Published: Sunday, August 2, 1998 Section: Tropic


DAVE BARRY, Herald Columnist

Like many residents of Miami-Dade County, I know very little about Broward. To be honest, I hardly ever think about Broward, except when they mention it on the evening TV news.
``In Broward County today,'' they say, ``blah blah blah.''
They don't mention Broward as often as they mention Miami-Dade, because, let's face it, not as much seems to happen in Broward.
TYPICAL MIAMI-DADE HEADLINE: ``City Commission Meeting Ends in Knife Fight''
TYPICAL BROWARD HEADLINE: ``County to Get 147,000th Mini-Mart''
There probably will never be a TV show called Broward County Vice . What kind of plots would it have? (``In tonight's episode, Crockett and Tubbs tangle with a gang of outlaws who have been ruthlessly violating their homeowners' association regulations regarding shrubbery height.'')
Of course, for a lot of Broward residents, dullness is part of the appeal. They don't want the kind of excitement Miami-Dade has. They don't want to be governed by leaders whose main governmental activity is checking each other for wiretaps. They don't want to live in a place where the New Year is traditionally welcomed the same way that Japanese troops welcomed the Marines to Iwo Jima, but with more bullets.
Broward people want calm. They want order. They want Ohio, but with palm trees. (Perhaps you're thinking, ``Hey, don't you realize that Broward is incredibly diverse in that it has a growing Hispanic population, the third largest Jewish population in the country and a virtual blizzard of Canadians in the winter?'' Perhaps you feel I've been making some heavy-handed, unsubstantiated generalizations in this essay. Get used to it.)
Of course a big reason why a lot of Broward residents prefer Broward is that they feel Miami-Dade is -- let's not beat around the bush -- too darned foreign . And, no question about it, moving to Miami-Dade from the mainland, English-speaking United States can be quite a cultural adjustment for Anglos. To pick one small example: When I first came to Dade, more than 15 years ago, I was struck by how often men came up to me in traffic and tried to sell me bags of limes. This never happened to me in Pennsylvania. I wondered: Why limes? Why not some food that's easier to eat in your car, such as Cheez-Its? And why whole bags of limes? The only theory I came up with was that people forced to drive in Miami traffic had, quite understandably, developed the habit of drinking gin and tonic in such quantities that they sometimes needed to replenish their garnishes while in transit.
Don't get me wrong: I love Miami-Dade's international flavor. Of course, my wife is of Cuban descent, which has made it easier for me to adapt to the dominant Hispanic culture down here. For example, I now speak Spanish fluently. I don't mean that I speak the entire Spanish language ; I mean that I have learned to say, with great fluency, the following Spanish phrase: Un momento; mi esposa habla español (``One moment; my wife speaks Spanish''). My wife takes over from there.
Still, the language thing is sometimes a problem for me. When I'm with my wife's family, everybody speaks English, but every now and then, to make a point, somebody will use an old traditional Spanish folk saying, of which there seem to be thousands. Then they'll translate it for me, and it'll be something like, ``You don't need three elbows to play the flute,'' or ``The snake that bites the goat will not hiss at the locomotive.'' And I'll nod thoughtfully, while thinking, Huh?
My point is that I do not fully grasp Hispanic culture. But, as I say, I have come to enjoy many elements of it, particularly the element that tends to respond to almost every occurrence, including the onset of Daylight Saving Time, as follows: Whoa! Let's party! Miami-Dade is a party kind of county; Broward, in my opinion, is not. I once attended a ``street festival'' in Fort Lauderdale, and it was, frankly, less festive than the typical checkout line in a Miami-Dade Publix. The most exciting thing happening was a group of people quietly watching -- not participating in; just watching -- a demonstration of country line-dancing. This scene stood in stark contrast to, say, Miami's Calle Ocho festival, which features conga lines the length of the Missouri River.
I like the excitement of Miami-Dade; I revel in the endless wackiness. I enjoy trying to guess which of our public officials will eventually go to prison (Answer: all of them). When I pick up my Miami Herald and read a story such as the one last October about (this really happened) a gunfight breaking out at a Little Havana funeral home during a wake my reaction is: ``Wow! This is certainly not a boring place!''
