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.

First Time Bartender at the Island City Art Walk

Last night, Wilton Manors held a party.

It wasn’t strictly a “Wilton Manors Party” it was more like a bunch of parties strung together all at once, all along the Drive.  This is the basis for the Island City Art Walk.  It’s not an official event held under one official banner. 

Each individual store that decides to participate has artists with their works on display at their store to show off the art.  Some shops are always hosting artists, others drop in and out as time allows. 

It’s a great opportunity to meet your neighbors and wander through some shops that normally you would not be able to go to.

Ok so that’s basically the gist of how I see things as a resident and sometimes participant.

What happened with me was a bit different, at least as far as my own experience shows.  I’m not a bartender, I have never played one on TV.  I have tried to get a friend up to Wilton Manors so he could get to see it and those plans fell apart early last week so we went to the Wilton Manors Main Street offices to “help out”.

Kevin delivered some cheese, chips and salsa from GFS Marketplace, another member delivered some wine and ice, and we set things out for the coming throng.  We were ready.

As time went on, Kevin, Krishan and I were playing host to a steady stream of people.  I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Vice Mayor Tom Green and a number of others as I was standing behind the bar and as time went on, we got our first lull in the traffic.   Krishan excused himself as things were quite under control for a bit of time out on the town. 

As parties go, they always have a lifespan.  Start out slow, build to a peak, then fade out slowly until the last one is kicked off the couch or told that since they crashed there all night it is their responsibility to make breakfast for everyone.

Make mine a sausage and cheese omelette, please.

Just as the party begun to build, a full 15 minutes into it, Kevin’s phone rang.  He ran out to take a “quick call” and I was pouring wine and serving cheese.  I’m looking back at it and have to say it was “different in a good way”.  I was able to basically host a party on my own introducing people to the artist, and telling them where we are on the Two Lane Initiative for Wilton Drive as far as I knew. 

That quick call was 45 minutes long, so I was on my own for a while.  On the other hand, it was a chance to visit with some friends in the neighborhood that I only partly knew and get caught up.  Funny how time will stretch and compress when you’re having fun. 

The salsa was a hit, GFS had some good stuff, and the leftovers will go into the salsa chicken that is today’s dinner.  I think we’re going to have that chicken on top of chips with a layer of cheese chunks.   Funny how versatile “snack food” can be.  The recipe is simple – add to a crockpot 8 frozen chicken breasts and enough salsa to coat and then press cook.  Shred when done with two forks.   We used chicken from GFS that we picked up last weekend at the Fort Lauderdale store so this meal is all from them.

Considering what I experienced, I would say that the people who came in are expecting some changes in the city.  There was heavy interest in what the Two Lane Initiative was all about and what it’s status was.  Basically, we have applied for a grant, and we are waiting to see if the grant application is going to be approved.   In the meantime, the City has a committee made of community members who meet to formulate plans to proceed.  Many questions also were being asked about the businesses that were closing on the drive in this difficult economic downturn.

We are basically waiting to see where we’re going, and the people who I spoke with were very happy to hear that it hasn’t died.

Once Kevin’s 45 minute call was over, Krishan immediately appeared and I was off duty.  I got to enjoy the party by greeting guests from a chair while helping them find the artist and answering still more questions about what went on with the Art Walk and with the Two Lane Initiative and important things like where is the nearest ATM.

Both artists who exhibited their works at Wilton Manors Main Street were well received and were both saying that they’d like to come back.  I would say that the Exhibits as well as the Art Walk was a success.

The experience was a fun one, I did enjoy playing bartender but I’ll have to remember next time – softer shoes!

Commission Meeting November 9, 2010 Highlights

Last night’s commission meeting was a short one.  After the swearing in of the elected officials and some light refreshments preceding the event, there was the selection of Tom Green as the Vice Mayor for the City. 

Congratulations, Tom and best of luck.

The meeting was a short agenda but there were some highlights.

