Tag Archives: Miami

Miami: The Keys

florida-keys-flk523.jpg

The one thing we’re glad we did in south Florida was rent a car and get the hell out of Dodge down onto the Keys for several hours. The keys – or rather, the waters on every side of them – are very beautiful and kind of piratey and, as long as I didn’t have to spend more than 40 seconds in Miami en route, I’d go back for the diving and snorkeling we didn’t have a chance to do.

Renting the car was as bizarre as the rest of the Miami experience. First, Kayak offered to rent us a full-size white van for the same price as an economy car. It would’ve been handy for a mass revenge kidnapping of the city elders, but I didn’t know where we’d start with that, so we got a compact instead. At Alamo, you snag your paperwork, head out into the car lot and pick up whatever car you want that’s parked in your category area. Hmmm. Stubby silver Ford. Mediocre white Chevy. Hold the phone: is that bright yellow, two-door sports car sitting under the “Compact” sign? Niiiiiice.

We got a NaviWhore, or, as she is more commonly known, a “navigation system with a melodious female flirty voice” who, before her battery expired, estimated three hours with no traffic from Miami out to Key West. (In my experience, if the NaviWhore doesn’t come included and pre-attached to the car, it’s going to be flaky, so just use your iPhone Google Maps app.) We got about halfway down – Marathon Key – in two and a half hours in moderate traffic and had dinner and drinks at The Island, a busy place recommended by a local. Full menu of all kinds of fresh fish, oysters and shellfish as well as those tropical drinks you’ll be looking for at non-Miami prices ($7-ish).

I was startled to see fried dolphin on the menu and my Greenpeace hackles went haywire, but it turns out that that’s not your Seaworld buddy but a dolphin fish, which is something else entirely. (Or so they would have you believe.) We got a fish wrap (incredibly good) and fresh peel-and-eat shrimp (excellent) and settled in for the sunset which was predictably lovely, despite the obese, smoking Americans chatting with the pelicans in the foreground. (What is it with Americans? I think we should go back to the finishing school system. Everyone has to spend a year in Denmark and get some class before they’re let loose on the world.)

Conclusions?

  1. Don’t go to Miami.
  2. If you do go to Miami, get a car. There is no place worth walking and you need to be able to flee rapidly and efficiently the inevitable disappointment of most destinations.
  3. First choice in your car: the Keys. Don’t worry: you won’t miss anything while you’re gone because there wasn’t anything there to start with.

Miami: Disappointing Expectations Since 1566

This is my theory: when Ponce de Leon couldn’t find the fountain of youth, he decided to build the city equivalent of an Arby’s as revenge on southern Florida.

Let me be clear: I hate this town. If I can swing it, I’m never coming back and, unless you’re coming through here on your way to someplace else, I would recommend that you avoid it too. Holy God does this place suck.

Recently, to help me stay on track with with my writing, I’ve been working on adopting some of the useful basic principles of Buddhism. Principle number one? Expectations will get you into trouble. Take things as they come. The more specific your expectations, the greater the chance that you’ll be disappointed, (even if what you have or get is excellent). Since I wasn’t pumped or even prepped to go to Miami in the first place, I would have said I didn’t have any expectations to disappoint. Turns out I was wrong. Apparently, having traveled a fair amount, I did have some basic expectations of how things would go down based on previous experience, and Miami, God love ‘er, disappointed them all.

The $600-a-night hotel

(Mandarin Oriental Miami)

Expectation: I am paying you the equivalent of monthly rent on a studio apartment every single night, so you will give me everything I want, including a puppy. You will not leak.

Miami re-set: No puppy. Does leak. (Which they could’ve seen coming because the shower has no seals. Or consistent water pressure. Or water that gets fully hot.)

My personal bathroom favorite: useless plaza of space in front of the tub instead of any storage or counter space around the sink? Check.

Enormous TV? Yes. Reception on a par with the rabbit ears we had in 1976? Yup. Gratuitous charge for valet parking on top of ridiculous room rate? Absolutely. Make yourself at home kids: you’re in Miami now!

South Beach

Expectation: Clubs. Views of the water. Hotties in skimpy clothing/swimwear. Clubs. Cuban food. Clubs.

Miami re-set: Tourists, chain stores, bad plastic surgery, hos whose clothes look like Marimekko‘s evil neon twin threw up on Forever 21. No cool bars. Clubs that look like New Jersey threw up on Ibiza.

Public transportation

Expectation: Large, low-income population = significant investment in public transportation.

Miami re-set: Completely unventilated and unairconditioned single car monorail running above the urban wasteland of empty lots and freeways, dropping off nowhere useful. Hooray for city planning!

Bayshore neighborhood where concierge sends us for a look at “downtown Miami”

Expectation: Retro pastel architecture. People. Possible tourist crap by the water.

Miami re-set: Utter crap by water. No people.

