Community Policing In Wilton Manors – A Reason Why You Want To Live Here

We’re a small town, only about 12,800 people, give or take a few.  I’m not standing out on the highway with the sign welcoming you here with a sharpie and changing the numbers as people come and go every day.

We’re surrounded by much larger neighbors, Oakland Park to the North, Fort Lauderdale to the South.

I hear stories about one or the other thinking of merging with us or gobbling us up, respectively, from time to time.  Growth is fine, but living in a much larger city can be highly overrated.

We’re diverse.  A mix of different people and cultures here rub shouders, but we all do seem to get along.

That diversity is why I personally think of the place as a Quirky Little Island.  Sometimes the quirks show themselves in some amusing and wonderful ways.

One day we were coming back from a rather excellent meal at an Italian restaurant that specializes in hand prepared ingredients and the kind of food I remember Mom bringing home from South Philly when she went to visit Grandmom.

Coming onto Wilton Drive from the South, we noticed that there was a sign announcing a lane closure.  The first thought was “I hope they get the two lane initiative started – there’s been political gridlock on this too long”.  Then I said it out loud.  Getting unanimous agreement from everyone in the car, some louder than others, saying that it’s overdue that we narrow The Drive to two traffic lanes and increase the parking to support the central business district, we spotted the blockage.

Ok, this was nothing “usual”.  I’m fairly well informed on the goings on here, but this particular street closure was nothing I knew about.  One lane, completely blocked off for the “meat” of Wilton Drive is unusual.  They were overzealous in protecting whoever was supposed to be using the lane, you couldn’t turn into the neighborhood streets “off the Drive” because they blocked even the intersections.

Nobody was using the lane.  It was still early, dinner hour, and it had the air of people yet to come.

Driving the length of the Drive, we found the end of the blockage, near the Rumors Bar and Grill, and scratching our heads, we found our way to the house.

Asking around “online” didn’t help, nobody had heard.

Had it been a festival, the Wilton Manors Development Alliance might have been asked to do an email blast about it, but they got silence as well.

Pulling into our driveway, we went in, full from the meal and the excitement and settled into our easy chairs for a diet of old sitcoms and pre-recorded television on the DVR.  Forgetting about the blockage on the Drive, we rolled out the evening like a warm blanket of domesticity.

Reaching the end of the night, we decided to grab our furry sidekick, Rack the McNab Superdog, and went for our final walk.

We had gotten to the end of our block and looked toward the Drive and there was a police cruiser, sitting in the intersection with lights flashing.  Even a couple blocks away, it was bright enough to dazzle, and the dog didn’t care for it.  He’s fearful and it didn’t surprise me.

Instead of subjecting Rack to the excitement, Kevin went up to the Drive and stuck his oar in the water to see what happened while I walked a block off the Drive on the usual route.  Whatever was going on had the benefit of giving us less traffic, and that is always welcome in a town with few sidewalks.

When Kevin caught up with us, I heard the story.

There was a Pet Costume party that ended at Rumors Bar.  Of All Things, right?  This would have been fun to visit since Rack would have loved the chance to socialize with all the dogs.

That wasn’t the whole of it.  See, this is Wilton Manors, not New York or Los Angeles where you are hearing horror stories of militarized police forces.  We’re lucky enough to have a police chief, Chief O’Connell on the Wilton Manors Police Department who understands that in order to have a truly safe city, the community must be involved.  To involve the community, the officers must engage the community and make contact in a supportive way in order to enhance life here in the city.

I would have expected a grumbly or growly encounter with the Fort Lauderdale PD had they been involved, in fact the story I tell is a bit of a stereotype where once there was a FLPD Cruiser that charged through Wilton Drive in the middle of a street closure and festival lights and sirens blazing.  Everyone cleared out.  We happened to be in the right place to see where they were going.  Dunkin Donuts.  Yes, Fort Lauderdale PD officers saw fit to interrupt a street festival to get donuts. 

In Wilton Manors, the opposite effect happened.  The officers were enjoying the show.  When Kevin asked what was going on, the two female officers immediately told that it was a Pet Parade, and that it was a wonderful thing.  The only thing that they wanted to do was to go see the judging of the costumes, which they couldn’t do from their posts.  The conversation went on about how beautiful the pets were and how creative some of the costumes were, and that it was a wonderful thing that happened here.  They also said you just couldn’t do that sort of thing in some of the other towns around. 

Nice to be in a quirky place that isn’t “uptight”, right?

