Dad was trying to make a right on red onto Collins Avenue from a stop light but he noticed that the car’s engine wasn’t running. Dad had pressed the accelerator on the rental car but, he was dead in he water. Puzzled, he looked down at the dash. The gauges agreed with Dad’s instantaneous assessment, the motor was off, but Dad’s foot was still on the pedal. Suddenly, the engine roared to life, and the car lurched into the intersection. Dad quickly took stock of the situation. He was entering the intersection several seconds later than planned. A host of things could go wrong now, based on changed situational factors: on-coming cars were all much closer now, pedestrians might have entered the intersection, bicycles may now be in play, new vehicles may have entered the intersection since Dad looked down at the gages. He instantly scanned the intersection, created a situational awareness map in his mind, and then evaluated stopping the car half-way into the intersection, or proceeding. He decided the best option was to floor it. As they say back in the Garden State, “When in doubt, gas it!” Dad made it safely through the intersection, and continued on toward his hotel.
Dad was no stranger to the Gold Coast. Years ago, Dad had worked in West Palm Beach and so he understood that life was a lot more casual here than in some places. However, he now realized that things were very different in Miami Beach, and he would have to pay a lot more attention from here on out.
As he drove further, Dad figured out that the car had a auto-off feature that kicked in when the car was stopped for a short time. He also figured out that if he crept up slightly after stopping, the engine would remain running. That was a good thing to know.
Dad followed directions from the navigation app on the phone and made it to the hotel without further incident. He parked across the street, and stepped out into the humid mid afternoon air. He instantly started to melt. It was over 80°F and close to 100% humidity. He sagged as he closed the door to the car. What had he been thinking when he agreed to leave Seattle and come to a conference in Miami Beach. He was sure that he would melt before he could get to the lobby.
Inside a very pleasant desk clerk waved him over. The lobby was full of a broad array of people dressed in everything from swimwear to business wear. They ranged in age from senior citizens to young children. All enjoying the air conditioning. Some guests with large sweat stains on their clothes were enjoying it as much as Dad, while others in their swimwear found it only to be a minor convenience.
Dad checked in, and asked where he should park. The young lady told him that there was valet parking or he could use the garage across the street. Dad was a little shocked when he found out that either way, it would cast almost as much to park the car, as it did to rent the room! Again, the little voice in the back of Dad’s head murmured, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
After parking the car in the garage, and dropping his bags in the room, Dad went for a stroll down Collins Avenue. The street was lined with hotels and restaurants. The fancier art-deco sky scraper hotels sprang up between the street and the beach. Revelers thronged the sidewalks. Just like the hotel lobby, there were young families and senior citizens, business people and partiers. Exotic cars plied the asphalt. Ferraris and Lamborghinis were very much in evidence. Limousines shuttled partiers from venue to venue. The sun had finally set, and neon flashed from all the eateries, casting an festive yet unreal glow on all the activity.
Dad called his friend Fast Eddie, who was also in town for the conference. Dad asked what Eddie was doing for dinner.
Eddie said he was at a hospitality suite at hotel, but the buffet wasn’t that great. But he knew of another banquet on the patio of a really swank hotel, and if he could find a friend of his there, they could both get in.
Dad met Eddie outside the first hotel, and then walked a block down the street to the outdoor gathering. Though the heat from the sun was gone, the air was still hung humid and heavy. By the time Dad and Edie arrived at the check in table, the staff had left their posts to get something from the buffet. Eddie began calling his friends looking for entrance passes. Dad looked left and right to make sure the coast was clear, and then guided Eddie past the table while he was still talking.
“My friend Steve is going to get us in”, Eddie told Dad. Dad stopped in the middle of the huge outdoor patio, surrounded by tables and guests.
“Eddie, we’re already in. Let’s get something to eat, and Steve can meet us at a table.”
Eddie looked around, and then realizing what had happened, smiled slyly.
Dad and Eddie, and several other conference attendees met at the table, and then all visited the buffet, the bar and the dessert table. The food was good, and the atmosphere was cooling off. They talked about business they had done together and business they planned for the future. After dinner, they walked up Collins to get a night cap. There was even a pool table in the lounge, and Dad got to demonstrate his utter lack of skill at the game.
