January 15 – 17, 2011
Starting and ending point: Ft Lauderdale airport, arriving 11:00 AM Saturday, leaving 7:30 AM Monday
Cab to hotel in downtown FLL. Leave bike suitcase at hotel.
Ride Saturday to South Miami Beach.
Sunday ride South Beach / Downtown Miami / Coconut Grove / Miami airport.
Sunday 2:00 PM Commuter train to Pompano Beach.
Arrive Pompano Beach 3:00 PM, then ride back to hotel in FLL.
At 2:30 PM Saturday, ten miles south of downtown Fort Lauderdale, I stopped at this dive for a late lunch. It was advertised as a seafood restaurant on the water, but was pretty run down, There were various crusty dudes sitting around the bar. One fiftiesh guy with a South African accent was loudly cooking some boat deal on his cell phone. The slightly pudgy twenty something bartender had bra straps showing under her wife beater. She had bruises on her arms. When one guy questioned her about the bruises she boasted that she and her boyfriend liked to get rough. Another regular sat next to me and drank shots by himself. The South African guy made sure to ask the bartender for a hug before he left. I sipped beer and got a chicken taco wrap.
The Fort Lauderdale airport had been absolutely jammed. The cab driver had told me there were seven cruise ships leaving that day. You could see the huge ships silhouetted against the sky like tall buildings. The next day in Miami I saw several more huge ships. They build them now like high rise hotels, with rows of balconies.
A1A turns into Collins Avenue when it crosses the Dade County line. The 25 mile stretch from Hollywood to South Beach is an almost continuous stream of 20 – 30 story high rise condos. On most stretches there is a six to eight lane highway going in front of them. Very few of the buildings have street life. There are very few stores. Most of the high rises seem to use their lower levels for parking garages, along with their fountains and pretentious names. It looks like what I imagine Dubai is trying to become. The buildings seem to have no people, but have cars racing in front of them.
The beach and the ocean are afterthoughts. Who stays in these places?
I had assumed South Beach was going to be either a freak show or rich decadence. Actually, it was one of the few areas of South Florida that seemed like somewhere I might like to spend some time, like a weekend with Tootie. The art deco buildings are amazing. They go on and on. The architecture is all of a whole, and there are very few vacant spots. The continuity of style really works.
Indicative of the multicultural experience that is South Beach was the bar scene at the place I stayed, the Blue Moon. Our small crowd watched the playoff game between the Ravens and the Steelers. Next to me was a blue collar looking probably straight white guy who turned out to be from New Orleans. He had ordered an iced pail of six Budweisers, for himself. He told me all about the current tailgating scene now going on at Saints games in New Orleans. I wondered, what was he doing here in South Beach? Maybe he was in town doing some kind of technical work on a business trip. On the other side of me were two probably Mexican guys, not polished looking but clearly gay, drinking Mexican beer. The very young bartender who looked and acted American was probably Cuban-American. He knew all about pro football. He talked in perfect Spanish to the Mexican guys. He said his other job was as a professional salsa dancer. On the other side were two big African American guys. In terms of demeanor and looks, they could have been black pro football commentators on ESPN. There was black man and woman who turned out to be Brazilian. Everybody was enjoying the game and talking to each other about it. I cannot recall a time when I was with such a diverse group.
In South Beach you did not, however, see many “white” “American” families. The few times I saw a family that looked “normal American” in South Beach, they turned out to be French or German. Many or most of the people walking around seemed to be Hispanic.
I found my restaurant (Escopazzo) on Zagat on the internet. It was small, in a non- trendy block with a Tattoo parlor, just off the art deco scene. They greeted you almost too effusively. Most of the staff were Italian. I fantasize an Italian family who picked up their gig and moved their restaurant to Miami Beach. Nothing was pretentious, or fancy, but it is probably the most expensive restaurant I have even eaten at. All the appetizers were at least eighteen dollars, and many of the entrees were over forty dollars.
