Miami 2001

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Friday night we boarded a plane bound for Miami via AirTran, only to discover they had triple-booked our seats. After 20 minutes of musical chairs someone was bumped and we somehow ended up with seats. We arrived in Miami International on time, despite the thirty minute delay, and caught our ride with my folks. Since it was after 11 when we arrived, we weren't up for running amok, so instead we stayed up until 2 swapping travel tales, ours of Spain and theirs of Europe.

Saturday we played tourists, kicking off with a trip to Parrot Jungle. It's a beautiful garden with immense palm trees and ferns and other tropical plants, that happens to have flocks of parrots for entertainment. They hang from perches upside down begging for seeds, and perform tricks in (slightly cheesy) shows every couple of hours. There's also a petting zoo, a small collection of monkeys, some flamingos and such but the gardens themselves are most impressive part of the somewhat expensive attraction, which is too bad because they're about to move the whole park and I'm sure it will take a few years to get things grown up to the worthwhile status.
We got lunch at The Big Cheese, a cheap but good Italian restaurant, something Atlanta is sorely lacking. Titanic heaps of good food, with a side of rolls so drenched in garlic your hair would curl three tables over. Good stuff.
We headed across the bay where we got a view of the cruise ships on their way out to sea. Some of these behemoths are absolutely immense, as big as skyscrapers laid over on their sides. This picture doesn't do it justice - you can't see the people on deck they're so tiny!
We headed over to an island that houses a park, the sewage treatment plant, and Jimbo's, a fishing camp turned bar. It's a collection of ramshackle shacks on the edge of a dock, complete with a rusted out car, a fire in an oil drum, chickens on the roof and bikers out front. On this particular day someone was wrapping up a film or commercial shoot so there was more than the usual share of outsiders around, looking very out of place, but otherwise it felt just like a backwoods kegger from my youth in Dahlonega.
We cruised over to South Beach to show degenerate SW some of the sights. It has faded as the cutting edge Place To Be as the tourists have (re)discovered the place so most of the Ferraris, celebrities, artificially beautiful people, and their hangers-on have moved on to the Next Big Thing, replaced by tourists from all over down in search of the above, a little sun, and a lot of alcohol. The sun wasn't as cooperative as it could have been but it was better than any weekend in the last month or more in Atlanta. The architecture is the real reason to cruise South Beach. You could lay waste to the last 60 years of architecture and the glass box skyscraper would be a mere footnote in the history books, but the lovely details and styles of the deco hotels could fill volumes.
For dinner we headed to Little Havana, the best Cuban food I've ever had. After a platter of appetizers of all kinds, I got the Cuban steak, a thin, tough piece of beef with a fantastic flavor. SW got some roasted pork that was second only to that we cook every year for our Summertime Blast - delicious. We topped it off with Cuban coffee, a mug barely bigger than a thimble but potent enough to keep us up until dawn as we headed out for a night on the town.
We kicked things off on Ocean Drive at The Clevelander, an archetypal tourist trap on the beachfront. What impresses me about Miami is the diversity in the crowds. Sure, there are tourists from all over, but the locals are a true polyglot of cultures, colors and languages. Unlike Atlanta, there's little segregation between the groups. Sure, there are neighborhoods that have a vast majority of a certain ethnicity, but on a night out on the town or an afternoon on the beach you'll find no clear majority and often you'll run into someone that speaks little or no English. After a couple of quick drinks we headed on down South Beach for a few blocks looking for the Beautiful People, but it was obvious everyone else was doing the same, therefore none of the Beautiful People would be seen there. So we headed a block off the beach in search of more drinks. We ended up on Club Deuce, a little hole-in-the-wall packed with a boisterous crowd. A couple of cute girls at the bar were engaged in a long, deep kiss, paralyzing half the males in the place. The voyeurs sat in dead silence, steam slowly leaking out of their ears as the two girls put on a good show. Eventually they broke it off and headed out the door, causing mixed sighs of disappointment and relief in the room. I shifted to water, being designated driver for the evening, while SW had another drink or two. We chatted with a few folks and played voyeurs for a while, then headed on.
