My first journalistic assignment, however, was to cover the Conservative Political Action Conference 170 miles in Orlando, which was the tan fire I needed to adjust to life at the center of the Republican resistance. The three-day conference, which was sort of a massive political protest against the Covid restrictions, was my first introduction to Florida’s devilish culture around the pandemic. Minders had to be installed just to impose the wearing of the mask. Some of these masks were made of mesh. Any attempt to encourage social distancing was a joke as crowds flocked to the rising GOP stars.
Back in Palm Beach, I dined al fresco every night. Sure, the tables weren’t six feet apart, but DeSantis said the virus doesn’t like humidity, so they crammed us into hip eateries like Le Bilboquet. The infamous Manhattan box had just opened its brother Palm Beach in February. And already flocks of well-off women in pearls and wide-brimmed hats swarmed the patio for lunch, while their tanned, blonde, and younger successors danced the night away to electronic beats with men with hair so full and sleek that ‘they could have been members of the Spanish royal family. But that scene wasn’t too ostentatious for Ron DeSantis, who dined at the French restaurant in a private room in May.
While I was shaking from the mass of people, the other 30s at my table, who were coming out of Covid with their wealthy parents, didn’t flinch. They’ve all been vaccinated – at least one shot. âIt’s essentially 80% immunity,â one woman explained, as a French-speaking waiter hoisted around a bottle of MoÃ«t & Chandon that drew candles as people rose to their tables to applaud and dance. .
My Covid anxiety peaked a few days later when I walked into a crowded sports bar. There were no plastic shields smashing the top of the bar, just people side by side eating and breathing viral loads all over the place.
“I’ve already taken Covid,” reassured me a bartender, seeing me standing at the bar uncomfortable with my surgical mask. “We all have.”
I told my friends I had to go before I even sat down.
I realized that if I was going to survive in Florida, I needed a vaccine. I asked one of my new friends how they got hit at 36. No shock – there was a janitor doctor hooking up the wealthy with vaccines based on random pre-existing conditions. If I wanted one, I needed a reference. I have succeeded. I would just wait for Publix.
Despite Palm Beach’s exorbitant wealth, I have rarely seen real Hollywood celebrities. Sylvester Stallone had recently bought a house and Bill Murray was spotted randomly at a hotel in town, but no hot young A-listers. It was a city full of bright paisley dresses and velvet moccasins worn by America’s bluest descendants and heirs. And yet, they didn’t want to watch celebrities. They were amused enough by the Trump stars who blew through town.
There was Lindsey Graham at the rooftop restaurant of the Ben Hotel. Mike Pompeo was spotted with his security guard at The Colony, billed as “Palm Beach’s pinkest boutique hotel.” Matt Gaetz is hiding behind a surgical mask at a reggae bar, mostly in disguise from fans asking for selfies and submitting photos. Then there was Rudy Giuliani who was courting at CafÃ© L’Europe, talking about a book he was working on and his low-key visits to Mar-a-lago. In Buccan, Trump ambassadors dodged his speech during the RNC retreat to dine with Democratic lobbyist Tom Quinn, whose son Piper owns the trendy hotspot.
In Cucina, a place widely nicknamed “Covid-cina” because it was filled with people breaking the rules of distancing under disco balls, Corey Lewandowski was spotted at the back of the dance floor. (Hogan Gidley was seen in the same spot, but outside, at what Cucina called his “beach,” which was actually the back parking lot filled with sand. Gidley, a former White House aide who, like many others in West Palm, cashed in on her Trump-world celebrity, was there mingling with socialites, who threw a party for, to quote the invitation, “the campaign for Leukemia & Lymphoma Woman of the Year. Society for Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast. â)