A Skid Row Sleepover

Wherein our intrepid writer attempts to pierce the veil of sleaze on Miami's main street

I open the drawer on my bedside table. Apparently no Bible-toting Gideons have visited recently. Stretched out and wrinkled is a used condom. When I stop laughing, I call my friend and tell her what I've found. "Ewww!" she gags. I don't complain to housekeeping. Instead I step outside with my flask of rum and two cups and meander over to the couple on the stairs. They introduce themselves as Dred and Tina. I offer some rum. Dred, who is in his forties, doesn't drink. Tina, a decade or two younger, accepts a small amount. I ask them what they're up to.

"Oh, we kind of night birds," Tina explains. "It's too hot during the day, so we sleep in." She explains that they've been living at the Sinbad for about four months. In exchange for a rent reduction, they clean up around the motel. I decide against mentioning the condom and ask about other places to stay. Dred says the rooms at the Shalimar across the street might be slightly bigger. Tina adds that they like the Sinbad better. "One good thing is that the owner is real strict," she says, referring to the man behind the glass. The proprietor is now picking up cans in the parking lot. He introduces himself as Brian and eyes me warily. I hide my flask.

Back upstairs I turn on the TV and flip through the channels. The selection includes basic cable, the local network affiliates, and a hard-core porn channel. At Holiday Inns and Marriotts you have to pay extra for adult movies. Wouldn't you know it? At the Sinbad they're free.

It's 2:00 a.m. I've been watching Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and resting. Now it's time to go for a walk.

The boulevard in the very early morning is transformed from the thoroughfare that commuters travel during the day. It becomes a bazaar catering to animal desire. As I cross NE 61st Street and head north, two or three people per block offer drugs. From the shadows spectral figures query, "You straight?" Men with 40-ounce beers sit on the hoods of cars parked on side streets. If I look directly at any one of them, he yells "Hey, hey, I got what you want." There is a presumption of intimacy. I'm stunned that no one appears concerned I might be a cop. Perhaps their customers, like me, are straitlaced-looking white guys.

"Hey, hey, wait a minute," a female voice pipes up as I pass the Amoco station on NE 69th Street.

I turn to see a tall black woman in a slinky dress. "What's up?" I ask.

"You are, I hope," she responds.

I laugh, and shake my head. "Sorry, honey, I'm not up for that. I'm just taking a walk."

"I really wish you would. I'll be honest, I just got out here, and I don't have nothing yet, nothing." She says her name is Smokey.

"How long does it usually take you?" I ask. "Like, twenty minutes?"

I realize too late it was an indelicate question. Smokey glares at me. "What?" Then she flashes her leg through the slit in her dress. "More like twenty, thirty seconds," she scoffs. I apologize and continue my walk.

A shirtless white guy wearing a white baseball cap yells at me from across the boulevard. "Hey! Hey!" He crosses over. "All the good shit's up on 71st Street," he offers. "Just taking a walk," I answer. He looks at me and smiles. I back away.

But my curiosity is piqued. Did he mean good hookers or drugs? I proceed to NE 71st Street. There's no one there so I turn around and walk south. I pass the white guy again. "Did you see anything?" he asks. "You want me to show you?" I tell him I don't have any money. That's the most effective thing I've said all night. It produces immediate results. "Oh," he says and turns away.

In my room at the Sinbad, I sniff the sheets before crawling into bed. They smell of bleach. It's a little after 3:00 a.m.


This is not the legacy Biscayne Boulevard's architects had in mind when they began construction in 1925. Roy Wright and Hugh Anderson, owners of the Shoreland Company, envisioned a grand, landscaped entrance into Miami. They wanted to supplant the other main artery into the city at the time, West Dixie Highway. As part of their plan, Wright and Anderson bought the Charles Deering estate, located on the bay north of 36th Street, then subdivided it into a high-class residential area known as Miami Plaza (and now known as Bay Point). Their new roadway merged with the federal highway at NE 55th Street and became part of U.S. 1.

Wright and Anderson's efforts coincided with the beginning of Miami's first big real estate boom, a notorious period in this city's history. In the early Twenties, greedy hucksters descended on Miami and began marketing subtropical acreage that was often swampland. The result was a land rush fueled by Wall Street's bull market. For thirteen months, according to Miami Millions, a 1936 account by Kenneth Ballinger, the Miami Herald bloated to five times its usual size.

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