During the comments from the Commissioners there was a call from Commissioner Scott Newton for the City to “Invest in the closure of the drive for next year’s” halloween party.  This is an excellent idea, since it will enhance the event and increase safety.  It fell through last year because of the collapse of the original event’s sponsors and by the time that Wilton Manors Main Street was able to pick up the event, it was too late to close the Drive.  The timing was just not right.  With Commissioner Newton’s backing, an early closure of the Drive may be assured regardless of which group handles the event.  Since Wilton Drive is in fact a four lane State Highway, Florida DOT is required to be notified and there are costs with closure.  With the Drive closed for an event everyone wins.  According to Commissioner Newton, during the four days of  Wicked Weekend there were only two related police calls with no arrests.  Events here tend to be a very safe affair.

Vice Mayor Tom Green voiced an interest in the City holding a St Patricks day festivity for next year.  Hopefully they will be able to pull something significant together for this as it is already getting late for any plans on a large scale event to fall in place.  Most likely it will be a small community based event instead of a large festival.  Having watched multiple festivals being planned and realizing that a large one with closing of the drive, parades, booths and other public space events would be difficult, I wish them well and would offer my assistance in any way reasonable.  I don’t expect that they have much time before they run against logistics problems.

Vice Mayor Tom Green also reiterated his desire for traffic cameras on Wilton Drive.   I see some problems with this.  Washington DC had tried these cameras and began removing them.  The reason is that people would spot the signs at the intersection, jam their brakes on and cause more accidents than would have happened without the cameras.  It would be more effective to enforce existing laws such as speeding and aggressive driving and get the word out that Wilton Manors is not a place to drive through, but a place to drive to.  If you stand on Wilton Drive and watch the intersections for any length of time, you realize that speeding is the real problem and not people running lights or trying to get through on a “Stale Yellow Light”.

The real solution to speeding on Wilton Drive is to narrow the drive down to two lanes and proceed with the two lane initiative as discussed by many people and championed by Wilton Manors Main Street.  It is very difficult to speed when you have only one lane, there is parking everywhere, and the speed limit is 25MPH.  It is easy and the norm now with four lanes of traffic plus a turn lane at all intersections.

With the proposed Beer Garden going in on NE 6th Ave just above Wilton Drive planning on using valet parking, the idea of adding parking on the Drive with striping in the first phase is needed.  The idea that there is anywhere to park a vehicle for a new bar is questionable, and it should be a requirement that they provide adequate parking sufficient for peak periods.  A beer garden would be a fun change from the usual noisy bar scene, but if you add to the nightmare of parking in the city, you’re going to have problems keeping the business going.  I share Vice Mayor Green’s concern that the plan for valet parking for the Beer Garden parking at the Dairy Queen, 1/2 mile away, is prohibitive from the practicality standpoint.

Post Halloween Calm, Pre Election Annoyance

Getting up before the dawn at what I’ve heard someone call “Insane O’Clock” with the dog, I headed out of the house for the morning mile.

A hint to those who have a dog who is out of control or a nuisance barker – your dog is bored.  Take the dog for three long walks a day.  If you can’t see your toes, your waistline will appreciate that.  I have a Border Collie, the number one breed in boomerang dogs – dogs who end up at the shelter for a second or more time because people don’t know how to live with such an intelligent animal.   Almost every dog will benefit from more exercise.  Living in these days, almost every human being would benefit from having a dog that requires three walks of a mile a day each.   So go take your dog for a walk, leave this posting up and finish reading when you get back.

There, wasn’t that pleasant?

My first walk this day had me out of the house well before 6AM.  I had my headphones on and was listening to an audio book and taking note of what went on after the four day celebration of Halloween here in Wilton Manors. 

For the most part, the central business district was markedly cleaner than I would have expected.  The last four days were slammed with people walking up and down Wilton Drive at some time or another.  Saturday Night seemed to be the peak of it with cars littering front lawns, parked in other people’s driveways illegally, and people walking from their cars to the festivities on Wilton Drive. 

I have seen similar celebrations in other cities.  Places that were more conventional tended to have an almost Post-Apocalyptic look about them.  In other cities, I could find bits of the celebration for months after they happened in corners and alleys if I just looked.  Things may have been picked up but they weren’t cleaned up for the residents, and for the most part things were only set right after the nearest home owner or business owner went out and “Flea Dipped” their property. 

Wilton Manors doesn’t seem to have that problem.  I certainly attribute it to the demographics of the area.  There were no fights that I saw.  People didn’t go out of their way to be rude.  There was a festival atmosphere but there’s a spirit of camaraderie that didn’t have that edge I had seen in some places. 