Another block away from the beach we stumbled into a loud pool hall full of young, pretty people. It was right next door to a dance club complete with a bouncer and velvet ropes out front so I took a seat in the corner where I could watch the action next door right outside the window, observing the process by which the bouncer determines who goes in and who's left outside the rope. SW got into the pool rotation, mopping the floor with drunken Hispanic boys one after another, while I divided my time between the sociological observations outside the window, and the appreciation of the scantily-clad, too-young girls inside the bar.
The process outside the dance club was interesting, to me at least. There are basically four types of folks that come up to the rope:
1) Beautiful People - those the bouncer knows, or likes on sight. He immediately opens the rope and the front door and steps aside. Sometimes they're people that don't even acknowledge his existence, sometimes they're friends and they chat.
2) The Worthy - those that the bouncer isn't sure about. Sometimes he checks ID, takes a (probably bogus) look at his hand-held counter, then lets them in or tells them to wait. While they're waiting they're pushed aside should any Beautiful People come up.
3) The Schmoozer - even I could spot these guys coming a mile away. Usually with an underage girl in tow, they come up and try to shake hands with the bouncer and talk in extended syllables, "Heyyy Tooonnny, how's it goooing?" The rope doesn't open, so they stand and chat for a while, trying to look cool but looking more and more awkward by the moment. They get pushed aside for Beautiful People, and even The Worthy. The Schmoozers hang around for a bit, sometimes turning to apologize to their date, then eventually give in and move on. If he comes back later without the date and it's a little slow he might actually get in.
4) The Loser - "Sorry, full." Sometimes they hang around for a while but on average it takes less than 3 minutes for the unspoken communication to sink in and they slink away. At one point in the night the bouncers had to go inside to deal with something and The Losers pulled the rope aside and a pack rushed in. About ten of them snuck in before the dumbest of the lot put the rope back in place, patiently awaiting the return of the bouncers. Evolution in action.
I thought it would be a great idea to open a bar next door, nicknamed Rejects, where admission would depend solely on being rejected from the snotty club next door. Even better would be to own them both but not tell anyone, that way you could keep the dance club at full capacity full of big spenders, and still take what you can from the poor unwashed masses as they end up next door. I slowly formulated the details of how this would work and right as I had it all planned out I realized I was sitting in real "Rejects" - the staff in the pool hall had the same shirts as the ones behind the velvet rope next door.
Oh well.
About 4 AM I convinced SW to call it a night. Rejects was still hopping and there was still a gang of applicants (or supplicants?) outside the velvet rope next door. I've been in one of the velvet rope clubs in a previous trip to Miami and I must say it's a worthwhile experience at least once in a lifetime. The eye candy is as stimulating, or even more so, than most strip clubs, as is the intensity of the sleazy money-hungry atmosphere - a fun reminder of how the other half live. But I wasn't up for it, or even dressed for it, on this particular weekend so we headed back to the car.
Up painfully early, we headed across town to load into my father's sailboat for a jaunt around the bay. The wind was just right for a leisurely tour, if a little chilly. Downtown Miami is much prettier from the water - the ragged highways are hidden behind the colorful buildings, the ghettos are on the other side of town, a fresh breeze from the sea, nothing but the peaceful lapping of the waves against the boat, occasionally broken by powerboats headed out for a day of fishing. Of course, this comes with risks - I've lost count of the number of boats my father has had tossed into the swamps by hurricanes, but that's what insurance is for.
Back at the house, we washed off the previous night's festivities and the day's salt air before heading to dinner at Flannigan's, a bar/grill that serves up some fine seafood, excellent ribs, and good key lime pie. Then came the horror of the superbowl halftime show on the televisions over the bar. After the boy band Lip Sync, Aerosmith was joined on stage by Brittany Spears. Thankfully I could barely hear it with a finger jammed deeply into each ear. Back at the house I actually watched part of the game just to see the Matrix-like replays of touchdowns. I don't care a thing about football but I must say that was very cool.
We had to get up before dawn to catch our flight home and though I had to work today it feels like I had at least four days off with everything we managed to cram in.


"These people could put us out of business!"
Photo Editor, Creative Loafing

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