Miami, 1995

This is an excerpt from our ezine Degeneration Excerpt, a semi-weekly and semi-weakly ezine on Atlanta's music scene, random travel tales, blasphemy and prophesy. If you want to subscribe to that broadcast just contact us!

It's early December in Atlanta. Already the pilot's least favorite weather - cold and wet, but not cold enough to snow. Time to head south for the winter. Proposing the idea to a fellow degenerate, they decided to head to St. Augustine, Florida, then on to Miami to stay at the pilot's father's place for a bit. The drive to St. Augustine is uninteresting at best, in the scenic category, so the pilot and copilot amuse themselves with quantities of entertaining conversation. Though the conversation gets strained after a while, the pilot insists they continue, since the stretch of highway 10 cutting across Florida is one of the most boring stretches of road ever constructed. "Look, more pine trees...."
Missing the exit off 95 for St. Augustine, they move on to the next exit in search of proper accommodations.
"Fuck! The pigs..."
Dredging through the 2 year old car repair receipts in search of the vehicle registration, the pilot discovers just how many times he's had to renew his insurance. A surprisingly short time later the officer brings back the news, "Sir, this is a warning. You were exceeding the posted speed limit...." and hands the pilot a piece of paper that is, amazingly, not a ticket.
"I'm never getting rid of those Police Benevolence Association bumper stickers!" the pilot exclaims to the copilot. "I've NEVER gotten a ticket since and they're actually NICE to me!"
The next day it's off in search of food. A walk down the strip in St. Augustine provides an interesting little coffee shop, J.D.'s, or something like that. Lots of locals and regulars, good breakfast, odd decor and clientele. And service! "You gonna wait on yer friend to come out of the john before you order, honey?"
"Yes ma'am."
Highly recommended. Time for the entertainment portion of our program. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm boasts the largest crocodilian in the western hemisphere, the only full collection of every crocodilian species, and a few very pretty birds. It's the copilot's first glimpse of the main attraction - Gomek, the 17'9", 1800 lb. Indonesian saltwater crocodile. "He's a big mother fucker.", she says.
"Such language!", exclaims the pilot, rarely having heard such words from the young lady.
"He deserves it.", she replies. It's true - he IS a big mother fucker. Real big. Unimaginably big. Unfortunately they only feed him twice a day in winter, Thursdays and Sundays, and they're there on Wednesday. Watching them feed Gomek is even more of a thrill than standing near the beast. The pilot has video of this even from a previous journey, look for it at a degenerate gathering near you.
(Editor's Note: Sadly, Gomek passed away in 1998. We miss him deeply. Rumor has it they're having him stuffed for exhibition so swing by and let us know if they've finished that project.)
Back to town for a wander around, they explore Flagler College. It's an amazing campus, all brick spires and leaded glass. It was an old hotel donated to the city. The grand ballroom is now the chow hall, golden lions looking down from the domed ceiling at the diners. "Yes, but how's their art department?" asks the pilot.
"Who cares?", asks the copilot.
The inside makes the outside look like a Florida home, by comparison. Carved wooden columns, fountains, tile mosaics, marble floors, the works.
Off to the beach for a late afternoon walk. A few old people fishing and birds flapping about, but not much else happening on the beach as it's not quite the busy season yet. Perfect.
They check in to the next night' s lodging. The Marineland Quality Inn, south of St. Augustine and next to the we'll-never-compete-with-Sea-world tourist attraction of Marineland. The hotel has it's usual crowd - two other cars in the lot when they arrive. "I'd like a room away from everyone else, if possible."
"You'll be the only person on your floor, sir. Is that OK?"
Perfect. All the rooms overlook the beach. A few old folks fishing but otherwise utterly deserted.
(Editor's Note: The Marineland hotel was closed the last time a degenerate checked on the place. No word about whether it has recopened or not but if you're ever down there it's worth checking just to see.)
A brief rest before the quest for dinner begins. What to eat in Florida? Seafood, of course. There's a little family-style place just across The Bridge of Lions called Sea Fair. BIG servings of pretty good food, salad bar and homemade bread assure you that you cannot possibly leave hungry. Nauseous from overeating, perhaps, but definitely not hungry.
