The sky was clear and the sun warm, but there were no golfers out Friday at the Palm Beach Country Club. The tennis courts were empty, too.
Across the inlet along Royal Palm Avenue, the brokerage houses and banks were shuttered. The nearby shops, restaurants and clubs -- even the ever-popular Monkey Club in the heart of West Palm -- were empty. Windblown palm fronds rolled through the deserted streets like tumbleweeds.
Frances was coming, and in the tony environs of Palm Beach, few were left to welcome it.
At the Watermark condominiums, where penthouses start at $8.6 million, the residents were almost entirely gone -- as were the boats at the nearby Palm Beach Yacht Club. Watermark security guard Lonnie Solis would be spending the night in his guardhouse, but he said only about half a dozen of the 100 units were occupied.
"People here have a lot of money, so they can go about anywhere they want," Solis said.
While evacuation orders or recommendations have been given for people around Palm Beach and West Palm Beach, the response has varied and appeared to follow economic and social lines. An estimated 2.5 million Floridians have left their homes in the broad projected path of the hurricane, but quite a few have stayed, even in this oceanside resort that authorities said could be directly in Frances's path.
Wealthier and older people have left the Palm Beach area, but many of the younger and poor residents remain. And that is why the streets of Palm Beach and downtown West Palm Beach were empty, but the more modest apartments and homes a few blocks farther inland were still occupied.
Those residents did not have anyplace to go, they did not have the money to escape or they heard such horror stories about long lines of evacuation traffic and empty gas stations along the highways that they decided to stay put. At the Palm Beach Assisted Living Facility, the 190 residents remained in their boarded-up residence not far from the water. "We're not in the official evacuation zone," administrator Marsha Alexander said. "So we've brought in our staff and all their families and we'll do our best to get through."
And in some nearby immigrant neighborhoods, where many people are originally from the Caribbean, hurricanes are a part of life. "I've seen so many big storms that they don't scare me," said Nelson Hubert of Lake Park, formerly of the Bahamas.
His small stucco home had no plywood over the windows, but he said he was prepared. "These walls are strong," he said, with as much hope as confidence. He said he would take his family to a shelter if things got bad, but he said it has been difficult to keep up with which facilities are filled.
Along this less-affluent strip of Route 1, a few grocery stores were still doing a quick business. After the fast-food restaurants closed in mid-afternoon, the only other businesses generally open were liquor stores. Although it was clear that major trouble was on the way, many who stayed were in a more playful than dour mood. And that was nowhere more apparent than on South Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach, where scores of people were on the beach watching the waves grow and feeling the wind pick up.
Many were taking pictures for their "before" scenes, and some were even swimming. Ross Mollenhauer of West Palm Beach said that he and a friend had biked to the ocean and he could not resist the water when he arrived.
He said the waves pulled him quickly to the south and were more powerful than any he had experienced before. "You had to go under a lot of big ones or else you got clobbered," he said. "I wouldn't go in when the hurricane is really here, but this was pretty cool."
Lora Giorgi was also there with her young daughter and her husband, Fabrizio, having come from their home 10 minutes away. She said she expects major damage along the beach and probably to the homes close by it. The wall separating the beach from Ocean Boulevard is six feet tall, and a storm surge could easily top that.
Giorgi said that friends left the area and told them of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the evacuation route. "We thought about leaving, but with our young child and our dog, we don't want to get caught in anything like that," she said.
So now they are making plans for how to deal with possible trouble in their home, just outside the mandatory evacuation area. "We're putting a mattress in our biggest closet and we'll stay in there," she said. "And if the roof blows off, we'll pull the mattress over us and make that the roof."
One of the few substantial businesses in the area still open as the afternoon passed was E.R. Bradley's, a restaurant and bar with a long history. Day manager David Marshall said that Bradley's, which is now in West Palm Beach but used to be across the inlet on Palm Beach, has a tradition of hurricane parties. The tables were filled, and customers were three deep at the bar when the sun suddenly gave way to clouds and a band of heavy rain approached.
Marshall said he would keep the restaurant open as long as it was safe, and he was delighted that so many of his regulars remained in town and decided to come out for a good time. "They'll need it because I think this one is going to be very bad," he said.
Meanwhile, back at the beach, people ran for their cars when the torrential rains suddenly arrived. But 20 minutes later the sun was back out, and the beach was quickly filled by people who wanted to be near the water once more before the big one arrived.