On Saturday, April 13th, Sam drove me to LAX to begin my first trip to Florida. My flight was delayed, so I had to wait a few extra hours to see what drives Florida Man so crazy. When I got to Miami Beach I met my friends, B and C, who were generous enough to let me stay at their condo for the following week, and went to a late dinner at a local place next to the harbor.
On Sunday, B and I went south to find Jesus, but the local tourist information shop said 4 to 5-foot waves wouldn’t let us see the sunken statue at John Pennekamp State Park. I’d seen Jesus of the Pacific in Lima and hoped to Jesus of the Atlantic – but that plan was thwarted…for now. We went further south to a brewery for lunch before heading north again in search of a fan boat everglades tour.
Unfortunately, we ran through most of our available tour time sitting in traffic before going home to check on C’s meal prep. Dinner wouldn’t be ready for a bit so B and I headed to the pier at the end of Miami Beach.
After contemplating how our life decisions got us to that literal point in time and on the Earth, we went back to the condo for a swim in the pool and a soak in the hot tub. After drying off, we went back upstairs for B’s homemade drinks and C’s homemade cuisine. C trained to be a chef not long ago, so everyone left the table quite satisfied.
After sleeping in on Monday I walked down to the pier again before walking north for miles along the water’s edge. Occasionally, I came upon groups of surfers trying their best to stay aloft on the miniature waves.
Eventually, I moved to the boardwalk to save my feet the stress of pounding on sand (there’s a reason that idiom exists, after all).
However, the boardwalk soon closed for construction, pushing me back out onto the beach. As the sun rose higher I started to feel dehydrated, but all the exits had “no trespassing” signs posted on the chain link fences separating the dunes from the boardwalk construction.
When the boardwalk opened again it had mutated into a path next to an ugly concrete wall (opposite the dunes) with no street access. It continued this way, literally for miles, trapping me next to a beautiful beach. Technically, I could have found water at the cabanas on the beach serving the lounging well-to-do, but $10 for a bottle of water is an incredible motivator to keep going.
I walked and walked and eventually found street access somewhere north of 72nd street. For anyone keeping score, that means I’d already walked about seven miles in the sun with no water. I didn’t drink anything before I left the apartment either, didn’t want to have to pee at the beach. Being picky, I walked for several more blocks until finding a make-your-own poke bowl place (Poke & Ko) for lunch. Really hope to find a place like this in Los Angeles sometime.
Revived after lunch, I went back out to the dunes to see how far north i could go. After another twenty blocks on the boardwalk, I found street access again and started another search for water (did I mention I don’t carry water with me, who needs the extra weight?!)…but the area turned into mansions to the west of a four-lane divided street and high rise condos on the right.
At 94th street I made the executive decision to listen to the underlings in this organization (my aching feet!) and walk to 100th (just because, you know, 100) and call an Uber. However, by 99th the shimmering humidity-mirage in the distance materialized into a bridge, which I thought would bring photo opportunities.
Turn on your Arrested Development Ron Howard narrator voice for this: It did not.
But it did answer how far I could go, as the bridge spanned the Bal Harbour channel, ending the continuous span of white sand beach that began at the South Pointe Park Pier. On the other side of the bridge was a marina and a small supply shop opposite Haulover Park.
I chugged bottles of water and aloe simultaneously sitting on a plastic deck chair behind the Haulover Point Marine Store while the two florida-tanned bleach-blonde grandmas that ran the shop talked over cigarettes (and me, as I sat between them) about how the shrimp tanks need to be drained because everything is dying in there.
Now put on your Norm MacDonald Weekend Update voice: Note to self: Do not buy fresh shrimp from Haulover Point Marine. Only buy dead shrimp from Haulover Point Marine.
Then I finally took the Uber home.
But, my adventure wasn’t over. At 6:30 B took me to his boxing class. I’m glad I tried it, but boxing isn’t my thing. Glad my friends are excited about it, though.
After this long day, we went a few blocks away to eat at Palacio de Los Jugos, where they piled gargantuan portions of Cuban style shredded pork, beef, and rice onto our plates. We capped off the night with another trip to the pool and some ginger beer.
On Tuesday I waited at the apartment to watch the implosion of a nearby building.
Then C and I walked to a nearby hotel for lunch because that’s where C would spend the rest of her day working remotely by the pool. I carried on north to the Esplanade, then walked the westward length of it before turning south again to spend some time at the pool. After work, B and I headed to Wynwood for Peruvian cuisine, a tour of the famous Wynwood Walls, and sketching time at a local bar.
Wednesday I was picked up late for a pre-arranged Everglades tour. Despite the brochure touting lots of time to walk the Everglades and explore, (Ron Howard voice again:) It did not.
