Bienvenido a Miami

As I contemplated today’s post, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a humor piece or an ode. I knew I wanted to write about this crazy, sometimes almost holographic city of Miami but I was torn between writing a satirical piece lampooning Miami’s quirky personality or an ode to the city I love so much. I have decided to write both.

When people ask me if I love a person romantically, I kind of laugh. I laugh because number one I find it very hard to love any person that I am not related to (mainly because I am convinced they cannot really figure out who I am) and secondly because I am already in love with something else – the city of Miami.

Like any lover, my current love has drawbacks. She’s quite vapid at times, moody, a big tease, spoiled, prone to unpredictably violent outbreaks and often doesn’t speak the same language I do. She also constantly finds ways to try my patience and push my most sensitive buttons. But like that one woman we want to break up with over and over and over again, just when are ready to permanently push the “sayonara” button, she kisses you on the cheek.

That’s the city of Miami. That’s the city I love. I have lived in seven places during my lifetime. Miami is now tied with Hanover, New Hampshire as the places I have resided in the longest. I can’t think of two diametrically opposite places to live. But somehow, as much as I loved my time in New Hampshire and everything it still represents, there is no way I could break up with my current home.

As a Jew from New England who went to high school in the 80’s, I had two very different perspectives about this city. One was the perspective I got from visiting my relatives, who like every other Northern Jew’s relatives here in South Florida, were very old and a little too predictable. I therefore saw Miami, at least when I visited, as the world’s largest retirement home and a place where old people could eat of lot of buffet, hop on casino boats at a moment’s notice and wore much less clothing than was pleasing to the eye.

Then there were the images captured in the hit TV series Miami Vice. The opening theme song conveyed it all – Miami had rhythm, pink flamingos, fast cars, lots of drugs, was a fashion trendsetter, had beautiful women and everyone spoke in some type of slick code. Oh, And the party never ended.

As I got older, I started getting the feeling that the only thing better than watching Miami Vice on TV was seeing it in living color, though at least in my case, without the drugs. As for all the retirees, well, I was hoping they wouldn’t be in front of me on the golf course.

I can pinpoint the exact moment I decided to move to Miami. Everything in life happens for a reason, at least that’s what I would like to think. I hated my public school teaching job in Nashville and couldn’t wait for a change in scenery. Then I was invited to Miami in February of 2001 for a college friend’s wedding. The ceremony was at the Church of the Little Flower and the reception at some beautiful banquet hall right next door.

The wedding itself was awesome. There were beautiful women, great food, drinks and dancing until the early hours of the morning. Families had their kids up on the dance floor past midnight. I wasn’t “in Kansas any more”, that’s for sure. But the wedding alone wasn’t enough to seduce me.

I remember driving home from the wedding at about 4:00 AM with the convertible top open. The next day I went to the beach and played tennis at Flamingo Park. And I saw even more beautiful women.

Prior to that weekend, Miami had always been a tourist town to me, as well my ideal of the good life. I was single, in the early stages of my teaching career and a tennis and golf junkie. Why not be a full-time tourist in the place that fit my lifestyle ideal?

The choice was already made.

I have now lived in Miami for more than 11 years. Time has passed at blistering speed. I am still figuring out what this place is all about. There is nowhere like it in the US and perhaps on earth. Maybe that’s why I love it so much. Like that crazy but intoxicating lover, she is never the same person two days in a row.

There are memories from my time here that would have been absolutely impossible to match anywhere else. For the sake of avoiding a novel of “only in Miami” stories, I will only mention a few.

I will never forget my first visit to the Orange Bowl. I’m sorry to confess that I wasn’t much of a Canes fan at the time (for some reason I grew up liking FSU), but my immediate reaction was “man this place is the largest outdoor frat house I’ve ever been to”. This was just after parking right in the middle of someone’s well-cut lawn and getting some weird native sandwich from the same guy. As the game progressed, I realized two things – one the fans were nuts about the Canes and two, anyone who wore anything resembling a Noles or Gators shirt was likely to be attacked with verbal, liquid and other unpleasant forms of assault.

My brain is starting to tire but along those same lines, most of my weirdest/fondest memories also take place in Little Havana. One was my first trip to the Walgreens on Flagler and 27th Avenue. My sister had helped me move down to Miami and flew with a few of my bags. She was trying to get a prescription filled and everyone was speaking in Spanish. At one point she turned to me and said “Dude, do you realize no one here speaks a lick of English? I can see why they hired you so quickly.”

Another great memory was after the Marlins won the World Series in 2003. I was kind of hoping that the post-game celebration would involve beautiful Latina women running around half naked and all-night beach parties left and right. As it turns out, it was something better, a bumper to bumper stereo blaring, train horn sounding, pots and pans clanging cacophony of improvised authentic fun on 8th street.  It was the perfect Miami celebration.

The last image I will describe is the scene on ‘calle ocho” again just a few evenings before the Kerry-Bush 2004 election. Before I moved to Miami, I never really thought about the political dynamics here and that was probably just as well. As a lifelong Democrat, I didn’t realize that much of the city has a different political psyche than the old Jewish folks in Sunny Isles. There was a Kerry campaign headquarters right next to La Carreta. Right across the street from it, however, was Versailles.

The scene was surreal. Thank God I don’t speak a lot of Spanish because I couldn’t really understand what anyone was screaming. But whatever it was, it wasn’t a bunch of pleasantries. I have never seen such political fervor. The smaller, La Carreta Democratic side of the street was pissed off. The Republican, Versailles side of the street was even more pissed off. People would run towards the middle of the street and throw water balloons and mangoes at each other.

Ironically it was a beautiful scene. And “only in Miami”

Eleven plus years after moving to Miami, I still feel like a tourist. For some bizzare reason, I love that feeling. It means I can continue to enjoy my lover without having to get married. For some bizzare reason, I don’t think my lover is all that into the commitment thing either. She really likes playing the game too.

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