The ocean is just on the other side of the line of towers at the Galt Ocean Mile. But, you would not know it is there if you are standing on the burning fry-an-egg sidewalk on the strip. The apartment buildings form a hedge of modern lines and pastel colours against the side of the road. If the traffic subsides, you may hear the waves, the gulls, if the exhaust fans and air conditioning diminishes, the smell of the salt may be detected in the air.
As the nation changed, the city of Fort Lauderdale changed and new settlements grew. The city that drug money built and underage drinking made famous melded to the south with Miami and to the north to a yet-to-be-defined line that today may be the state of Georgia. There are many sections of the city as with others, but the beach between Lauderdale by the Sea and Fort Lauderdale Beach exists a strange land of private access and mass-made fancy-fancy-buildings. I could not, however, guess at the wealth by looking at the strip that lined the road where my hotel squatted. Shops all of the same design as the luxury condos- cement boxes. No style at all. An absence of style, if that is possible. Here, even Neo-Brutalism would be a welcome character, but these buildings perhaps could resist even that version of “ornamentation.”
The buildings were created all in the late 1960s or 1970s following designs popular with cement, glass, and aluminum manufacturers. These faceless edifices boast pretentious names like The Fountainhead, Atlas Towers, Tzarina Palace, Brezhnev Eyebrows Terrace, Lupenprol Luxury Landings, and sundry other names exalting the lifestyle of croaking oldsters and massive debt turned into vacation getaways. The road at the Ocean Mile is being futzed with by massive machines. What was the median that used to hold palms and other trees is now a gravel demilitarized zone. The entire potential for shade trees is being effaced for perhaps a turn lane or some additional traffic or a lane for Segways(tm).
The Galt Ocean Mile is a storied strip with a not very long history. For most of its history, at least since Pangea, it just sat there. As many places along the coast in Florida, someone came to the malarial swamp, set up a fort in order to guard the Cholera all for themselves, then in time the waters were drained, the land sprayed with DDT, and a high-end resort was built. The high-end resorts were replaced by motels, and condos so more people could enjoy the sun and salt spray of the ocean and get the sun burns they so badly wanted. Sadly, the man the Galt Ocean Mile is named after, attempted to prevent the very sort of development that now sprawls over the beach.
“Why the shit can’t people just leave things alone,” my crabby cabby asked rhetorically to heaven or to me for some passenger analysis or commiseration. I just grunted one of those disinterested-interested “Yeah, mer ah gra hmmm.” I may have said in what may or may not have been actual words mumbled at the time. We know that people cannot leave anything the shit alone – the market would forbade it. Progress, the New American Century, As the World Turns, Plastic Pornography and the sniggling smidgins of packaging we tear off, mean to pick up, but let the wind blow away while feigning the “whoops” face dictate that we build or remove in order to continue the economy.
We need to take things that are not there and put them there. Take vacant land, and build on it. For no reason. Build a new building next to the newish vacant one. Maybe a grand hotel or castle is there already? Fine, we need to take it down. It doesn’t matter what we do since as soon as it is finished, no matter how historic or lovely, we need to not leave it the shit alone. We then must take down whatever was built if it so exists so we can build again, larger or higher, or whatever. Our economic system is dependent on change to the degree a junkie is a dependent on whatever thrill they can sniff, prick, huff, snoot, or shoot. We need this growth; we need this cancer. “I liked those goddamn trees,” the driver exclaimed. Indeed, trees are good. I was dropped off at my hotel, one of many that grace the Galt Ocean Mile but in decades gone by may have had a view of the beach and perhaps even the ocean.
Now, I was looking at a CVSWalgreensShaws. The shops in the area are a sorry lot or mistakes and after thoughts with what may be a high vacancy rate is perhaps a blessing to the thoughtless consumer intent on buying things s/h/e/it/they doesn’t need. It is hard to tell if this is a sign of a collapse of a local micro-economy or is a looming larger indication of the echo in Florida of 2008 since all of Florida seems both experiencing a boom and a bust concurrently. There is the dress barn, the “gas station” sushi shoppe, the vacant store, the we’ve moved store, a bar called the Dive Bar, and another closed storefront. There is a strange windowless building that seemed to be a center for Judaica with a Kosher Sushi restaurant/Jewish Diner next door that was open only from 5-10 PM. Several other establishments line up baking in the blistering summer heat, not one potted plant nor an attempt at landscaping to make this commercial strip the least bit enticing. I keep reminding myself that these type of places don’t happen by accident, they look the way they do because the people who built them want them to look this way, the people who own them want them to be this way, the people who work there want to keep them this way.
I am not sure what to make of this section of the Lauderdale strip, this Ocean Mile, but I think I will next time avoid it for Bocca Raton or Lauderdale by the Sea or anywhere else.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For actual history of the Galt Ocean Mile, check out this much better written blog: http://janeshistorynook.blogspot.com/2013/02/fort-lauderdales-galt-mile-who-was.html