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Nov 12th
Making Good Time PDF Print E-mail
Written by Introduction by Lynne Barrett; Spread photo by Silvia Ros   
November 2019

True Stories of How We Do, and Don’t, Get Around in South Florida

Making Good Time: True Stories of How We Do, and Don’t, Get Around in South Florida has recently been published by Miami-based Jai-Alai Books. In this issue, we present five of the book’s 31 nonfiction stories and an excerpt from the introduction by editor Lynne Barrett.

I Covershotowe the idea for this book to the intersection of Biscayne Boulevard and NE 79th Street, where red lights have held me for what must be many hours of my life. One afternoon, sitting in that familiar state of stuckness, I was thinking about stories I’d been told about that crossroads. I’d heard about its heyday, in the 50s and 60s, when travelers streamed down U.S. 1 to Biscayne’s post-war motels, 79th Street was the corridor between Miami Beach and the racetrack in Hialeah, and the northwest corner’s modern shopping center with convenient parking was a draw. And I’d heard plenty, too, about the decline into blight and crime that followed, reaching a low point in the late 80s. In the early 90s, I’d moved into one of the nearby neighborhoods off Biscayne, following others who’d begun a revival built on rehabbing Deco and Miami Modern buildings -- and on memories, like those of a neighbor who, while a group of us on a local history tour stood gazing at an auto parts store, evoked the evening when she’d gone to the glamorous Playboy Club that once occupied the site, arriving in a limo, dressed to the nines.

The major functioning landmark in the 90s and early 2000s was the tall INS building on the southwest corner of Biscayne and 79th, its strange, inscrutable golden grid looking down on long early-morning lines of waiting people and the offices of immigration lawyers across Biscayne. Sometimes, coming home from teaching, I was turned back because people had filled the streets, protesting the inequities of federal policies. Now it had been closed for a few years. I looked up at the grim hulk of what had been the gateway and obstacle to entering America, and then moved on through the intersection. Where Biscayne crosses above the Little River, I caught a glimpse of the water flowing toward Biscayne Bay, remembering tales I’d heard, mainly about bootlegging and other smuggling. And I realized that, no matter where I went in South Florida, people had eagerly filled me in on the significance of canals, avenues, railroad crossings, landfill-islands, cul de sacs, and ports. And the stories were always, somehow, about movement.

BookCover

I’ve met pessimists who declare that it’s impossible to make people care about a sprawling, mixed-up, urban and tropical landscape stretching across so many miles of municipal and other divisions. I simply haven’t found this to be true. In my experience, South Floridians are passionate observers of their territory and collectors of its histories, which they’ll recount, often, with a distinctive blend of cynicism and affection. They’re wry about schemes that turned out to be bunkum and they cherish small gains and pleasures, even, or perhaps especially, if they didn’t last. And they worry -- I can’t count the number of times this has been said to me -- that so much is changing and no one is paying attention.

Till that afternoon I don’t think I’d understood what they felt South Florida was in danger of losing as it raced heedlessly on. Soon it might be so transformed that it would be impossible to trace, narrate, and honor its role as the locus of a grand and complex saga, the cumulative story of all the movements to and around in this realm subject to economic bubbles and crashes, huge storms, and the tides of events elsewhere that carry people to this shore where grit and beauty mix.

When I reached home, I dug a pad out of my purse and, still in my car, scrawled notes for what turned, with time, into plans for a collection of new writing about South Florida transportation and infrastructure, its shining promises and not-so-shining realities, and the way it is entwined in the region’s dreams, dangers, and difficulties.

An anthology seemed to me an ideal form for the subject, a way of capturing many paths and views. Fortunately, our buoyant literary scene includes visionary presses like Jai-Alai Books, which helped me refine my ideas and gave me the go-ahead to ask established and emerging writers connected to South Florida to pick out some particular angle of their experience and interests to explore in short pieces of nonfiction.

