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Actually I find Rubenstein in particular to be candid, quick-witted, and well-read (despite the fact that he reviews restaurants non-anonymously, a big problem). But it is precisely his comprehension of himself as an erudite New Yorker -- notwithstanding his snowbird status via a condo on West Avenue and his past stints as critic for Ocean Drive -- that may have led him to try and highhandedly push his way past a cop into the Dom Perignon-sponsored Grand Tasting Tent following the seminar. Which in turn contributed to Sgt. Carlos Devarona throwing him over an all-terrain vehicle and yanking him away in handcuffs.
The charge? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Originally, sources tell me it was going to be a felony along the lines of assaulting a police officer, and that the 51-year-old Rubenstein was headed for at least a 24-hour stay in the downtown jail after a brief stop at the Miami Beach police station. But timely intervention by festival director Lee Brian Schrager and a couple of well-placed phone calls to the chief of police Don De Lucca and the city manager resulted in a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct; a two-hour holding session while Schrager and South Beach Wine & Food Festival publicity director Terry Zarikian negotiated for his release; and eventually a breakfast meeting the following morning during which Rubenstein apologized and the charges were formally dropped.
No one seems to know for sure exactly what happened. According to the police report, Rubenstein contends that people behind him were pushing, that folks in front were motioning for him to come forward, and that Devarona was caught in the middle. Devarona writes that the “'Defendant refused to remove himself from the entrance ... The defendant stated he was `VIP' and pushed this officer to the side in an attempt to enter.''
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Rubenstein also adds that he thought the off-duty cop who'd been hired by festival directors was a security guard, and that he'd never take on an officer of the law. I doubt, however, Rubenstein would manhandle a mere security guard in New York, where they grow “em bigger and better along with everything else -- this is indeed where the obstinate belief that Miami is a bush-league outpost can get you into trouble.
Eyewitnesses are not entirely convinced Rubenstein got physical with Devarona. Rubenstein's partner, following the arrest, ran after the officers dragging Rubenstein away crying, "He didn't do anything! I'm the one who pushed the cop!" Restaurateur Drew Nieporent was standing behind Rubenstein when the incident occurred. "There were two lines," he recollects. "People were going in on the left, but on the right, people were getting stopped. Hal was on the right, and his friend was on the left. His friend went through. The police officer on the right stopped Hal, at which point Hal told him he was VIP. The officer said, “I don't care who you are,' and put his hands on Hal to stop him from entering. Hal said, “Get your hands off me,' and pushed through, clearly unnerving the cop."
The result was that Rubenstein was dragged out of the line and rather violently slammed onto the ATV so that other cops who materialized seemingly out of the sand could cuff him. This is the part I actually witnessed, which was shocking and completely unexpected -- I'd been bantering with this man only a few minutes before, and certainly, while I couldn't agree with some of his views, I never felt threatened by him.
Apparently, though, Devarona did. And you can't exactly fault him for his actions. Devarona is five feet nine. Rubenstein is six feet four, and his partner looks even bigger, with a musculature that obviously comes from years in a gym. When the officer opened the gate, the crowd, who'd paid $80 apiece for tickets and who'd been waiting for 40 minutes under the South Beach sun, surged forward. Crowd control was obviously a priority, but when the cops tried to close the gate, no one seemed willing to obey. Had Rubenstein successfully bowled over Devarona, there was every chance of a stampede or riot of some sort.
Fault for that can partly be laid at the sandy door of partygoers, who were fraudulently turning purple wristbands inside-out to display their white sides -- white wristbands were reserved for VIP guests, who were permitted to enjoy the Grand Tasting an hour before the general public was to be allowed.
And of course festival directors can assume some responsibility. Says freelance photojournalist Susan Pierres, "The one major snafu I found was the organization's failure to issue badges or passes to invited participants, guests, and the press. [On Sunday at the Tasting Tent], no one seemed in charge of checking through honored guests, sending many scurrying back and forth in the sand under the hot sun trying to get admitted."
"It was hot and confusing," Nieporent agrees.
But Schrager readily admits that this inaugural festival was a learning experience. "Are there things I will do differently next year? Hundreds," he states, citing parking as one of his biggest obstacles. Forthcoming solutions, he says, may include shuttles from the Omni and similar venues.