When is something that’s “for public use” not really for public use? When money and politics come to the table, that’s when.
It’s probably been a full year since I’ve stepped foot in Holiday Park, one of Fort Lauderdale’s centrally located city parks. Located off Sunrise Boulevard, it totally appealed to me when I moved here four years ago — vast fields, well-maintained tennis courts and even a running course (or walking course at my velocity). And, when someone wanted an easy target, I even got to play pick-up basketball there.
But then something changed. Not so much with the tennis or basketball courts (as far as I know, at least), but more so with the four main fields.
I wasn’t allowed to step foot onto the field. I couldn’t play a damn sport — no soccer, no football, frisbee, nothing. At first, 3-foot-high sandwich board signs with “Field Maintenance – Do Not Enter” were posted. Eh, my friends and I thought. We’ll just kick the soccer ball around those signs. It worked for a while. But then the park rangers would roll by in either their white sedans with fake sirens attached the roof or worse, rangers relegated to golf carts demanded we get off the fields.
“Can you not read?” they’d ask us, pointing to the sandwich board sign.
Admittedly, I thought this was a racist dig, masked to keep the city’s minority soccer players from taking to the pitch. At least in South Florida, soccer is a colloquial sport played by its mundane, soccer-crazed citizens. A typical day at Holiday Park used to have Haitians, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Brazilians, Costa Ricans, Hondurans and other non-Anglo folks kicking the ball toward makeshift goal posts.
I later found out I was right. Sort of.
After being kicked off the field on three other occasions, the last time I went was on a Sunday, about a year ago. I coincidentally arrived with three of my most Anglo-looking friends. “Mr. All-American” is what I’ll call my first friend. The four of us stepped onto one of the four fields, tossing the football around. No more than 10 minutes later, a park ranger cruised next to us in his white sedan with rooftop sirens that probably didn’t work and asked us to leave the field.
“Why?” Mr. All-American asked. “What are we doing wrong?”
“You need a permit,” Mr. Park Ranger replied.
“A permit?” Mr. All-American asked incredulously. “Isn’t this a public park?”
“Yeah, well, you need a permit to play on this Bermuda grass,” Mr. Park Ranger countered.
Turns out some individuals petitioned the city to allow only permitted citizens to play on the Bermuda grass that’s in Holiday Park. Well, seeing that the only fields worth playing on are the ones with Bermuda grass, we’re pretty much S.O.L.
The ranger told us to play on another “field” located within Holiday Park. Actually it’s a parking lot used by Parker Playhouse. After 30 minutes of trying to avoid the grassy potholes and boulder-sized pebbles — and nearly twisting an ankle or two — my friends and I gave up.
I see the point in wanting to protect the grass from the mess of cleats bound to tear up the sod. But seriously. It’s a field. And it’s public. It seems the only folks who’ve gotten permits are the ones who can afford it. The elite youth soccer leagues seem to play with ease. Mr. Park Ranger doesn’t seem to mind.
Sure, I could probably go to another park that’s less restrictive. But really, it’s the principle of the matter.
It once again is a game between the Haves and the Have Nots. Guess which team I’m rooting for.