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I wanted to get this out before the end of business today. The web version with pictures should be ready by Monday:
They used to say "get to the airport two hours before your flight" but if you did you'd sit for an hour and a half staring out the windows swearing to yourself next time you wouldn't give yourself more than 20 minutes extra. But now we arrive two hours early and we can barely get through all the security hurdles in time. They were already boarding the plane when we reached the gate.
This is how travel used to be when I was a kid, before curb-side e-ticket express check-in transformed a slow and painful process in to something quick and apparently too easy.
Our flight was shorter than the time it took to get to the gate.
But it's worth it when you step off the plane in your sweater and jacket and wish you'd brought a pair of shorts in your carry-on - 80 degrees and sunny.
First stop, Little Havana for lunch, ropa vieja and a Cuban sandwich, very tasty. Then out for a walkabout in downtown Miami, one of the country's prettiest cities at the southern tip of one of the country's ugliest states, architecturally speaking.
We hooked up with the rest of the crew and had dinner and drinks at Tobacco Road, a raucous place that serves up a fine T-bone steak, salad and baked potato for $10. Upstairs, Dikki Du and the Zydeco Crew served up the bayou upbeat, imported strait from Louisiana. Degenerate RB was drafted into playing washboard for a couple of numbers, and did a fine job.
My father had a full house so we stayed up the road a bit at Hotel Monaco, one of those charming old Florida motels with a pool in the courtyard, even though the beach is literally out their back door. The place was full of the people that make Florida known as God's waiting room, the median age of the patrons in the three digit range. But the German staff caters to an international clientele and hardly a word of English could be heard in the place - French, German, Italian, Spanish - a true melting pot. But the same can be said of Miami as a whole. Between the tired and huddled masses of local poor cruise the vacationing, peppy masses from abroad.
We lounged on the beach in the morning. Much of the flesh in North Miami isn't the kind you want to see in a bikini - groups of old ladies sunning their leathery skin, looking more like jerky laid out to dry, an image further echoed by their constant smoking, complaining about their latest ailment in New Jersey accents. But with the perfect weather - warm enough to get in the water but not so hot that you have to - we don't complain.
Miami is a town of contrasts. The aforementioned groups of cancer worshippers are passed by buffed German men cruising for other men. The Ferrari dealership that shares a wall with a crack house. The pleasantly warm outside air trying to invade the freezer-like conditions of climate-controlled condo high rises on the beach overshadowing the slums behind them. It's a spicy stew. If you prefer oatmeal blandness Miami is not the town for you.
We had dinner at Mike Gordons, a water-front restaurant with a wonderful view. We arrive in time for the early bird specials, the meals the local restaurants serve from 4:30 - 6:30 catering to the older crowd. A decent plate of scallop and shrimp pasta for me, a heaping bowl of broiled scallops for my father, a very tasty grilled chicken breast for SW (she has a weird phobia about water-born foods.)
Back to the hotel for a nap and a change and we're out on the town. The South Beach traffic jam is all Mercedes and SUV's, Porsche and no parking to be found. Eventually we got a spot and headed into Club Deuce, one of our faves because of the strange crowd it attracts - sweet transvestites from transsexual Transylvania mixed in with the fashionably rich club-hopping crowd all snuggled up close together at the bar for cheap, very stiff drinks.
We cruised down Washington Avenue where all the non-touristy clubs are, as far as we could tell. A couple of years ago everyone found out what a hot spot South Beach is and the tourists crowded out all the beautiful people from the beach front clubs and bars so now the action is a few blocks inland.
We ended up at a nameless faceless club that caters to the Caribbean minorities of Miami. The ladies are let in free while my brother and I have to show ID and fork over $10 each. Inside it's bass-heavy music and overpriced drinks, a small half-full dance floor and a near-empty VIP balcony they won't let us into.
We danced a bit but neither the music nor the eye-candy was up to our standards so we wandered on.
Eventually we hit Playwright's, "An Irish Pub" but the only thing Irish about it was the beer selection and even that was more English than Irish. (Guinness on tap does not an Irish pub make.) (Though it doesn't hurt...)
A live band cranked out covers of the greatest "alternative" hits of the 80's and 90's, the stuff various radio retro lunch hours are made of, done well but with no passion. Still not much of the eye candy crowd Miami is known for but we didn't have time to hunt further, we had to be up at an unreasonable hour.
Only a bit bleary, we made our way south to Isla Mirada in the Keys to hop a boat for a three hour tour, a three hour tour, and some deep sea fishing.
The aquamarine water, smooth in the warm, still air, the bright sun sparkling, the diesel engine humming, a sun bleached deck hand explaining what we'll be fishing for - a Hemmingway moment.
Eventually we reached The Spot, a longitude and latitude known for it's bountiful catch. A handful of boats circled, baited lines dragging behind them. Nothing much bit for a while so we shifted to weighted lines and bottom fishing, pulling up a snapper and a few other fish. But when the birds started hitting the water the captain said it was time to trawl again, the tuna hour. We pulled in a dozen or more small tuna, one big one and a mackerel. My father got into a tug-of-war with a dolphin over a catch. The dolphin would let it go, then grab it again a few seconds later and run off with it, like a dog with a chew toy. Eventually he gave it up and the fish was hauled in, badly chewed up, so we tossed it back.
Back at the docks the deck hand cleaned the fish while onlookers pestered us about our day. We took the fresh filets to a restaurant up the road, Old Tavernier, and told the chef to do whatever he thought best with our catch. A while later they brought out a massive platter buried in fish, some fried, some broiled, some blackened, a few sauces on the side, and veggies, pasta, rice, potatoes, a feast!
A long drive back to the hotel, dead tired from a long day in the sun after a long night in the clubs, resulting in an early bed.
Rested, we dropped JN and BK off at the beach and headed into the Wolfsonian, a small museum in South Beach currently hosting the traveling Aluminum exhibit. Lots of fun things "from jewelry to jets", as well as an odd permanent collection with a vaguely 30's and World's Fair focus but with enough other random things thrown in to make it feel like a flea market.
We cruised up the strip to the holocaust memorial, a very moving design featuring a large bronze hand surrounded by clamoring figures as the central piece. But it's the setting that is the kicker - a reflecting pool surrounds the island with the hand sunken into it and you have to walk around, past holocaust pictures and details engraved in reflective black granite, to a tunnel that leads you down into the island. Again the black granite surrounds you and the bronze sculptures, forcing you to see the horror no matter which direction you look.
As we exited, a hawk circled over head and dove into the pool, flying off with one of the carp. It shook the water off itself in mid-air and took its meal away.
Out of time, we headed to the airport where long, slow lines through security gates guarded by soldiers with automatic weapons echoed the memorial we just saw. Fortunately our trip came to a happier end as the lights of Miami twinkled below outside the airplane window.

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