Whereas I believe that when Broward residents read that same story, their reaction is: ``That Miami-Dade County is a zoo .'' They think we're all crazy down here. We, on the other hand, think that Broward dwellers are bland people leading bland lives, roaming bland malls and living in bland semi-identical houses in semi-identical subdivisions with names like The Lakes of the Islands of the Falls at the Ranch of the Hammocks at the Pines of the Meadows Estates, Phase II.
But, as I said at the beginning, I really didn't know Broward. And so I decided to check it out, not just to satisfy my own curiosity, but also so I could write a travel guide for Miami-Dade residents thinking of visiting Broward for whatever reason. We'll begin at the logical starting point, which is:
BY TRAIN -- There is some kind of train running between Broward and Miami-Dade. I have seen it on several occasions, rolling along next to I-95. I think it might be called ``Tri-Rail,'' but that's all I can tell you. I have no idea how or where you get on it. I've lived in Dade County more than 12 years now, and I don't recall ever driving by a train station, or hearing anybody say anything like, ``I'm going to the train station'' or ``It's right next to the train station.'' But there must be a train station, right? Otherwise why would there be a train? Unless there was a train station, but it got stolen, and the train just goes back and forth with no passengers on it, like Metrorail. I just don't know. So if you decide to go to Broward by train, all I can say is, good luck.
BY AIR -- There are a couple of flights daily between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The flight lasts several minutes and attains a cruising altitude approximately the height of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. This is a good way for you to make your trip to Broward, because you get to experience Fort Lauderdale International Airport, which is quite different from Miami International Airport. Of course, comparing two major aviation facilities is extremely difficult, because of the many complex variables involved, but I will attempt to present the major areas of contrast by presenting the key information in the form of the following chart:
Perhaps you think I'm being harsh on MIA. Well, perhaps this is because you do not have to use it a lot. I do. Almost every week, I get on a plane there, and, if all goes according to plan, the plane lands in some other city. I am almost always struck by the fact that the other city's airport, big or small, is a WHOLE lot less hostile to travelers than MIA, the airport that proudly proclaims to visitors from all over the world: ``Welcome! You Are In A Hellhole!'' I have ranted before about the bad design, the confusion and the insanely overcrowded, last-chopper-out-of-Saigon ambience at MIA, so I'm not going to dwell on it here. Nor am I going to mention the Soviet-style monopoly food service, which, in some of the grimmer parts of the airport, offers a bill of fare consisting entirely of hot dogs that I believe were originally placed on the grill by Ponce de Leon.
But let's not dwell on that. Let's dwell on the fact that luggage carts are provided in the main concourses of every major airport in the United States -- every major airport in the United States -- except for one. You guessed it! Miami International! As I write these words, the airport authorities have finally gotten around to talking about providing carts. Apparently they just recently found out that airline passengers tend to have luggage. Or maybe they were thinking that passengers arriving at MIA don't NEED luggage carts, because there's a good chance their luggage has been stolen. Stolen luggage is one category in which MIA consistently ranks at or near the top, nationally. We're No. 1!
Whereas the Fort Lauderdale airport (which provides luggage carts) is nice.
Why am I ranting about the airports? Because I think they symbolize an unfortunate distinction between Miami-Dade and Broward, and in fact between Miami-Dade and a lot of places. Too often, Miami-Dade gives the strong impression that its allegedly public facilities and institutions -- its airports, its seaports, its municipal governments -- are run mainly for the benefit of the insiders and the plugged-in, and the hell with the public. I'm not naive enough to think this doesn't happen elsewhere. I'm just saying it's flagrant in Miami-Dade, and -- among other bad results -- it makes visitors feel unwelcome. I'm sure there's corruption in other tourist destinations. There's probably a big sign somewhere in Las Vegas that says ``Proudly Owned and Operated by Organized Crime Since 1946.'' But at least they manage to provide luggage carts, for God's sake.