Into St. Augustine for a little night life. Very little. Milltop Tavern is one of the few places open and it's dead head appreciation night with some random band that sounds like you have to be mentally altered in some fashion to truly appreciate. The travelers are not properly altered so off to bed with the sounds of the waves floating through the open window. Yes, open window in December. "Why do I live in Atlanta?" wonders the pilot as he drifts into slumber.
Breakfast at the same coffee shop for excellent home fries and a VERY good omelet. Perhaps the best the pilot's ever had. The copilot has never been to a wax museum and the pilot's not been to St. Augustine's Potter's Wax Museum so they try it. It's small and doesn't feel well maintained but gives the copilot the creeps anyway. The figures stare at you as you move through the room and you'd swear some are breathing. However, AVOID, at all costs, the "film" presentation. It's actually a slide show about a 13 year old kid crossing a swamp and daydreaming about historical heroic figures. The slides themselves are silly at best, with lots of silly mug shots of the "horrified" kid as he passes through Dead Biggilo's Swamp. However, it's the narration that really gets you. I mean REALLY gets you. It's as if the kid wrote it himself. "That great good feeling that you feel" is used twice, which was bad enough, but then they had to top that with "the horrors of a thousand Halloweens danced behind his eyes." Dead Biggilo's bleached bones hang from a Cyprus tree but Biggilo must have been a raving idiot because he died lost in a swamp that took this kid maybe half an hour to traverse. Giggles were the greatest good feeling they could get from us. If you DO go to Potter's, make sure to stand clear of those around you when you enter the dungeon portion of the museum. Some scary robotics may make your traveling companion jump and, in the process, smack you in some uncomfortable or tender area. Potter's follows the St. Augustine zoning laws in that you must exit through the gift shop. If you go, PLEASE buy us one of those sick hypodermic needle pens that we should have gotten. Strangest thing we've ever seen in a Floridian gift shop.
Searching for the tackiest post card in town, the travelers hit pay dirt at one of the innumerable t- shirt shops along the strip. Four over-muscled over-age underdressed men flexing on the beach grace the front of a postcard that gets top honors. The fact that someone might find any of the men pictured attractive is what makes it the best by far. Not quite satisfied with the temperature, they head further south.
Yet another long drive, but at least there's not endless pine trees and nothing else. Eventually they arrive in Miami.
Dining in Miami is always a treat if you know where to go. The Cuban food is divine and there are lots of decent seafood places to go. The pilot's father escorts the travelers to one of his favorite places where he won't shut up about how good the ribs are. The two travelers order ribs, the host orders Calamari, just to confuse the guests. However, the ribs were excellent. Overeating nausea strikes the copilot yet again as she avoids stuffing down that last rib. The pilot snatches it up gleefully, stuffing it down with a wonderfully greasy garlic roll.
The host takes the guests out on the bay in his sail boat the next day. A warm gentle breeze pushes them around on their tour of the bay, the sun beams down, it's Friday so there's not much traffic on the water, the sun shines off downtown Miami and Miami Beach, the sandwiches picked up from a local gourmet 7 - 11 are excellent. Perfect. They cruise by Madonna's house, Stallone's house, and a host of other masions sitting on the water's edge.
Time for a little of the local fare for dinner so they head for the host's favorite Cuban joint for dinner. The copilot works on half a chicken and plenty of black beans and rice, the pilot sucks up a plate of Havana style shrimp, and the host nearly finishes a plateful of spicy beef.
The host goes through the local entertainment rag and describes various possibilities for the traveller's nightlife. They ready themselves to go to South Beach. The copilot opts for ponytails but can't get the part strait down the back of her head so she asks for assistance from the pilot. Half an hour later her part is even less strait and she's decided to give him hell for it the rest of the night. Wandering around Ocean Drive is entertaining. A mixture of local celebrities in Tuxedos, the French Navy in on leave, hordes of gorgeous women and rich, rarely attractive men, strippers cruising and giving out flyers for the latest clubs, art deco hotels, sidewalk cafes, all with an ocean breeze coming from across the street. Decision time.
