Monday, May 5, 2014

Everybody’s Got A Cousin In Miami

Years ago, when my dad was a young man, he would make frequent trips to Miami for vacation. As a result of those trips he nicknamed Florida “The land of the hustle.”

No, my dad wasn’t into disco. He was referring to how Florida used to be – a land where people with shady pasts or questionable character could swoop in, run a couple of scams then leave before the authorities caught up with them.

And this was more or less true in the 1960s and 1970s – Miami was a growing, burgeoning cauldron of immigrants, snowbirds and natives trying to stake out their piece of paradise. And in doing so they were subjected to various fly-by-nighters who would promise to fix a roof, build a pool or pour a patio. These vermin would take a deposit to do the work then never show up. They did their hustle then skipped town.

I am here to tell you the hustle still exists. Getting a reputable contractor to do work on your house is still a dicey proposition. But also, a huge black market has flourished here as a result – people don’t call the Better Business Bureau or check Angie’s List to find a reputable worker.

They call Pepe in Hialeah.

I am not a world traveler, so I cannot tell you about the black market in other cities, but I can tell you that whatever you need in Miami, everyone seems to know someone who knows someone who can get you it. I mean, this happens with the most mundane purchases. For example, a few months back I was informed I
needed to get a Guayabera. A Cuban dress shirt. It’s a standard staple of most people’s wardrobes here. So, I innocuously stated my intent to a few of my staff. Almost instantly, one of my staffers, who is Cuban, sidles up to me, turns and looks to either side to be sure no one was eavesdropping, and whispers to me, “Leesen. You want good Guayabera? I have a cousin who weeel hooook you up.”

Dude, I’m not trying to buy a kilo of coke.

This town is loaded with those types of transactions. Trust me, there’s a Guayabera store on damn near every major road in this town. But I was advised to avoid all those and go see this guy’s cousin. To get a shirt.

In many ways, this is a cool side to this town. It encourages you to get to know people so they can do you favors, to get connected. And people here are friendly – if they like you they will hook you up…for everything from sandwiches to yachts, someone knows someone.

But it also causes me angst. I’m a researcher. I scour the internet, craigslist and so on to find a value deal. I pride myself in making informed purchases. It is a bit disconcerting when that all gets neutered when someone whispers in my ear that their brother in law can take care of me.

Sometimes this gets to me so I retreat to my sanctuary – the golf course. Which I did the other day and played with one of the caddies at Crandon, Danny. He was going on about his new set of irons he bought, how much better he was hitting the ball and so on. He was real happy. In an effort to make conversation I said, ya know, I’m thinking on getting a new set of irons too. And there, in the middle of the seventh fairway, with nobody else around, Danny comes over to me, pulls out a piece of paper from his wallet, and whispers to me…

“Leesen. Go see my cousin on Coral Way. He weel hook you up.”

Ay dios mio.

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