After Dad and Fast Eddie lost a quick two out of three, the crew decided to head back to their hotels. As the six of them sauntered down Collins Ave in the night, individuals split off as they came o their hotels. Dad’s hotel was the farthest north, and he ended up being the last member of the party to finish the journey. He looked over the sea of people still milling up and down the sidewalk. Most of them had apparently enjoyed a liquid dinner as many of them were leaned against each other to hold themselves up. Others were just staggering solo down the sidewalk. Dad decided that most of them were just holiday-goers as not many of them would be in any shape to make it to the conference in the morning. There seemed to be way too much money, alcohol, and heaven-knows-what flowing around the city for anything good to come of it.
He walked back to the hotel, and sighed as the blast of cold air hit him as he entered the lobby. He climbed the stairs, entered his room, and flopped into the bed, and stared at the ceiling for a bit. The three hour time difference was keeping him awake. He finally pulled a paperback from his backpack, and read till he fell asleep;
Dad woke up way to early the next morning. He unloaded his toiletries for a shower and a shave. It was then that he noticed that the sink was outside the bathroom. “Oh the joys of staying in boutique hotels”, he thought. He got ready for the conference and walked over to the Convention Center. He had picked a hotel close the conference so he would not have to take the car and pay for double parking. He was there in flash, but the doors were not yet open. He stood for a moment and then decided to take a walk. As he rounded a corner just down from the Convention Center he saw an icon from home.
It was a Starbucks; with air conditioning. Dad walking in and felt the wall of cold air hit his face. He sagged as he walked to the bar and ordered an iced coffee. As he sat to drink it, he planned how to spend his day. If he could jump between Starbuck’s and the convention center and the hotel fast enough, he might be able to avoid melting in the Florida heat. He finished his drink and made it back to the convention center as the doors opened.
Once inside, he perused the booths, he visited with old friends, and met new ones. He talked business, and even scored some invitations to hospitality events at the end of the day.
When the conference finished he hopped back to the hotel, and ditched his business clothes in favor of something more suitable to the tropical weather. Then he met up with his friend Steve, and headed off to dinner.
Dinner was at a Lincoln Road venue. Steve showed the doorman two invitations, and the two of them were whisked upstairs to a rooftop patio. it had a beautiful view of the Miami Beach Skyline.
Steve and Dad enjoyed a nice buffet and a few drinks as the sun started to set. Then Dad explained to Steve that he had to leave to meet a long time acquaintance at another gathering. Steve was content to stay where he was, so Dad took a cab down Collins to the new venue.
The company hosting this new soiree had rented an entire private beach. Dad exited the cab and made his way to the pavilion. There they checked his invitation, and ushered him though. From the pavilion, he called his friend Oliver and announced his arrival. They met and spent the evening talking about old times and new ventures. Afterwards, they took a bus back to the strip of grand hotels on Collins. They said goodnight, and Dad again continued on alone towards his hotel.
The same mix of people were strolling on the sidewalks again. There were families with young children, young men and women dressed for clubbing and wearing sunglasses at 11 o’clock at night. Groups of tipsy holiday revelers swam drunkenly between the pools of neon light. It was a surreal mix of people, capped off by the exotic cars periodically illuminated by the street lights as they cruised the strip. Dad would have been hard pressed to have imagined a scene like this back in Seattle. “Of course”, Dad thought to himself, “they might have things like this in Bellevue…”
As Dad waited for the light to changed to cross the street, a group of twenty-somethings gathered next to Dad at the intersection. One young woman fell across Dad’s back, and while perched there, turned her head towards him and asked,” Where’s a good place to get something to eat around here?” Dad propped her back up as straight as possible, and having once learned an expensive lesson in Buenos Aires, quickly checked his pockets for his wallet and cell phone. Feeling that his accessories were all still in place, he smiled and pointed across the street to the restaurant he had visited the night before for a nightcap.
“They have a full kitchen and a nice lounge in that place.” While the woman was trying to focus on the restaurant, the light changed and Dad strode off into the night.
