MARKING THE OCCASIONS -- The Patriots arrived in Florida on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This year also marks their host city of Fort Lauderdale's centennial, as advertised by this massive work of art along the beach boulevard.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The warm breeze embraces you first.
Like lowering your head into the open door of a pre-heated oven, you are blasted with a welcoming gust of tropical air as you step out of the charter plane and onto the portable staircase.
Welcome to Florida.
A-OK ON THE A1A -- The Atlantic Ocean and historic A1A, seen from the author's and BLowe's 10th-floor hotel room.
You're dressed all in black, your simple way of commemorating the historic date on the calendar. Dusk is encroaching, but the comfortable temperatures show no sign of retreating. As you head up the A1A, hugging the beach to your right and the tourist shops to your left, you see people in t-shirts and shorts, bathing suits and flip flops, walking, talking, laughing, lounging, running, cavorting, soaking up the sun, and you know you'll be one of them momentarily.
A long-lost friend greets you next. He lives down here now, has for three years, and it's altogether fitting that you catch up with him today. He was the first colleague you saw exactly 10 years ago as you drove into work. You'll never forget the vision of him, back then a reporter, rushing from your television station with his photographer to cover a local angle to a national – a worldwide – tragedy.
You come bearing gifts – tickets to the game and a Wes Welker jersey – he bearing his son. The boy was barely a year old in 2001, and now, he chats with you in rapid-fire sentences, firing arbitrarily curious questions about where your life has taken you in the past decade, how well you know Tom Brady, where you were born, whether football players go to the beach on weekends like this, and, if so, are security guards with them?
You answer them all, the best you can, in between maintaining a steady, easy-going conversation with your old pal about days gone by, people you once knew, experiences shared in the helter-skelter world of broadcast news.
Night falls quickly, and the boy has school tomorrow, so you bid them farewell.
"See you next season!" the son cries out from the back seat of your friend's minivan, and you all laugh in unison as he repeats the exclamation, the implication being a gentle plea to score them tickets again for the Patriots' 2012 visit to South Florida.
They drive off. The breeze has drifted off, but it's still warm, so you decide to stroll the A1A. Small street lamps light the way, while a much larger orb, a full moon, illuminates a sliver of the Atlantic's surface and silhouettes the slumbering palm trees along the beach. The lapping waves induce a peaceful hypnosis.
Is there a strobe light outside your hotel window?
You know the sun isn't up yet, because it's still dark in your room and outside. You peek through the curtains and witness quite a show. The skies overhead are crystal clear and Prussian blue, but on the distant horizon, several miles offshore, a line of slate grey storm clouds stretches seemingly to infinity in either direction. Beyond, the first rays of sunlight begin to appear, but the flashing that wakes you, it turns out, are actually bolts of lightning from a thunderstorm over the ocean.
You're up now, so you fire up the laptop. Might as well get some work done. A couple of hours later, where once hung the moon, the sun has replaced her in a cerulean sky. The ocean outside your window is equally blue, save a long stream of gold leading directly to the beach. The green dot on the floor schematic on your door indicates "You are here," but the sunlight sparkling on the water resembles an arrow pointing to an inviting spot on the beach, as if to beckon, "You should be down here."
So you go.
You immerse yourself in the therapeutically warm waters and spot a colleague floating nearby. She's feeling guilty, she says, about being here on a Monday, when most everyone else from the office is, well, back at the office. You encourage her not to dwell on that, just to enjoy the moment. Because you know that treats like this are rare, and, especially in these parts, that Mother Nature can be a fickle temptress.
"What's up with those dark clouds?" asks your co-worker, motioning behind you. You spin around and see the advancing formation. Time's running out.
Thunder claps. Bolts of lightning chase you off the beach. Then the rains come, bringing your day at the beach – all 20 minutes of it – to an abrupt end.
The day isn't over, though. By 5 p.m., the skies have cleared, the sun has returned, and temps have soared – perfect beach weather. You're now at the stadium, however, some 30 minutes away, and won't have a chance to get back to the seashore here for at least another year.
But you're OK with that. As consolation, you just watched Fergie rehearse her rendition of tonight's national anthem. And you sense, once the sun goes down, that conditions will be ideal for the start of another football season.