Thursday, April 19, 2012

Want A Good Restaurant Review in the NYT? More Wonder Bread Please.

Full disclosure: I am not a real foodie. Another disclosure: I actually serve a Velveeta dish at least once year.  So granted I'm probably not one to go out there to places like Red Light, Micheal's Genuine and Sra. Martinez and tell you that this is the epicurean ideal. Who am I to challenge what a New Yorker might say about the eating establishments in my home town?

Those who know me well, know my favorite restaurant is Hooters for three reasons: 1. I really love chicken wings, 2. It's actually a true Florida establishment. 3. I'm waiting for the day that nylon shorts over pantyhose come back into style for all.

That being said I'd like to say I've been to the restaurants that were being critiqued in the travel section of the New York Times and I can say with all honesty that the food tasted good. I mean not awesome, but as good as anything you might eat at Shuckers(,) but served by and prepared by people who don't seem "local".

The first restaurant reviewed was Michael's Genuine, now I've been there three times and the clientele is decidedly, to coin an 80's term: "Yuppie".  Yuppie in it's worst forms, lawyerly, pretentious, what have you...obviously people there to be seen. Fine, I'm there too.  So this cute "ginger" girl server comes up to the table: "Hi I'm Sue from Portland, I'm your server." she rattles off the specials and goes into excessive detail about the wholesome ingredients, and the free range chicken, etc. etc.....  Don't you think it's ironic that somebody would care about free range chickens, but not about the fact that their iPhones were made in Chinese sweatshops where people kill themselves?  Truthfully, I the few times I ate there, I was not that impressed....but as a former yuppie myself, should I be?

Red light, food was was not memorable, but the lousy service was. Been there twice, never again. I did like the location on the Little River was cool. Served by Bill from St. Louis. 

Okay what did I think these restaurants had in common?  White people.  Yeah, the front of the house in these restaurants are full of young, attractive white people, who are feeling empowered to talk, and engage.  I mean I love it when a Hooter's girl just plops down in the chair, flirts and takes your order.  But the whole, "Hi I'm Stan, I'm in college and I'll be your server tonight" thing to me, is very Bennigan's circa 1987.  You know "I don't care Stan, because I'm about to drop $100 on this meal, and I'm here to share it with my husband, not with you. Now please bring me something with Velveeta melted on it." Yeah, I find the whole white folks in front, brown ones in the back kind of annoying. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe the pretty blond was an Argentinian or Mexican who had managed to pay for accent reduction classes.  Or the surly blue eyed bartender was lying when he said he was from Hoboken, he could actually be from Holguin.

Yeah, when I eat at the restaurants mentioned in the NYT article, I feel like I'm in New York, or Seattle or Portland or Kansas.  Faux friendly staff with who want to "share".  All that's missing is the right amount of "flair" on suspenders.  I guess that's fine for some folks, but I'll take a surly South Beach model named Jorge as my server any day.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Miami Beach Gay Pride....or Gay Shame?

On this Pride Sunday I am a little bitter this year.  For the last four years I've participated in the Gay Pride Parade on Miami Beach.  I just assumed it was every gay man's fantasy to wave at crowds from an elevated moving platform.  I mean, who doesn't want to be in a parade, and better yet a parade in your honor?  So this year I was shocked and disappointed when the gay organization I am involved with showed absolutely no enthusiasm for this event.  

Granted the organization has changed a bit in the last year, the members are younger, straighter and more "corporate" than in previous years.  Several excuses ranged from "it would affect my job" to "I'm job hunting right now" to just a curious apathy about Gay Pride in general.  I remember once a story about a guy who went to Gay Pride in New York and was watching the parade from the sidewalk. He had been enjoying the parade until a news crew came up to him and asked his opinion about the event. He saw the camera and ran away...for  blocks.  Personally, I don't think that employers really scour social media to look for what people do in their private lives.  Secondly, would any gay man want to work somewhere that did? 