The next morning, Dad again woke up frightfully early, and so decided to use some of the extra time visit the beach. He threw on his running togs and rolled down to the “boardwalk” The boardwalk was actually made of pavers, so it wasn’t a true boardwalk per se, but was very nice anyway. As Dad trundled along, he noticed the shower stations where each cross street met the boardwalk. That was very thoughtful of the city to give the bathers a place to rinse off the sand before leaving the beach, he bemused.
Dad turned back at about two miles. He had worked up a good sweat, and the tropical sun was now glinting off of his pale white arms. At about three miles, he wished he had brought a hat. His head was feeling very hot. Then he remembered the shower stations.
He veered from the path at the next station. He reached over and turned on the water and stuck his head into the stream. “Now that’s refreshing”, he thought. With his hair now dripping cold water he finished his run back to the hotel
Once he was cleaned up Dad decided to visit the hotel restaurant for breakfast. As he was being escorted out of the air-conditioned lobby to his table by the hostess, he realized that this was an outdoor restaurant. He would have to forgo air conditioning. He considered turning around, but then thought better of it. After all, how bad could it be? It was still extremely early in the morning, and he’d just be sitting, and it was in the shade. In the end it worked out well. He was the only patron, and got excellent service. The Cuban French toast covered in strawberries and filled with guava crème was delicious. And he did not break a sweat.
The conference was over, and he had the room until 1 o’clock. It was still early, so he decided see a few sights in town. First on the list was the Bass Museum. It was really close, and Dad figured he would not be out in the heat long. It was a nice place, and he spent an hour admiring the modern art exhibit.
Then he decided to take a walk around the neighborhood he had traveled through during the last two evenings to see what it looked like in the daylight. The change was dramatic.
Gone were the revelers., replaced by locals. People were just going about their business as in any other town. Gone also were the exotic cars and limousines. The street still had a tropical feel to it. The sunlight had a hazy quality from the humidity, and many of the locals were dressed for the tropics, with shorts and short sleeved tops with colorful prints.
Dad could just as well have been in St. Augustine, or maybe even Havana, except for the evidence of large Jewish presence in the city. Judging from the large synagogue in front of him, there was a sizeable Jewish population in the city. He admired how the architecture of the large synagogue meshed with the rest of the art deco structures.
As he walked back up Collins to the hotel to check out, he decided to sample the local fare and got a Cuban sandwich and coffee. He stood near the outdoor lunch bar and watched the work-a-day world of Miami Beach go by.
After lunch, Dad retrieved the car from the parking garage, and loaded his bags in the trunk. As he drove up to the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, he reminisced at all the strange sights he had seen in Florida, and was looking forward to returning to normality in Seattle. But Florida had one more trick to show him.
Just short of the airport and just after passing an exit, he encountered a huge traffic jam that seemed to stretch forever. This was worse than Seattle traffic.
He had three hours to make his flight, and he spent one of them going one mile to the next exit. Dad bailed off the exit as soon as could, thinking that traveling on the surface streets had to be preferable to standing still on a stopped highway. A short ways down the service road along the highway, he looked up at the highway, and saw what was causing the congestion. There on the highway was a crumpled car that looked like it had bounced like a basketball down the highway. At the head of all four lanes of stopped traffic were cars with smashed front ends. And just a little farther down the highway., all by itself was a car carrier with one open spot on the top tier. It appeared that someone had not properly secured the last car to the trailer and it had literally bounced off the truck and down the highway like a wrecking ball across all four lanes. Now thousands of drivers were enjoying the fruits of this misfortune. Dad motored on to the airport.
While waiting in the departure lounge, Dad decided to read the reviews of his hotel, even though it was a little like closing the barn doors after the horse was already gone. He looked it up anyway. While most of the reviews were fine, he noticed that several of them lamented the drunks on the street, and the partying at all hours of the night, and how it was unsuitable for young children. As Dad read, he had to agree that those things were definitely part of Miami Beach and were certainly unsuitable for young’ns (except to serve as bad examples). But upon reflection he decided that those things were just part and parcel of what made SoBe so different from “Kansas”.