We are staying at a place called Paradise Island RV Park in Fort Lauderdale. They have crammed in the maximum number of RVs in the space available. I estimate that about half the occupants live here full time and work. There is a mix of bikers, Haitian and Hispanic immigrants and others who need a cheap place to live. The transients, like us, have trailers, 5th wheels and motor homes. License plates are from Quebec, Michigan and South Dakota. They are all well-behaved, respectful of quiet hours. A wave is in order if you walk past someone’s home.
We call our old friend on the cell phone just before arriving at her Miami Beach condo. She says she will meet us downstairs.
The young man guarding the gate is a Haitian. He wants an apartment number before he will open the gate. We can see Norma standing outside waiting for us. We don’t’ have the number. We try to explain that we are picking up our old friend who is 85 and that she is waiting for us. We tell him,” Look, there she is!” He’s not having any of it. I put on my serious authority face and get out of the car to explain the situation to him more slowly and loudly. He retreats into the guard shack and asks again for her telephone number. I loudly explain again that she is standing in the parking lot.
Mrs. Phred gets out of the car and runs around the gate yelling "Norma!" and waving. The young guard gives up and opens the gate for me.
Norma is dressed in a nice top and see though pantyhose. We take her back upstairs to find some pants to round out the outfit. I’m concerned that she might have deteriorated since we last saw her.
We know Joe’s Stone Crab is on the beach somewhere so we drive south. We have a 4:45 reservation. Norma has forgotten where Joe’s is located. She gave up driving over ten years ago so this is not that surprising. This was one of Al Capone's favorite places to eat.
We roll down a window and ask a taxi driver next to us. He says “its south on Washington”. We cut over to Washington and find Joe’s just before the big channel that the cruise ships use. We see a fifteen story cruise ship appearing to sail across the street two blocks south.
In conversation, our friend is as sharp and witty as ever. We sit in the outdoor patio and order drinks. She tells us stories about trips to Europe with Mrs. Phred’s mother. A turquoise and pink building towers overhead. There are pictures on the walls of bungalows typical of Miami in the late 1940s.
The Miami neon is unique. In this city, due to theft, the Burger Kings do not leave saltshakers out for the customers. I have not signed my credit card so I have to sign the check and send my driver’s license back to the cashier. On the drive back, the beach night scene is full of young people and expensive sport cars. This was our home once, but I feel displaced. The old camp survivors with numbered wrists that once lived here in numbers are gone, replaced by new waves of immigrants and prosperity.
We take Norma back to her condo and go up to the tenth floor with her. The balcony overlooks the beach. The view is stunning. Her coffee table is covered with recently read books, some in German and French languages. We talk about her future plans, but she likes the weather here and has no plans to move in with family or assisted living. As we hug goodbye, I wonder if we will see her again and hope for the best for her.