South Florida, January 9-12, 2016

Once a year for the past five years I have been coming down here to bicycle around.   Each time I am amazed at the cultural polyglot.   And the buildings!   I surely do not want to live here, and I really do not want spend more than three or four days a year here.   But here on a solo trip for three nights in January things certainly never got boring.

I had wanted to cycle the Tampa Bay area instead, and I still might do that this year.   But for one hundred sixty-five dollars you can fly round trip to Fort Lauderdale nonstop from Raleigh/Durham on friendly Southwest Airlines.   And Fort Lauderdale is still the only airport I know of in the USA that has luggage storage, because of the cruise ship business.   I can arrive with my bicycle-in-a-suitcase, check the suitcase at the airport, and ride off into the South Florida Netherland.    I landed here on time just after 12:00 noon but the plane sat on the runway for forty-five minutes, so it was almost two o’clock before I got the bicycle put together and I could cycle away.


Weather in South Florida in January is generally perfect.   People tell me they love the desert climates of places like Arizona in the winter.    South Florida is something else entirely; a constantly blowing warm bath of humid air, almost always between 65 and 78 degrees.   Shifting very low clouds, surrounded in the mornings and evenings with pinkness evolving into blue sky.

My general idea of this trip was as follows:

  1. Day One (afternoon): Fort Lauderdale airport to South Miami Beach.
  2. Day Two: Tour around Miami, then Tri-Rail commuter train to West Palm Beach.
  3. Day Three: West Palm Beach to downtown Fort Lauderdale.
  4. Day Four: Bicycle early to Fort Lauderdale airport for 10:40 AM flight home.

I biked from the airport to the south, just the other side of the runway. I crossed a canal into the neighborhood/town of Dania Beach. Both Broward and Dade counties together have many dozens of municipalities. It is really all one continuous city starting in Palm Beach down a hundred miles to where farms and the Everglades begin south of Miami.  But the names of the “towns” change constantly.

Before about 1900 there was essentially nothing here but swamps.    Almost everything here is new, some of it shiny.  I cycled through older neighborhoods on the west side of Biscayne Bay.  By  Miami area standards these places are old enough to be called historic.






There were school kids walking around.





In a stiff headwind I crossed the Broad Causeway to the barrier island that is Miami Beach.



Even before I got to the Art Deco architecture of South Beach, there were all sorts of cool buildings to look at.





I got down to South Beach just before dark,  stopping on Lincoln Road Mall to get an ice cream and watch the world go by.



I was worried about high hotel prices, but at least on a Monday night I could stay in this place for less than a hundred dollars total.



Restaurants can be expensive and pretentious down here, but I found this small family Italian place on Yelp and ate outside.


There was delicious octopus.   South Beach is an extremely international place; hardly anyone fits the mold of what most of us think of as Typical White American.  I sat next to an actual Italian guy, a graduate student from near Bologna who is currently studying in England   We talked about food and he bitched about England (the people, the food, the weather).   He admitted he could not keep himself from eating Italian, even when visiting here in America.   He also got the octopus and liked it.

The next morning I rode around South Miami Beach looking at the architecture,






before crossing the MacArthur Causeway to downtown Miami.  Miami Beach has decent bicycle lanes.





I biked through the north of downtown into the newer Design District, then to Little Haiti.




I turned around and rode back through all of downtown Miami, looking for the Rickenbacker Causeway, which heads to Virginia Key and ultimately Key Biscayne.   The causeway had a bike path.


On Virginia Key I wanted to see and photograph Miami Marine Stadium, an impressive piece of modernism built in 1963 and designed by a 28 year old recent Cuban immigrant architect named Hilario Candela.  It was to host powerboat racing and water skiing shows.  Covered in graffiti, it has been abandoned since 1992 but people are still fascinated by it.  After I entered the parking lot, I was approached by a very cordial security guard with a Haitian accent.  He said people came up to him frequently trying to photograph this stadium.   His instructions were to keep people out.   He even said that I was not supposed to photograph it from a distance!   It was too late for him, I had already had taken the picture, although only of the back of the stadium.



From Google Images this is the picture that I wanted to have taken, although in hindsight I really would have needed a boat.



I biked back to the mainland and downtown Miami, then turned southwest towards Coral Cables.  Cycling through older neighborhoods, this former planned community from the 1920’s now has tree lined streets that remind me of New Orleans.



I then headed north and west from Coral Gables toward the Miami Airport and thereafter the Tri-Rail station in Hialeah.   I weaved through miles of streets lined with older stucco tract housing.




Tri-Rail was fine; $6.90 for the almost two hour ride north to West Palm Beach and you can wheel your bicycle right on the train.   I got a seat just after I boarded but by a couple stops later the train was standing room only with an impressively multicultural clientele.



I got off the train near downtown West Palm Beach and biked south a couple miles to a hotel I had reserved the day before.  I ate across the street at a sushi restaurant in a small strip mall.  In contrast to Miami, West Palm Beach felt much less multicultural, even when sitting at a sushi bar listening to the sushi chef (who had on a Japanese hachimaki headband) talk Thai with a customer.


The people behind me were having a loud discussion about religion, centering on “grace.”   I  realized I really did not exactly know what that word meant.   On my phone I looked up the word on Wikipedia.  The meaning of that word has inspired much discussion over the centuries, sometimes even conflict.


The next morning I set out.  It was about fifty miles south to downtown Fort Lauderdale.   I biked through country clubbish neighborhoods of the southern part of West Palm Beach.





Across the bay on the barrier island that is Palm Beach things were even more opulent.



At Southern Boulevard I crossed the bridge over to the Palm Beach side just to check up on Mar-A-Lago and see if The Donald was lurking around.     I did not see any Secret Service so I stopped by the back gate and took a photo.



Back on the mainland side of the bay, bicycling south, once you cross the line into the town of Lake Worth the area becomes much more working class, but maybe more colorful.









South of Boca Raton I rode along the beach with almost continuous high rises.



I had wanted to stay that night in downtown Fort Lauderdale but downtown hotels were expensive.   I booked the only Airbnb I could find near downtown.   It was memorable.

I got there about five in the afternoon.  It is in a transitioning area, a mostly African-American neighborhood being taken over by the construction of mid and high rise upscale condos.   Two artists live in this house and rent their spare bedroom on Airbnb.



They were a friendly young couple.   They showed me their art, which they say is all a collaboration between the two of them.  Among several types of projects, they choose women whose bodies they admire and then try to convince them to let them take plaster casts of their torsos.   They then cast the torsos in ceramic and frame it.   They really like women with breast implants.





That night I walked over to an informal restaurant in a strip mall that served delicious poke, which I learned is a Hawaiian dish of rice covered with marinated raw fish, vegetables, and a sweet soy based sauce, sort of like a large serving of disassembled sushi.

I left the house at seven-thirty the next morning.  I rode through older neighborhoods south of downtown just as it was getting light outside.



I biked up to the airport before eight-thirty in the morning.


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