Before the election of *gulp* President Donald Trump, most people weren't all that familiar with his Mar-a-Lago club. Membership costs more than a normal house, and also Florida has alligators, so why bother?
That was the attitude before President Trump started taking little trips down there anytime he needed a weekend getaway, and now it's the public's business what's going on at Margs-a-Plenty. It's not unusual for a president to need to take a retreat to someplace like Camp David, but Camp David is kind of tucked away in the middle of nowhere. Mar-a-Lago, on the other hand, is situated in an area that around six million people actually inhabit. We sat down with some folks who live down there to see what it's like to live near the president's "second White House."
Mar-a-Lago Is A Literal Island Of Wealth In A Sea Of Crime
Obviously, Donald Trump is a very rich man. He owns a lot of fancy buildings, and the people who buy real estate from him tend to cough up a lot of money for it. So for Mar-a-Lago to be Trump's favorite place to visit, it must be a very well-off area, right? Well, sort of.
"It's an island of money," explained Jim, who lives and works in West Palm Beach. "Get back on the mainland and it's back to lower-middle class."
"The part where Mar-a-Lago is is essentially one road with mansions on either side," continued Alyssa, who is from nearby Boca Raton. "All of Palm Beach is really nice."
Just to give everybody a quick geography lesson, Palm Beach is home to Mar-a-Lago. Right across the waterway is the creatively named West Palm Beach. And while Palm Beach is an ideal place for rich people to live and schmooze, West Palm Beach has crime rates on par with Chicago, a place that our president may very well actually be scared of. According to Alyssa, the nearby Delray Beach "has a reputation for being the drug rehab clinic capital of the U.S." Lake Worth also has some major violence problems. So basically, if one of America's most violent cities decided to lay a medieval-style siege to Mar-a-Lago, they might be able to pull it off for a hot minute.
"[West Palm Beach] is a whole different world than Palm Beach," said Jim. "Palm Beach doesn't have gunshots going off at 3:00 in the morning, or dead bodies being found being routine news. They don't have to worry about meth-heads or gangs."
Furthermore, it seems like those gangs (which are already a huge problem for West Palm Beach) really don't like the dichotomy that our sitting president seems to represent. "There's a gas station on one of the routes Trump travels to Mar-A-Lago," Jim told us. "The owner is a big Trump supporter, and rolled out a big 'Welcome President Trump' sign. I gas up there one day, and the next time I pull in, the sign is down and covered with graffiti. It's from one of the gangs here. They put the biggest tag on the 'T' in Trump to make it look like 'rump.' I walk in to pay, and when I asked about the sign, the owner told me 'It happened the first night.' I can't think of a more WPB greeting for the president. It's the differences between the two worlds."
So when President Trump comes to town and redirects police manpower toward his security, it's actually making things worse.
Security Is A Nightmare
This might come as a shock to some people, but as long as you're not dressed like the forgotten bass player from Nirvana, you can basically waltz right into pretty much any country club in America. Being able to pay to do anything at a country club is another matter entirely, but they're fairly open places, and this is a security nightmare for the Secret Service.
Former Secret Service and intelligence officials have found that, unlike at the White House, guests at Mar-a-Lago can get in without any sort of background check and, to quote Politico, "afford an unprecedented opportunity for eavesdropping and building dossiers on the president's routines and habits, as well as those of the inner circle around him." A photo ID and an invite from a club member are all anyone needs to "prove" that they're legit.
A former CIA director said that "hostile intelligence services would love to plant bugs in a place like this," and National Security Council members have bemoaned that spying at Mar-a-Lago would be as easy as tipping off a waiter. Secret Servicemen have said that Mar-a-Lago has security challenges that they aren't equipped to deal with, such as guests posting pictures of the president being briefed on North Korea to Facebook.
And according to Mike, Trump's club buddies still aren't sure how they feel about this whole presidency thing. Mike runs an auto detailing shop near West Palm Beach, and has at least four customers he knows are Mar-a-Lago members. "I don't ask [customers if they're going to Mar-a-Lago], they'll tell me," he laughed. "They're literally going to say 'I need this ready for tomorrow. The president's coming in!' And then they expect me to ask something in return, like 'Where are you going?' but I've only said 'No problem, It'll be ready in time.' So they'll pretend I said something else and say 'It's at Mar-a-Lago.' Like, good for you, but I really don't care."
These sad little country clubbers are like teenagers meeting Justin Bieber for the first time, only to find out how much that actually sucks. Mar-a-Lago has installed metal detectors, bomb dogs, armed guards, and other measures that have club members singing a different tune to Mike about how annoying it is to go to there now. Mike didn't seem too sympathetic.