I got just two things. The first was a watercress salad with trumpet mushrooms Just watercress and mushrooms; the whole salad about four or five inches across, half an inch thick, with a vinagrette. The quality of all the ingredients was amazing. You could taste and feel depth and quality of the emulsion of the olive oil and balsamic vinagrette in your mouth. It was all delicious. This is the essence of great Italian cooking; great ingredients, simply and artfully prepared.
The second course was a veal dish (one of the cheaper ones, only $32!) kind of browned, surrounded by lots of those same mushrooms. I had never had a thick, tender piece of veal before. Kind of like white steak. Also delicious.
I sat by myself at the door, facing outward. It was as if I was there to greet people as they walked in. About ten o’clock, as I was about to leave, three unescorted young women who looked in their early twenties arrived, each wearing some kind of sweater or wrap. Right in front of me, they all stripped off their coverings, revealing each in an elegant black short cocktail dress. Who were these people; rich U of M students?
The others in that restaurant all looked less “diverse” than the rest of South Beach, but still not like any crowd you would see in Carrboro, or Winston-Salem. Unlike Carrboro, people dress in South Beach dress up to go out. Also unlike Carrboro, this restaurant at ten p.m. seemed to be just getting started.
The portions were not all that big, and I really could have eaten (before the veal) a $26 pasta course. But I skipped the pasta and desert. The Italian guy gave me his card and wished me to come back. I do hope to come back some day.
Sunday morning I rode to Coconut Grove. It is thirteen miles from South Beach to Coconut Grove across the Venetian Causeway, through downtown Miami. Back in 1983, Tootie and I used to bike this route from Coconut Grove, swim in Miami Beach, then ride back. It is still a great bike ride. Coconut Grove then was actually hip, with what passed for a Miami version of artsy, funky, unpolished. Now it has a Ritz Carlton and a mall with a Victoria’s Secret. And a Hooters.
The condo thing in downtown Miami has kind of gone off the charts. This has to be the front lines of America’s real estate crash. There are several buildings that seem fifty stories, clearly taller than anything in Miami Beach. There is admittedly some street life in downtown Miami on a Sunday morning, but most it seemed to revolve around the electronics stores. There were lots of poor and homeless people. I mean, who do they expect is going to buy these expensive places?
The stretch of Brickell Avenue across the river from downtown towards Coconut Grove used to be somewhat vacant. Now it is ANOTHER stretch of huge new high rises. Who lives here? There are no stores here, no restaurants, nothing except fancy buildings. For a brief moment thought I saw some life, some normalcy, when I saw a doctor’s office occupying a 1 – 2 story building. Until I saw the Doctor’s name was in some unpronounceable Asian name, and it was a PLASTIC SURGEON.
In Coconut Grove, I took a picture of our one bedroom duplex at 2620 Trapp Avenue. It is still there, and the houses around it are not yet each walled off with a Mercedes behind a fence. So there is a little soul still there.
After brunch in Coconut Grove, I rode north to the Miami airport. The ride first goes through south Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, and then little Havana. I remember Tootie and I used to ride bikes through this area at night to go to Baskin Robbins in South Miami. This area really does have a jungle feel. It is still a nice area.
Crossing Calle Ocho in Little Havana by accident I ran intoVersailles, the queen of tacky Cuban restaurants. Back in the day, Tootie and I used to get stoned and go eat there. The interior is full of mirrors, and it is great to just gaze at them all.
I took the commuter train with my bike from Miami airport to Pompano Beach, which is north of Fort Lauderdale. Biking through poor rough neighborhoods in western Broward county there were endless rows of flat strip houses from the fifties and sixties. I eventually got to the beach, and rode down through more and more high rise condos all the way to Fort Lauderdale beach. For a large part of the way, I cut through the “Venice” part of Fort Lauderdale, with all the huge yachts tied up at pretentious houses on the canals.
Just before it got dark, I looped through Ft Lauderdale beach. This was one of the first signs of actual life along the ocean, and was a welcome break from the deadness of high rise condos. A stunning strip of bars fronted the ocean, occupied by thousands of drunk rednecks and more than a few bikers.(the Harley kind, not bicyclists) If not for the distance by bike in the dark, I would have gone back there.