire far into the swamp and telling people jokes while eating craw fish etouffe and sipping warm champagne. There wasn’t any appreciable avian life around us either. Usually the trees are loaded with egrets , herons and all manner of birds that flourish in the everglades. Maybe they had their own bash planned like the alligators. I think we will call this stretch of Rte. # 75 “Used to be” Alligator Alley.
A cloud formation off to the east was rolling towards us. We could see the rain dropping from it up ahead. Then it washed over uis with a surprising intensity about half way through the everglades. The usual knuckleheads slowed their vehicles down to 11 mph when the rain hit. We did our best to go around them and drive on. The shower was brief and the rained washed sky behind it had that crystal clarity that enables you to see for miles. For us, that meant looking out on thousands of square acres of grassy everglades. Small hummocks of dirt, adorned with a few trees, punctuated the river of grass on either side of us.
As we approached the east coast of Florida, we could see t off in the distance, the skeletal framework of the massive highway system that runs up and down the coast. Rte.# 595 led us into Federal Highway Rte. # 95. Traffic was considerable here as the morning was waning. Everyone had last minute shopping or getting to grandma’s on their mind. We found Sunrise Blvd. and traversed its length to the end, as it intersected with Ocean Boulevard, which runs along the beach here in FT. Lauderdale.
The deep blue of the sky was picturesque. The ocean was choppy today and the ocean rollers, with their frothy white caps, crashed rhythmically onto the light tan of the beach. A goodly amount of sunbathers were already in place on this four-mile stretch of oceanfront.
We drove North, passing our hotel, the Suntower and found Ft. Lauderdale by the Sea. It is a small enclave of restaurants, cafes, and boutiques on a lovely stretch of beach. We were lucky to find a parking spot near the shops. Each spot is linked into a pay to stay machine nearby. You either pay or the car gets towed away. The cafes looked interesting and were already well populated, including the one at the corner that advertises “Boom Boom West” an exotic dancer who performs nightly.
Public restrooms were non-existent, so we found the “Beach Cafe” right on the long pier out into the ocean. You had to pay to walk out there as well. We sat down at a table with two delightful Quebecois, from Quebec City. They had been working and living in Sarasota for the last 17 years. Today, they had ridden here on their bikes from Deerfield Beach some ten miles up the way. Both looked trim and fit. We had a breakfast of eggs, toast and taters that was okay at best. The big bonus was that you got to use the restaurants bathroom in the bargain. We chatted with the Canadians for a bit, then wished them a Joyeux Noel, shook hands with an enchante’ and were on our way. It is the chance encounters like this that really make any sort of travel more interesting.
We rounded up the voiture and drove south to the Suntower hotel on the beach, hoping to leave our car there and walk the boardwalk before we checked in. We had a nice surprise. The room was ready for us at Noon and the polite clerk said we could check in early, bless her soul and those that gave birth to her.
Room # 953 on the fifth floor was where we had stayed last year. At $169 a night plus tax, it is a bargain for any on the beach hotels. The Suntower is an aging dowager that sits along the beach here. A new coat of paint, and a refit made her comfortable and respectable in appearance. We knew that the first floor restaurant on the beach served some really great cuisine, so we were looking forward to that this evening.
We stowed our clothes and settled in. Then, we set out at 12:30 P.M. for a walk along the beach boardwalk. It was sunny, 84 degrees and hot out. A cool ocean breeze made the day comfortable. We walked two miles along the beach, enjoying the people, sights and sounds of a busy beach on a holiday. A starbucks, in the hotel Westin, gave us the blessed relief of air-conditioning along with some good coffee. We sat for a time, to lower our body’s temperatures and watched the sky and surf from the cafe window.
The route back was equally as interesting. Bikers, surfers, skate boarders, runners, and all manner and ages of people made for a visual feast as we walked back to the hotel. Some of the beachers looked great in their brief attire. Others should really have rethought their clothing choices. A side of beef doesn’t feature well when skimpily clad.
At the Suntower, we settled in to cool off. A vodka martini for me and a glass of cabernet for Mary helped.. We could look out from our small balcony onto the deep blue of the Atlantic and enjoy the marine tableau. Two large containers ships were anchored offshore. A veritable flotilla of pleasure craft drifted back and forth endlessly. We were near the FT. Lauderdale airport so an regular array of aircraft traversed the sky in front of us, arriving and taking off. It felt like we were watching a travel movie. We watched the Miami /New England football game on T.V. The Pats pulled it out, but only narrowly. Our own Buffalo Bills finally pulled one out, rolling over Denver 40-17. Better late than never. Perennially, for all Buffalo fans, there is the thought that “wait until next year.”
Five O’clock arrived and we got to watch the stately emergence of the floating leviathan cruise ships as they exited Port Everglades for destinations in the Bahamas and the Caribbean. It was a grand parade of the enormous 16-decked floating hotels. We had seen it often enough from cruise ships as we traveled. Now we got to see them drift by on their first day at sea. The sun was setting and its rays glinted off the very white superstructures of the liners, giving them heroic profiles against the darkening sea.
A Broward County Sheriff’s helicopter buzzed by our window at eye level and then proceeded to circle overhead, looking for something or other. There is always something going on at the beach. The late day sun still found several beach bunnies absorbing her rays below us. A few active little monsters were running into the surf and squealing with delight. You could see the lobster red glow on the skin of a few bathers. They would get the big ouch in a few hours, God bless them.
