Visiting West Palm Beach, Florida

by Sarah Birdsong

I’ve known my best friend, Cara, for ten years. We met sometime during July of 2009 but we weren’t too keen on each other. We had plenty of pretend reasons not to—our respective partners were jealous or insecure, we were unhappy at where we found ourselves in life, and we’d fallen into that trap of thinking women had to compete with other women.

Yet, in spite of that, we did manage to forge a relationship.

I distinctly remember the moment it happened: we were out with a group of friends at our local brewery (before craft beer became a personality type) and she was introducing me to the ambrosia that is “Hummingbird Water.” That is, Ace’s Pear Cider mixed with Lindeman’s Framboise and a dash of Grenadine. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, Cara accidentally spat directly onto my face, mid-sentence.

Feigning politeness though no less taken aback by disgusted horror, I stared at her. There was a moment of silence.

“Did I just spit on you?”

“… yes.”

The pause deepened.

“Well… you can wipe it off now.”

West Palm Beach, Florida: a Brief History

As the county seat of West Palm Beach County, West Palm Beach is located on a barrier island adjacent to Lake Worth Lagoon. Once home to a thriving native population comprised of the Mayaimi, the Jaega, and the Ais, West Palm Beach is now home to the Seminole and Miccosukee, whom the Europeans called Creeks.

By the 1870s, a few hundred settlers lived in Lake Worth County, with a mind to make the area into a fledgling city. By 1890, over 200 people had settled along Lake Worth into what would become West Palm Beach.

West Palm Beach is home to vast expanses of wetland. Because of this, the historic city could be no wider than several blocks wide. The coastline of Palm Beach County consists of a host of barrier islands and peninsulas which include Jupiter Island, Singer Island, and Palm Beach Island.

A Friendship Ten Years in the Making

In the years that have passed from that night, we’ve shared two different apartments, moved away from North Carolina, left our respective partners, and found new love. We’ve bickered, we’ve made up. We’ve reinvented ourselves and compared notes. We’ve guided each other out of dysfunctional and unhealthy relationships. Most importantly, we’ve given each other room to grow, apologized when we recognized our own toxic survival patterns that developed while enduring trauma and forgiven each other for falling short.

In 2014, I left North Carolina for Georgia and Cara for Colorado. We’d both found ourselves in new relationships and in need of new surroundings. Time passed.

During July of 2016, Cara developed a pulmonary embolism. It was not only physically and financially devastating, but emotionally isolating; not only could she not work, but it was just her and her boyfriend in a new state. I donated what I could to her resulting GoFundMe, but I also sent her a care package from everyone back down south. It contained some of her favorite guilty pleasures, such as blue gummy sharks and mango bubble bath. It was all I could do, but it, along with time, helped her heal.

Then in late 2017, I came down with a then-mysterious illness that turned out to be an acute form of Crohn’s Disease. In the months that followed, Cara came back down south to visit me. She helped Sean clean the apartment and took me to doctor visits. During this time, she was making her move back to North Carolina to ultimately end up in Palm Beach, Florida. She would return a few weeks later to take me to the hospital, which began a chain reaction of hospital visits and ever worsening diagnoses and health complications.

I’ve since recovered and am finally in remission.

This past February, I was able to visit her down in her new home. I’d made plans in the beginning of last year—when I was still working—to visit her, purchasing a cheap flight off Southwest Airlines. However, after I was diagnosed with five blood clots, I was summarily unable to fly. I canceled the flight and saved the points until I received a notification that unless I used them by February 14th, they would expire.

Thus, began my brief and fast-paced adventure into West Palm Beach.

West Palm Beach

After landing, Cara’s partner George picked me up and took me to Lost Weekend while we waited for Cara to get off work. It’s a great place to grab a drink, but it doesn’t have Celiac friendly options, so we elected to walk down the street for something else. Which is why West Clematis Street is a good place to check out; if something doesn’t work for you, you can just step outside and stroll to your next destination. We finished the evening at KaPow, which is a great Asian Fusion spot that is both Celiac and vegetarian-friendly.  It was pouring the entire time, which is par the course for the winter season in Florida, but it was no less enjoyable.

We spent our first evening eating seafood and complaining about overpriced daquiries. The remainder of the evening was filled with meme-tastic YouTubeVideos we’d found years that separated us.

The next morning, we visited the actual Palm Beach, where we strolled the beach and snapped photos. By this time, we’d both developed an interest in taking photos better than our measly camera phones could provide, saving up to buy something just a little better. The Palm Beach Clocktower is one of the area’s iconic locations, where you might have to throw elbows to find a space to snap a shot. The afternoon saw us comparing the photos we’d taken and talking about the years long since past in the O’Shea Irish Pub.

Ft. Lauderdale

It was then that I discovered some fellow Atlantans, Alan and Elisa, were visiting in Fort Lauderdale. With nothing better to do, we took the train to see them. I love commuting on trains, which starkly contrasts Cara’s desire not to be seen within spitting distance of them. Every time the train shuddered or stopped, she would grasp her seat for dear life. Still, I found this train no better or worse than anything else I’d yet ridden, so I can safely confirm that the Tri-Trail is a great and cost-effective way to travel in south Florida without a car.

In Ft. Lauderdale, we enjoyed ourselves at the Glitch Bar. Outside, a mural with famous musical icons—such as Bowie—greets foot traffic, begging for a gratuitous selfie. This place is a little pricey, but the drink price covers the cost of the games. You’ll find cult classics to little-known arcade gems. Cara soundly trounced my every attempt at Mortal Kombat, while Alan demonstrated his acuity in Frogger. As a horror fan who cut her teeth on films like Alien, I spent most of my time enjoying the Alien shooter. Though I’m no John Dellinger, I’d been playing games with this theme since Duck Hunt on Nintendo. It’s something I never tire of.

Our time swept by in a blink and we found ourselves heading back to the train station. Yet, upon arrival, we found there to be a suspicious lack of trains coming or going. This sparked no small degree of horror—had we missed our ticket home? I’m notoriously bad with time and Cara had never used the Tri-Trail before. In what became a comedy of errors, we came to find that we were in a fact an hour early, prompting Alan and Elisa to retrieve us yet again.

With just a bit more time to kill, we decided to check out The Apothecary, which struck me as the perfect place to have a speakeasy-themed birthday party.  The walls were covered in wall-to-wall red and black velvet damask, though one had its brick wall left thoughtfully exposed. The seating eschewed traditional bar seating and instead offered pleather couches with antique wood tables.

Though we didn’t spend much time here, the drinks and atmosphere were both enjoyable, giving us a comfortable place to wait for our train. When at last our departure time did arrive, we were on time and thoroughly ready to be done with the evening. The train ride home was uneventful and quiet, bringing our adventures to a close.

My visit in West Palm Beach was brief but no less enjoyable. I came out of this adventure with new locations ticked off my world map and new places to take my partner-in-crime, Sean, when our fleet feet return.

ADDITIONAL READING

I have compiled a list of additional resources regarding this entry and its contents for researching the topics therein:

Visiting West Palm Beach: you can find quick and concise ways to plan a trip to West Palm Beach here.

Lost Weekend: live music and Mexican-themed bites right on Clematis Street.

KaPow: Asian fusion nestled right in the middle of Clematis Street.

O’Shea’s Irish Pub: a run-of-the-mill Irish themed pub, though no less enjoyable for that fact.

Glitch: an arcade-themed bar where the price of your drink pays for your games.

Apothecary: a deliciously decadent speakeasy-themed bar in Ft. Lauderdale.

The Tri-Trail: a cost-effective way of traveling through South Florida without a car.

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