A Year in Palm Beach: Life in an Alternate Universe

A Year in Palm Beach: Life in an Alternate Universe

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by Pamela Acheson, Richard B. Myers

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This book is an adventure, a memoir, a love story, and a coming-of-age book for baby boomers. On a whim, the authors move to Palm Beach for one year. What begins as a playful adventure turns into a life-changing event. This wise book shows it is not the stuff we have but how we live our life that is important.

In the style of Peter Mayle’s A Year in


This book is an adventure, a memoir, a love story, and a coming-of-age book for baby boomers. On a whim, the authors move to Palm Beach for one year. What begins as a playful adventure turns into a life-changing event. This wise book shows it is not the stuff we have but how we live our life that is important.

In the style of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, this book shows that sometimes a move to a new location can also mean a move to a new and better place in your life.

As the authors’ year unfolds, they also provide a finely-painted portrait of Palm Beach, from the mega yachts, mansions, and millionaires to laws that forbid dogs from barking or dictate the height of one’s lawn. The authors swap stories with Jimmy Buffett, kick soccer balls with Rod Stewart, and have cocktails with monkeys on a yacht.

This remarkable book gives readers the chance to live a fun, adventure-filled year in Palm Beach and to see how one couple came to find out what was most important to them and how they wanted to live the rest of their life.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A love story.”  —The Palm Beach Daily News

“A fun read.”  —Donald Trump

“A book for baby boomers looking for adventure.”  —The Palm Beach Post

Product Details

Two Thousand Three Associates
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 9.06(h) x 1.27(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Year in Palm Beach

Life in an Alternate Universe

By Pamela Acheson, Richard B. Myers

Two Thousand Three Associates

Copyright © 2011 Pamela Acheson and Richard B. Myers
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-892285-15-7



We are very, very wet. Our oversize, supposedly windproof umbrella is no match for this melee of wind and rain. Water is dripping from our hair, and our clothes are glued to our bodies.

What was once a street is now a shallow rushing river, and our shoes are soaked. Streaks of lightning rake across the eerily dark afternoon sky, silhouetting palm trees bending in the wind. Deafening thunder shakes the ground. Conversation is difficult.

We get the car door open and slip into the back seat of this stranger's Mercedes. "It's nothing to worry about, just a typical August thunderstorm," Bob the real estate agent assures us. He's about as wet as we are, his tailored suit and expensive-looking shoes trashed, but he appears unperturbed.

We apologize for getting the leather seats of his car so wet, but Bob just smiles. "There's one more house, then we'll stop for the day," he says, handing us some paper towels.

We make feeble attempts to mop ourselves off.

How can we walk into this next house when we are so wet? And even more worrisome, how did yesterday get so far away from today?

Yesterday we left our New Smyrna Beach, Florida home and drove three hours south to The Chesterfield Hotel in Palm Beach for a brief romantic escape. We've been doing this several times a year for ten years. Each trip, we window-shop, take a whirlwind tour of our favorite bars and restaurants, dance the nights away, and then head happily back home.

But last night, walking back to our hotel for a dance or two after a romantic dinner, we started playfully imagining what fun it would be to live in Palm Beach. Walking along these beautiful, quiet streets. Eating at elegant restaurants. Dancing every night. A fantasy of indulgence quickly forgotten once we got on the dance floor.

Then this morning, out walking, we laughed at our silliness, our imagining we could live in Palm Beach. The trips are an escape, not real life. We couldn't afford to live here, anyway. Palm Beach property's way too expensive.

We found ourselves in front of a real estate office and looked at the pictures posted in the window. A mansion for $8 million. A bigger one for $10.7 million. An even bigger one for $33 million. Right. Not for us.

At the bottom of the window was an ad for rentals. On a lark, we went in to check them out. The real estate agent said he had some little cottages available as annual rentals. Cottages? On the exclusive, ritzy island of Palm Beach? We couldn't imagine what he was talking about but, mildly curious, we asked to see some. It sounded like a pleasant, harmless way to spend an hour or two.

That was back when the sun was shining, six houses ago. Now we're drenched and bedraggled, and the properties have blurred together in our minds. But there is no doubt we're hooked. This has gone from a few hours of idle fun to an intense scrutiny of possible living spaces.

