Friday, October 28, 2011

Movin' On Up in Miami to the Upper East Side(on the other side of the housing bubble)

The '70s show with the theme song Movin' On Up was about a family moving up the social ladder to a "condo in the sky".   Interestingly, the current housing crisis is allowing much of the same thing, except in an opposite way. Not in the way you might think, that the nouveau pauvres are moving into poor areas. Actually it's that condos are so cheap that poorer residents are filling up buildings that were intended for the well-to-do. That is exactly what is happening with my condo.

Don't get me wrong, I am a snob. I have upper-middle class standards and desires. I can be shallow. I live in a property that was intended for people exactly like me....pretentious jerks. Really folks, we can say what we want about race, class, status....but where you live is where the rubber meets the road. Where you live says more about you than the car you drive, the clothes you wear or even the friends you hang out with. Your home is the ultimate expression of "you". 

So is my "ultimate statetment of status" the condo now worth around $80K or the mortgage upwards of $300K?  Worse yet is the sense of despair of my well-to-do neighbors who paid as much or more than we did for our homes. We sit in middle-class horror as the units with single bedrooms fill up with young families with three or more kids. Where do they all sleep?  The parking lot show the clear signs of the have's and have nots as expensive BMWs and Mercedes park next to 15 year old Altimas and tricked out Dodge Challengers. This is not about race either, the yuppies are just as diverse as their poorer neighbors.

But the class divide is interesting. Initially some people move in and don't share the same values of order, respect, quiet, cleanliness as the existing neighbors.  However, making a statement that "this is a classy place, and you are welcome here if you live by our rules" really makes people wake up and try to fit in. I see those families that moved in start to fit in, better cars, clothes and manners. I truly believe this is a silver lining of the housing crisis, you never really can choose your neighbors, no matter how much you try. Our own middle-class entitlement of a nice place to live has become possible to those who are lucky enough to have work and have a dream. I know they don't have as much as I do, but as long as they try to be a good neighbor, you are welcome here. Besides, us snobby jerks can't leave without ruining our credit anyway.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mr. Rubio, Oh, the Cubanity.

I had a discussion with my husband today after the Marco Rubio "exile" story broke.  Both of us are very aware of Cuban history having several books on the subject, having taken courses on the subject and one of us Cuban. Almost instantly we could recall the important events prior to the Castro takeover of the island. The attack on the Moncada Garrison in '53, Castro's return in Oriente in December of '56 and the several years hiding in the mountains.

The Rubio family left before Castro even returned from exile in Mexico. Now I don't want to get into a discussion about pre-Castro Cuba, or conditions on the island at that time. Needless to say they were poor, and probably similar to conditions throughout Latin America. Conditions that would warrant any young couple to want emigrate to America for a better life, similar to Mexicans and Italians. 

Post-revolutionary Cuba was another matter altogether different. The communist take-over of the island was based on the destruction of society and a conforming to an extreme totalitarian regime that controlled every aspect of life. Forcing children into state-run boarding schools, a complete control all forms of commerce, redistribution of resources and forcing city dwellers into the countryside to cut sugar-cane. Not mention the arrests, imprisonment, and murder of political dissidents.  These people are exiles, because they were forced to leave their country against their will.

I know it may be a small distinction for some people, immigrant, exile but it's not to me.  To claim exile, in the Cuban context is in some degree related to the suffering and degradation inflicted by Fidel Castro. It is a term earned from heartbreak, fear, struggle and loss. It's not the same as someone who is leaving for greener pastures.

I recently spent some time in Cuba traveling the island and meeting my in-laws. Everyday is a struggle for them. To get food, to get medicine, to keep the roof of their home from falling down on their heads. No, I will not blithely accept that Mario Rubio's departure from Cuba and the subsequent desire to return there an "exile." To give the Rubio family exile status is an insult to the thousands who have died trying to escape tyranny.

It's disingenuous at best, lying at its worst.  I'm sorry Mr. Rubio, but you don't deserve the "street cred" of calling yourself an exile.   

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mercy Hospital or Havana General?(or you can call me Papi)

If you really want to get a snapshot of life in pre-revolutionary Cuba, you really need to spend some time at Mercy Hospital.  Situated right on the water, adjacent to shrine of La Virgen de La Caridad del Cobre which is the patron saint of Cuba.  Here you can see all flourish of old Cuba in full display. 

As you walk into the hospital the first thing to hit you is the aroma of "cafecitos" emanating from the La Carreta restaurant  right in the lobby.  No fancy Starbuck's coffe here, you can have a cafecito, colada, cafe con leche, or a cafe Americano (which is regular american coffee).  Already you can smell the lechon which is being prepared for lunch. Garlic, onions, cumin fill the lobby with a distinctly Cuban (or is it Miami?) smell.

