However, my first journalistic assignment was to cover the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando 170 miles away. This was the basic tan I needed to adjust to life at the center of the Republican resistance. The three-day conference, which was in some ways a massive political protest against Covid restrictions, was my first introduction to Florida’s devil-may-care culture around the pandemic. Miners had to be installed to force the wearing of masks. Some of these masks were mesh. Any attempt to promote social distancing was a joke as the crowd huddled towards the rising stars of the GOP.
Back in Palm Beach, I had dinner outside every night. Sure, the tables weren’t two meters apart, but DeSantis said the virus doesn’t like moisture, so they pushed us into trendy restaurants like Le Bilboquet. Notorious Manhattan boîte had just opened its sibling in Palm Beach in February. And already swarms of wealthy women in pearls and wide-brimmed hats were taking to the terrace for lunch, while their bronzed, blonde, and younger followers danced all night to electronica beats with men whose hair was so full and sleek that they could be Spanish kings. But that scene wasn’t too ostentatious for Ron DeSantis, who dined in a private room at the French restaurant in May.
As I flinched over the sheer mass of people, the other 30 at my table who rode out of Covid with their wealthy parents didn’t flinch. They were all vaccinated – at least one shot. “It’s basically 80 percent immunity,” said one woman as a French-speaking waiter hopped around a bottle of Moet & Chandon, shot the sparklers while people at their tables stood up to clap and dance.
My Covid fear peaked days later when I walked into a crowded sports bar. There were no plastic shields breaking the top of the bars, just people eating shoulder to shoulder and breathing each other with viral loads.
“I already had Covid,” a bartender reassured me when she saw me uncomfortable with my surgical mask at the bar. “We all have.”
I told my friends I had to go before I even sat down.
I realized I needed a vaccine to survive in Florida. I asked one of my new friends how they got a sting when they were 36. No shock – there was a concierge doctor supplying the wealthy with vaccines based on random, pre-existing conditions. If I wanted one, I needed a referral. I passed. I would just wait for Publix.
Despite the exorbitant wealth in Palm Beach, I’ve rarely seen real Hollywood celebrities. Sylvester Stallone had recently bought a house and Bill Murray was spotted accidentally at a hotel in town, but not young, hot A-listers. This was a city full of bright paisley dresses and velvet slippers worn by the offspring and heirs of America’s bluest blood relatives. And yet, they didn’t long for celebrity sightings. They were amused enough by the Trump stars blowing through town.
There was Lindsey Graham in the restaurant on the roof of the Ben Hotel. Mike Pompeo discovered his security detail at The Colony, advertised as “the pinkest boutique hotel in Palm Beach”. Matt Gaetz hides behind a surgical mask in a reggae bar, mainly to disguise himself from fans asking for selfies and sending shots. Then Rudy Giuliani held court at Café L’Europe, talking about a book he is working on and his reluctant visits to Mar-a-lago. In Buccan there were Trump ambassadors who ducked with his keynote address at the RNC retreat in order to have dinner with the democratic lobbyist Tom Quinn, whose son Piper owns the trendy hotspot.
Corey Lewandowski was spotted on the back of the dance floor in Cucina, a place widely known as “Covid-Cina” because it’s full of people breaking distance rules while having disco balls. (Hogan Gidley was seen in the same place, but outside on what Cucina called his “beach,” which was actually the sand-filled back parking lot. Gidley, a former White House adviser who, like many others in West Palm Money Made on his Trump World Notoriety, he mingled with celebrities hosting a party to quote the invitation, “The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Woman of the Year Campaign for Palm Beach and Treasure Coast.”)