Best Of :: People & Places
Nearly 20,000 basketball fans pouring on to Biscayne Boulevard after the final buzzer gives new meaning to the word jammed. Think that's fun? Just wait till the hoopsters are joined by another 12,000 leaving their concert at Bayfront Park Amphitheater and 8000 more from events at the Performing Arts Center up the road.
"If you could call this place something, it would be tantamount, in Spanish, to that sitcom in English where everybody knows your name -- Cheers," says Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Lt. Eddie Ballester. The firefighter and paramedic, stationed five blocks away, is a regular at this window. Over the years Brothers to the Rescue leader José Basulto has scarfed not a few pastelitos at this locale while pondering his next move. Miami-Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim also has been spotted here, along with several of his assistants. Univision's answer to Walter Cronkite, newsman Guillermo Benitez, is another familiar face. Policemen, businessmen, plumbers, retirees, and Harley-Davidson aficionados all make this their chitchat haven. On a recent Saturday, while waiting for his coffee and Danish, Ballester talked about saving lives with Retavase, a new clot-busting medication for heart-attack victims currently being tested at his station. You never know what new things you'll learn at the Universidad de la Carreta.
There was much trepidation about the coming of this monster movie theater to our much-treasured Road. Would this cold and corporate megaplex shoveling out Hollywood hits put an end to any remaining pretense of funkiness that the mall had? Surprise: The Regal on South Beach has fit in more snug than many thought. First, it lived up to its promise to show alternative movies. At least two screens per week show foreign or gay-theme films, or films that otherwise might not have unspooled here. Second, the theaters themselves are comfortable: medium-size rooms, plush seats, and good views from every one of them (so often not the case at a megaplex). Parking hasn't been a problem, either; in fact you can often find a spot right on Alton Road, just a block away. There is a good selection of food, a café, even an outdoor patio and balcony, and absolutely no loud video arcade anywhere on the premises. Finally, before or after the movie you can stroll down the street that, while it has lost much of its counterculture vibe, remains Miami-Dade's most people-friendly urban area.
Miami Commissioner J.L. Plummer had his re-election formula down pat: Raise tons of cash, glad-hand voters at community festivals, and have his Cuban friends praise him on Spanish-language radio. It had worked seven times before, after all. Upstart businessman Johnny Winton might push him into a runoff, but the veteran's vast war chest would crush him. Oops! While Miami politics changed, Plummer didn't. District elections had turned the city's politically neglected Upper East Side into a powerful force that overwhelmed Plummer's traditional base in the Cuban community. He also underestimated how badly the city's scandals sullied his reputation. Most voters, including many in Plummer's Coconut Grove back yard, didn't buy his pleas of ignorance as his colleagues were arrested, the city fell into disarray, and taxes climbed. In addition the 29-year incumbent didn't take underdog Winton seriously. The end result: Plummer maintained his unprecedented streak of seven elections without a runoff. But he was clobbered in the eighth.
It all began here in 1993: salsa classes on Monday and Wednesday nights at the spacious and charmingly down-at-the-heels Blue Banquet Hall. By now the place is packed four nights a week, and Salsa Lovers is a huge enterprise, having expanded to two more locations. But the West Miami-Dade scene has a festive, nightclubby quality all its own, and it just keeps getting hotter (sometimes literally; the AC is erratic). Monday through Thursday a large and varied crowd descends on the hall, everyone from senior citizens to families to middle-school students, though the 20- to 30-year-old crowd dominates. The sheer energy generated by hundreds of slaves to the salsa rhythm is irresistible. Some people skip the classes and instead hang out, flirt, or practice moves with a partner. Between classes (three levels, each one hour long, beginning at 7:00 p.m.) the DJ spins a "practice song," and a gigantic circle of couples fills the entire main dance floor, so big the instructors have to call out the turns on a microphone. Oscar D'Leon blares from the speakers, and pretty soon everyone's in a whirl -- dile que no, dame una, hips going and fondillos shaking, abrázala, abanico, arms rising and feet pivoting, montaña, balsero, and sometimes the lights will dim and the tacky disco balls will turn. For seven dollars (price per lesson) you get all this, and you might even learn the paseo por el parque.