So I keep asking myself the question why are these guys so reticent to get up on float and show their pride. They are leaders in a gay organization. They are openly gay. Is it internalized homophobia or simply that because they've grown up in a more accepting world where gays are more integrated that they don't seem to think they need things like pride parades or organizations that fight for their civil rights. 

So why have a gay pride parade at all?  I'll tell you why. Because we were marginalized to the point of invisibility until 30 years ago. We are not allowed to marry. We are not allowed to take care of our families like heterosexual couples. We are still targeted and investigated by law enforcement in the places we gather. Our standard bearers, like Ellen DeGeneres, are attacked for simply representing a national retail chain. Because talented young men and women are afraid to represent on a float in a parade because of a perceived fear (real or not) that they wont get that next promotion, security clearance or that dream job. Because children are bullied to the point of wanting to kill themselves.

Gay Pride is a poke in the eye of all of those who hate gays. It's a protest that shows all our feathers, craziness and sexual rebellion.  That drag queens, who started that rebellion walk in the daylight and say : I am here, I am real, I am human. Pride says "you may not like me, but I will not be silenced or marginalized again."   So Happy Miami Beach Pride.  I will be marching today. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Tio, mira ese carro loco" (Uncle, look at the crazy car)

The first time I took my nephew for a ride in my new car he screamed from his window: "mira ese carro loco" or "look at the crazy car."  He was actually describing the Chevy Impala parked on the side of the old Police Museum building on Biscayne.  I just figured he was talking about all the carro locos that I see whenever I drive around Miami.  

Now I can say without hesitation that Miami has a car culture.  To a large extent you are saying a lot about who you are by what you drive. As we all know, us Miamians are not exactly about "understatement".  As self-centered as we are, we know that opening the door of that late model import says, "ago ergo sum" I drive, therefore I am.  In Miami it's more like: "ago carus pretiosa, ego sum melius quam." Which I believe using internet translations means:" I drive an expensive car therefore I am better than you."

Aside from any car snobbery.....or car affinity that Miamians may have, we still have developed a distinct driving style that tests patience, challenges souls and has an outcome that would be respected by those participating in the hunger games. Local driving is not for the feint of heart. I thought I'd add some simple guidelines for newcomers and new drivers. A Miami driving style, not unlike it's cooking, influenced by a hint Argentinian arrogance, heavy dollops of Cuban can-do and dash of Haitian frustration, pour it over some Anglo repression and you have what I call a wonderful driving South Florida souffle. 

Let me start with turn signals. Don't.  Why would you want anyone to know ahead of time what you plan on doing? Would you tell a thief the combination to your safe?  No. Would you tell someone in poker what's in your hand? So why would you tell another driver that you are about to take away the real estate right in front of them?  Signals are your way of announcing what you are doing, now.  Like when a small kid goes to the bathroom....I'm pooping front of you.  The job of the other driver is to react through resignation, rage, slamming on brakes, horn, what have you. Blinkers in Miami are your way of saying "I win!"  Not like in other cities where blinkers say in wimp language "can you please let me in?"  
Licence and registration please.
Speed. To be honest,  I don't know one person who has gotten a speeding ticket on 95 in Miami-Dade, ever.  I've seen some pretty cool car races, spectacular accidents, but never seen a car ever pulled over anywhere on I95. Please speak up if any of you have. So to me it means that it's basically a stretch of highway that has been ceded over to the lawless masses. A stretch of road in poor repair except for the "luxo-lanes" that rich white people use to get from the Broward County Line to Downtown without having to share the lanes with the rest of us folks who may have a residence or business in areas between downtown and the county line. There are four places in Miami-Dade where you will get definitely get speeding tickets: Virginia Gardens....only fools speed on 36th street between 63rd & 67th avenues. Second is the town of Medley(hamlet of) the two police officers are waiting for you just off that bridge that crosses from Okeechobee Blvd. How a trailer park actually became a town is a mystery to me. Bal Harbor: speed or ride a bike on the sidewalk at your own peril. Any school zone in Miami Dade. Yeah the school zones are where the cops get that "speeding quota" that they claim they don't have. Otherwise speed at will.

