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“AND THE DOG BARKS..."
CHAPTERS #6- #10
Miami, Miami Beachactually, South Beach…
On day 18 on my road trip of re-discovery here I finally was in South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida, and oh, all the people do I see, and oh, all the noise. Bye-bye to the quiet and all of the lower middle class Caucasian homogeneity of Charlotte Harbor, and hello…
"Wham, Bang, Pop!"
All the world comes to Miami Beach to party, South America in particular, but all of Europe, and Asia, are represented too. And that “party” was going on everyplace I looked once I exited off the MacArthur Causeway and into South Beach proper.
There were masses of people walking everywhere visible to me on the main drags of Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, and Washington Avenue as I made my way to my hotel. I was proceeding down those streets slowly as traffic was stop and go and mostly stopped more than once.
My driver’s side window was open and I could hear, and identify, different languages as I was stopped in that traffic. Spanish sounds were omnipresent. And Italian was a common accent overheard, as was French. The bespoke tones of British English resonated by frequently. Guttural German was heard often along with some language sounds that I couldn’t identify specifically, but that seemed to have the overtones of Eastern Europe.
And there were Asians abounding, all kinds of Asians: Koreans, Japanese, Chinese.
And there were masses of Jews, the Orthodox, notable for their heavy black clothes, dark heavy garments worn in that oppressive heat (and often with aviator sunglasses, go figure), and tropically dressed Israeli Jews mouthing off loudly as only Israelis can mouth off, with more sedately dressed native born American Jews mixing in with their Israeli and Orthodox brethren.
And Blacks were everywhere, native African-Americans abounded aplenty. And there were people from all parts of Africa present and identified as such by the striking native garb they were wearing. There were also native island peoples from the Caribbean present, and often in native garb too. But there was some tension there as the Haitians were not liking Jamaicans, the Jamaicans not liking Bahamians, the Bahamians not liking the Trinidadians, and no one, “no one”, White, Black, Jewish, European, or Asian, “no one”, liking the Cubans. And the Cubans were everywhere, like cockroaches, or like Puerto Ricans in New York City, they were everywhere.
And just like in New York City everyone got along. In Miami Beach, November 2001, no one cared who was black, white, or other; racial equanimity was apparent and rampant. The only thing that mattered was money. If you had money, sit down and have a cocktail, Asian, Black, White, Jew, European, Cuban, party.
But no money:
Just like New York City that; “money” was the great equalizer in that society too. And since I had money, I was equal.
And so I was home, after 20 days on the road, I was home.
Miami and Miami Beach, New York City with palm trees, Manhattan in the tropics (or the semi tropics), or whatever, but I was “home”.
So I took Ziggy for a walk.
Ziggy and I walked right out the front door of our beachfront, boutique, luxury hotel in SOFI ("South Of Fifth"), South Beach and made an immediate left turn to walk on and up Ocean Drive, towards Lincoln Road for an outdoor cocktail, and dinner.
It was early so this was going to be our late afternoon meander and reconnaissance. And “meander” was all we could do as Ocean Drive was packed with late afternoon beach-goers just heading home, or to the local beachside Bars for early evening “Happy Hour”. And then there were all of those other people rushing to the beach for those last late afternoon rays, or for those same “Happy Hour” cocktails.
Vehicle traffic on the road was at a standstill as drivers fought each other for parking spaces. And sidewalk traffic was snail-like slow with skateboarders, bikers, and in-line skaters muscling lowly pedestrians to the side as they all tried to make their way wherever they were going.
And all of this noise, all of this activity, all of this LIFE was taking place on what you knew was a regular, daily, basis, just some nine or ten weeks after the disaster that was the fall of the Twin Towers in New York City.
New York was still in shock when I ran away, beginning to stir, but still in shock. But Miami Beach never seemed to hiccup. Miami Beach, South Beach was just like the life and activity I knew in New York City before the Twin Towers came down, life before my Father died.
LIFE moving forward just like before.
Only it was warm here. And there were palm trees everywhere. And there was laughter, lots and lots of laughter all around. And it was warm, very warm, it was very, very “warm”.
It was so pleasantly warm.
And I smiled as I walked, I smiled a lot.
Ziggy and I had been meandering up Ocean Drive for about an hour when we made the left turn into the first of two city streets that lead to the Mall that is Lincoln Road.