From the list of possibilities, one stands out, mostly due to the woman in short shorts and fishnet hose who hands the travellers a flyer - Liquid. A new club just off the main drag. It's further than they'd have guessed but the walk takes them past all the other clubs they considered so if it turns out to be a bore they can always catch one of the others on the way back toward the car.
It's fairly empty when they arrive, at 11:30ish, and the cover charge of $10 for males, $5 for females seems pretty steep for a dance joint, but they're determined to make a night of it. The copilot swears that one of the door attendants was staring at her crooked part but the pilot won't buy it.
Half the club, the half with the seating, is fenced off and apparently you have to know or be someone to get in there. The other half boasts two very busy bars, lots of projected "trippy" videos, and a sizable dance floor. Turning around after retrieving their second drink, the travelers notice the place has gotten packed. There's a dancer up on the stage, one of the stripper types that does this for a living and/or a hobby, and the place is packed with VERY pretty women with VERY uninteresting (at best), yet obviously rich, men. The travelers shake booty and consume a few anti-inhibitants and are soon tempted to reach out and touch somebody. They resist, though only barely, and are headed out, sweaty, tired, and grinning. During the seemingly longer walk back to the car, the pilot stops, "Is it my imagination, or was there not a single male worth looking at?"
"It's not your imagination."
They pass by the other clubs with their lines of scantily clad beautiful women and richly dressed men standing in line. Occasionally there's a single scantily clad beautiful woman, sometimes a group of them, without the geeky rich male escort. The walk is almost worth it.
Fresh grapefruit for breakfast from the tree in the backyard eases the travelers into the late morning. Off to see Miami Beach in daylight.
The architecture of South Beach would be ugly were any of the buildings removed from the environment. However, when placed side-by-side, they form a fortress-like mass of beauty. Amazing detail work graces every other building and they all look like practical versions of The Jetsons scenery. Very cool. Lincoln Ave. has been blocked off to allow only pedestrian traffic into the long row of galleries, cafes, and Indonesian import shops. Some of the galleries are interesting and there are only a few of the typical Florida painted seashells and t-shirt gift shops. Sitting outside in shorts and a t-shirt eating a sandwich and sucking down fresh OJ, watching some of the locals meander past, watching the copilot stare at a woman in a see-through sun dress, the pilot asks again, "Why is it I live in Atlanta?"
As part of the answer to this question, let me quote our host for the Miami leg of our trip. "Everyone always says 'It must be great to live on the beach!', but they don't think 'Gee, you've got to work!' It's hell, looking out your window from the office thinking 'Wish I had time to be out there.'" The host gets out on his boat about one weekend in three. That was enough to justify it to the travelers. Another part of the answer - the travelers had to abandon ship due to monetary pressures. The pilot is living the good life in Atlanta with few expenses and a job that pays well. School is going well and he's lazy (probably the only actual answer, the rest sound like excuses.) As for the copilot, she can't find a good art school on the beach. "A contradiction in terms.", claimed our host. He talks of how many artists head to the keys to get away from it all and do some good work but end up cleaning boats because the good life is too good - uninspiring for great works of art. That might explain all the damned seagull paintings in the "galleries" of the majority of Florida towns.
Time to head home.
Just north of Daytona, they hunt for dinner. Who would guess a Bob Evans restaurant would have such a culturally diverse staff? Marty the bus boy has a thick Irish accent and the waitress was from New York State someplace. Mediocre, strictly American food, however. They continue northward.
Getting out of the car is like stepping into a refrigerator. Very cool and moist. Lots of cursing is heard as they rush for the shelter of the room. "Oh yeah, THAT'S what I hate about winter!", the pilot recalls, scrambling for a sweatshirt.
The conversation continues to keep the pilot awake on the return trip via highway 10. Somewhere on 75, the Ga DOT is doing some poetry on those changeable signs. We finally decided it was DOT Haiku. "When rainging", the sign read. Beautiful.
By the time they reach 285 they've already noticed the coating of ice on the roadside rocks. The apartment is an icebox, noticeably lacking in ocean sounds except those coming from the roommate's bedside white noise machine. Not quite the same, not even close. Days at work blur past while the pilot's head drifts to Lincoln Avenue.

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

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