Sunday, June 30, 2013

Miami Plus Three Months

I am a fan of symmetry. Maybe it’s my math background, I don’t know. But I find a certain beauty when things appear to fit.

Don’t worry; this is not a story about gay marriage.

In looking through the 151 stories I have written on this blog, I noticed some symmetry. Back in 2009 when I first moved to Orlando I wrote a story about how awestruck I was with the town. Then, three months later, I wrote a more grounded, yet still positive, story about where I was with the Orlando Experience. Earlier this year I moved to Miami and wrote a similar awestruck story. I have now been here three months.

Time to true up the symmetry.

Three months seems to be a good barometer. The initial excitement and confusion about living somewhere new should have subsided, replaced by familiarity and reality. This is definitely the case with my Miami Experience. So what have I learned about my new home during this time? Well…

Let’s start with the obvious. You do not hear a lot of English spoken here. Spanish is the default. You sometimes have to make a concerted effort to find someone who speaks English, especially in places like Little Havana or Westchester. My closest Walmart is in Westchester, and the last time I was there all I heard was a constant stream of Spanish. In fact, when I need assistance finding something and approach an employee, my first query is, “Habla Ingles?”

And as I mentioned in my last story about Miami, this does not offend me. I don’t grumble about the fact there is an American flag flying outside yet English is the secondary language. Because Miami is a young city; a hundred years ago it was little more than a swamp. About fifty years ago, Castro came into power in Cuba, which triggered the first exodus of Cubans to Miami. Thirty years ago the Mariel boatlift occurred, depositing 125,000 of Fidel’s Finest here. And since then, other Latin America countries have become noticeably represented here – Colombians, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and so on. And what do they all have in common? Spanish.

So what is occurring here is a generational thing – the elderly speaks Spanish. Their offspring, folks around my age, are bilingual. Much like the Little Italy section of New York. And like New York, Miami is truly an international city. Which leads to my next observation –

The food here is outrageous. Whether it’s Ropa Vieja at Versailles on Calle Ocho or Arroz Con Pollo at Kokoriko in Brickell, it’s all good. Real good. Or, I should say, muy bueno. And the people here are proud of their heritage and are very friendly. As you can imagine, especially among the older Cubans, there is an inherent joy in being somewhere where speaking your mind does not land you in jail. As such, these folks like to celebrate.

But there are instances which makes me truly feel like the minority that, well, I am. For example, FM radio. It sucks. But then again, it reflects the demographics of the area. Ninety percent of the stations are Hispanic music. The other ten percent is classic rock or sports talk. So you choices are bonga-bonga-bonga arriba te amo, Led Zeppelin, or Dan Lebatard.

Well, I don’t care for salsa and I am burned out on Zep. Dan, by default, wins.

Which is a good segue to something Miami is also know for, its sports teams. I just worked the Miami Heat celebration parade. It was attended by 400,000 people. Now, being a native Ohioan, having been born in the same town as LeBron James, there is a personal grinding of my teeth to see the Heat win championships. As I have found out, this is a view held by most people who live outside of Miami. But in Miami? They don’t care. In fact they take it a step further – they don’t want to hear it. If you are upset about the Heat cherry-picking elite players from other teams, keep it to yourself. They know the rest of the world doesn’t like it, and that just gives them more resolve – hate us, as if we care. World champs, muthafucka.

There are a couple of other minor, yet infuriating aspects of living here. Why does it cost twenty freaking dollars to get my car washed? Where are the coin-op self wash places? Why does it cost SIX BUCKS to park at a county park?

But those are easily dismissed for the far more important positives of being here. I have assimilated into an international city where I am proudly a minority (and a 54 year old white boy from the Midwest is definitely a minority), the beaches are awesome, the women are beautiful (a product of mixed bloods), and I am happy.

And you likely would be too if you lived in Miami.

So if you want to only be around white people who speak English, stay in Iowa. If instead you want to experience how the rest of the world lives, c’mon down.

But download Rosetta Stone first.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Delayed…But Not Denied

So I just took a dip in the pool at my apartment. Sounds pretty boring, right?

Well, it was. Thank goodness.

I need a good dose of boring. The last three months were beyond crazy. I cannot recall a similar stretch in my life where more things happened in such a short period.

Let’s rewind to February 6th of this year. On that day I resigned from my position with a firm in Orlando to accept a similar position with a firm in Miami, knowing that would trigger a number of required activities like relocating.

At the same time, I knew my mother was in the advanced stages of dementia, so I was debating whether to even tell her this news, for fear of whether she could even wrap her atrophied mind around it. On Sunday February 17, I called her to tell her the news. She didn’t answer the phone.

Two days later, she passed away.

Now, the plan was for my last day at work in Orlando to be that Friday, February 22, to start work in Miami on March 11. Two weeks and two days. Plenty of time to find a place in Miami, get my stuff down there, relax a couple of days, then hit the ground running at my new job. With mom dying, that was all tossed out the window. Obviously I had to get to Ohio for the funeral…but that was my last week of employment. So on my way out the door to head north, I handed my employee badge, tears in my eyes, to my boss & told her, “I guess this is it.”

Fortunately, they extended my employment a week, to March 1, so I could take care of things in Ohio. That was extremely nice of them, but it did not change my start date in Miami. Now my two weeks between jobs was truncated into one. The result was my moving plans were scuttled and I ended up in a hotel in Homestead instead of a condo in Brickell. For my first two months of employment in Miami, my commute was a surreal combination of driving, bus ride & rail ride – over an hour each way. And this was on top of learning a new job with12-hour days. During the period I basically did three things – work, eat and sleep. There was no time for anything else.

In late April I was able to find a nice apartment in South Miami, with move- in mid-May. This triggered my moving activities, with multiple 500-mile round trips between Miami and Orlando to get my belongings. I finally finished that on May 19.


This whole time prevented me from normal activities related with losing someone’s mother. Like grieving. I was too busy. In one aspect, that’s good. I was perpetual motion, too many things on my plate to simply sit back and reflect.

But finally, last night, I did. I sat in that pool at my awesome new apartment in Miami, took a look around the beautifully landscaped area, let out a deep breath, and thought ‘I made it. I did it.’

I then thought about my mom.

And I cried my eyes out.

That was way overdue.