Miami, Miami, You’ve Got Style

I traveled to Miami for the first time a few weeks ago. I wanted to get away for a long weekend, and it was certainly an experience. It’s old school, and modern, stylish and seedy, and is everything I would expect, and yet nothing like it all.  It’s the mixtures of people and cultures, and the ease at which they combine makes Miami unique.

I must admit that prior to actually going to Miami, I only knew a few things about the city itself.  I knew that:

1.)The Golden Girls lived there.

2.)Miami Vice took place there.

3.) The city had a long history with drugs (see #2).

4.)  Scarface lived there (see #2 &#3).

5.) The city was famous  for its art deco architecture.

All of these combined to mean I pretty much knew nothing about the city.  My overall impression was how blended everything was.  It was fascinating to me to see how driving down one road into the heart of Miami, allows you to travel from seemingly horribly impovrished Little Haiti, and then end up in the middle of Brikell, the financial district, and then beyond,  toward the islands that carry some of the most expensive real estate in the United States.  The city’s large conservative Jewish population seems to mix with the bikini wearing beach crowd easily.  Men and women, gay and straight, black and white, Latin and Anglo- it all tends to blur together.

A clear example of this can be seen by simply walking along Ocean Drive in South Beach.  The argument can be made that it’s one of the most posh areas of the city.  The art deco is everywhere and many of the hotels have been updated into sleek modern institutions of retro design.  At night the neon glows and every building is illuminated in its own shade of technicolor brilliance.  Most of the hotels have restaurants or bars and they all flood out into the front of the building.  The tables and chairs are on the patios and porches, and spread out all the way to the edge of the road.  As a result, the sidewalk full of pedestrians actually goes through the “dinning rooms” of the restraunts. Walking along the sidewalk means that you are not only moving in the flow of pedestrians, but also dodging waiters and waitresses, customers, entertainers, and everyone else you normally encounter walking through a busy city.  All of it is, of course, serenaded by the oh so hip and cool thumpa-thumpa lounge music that sets the tone for the night.  It’s the kind of music that only implies dancing, while somehow seeming to encourage conversation.


Hotel Victor on Ocean Drive, South Beach


Ocean Drive, South Beach, Miami


Ocean Drive, South Beach, Miami

The best example of this enjoyable chaos is The Palace.  Its been on its corner for decades, and is famous for its employees.  As you walk by the music is louder and the crowds always a bit larger and more jovial.  It is staffed by men and women that are an odd mix of street performers, DJs, acrobats, gymnasts, drag artists, insult comics, and general miscreants.  This isn’t a bad thing though. Huge crowds often gather on the sidewalks just to watch “the show” that is running the restaurant.  If you aren’t careful, though, you could get pulled into the chaos. The performers are famous for not only entertaining the crowds in the restaurant, but also the people in their cars who are waiting for the red light to change (the staff and their show often spill into the road), and even people coming and going to the beach on the other side of the street are pulled in.  I got caught up in it all, and was singled out by the ring master on the microphone as I walked down the sidewalk.  I got insulted until I bought something.  It was all in good fun, and after I did, I had to pose for pictures with the crew.  The state of shock and confusion and bewilderment of it all is pretty evident on my face.  The interesting thing about it, is that I’m still not entirely sure if the ringmaster was a man or woman.  There was an insane amount of  clown like make-up and enormous sunglasses that hid the face, an obvious green wig, and the person was tiny, with a voice that seemed to be that of a Hispanic woman, but it was lower when on the mic barking at me.  I think an argument could me made both ways.  This was the case with everyone that worked there.  Part of the illusion of it all is that no one who worked there could be identified in any real way.  Were they black or white? Latino? Man? Woman? Alien? Who knows?  They had to have spent hours preparing to come into work. I know waiters and waitresses that roll out of bed and show up at work, so these people were clearly dedicated.

There’s also another side of South Beach.  Come back inland a few blocks and you’ll see the grittier side of the city, one that’s less glamorous and a lot more like the rougher parts of New Orleans, but with a decidedly Latin flare.  Grocery stores, liquor stores, swimsuit shops, and less appealing bars tend to attract a crowd that is more party focused, and younger, and a bit less refined.  This is where the college kids go.  They are drawn by the spring break like atmosphere, the cheap drinks, and the loud top 40 music playing from every bar and open window.  This also happens to be where a number of shootings have taken place over the years.

For a totally different experience, in both culture and scenery, head over to Wynwood.  It’s literally on the “other side of the railroad tracks,” and couldn’t be more different than the more famous beach side of the city.  This is Brooklyn south.  It’s hipster land.  Of course hipsters are like the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography.  I can’t really describe to you what a hipster is, but I know one when I see one, and this place is full of hipsters.  All the cool kids these days are hanging out here with its assortment of upscale cocktail bars, funky fusion eateries, and industrial-chic design.  By far though the most impressive part of this neighborhood is what’s been done on the streets.  Graffiti artists have turned the rundown warehouses into a stunning mixture of street art and high art.  Walking around here left me speechless at what some people can do with a can of spray paint.  Take a good camera and go in the late afternoon or early morning so the sunlight is the best.  You’ll take fantastic pictures.  Yes, the picture at the top of this page was one such picture, and it’s one of my favorites.


Pretending to be a model in Wynwood, Miami, Florida

In some ways beach communities seem to be the same all over Florida.  They are beautiful, and they are tourist traps.  They tend to have permanent populations that fully realize the gap between the rich and the poor in America.  They are beautiful and a bit seedy.  Miami, is of course of all of these, but Miami, has it all in abundance.  As Rose and Dorothy sang, “Miami, you’ve got style.”

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Categories: My View of Things, North America


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