OK, enough ranting. For now. Let's talk about the most practical way to get to Broward, which is:
BY CAR -- The most direct route is the I-95 Expressway And Real-Life Video Game, which features drivers traveling, simultaneously, at speeds ranging from Golf Cart to Asteroid. To get to Broward, proceed north on I-95 until you get to the Golden Glades Interchange, then close your eyes. Do NOT attempt to read the helpful highway directional signs, as you will go insane. Just grip the wheel and go as straight as possible, and you should wind up either dead or in Broward County.
I started researching this story by putting a message on the Herald computer system asking my co-workers -- many of whom live and work in Broward -- to suggest places that represent the essence of Browardness. I received an immediate outpouring of responses. For example, columnist Bea Moss (who lives in Dade) poured out the following: ``Where IS Broward, anyway?''
This was a fairly typical Miami-Dade reaction. It represents a phenomenon described by a Broward-dwelling reporter, Neil Reisner, who wrote:
``You might explore a strange fact of geography: It is provably a shorter distance from Broward to Dade than it is from Dade to Broward. That's why Dade people think it's very far to get from them to us, but we think it's just a short drive from us to them. There are other places where this quirk of geography is also manifest: between New York and New Jersey, for example, or in the Los Angeles area, between `the city' and `the valley.' ''
I think this observation is true: I know there are lots of people who travel from Broward to Miami every single day; whereas, since I moved to Miami-Dade, I've been to downtown Fort Lauderdale roughly the same number of times as I've been to downtown Denver.
Some Dade residents had nice things to day about Broward. For example, photographer Nuri Vallbona wrote:
``I was there a few months ago and was totally shocked when I put on my blinker to change lanes and the driver in the next lane let me in. Then to make things even weirder, I put my flasher on to park in a metered space and nobody tried to steal the space from me. It was an unbelievable experience. My passenger said I should get up there more often. Maybe all of us should.''
Many Broward people wrote to tell me about their county's wide array of places of cultural and historic interest. This response came from columnist Fred Grimm, veteran observer of the Broward scene:
``All you really need to know about Broward is Hooters. Broward is the Hooters capital of the world . . . The question is whether the restaurant chain, by expanding, has diluted its quality and has been forced to downsize cup size.''
I decided to leave that issue to somebody else, perhaps a federal task force headed by President Clinton. Instead I focused on some other Broward places that were recommended to me, by many Broward people, as being quintessentially Browardish, starting with:
Do you remember a few years back, when astronomers calculated that the universe contained way more matter than they previously thought? They figured there had to be a huge amount of matter somewhere, but they couldn't find it. Well, I know where it is: The Thunderbird Swap Shop.
This is a flea market approximately the size of Utah. It's on the grounds of a drive-in movie theater on Sunrise Boulevard west of I-95, and it's open every day of the year. Tour buses come to this place; it claims to be the third-most-popular tourist attraction in Florida. This is a fabulous place to watch people, especially if you're interested in the quirkier permutations of the genetic code.
And if there's not enough stuff in your life, this is definitely where to go. You can walk through row after row after row of vendors displaying a staggering variety of new and previously owned items ranging from TVs to ABBA tapes to lamps to hoist pullers to toilet seats to duct tape to Playboy magazines to a device called a ``Pasta Queen.'' You can buy every kind of tchotchke and T-shirt that the mind can comprehend. You can buy plantain chips in bulk. You can buy mysterious gizmos and gadgets (Many in the original packaging!) that you find yourself powerfully attracted to -- even though you have no idea what they are -- because they are such an incredible deal . You can buy an astrological reading. You can buy books that I wrote, REALLY cheap. You can buy Abdominizers and NordicTrack machines and other fitness devices that were used maybe twice before the previous owners realized they would never in their lifetimes look anything like the people in the infomercial. You can choose from an astounding array of nose-hair trimmers. If your car radio was stolen recently, chances are you can find a vendor at the Swap Shop who's selling a previously owned car radio exactly like your old one -- same make, same model, maybe even the same scratches, not that I am suggesting anything.