Some of the places we saw were houses, not cottages, and way too big and way too expensive. But others were small and actually affordable to rent, although we could never afford to buy one.

In each house, we found ourselves refining what we could and couldn't live without. Definitely would like a fireplace. Winter nights can be in the forties, even this far south. One bathroom is not enough. Need at least three bedrooms, even if two are really tiny, so we can each have an office. Must have a pool.

As we approach the seventh and last house, the rain lets up and the skies lighten. This turns out to be a cottage, the best one so far. The kitchen is tiny, the third bedroom is minuscule, and the walls are painted wild colors. But the little yard is private, and there's a charming pool.

"So, what do you think?" Bob asks.

"We need to go back to The Chesterfield, we don't know what we think, a year might be too long, we could be crazy," we say, all in a jumble.

Bob drives us to our hotel. We promise to call him in the morning, rush up to our room, pull off our wet clothes, wrap ourselves in hotel robes, and raid the minibar.

Settled now with health food (two cold beers, cashews, and a can of Pringles), it's time to talk. How did we move from an idle afternoon's amusement to seriously considering renting a Palm Beach cottage for a year? How did we make such a gigantic leap?

The day before yesterday, staying where we were was definitely our plan. After all, we just planted rows of tomatoes and English peas and red peppers. It seems alarming that we could so easily switch gears.

We remind ourselves we're writers and can live almost anywhere. We've lived in big cities, small towns, Caribbean islands, and even on a boat. It's got to be easier to write in Palm Beach than it was on that boat.

We talk about our house in New Smyrna. We love it. Why would we leave it? But then, time is passing. We're getting older. Alex, our real estate agent, is always telling us our house would rent in an instant. And moving to Palm Beach would be an adventure.

For a decade, we could never consider leaving New Smyrna for more than a week or two because we were responsible for a relative whom we loved dearly. But she recently passed away. For the first time in ten years, we're actually free to come and go as we please.

But still. Changing plans this radically in just a few hours seems more than a bit hasty. What about the practical aspects, such as seeing if we actually can rent our New Smyrna house? Shouldn't we go back home and think about all this?

Our heads are bursting. We decide to shower, go out on the town, and forget all this nonsense, at least for the night.

But this is not to be. We talk all evening. We go over the pros and cons. The idea is exciting. We must do it. What fun to rent and let other people take care of the problems.

We go over the details of the various cottages but get everything mixed up. "Was that the cottage on Hibiscus with no closets?" "Was it the place on Australian with the bizarre wallpaper?" "Do you think we could really live in that tiny one with no driveway?"

We sleep badly, give up, get up at dawn, and restlessly pace until a decent hour when we can call Bob. We go over the properties on the phone, ask to see two of them again.

He meets us in the hotel lobby, and we head out for a second inspection. Both cottages have pluses and minuses, but there is no question the small cottage right in town, the wildly colorful one, is our choice.

We discuss the specifics of the lease, agree to terms, and write a check for the deposit. The lease will begin in three weeks, on September 1. Bob will mail it to us.

It's noon and we're ready to go for it, a year in Palm Beach. We'll figure out the details later. We have no idea what an effect this whimsical decision will have on the rest of our lives.



Bob drives us back to The Chesterfield and we quickly pack up.

"My clothes are still wet from yesterday," Dick says.

"Mine, too," I say. I look in a drawer and find a plastic laundry bag. "Here, we can put the wet stuff in this." I collect our soggy shoes and put them in a second bag. They look ruined.

We check out, get in the car. Dick's behind the wheel. In just a few minutes, we're driving over the bridge to the mainland.

I think of how symbolic this bridge is for me. Driving down from New Smyrna, crossing this bridge always means we're really here, the escape's beginning. Going home, it's the passage back to real life. Yet I don't know if we're going back to real life this time. It seems unreal that the next time we drive over this bridge, we'll be moving here.

Soon, Dick pulls onto I-95 and we begin our way north. We're both quiet for a long time.

Finally, Dick says, "Well, that was an interesting two days."

"You mean Friday morning we hadn't thought of moving anywhere, and now it's Sunday afternoon and we have a cottage in Palm Beach? It's bizarre." We both laugh. "I can't quite get my head around what we did," I say. "It seems normal one minute, and the next minute I think I must have dreamed it."