I’ve been stopped from time to time by officers in Wilton Manors while out and about.  Even at my first walk of the day, as much as two hours before sunrise, I’ve had conversations with officers about things – always light and pleasant.  Always it was in the spirit of engaging the public, being friendly, and offering some bit of news or trivia about how things are going on here in the town.

I would say that while this place has its detractors, they’re all welcome to stay where they are.  It’s nice to live in a city where much more goes right than goes wrong, and the worst thing that I have heard about was a dog’s costume wardrobe malfunction. 

It’s a bear to keep those costumes clean, isn’t it?

Mardi Gras Beads Scare My Dog

After all the thunder and lightning, I’m not surprised that Rack is skittish.  I should say, I’m not surprised he’s more skittish than normal.

I shouldn’t be introducing new things at this time of year.  He’s not as Bulletproof with that sort of thing as my Lettie was.  He’s a highly fearful McNab Dog.  Regaining some confidence is coming slowly and it is something I am actively trying to foster.

But there are times that I really have to wonder.

We had had major thunderstorms every day last week.  Then Saturday came.  Then hoards of people descended upon Wilton Manors.

Yes, we had the Stonewall Pride Wilton Manors street festival.

You know the maxim about parties, right?  If you are going to hold a party, invite your neighbor.  Preferably have a lot of goodies to eat and drink, and send them home happy, that way they can’t complain?

I can’t complain.  My home is so close to the party that in my back bedroom I was listening to Sheila E perform live when she was on stage at the end of the live music program.  Try to charge me cover to get into see that and that would be where I would have a problem with it.

So I went out to help.   I was out at the booth for my board helping to sell bricks for a while.  Wilton Manors Development Alliance is trying to build a plaza with the City of Wilton Manors‘ help and approval on park land in the heart of Wilton Manors so that everyone can enjoy it now and for a very long time in the future.  It will be a centerpiece in the middle of the central business district of the city when done.  The Children’s Art Project now has a replica of the post card that originally advertised the land by the original development of the city of Wilton Manors.  There’s a small plaza that we’re dutifully filling in with laser engraved bricks with sayings.  The profits are actively going to build and furnish the plaza.  There is art there that has been created by and for the children of Wilton Manors.  Their work will help improve the life of the city for decades.

I sat outside and noticed that while it was hot, there was a storm starting to brew.  10 minutes later we were gathering up our artwork and trying to hide it from the monsoon that flew up.

All the while, the music never stopped.

When our replacements arrived, we went for lunch.  The rains stopped and restarted.  The party went on with light rains here and there that surged with the beat.

We got home and Rack came out of his crate wondering what had unleashed these loud demons that were stomping all over our neighborhood.

By the time that the parade started at 7PM, the rains had stopped.  The music throbbed on.

We came back in time to walk Rack, and he was even more disturbed than he was in the afternoon when we returned.   Poor little guy had just had enough of this commotion.

Luckily there won’t be any more street festivals for a couple months.  It’s just too hot in Florida in Summer for that sort of thing, although it’s hotter in Philadelphia from now through a normal September than it is here.

Normal.  This is El Nino so we are watching things closely.  It’s supposed to stop the hurricanes for a bit but give us more rain.

Rack won’t like that.  More Rain.  More Thunder.  More Hiding.

When I got him back from the last walk of the night, Sheila E was singing her heart out.  I was enjoying her act from my bedroom where the volume was “comfortable”, but I’m sure Rack would have loved the earplugs that I keep in the headboard.   He eventually had his dinner that I had put out five hours earlier and we both went to sleep.

The next morning, Sunday, I was up at Stupid o’clock again.  Rack was sleeping against the bed instead of being another six feet across the bedroom in his own bed.  Residual effect from everyone else’s party.

We went out.   He stepped out onto the front porch quickly but sniffed the air with caution.  There wasn’t a cloud in the skies at 5AM, cool too.  All that rain washed the skies clear.  We started to walk towards The Drive.

Rack did not want to go at all! 

The cleaning crew was still finishing up on Wilton Drive.  They had been out overnight.

I usually expect to find oddball things out on the drive when I go for a walk, especially after a street
festival.  You can tell that the economy is getting better in China.  The giveaways are better.

Aluminum party whistles emblazoned with company names and websites.

Scattered mardi gras beads everywhere.

Aluminum Drinking Straws wrapped individually in plastic.

