It looks like another weekday afternoon on this stretch of Southern Boulevard, but it’s not.
John “Johnny Flawless” Price is washing a BMW in the parking lot of the Sunoco station near the corner of U.S.1. Down the block, William Tighe, has a customer in his chair at Studio Hair Design. And at the La Familia Grocery on the other side of the railroad overpass, Maria Gonzalez is buying a red onion and some canned goods.
“When he comes it’s a mess,” Gonzalez says, happy to hustle away before the sheriff’s office helicopter drones overhead and the roar of so many police motorcycles converging on the street makes it clear that “he” — President Donald Trump — is spending another weekend at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach.
Soon, the traffic will be diverted. And the bustling boulevard will grow eerily quiet and expectant, as those who come to watch, start craning their necks to spot an approaching motorcade down the long, empty asphalt corridor trimmed in a necklace of flashing police lights.
The big event is mostly prologue, an hour of expectation followed by pods of black SUV’s zipping down the empty road, each one spaced a few minutes apart.
Is he in this group? No. Maybe the next one? No. Here comes another. Was that him? Don’t know. How many groups are there?
And then, there it is, the SUV with the presidential seal on the side of the car. Finally, the five-second payoff.
“We always notify our clients when he’s coming,” Tighe said. “And so far we only missed one appointment. A woman missed her color appointment, and she needed it bad.”
It’s on these arrival or departure days that the ecosystem of this stretch of Southern Boulevard between I-95 to the Intracoastal Waterway becomes a kind of America in miniature, a place where gawkers and tourists mix with true believers and never-Trumpers, where Publix shoppers, motorists in need of an oil change, or somebody eating a burger outside Flanigan’s, are surprised to find themselves, without any planning, in the middle of something electric.
“He slows down right around here and waves,” Paula Aberle, 66, tells me, as we stand in the Publix lot, a few feet from the southeast corner of the Parker Avenue intersection.
Paula and her sister, Kathleen, 63, live in Fort Lauderdale, but they know more about this stretch of Southern Boulevard than some locals. Whenever Trump comes or goes, the Aberle sisters make the hourlong drive just to stand on the side of the street and wave.
“We have a choice,” Paula says. “If you take a picture, you can’t wave. We like to wave. And then we drive by the airport to look at Air Force One.”
Like many Trump supporters, the Aberle sisters say there’s a tinge of sadness with this weekend. Last year, the Easter weekend marked the end of Trump’s regular Mar-a-Lago weekend trips. So he may not be back for many months after Sunday.
“It’s a thrill to see him,” said Mary Kelley, a Palm Beach Gardens woman who stood on the side of the road near Washington Road, decked out in her Trump shirt, and waving an American flag and a Confederate battle flag in her right hand.
“I guess after this weekend, I will just have to watch him on Fox News,” she said.
Not far from her are sidewalk spectators who were also marking this weekend as a chapter-ending event, but in a much different light.
They have a different sort of thrill in mind. One of them had a Russian fur hat on and another had a sign that said “Stormy Daniels says hi.”
“I’m hoping that this is his last weekend here until he’s impeached,” Brenda Macedo, of Lake Worth says, as she holds a sign that reads “NRA Trump Kills Our Kids.”
Next to her is Benedict McAlevey, 65, of Jupiter, who carries a large “Russian Stooge” banner and considers himself one of the original local Trump protesters.
“I’m not going to miss this,” McAlevey says about his upcoming months off from Trump protesting. “I’d rather not do it at all, but I don’t want to give him a free pass. He’s destroying the foundation of society.”
It’s good there are plenty of police officers around, because it’s hard to find a more concentrated subset of humanity with such radically different worldviews. It’s as if they live in different worlds.
While the sight of Trump disgusts some, others squeal with delight when his car drives slowly past as he waves behind the closed window. One middle-aged man keeps jumping up and shouting, “That’s my president! That’s my president! That’s my president!” as the motorcade heads over the bridge to Palm Beach.
“I was a Trump virgin before today,” says Joyce Russell, 70, a retired principal from South Olive Elementary School in West Palm Beach, who is at her first sidewalk event.
Russell holds a sign reading “We the People Protect Our Second Amendment” and cheers as Trump goes by.
“I feel patriotic when I do this,” she says.
Paula Magnuson, 69, of Palm Beach Gardens, says she has been a sidewalk greeter at every Trump visit this season. She has her three strollered dogs with her and a “Dogs ♥ Trump” sign.
The season might be over for seeing Trump, Magnuson says, but she’s got some off-season Trump plans too.
“Maybe, I’ll send him a birthday card,” she says. “It’s on Flag Day.”
Within moments after the motorcade disappears over the bridge, Southern Boulevard becomes just another busy Palm Beach County street again.
Johnny Flawless looks down the block, waiting for a car to wash. The $5.99 pollo asada special at the Gas Food Mart is back in play. And the Aberle sisters will soon be on their way back to Fort Lauderdale.
For nearly 20 years, photographers from the Palm Beach Daily News and Palm Beach Post have captured Melania Trump’s visits to Mar-a-Lago. This photo gallery offers an exclusive look at Melania’s transformation from a 28-year-old fashion model to first lady. Find it at mypalmbeachpost.com/melania/