The second thing you notice is the sound. Working in healthcare, I have spent time in a few medical institutions.  Usually they are hushed places, like libraries, with hushed voices and the steady beep, beep, beep of the medical devices.  Usually, buttoned down staff walk around officiously, emotionally detached from their charges. They mutter inanities like "good morning Mr. Smith how are you feeling today?"

Not the case at Mercy. To my Anglo eye it seems like there is a lot of flirting going on.  It seems like there is a very fun party around each corner. I hear things like "Mi Cielo, please push eight for me," or "Mi amor, tu estas bella esta manana."  Lot's of chatter amongst the staff.  In one Doctor's office I can hear a young man singing boleros, beautifully. The patients to get into the banter as well. I saw two elderly Cuban gentlemen commenting on a particular nurse's "assets" in Spanish. The nurse instead of being offended, laughed. All around people are sharing coladas poured into thimble sized plastic cups as the day moves forward. 

Like my beloved Miami, Mercy Hospital just seems to have sex laden in the air.  Not like the "I'm bored let's have sex" feeling that goes on at most hospitals. But the" let's do something hot because we're in Miami" feeling you get on South Beach.  Hot pharmaceutical reps troll the halls in search of a doctor, and the unabashed way the men stare at them. The constant "checking out" that goes on among the hospital's denizens, both patients, visitors, and staff alike.  It's really a Miami thing or a Cuban thing or a Latino thng, I'm not sure, but a sudden round of flirting always seems to be just a moment away.   When they drew my blood today the phlebotomist said "Papi, just lay back and I'll do the work." I just love it when someone calls me Papi.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Yes Officer, I Want To Make A Report.

Every day I take a morning walk along Biscayne Boulevard in what is now called Miami's "Upper East Side."  As I go through my morning constitutional I am gladdened by the signs of gentrification that are showing in my area. I am also regretful that the area is steadily approaching the tipping point that will move the area out of the "up and coming" segment into the "quaint and established" designation.  Of course as the down and out move on, a few haven't got the memo that the neighborhood is no longer a "crack friendly" area. 

As a happy resident of Miami, I am fully cognizant that the City of Miami Police goal is less about stopping crime, and more about containing it to a few crime ridden areas.  The police don't understand why someone would ever live in an area previously known for its hookers, crack addicts and homeless people.  To the police, gentrification forces them to do something they're not used to: make a report.  When I first moved into the area there were nightly drug deals on my street. I called the police and made a report. (The white guy in me called the city commissioner too). When my street was being used as a truck depot for semis because we paid for street security, I called the police and made a report.  When the homeless junkie banged on my door at 3AM asking for money, I called and made report. I encouraged all my neighbors to do the same thing.

Each and every time the police dispatcher, patrolman or other officer tried to discourage me from making a report. These were the questions I would get whenever I called the non-emergency police line:
 "Are you sure you want a unit to go there sir?" "What would you like the police to do sir?" at least they said sir. When my husband calls with his Spanish accent, they don't even bother with the "sir" designation. I mean, why do they think I'm calling the police? For my health? No, I'm calling the police because I want these things out of my neighborhood. I don't want to see the filthy crack whore passed out in front of Starbucks. I'm calling because of the passed out Asian (not Haitian, which I repeated, several times, until I gave up and said "Chinese") drunken woman sleeping on the sidewalk, with a pile of beer cans for a pillow. Arrest her for littering!

When three, THREE, hookers were taking shelter from the morning sun under the NET(Neighborhood Enhancement Team) office, I actually went in and complained and they said there was nothing they could do. I mean how ironic is it that prostitutes are turning tricks behind the NET office? The following week I saw  hookers hanging out at the bus stop, I approached two, very overweight police officers gossiping. When I complained they asked:
"Where they walking?"
"Yes." I replied.
"Then there's nothing we can do. As long as they're moving we can't arrest them." and they resumed their gossiping and doughnut eating. 
Really? Really!?! As long as they're moving?  

The last straw came two weeks ago when I was accosted by a drunken drug addict at 9AM in the morning right on Biscayne Blvd.. He  followed me for several blocks threatening to hit me, I walked away and called the police. I called 911. They asked me if I was sure I wanted an officer to come out to make a report. Jesus, I thought, of course I do, did I just call 911 because I need a drama fix? Why not just lie and say, "they're on their way" and never show up? At least I can get the illusion that they're working.

The officer showed 30 minutes later, I told him the story. "Are you sure you want to make a report?" was his reply. "Because there's nothing we can do, he's gone." Duh, I thought.

The police officer gave me this unsolicited advice: "Next time that happens to you, sir, you should hit him first and that will scare the criminals off." 

Yeah, and I'm sure you'd be happy to take that report.