Most annoying driving thing to me: the abuelita en la Corolla. I am sure the Toyota Corolla is a great car, however every abuelita or Haitian granmè drives one.  The Haitian one will be white. Haitians as a rule only drive white cars or vans, and typically they drive very, very, very, very slow....with their hazard lights on. 

And that brings me to point of hazard lights. They are for hazards, like when you break down in the middle of the street and you're too lazy to wave down someone to push your vehicle three feet so it's out of traffic. You don't need put them on when it rains, you shoulds put your lights on when it rains.  Hazard lights are good when you're pulled over, not for driving on a busy interstate at 15 miles an hour in a torrential summer storm. Hazard lights won't help you when the semi, who is driving sixty, slams into your rear, hazard lights or no. 

So go out there fellow "carros locos". Miami roads are calling. Honk, speed, cut off, curse...because we are free creatures on the roads (except on the 836 in Sweetwater around the first of the month, FHP quota time). Tickets? Who cares, there's the Ticket Clinic!  We are city of refugees....who by nature are people on the move, spirits fleeing tyranny, seeking liberty, drive Miami, drive! Ago Ergo Sum!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Miami: The last Coca-Cola in the Desert

I learned this wonderful Cuban expression which to me encapsulates the essence of Miamians. The saying in Spanish is: "se cree que es el último  Coca-Cola in el desierto" which directly translated means: "he thinks he is last Coca-Cola in the desert"   Which really means something like "he(or she) thinks he's all that".  I like that saying because to me it says things on so many levels about the conceit that exists in Miami among its residents. 

Anyone in the desert might be happy with the last drop of water.   No, not something as mundane as H2O would do for Miamians, but a sweet, gassy, brown concoction with a famous trademarked label attached.  Not "all that and a bag of chips", no for Miami it's: "all that and a can of Pringles."  What's interesting is we Miamians really think we're all that, a bag of chips, fries with shake and the value meal all rolled into one hot tropical package. Literally, the last Coke in the desert. 

In my daily experience I see the most completely self absorbed populace on the face of the planet.  Cart left in the middle of the aisle at the supermarket while person chats on cell phone: check. Two guys talking to each other from different cars, windows down, on the 95 expressway, driving 35 miles an hour(I guess so they could hear each other); saw it this morning.  Cell phone conversation during mass on Christmas Eve, during the sermon...yeah every year. Cell phone conversations anywhere, anytime, any volume. Lowest rate of volunteerism in the nation...yeah that's us: Miami. 

Miami is the only place where you can sit at a table with ten people and ALL ten are texting or on Facebook  communicating simultaneously to someone else at a table for ten in another restaurant ten blocks away. Clearly whatever you have to say, in situ, is nowhere near as important as the overdone steak at some other restaurant, gossip or dinner invite for tomorrow.  Miami is not the place for fun in the's the place for potential fun that is just one text, ten blocks, fifteen minutes and a velvet rope away.  Miamians are forever chasing that rainbow to the "ultimate" experience. At the end of that texting rainbow the pot of "amazing party" gold is just out of elusive reach.   It's like that movie "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist", eventually the texts will lead you to an awesome Fluffy Bunny concert. 

I don't know if it's the high rates of attractiveness, scarcity of mirrors (there are not a lot of them) or just that the members of the 1% like to play here, the self absorption is epidemic.  It's a kind of willful ignorance that despite high rates of poverty, illiteracy and corruption that people breezily turn a blind eye to. It's like we're all  Sarah Palin: confident, pretty, looking great in a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti platforms, what the hell else matters when you're wearing great shoes? I mean who couldn't conquer the world if they were wearing a $700 pump? Or live in an incredibly sexy town? So like that last drink in the desert, no not water, but the sweet one in the sexy curvy bottle. Miami: Pensamos que somos la ultima Coca-Cola en el desierto. We just think we are the last Coke in the desert.