They responded, as you’ll see, with accounts of childhood journeys, late night rides, jobs, passions, crashes, rescues, historic events, and human dreams. They offer a diversity of voices and perspectives: adventurous, confessional, investigative, reflective, irate, hilarious, and tender. And they show what it’s like getting around in a region that, in its complexities, contradictions, and resilience, I recognize and feel I haven’t read about enough.

...

Pix_IntroductionThe title phrase, “making good time,” is one we use when measuring our rate of progress against expectations -- are we getting ahead, keeping up, falling behind? What about when we are inching along and fuming? Held up? Stuck? This language of spatial progress and competition easily spreads to define our lives, and certainly you’ll find writers here considering the dilemmas this poses, as being confined, delayed, frightened, or exhausted is all the harder in places where so much was built on images of speed and ease.

“Making good time” also echoes the American credo that change means advancing and that we mustn’t cling to what’s old-fashioned and out of date. You’ll see many examples here of South Florida’s role as a frontier of transportation history. Now, it often seems as if we’re in an express lane for trends.

...

The writers here offer other views of what “good time” might mean, weighing the consequences of people’s journeys across years, counting up losses but also important things hard won, like survival, learning, and connection. Racing forward brings some positive outcomes, but also bad ones, while slowness allows discovery, and derailment from the expected path can lead to better options. Time’s bends let us see results complexly. People can be discouraged, even angry, yet hopeful. They may even say so long and then return. Overall this book encourages the long view, to make clear how important it is to have a say about where we’re heading.

 

LYNNE BARRETT’s Magpies received the Florida Book Awards fiction gold medal, and she has received the Edgar Award for best mystery story. Her recent work can be found in The Hong Kong Review, Mystery Tribune, New Flash Fiction Review, The Miami Rail, Necessary Fiction, and Flash! Writing the Very Short Story. Barrett, a professor at Florida International University, edits The Florida Book Review.


At the Miami Book Fair, editor Lynne Barrett will be joined by contributing authors Terence Cantarella, Jennine Capó Crucet, Alex Segura, and Sammy Mack, discussing Making Good Time on Sunday, November 24, at 11:00 a.m. in Room 8302 (Bldg. 8, 3rd floor). Making Good Time is Book One of Jai-Alai Books’ planned Miami Trilogy, three anthologies of South Florida voices focusing on challenges facing our community. Submissions for the second book, Waterproof: An Anthology of Remembrances About Miami, are open via www.jai-alaibooks.com through November 30.

 


TAKING THE LOW ROAD
By Madeleine Blais

 

Story1_1One Herald Plaza

I have a secret that I want to share -- even if it means courting the two adjectives I fear most deeply: “addled” and “eccentric.”

I fly in and out of the Fort Lauderdale Airport several times a year, usually from Hartford on Jet Blue.

“GPS?” the guy at Enterprise always asks, and I always say no.

“Guess you know your way around.”

“Kind of.”

It is hard to explain to a stranger that I am hoping to get lost on purpose.

And that, in order to do that, I take the low road.

Everywhere.

No Dolphin Expressway for me, no Florida Turnpike, no Palmetto, and especially no I-95.

After leaving the airport, I head south on US 1 through Davie and Hollywood and Aventura.

I eventually turn right, usually at around the entrance to the north campus of FIU at NE 151st Street, weaving my way through residential neighborhoods and down the wide north/south avenues.

My desultory route often triples the amount of time it takes me to get from A to B, but the payoff includes sights that are new to me, such as the Bless the Lord Beauty Salon or a church in Miami Shores that sounds like boot camp for the soul, Total Change and Empowerment Ministries, which I briefly consider might be worth looking into. My wandering leads to random observations, such as noticing how there is more honking on “Unity Boulevard” (a.k.a. 27th Avenue) than seems warranted, especially given its name.

Thanks to the low road I can practice my Spanish as I pass businesses that fix frenos (brakes) or a bench with the sign “¿Tiene usted psoriasis?” or a used car dealership eager to unload its inventory:

“¿Sin credito? ¡Okay!”

“¿Mal credito? ¡Okay!”

