(Photo: Courtesy Courtney Colwell)
During a recent trip to Miami, I visited one of my favorite bars with the sad recognition that this was likely my last time there. For over a year, Scotty’s Landing had been slated to close, despite efforts to save it from the path of Condo-geddon. Many places in Miami have succumbed more swiftly, including some veritable institutions, but for me, the closing of Scotty’s is like the loss of a friend.
Small businesses falling to rising rents is hardly unique to Miami — or even cities. You could visit nearly any place in this country and hear about a restaurant, boutique, book store or other kind of place-gone-by recalled with distinct fondness. It’s always a small business, too: where your little league team went after games, where you celebrated graduation, the secret diner you told people to visit when they were in town.
A favorite place can transport you to a substantial period of time, like a decade or childhood. When it closes, so does that time in your life.
No one ever says, “Damn, there goes my favorite Olive Garden.”
And even when some of those small businesses actually get bigger over time — maybe even touristy — you still love them because, like bands before they became famous, you knew them when. You “discovered” them.
I discovered Scotty’s the year I graduated from the University of Miami. Naïve but knowledgeable enough to understand my screenwriting degree would attract zero job prospects, I sought out local writers who might offer career advice, hoping for something more helpful than “go to grad school.” I managed to get a successful author of legal thrillers to meet with me; he’d suggested Scotty’s.
When you enter Scotty’s (if you can find it), you’re in a bar unlike most that have appeared in Miami in the last decade. It’s not a place to go to see and be seen; it’s barely more than a wooden shack. Open to the elements, there’s nothing shiny or sleek about it, unless you count wet plastic chairs after a recent rain. The food is fried; the specialty cocktails are beers.
When I first sat down, though, and took in the view of the water and the boats sailing the horizon, I felt immediately relaxed and happy. As the author I was meeting with recalled his days as a Miami Herald reporter, and how often he, Carl Hiaasen, and Dave Barry would hang out at Scotty’s, you’d have thought by my excitement I had discovered a tropical Algonquin Round Table. I wanted in.
Years later, I’m still not at that table. Perhaps I’d have earned an invitation if I had heeded the author’s advice and focused on my writing. He had told me that if you really want to do something, start early. Start when you’re young and work at it as much as you can. It gets harder as you get older, he said, sharing his personal disappointment at having started so late in his own life … at age 27. Being twenty-one at the time, I thought that was so far in the future. I had time.
So I went to grad school, moved to New York and made more career changes than Schwarzenegger. I still haven’t written the great American novel or even a respectable self-published e-book. Or really anything with a wider circulation than my LinkedIn connections. Now, Scotty’s is closing, and I can’t help but wonder where the time went.
Isn’t that what makes the closing of a favorite place so poignant? Places are unlike songs, films or fashion. A favorite song can remind you of a date or maybe a year, but a favorite place can transport you to a substantial period of time, like a decade or childhood. When it closes, so does that time in your life.
And there are no resurrections or reruns. I have clothes in the back of my closet awaiting either the style or my waistline to return, but Scotty’s, once closed, will not. A favorite place may reopen with under same name, but it will never really be the same again.
Maybe that’s why we should let go. Places, like people, eventually change. We grow up, get older, move on. We remember and tell others what they missed.
And we brag that we “knew them when.”