Ay dios mio. I have now been in Miami for a year. And to a certain extent it has made me loca de la cabeza. My life has become influenced by a place that is like nowhere else in the world. Not that I have been around the world to confirm this, but I would like to know of a place that combines swamps, Cubans, high-rises, Jews, Venezuelans, pissed-off impatient drivers, empanadas and lizards.
Enlighten me if you know of such a place.
So for now there is only Miami.
I have lived in Florida for half of my life. I spent 27 years in Ohio and 27 going on 28 here. My Florida residences have been such places as Orlando, Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie, Boca Raton, Jupiter, and scads of others. I even lived in a place called Greenacres. Loot it up, it exists. None are like Miami. At all.
First, the similarities. It gets hot in the summer and comfortable in the winter. There, that’s it.
Miami is a world unto itself. Those familiar to south Florida know this, as when you cross the county line from Broward in to Miami-Dade County, it just ‘feels’ different. Things get busier, louder and edgier. Your leisurely commute down I-95 or the Turnpike turns into a screeching halt of mind-numbing traffic. The billboards are suddenly in Spanish. People in their black Beemers roar by you at 100 miles an hour. In the distance you see a skyline of a major city; scores of buildings. You know that somewhere to the east is an ocean and the so-called high life of South Beach.
But from your vantage point of creeping towards the Golden Glades interchange? It just looks like chaos.
And I am here to tell you. It is.
As you slither down I-95 towards those high-rises, you pass through the rougher neighborhoods of Miami. Allapattah. Hialeah. Liberty City. Overtown. Places where the riots happened back in the 80’s. Places where most of the country know by CSI Miami or The First 48. Nasty places. There is a small town called Opa-Locka which you hope to never find yourself in. Why? Because their crime rate is three times higher than Detroit. Be sure you do NOT stop for gas or directions in these areas. You will leave without you wallet or car. But you will be offered crack, or forced to buy it at gunpoint. True. Just keep driving.
You pass under the I-195 which takes you to Miami Beach. Suddenly the skyline is right in your face, and is it beautiful. The architecture of downtown Miami is mesmerizing. And at night, it is enthralling. You cross the Miami River, and the high-rises continue, except now, instead of it being commercial real estate, it is residential high-rises. Welcome to Brickell. You are now where the well-heeled lived. You are now somewhat safe to pull off the highway and gawk.
While you are there, head east to Mary Brickell Village and grab something to eat. Go two more blocks and say hello to Biscayne Bay and the causeway which takes you over to South Beach. Beautiful.
If you keep heading south, I-95 ends and becomes Dixie Highway. Don’t panic. You are now heading to the civilized side of Miami. Coral Gables. THE U. Coconut Grove. South Miami. You will notice the homes change from duplexes with bars on the windows to million-dollar homes with manicured yards. Your blood pressure should start dropping.
So there’s Miami geography in a nutshell. Go east and you are on the beach. Go west and you better speak Spanish. Go further west and you are in the Everglades. My Walmart is in Westchester, and you do not hear a lick of English in there. If I need assistance I have to ask, “Habla Ingles?” first.
I know this tends to piss off some people, and they rightfully point out that Miami is in the United States. Technically, yes. This is true. The American flag does indeed fly. But this is a town heavily influenced by Cuban migration which has been going on for the better part of a century. But it is not just Cubans – Haitians, Venezuelans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Bahamians, Jamaicans, Brazilians, Argentinians – they have all carved out their niches here. Miami is an international town, and always will be.
These factors, along with the ‘bigness’ of the place makes for a smoldering cauldron of emotions. People tend to get pissed off easily here. Don’t believe me? Wait two seconds at a light that just turned green. The car horns will reinforce that you are in a place where people do not have a lot of patience. Factor into this roux of People from Other Countries are people like, well, me. Northerners who moved to get out of the snow and cold. While there are many of us, we are dwarfed by the wave after wave of immigrants who washed ashore, literally, in Miami. I am an English-speaking gringo from Ohio, which makes me a minority.
And yes, I have seen the bias that African Americans have had to deal with for centuries. Cubans control this town. I am an outsider. It is a palpable feel. I have seen it in action at work; the bias towards those of Latin descent. They, of course, will deny it. But it is there.
So. This is how I feel about Miami: It is a cool place to visit, even a cool place to live. But it is not my home. I am here because I was offered a very good job with good money. And I am somewhat comfortable here. But I miss Orlando, the last place I lived. O-Town is Miami without the edge to it. Hell, even the dope dealers are nicer there.
So one day I will retire and I will leave Miami.
I am a city boy, but Miami is a bit too much for me.