It was carried through to the way the city looked this morning.  While we played host to some thousands of people, it was an orderly crowd.  Yes, they were there to party but there were no broken shrubs, no upset palm trees, and no street furniture uprooted and placed on top of cars. 

It was a success, although it could certainly have been better.  Next year, halloween will come.   Wilton Manors will have another influx of people.  Expect it.  Wilton Manors is the place to be for a party on most weekends, and Halloween is an amazing time here.   It has been that way for years, and it will continue as long as we have a City Government that will plan for the future Flash Mobs that will show.  With Wilton Manors Main Street assisting the bars to pick up the ball that was dropped by the original planners, we all made the best of a bad situation.  Wilton Drive could not be closed because the Drive is a State Road.  A State Road closure requires permitting that takes some significant amount of time and the deadlines were passed.  There are some significant fees that are required to be paid as well, and that would require some planning so that nobody is left holding the bag for that sort of expense as well as making sure the Police get paid, the liquor is paid for and people are compensated fairly for their efforts, time, and inconvenience.

Keeping the Drive open was a requirement due to all of the above and more.  It wasn’t the best situation but it was managed exceedingly well by a coalition of business owners and civic organizations.  

The only situation that I had heard that was unfortunate was that a woman passed out on Wilton Drive.  Perhaps it was too much partying, but she passed out.  The story I was told about the situation was that she went down in front of Current Mayor Gary Resnick and his partner Eric, and Candidate Joe Angelo for Mayor and his friends.   I was told that Resnick and his partner “ran away” and Joe Angelo and his friends made sure that this woman made it into a bar to sit and revive herself.

Thank you Joe Angelo, the City of Wilton Manors should be grateful that good people like you are here to help others in their time of need.

Walking through the drive and turning down the back streets, I noticed that they were generally clean and cared for.  The neighborhood changed from Commercial and High Density Residential to Low Density Residential fairly quickly.  It took the usual South Florida view of tidy yards and plantings within a block of The Drive. 

This being election season there were yard signs in front of people’s homes supporting one candidate or another, as I have written before.   I made it down to one particular lot that had been mowed last week and someone had obtained permission to place some election signs there.  It’s on a fairly major thoroughfare and people do cross through daily on their way to and from the Drive.

That plot of land eventually collected signs from almost every politician in the county and every one in the City who is running for office.  When the management company came through and mowed it, they picked up all the yard signs and piled them neatly together in one spot.  The next day, someone came through and sorted out three specific signs and placed them in the ground to see.  That morning they were thrown down.  Someone then picked them up again and by the next morning, they were down again.  This has been going on for around a week now.  I’m looking forward to seeing who keeps tossing the signs down because if I do, I’ll make it a point to let the candidates know so they can file a complaint with the police. 

They have left mine alone for the last two days. 

So as clean as the drive has been, the neighborhood is being trashed by overzealous supporters of one or more particular candidates who don’t think that their candidate has a good enough message to send by trashing a third party’s yard.  This is decidedly not in the tolerant spirit that drew me to this City in the first place.

Thankfully Wednesday November 3 is coming soon and we can all go back to living our lives without having to watch for trespassers.

Challenges for the New Administration in November

I should have said as seen by and my readers this week.

The reality is that of the top five topics here, a blog that is billed as an open letter to my sister, three of them were strictly about Wilton Manors.

Sure, people like my pictures, and they hit my posting about the Mexican Petunias, but that was not the majority by a long shot.

I am a Project Manager and Web Developer as well as a lot of other things, so my posting on how to stop Hotmail from annoying you by using the delete key to delete emails was even more popular.  I guess I still can write technical documents – That’s going to be brought up in my next interview, and I am ACTIVELY looking for work.

60 Percent of you came here for information on what is going on here in Wilton Manors.  I find that to be the norm but a bit of an obvious prediction. 

