A Runaway Roo, A Drive-Through Graduation And Songs To Stay Home For: We Actually Found Moments Of Joy In 2020
Instead of our usual Weird Florida stories of the year — because who needs more weird this year? — we're bringing you some of the moments of joy WLRN staffers encountered during this year.
Lots of news organizations do year-in-review stories. Here at WLRN, we usually assemble our staff's favorite Weird Florida stories. Because we're in Florida and we know how to bring the weird.
But in 2020, we just felt like we'd all had enough of that. This year, we asked our staff what brought them joy. Here are some of the answers:
A Fugitive Even The Cops Couldn't Help But Love
For WLRN Broward County reporter Caitie Switalski Muñoz, it was a story that broke on a Thursday morning in July.
"In July, we were hearing so much about scary rising coronavirus case counts. And this was a story that just completely distracted everyone in the city of Fort Lauderdale for the day. It was absolutely fascinating," Muñoz said.
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It started with a couple tweets: there was a kangaroo hopping around Fort Lauderdale.
"It brings me so much joy because the whole day centered around the Fort Lauderdale police safely capturing this kangaroo in this very heroic rescue," she said.
The cops nicknamed the (young) kangaroo Roo and brought him to the police horse stables.
"And he's small enough that police officers were able to coax Roo into letting them put him in the back of a police car. He was super friendly, he seemed really happy, they were tweeting videos of him all day, which was really sweet," she said. "South Florida, we have a lot of great, weird wild animal stories. Kangaroo was the last one I think I expected to see on the list. But then, hey it's 2020 right?"
Empty Kennels, Full Hearts
An animal rescue story also brought a moment of joy to Palm Beach County reporter Wilkine Brutus.
"Cabin fever, anxiety after layoffs. Social isolation. As people sought companionship under Florida's stay-at-home order it led to a record-breaking uptick in pet fostering. And adoption," Brutus said. Which led to an unprecedented sight.
"For the first time in its history, which stretched some five decades, one of three kennels at Palm Beach County animal care and control shelter in West Palm Beach went completely empty," he said.
The workers sent out photos and a video of them applauding from the rows of the empty kennels.
"Just a month after the world shut down, this was a much-needed silver lining that brightened our mood," Brutus said.
In Latin America, Music Is The Message
For WLRN Americas editor Tim Padgett, there wasn't a lot of good news out of Latin America and the Caribbean this year. Especially on the COVID-19 front. But he does have one very pleasant memory from the region — early on in the pandemic, when it wasn't yet the tragedy it's become in countries like Brazil.
"Several Latin American singing artists recorded musical announcements urging everyone to stay at home. Or, in Spanish, quedate en tu casa," Padgett said.
"Aside from the obvious public service value, one of the most gratifying things about the songs was the reminder of the rich cornucopia of musical styles in Latin America and the Caribbean. Like the soft, whistle curralao sound of coastal Colombia, which the ensemble Grupo Bahia used for its informational recording 'Corona Que.'"
Padgett said his favorite song might be the one in "the more raucous Venezuela gaita style" by exile entertainer Leo Colina of Doral.
"It's called Gaita de Quarantina, or Quarantine Gaita," Padgett said. "Colina also urges folks to stay at home — even, he sings, if you have to quarantine with your suegra — your mother-in-law."
At least someone's having a good year
For WLRN environment reporter Jenny Staletovich, her moment of joy this year came from a story she was reporting on Biscayne Bay where, she said, "I’ve had plenty of joyful moments, but — also lately — many moments of sorrow.”
"I was fishing with my husband and one of his family’s best friends, who’s been a fishing guide for about 40 years. And we kept seeing all these juvenile sea turtles. We started counting but we gave up after a while because there were so many," Staletovich said.
She started reporting and called Kristen Hart, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist who tracks turtles.
Hart's work requires her to leap from the boat and grab the turtles, like a calf roper at a rodeo. She had just returned from the Dry Tortugas, where she said she usually finds the same turtles year after year.
"We literally, in the Tortugas, mark them, recapture them. And, you know, almost all of them were new. It's rare for me to have a low recapture rate. So I get one of five were a recapture and the other ones are all new. And that happened for seven days," Hart said.
Staletovich said they talked for awhile about tracking turtles and how hard it is to be a baby turtle floating in the ocean. Then Hart said something that made her happy.
"Whether they're getting washed in or pushed in or it was just like so many made it that year and now they're coming in to the shallows — that's part of the just natural population cycles," Hart said. "If 2020 could be good for something, it would be nice if it were good for turtles."
Sharing their love with faraway family and friends — via YouTube
Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Early in the pandemic, in late March, she saw a Facebook post from a Key West woman named Lizzy Hoke.
"She and Celine Peccatte were planning to get married in the middle of April — but suddenly none of their friends and family could travel here from around the country, or the world. Celine is from France," Klingener said.
They'd figured out YouTube Live was the easiest way that people could see the event live and participate. But they needed 1,000 subscribers for their YouTube channel to host a live event. Less than a month before the wedding, Lizzy posted on Facebook that she had … zero subscribers.
So Klingener interviewed them and they shared their quest to share their wedding with family and friends far away — even during the initial lockdowns of the pandemic.
"To be able to actually include them in real time and to feel witnessed in real time is the best possible option at this point," said Hoke.
Peccatte added: "My mom says she'll wear her dress."
Klingener asked, "The dress that she was going to wear to your wedding here?"
"Yes," Hoke answered. "To watch it at home. Alone."
WLRN listeners helped Hoke and Peccatte meet their goal. And they had a beautiful wedding in their Key West backyard — and on YouTube Live.
‘Awesome’ interview sound from afar
Jessica Bakeman is WLRN’s education reporter.
Back in June, Ivania Delgado told Bakeman about her daughter’s fifth-grade graduation — a COVID-19 style, drive-through affair.
“We were both crying like the entire time, and then we parked across the street just to be able to see all the other cars and to be able to wave," Delgado said.
Bakeman wasn’t able to be there in person, because she's at high risk for a severe case of COVID-19. The pandemic has completely changed how she reports stories.
"Now I’m often asking people to send me videos and pictures, like of the graduation … and I ask people to record themselves during interviews … using a smartphone app like Voice Memo," Bakeman said.
That’s how Delgado recorded the interview with her and her 10-year-old daughter, Maya Cardona.
“I really love that school, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to say goodbye before I went on to middle school," Maya said.
That Voice Memo recording is where Bakeman found her moment of joy.
She had asked Delgado to record silence in the room where she was sitting — ambient sound, which helps with editing audio. But Maya couldn’t stay quiet about what she thought of the interview.
“That …” Maya started saying before her mom shushed her. Then she whispered “was awesome!!!”
"You know what, Maya? You’re right," Bakeman said. "That was awesome."