Those who are regular readers of my blog (both of you) surely recall a few years back when I waxed on about the city of Orlando after I took a job there. I wrote a couple of stories about how my preconceived notions of a town that I thought was all about Mickey Mouse were erroneous. I discovered a real city amidst the assumptions. And I thoroughly enjoyed my four years there.
Well, new job, new city. Bienvenidos a Miami, Gringo.
MIAMI? City of surly locals, riots, Pork and Beans, and optional English?
Well there you go. There were my assumptions about the place as I packed my car and headed to my extended stay hotel on March 10 to start my gig here. To hear tell, the first things I needed to do were to get my concealed weapon permit and a Spanish/English translator.
As it turned out, the first thing I needed to do was find a way to get to work without driving. Because the traffic is insane here. Fortunately for me, since my career is in public transit management and Miami has an excellent transit system, that was relatively easy to figure out – an express bus to Metrorail, then a 20-minute train ride to my office in Overtown.
OVERTOWN? Where they had the riots?
Yes. In 1989 some locals overturned some cars and set them on fire in response to a police officer being acquitted in the death of a black teenager. In 1989 we also still had the Berlin Wall and Wham was making records. Shit, for that matter, I was still married.
‘Hey Jer, I watch the First 48. They’re always talking about the Pork & Beans area of Miami. Isn’t the city basically a huge ghetto?’
In a word. No. In two words, hell no. Does Miami have its ‘hoods? Of course. I would not dare venture to Liberty City (where P&B is located) after dark. But for that matter, nor would I go to East Cleveland, the Joy Park section of Akron or Tamarind Avenue in West Palm Beach after dark either. Point being, every city has ‘hoods. But for some reason Miami’s are somehow more notorious.
But for every Liberty City I give you Coconut Grove. For each Hialeah I give you Coral Gables. For each Overtown I give you South Beach. There are good and bad areas. And after two weeks and asking a bunch of questions of the locals, I am figuring out which is which.
The next assumption of Miami: Everyone speaks Spanish.
This, I will admit, is true. And not just because the Mariel boatlift in 1980 deposited 125,000 of Fidel’s finest in the city. But it’s really due to Miami being the Capital of the Caribbean. I have met many Cubans. But I have also met Venezuelans, Colombians, Peruvians, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans. It is truly an international city, the gateway of the Americas.
But here’s the thing people won’t tell you – these same people SPEAK ENGLISH TOO. If one approaches you & starts spitting out Spanish at you, just say ‘No habla Espanol,’ and they will say ‘Oh…’ then will converse in English. Yes, the assumption is the default language is Spanish, but they know English. And for those xenophobes who decry, “This is AMURRICA!” realize these people know that. That’s why they learned English, Bubba. To date I have had no problems communicating with, well, anyone.
Even when I order my daily Cuban coffee from the diner downstairs. Or, Colada, as they call it. Let’s talk Cuban coffee for a moment. It will be a fast moment, for once the caffeine from the extremely strong, extremely sweet nectar hit your central nervous system, you will chatter out incomprehensible jibberish.
This is a very interesting, mesmerizing place. You can see anything here. Last week I took a drive to Miami Beach, to Collins Avenue in the heart of South Beach. In the span of three city blocks I saw a beautiful young woman in a skin-tight neon bathing suit and a Hasidic Jew dressed in all black. You can see someone blatantly stealing a flat-screen from a house in Allapattah or a Frenchman selling baguettes on a street corner.
Yes, Miami is, to use a quickly-tiring phrase, off the chain. Sometimes it moves too fast. Which is easily rectified –
Drink a triple-shot Colada. That will get you up to speed.