My ordinary life

I know the language of your laugh, tripping over circumstance I know the story of your walk, I taste the sugar in the salt I taste to savour your little ways, the colours that you choose to paint your day

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Miami Vice

"Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light." I am surprised to be able to see at all after being awake for 15 hours, three movies and much of the 4,000 miles between London and Detroit. Still, awaiting me was not so much a star spangled banner but a rainbow coloured one in Miami Beach, my final destination, where I arrived with a dried out plane face and a bag of salty pretzels at midnight, the one day after the Superbowl rocked into town.

I had spent much of the flight concerned by the green shades over Florida on the US weather map whilst the rest of the mainland was merely aqua blue. The tornado, which had battered the northern part, had subsided. What was this development? In addition to hurricanes, I came to Miami to get away from emotional ones, also for my birthday, my 33rd, almost one third of a century (for which I bought some blue gel for my mid-life crisis) and to see my Orlando-born friend Christina, who used to grace these grey shores with her presence before returning to the land of sun, palm trees and old men on skateboards clinging on to their youth, and in South Beach, quite literally. Immigration in Motown did not believe me that "visiting my friend" was my reason for coming. He suspected I wanted to stay. He asked if this friend was female and if I planned to change my marital status whilst in the United States. Was he working undercover for my mother? I did not think a one week visit would be enough for THAT?! Can I get to know them first? I should have told him I was here to be the next American Idol but his protruding eyes deterred me.

I will skip daily accounts of what happened as it is merely the freedom, the anonymity and the feel of the sun on my shoulders that I love but there were definitely things I remember.
The Clay Hotel where I stayed found itself buried in the heart of Washington Avenue and Espaniola Way in the Art Deco patch, which stretched far and wide. Even the skyline was dotted with banks, skyscrapers and apartment blocks in the traditional pastel and symetrical style. I shared a room with three others. A terribly dull Canadian from Ottawa, Oliver a young Belgian bartender from Pittsburgh or somewhere with a P and Sylvio, an only-Italian speaking sextagenarian, who had run every country's marathon for 40 years. With a lot of shoulder shrugging, broken Spanish and scribbling, I actually managed to get to know him quite well as did Oliver, who saw his temper first hand when he was thrown from the top bunk at 2am by Sylvio for making too much noise. I tried to sleep through it. After Oliver moved out, Dublin Dave moved in. Gaydar told me he was gay. The number of briefs he had bought, the toiletry products and the Abercrombie shirt were hints. He gave me a two-minute potted history about why the Irish hate the Brits as we stuffed ourselves with pancakes on the lively and expensive Lincoln Road.

My accommodation was not far from there and 2 blocks from Ocean Drive, the scene of many a movie including Birdcage, and just in front of the adjacent South Beach. As rainbow flags flapped in a gay breeze, this was a relaxed place but not for the faint-hearted. It is Pec Valley, Land of the Bicep, Zip Code.. well unnecessary. Everyone there, man and woman, black or write, young and old, is toned and oiled to within an inch of their lives. It took me half an hour to take my jacket off on the beach. I would have gone into the sea with a puffer jacket on if I had had one with me. They do push ups, press ups, sit ups, chin ups, jump ups. I can barely get up. They are bronzed chocolate brown to perfection. I am cherry red and making my mosquito bites bigger. They are sprawled out. I am sat cross legged in my socks, hiding my blisters. They are in long shorts, regular shorts, short shorts and what-is-the-point-of-those-shorts. I am in a track suit. That is a lie... it was a shell suit with air conditioning. It was refreshing to see an older gentleman go by on a skateboard and a well-fed lady perched precariously on what looked like a kids' bike. That gave em two fingers. I sat there listening to my CDs next to a couple of angry African American lesbians and a topless straight couple, the woman was buying a thong from an older lady, who really should not have been wearing one. I stayed off spaghetti the rest of the week.

Though enjoying the sun, I was unable to stand more than one day on such a beach and so made a few local trips. I went on a tour of the city, which included a boat trip around Biscayne Bay, where there were miniature islands housed with real celebrities. "John Travolta owned the 24-bedroom brown mansion with the removeable roof over there (yes, in the 1980s) and Gloria Estefan parked her Miami Sound Machine here". J-Lo had to sell hers when ex P Diddy moved to the same island. B*stard. The Jewish museum, the art deco and the fancy hotels and bars were all impressive, especially for a city in danger of a good beating from the elements between July and November.

At the terribly tourist Gator Park, gateway to the Everglades, I jumped on a boat with a bunch of foreigners and headed into alligator waters. Accustomed to big creatures snapping at me back in Manchester, I was not that afraid here. As it happens, alligators are supposed to have brains the size of a peanut,which is why they have everything they need resting on the water's surface - eyes, nose and ears - because they are basically the animal kingdom's retards. "They won't eat you" came the cry from the tattooed trailer park trash, who drove our boat. "Crocodiles, like Bush, will hunt you down and smoke you out, these guys would just drag you under and drown you," she continued reassuringly. Equally as reassuring was the Steve Irwin character, who put on a wildlife show for all of us in front of the bleachers next door. Whilst lifting up a skunk and explaining the dangers of skunk spray, he squeezed a hidden bottle of water into the crowd of Italian girls, who duly wet themselves. I and this Australian did too, for different reasons.