Did I mention the circus? There's an actual circus at the Swap Shop, inside a large main building. It's in a ring in the middle of the Food Court. The circus opens with four women in scanty costumes going up on ropes and performing daring feats, causing the elderly woman next to me to remark, reprovingly, to her elderly husband: ``I betcha they don't smoke.''
Then comes a clown, who is introduced by the ringmaster as ``The No. 1 Clown in the United States and Latin America.'' (The ringmaster doesn't say who No. 2 is; I'm guessing Jerry Springer.) The clown performs some timeless clown antics, the kind of humor that's guaranteed to draw a laugh from children of all ages, up to about 3.
Then out come five performing horses, which race around the ring to Bonanza-style music, and then -- Whoa, Nelly! -- race around the ring in the other direction. The horses are followed by ``the single greatest aerialist in the show world today, the one, the only Mark David!'' This is a slim blond man who comes out and does some really scary-looking feats of daring and strength way up on a trapeze with no net, although I was not threatened by him because he wears white tights and shaves his armpits.
The headline act is the elephants. Yes: Elephants. There are three of them, and they put on a very professional show, never giving the slightest indication that it bothers them that they're playing in a swap shop Food Court. They perform a series of tricks, and then, at the climactic moment, one of the elephants, with that uncanny sense of showmanship that makes these animals such great performers, thinks: ``I have a large and appreciative audience, so this would be the perfect time for . . . a huge bowel movement!''
Don't get me wrong: I truly enjoyed the circus. In fact, I loved the Thunderbird Swap Shop, which is the distilled essence of the philosophy that makes this amazing nation what it is, proudly proclaiming to the world: ``This is America! Make us an offer!''
The other major tourist attraction in Broward is also a place where you go to acquire stuff:
This is more than just a gigantic shopping mall: This is a gigantic shopping mall that is located practically in Sarasota. But it's worth driving way the hell out in the former Everglades, because Sawgrass has every kind of semi-outlet store that the human mind can conceive of, running the entire spectrum of retail merchandise from women's clothes all the way to women's shoes.
OK, they have some other stores, too, but I think the overwhelming appeal is to women. I say this because I went there with my wife, who is extremely loyal to Miami, and who, ever since I started researching this story, had been putting down Broward as boring. Right up to the moment that we walked into Sawgrass Mills, she was dissing Broward, saying she would never EVER live there, and then suddenly she transformed, right before my eyes, from Ms. Miami-Dade into . . . Shopping Woman.
``It has Ann Taylor!'' she said. Her eyes were getting shiny.
``OK,'' I said, ``so we'll just look around and . . .''
``It has Nine West!'' she said.
``So,'' I said, ``after we look around a little bit we'll go . . .''
``It looks like they have a whole shoe district over there!'' she said.
I believe that at one time, millions of years ago, women had more legs than they do now, and they still have a genetic memory of that time, the result being that they're constantly on the lookout for shoes, in case they suddenly re-grow a bunch of additional feet. So it was a good thing they eventually closed the Sawgrass Mall for the night, because otherwise we'd still be there. My advice to men going there with women is: Make sure you have some other activity to occupy your time while you're waiting, such as learning to speak Korean. But it is a nice mall, as malls go. In addition to stores, it offers bars, restaurants and -- Attention, Miami International Airport! -- luggage carts. I enjoyed Sawgrass, although for sheer shopping pleasure I have to give the edge to the Thunderbird Swap Shop, on the basis of elephants.
So one thing you can definitely do in Broward is buy stuff. Another thing you can do is go to:
The last time I explored Fort Lauderdale beach was in 1984, when I did a story for Tropic about spring break. That was a major happening in those days: College students would stream to Fort Lauderdale beach from all over the country and party their brains out for a wild and crazy 45 minutes, at which point they'd throw up and pass out. Back then I saw college students who were so severely impaired that I would not have been surprised to see them still there in 1998, crawling along A1A like severely hung-over turtles.
