Best Of :: People & Places
Sixteen years after its original publication, Up for Grabs has been returned to print by the University Press of Florida, and it is as relevant as ever. As its author, John Rothchild, notes in the freshly written afterword to this enlightening local history, anyone pining for a more innocent era of our city's development needs to get a clue: "Miami rolled out the red carpet for Al Capone in the 1920s, became a playground for retired mobsters in the 1940s, was the target of a Senate crime committee in the 1950s, allowed bookies to operate openly in the lobbies of beachfront hotels in the 1960s, produced Watergate burglars in the 1970s, embraced the drug trade in the 1980s, and hosted the corruption epidemics of the 1990s." But forget about trying to pin all this chicanery on any one ethnic group or the elite. Rothchild offers a more compelling rationale for our hometown's ongoing loopiness: It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature. He reminds us that upon its founding, much of Miami was swampland, while Miami Beach was entirely manmade -- a strip of sand dredged from the ocean's bottom. Both common sense and the cosmos suggest that we just weren't meant to live here. Our city is a living testament to man's folly in the name of year-round sunshine and real estate speculation. And here you thought it was just something in the water.
The lady has cojones, which is more than we can say for the rest of the editorial page. Krog spends most of her time writing unsigned editorials, typically on the subject of county government. But she also pens signed opinion columns, which are sassier. For instance in a recent column she blasted Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas for opposing the hiring of Angela Gittens as the county's new aviation director. "For his political gain, Penelas is making it nearly impossible for MIA -- and therefore the public he purports to serve -- to get the strong, experienced management it needs," Krog wrote. "You have to wonder from whom Penelas is taking advice and counsel these days. I'd suggest he fire their butts."
On another occasion Krog was equally blunt toward the newest member of the school board. "It wasn't that I expected new Miami-Dade School Board member Jacqueline Pepper to start her public life with a quick display of leadership or anything," Krog allowed. "She's a political newcomer, after all, and has a lot to learn on the job. But I sure thought that for starters she'd do something smarter than hire her husband as a staff aide. It's legal, says Pepper. Sure, but it's not right."
And on the nomination by President George W. Bush of Linda Chavez as secretary of labor, Krog had this to say: "If Chavez is a victim of anything beyond her own bad judgment calls, it isn't the Beltway's witch-hunt atmosphere as she claims, but Bush's unwise selection of her in the first place."
Krog's strongest column of the past year, however, was far more personal. She wrote about the death of her father: "A few words about this man: He called dry cereal pop-nuts-scrummies.' He took in strays -- both the two-legged and four-legged varieties. He baptized a basset hound that wandered onto the place and became his adoring shadow Soupbone' for its sorry shape. He had only one usable arm after polio but played basketball, touch football, and softball with his kids on summer evenings after a long, hard day of farm work. He never whined, never complained, never looked back with regret, always leaning slightly forward into life, which he embraced and accepted for what it was -- and for what it could be."
What a difference a year makes. Back then Miami-Dade County was snubbing the Latin Grammys. Now Mayor Alex Penelas and Cuban American National Foundation chairman Jorge Mas Santos are rolling out the red carpet for the awards show. Why? Technically it's because a U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively nullified the county ordinance that barred groups that do business with Cuba from using county-owned facilities. But the real reason is simpler: Penelas, Mas Santos, and others in the Cuban-American community finally awakened to the fact that they were losing the public-relations battle for the hearts and minds of the American people. Rather than seeming sympathetic, Cuban Americans were viewed as intolerant, especially following the Elian Gonzalez affair. And Miami, rather than being the vaunted Capital of the Americas, was becoming increasingly isolated. Opening the doors to the Latin Grammys is the first step in a long-overdue effort to reverse that trend.
The smart flier used to love Fort Lauderdale's airport. Whereas Miami's airport is chaotic and crowded, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International was almost shockingly easy to navigate. Short-term parking was easy to find, so picking up and dropping off were a breeze. Long-term parking cost only three bucks per day. But Broward officials have made the tragic decision to buff up their airport, to make it more "world class." So far they've succeeded in making it more closely resemble MIA or even LaGuardia in its unwieldiness. Traffic now snakes around pylons erected to support a new terminal. Parking prices have increased across the board. Unwelcome stress has been added to the pickup and dropoff process. And inside the place, ceiling tiles are missing and escalators are shut down as workers labor to redesign terminals that were just fine the way they were. So forget it. From now on we're just taking a cab to MIA.
When asked about his New Urbanism-inspired development now under construction on Allison Island in Miami Beach -- a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood of moderate-height homes and townhouses -- Robins said what anyone offended by the condo canyon rising around South Beach longs to hear. "Everybody," he told the New York Times, "wants to build a 40-story building and sell you your shoebox in the sky without taking any responsibility for what effect a high-rise has on its surroundings."