We're a small town, only about 12,800 people, give or take a few. I'm not standing out on the highway with the sign welcoming you here with a sharpie and changing the numbers as people come and go every day.
We're surrounded by much larger neighbors, Oakland Park to the North, Fort Lauderdale to the South.
I hear stories about one or the other thinking of merging with us or gobbling us up, respectively, from time to time. Growth is fine, but living in a much larger city can be highly overrated.
We're diverse. A mix of different people and cultures here rub shouders, but we all do seem to get along.
That diversity is why I personally think of the place as a Quirky Little Island. Sometimes the quirks show themselves in some amusing and wonderful ways.
One day we were coming back from a rather excellent meal at an Italian restaurant that specializes in hand prepared ingredients and the kind of food I remember Mom bringing home from South Philly when she went to visit Grandmom.
Coming onto Wilton Drive from the South, we noticed that there was a sign announcing a lane closure. The first thought was "I hope they get the two lane initiative started - there's been political gridlock on this too long". Then I said it out loud. Getting unanimous agreement from everyone in the car, some louder than others, saying that it's overdue that we narrow The Drive to two traffic lanes and increase the parking to support the central business district, we spotted the blockage.
Ok, this was nothing "usual". I'm fairly well informed on the goings on here, but this particular street closure was nothing I knew about. One lane, completely blocked off for the "meat" of Wilton Drive is unusual. They were overzealous in protecting whoever was supposed to be using the lane, you couldn't turn into the neighborhood streets "off the Drive" because they blocked even the intersections.
Nobody was using the lane. It was still early, dinner hour, and it had the air of people yet to come.
Driving the length of the Drive, we found the end of the blockage, near the Rumors Bar and Grill, and scratching our heads, we found our way to the house.
Asking around "online" didn't help, nobody had heard.
Had it been a festival, the Wilton Manors Development Alliance might have been asked to do an email blast about it, but they got silence as well.
Pulling into our driveway, we went in, full from the meal and the excitement and settled into our easy chairs for a diet of old sitcoms and pre-recorded television on the DVR. Forgetting about the blockage on the Drive, we rolled out the evening like a warm blanket of domesticity.
Reaching the end of the night, we decided to grab our furry sidekick, Rack the McNab Superdog, and went for our final walk.
We had gotten to the end of our block and looked toward the Drive and there was a police cruiser, sitting in the intersection with lights flashing. Even a couple blocks away, it was bright enough to dazzle, and the dog didn't care for it. He's fearful and it didn't surprise me.
Instead of subjecting Rack to the excitement, Kevin went up to the Drive and stuck his oar in the water to see what happened while I walked a block off the Drive on the usual route. Whatever was going on had the benefit of giving us less traffic, and that is always welcome in a town with few sidewalks.
When Kevin caught up with us, I heard the story.
There was a Pet Costume party that ended at Rumors Bar. Of All Things, right? This would have been fun to visit since Rack would have loved the chance to socialize with all the dogs.
That wasn't the whole of it. See, this is Wilton Manors, not New York or Los Angeles where you are hearing horror stories of militarized police forces. We're lucky enough to have a police chief, Chief O'Connell on the Wilton Manors Police Department who understands that in order to have a truly safe city, the community must be involved. To involve the community, the officers must engage the community and make contact in a supportive way in order to enhance life here in the city.
I would have expected a grumbly or growly encounter with the Fort Lauderdale PD had they been involved, in fact the story I tell is a bit of a stereotype where once there was a FLPD Cruiser that charged through Wilton Drive in the middle of a street closure and festival lights and sirens blazing. Everyone cleared out. We happened to be in the right place to see where they were going. Dunkin Donuts. Yes, Fort Lauderdale PD officers saw fit to interrupt a street festival to get donuts.
In Wilton Manors, the opposite effect happened. The officers were enjoying the show. When Kevin asked what was going on, the two female officers immediately told that it was a Pet Parade, and that it was a wonderful thing. The only thing that they wanted to do was to go see the judging of the costumes, which they couldn't do from their posts. The conversation went on about how beautiful the pets were and how creative some of the costumes were, and that it was a wonderful thing that happened here. They also said you just couldn't do that sort of thing in some of the other towns around.
Nice to be in a quirky place that isn't "uptight", right?
I've been stopped from time to time by officers in Wilton Manors while out and about. Even at my first walk of the day, as much as two hours before sunrise, I've had conversations with officers about things - always light and pleasant. Always it was in the spirit of engaging the public, being friendly, and offering some bit of news or trivia about how things are going on here in the town.
I would say that while this place has its detractors, they're all welcome to stay where they are. It's nice to live in a city where much more goes right than goes wrong, and the worst thing that I have heard about was a dog's costume wardrobe malfunction.
It's a bear to keep those costumes clean, isn't it?