But those days are WAY gone. In the mid-'80s the city movers and shakers decided that they no longer wanted their community to be represented to the rest of the world by the slogan: ``Fort Lauderdale: Come on Down and Urinate on Our Streets.'' And so, over the objections of the bars and T-shirt shops along the A1A strip, they essentially made spring break illegal. Now, college students who want to party hearty go to other resort areas or become White House interns.
After spring break was shut down, the Fort Lauderdale beach strip wallowed for a while in aimless tackiness. Then it got extensively renewed and sanitized and redesigned and color-coordinated, and now it's very . . . nice.
I'm not knocking it. Nice is good! There's a nice promenade with a nice wall, and nice palm trees, and nice upscale restaurants, and a nice imitation of CocoWalk. But Fort Lauderdale beach is a LOT less funky than South Beach. The Funkiness Gap is particularly evident in the following qualities, which are abundant in South Beach but generally lacking in Fort Lauderdale:
-- Models so tall that they have aircraft warning lights on their heads;
-- Bodybuilders who are so proud of their chests that they would not put on shirts even if the temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, got as low as their IQs;
-- Men with large, live, presumably carnivorous snakes around their necks;
-- Fashionably dressed, perfectly accessorized women who are actually not;
-- Sidewalks so crowded with café tables and pedestrians that, to make progress, you have to sometimes hack your way through people's salads;
-- Inaccessible nightclubs, many of them containing Mickey Rourke;
-- Nuclear boomboxes;
-- Large hairy European men wearing bathing suits that offer as much coverage as a standard No. 32 rubber band;
-- Women who brought two-piece bathing suits but are wearing only one piece.
I noted that on Fort Lauderdale beach, when women sunbathers get up, they tend to immediately put on modest little wraparound skirts. You do not see this kind of reserve in South Beach. There, you see women of all sizes whose bathing suits make the statement: ``CAN EVERYBODY GET A GOOD LOOK AT MY BUTT? HOW ABOUT YOU PEOPLE OVER IN FRANCE?''
The lone reminder I saw of the old wild and crazy spring break days on Fort Lauderdale beach was the Elbo Room, the legendary ``Where the Boys Are'' bar at the corner of A1A and Las Olas. There's a sign outside that says ``OVER 1.5 MILLION SERVED.'' Hell, when I did my spring break story, they were serving at least that many in one night . But even the Elbo Room has gone semi-upscale. And what is more, it has a Web site . It's, and on it you can access the Bar Cam, the Beach Cam or the Patio Cam, so it's exactly like going to a bar, but without the smell, or sound, or risk of contact with undesirable humans. It's a good thing I'm not into literary devices, or I'd be tempted to present the Elbo Room Web site as a metaphor for Broward County.
In summary, I'd say that Fort Lauderdale beach is what South Beach would be like if it were owned and operated by the Disney Corporation. Does that make it better than South Beach, or worse? Depends what you're after. If you want to eat a nice, quiet dinner with a nice view of the ocean, and then maybe do some promenading and not encounter anybody wearing any kind of snake, go to Fort Lauderdale beach. If you want to do some serious partying , or you have visitors from out of town and you want to show them a scene that will remain burned into their memory circuits long after they've forgotten their children's names, you definitely want South Beach.
But let's continue with our mini-tour of Broward attractions. Not far west of the Fort Lauderdale beach you have the throbbing heart of . . .
OK, it's not exactly throbbing, but it's pretty nice, especially along Las Olas in the New River area -- nice restaurants; nice bars; a nice place to promenade around, even at night. Of course, downtown Miami has a potentially MUCH nicer nightlife area, right along Biscayne Bay, the spectacularly located Bayfront Park area. But except for the Bayside enclave, this is definitely not a place to be promenading at night, unless you have commando troops promenading with you. If Miami ever got its act together, it could have the most beautiful, welcoming, exciting waterfront of any big city in the United States. But of course this is Miami, where actually accomplishing things is always far down the list of priorities, behind cashing in, grandstanding for political points, gaining revenge and conducting foreign policy. (See previous rant regarding luggage carts.)