I am active in the volunteer effort here.  I have met some very interesting people, some are quite capable.  Others like one particular person that I have the misfortune to run into, is dismally incompetent in what she does.   Luckily she is a volunteer and she’s getting paid exactly what she is worth.  That is an almost direct quote from a Commissioner here…

We have a lot of people adding their opinions to the discussion, and while some are right and some are wrong, it is always a judgment call as to which one to follow.  We cast our votes around the modern oracle of Delphi, and the best critical path to proceed is chosen.

The problem is that while the critical path has been chosen, the results do not show that the plan has been followed. 

We say we want to do something about the problems at hand, but there hasn’t been a lot of vision on how to proceed to get results from the Administration here in Wilton Manors. 

I hear a lot of very good plans from the Volunteer space.   Within the various groups that I have been involved in, I have been a part of fixing one of the problems with those who are on Wilton Manors Main Street and we have presented the plan to the City Commission.  The plan itself is self funding however there has to be seed money.  That is what the whole Tiger II grant discussion is about.  Main Street has taken that original discussion that we brainstormed and with some amazing help from volunteers, the plan has gotten to the point where it can solve the parking problem in Wilton Manors.

The question is why hasn’t it been done before?   Things seem to work, after all so why change it? 

That description is incorrect, it doesn’t work well.  Parking in Wilton Manors is dysfunctional.  People flow into town to use the bars, they park all over the few spots that are available, and then spill out into every available nook and cranny and use that melted butter to winkle themselves into places where cars should not be.  People’s front yards, vacant home’s driveways, blocking driveways, and double parking happened – all last Thursday Night and this is the Off Season.  When the Snowbirds arrive, it gets worse.

We all agree Parking in Wilton Manors must be fixed.  The question is when will it happen?

I have only seen three possible reasons for Parking to be fixed in town.

1) The Elephant in the Room is Gay vs Straight.  The Old Guard here wants it to be the way it used to be .. back in 1955.  Sorry, there’s no place in the South Florida Sprawl that even remotely looks the way it did in 1955 and it isn’t happening.  Mom can’t afford to stay home and bake cookies in that perfect Pleasantville way of life.  There is much more equality these days, and we have a horrendous amount of work to do.   This is not a Gay City, and it is not a Straight City.  It is OUR city, we ALL live here and if you are of the mind set that you want them out, let me suggest that I-95 runs just west of town.  Get on it and keep driving until you find a nice backwards place to live – whether you’re straight or gay.   Leave it for the vast majority who wants to live here and work together for our best common good.

2) Inaction.  That will have to end in November.  The prior administration has been hand wringing on a number of issues, parking is one of them.  I moved here 4 years ago and I keep hearing about Parking Parking Parking.  There have been a number of steps taken recently, all of which are bandages to keep things from getting markedly worse, but all are temporary.  Meters are to pay for the lots that will have to go in places they aren’t while people decide what to do.   You have a plan, you know what to do, budget for it and move forward.

3) Finances.  The market has crashed.  The bubble has burst.  We are in the Great Republican Induced Recession.  Fortunately those who visit here are still coming.  If something hasn’t been done substantial to fix Parking Parking Parking, they won’t come back.   The temporary lot at Hagen Park is a start.  Striping the Drive for Phase I of the Wilton Manors Main Street should be Priority Number One for who ever gets in to the Commission in November.  We are under what the economists call The Economic Order Quantity for parking revenues.  We don’t take in enough to make a large enough surplus or profit to make the business worth going into.  This is called by either too few hours or not enough spaces.  In Wilton Manors, the solution is to add spaces and hours, Both.

The time to act is now.  There are other organic economic problems with the way that Wilton Manors Business functions, but this has gone long, so I’ll save that for another day…

Wilton Manors Main Street Party last night

That was fun! 

I’m a member on the board at Wilton Manors Main Street.  The group is here to help give ideas and feedback to the City of Wilton Manors and work with them, and everyone else in the city who lives, works, and plays here, as much constructive input on the way we see things should progress.

Being a Project Manager – I know this process as being “Gap Analysis”.  We’re here, we want to be there, how do we bridge the gap.

I’m not the only Project Manager type person on the Board, there are at least two others and a fascinating mix of political and business people who are on it as well.  The meetings are fascinating to witness.  There’s such a broad scope of personalities and strengths that I find myself listening to some of the plans and hopes and wonder how I can help with what I know.  Then out of left field, Bang! There’s the idea and we run with it.

