March 6, 2014
South Florida is so different from the rest of the United States. Feels more Caribbean, which often feels like a mashup of Latin America and Africa.
I’ve been thinking – what does it mean to be here, instead of visit?
All around me people’s lives and moments are happening. Haven’t made any new friends yet. Don’t even know most of the plants or birds.
As I rode my mountain bike up the barrier island of Miami Beach I felt the excitement again of a new land. #NomadCulture
Any story is always told through its details.
Some things false trigger what I know – Texas and the drier West. Like coastal riding on a sandy gravel road with short weeds growing out of the poor dirt. I find myself on hyper alert for goatheads fallen off weeds, those “stickerbugs” whose fat little thorns will easily puncture bike tires or bare feet.
Or leery of chiggers in grass, those tiny invisible beasts who corkscrew into your skin causing hardened circles of burning itch that can drive you mad. People in Dallas or Houston would rarely chance lying down in grassy areas in summer. But those things are not here. In South Florida people sprawl out with bare flesh exposed against park grass. It’s soft here.
A huge melting pot of people too. From extended Cuban familias to several different black nationalities to (mostly) well-off white folks to Hasidic Jews in full orthodox suits, hats, and long beards to people from many different countries to a lot of Miami street level “weirdness” of all ages, races and genders that keeps reminding me of the old Tompkins Square Park and Alphabet City in NYC. The linear tourist zones of Collins and Ocean seem like a haze, and I cross straight through with a mental buffer when I need to get to the beach.
Up north people are talking about the winter, which has been harsh. Even in Dallas and Fort Worth. And more rumblings about a changing climate. Ever since I read this article last year “Kicking the Refrigerator Door Open”, I’ve had additional queasies – this new sense of being connected to the Arctic in ways we never thought. So much we don’t know.
Riding up the island of Miami Beach you go from South Beach to blocks of quiet Jewish neighborhoods to working class and often Haitian or Bahamian North Beach, then you hit Surfside, where condos begin to rise, then very exclusive Bal Harbour right before Haulover Cut, a channel dug out of a narrow point in 1925 that connects northern Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic.
Finding my place under the bridge on the south bank of the cut, where most people don’t go, I realized it was an old handicapped fishing spot. Even had a sign. Why was it in a cage? There was a small spot of ground-up and shit-out fish death about the size of a quarter on top the concrete wall – likely from a bird. I could smell it from here.
In that one little bit of dribbled then dried rectal gruel there was the essence of that fish’s life and death and that bird’s digestive processes. Tropical South Florida is filled with many dense smells.
Over the years my senses have gotten very heightened. The clarity of the water will take some getting used to. In Texas, the Gulf waters close to shore are muddy and fertile from all the biblical rivers draining into it. Here I will be able to see everything. Def.
Bal Harbour’s tiled walkway along Haulover Cut is where the masses and exclusive people of means might meet. A high-rise condo touts its sea turtle protection efforts, approved by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission. A resident had left the gate open to the steps to the private pool and spa. I was reading the sign about saving the sea turtles when a worker, a dark skinned dude in resort white shirt, khaki shorts and white kicks saw me and ran down to close that gate. Our eyes met. You can be on the same yet opposite side of the fence.
Out at the end of the jetty several Cubanos were fishing with this one female pelican whose fishing method was not dive bombing the sea but standing there with flat webbed feet waiting, staring or maybe glaring at the men with poles, nets and other wheeled-out fishing equipment.
A young dude in a skull cap decided he was going to fish further back on the jetty. He walked past the female pelican. She jutted her head to the side like some black females would as if saying “uhhh where you think you’re going!” His black t-shirt with red lettering said DON’T GIT BIT.