But getting back to Broward: Downtown Fort Lauderdale is the center of the old, traditional Broward. If you want to see the Broward of the future -- Tomorrowland Broward -- you go west, past maybe 50,000 strip malls, until you start seeing vast clots of semi-identical homes in semi-identical subdivisions whose names contain words such as ``meadows,'' ``lakes,'' ``ranch,'' ``estates'' and ``falls,'' so as to distract your attention from the fact that the single most appropriate word for the area, at least geologically, is ``swamp''; and finally you reach a gate manned by a private security guard who does not wish to let you in. Welcome! You have reached . . .
This is where people who can afford it go to get away from, and to lock out, the disorder, the unpredictability, the messiness, the unsavory elements, the spontaneity, the . . . Dadeness of the rest of South Florida. Weston epitomizes a new kind of residential area that has become rampant in Broward -- a residential area that did not grow organically or haphazardly, but instead was planned, from the start, by Master Planners, who have created standards for every physical detail down to the permissible style of doorknob. Nothing is left to chance: Everything is part of the Master Plan. It's NOT a ``subdivision'': It's a community , defined as ``a subdivision with a WHOLE lot of rules.''
These rules are interpreted and enforced by ``Homeowners' Associations,'' which are kind of like the police, but stricter and more powerful, because they're upholding the highest law of all: property values. If you live in a planned community, and you put a satellite dish in your yard, the police will probably do nothing. Whereas the officers of your homeowners' association may decide, depending on the size and placement of the dish, to sentence you to death. I'm not saying they'd necessarily get away with this. I'm just saying they might try.
Now, I should point out that I live in Coral Gables, which is also famous for protecting its property values via rules. Coral Gables has a legendary group of code-enforcement personnel who, for strict adherence to The Rules, make the Nazi party look like a Grateful Dead tour. If you want to do anything significant to your home in the Gables, you must go through this procedure:
1. You ask permission.
2. They tell you no.
3. You spend a lot of money on architects, engineers, nuclear physicists, etc., to make sure your plans conform EXACTLY to the Coral Gables code.
4. They tell you no again.
Yes, Coral Gables is strict. But it's total anarchy compared to life in some planned communities. For example, consider this news item from the May 24, 1998, Hometown Herald:
Homeowners in two neighborhoods of the Huntington development in Miramar are being asked to vote on whether their mailboxes should be replaced.
For a one-time household fee, the homeowners' association will replace the original wooden mailboxes, which some homeowners say have deteriorated, in the Bristol Bay and Bristol Isle neighborhoods.
``They're really not standing up to the Florida weather,'' said Nora Jacome, who lives in Bristol Isle. ``The color has faded on some of them, and they're leaning a little bit.''
The association is considering replacing the wooden boxes with something more durable, like plastic. The vote will be held at the next homeowners' association meeting.
In other words, if you live in that community, you can't just put up a new mailbox: Everybody has to vote on it. I was struck by this article, because recently we decided to get a new mailbox, because our old one had become a mailbox-shaped wad of rust. So we went to the hardware store, and I asked the sales clerk where the mailboxes were, and he immediately, without hesitation, gave me a blank look, so my wife asked in Spanish, and he led us to the mailbox section, and we freely picked out whatever the hell mailbox we wanted, and we put it up, and so far Coral Gables has done nothing about it. You cannot engage in that kind of lone-wolf outlaw behavior in a truly planned community.
Which is not to say planned communities aren't nice. They're very nice! I drove into Weston one weekend, and I was stunned by how perfect everything looked -- thousands of perfectly maintained semi-identical homes with perfectly manicured lawns in perfectly laid-out sectors with perfectly meaningless developer names like ``Heritage Lake'' and ``Sierra Falls'' accessed via perfectly curved streets (named ``Eagle Run,'' ``Hampton Court,'' etc.) shaded by perfectly spaced trees next to perfectly shaped lakes containing (I am sure) perfectly proportioned frogs. If it were not for the lack of people walking around wearing giant animal heads, I would have thought I was in Disney World. Everything is clean and neat and totally . . . controlled .