The heat of the day was still intense and what with the exhausts from the taxis, buses, cars, and trucks, the air was fetid with fumes and little bits of flying dust. I couldn’t wait to crest the Mall and escape the traffic. So we quickened our pace as much as possible and made our entrance onto the strip that the sign at the very beginning proclaimed:
“The First Pedestrian Mall in America
The Lincoln Road Mall"
And just as we walked by the ATM machine that begins the stretch towards the first of what must be 100’s of restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops, I faintly heard my name being called out.
At first I wasn’t sure, but a second or two later:
Is that you?”
The last part of the phrase was much louder than the first, like the person speaking got more sure of themselves as they called out. I couldn’t not hear that last part, and since it was me, I turned and looked and…
It was Antonio, an old friend from New York City, and San Juan, P.R. who I hadn’t seen in some eight, or nine, or ten years.
I didn’t know that Antonio had gone to Miami; Mars had been my choice of destinations for him when we lost contact so long ago. But here Antonio was in Miami Beach, on Lincoln Road, and here I was in Miami Beach, and now, and now, and now, well NOW I was no longer alone. Sayeth I:
“Let’s go get a drink…”
And off we do go to the bar.
Let the party begin.
I had met Antonio some 14, 15, or 16 years prior on one of my frequent (three or four), yearly winter jaunts to San Juan, and we were never more than good, casual friends with each other, good, “casual friends” and in "some" contact.
And “in contact” was all we stayed.
When we were actively friends we spoke often, and we went to dinner together. I even let Antonio use a spare room in my apartment for three months once when he first moved to New York City from San Juan and was attempting to get settled in the Big City.
But I never saw Antonio naked, and I never touched him. I was never intimate with Antonio in any way.
I was intimate with someone Antonio knew, someone Antonio introduced me to a long time ago in San Juan. That happened the night Antonio and I first met, in another lifetime that event, in another Century even. So with his acquaintance, his friend, I was intimate, but with Antonio no.
But that’s all another story, and for another time.
But I remembered Antonio well, and somewhat fondly, even though that fondness was distant. And I was happy to see him now. And why not? I had no reason not to be happy. Antonio and I had never had a fight. We had never exchanged bad words. We’d just drifted apart, our interests going in different directions as I settled into my relationship with Gal, and my new life outside of New York City in the village of East Hampton, New York, and Antonio settled into his new life in the Big Apple. Gal and Antonio were friendly for more than a couple of years too, but like I said before, time, different interests, different needs, different agendas, and we all drew apart.
Eight or nine years had passed since I had seen, spoken to, or thought of Antonio once, and here Antonio was sitting across a café table from me on the Lincoln Road Mall in South Beach drinking a Cuba Libre` (that’s a “rum and coke” with a piece of fresh lime in it for those who don’t know. The “Cuba Libre” was a very South Beach “in” drink you know, pre Mojitos that, a pre-Mojitos South Beach “in” drink, but “very, very” South Beach “in” still.
And Antonio was always “Very, Very”…
As we drank our cocktails, he his "Cuba Libre`", me, I had a rum punch with tropical fruit juices, dark rum, a piece of pineapple, an orange slice, a very red maraschino cherry, and a green paper umbrella (everyone has to have one drink on Lincoln Road, or Ocean Drive, in South Beach with a paper umbrella in it, “everyone”), we spoke of why I was in Miami in November before Thanksgiving.
No Americans were in South Beach around then, the Americans were coming the next week, for Thanksgiving, and then again for the start of the Winter Season some 21 days after, around December 15th. But now, in mid-November, Americans…
… Americans in South Beach?
Europe was there, Asia was there, South America was there, Cuba was everywhere, but Americans?
So why was I there?
So over drinks I told Antonio why, about my need to “find”myself, and possibly consider a new start in a new place. And at that point Antonio stopped me and said:
“Well you can’t make a decision like that based on a place like South Beach.
South Beach is a fantasy.
If you’re going to make that kind of a change you have to see Miami.
Pick me up tomorrow at my apartment at three p.m. and I’ll take you to some areas of Miami where a lot of people like you have bought houses, renovated them, and made a lot of money.
You can’t do that here in South Beach anymore.
So let me show you them.”
And I said:
“Sounds like a plan.
It’s the first, and only time Antonio ever had anything of substantive, or positive, value to say to me. The first and only time. And it was a life changer.