Sure, I could take A1A for part of my travels. I could hug the coast, even glimpse the ocean, so theatrical and gorgeous, but then I would miss the real Miami, or my idea of the real Miami, squat concrete buildings, shoulder to shoulder, constant traffic, also shoulder to shoulder, with riotous color schemes on storefronts and apartment buildings. I would miss the Orange Grove Motel (no sign of citrus anywhere) or the Sea View apartments (hopelessly landlocked). I might not have ever known about the Guadalupe Dollar Store where you can buy holy water (“not for internal consumption”) and nightlights that glow with Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image.

Beyond these somewhat fanciful discoveries, I have another reason for my roundabout itinerary.

I worked as a reporter for the Miami Herald in the ‘80s and I sometimes feel the need to pay my respects to parts of town where huge events, now mostly forgotten, occurred.

The poet Holly Iglesias has called Florida “the land of rumba and ahistoricism.”

Salsa and amnesia.

Desire and oblivion.

The place where you go to have fun and to forget.

...

Story1_2Instead of being the woman with no memory, I am, when I come to Miami, the woman with nothing but memory. I carry around my recollections like one of those guys outside pawn shops, human windmills, twisting big cardboard signs shaped like arrows, urging you to exchange your gold for cash. After a while, no one really notices those guys and no one but me really cares about my memories, certainly not as much as I do. Instead of being Cassandra with her hit and run prophecies, I am, at least inside my own head, the voice of doom shouting bad news in retrospect.

At the café right outside Nordstrom’s at Dadeland, I see shoppers sipping their pomegranate lemonade, and I want to let them know that in parking lot on the western side of the store on a July day in 1979, shoppers just as innocent as they are had to duck for cover.

A white van with the words Happy Time Party Supply painted on the sides pulled into The Dadeland Mall, then Miami’s unofficial town hall, with Burdines Department Store as its anchor (motto: “Sunshine Fashions”).

The time was 2:28 in the afternoon. Two Latin males entered a Crown Liquor store at the west end of the mall, followed by two or three other Latin males. (Yes, the term Latin males was used, over and over.)

“And then the shooting began.” (Yes, this is how the TV report began, using the breathless verbiage of an old Western.)

After killing their targets as well as a clerk, the gunmen fled, unleashing eighty-six rounds of machine gun fire in all, spreading terror in the parking lot, causing shoppers to dive for cover, shattering windshields, puncturing holes in gas tanks.

Eight-six rounds.

Dadeland was the moment just before the scary ’80s in which peaceable Miamians realized that they were up against something extraordinary. It was as if a beloved sanctuary had been desecrated, a museum filled with antiquities trashed.

“Dadeland?” people said for days and weeks and even years afterwards. “Dadeland?”

...

I suppose there is a parable here. In that long ago time, Miami as a city seemed hell-bent on living up to its own bad press: the more it was declared Paradise Lost, the more it behaved in a way that deserved that characterization.

Often, I gravitate toward downtown to the site where the Miami Herald once occupied a squat, rectangular, six-story-tall building on Biscayne Bay. Huge pillars at the entrance erased any doubts about the weightiness of what went on inside. An entertainment conglomerate from Malaysia purchased the property in 2011 with plans to tear it down and build just what the world needs, another casino.

The building’s painful slow-motion demolition inspired a Facebook post and a series of comments that read like a prayer for the dead:

“Wow!”

“It looks like a scene from an apocalyptic movie.”

“And thusly it went into the night.”

“Unlike.”

“Down to the ground.”

“Still hard to believe.”

“The fat lady has sung!”

“Surreal.”

“But not gently, by damn.”

“Like it never existed.”

Like it never existed: now that was a dagger.

I find myself reacting as if I were mourning a person. I make the sign of the cross, wanting to give the building a proper burial, hoping it will rest in peace.

Joan Didion once said, “I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.”

Her words apply to places as well as people. □


MADELEINE BLAIS is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Her books include The Heart Is an Instrument, a collection of articles largely from the Miami Herald; In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award in nonfiction; and two memoirs, Uphill Walkers and To the New Owners. Her biography of tennis champion Alice Marble was recently published by Grove Atlantic.