We both go quiet again. I watch the mile markers whiz by. I think back over our life together.

When I met Dick, I was working in New York and grieving over a loss. He was grieving over a lost marriage. I was living in a small apartment, trying to remake my life. He was living in his office, doing the same, and painfully adjusting to life as an every-other -weekend dad. He has a daughter, Samantha, grown now and living and working in New York. I never had a child.

When Dick and I met, I had no interest in getting into a relationship. Neither did he. But apparently our lack of interest was irrelevant. Though we both fought it in the beginning, we fell in love, spent our first month mostly outside of time, doing things like meeting for lunch at noon and finding ourselves at the same table in the same restaurant at eight at night, still talking nonstop.

Since then, we've had our ups and downs and crossed a lot of bridges, but our life together, at least for me, has been a wonderful adventure. We've moved many times, and every move has been exciting. I thought we'd never move again and I feel giddy at this change of plan.

We reach our exit and drive over another bridge, this one leading to New Smyrna, a barrier island like Palm Beach, but different in all other ways. New Smyrna's a laid-back T-shirt-and-surfboard beach town. Driving over this bridge always means we're home. I wonder if I'll miss it.

We coast down our driveway, pull up in front of the house, get out of the car. Our house is in the middle of two acres of oak and palm trees. We've planted flower gardens here and there. The only sounds I hear are birds singing. Two red cardinals frolic in the birdbath.

"I can't believe we've decided to leave this place," Dick says, looking around.

"Crazy, huh? Wonder what'll happen to the vegetable garden we just planted."

"The rabbits will be happy."

We take our overnight bags and wet clothes into the house. Our cockatiels, Duckie and Blanco, greet us, chirping wildly. I go let them out of their cage. They climb to the top, and Blanco hops on my shoulder. "You guys are in for an adventure," I tell them.

Dick and I unpack, go through the mail, water the plants around the pool, and generally busy ourselves with returning-home rituals. Palm Beach fades away as the evening arrives.

Around seven o'clock, Dick asks, "How about pasta tonight?"

"Sounds delicious," I say. "I'll make a salad."

We go into the kitchen. Dick puts the iPod in a dock and sets it to Peter Cetera who, years ago, for reasons unknown, became our standard background music for cooking together. I like to cook. My mom taught me early, and by the time I was nine I knew how to fry an egg over easy, make béchamel sauce and vinaigrette dressing, and stuff a turkey. I think Dick likes to cook even more than I do, and although we prepare dinner together, he usually creates the main course.

I designed this kitchen just for us. Everything has a place and there's plenty of counter space. Tonight, Dick scrambles some sausage, adds onion and garlic, chops up some tomatoes, and gets a sauce going.

I cut up vegetables and wash some arugula; make a dressing of mustard, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil; then go set the table out by the pool.

Dick comes to the door, holding a bottle of wine. "How about an Amarone, to celebrate?" he says.

We dine outside, savor the Amarone, and have a brief swim after dinner.

"I'm exhausted," Dick says.

"Me, too." We carry the dishes in, put them in the sink to soak, and fall into bed.

But I don't fall asleep right away. Instead, my thoughts turn to Aunt Jane. She was my father's older sister, one of five children, the last to die. I got to know her well when I moved to an apartment near hers in Manhattan soon after college. We'd been close ever since. In her later years, she asked me to take care of her, and moved into a nursing home near our house when she could no longer live in New York alone.

That was over ten years ago. For a decade I saw her, or Dick did, almost every day. Earlier this year she turned one hundred, still happy and healthy. She recently died peacefully in her sleep. Even though she was a hundred years old, it was a shock to have her go. I miss her a great deal. But now Dick and I are completely free to go just about anywhere, for as long as we want. The freedom feels good. I drift off to sleep.

An unsettling dream wakes me, but I can't remember it. The room is dark. My bedside clock tells me it's five, way too early to get up. I turn over, pull the covers around me. As I close my eyes, the memory of renting a Palm Beach cottage jolts me awake. Yikes! What have we done? Anxiety replaces yesterday's thrill. What if we can't rent this house? Do we want strangers living here? Can we just pick up and leave? Palm Beach is fine for a vacation, but for a year? What if we hate living there? I start to sit up, and Dick says, "You awake, too?"