It was a balmy Christmas Eve, with temperatures in the 70’s and a warm wind blowing down the beach, as we settled onto the outside patio of the hotel’s small restaurant. The bartender/waiter was as pleasant as he always is. We sipped some decent cabernet and then enjoyed some really good fish tacos and french fries. Not healthy perhaps, but delicious. And it was Christmas after all. We enjoyed watching the surf close by, as we ate and drank our wine. It was a peaceful and enjoyable evening for us. We left early, the last patrons in the place, so the staff could get home to their families.
In our room, we settled in to read and enjoy another glass of cabernet. Mary had gotten me Stephen King’s new Book (11/22/63.) as a gift. I was enjoying the book immensely. About 8:00 P.M. I tried the water faucets in the bathroom and discovered we had bot water. Unfazed, we just settled back into read and enjoy the evening. We found out the next day that a huge water main had ruptured in Ft. Lauderdale. The entire city and area were without water for about four hours that night. There must have been pandemonium in the many high-rise tourist hotels up and down the beach. We took it in stride with a shrug. Last year we had lost power for most of Christmas day on the beach. We began to figure it was becoming a Christmas tradition here about. It just gave us more fodder for stories later on. The sand man came early to us this evening. We slept soundly to the pleasant and rhythmic sound of the surf crashing on the shore below us. It is a pleasant way to go to sleep.
Christmas Day. 12/25/11 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
We were up early at 6:15 A.M. to watch the sunrise out over the ocean, We made some coffee in the room and settled onto the balcony, enjoying the bright crimson of the predawn light already brightening the dark sky out over the ocean. The air was warm and the temps already into the 70’s. At 7:05 A.M. the molten globe of the rising sun forced its way up from the ocean. The golden rays spread out onto the dusky blue seas and illuminated the fleecy clouds all around us. It really is almost a religious experience watching the sunrise out over the ocean. We sat for a time enjoying our coffee and the visual feast before us.
It was still early, so we decided we would take a walk on the beach. The shore here is tidal, with a steep slant to the beach. The sand is also very soft. Walking was difficult. Still, the feel of the cool surf on our legs was pleasant. There were already a mother, her three kids and a few other intrepid souls out on the beach walking. We passed a few of the older hotel dowagers on the beach south of us. They were closed and looked forlorn on the beach with their shabby exteriors and boarded up windows. Someone was waiting for the right time to knock these aging relics down and erect some more high-rises along the beach, I think.
Returning to our hotel, we found that waitress Pam had opened the small restaurant and was getting things underway, We asked for and got coffee, as we sat on the patio and admired the beach tableau all around us. Pam was from the Bronx and had been a Florida resident for the last twenty years. She was pleasant and helpful, not resenting her duty here on Christmas day. She was cheerful and enjoyed talking to patrons.
The morning was still fresh. We returned to our rooms, packed our gear, showered and dressed of the day. We then had a delicious breakfast of salmon hollandaize, over eggs with potatoes, in the hotel restaurant. This place might not look like a grand hotel, but they sure do feed you well. We enjoyed the meal, then checked out and set out for our place in Bonita Springs.
It was early still and there wasn’t much traffic as we cruised along U.S. # 1 North through the beach towns. There did seem to be a forest of red lights and it was taking us forever, so we crossed over and picked up U.S. 95 North headed for Palm Beach and Rte. 80 West. There was a surprising amount of traffic on the highway. Church, breakfast and the lure of grandma’s had people out in throngs.
Soon enough we found Rte. #80, Palm Beach Blvd. and headed west through central Florida. It was Christmas morning, so all of the cane field workers were at home. Their huge dump trucks, cane harvesters and other motorized equipment stood like silent Tonka toy sentinels in the cane breaks along our route. A few of the harvester looked like the metal exoskeletons of dinosaurs, nodding their heads in the bright green of the cane fields. The soil here is dark and volcanic, looking like that of Hawaii. I always wondered about that.
We passed through the town of Belle Glade. It looks quite prosperous. People were headed to church and breakfast. Only the rusting yellow of the Tonka trucks gave hint of the people who lived and worked here. The stretch of cane fields between here and Clewiston is stark and isolated as we run along the bottom of Lake Okeechobee. The fifteen foot berms, that surround the Lake, are studded with green, green grass and speckled with snowy white egrets hunting food. The huge Lake is only 14 feet in depth, but its water discharges greatly affect the hydrology and ecology of the Caloosahatchee River system that runs 30 miles to the west through Ft. Myers and into the Gulf of Mexico. The Lake serves as a hunter and fishermen’s paradise throughout much of the year. Next, we drive through Clewiston, with its Florida Correctional facility. It looks like a town that is having a hard time getting by.
Finally, we drove through the prosperous looking town of La Belle. We were nearing home. The last leg of the ride, into FT. Meyers from here, is as familiar to us any anyplace up North. The River Hall Plantation, The Veranda Golf Complex and entrances to Lehigh Acres all signaled our arrival back onto the gulf coast. Rte. 75 took us South to Corkscrew Rd. and our final entrance into the Spring Run complex on Coconut Rd. It had been fun to see the rougher surf of the Atlantic, but we were happy to be home. We settled in, read the papers and enjoyed a quiet Christmas day in sunny and warm South West Florida.
December 29, 2011
Joseph Xavier Martin