 


GOING 15 ON
By Denise Duhamel & Julie Marie Wade

 

Story2_1Interstate 95: Deerfield to Miami

Cindy remembers a woman in a black Jetta with one bare leg on the dash. She was shaving with one hand, steering with the other, going about eighty in the HOV lane. “Did she have any other passengers?” I asked. Cindy laughed. “Is that really the question you want to ask?”

I’ve always wanted to ask: Who is Don Bailey and why would he pose nude on billboards to sell his carpets? Shags were big in the 1970s and so was Burt Reynolds, movie star turned Cosmopolitan beefcake. Bailey asked, “Why not me?” He remains a fixture from Deerfield Beach to Miami.

At the off-ramp for LeJeune Road, John watched a man climb out of his car, approach the SUV in front of him in the steamy gridlock, reach inside the half-open window, snatch a cell phone, and throw it far into the distance with the controlled arc of a Marlins player.

Emma gave me a “refresher” driving lesson when I came to Miami, explaining it wasn’t like any other place. I held my breath and put on my directional hoping to merge into the next lane. She gasped, “Don’t use your blinker! They’ll smell your weakness and never let you in.”

 

The truth is, I sometimes admire them -- the cars that brake for no one, that weave the traffic like a tapestry, that only see green.

 

Sometimes I even admire the pink Humvee limos with tinted windows carrying escorts or prom dates or tourists.

 

One Florida headline from 2016 proclaims, “A Couch Potato’s Dream.” The story recounts how a Budweiser truck and a Frito-Lay truck collided on 95, transforming the road into a river of beer, corn chips spreading out in the warm foam and floating for miles.

 

Ariel once tweeted, “If the oldest woman in the world lives in Italy, why is she always in front of me on 95?” There are slowpokes out there as well as speed demons. There are potholes the size of small ponds and palm fronds the size of small buses. Once, I saw a semi hauling porta-potties, ten on each side, secured with a single chain. When I passed by in the other lane, I noticed one was missing.

 

Things I have seen strewn on 95: A tire. A mattress. A spattered dog and blood. A rubber raft. Shattered glass. Swerving cars slowing down to 15 mph.

 

And the landscaping trucks with their two-wheeled trailers, bouncing along with bravado. The rakes and brooms clang together in an unholy tango, while the decal reads Jardins de Jesus! or La Sangre de Cristo Yard Care!

 

Workers seated in the beds of pickups. (No seat belts. Unsafe.) Sometimes they drink from thermoses, coffee dribbling on their white T-shirts, boom box blaring right through my closed window, louder than my AC and Pink CD.

 

Another headline from 2011: “That’s Something You Don’t See Every Day -- Even in Florida.” A seven-foot alligator roaming I-95. A hook in its mouth. A slow, flashing police car chase until the trappers arrived.

 

Drivers I have seen strewn on 95: A businessman with a newspaper spread over his steering wheel. A woman in a convertible leaning to kiss her companion in the passenger seat. A desperado whose side view was hanging by wires turning her head to see if she could switch lanes.

 

The Florida Man? I’ve seen him: shoes slung over his shoulder, marching barefoot and steadfast, eyes straight ahead, toward the exit for Hypoluxo Road. Traffic roared past. He seemed indifferent. His mohawk had wilted in the heat, but the gold chain glinting at his neck preserved his homage to Mr. T.

 

Matt and I once saw a garbage truck catch fire. Angie and I saw two hearses, one black and shiny, the other silver and rusted through, drag-racing down the middle lanes. But whenever I drive on 95, I’m still thinking about that porta-potty, the one that got away.

 


DENISE DUHAMEL and JULIE MARIE WADE published The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose with Noctuary Press in 2019. Denise’s most recent book of poetry is Scald (Pittsburgh, 2017). Julie’s most recent book is Same-Sexy Marriage: A Novella in Poems (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2018). They both teach at Florida International University.