Building anything is a series of steps.  You do that “Gap Analysis” and you start to look where you want to be in the future and form your plans to get there.  You simply can not do it all at once.  If someone sits you down at a table and gives you a toy model and says “build it”, that is a very different thing than if that same person sat you at the table with a built model and said “Here, its yours”.

One of the big steps was forced by the demolition of Old City Hall.  How do we manage to get ourselves established in a new home and proceed to do our work?  Let me tell you it took a lot of planning and a lot of hard work.  We now have a year in a really very beautiful office.  It was an empty shell when we were given it, so we ended up having to get it painted and furnished. 

Lets thank the Gables Residential company for the office space first off.  Prime commercial space right on the drive where we will be able to see first hand whether what we are doing works!

Then there’s Doug Mc Clure who did the painting and headed up the team who finished the fitting of the space.

Once we got the place built, we found that Island City Traders gave us a generous donation of the furnishings in the space. 

So last night to thank the people who aren’t on the board, and of course our contributors, we had a bit of a party.  Our best guess was that there were 250 people in and around the office enjoying each other’s company and treated to some excellent food from Crema d’Roma just down the block at 2150 Wilton Drive. 

I have never had Roast Beef quite so good! We will be back!

We had our Ribbon Cutting Ceremony last night, dignitaries were there helping us christen the space and welcome everyone.  It was also a volunteer and membership drive and I was told that we did pick up some Corporate Sponsorship.  Once I get the details, that will get posted on the other blog that I contribute to – the Wilton Manors Main Street Blog.  I have a lot of pictures, and I will be putting them up through the next few days to let everyone see.

If you missed the party, I invite you to stop into the offices during the week.  They’re almost always staffed weekdays, and sometimes on the weekends during the day as well.  I will be in there from time to time, so if you see me sprawled out there working on the laptop, feel free to pop in and say hi!

Wilton Manors Main Street offices are at
2164 Wilton Drive
Wilton Manors, FL, 33305

Tiger 2 Grant Application Goes Forward

Last night in Wilton Manors Commission chambers, there was a Special Commission Meeting discussing the Tiger 2 Grant application.  The Pre-Application was approved by an Unanimous vote of all Commissioners and the Mayor.

The Gables team with Pasquale Architects presented an interesting plan that would be their donation in kind of $2.5 Million.  What they would need for this is a 65 to 85 year lease on the property to pay for their donation.  Gables would build a Parking Garage with wrap-around residential and ground floor commercial property.

The plot would not effect any existing amenities at the adjacent Hagen park. The existing tennis courts, volleyball court and buildings are safe. 

The plan for the development would be a building that is as tall as the neighboring Gables Wilton Park complex.  The building would be disguised by a raked back frontage on Wilton Drive and the parking garage would be hidden from view by the surrounding ground floor commercial and higher level of residential units.  These would be built to a higher standard than the existing development and would incorporate significant Green Technologies for lighting and construction so they will be as efficient as possible. 

It looks like Gables is here for the long haul and wants to do it right for and by the City of Wilton Manors.

The Specifics are:
120 residential rental units.
5,000 square feet of commercial units.
4,000 square feet of civic space.
175 parking spaces for the City to use as we see fit
150 to 160 parking spaces for Gable to use for the development.
The Veteran’s Memorial will be moved to the civic area and an amphitheater and  fountain will be built on site.

An important issue is that Gables intends for this property to be taxable to the proportion that they control.  Wilton Manors will be getting back tax revenue on this property every year that it is there.

The project will take 6 to 10 months for permitting, another 18 months for construction. 

If we do not get the Grant, this project will not bind the City to the agreement. 

This is wonderful news for Wilton Manors.   Basically this project specification allows us to apply for the 10 million dollar grant.  We can then proceed to plan out what we want to do to it.  All improvements are limited to Wilton Drive and adjacent properties.  $10 Million is a lot to spend on a mile of road, but I’m sure we can do it.  A second parking garage at the North end has been suggested.

We have been handed the key to the lock.  Next step is the full application which will be placing the lock in the door.   Getting the grant is not a definite thing.  In the later budget meeting it was described as a being as likely as a lightning strike, but like in the lottery you have to play to win.