I just moved into a new house, a mile and a half from my old one. It’s practically in the same neighborhood, so close that I have the same local Dunkin Donuts, the same veggie market. I even still take walks past the same gorgeous homes whose landscaping I make aspirational mental Pinterest pages of for future duplication, because your girl is not good at stuff like that.
I’m almost down the street, but it still feels like a different world, or at least a different city, which it is.
For 12 years, I’ve been a proud resident of Lake Worth, the glorious Gateway To The Tropics, that 6.46 square miles of quirk, diversity, frustration and sometimes a lot of “Wait, what?” When I told people where I lived, they invariably said either “Oh, cool!” or “RUN!” But I love it. Still, somehow, I stumbled over the canal and wound up in West Palm Beach.
Almost without trying to, I have left the L-Dub. And I feel kinda weird about it.
Lake Worth is, to quote the headline of a sweet, salty tribute to the joint by my colleague Elizabeth Clarke a few years back, “charming and alarming,” the kind of place that even a former mayor can freely admit to loving more than he should, “like alcohol.” It reminds me a lot of my native Baltimore, another equally sweet and sometimes jacked-up city, but at least this one’s got palm trees. And like Bmore, living there instantly identifies you as a little different. Perhaps a little crazy. But we’re cool with it.
I’ve sung its down-to-earth charms from the pages of the Palm Beach Post, as well as a bar stool at Suri or the Rhum Shak, or galumphing up the Lake Worth bridge training for various races in which I did not place very high. Lake Worthians (Worthers? Worthettes?) aren’t perfect, but they’re my people. Or were. Sigh.
So why did I leave? My slightly northern migration came about pretty quickly - my landlords were selling my cute little house, and I had to find a new one pronto. So I guess I assumed that, just like the last two times I moved, that I’d find my next cute little house in Lake Worth, preferably within a few blocks of me. But there was nothing available, not in my neighborhood, or the next one, or even the next one after that, and with very little time left, I found a bigger house in my price range very close by, but in West Palm Beach. It was the best option available with very little turn-around time, and I took it.
As much as I love my new place - my utilities and car insurance dropped the millisecond I crossed the canal - it’s weird telling my former fellow Lake Worthisians (?) about my treacherous abandonment…er, move.
I was having a drink with friends when an acquaintance next to us said “Well, ask Leslie. She’s a Lake Worth girl!” and I said, “Well, soon, I won’t be!” and I swear there was a pause. And that pause seemed to say “Well, la-dee-da, Fancy Pants!” Some people have actually said “No! You can’t!” before smiling politely and saying, “Well, that’s nice.” I think they mostly mean it.
Maybe they feel that way because one feels strongly about the L-Dub. It’s an acquired taste, a grungy gem, a big fat Milk Dud with a little lint on it that you totally don’t mind flicking off, because Milk Duds are delicious. And so’s the city, a big buffet of elderly Too-Jays aficionados and tattooed Propaganda regulars, black and white and brown, rich, poor and middling, vegan and meaty.
For every complaint, there’s a “Yay!” Sure, you need an economics degree and spelunking equipment to navigate your utility bill, but the customer service people have gotten so much nicer!
Sure, it’s hard to find parking at the cool retro Publix, at whose grand opening a guy standing next to us booed everybody, but was the first in line for the free samples. But after you finally get a space, all the clerks greet you by name, like Cheers at a grocery.
When my rehearsal dinner at Havana Hideout got rained out and we moved locations but forgot to tell one out of town guest, the locals, led by former owner Chrissy Benoit, bought her sangria until we came to get her - “Don’t hurry!” she said.
L-Dub is the Street Painting Festival and the annual Peeps show. It’s yoga and reggae. It’s crunchy and huggy and jagged and ragged. And I can still take part in its festivals and nightlife and beach in a short drive. But just like that, I’m doing that not as a local but as a tourist.
Maybe I’ll move back one day. And maybe I won’t. But I’ll always love my fabulous, flawed former home. And it’s OK if you don’t get it. It’s not for everyone.