By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Miami woke up Tuesday to this shocking news: Fidel Castro had resigned as president of Cuba.
Um, didn't he kinda do that in 2006, when he had that intestine operation?
Whatever. It was a slow news day.
Some used it as an excuse to gorge on guava pastelitos at Versailles, the famed Eighth Street eatery that draws camera crews the same way leggy Cuban hookers attract pasty German tourists. While the change elicited little interest in Hialeah, Miami Shores, and across much of Miami-Dade, everybody fell into line in the theater of the absurd down on Calle Ocho. Here's how it all went down:
3 a.m.: Granma, the Cuban government's propaganda paper, publishes a message from The Bearded One. "I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander-in-Chief."
3:01 a.m.: Most folks continue snoozing.
3:26 a.m.: Babalublog.com's Ziva is the first blogger to break the news. "My emotions are in turmoil," she writes.
5:15 a.m.: Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina is already up to speed on the details of Castro's announcement, which allows him to spend the rest of his morning perfecting his pompadour. Meanwhile the Miami Herald sends a reporter over to Versailles, which isn't even open for breakfast yet.
7:30 a.m.: A commenter on the Herald website says, "Oh FIDEL! You finally step down after years of watching your own citizens (prisoners) leave your island aboard anything that floats to reach the land of your archenemy — the United States. What a legacy! Congratulations, Old Man!"
8:58 a.m.: "How many years can Raul survive?" bleats a caller on Ninoska Pérez's radio show on Radio Mambí, 710 AM.
Footy's response: "I think of two words too: firing squad." A machine gun sound effect follows.
9:38 a.m.: Nine satellite trucks are parked around Versailles. Members of the news media outnumber regular folks two to one. A tiny elderly man in a white tuxedo and red bow tie sets down a boombox, blasting salsa music near the restaurant's front door. The man, Santiago Portal, dances while holding his right hand in a V for victory, shouting "Viva cuba libre," and clutching a sign that reads "Murió Fidel. Yo Quiero El Cambio." Camera crews jostle to capture the event.
9:51 a.m.: A New Times photographer takes pictures of CBS 4 reporter Evan Bacon prepping for a stand-up. Bacon asks, "Are you going to make me look good?"
9:53 a.m.: On the sidewalk in front of Versailles, you can pick up a beaded Cuban flag necklace for five dollars.
9:59 a.m.: A guy named Rene stands on the sidewalk in front, taking in the scene. He's been to the restaurant dozens of times over the years to protest, rally, and talk to the media. "I even prepare what I'm going to say to reporters," he asserts, pulling out a three-by-five index card from his shirt pocket. The card reads "Castro Dictatorship. Castro Regime. International Pressure. Apply More Pressure. (1) Freedom. (2) Democracy. (3) Economic Prosperity." The word obvious is not written anywhere in his talking points.
10:00 a.m.: In Miami Shores, a man working behind the counter at a deli responds in disbelief to the news. "No shit! He's still alive?" he says. "I'm from Puerto Rico. Hopefully they get their freedom and stuff one day, but I don't know. I don't really care."
10:30 a.m.: Telemundo 51 repeats images of Fidel's classic flat-face fall while a news anchor searches for meaning to attach to the special graphic, "El Retiro de Castro." Meanwhile, on Mega TV, an infomercial for Lincoln Lending Services shows a graphic of a diamond pulsating from Abraham Lincoln's crotch.
10:42 a.m.: Back at Versailles, a plump elderly woman who calls herself "La Gitana" reads the palm of a New Times reporter: "This year you will return to your country." The reporter, who was born in California, is puzzled. "You are Cuban, aren't you?" she says. The reporter says no, and La Gitana presses on with her soothsaying: "You love animals, and you are creative." The reporter gives La Gitana a dollar.
10:45 a.m.: It is raining hard on Calle Ocho. This gives folks outside an excuse to crowd under the awning near the to-go counter, creating a rush on cafecitos and croquetas. Despite the downpour, Miguel Saavedra, president of the exile group Vigilia Mambisa, gives a spirited interview to a comely University of Miami journalism student. They are the only ones standing outside, except for a bearded elderly woman pushing an empty baby carriage and sipping a Natural Ice Light tallboy. After a few minutes, she does a little dance. The TV cameras ignore her.
10:49 a.m.: A fresh-faced Herald reporter pauses at the cafecito counter while talking to his editor on a cell phone. "It was pretty raucous earlier," the reporter says excitedly. "One guy was dressed in a tuxedo! He was screaming in Spanish." The reporter gets off the phone. "Pretty wild, hunh?" he says.