The fan boat tour was unremarkable. Despite all the puffery on the bus by the prerecorded marketing…it’s just grass in a foot of water. (Sorry President Truman) After an entire tour of nothing but grass and sky (and a few birds), we finally saw a gator (and a turtle) ten feet from the visitors center. Or at least the folks on the right side of the thirty-person boat did; I only caught a glimpse of a tail through all the sweaty t-shirts.
After a half hour fan boat tour and a short gator feeding presentation, I had a half hour to spend before boarding the bus again. My choices for that time were to pet a baby gator or eat lunch at the only national parks approved restaurant at this Everglades visitor center. My stomach chose to eat at the restaurant, which was about as backwater Floridian as it gets. Fried gator meat on a bed of the worst parts of the cheapest cut of lettuce. I have to admit I would eat gator nuggets again if I had the chance.
After another couple of hours on the bus back to town I walked around B’s neighborhood looking for juice before, you guessed it, another swim in the pool.
I told B and C a few days prior that I wanted to take them to a nice restaurant to thank them for their hospitality. So we went to Joe’s Crab.
No, not that Joe’s, Joes Stone Crab, a very old upscale place that, as I understand it, owns the stone crab catching, distribution, and sales in south Florida. As such, they can charge the kingly sum of $14 per claw. Not per crab, mind you, per claw. Good tasting crab, and everything else, but it’s an excellent example of mastering the means of production for your own benefit in a narrow niche. Of course, it could just be the proximity to the $7 half fried chicken on the same menu that makes everything else seem so expensive.
We ate to-go key lime pies while playing Monopoly cards back at the apartment and sloshing down another custom made lime alcoholic drink. Yes, cards, no board. It’s a surprisingly efficient and engaging version of the old greed-based game. A bit like Uno but with more twists.
Thursday I tried to walk to downtown Miami via MacArthur Causeway but found both sides of the bridge closed to pedestrian traffic halfway over. Back at the apartment, I ate leftovers from Jugos before walking to the beach to swim in the Atlantic for the first time since Senior Trip to Myrtle Beach (shudder) twenty years ago. With a red flag advisory, the waves were just large enough to keep me from relaxing among them, so I scrapped that plan for the pool instead.
I left again around 4:30 to seek my dinner on the famous Ocean Ave.
Realizing that much of the food (and customers) are trying too hard to look cooler than they are (think Myrtle Beach boardwalk clientele on the senior trip – which, remember, was me once), I cut back a few streets west and kept walking north. Eventually, my body sent me the “eat now” signal and I settled for a nearby Indonesian place. I was excited at first, but then the blandest coconut curry south of Missouri came out of the kitchen. Unfortunately, it was probably the most expensive as well, but at least I could wash it down with a $6 Leffe. Lotta Belgian beer in Indonesia?
I walked back south along the boardwalk, catching the final performances of the Longines horse tour, if only for the purposes of capturing the event for Sam (the horse lover) later.
A white 2005 Ford GT with blue racing stripes greeted visitors. Every pompous European brat that walked by scoffed and reminded me that “it’s only a Ford” (pronounced the heavy British “Fowd” way). They wondered out loud why I would photograph such automotive mundanity. At least until their rich daddy arrived and also started taking pictures.
On Friday I went to work with B and toured his sleek modern office space. He gave me a Remarkable e-ink tablet to play around with until lunch. He warned me it retails for a good amount. I enjoyed the tablet as it felt much closer to real sketching than Wacom tablets. So much so that I looked it up when I got home and, ouch, B was right. $600.
We boarded a cruise ship and partook of the buffet lunch. Then he gave me a tour of the ship before heading back to work. Old hat to him (B’s family has gone on cruises since we were in high school), but it was my first time on a ship of that size (other than docked aircraft carriers). Once inside I got a weird feeling that I couldn’t place.
Back at their apartment doing laundry and packing for the second part of the trip I realized what it was: It’s the closest I’ve ever been to being on a vintage sci-fi starship cruiser. We talked about the enormity of managing a floating city that exchanges passengers every few days or weeks. The engineering behind it, of course, conjured up the same speculative mental exercises that a sci-fi author has to contemplate when writing about interstellar ships, as I’ve done.
I always thought I’d hate the idea of a cruise, being stuck with all those people. I still wouldn’t like that part – but there’s something calming about being out there on a fully functioning city in a smaller group leaving behind the noise and smells of a metropolis. I could do quite a bit of writing and drawing on a voyage like that. Something to consider for retirement.
After work, B and C grilled up some sausage, veggies, and marinated pork ribs. We feasted as the lightning flashed and thunder crashed outside. This was the first night of the trip in which I experienced sleeping problems. Maybe because I really wanted to be at the window watching the weather. I do miss thunderstorms immensely. And now it’ll probably be another five years before I see my friends again, so I’ll miss them too.