The Ballet Dancer and the Brute

Geraldo Rios of Rios Flowers meets Joe Arriola, city manager

Ultimately the Valentine's Day display did not come down. But Geraldo was wound up for his next battle because Mother's Day calls for the same, colorful extreme. He already had peluches lining the inside of his home, which sits atop the building housing the flower shop; it is decorated in bright pink and yellow interiors, with a distinctive scent of cinnamon and hand lotion wafting about. Before he applied for the Mother's Day permit, he asked the city to write an explanation for why he'd been ordered to take down his huggable bears the first time. What codes had been violated? At this point Geraldo just wanted answers.

The only response was a confirmation that his request had been received. He went ahead with the application for the Class I permit, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Two weeks later he got a response, but at first it looked bad. NET inspectors showed up in person, just like they did before Valentine's Day.

"Congratulations!" Christine Morales, the Upper Eastside NET official, chimed. She handed him his approved permit. Geraldo remembers her asking him to make the display "really pretty." He felt like the belle of the ball.

"Don't mess with my peluches": Defiant Rios flaunts his big red Mother's Day display
Steve Satterwhite
"Don't mess with my peluches": Defiant Rios flaunts his big red Mother's Day display

Morales says she regularly delivers permit approvals in person, as a gesture of goodwill, but Rios was surprised. He feels the powers that be are trying to make amends. Whatever the case, neighbors say Geraldo is finally getting the treatment he deserves. He's done so much for the neighborhood. He volunteers at Morningside Elementary School, where he teaches kids to prune flowers; always finds odd jobs for neighborhood rugrats; and is a regular Silver Sponsor donor to the Miami-Dade County Court system. Rios has also helped revitalize his community. He bought his building in 1993 for less than $200,000 and spent an additional $100,000 on renovations. "My building is the prettiest one on the street," Geraldo brags gently, saying he was recently offered one million dollars for the property.

But all these successes and the adulation of neighbors and friends wouldn't have comforted him if he hadn't been able to set up his displays. Now he can cope. This week he erected the word "MOM" in seven-foot-high red-and-white letters. What matters to him is the opportunity to honor the sanctity of motherhood in bright red splendor. Even though this holiday could never be meant for him, Geraldo reveals that sometimes he truly feels like its Queen.

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