Weston does not downplay the level of control: It's a selling point. If you stop in the sales office, you can get a packet of information, including a brochure with this statement from Jim Motta, president of Arvida, the company that developed Weston:
``To assure that a community meets our quality standards, we are careful to control all aspects of the development process. This starts with creating the project concept and theme for the community and then extends to community elements like site planning, landscaping, amenities and architectural design.''
The brochure states that ``Weston's master plan exemplifies Arvida's attention to detail by focusing on every element of development within the community -- from `big picture' issues like the location of different land uses and parks down to the design of street signs and mailboxes in every village. Many of the residential villages, regardless of price range, include a guarded and gated entry, a distinct architectural style, and their own landscape identity.''
They aren't kidding about the gates. They're everywhere in Weston. On my driving tour, I decided to check out one of the ``villages,'' and as soon as I turned off the main parkway I came to a gate, with a guardhouse.
``Can I help you?'' the guard said.
``I just wanted to look around,'' I said.
``Are you going to the open house?'' he asked.
``Not really,'' I said. ``I really just wanted to look around.''
He thought for a second. ``Well,'' he said, ``there's an open house. You could go to that.'' He was letting me know, nicely, that the rules don't permit random driving around.
``OK,'' I said. ``I'm going to the open house.''
``OK,'' he said. ``I just need to see a photo ID.''
So I gave him my driver's license, and he wrote down some stuff, including my car's tag number, and then he made a phone call, and after a few minutes he opened the gate and let me in. The ``village'' was of course actually a collection of immaculate semi-identical homes. It was very nice. But the guard thing was a little spooky to me. I guess I'd better get used to it: Gated communities are getting to be the rage, in Broward and elsewhere. The world is a crazy, scary, out-of-control place, and people like to be able to duck into a safe sector, a sector that does not let in just anybody.
In the information packet I got from the Weston sales office, there was a reprint of an article on Weston from Education Week. It quotes a 9-year Weston resident as follows:
``I want my neighbors to be just like me, and I want my kids to have my values, which are supported by the community. I want them to associate with kids who are very similar -- not by race or religion, but with similar values and goals. Similar people with similar values and outlook and basic socioeconomic levels -- that makes a community, to me.''
Also, similar mailboxes.
The word that Weston marketing people use constantly is ``hometown.'' It's a nice word, a word that evokes small-town America in more-innocent times. I see the appeal of that. I grew up in Armonk, N.Y., which then was a small town where everybody knew everybody. It was a safe and in many ways idyllic place, a fantastic place to be a kid. Armonk was a real hometown, and one thing I distinctly remember about it is, people didn't have to show a photo ID to get in.
To me, Weston doesn't feel like a hometown; it feels like a club. It's a nice club. But it's for members only.
But we have dwelt long enough among the villages of the Islands of the Meadows of the Pointes of the Laurels of the Springs of Weston. It's time to move on to . . .
I'm out of space here, so I'll summarize by saying that the rest of Broward County is large and varied. If you're interested, you should go see it for yourself (take along a photo ID). In fact, I think it would be a good thing if more Miami-Dade people got up to Broward and looked around, because there's a lot of nice stuff, and maybe we can get some ideas for how we could make Miami-Dade a little nicer, such as electing people who have never been indicted and not shooting at each other so much.
But I also think it wouldn't hurt if more of you Broward people -- especially those of you living behind all those gates, and those of you who think Miami-Dade is too foreign -- dusted off your passports and came down to spend some quality time among your neighbors to the south. You might find that similarity isn't all it's cracked up to be. You might even have fun.
So what I'm saying, to the people of both counties is: Let's not be strangers. Let's try to understand each other. Let's reach out and touch one another with the extended olive branch. Let's walk a mile in each other's moccasins. Let's remember the words of Rodney King, who said: ``Ow! Ow! Stop hitting me!'' And above all, let's think about the lesson of the old traditional Spanish folk saying, Si tiene puesto un balde, no puede peinarse, which translates to: ``If you're wearing a bucket, you can't comb yourself.''
I'd explain the significance of this saying, but I need to go outside. There's a SWAT team surrounding my mailbox.

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