Wait, what?  Aluminum Drinking Straws.  With company logo?  Have we as a species finally lost our collective minds?

Yes, exactly that.

I realized what I was holding when I scooped it up from where I found it sitting on a bench.   Perfectly wrapped in plastic about two grades thicker than it needed to be.   That will go to the trash-to-steam plant on Tuesday.

Laughing at this green aluminum cylinder, I headed Rack back to the house with my find in hand.  Between the aluminum party whistle and the big industrial strength straw, there was just a lot of recyclable materials that were being used in new and creative ways.

We trotted back to the house.  No storms, no dogs, no problems.  After all it was over an hour before sunrise.

Time for coffee.

Waiting for the water to boil, I spotted the Mardi Gras beads sitting on the counter.  Remembering that Lettie thought that those beads were hers as a fashion accessory, and that I have a 2 liter glass beer stein sitting on the windowsill filled with the things as a result, it was time to see what Rack thought.

I didn’t see Rack for another hour.

I held the beads out for Rack to sniff.  It’s new.  He was fine.  For now.

I held the beads up higher to put them over his neck, and Rack was having nothing of it.  He started to back up and then…

He’s gone.

I guess introducing my dog to tacky plastic silver beads wasn’t going well.

Calling Rack didn’t work.  As he got to the corner to turn into the bedroom, Rack shot me a look back over his shoulder as if to say “Get Real, I’m Not Going Near That”.

I’m used to him hiding, and we didn’t need him to wear beads.   This is not New Orleans, this is Florida.  I can always re-home the extra beads.  After all, there’s a plastic tree hiding in a box in the shed that they will look nice on come the holidays.

Diane Cline’s Way… and Cake – Picture

One of the nice things about living in a “Small Town” is that things eventually get made right.

Diane Cline, a woman who I was privileged to know from my own civic work, passed a few months back.  To say that the central business district of Wilton Manors, the Wilton Drive, looks the way it does because of her and her efforts is a serious understatement.

She was the driving force behind the modernization of the entire district from the two lanes with parking it once was, to the widening and refurbishment of the current five lanes, the addition of improvements and other factors that make modern Wilton Manors what it is.  Recognizing the need for correcting the Car Culture of South Florida, she led the effort to reduce the Drive to two lanes via our own Wilton Manors Development Alliance, then the Wilton Manors Main Street. 

The Two Lane Initiative is the idea that we should turn Wilton Manors into an even more walkable city than it currently is by limiting the Drive down to two lanes and increase parking so that the businesses can thrive – it’s a win-win for everyone once it gets done.  It would also raise the property values of town, make it easier to cross the streets, and reduce the carnage that happens when people expect drivers in South Florida to follow the Uniform Vehicle Code by allowing pedestrians the right of way.   Diane understood this as a fundamental human right and worked tirelessly to allow this to move forward.

Her pet projects were many and historic, such as the Wilton Manors Historical Society, and the Wilton Manors Women’s Club.  If you didn’t know Diane, you probably didn’t know how Wilton Manors worked and how it came to be.

She used to say that Wilton Drive should have been called “Diane’s Way”, a clear double entendre to those who knew her.  But either way you read that, it was correct.   It simply wouldn’t be what it is without the efforts of this amazing woman.

Last night we gathered, Family, Friends, and the rest, at the little park in the middle of town, Jaycee Park to honor Diane with a get together.   There at the park, we saw the growing Children’s Art Project that was just expanded to include the bricks that form a small plaza in front of the Post Card through Diane’s efforts with the Wilton Manors Development Alliance and the Wilton Manors Historical Society.  The Jaycee Park improvements are there because of Diane’s and others civic efforts, and it was across the street from the heart of the city near Hagen Park, the Women’s Club, and “New” City Hall.

At least it’s “New” to me since I’m one of the long-time new-comers.  Newish?  Not sure.  Never mind that, I’m rambling.

There’s a little street behind the Jaycee Park and Children’s Art Project.  NE 5th Street.  To rename Wilton Drive might have brought a twinkle to Diane’s eye but it would have been a bit confusing to all the businesses.  So instead of renaming that, NE 5th behind that park will now have another name.   Diane Cline’s Way.  A nod to all of her works through her long and productive life.

We got to see the unveiling of the signs by the family, and the commissioners, and had a chance to visit with friends.  One of the nicer things about living in a small town.  Sure you get to know everyone, for better or worse, but when you get together, it’s always worth the time.   We got to stand in the middle of Diane’s Way, talking about her good deeds, and having her cake.   Diane did have a sweet tooth so she would have enjoyed some of that cake.  I know I did, I would have loved a second piece!

