The Main Drag

Back outside, as a mosquito took up residence and sucked lustily and unflinchingly on a prime corner of his forehead, Fuentes explained how he'd started four and one-half years ago as a security man here, then worked his way up to manager, then leased the little motel court. Now he had arranged a loan to purchase both buildings. The $4700 monthly mortgage payment, he said, would amount to only $1700 more than he'd been paying to lease the single, smaller property.

We leaned on the hood of Fuentes's red Toyota with his five-year-old daughter Sisiana, listening to the details of his life in Miami and his vision for a new New Deal. The girl's mother had complications resulting from her pregnancy, and for a time he had to seek care for her in a mental facility. Eventually she returned to her native Peru to be with her family, leaving him to care for Sisiana by himself.

He wants to take more advantage of the tourist trade, he told us, and he has hopes of fixing up rooms for longer-term, lower-income guests. "These rooms here are for the in-and-out," he said, oblivious to any punning possibilities. "I can rent rooms for $75-$80 a week for working people. And I going to put in a coffee shop after I get through with the rooms. I going to include the breakfast with the rent. Germanys, Brazilians - they like to have breakfast included."

Half an hour into the conversation, the well-dressed man and his female companion emerged from their room. The man returned the room key, climbed into the car, and buckled up as the woman pulled out of the lot. "See? That's how you make the money," Fuentes murmured. "I have good air conditioning and sex movies," he whispered with a smile. "They like the sex movies."

While his-and-hers condom vending machines ("Men's Shop," "Lady's Boutique") are part of the standard equipment down the street at the Gold Dust and other Biscayne motels, sex movies and other such amenities aren't part of the Yahweh Motel's $30 package. Despite their leader's pending trial (involving fourteen counts of stabbings, beheadings, and other such antisocial behavior), Yahweh Ben Yahweh's followers sure know how to run a motel. "Staying with us is `A Cultural Experience,'" reads the introductory brochure. "In ancient times, there was a prayer for the stranger within our gates. Because this motel is a human institution to serve people, and not solely a money-making organization, we hope that [Yahweh] will grant you peace and rest while you are under our roof. Shalom - Peace. We are all travelers. From birth till death, we travel between the eternities. May these days be pleasant for you, profitable for society, helpful for those you meet, and a joy to those who know and love you best."

Just about everything in the 74th Street motel (not to be confused with the Yahweh Economy Motel at 6320 Biscayne) is white - interior and exterior walls, staff uniforms and turbans. (Sect members, of course, are black; the carpet in our room was a very subtle shade of green.) The desk clerk, whose voice was as hushed as he was big, showed us to a room at the end of the first-floor corridor. A door at the opposite side of the room led out to the parking lot. "You can come and go through that door," he informed us. "The same key works in both doors."

But this particular pair of travelers between the eternities was a tired pair; it was late, and we weren't going anywhere. The clerk brought us a bucket of ice, we read our loaner copy of From Poverty to Riches: The Works of Yahweh Ben Yahweh (a cool $50 if you want to order one for your own home), watched a rerun of Saturday Night Live, and went to sleep in the pushed-together twin beds as the central air worked its rhythmic overtime.

At some ungodly and still quite dark hour of the night, an enormous herd of small children commenced shrieking, stamping, giggling, and slamming doors. There was more-violent crime on and around the boulevard that night, but all we heard was the occasional siren.

Biscayne's reputation as a battle zone is a hard-earned one, and motel owners bear the scars. One woman, a Yugoslavian-born emigre who'd been in business thirteen years, said that two years ago, her husband was beaten and robbed. She didn't want her name published for fear it might stir up trouble. "Just write something nice," she said. She and her husband hadn't known what they were getting into when they bought a motel here. The year after they took over, the McDuffie riots turned the neighborhood upside-down.

One afternoon a couple of years ago, a man came to the office and asked her husband about a room. The man took a bag out of his car, hit her husband thirteen times with "a hatchet, like they use in construction," robbed him, and escaped. "I was in the shower," she said. "The first time he called me, I didn't really hear him. The second time I know something is wrong. But by the time I got out to him, he was lying on the ground. I never saw so much blood. I almost had a nervous breakdown. They took him to the Jackson Hospital." Because they had the wrong insurance, they ended up with the bill. "Sixteen thousand," she said. "I still pay $200 every month." Police found the bag, but the assailant was never caught.

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