 


TRANSITIONS
By Alex Segura

 

Story3_1Downtown Miami

1991: The Metrorail train barreled along the track. I planted my eight-year-old feet and held onto the railing, cautiously looking out the window at the street below, amazed at this giant metal tube taking me, my father, and my younger sister toward our destination: Miami Book Fair.

Also in the compartment: most of my fourth grade gifted class. The details of the field trip itself are muddy, almost thirty years old and clouded by bigger, more lasting life-changes. It was a Friday, one of the first spent with my dad in our family’s new, post-divorce world order.

This was now How Things Were: we’d rise relatively early on Saturday morning, get dressed, our mom would pack an overnight bag for us -- loaded with clothes, our toothbrushes, and as many comic books or paperbacks as I could squeeze in the remaining space. It felt weird and exciting, this New Way, like a field trip unto itself.

My dad was living in a small apartment behind my grandmother’s house in Little Havana -- un eficenci, in Spanglish, the haphazard fusion of Miami’s two major languages. In retrospect, he seemed very much at a loss with us. There was love there, always, but also a lingering confusion, as he now had to fill the gaps of care and maintenance our mother often did without question. Feeding. Dressing. Bathing. Talking to. Tucking in. He was now in charge, and part of that involved chaperoning a field trip to Miami Book Fair, which in turn included a trip on the Miami Metrorail.

Story3_2I thought my mom would chaperone, which in and of itself was rare. Both my parents worked and when I’d brought the permission slip home to be signed, I just thought my mom would okay me going, not sign on to be an adult participant. But she did, and in the time between that signature and the actual trip, my parents -- with a whimper, as opposed to the usual fireworks that accentuated most of their arguments and their stormy relationship in general -- had split. I was “taking it better” than my sibling, whatever that meant. My sister, three years younger, sporting a spitfire temper and missing the social filters that normally came with getting older, was not taking it well. She didn’t understand why Daddy had to leave or why Mommy and Daddy fought so much. I didn’t either, really, but I knew the split was good for us, and I was somewhat curious about this new transition. I wondered what every-other-weekend life with our dad would be like, as opposed to what it had been like before: the wait-until-your-father-gets-home anxiety of weeknights, the will-they-argue-today agita of weekends, and everything in-between. I knew our lives, mine, my sister’s, and my parents’, were lurching toward something else, much like the way this raucous train car, full of classmates, teachers, and three-fourths of my nuclear family, was staggering forward, this unknown means of travel above a hothouse city that was packed with angry drivers and resentful pedestrians criss-crossing suburban streets and in-flux highways.

I remember that I’d expected my dad to drive us. He loved being in the car, the windows down and Spanish music blasting, his maroon Pontiac 6000 an extension of himself -- loud, smooth, and at home wherever it went. But part of the trip included this journey, via a mode of travel I’d never experienced and, probably, didn’t even know existed. Miami was a driver’s city, not one for trains and public transport like other places I’d only heard about, cities of the north like New York or Chicago. No, Miami was about solitary or small-group movements, AC cranked and personal space. But now, feeling unsure of what was to come in my own day-to-day, I also felt shaky about where we we even going, and how we meant to get there.

I don’t recall a transfer from the Metrorail to the Metromover at the Government Center station, but it must have happened. I remember taking the stairs up to the open-air boarding area, the awkward feeling of nakedness that kids experience when their personal and school lives interact in ways unexpected.

The air was sharp and charged, and I could almost feel the anxiety -- from my father, my sister, my teacher, and some of my other, equally introverted classmates. Un sentido extraño. The kids were screaming, running around, but I took a seat toward the back of the car next to my dad, who looked more out of sorts than I could ever remember seeing him. This was the stuff my mom usually handled. He went to work, came home, watched SportsCenter, and played with us on the weekend. He seemed scared. Like a man looking into an unexpected abyss.

The Metromover shuddered as we entered the College Bayside Station, and my stomach flipped a bit, not just from the unfamiliar movement of the car, but from the journey itself. I was not used to a world where I saw my father a few times a month. I wasn’t used to seeing my classmates outside of school, riding along on this unstable metal tube to a fair I’d never seen. My life and this moment had become strangely chaotic, and for the first time, I felt like I wasn’t sure what was next.