If anyone reading this would like to be a part of getting the Children’s Art Project finished, you can sponsor a brick.  Just follow through this link to the page on the Wilton Manors Development Alliance’s page for the artist’s drawing of the Children’s Art Project where you can see what will be when it is complete.

I promise you, I’ll keep an eye on them while I’m able.  Diane would have liked it that way.  

Sign of a Good Life

I was sitting on the Big Green Chair, watching some semi-forgettable TV show, dog at my feet, laptop making my legs sweat.   It was after all, September, and it won’t cool down until our two week winter in February.

I hear over the lamp and table separating us:

This is a great quote!
What is it?
Sign of a good life: The place your funeral is held is too small to accommodate the number of people who attend.
Wow, who said that?
Mike D.

Of course, Mike d’Oliviera.  He’s a local journalist here in town.   He’s also got a knack for telling a story concisely.   I could learn from that after all.  I am greeted by people by “Hey! There’s the Rambling Moose” for a reason.

With that, Mike described the Funeral or Celebration of Diane Cline’s Life perfectly.   I remembered standing in one of the back rooms of the place for most of the night.  I briefly claimed a chair in the center of the room and thought about the crush of people, both Diane’s friends and family, how many there were with the sheer volume of bodies in the parlor of the former Richardson’s home that Diane sought to save with the help of the Historical Society.  Seeing my friends on the board of Wilton Manors Development Alliance, the once Wilton Manors Main Street, where Diane was the Chairwoman for Life, yet another group that she had helped to found, I realized how packed the place was.

The rains had started just before the selected hour.  It was as if Diane nudged a cloud over the park in order to get things going.   I heard someone announce it was time to come on in out of the rain.   When the music started to gather us together, the rain suddenly stopped.   Timing was interesting even if that sort of on-off rain is something you become accustomed to here in the almost-tropics of Wilton Manors.

It wasn’t me who suggested that we pick up and move to the room in the back next to the kitchen, but I heartily agreed.  Crowds are difficult at best for someone who sticks out above them.  The Japanese have a saying that the Tallest Nail Will Get The Hammer First.  I have quite a few dents on top of my head as a result, hammers and low hanging door closers aside.  I got to observe the crowd from my perch near the back. 

I’ll just stick to the back of the hall.   Getting hit in the head with a hammer is fine for a nail, but for a too tall person in a too crowded space, it can be difficult.

This was a not to be missed event.  Even those who Diane would have told off in public arrived, much to our bemusement.  Kremlinology didn’t stop with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it moved to public events everywhere where people will ask “what is SHE doing here, doesn’t she have a clue?”.

Standing there listening to the politicians from our City speak about Diane, followed by the WMDA, then Family, the whole time I was looking at the fruits of her labor.   Ironically I spotted a sign against the butter colored walls proclaiming Capacity 92 Persons, and said I doubt very much that the Fire Marshall would dare count heads in this packed building.

With back against the wall and potluck food on a plastic plate, I found my niche.   A part of the celebration but on the periphery trying hard not to block the walkway or the doorway to the speeches with the too-low ceiling height.  Being where I was, balancing the experience, there were a few things that would float in over the thrum of the crowd.  One story about a commission meeting. then later followed by Diane’s favorite admonishment to “Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver”.

They didn’t repeat my comment that if I ever buy a bus, I’ll drive it naked.

We eventually left the hall at the South End of the Drive.  Walking out I commented that most of what you see in this little city was directly due to the work of Diane and some other very committed people.  This is a small city.  Small cities all over the world get things done on the backs of the cadres of volunteers working to make life better.

The shape of the Drive, the character of the sidewalks, the widening to four lanes and our ongoing struggle to narrow it back with the Two Lane Initiative, many other aspects of this City that all look like the normal fabric of life here were at least touched by this woman.  It really is a case of if you didn’t know of her, you probably didn’t know what was going on in this quirky little island.  The same can be said of some others that I know well who are tireless volunteers.

Speeches are all well and good.  In this sort of celebration, knowing what we did, it was interesting to point out, quietly to each other, the intentional revisions of some very specific historical events, all for good effect.

Actions are better.  The works of anyone’s lifetime can rarely be summed up in a single afternoon’s event.  Sometimes you can get a better view of that life by leaving the hall and walking down your own Main Street after a September rain.