Coconut Grove

Expectation as set by multiple web sites + a book: “Bohemian” neighborhood, possibly not as bad as downtown. Getting into the swing of Miami, I lower my expectations to maybe finding one bookstore and a hip jewelry store.

Miami re-set: “Bohemian” = The Cheesecake Factory, Johnny Rocket’s, the Gap and endless pawn shops.

Miami International Airport

Expectation: No worse than Newark.

Miami re-set: Much worse than Newark. As if air travel weren’t almost unbearable already, MIA is barely air-conditioned in 80-degree heat, so the place is a huge steam room. The check-in area is a huge mess, the ceilings are low and the water in the water fountains is warm. Mmmm. Tasty, tasty warm.

American Airlines

Expectation: Standard American experience: fairly low rate, mediocre service, sanitized entertainment.

Miami re-set: The check-in kiosk asks R to pay a $799 flight fee (does anyone comply with an $800 request from a kiosk?) for a “flight change” even though he’s on his original flight. The planes out and back are the worst planes I’ve been on in years: the seats are worn into buckets, there are no adjustable headrests and they seat a 10-year-old in the exit row, for that extra boost of confidence. Realizing their error just before take-off, they replace him with a 70-year-old woman in a wheelchair. Well, thank God for that.

The movie? The Day the Earth Stood Still, possibly the worst thing that’s made it into wide release in the last year. Our stewardess shoves R as she blows through security, says, “Goddamit!” distintincly in front of the 10-year-old when she can’t find the right change, drops my drink napkin onto the middle of my keyboard and R’s into the middle of his book, and leaves a trail of ice cubes in the aisle as a sign of disdain for her job. These guys rule – how could I be disappointed? Now I’m just impressed they haven’t knifed anyone.

Expectation removal achieved! Thanks, Miami!

Miami

miami.jpg

Yes, it’s true. I’m in Miami. I’d barely recovered from Las Vegas, hardly written up a word of the report on my ill-advised plan to hit 10 casinos in 10 minutes each when R texted from Miami to say that he’d had just about enough of being on the road, having left a day after our return from Nevada to attend a conference in Florida. Since we have about a million miles thanks to R’s constant globetrotting, I sprang into action, laid down 50,000 of said miles, cancelled the many plans I’d made to save me from isolation while R was away, and legged it to SFO to join him in a second vacuous mecca of plastic surgical enhancement in under a week.

I’m a planner by nature and I have zero tolerance for people who go places without a plan. Those are the same people who complain their way through a late brunch at some over-priced, crap tourist diner, kvetching about a late start and having missed the shuttle to somewhere fun or not having reservations for something cool yada yada yada. Plan ahead, people. We’re human: we need structure. And efficiency can’t hurt either.

So getting on a plane to a place I’ve never been without so much as a cursory Google search under my belt made me uncomfortable.

Turns out there was no need to feel bad. There’s nothing here.

Miami is just as artificial as Vegas, if not worse. The city is a pile of garish McMansions divided by urban blight and massive office buildings, all slathered over with breast implants, incessant damp wind, and over-sweet libations. There is no perceptible downtown. We missed Art Basel and, aside from that I can’t find any culture of any kind. And I can’t stand the beach, even if it were warm enough to go. (Beaches are hot and I don’t like lying still. Don’t get me started.)

Oh no wait, sorry: there are tits. There are clubs. And there is a lot of water. Period.

South Beach has all of the above and is at the top of every “what to do” list, but I don’t think I’m alone when I say that if you’ve seen one Gap, you’ve seen ’em all. That’s daytime: shopping at stores that are everywhere else in the States. At night, you can go to Ocean Drive, drink obscene amounts of liquor and look at all the women dressed up like hookers, but if you’ve seen one size zero, triple D, orange-tanned mannequin wearing a piece of spandex the size of a handkerchief and colored like a beach towel you bought by the side of the road in Central America, you’ve kind of seen them all. But that’s just my opinion. If you’re a sex-starved meathead, maybe this is the place for you. Otherwise, whatever. I’ve been to clubs, I’ve had sex, and frankly I’d rather do either someplace that isn’t populated exclusively by the bridge and tunnel crew.

Of course, if you’re P. Diddy or Matt Damon and have your own island or gated mansion or otherwise travel in your own hamster ball of wealth, you’re going to be able to avoid all this. But it would still be damp, I bet.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad I came. It’s better to be with R than not and another checkmark on the “been there, done that” list is always welcome. Plus, we’re staying business class, since R’s working, so I’m sure I’m not going to get any pity for jetting around to hotspots and bunking at the Mandarin Oriental.

We’re toughing it out until tomorrow, when we’ll happily head home. I still don’t like the hippie vibe in San Francisco, but places like Vegas and Miami make me realize there is something lower on the list than the pothead aesthetic.

Oh – there’s one more thing you can do here: you can take a shot at getting eaten by a crocodile in the Everglades, but they make no promises.