The teacher ushered us off the car and toward the steps that would lead us to the fair. My dad held our hands, pulling my sister along and keeping pace with me. We were behind the main group, watching as the mass of kids, parents, and a stressed-out elementary school teacher floated toward a bigger mass of people, the white tents of the fair shining in the distance. As we took steps toward this exciting, strange and new thing, we also stepped off in three different directions, toward our own, unknown and different lives. Lives that would undoubtedly overlap, but would no longer run on the same track. □

 


ALEX SEGURA is the author of the twice Anthony Award-nominated Pete Fernandez mystery series, Silent CityDown the Darkest StreetDangerous Ends,Blackout, and Miami Midnight, set in Miami; short stories that have appeared in numerous anthologies; and a number of best-selling and critically acclaimed comic books. He also co-created the LETHAL LIT podcast.

 


LIFE INSIDE THE GRID
By Lauren Doyle Owens

 

Story5_1Plantation

I live on a street that runs east and west, about a block inside of a major north-south artery. It’s a working class neighborhood of 1950s-style Florida flats, originally built as winter homes, or by those looking for a permanent escape. As the old-timers pass, young couples buy their homes. We cover the original terrazzo with tile, and replace the old pink and green bathrooms with cool slabs of slate and travertine. We swap the old jalousie-style windows for large, thick panes of glass, so there is no need for the aluminum clamshell shutters, painted mustard and green, that could be quickly lowered in the event of a hurricane. We remove them with bolt cutters and carry them to our curbs.

We live between highway systems, between canal systems, between the ocean and the Everglades. We live eight feet above sea level, on a bedrock of limestone, and within a shared illusion that the ground below us will hold.

We drive to shopping plazas. We buy organic kale. We take hot yoga classes. We throw outdoor parties in the winter and spray ourselves with lemongrass and DEET. We watch rats traverse telephone lines and talk about that one time an African rock python made its way out of the Everglades and into a Fort Lauderdale backyard. We are sure this will never happen to us. We are 8.89 feet above sea level and blocks away from a canal.

We drive to work. We drive alone. We clog the highways that were built years ago, highways that continue to be expanded to appease our taste for large cars, our insatiable need to go. We’ve considered alternate modes of transportation. The train. (It adds an hour and only goes north and south.) The bike. (Ha! You’d get killed.) Carpooling. (Too much trouble.) So we drive. We sit in traffic. We do it every day.

When we head home, it rains. It’s as if the sky is sad we’re returning to our places, sad the day is over, and so must dump hot tears all over us and cause us to wreck, or sit behind wrecks, or park under overpasses while we wait for the wrecks to clear.

At home, the ground is soggy. Runoff flows down the sidewalks toward grates that gurgle and spit. At night, the storms wake us. We sit up in the dark, listening to the drum of rainfall against concrete, asphalt, and fill dirt. The sound is biblical, wild, drenching. It lulls us back to sleep and enters our dreams:

We’re in London. It’s raining. We’re rushing to catch a train.

We’re in Tokyo. It’s raining. We’re looking for a phone that works.

We’re at home. It’s raining. Our roofs are leaking (again).

 

But the rain doesn’t come like it used to. Our lawns yellow and crackle underfoot. The water flowing out of the canals is slow, and so the canals grow a skin of debris and oil and excrement. The streets are dusty. It’s too hot to go outside, and so we watch through hurricane glass as heat refracts off the asphalt and makes the streets look serpentine and unreliable.

We grow tired of this place. We plan trips abroad. We pack socks and boots and scarves, excited for a change in elevation and latitude.

As we fly away, we rise above the grid. From here, our houses look like toys. The streets like x- and y-axes. The canals like dark, unbending rivers.

My house is the size of my hand, and then I could squeeze it between my fingers, and then, it’s gone.

 

LAUREN DOYLE OWENS lives in Plantation and is the author of the novel The Other Side of Everything.

 

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