Fort Lauderdale “Life was harder back in my day” stories are, I feel, sometimes a bit underwhelming. Mine are, anyway. I grew up off Commercial and Federal; I never walked uphill in the snow to school. Sometimes it rained, but Bayview Drive doesn’t even have a minor incline. And I had a car.
I can try, I guess. Back in my day, the Galleria didn’t have a food court. Back in my day, we didn’t have all these fancy grocery stores: there was Publix, or there was Farm Store if you were in a hurry, or there was Winn-Dixie if you were banned from Publix. Back in my day, the Quarterdeck didn’t even serve sushi. Back in my day, the baseball team played in a football stadium and there was a monsoon in the fourth every night.
But if my attempts at an East Broward version of the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch come up a bit flat, my “Man, this has all changed” stories hit a bit better. Fort Lauderdale with no tall buildings? Check. Football stadium where the men’s room sinks were used for … you know actually that’s fine, we can just go ahead and tick “yes” on that one.
Then there’s the boating. Gather ‘round, youngsters, and Uncle Erik will tell of a time when you could open up your boat’s engine and plane on the Intracoastal. Kids, I remember a time before the universal no-wake zone.
That wild west of canal waterskiing came to an end largely because of our gentle, salad-enjoying friend, the manatee. Boating safety campaigns featured grisly pictures of scarred, propeller-damaged manatees. The message we were given was clear: the open ocean was the place for seeing what your boat could do; inland waterways were tighter for safe speeds that protected our slow pals.
We slowed down. We fought to protect the manatees. And eventually, that and other efforts worked; in 2017, the US Fish and Wildlife Service downgraded manatees’ status from “endangered” to “threatened.” Not exactly out of the woods, but an improvement.
Now though, they’re again dying at worrying rates, and it’s not just that we’ve gone on a speedboat buying binge and started ignoring the “No Wake” signs. Today’s problems, as explained in Ryan Pfeffer’s excellent story in this issue, have more to do with the new perils Floridians now hear about. Our warming planet. Our rising oceans. Our breaking, changing natural places. Where we used to look at straightforward, cause-and-effect problems – slow down our boats to protect the manatees – we now see a cioppino of existential threats. The problems that affect manatees are also coming for us, and there’s no one solution.
This is just what Florida (and the wider world) feels like now. It’s one more problem that Floridians’ individual choices can’t get us out of. Respecting boating laws isn’t going to do it this time.
It wasn’t like that back in my day.