Boca Raton, Florida is a popular south Florida destination. Boca Raton sounds snazzy and sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? The actual meaning is not at all romantic. It means “mouth of the rat” in Spanish. I don’t know how many rats there were in Boca Raton, but the name was born when Boca Raton was accidentally moved on maps from Biscayne Bay, which is an inlet. Spanish sailor slang for inlet is Boca Raton, or mouth of the rat.
The Highland Beach area, has a long and colorful history, which is described beautifully in “The Amazing Story of Highland Beach,” by Sandy Simon. Highland Beach is a small beachfront community of high rises and oceanfront homes and is located between Boca Raton to the south and Delray Beach to the north. Although settlers came to Boca Raton and Highland Beach in the beginning of he twentieth century and many streets carry their names, the first large wave of settlement occurred in the condominium boom of the second part of the twentieth century. Before the rush of people, mainly from points northeast with a few Midwesterners sprinkled in for local color in the 1960’s, there were gunrunners to Cuba in the late 1890’s, rum runners in the 1920’s. and Japanese settlers in Boca Raton and Highland Beach. In fact, Highland Beach was known as “Jap Rocks,” back in the day, with abundant tales of marauding German U-boats during World War II.
As is the case throughout Florida, many retirees spend their golden years basking in the warmth of the state. Before I began spending winters here, I remember coming to Florida for a long weekend. One evening, I attended the theatre. The individual who spoke pre-play told us to finish unwrapping our candy wrappers before the performance began. (Of course, this was before cell phones, so the “shut off your phones” message was not necessary). When her message was complete, she smiled sweetly and thanked the audience for coming out on such a cold night. It was fifty-five degrees! Yes, I thought. That is what I want to do. Spend my winter in a place where they thank me for coming out in bitterly cold fifty-five degree weather!
Boca Raton and Highland Beach are peaceful places. There is much to see and do. Highland Beach, in particular, is an extremely small community, covering just three miles end to end. The community is so protective of its status that businesses are not allowed within its borders. Except, that is, for a Holiday Inn that existed before the town and is “grandfathered” The library offers extremely fine programs, ranging from musical offerings to a weekly philosophical Socrates Café discussion group to an always lively exchange of views in the weekly current events group. For those who are athletically inclined, there are physical activity classes including Yoga. To learn relaxation techniques, there is meditation, and if you are a game player, mah jongg or Scrabble. Each Friday, the library presents a movie, and sometimes the movie is so current that it is still showing at local movie theatres. Restaurants abound, offering an eclectic variety of world cuisine, and fine, sometimes thrilling theatrical fare is available as well.
Florida Atlantic University should not be left out of any description of local area activities. The program offerings for lifelong learning are nothing short of spectacular. Throughout the year, lectures series of four, six or eight week courses are offered. You pick your own pleasure from the smorgasbord of courses available. Do you like the law? There is a resident expert who will talk about Supreme Court cases one semester and Supreme Court justices another. Are you a movie buff? Several lecturers discuss a plethora of movie selections. Perhaps you are interested in movies of the forties, fifties, sixties or seventies? There is sure to be a course in one of these. Perhaps your love is music. Courses abound. Current events and presidential foibles are well represented by excellent lecturers who know how to capture the attention of an audience.
The lecture hall set aside for the Lifelong Learning program seats five hundred people. Usually the sessions are filled. There are two lecturers, however, who command fifteen hundred to eighteen hundred attendees. So that more than five hundred can be accommodated, the Barry Kaye Auditorium on the Boca Raton campus is utilized. It is amazing when an auditorium of that size can be almost filled with people attending a lecture. Of course, the instructors who attract the sizeable audience (many return year after year) are exceptional. They are right on the money with specialties about what is happening in the world and implications, or the foibles of presidents and what does not make it into the history books. In their areas of specialization and expertise, instructors tweak their courses to allow for continuing interest in a subject area, looked in a light that is a little different.
The weather is almost the best in the contiguous forty-eight states. When we drive through Tennessee or Georgia en route here, it may be cloudy, rainy or downright cold. The same is true for our spring drive home, except then there is the danger of tornadoes through the mountains of Tennessee, or actually, anywhere along our route. Not that southern Florida is always warm in winter. But, south Florida is the best weather that can be found without going to Hawaii, where in the right location, it is always summer. Now, a touchy subject. Is it true that one’s blood thins out if cold is never experienced? When the temperature hovers in the fifties, it seems that people drag out all the cold weather clothes imported from colder climes. It is amusing to see people decked out in a warm jacket, hat and gloves, shivering as though their teeth are going to chatter right out of their mouths.
There was a cold winter in south Florida about three seasons ago. During that winter, when temperatures routinely hovered in the low thirties, it was impossible to purchase a space heater. I know. The heat in my apartment failed, and no space heater was to be found for thirty miles. Because south Florida lives in a delusionary state, believing it will never be cold enough to justify central heating, many restaurants, theatres and other public places, were unheated. It was worth a smile to see people clothed in jackets hats and gloves in these same places. Not typical Florida restaurant goers or theatre audiences at all.
State Road I, designated the “AIA Scenic and Historic Coastal Highway” is the boulevard along which people with time and desire to see oceanfront communities can meander as an alternate to I95. It begins jut south of Georgia on Amelia Island and runs mostly along the Atlantic Ocean before ending in Key West, Florida. It is usually just as tranquil as its surroundings and generally easily traveled, although traffic does pick up in the winter when snowbirds from the north arrive for the “season,” or “snow flakes” come for a week or two to break up the dreariness and angst of a northern winter.
One day, returning home in the process of turning south onto AIA, I realized that I would be blocked by a wall of traffic. Quickly, I maneuvered into the left lane and proceeded to go north to Delray Beach. Once there, I turned around and drove to the southern end of Highland Beach, taking USI, (Federal Highway) home. The detour lasted the better part of a half hour, and when I made my south turn, the traffic had eased. What had caused this monumental traffic jam on the usually placid boulevard? The news told me later that night. They had found a buried, unexploded World War II bomb and were trying to remove it without an explosion!
Another day, as I traveled southward, traffic suddenly came to a halt. There was no movement in either direction, and because AIA has only one lane in either direction, there was no place to move. The only thing I could do was to let traffic take its course while I sat and waited. As I played the waiting game, I wondered what could have caused the tie-up. Was it another unexploded bomb? What could it be? I had to wait until the nightly news, when I learned that illegal aliens had somehow found their way to the shores of Highland Beach and the police were diligently attempting to capture them. Visions of perhaps a dozen people running in all directions, attempting to avoid capture, were dancing around in my head. Fanciful. Perhaps. Later I learned that one had ultimately been captured. How many were there? I’ll never know.
What were the lessons to be learned in these bizarre happenings? First, that the area truly has a storied history and the tales of marauding World War II U-boats are probably true. Second, that although I believe this to be a strange place for illegal aliens to land, the desire for freedom and a better life are strong and will take people to wherever they think they need to go. Third, things are not always what they seem, and truth may really be stronger than fiction.