"Yeah. I feel kind of panicked."

Dick laughs. "You mean because strangers are going to live in this house? And we won't like living in Palm Beach? And we don't want to go anywhere for a whole year? That kind of thing?"

"In a nutshell."

He sits up and turns on his light. "Are we crazy?"

"I don't know. We were awfully impulsive." I turn on my light, fluff the pillows so I can sit comfortably. "The thing is, well, I mean, there are so many things."

"Might as well get up," Dick says. "Tea or espresso?"

"This morning I need tea. Something calming."

Dick goes off to the kitchen. I slip into a robe and follow him, put some biscotti and slices of banana and apple on a plate.

We settle in the corners of the living room couch. It's beginning to get light outside, and I can just begin to see the flowers planted around the pool.

"This all seemed so frivolous and fun yesterday," I say.

"That's because it was frivolous and fun yesterday. Today it's buyer's remorse. Or actually renter's remorse."

I look around. "The space here is wonderful. Do we really want to leave the house we remodeled to be our dream house to live in a tiny cottage?"

"And do it for a year?" Dick says.

"I don't know. That seems like an awfully long time to live in something so small."

"And a year could be way too long a time to live in Palm Beach," Dick says.

I think about this. All we really know about Palm Beach are the bars and restaurants. We don't know what the town is like. We have no friends there.

"You mean, like, what would we do day to day?" I say.


"How do you feel about renting this house, letting strangers live here? There's a lot of nice stuff they could wreck," I say.

"You mean like the Rookwood pottery," Dick says. "Or all the plates you like. Or the pool table. Or the art on the walls."

"We could put the good stuff away."

"I suppose." Dick says.

"Also, what about leaving our friends for a year?"

Suddenly, the idea is becoming more and more unappealing. I think of our relationships here, all our friends, our dentist, our doctors, Priscilla at the bank. We could come back to see friends or for doctors' appointments, I suppose, but we couldn't stay here if our house is rented.

"Have we made a mistake?" I say.

"I don't know," Dick says. "I'm getting something to write on." He goes into his office and comes back with a notepad and a pen.

Duckie and Blanco start chirping. "I guess we woke the birds," I say. "I'll go get them." I go into my office, where they sleep, uncover their cage, and open the door. They both hop onto my shoulders, and we all head into the living room. Dick has made more tea and drawn a two-column chart.

"Negatives on the left," he says. "Positives on the right." Duck hops off my shoulder, walks over to Dick's lap, and starts preening. We start by listing pros and cons. Dick fills in the columns as we talk.

"How're we doing?"

Dick makes a quick count. "It's about three to one we shouldn't go."

"Wow. That's depressing. Let me see." I move next to him to take a look. The chart is heavy on the negative side. It makes clear the move is impractical, impulsive, perhaps even foolish. The cottage is too small, the risk of renting out our furnished house is too big, and we have absolutely no idea whether we'd like living day to day in Palm Beach. Not to mention that having three weeks to simultaneously move and handle our work commitments is a ridiculously short amount of time.

"Well, yuck," I say. "They must have put something in the water down there."

Dick says, "Let's take a walk."

I put the birds back in their cage, and we head over to the beach. The surf's up, and surfers are paddling out to catch the next big one. A platoon of pelicans swoops low and flies just barely above the waves, looking for breakfast. The wind is fairly strong, coming right off the ocean, and the distance is a haze of salty air. I love this beach. We walk about a mile north along the water. Neither of us says a word.


Excerpted from A Year in Palm Beach by Pamela Acheson, Richard B. Myers. Copyright © 2011 Pamela Acheson and Richard B. Myers. Excerpted by permission of Two Thousand Three Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Pamela Acheson and Richard B. Myers are the coauthors of The Best Romantic Escapes in Florida, have contributed to numerous editions of Fodor's Florida, and have written about Florida and Palm Beach for a variety of national and international magazines. They live in Palm Beach, Florida.

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A Year in Palm Beach: Life in an Alternate Universe 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it but it was not what I thought. Too many insignificant details of where the authors went to dinner, drinks, etc. Slow moving - not a detailed portrait of living in Palm Beach. I was expecting a more interesting account of their year.