Struggling to get the Beach Boys' Kokomo out of my head, I set off on my penultimate day, at the crack of dawn, for a five-hour bus ride to the Florida Keys, and in particular Key West, 90 eeny weeny miles from Bush's Cuban nemesis Fidel Castro, who is still sitting up and eating grapes in hospital. Kennedy could not get him, Johnson could not get him, and, it seems, nor has cancer. Still, one does not wish harm on anyone. Except perhaps a fellow beer-guzzling podgy Cuban, who alarmed me at just before 7 in front of my hotel by asking me if I wanted anything sucking or if I wanted to suck something and he was talking a different type of Cuban cigar and these are not banned in Miami Beach. Anyhow, though you may wonder, I politely declined, looked away but remained afraid of tucking into my drizzly ham and cheese empanada in case it gave out the wrong message. This is not really the US. This is Central America. Covered in all its glory.

I boarded the late coach and ended up talking with a 35 year-old Chinese IT guy from DC, who had never been out of the US. This became clear when he asked me if "we get Youtube in Britain". I felt for someone in IT, this was probably one of those candid camera moments you regret forever. Common language. Different people. He was not the only one. After 160 miles down US Highway 1 (which stretches to Canada) we reached Key West, the southern most point on the US mainland, and I seemed to talk to people whose brains had gone in the same direction. I bought three T-shirts off this local girl, who seemed to struggle with the conversation when it continued beyond, well, "Hello", if truth be told. Even though I was there in the moment, I felt like it was a satellite link with a ten second delay before a response could be proffered. The guide to the impressive and interesting Ernest Hemingway house was, I am convinced, on some acid trip as he whistled through stories about the renowned American writer at a verbal pace akin to Concorde. If Ernest had been on his own tour, he would have still blown his brains out. And sooner. The flight home saw me sat next to a South Dakota nurse, who warned me of the dangers of organic lettuces and asked me if we not only paid income tax in England but whether we voted, "you know, what with the Queen being in charge of everything." There is only one queen in charge of my life. And he is typing this. As always, though, there are some Americans who do get what you say. The younger, educated and travelled ones are often in a different league altogether. My newly-wed friend Christina, who owns the Marimekko store in Miami, and her Washington Post husband Michael are but two. There were also two Jeremies, who did.get me. Or was it the mojitos. One was an attractive, entertaining, gay and Jewish lawyer residing among the neatly manicured lawns of flash suburb Coral Gables, which should be a soap opera, who proved entertaining and interesting in equal measure. We sat at a bar and told a fellow drinker that he was Golan in Lord of the Rings. Needless to say she believed him and gave him his business card. The other guy from Massachussetts was met in a bar and was in the US Army 82nd Airborne division and about to spend 6 months in Colombia. Something to do with drugs. Or his boyfriend. Perhaps both. We discussed all manner of things and agreed that since the war had cost America $30 billion that Bush should sell Texas for $45 billion, make a profit and use it to buy Cuba. Most of Havana is already there. There are apparently more than 1 million Cubans in Miami (2.5 million Hispanics in all), the biggest population centre outside of the country,.and they live in the ingeniously-named "Little Havana". We all passed through Coconut Grove and Coral Gables, places which belong in a Jackie Collins novel.

After a slow and tranquil start, my evenings there, surprisingly, took on the content of a Jackie Collins adventure. The black drag queen with big hair tucking into a plate of fries was one sight at the Palace, one of Miami's friendly sea-front bars. Another was Jeremy, the Massachusetts guy, and his friend Richard with whom I drank, ate and wandered into some of the fanciest lobbies, restaurant and pool areas at the Delgano, Sagamore and National. We walked in like we owned it. How they did not believe I was trash with my "I have been to South Beach" T Shirt, is a mystery. They must have thought I was part of Hugh Grant's entourage. I played the bumbling Englishman well, years of practice, it seemed to work its magic. Particularly at Twist, probably the busiest bar in the area. Seven bars on four floors and teeming with gay-for-pay strippers/"dancers" and others. One evening, a Puerto Rican barber proved intersting company whilst a few nights later, I got a tap on the shoulder. I really must sue that plumber. Two guys from Toronto, Steve (24) and Andrew (32) started talking to me. Not long after, boy do guys make it clear what they want, Steve asked me back to his hotel room, which he was sharing with his friend. I asked what about his friend. A wink and a cab ride later. and we were back at the hotel. I got back to mine to see the promise of dawn rising early. I could see clearly then. I hope to stay as clear-sighted now..


Anonymous Anonymous said...

you really NEED to be a travel writer.

that is superb. it feels like i dont need photographs to show me what it was like. whilst reading, i was able to picture every one of those people in my mind.

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