By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine
I remember what I said the June day I got off the plane from New Mexico to start a new job here in South Florida.
I remember because I was sure, “I can’t live here.”
I’d pushed into the airport in Albuquerque that morning in 50 degrees and 15 percent humidity. I pushed out of the airport that afternoon in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood in 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity.
I’d never seen rain like that before. I’d never felt sweat like that, either.
Buckets of rain. Bathtubs. Jacuzzi spas of it. I ran out of home-fixture units of measurement before I left the airport and moved on to sports, geographical and literary measurements. Swimming pools, lakes, Biblical floods.
More rain in an hour than I’d seen in a year in New Mexico. So much rain the windshield wipers of the rental couldn’t keep up with it. I fumbled with the wiper speed, looking for something higher than High. I wondered if I’d missed the row of cars at the rental agency built especially for South Florida. Cars with Hyper Wiper Speed and Maximum Air Conditioning that could also float, dive and withstand high pressure at great depths.
I’d arrived in time for what I learned later was the “Mean Season.’’ Heavy rain, humidity, hurricanes, hungry mosquitoes.
More than mean, there just wasn’t much to do here, either.
Hotels used to board up during the Mean Season. (The Breakers in Palm Beach didn’t even bother to fully air condition the place until the 1970s). People built homes with small closets because no one expected anyone to live here between April 15 and Oct. 15.
Looking for something to do? There was a trailer park where the Seminole Hard Rock now stands in Hollywood, children; there was a two-lane road out to the only real concert venue, the Hollywood Sportatorium, which, as I recall, went dark most of the summer; and you couldn’t even go shopping on Sundays at Publix.
For fun, we’d sit in front of the air conditioning unit.
I was there one evening when there was a knock on the door of my room at the motel near Port Everglades and the trucking routes along I-95, where my company had thoughtfully put me up for the night.
“Want a date?” a girl in a red tube top said.
No, thanks, I said.
Where would we go, anyway?
I was sure, I can’t live here.
But my employers eventually gave me plenty to do, and their building was air conditioned. (Talk about perks). I learned that you could survive here in summer if you got up before sunrise in your air-conditioned house, ran to your air-conditioned car, parked near the door of the air-conditioned office and ran from the car to the office door before the sun came up.
Do that long enough and, eventually, the Mean Season eases into something more tolerable, then nice and then, finally, as we all know … sublime.
And 36 years after saying, “I can’t live here,’’ I’m still living here. It didn’t take long, though, to feel like a pioneer. (“Why I remember seeing deer jump across Flamingo Road, children, back in the summer of ’82.”)
So I’m looking over this Summer Issue (https://bit.ly/2M8BOJd) and thinking, there’s so much more to do here now than there used to be. More things to do at the Seminole Hard Rock, the BB&T Center and the AAA in a weekend than there used to be all summer at the Sportatorium. The Breakers and other hotels are open, fully air conditioned and the Mean Season prices are nice. Restaurants that used to board up in June, July and August now offer incentives to leave the A/C unit and dine out.
And you can even go shopping on Sunday at Publix.
There’s still heavy rain, of course. Humidity, hurricanes, hungry mosquitoes, too.
But so much more.