Traffic Has Gone From Bad To Worse (By Land AND Air)
Some cities, such as Washington, New York, and even Los Angeles, are generally used to presidential traffic delays. It bites, but they're built to handle it. West Palm Beach, on the other hand, was not. Jim is a hotel bartender, and he's seen the impact firsthand. "Lately I've been serving more and more tourists needing to stay longer because their flight was delayed," he said. "If Trump is in town, the bars are going to have more people because many streets are blocked and flights are delayed. I had a lady in February have her flight delayed three times, twice because of Trump. Trump decided to stay longer or had his plane be on the ground longer, so the delays shot up. She had to keep calling her babysitter that she was going to be later getting into Atlanta over and over again, and she kept blaming Trump for the delays every time."
Security is also on high alert. In February, military fighters had to intercept a plane that strayed near Mar-a-Lago (they're not supposed to be within a mile of the president), causing sonic booms that woke up residents and flight delays left and right. Air-related businesses in the area are losing money when planes aren't flying -- up to $30,000 a day.
Road travel isn't any better. Take a quick gander at the lay of the land here:
As Jim tells it, "All the major roads go North-South, so if you close one road going across, you're cutting off the circulation. But this happens every time Trump goes to or from the airport. He's not just shutting down I-95; he's shutting down every major road in the area for an hour. Maybe more."
There aren't many roads onto Palm Beach itself (and thereby Mar-a-Lago), but the ones that exist are highways. When those shut down, it's chaos. "If you look it up on a map, you can see it's not some isolated little George Bush ranch in the middle of nowhere," said Alyssa of Mar-a-Lago. "It's on A1A, which is a one-lane road that is literally the only road in that part of the island. Some people have to pass it to get to work and school."
The A1A on that map up there looks like an access road to Mar-a-Lago, but in reality it's over 300 miles long -- people are getting screwed up and down. A recent visit by the president of China even caused roads to close for at least an hour -- including part of Interstate 95. It's become such an issue that newspapers give hopeful estimate times and were kind enough to let everyone know Trump would be there for Easter and to plan accordingly.
"It's become a mess here," Jim complained. "On days Trump is coming, I need to leave for work at least two hours earlier, because if they close that bridge, I need to go around on side streets to one of the few other bridges that isn't closed. Last month, another bartender was late for work by three hours. My boss asked him over the phone what the problem was, and he only had to say 'Trump' to be forgiven."
Mike and Jim both estimated that they've been wasting a ton of extra gas when they're forced to take side streets or get stuck in highway traffic for hours on end -- Jim's estimate was a full $50 a month more than he'd normally spend. $50 extra on gas is a lot for an average Joe, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to what the government is spending.
The City And County Can Barely Take It Anymore; They're Losing Millions
All of these issues added up have hit Palm Beach County where it hurts the most: their checkbook. They're dropping nearly $60,000 a day on police overtime alone, which balloons to about $250,000 -- let us stress this again -- per day when foreign dignitaries are in town, and we can't think of anyone who deserves that kind of overtime pay more. A previously fiscally balanced area has suddenly spiraled into a sudden budget crisis through no fault of its own.
"Trump is bleeding us dry with his constant visits," said a concerned Jim. "But what can we do? We're obligated to block roads and provide extra security. The police should be doing other things. You know how bad it can be in WPB. But no. They're blocking roads."
It's also hurting businesses. Blocked roads and bumper-to-bumper traffic means fewer people going out spending money. The merchants association in West Palm Beach is even asking for help because of so much lost business.
"I've lost business," admitted Mike. "I'm not done with April yet, but I can tell you that each month since December, I've been losing more and more money. Traffic backs up like a mother now, and it blocks people from coming in ... When Trump is in town, I can lose several thousand a day. The other day, I saw a BMW trying to turn in and couldn't because of the Trump traffic. BMW owners will do everything for their car, and he would have chosen our best package, and that's over $300. Like that, I was out that much."
"I see less and less people out shopping on Trump Days," Jim concurred. "The Walmart I shop at always has less cars in it on Trump Days. And I notice that a lot of stores have more and more open parking spots."
It's become such a critical issue that city and county officials are proposing everything from slapping tourists with a hefty tax to hitting Trump's crown jewel itself with a special "Mar-a-Lago only" tax. Bedminster, New Jersey, home of Trump National Golf Course, might be the next city to get hit with this kind of everyday insanity if President Trump starts spending his summer weekends there, and they're not ready in the slightest.
We'll leave you with a final thought from Jim: "I know Trump supporters here who regret that they voted for him. Not because of anything policy-wise, but because he does this to the city."
Evan V. Symon is an interviewer, source finder, and journalist for the Personal Experience team at Cracked. Have an awesome job/experience you'd like to see up here? Then hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org
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