19 August 2007...3:57 pm

The Ballad Of Rachel Hurley

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We were boarding a plane from JFK to PBI when I cautioned “you know, going on a trip with me is a little like being on a fact finding mission.” I’ve subsequently learned that in 1893 what became West Palm Beach was purchased, in its entirety, by a certain Henry Flagler. He needed the land to house his “help.” A hundred and thirteen years later, in 2006, a curious data skewing left the city designated the fourteenth most dangerous in the nation.


The danger did not concern me, however, late one night when Emily and I left Derek’s beloved Snug alone. The Snug is a bar that, as it happens, is home to what became my beloved jukebox and the bulky men who, laughing, looked down at me and bellowed “you’re drunk!” when I played the Talking Heads.

Emily and I were to walk over a bridge that spans the Intercoastal Waterway, to an apartment building in the middle of a parking lot. Although I have been informed that “Florida is all about packaging,” the truth is that Florida is all about parking lots. Everything in West Palm Beach is in the middle of a parking lot, but it never became exactly clear to me why there were so many cars that needed spaces. There’s no town, no public square, so what the parking lots indicate is that hundreds of people all need to be at CVS and the local fried food hegemon, Duffy’s, at exactly the same time.

Instead of a main drag in what might be downtown, there are obedient palm trees forming a waifish x-axis outside of restaurants where nothing seemed so appropriate as ordering a bottle champagne and skipping the free dessert. The relative isolation of the buildings lends them a certain majesty; the extremes of size, weather, and wealth are what make Palm Beach County so beautiful.

The grandeur does not go unacknowledged. One is constantly reminded of Ancient Greece; there is a Juno Beach, and a Jupiter one, too. In my when-I-am-grown-up fantasy world, I will open my bake shop in Hope Sound; you’ll be able to find it on Apollo Street. The facade will remain unchanged, but I do think we should get a new front door.


Derek thought he should open a club in Hope Sound, too. Then he thought about it again and decided “but there would just be shows for us. No one else could come.” I told him that he could be the Todd P of South Florida, and then we all went and washed down some clams with pints of Bud Light.

On the drive back to his house, Derek gasped. “Oh! They opened a brand new Shell on Donald Ross!” We murmured appreciatively, but clearly with insufficient respect. “You don’t understand!” Derek was laughing a little bit. Derek was not laughing all that much. This was an amazing gas station. “There’s, like, massages there! And sparklers!” Someone wanted to know if it was possible to get a massage while holding a sparkler. “It’s like Disneyland.”

And in a city of 350,000 people, each of them 170 miles from Orlando, everyone stays busy making his own Disneyland. I heard about a drug dealer with cystic fibrosis who doesn’t work on Wednesday nights. That’s when he does karaoke–last week it was Sinatra.




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