Best Of :: People & Places
Once upon a time, Miami had a thriving cigar industry. Factories all over the city employed Cuban roleros (cigar rollers) to carry on their native country's well-known tradition for making the world's finest stogies. The industry, like others, has largely moved overseas; most hand-rolled cigars sold in the United States come from the Dominican Republic and Honduras. But a few factories and a few roleros remain, and Leo Peraza is one of them. Peraza, now in his sixties, has been rolling cigars for 50 years, 38 of them in Havana and twelve in Little Havana's El Crédito Cigar Factory. He's the factory's most senior employee. Along with owner Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, he attends Big Smoke conferences around the country, demonstrating the fine art of rolling for wide-eyed cigar aficionados. Before he began rolling for Perez-Carrillo, Peraza was a rolero in Big Havana as well, and he remembers the work fondly. He especially enjoyed the lectores people employed to read to the workers as they rolled. Peraza still makes a fine cigar, but "I don't smoke them," he says. "Not really. Every now and then, maybe."
Ever sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, laying on the horn because the ding-dong in front is not moving, and you're in a hurry because you're late for work, and you still have to drop off the kids and get to the bank to deposit some money so your checks don't bounce, but you're almost out of gas and you're not sure if you're going to make it, but if you stop then you'll be even later, and if you're late again you'll get fired, and then you won't have money for anything, so should you chance it and risk getting stuck and getting fired because you don't show up at all, or stop and risk getting fired because you're lateç Dude, if this even remotely resembles your brain, you seriously need to take a break before it melts. And the best spot for escaping from the daily grind without spending a small fortune (provided you have a rich friend who owns a boat, that is) is right here in our back yard: Elliott Key. Located about nine miles from Homestead in the aquamarine waters of Biscayne National Park, this is the largest of three keys in the park's 172,000 acres, and is only accessible by water. Once harboring a thriving community of pioneers, today this idyllic island offers camping complete with barbecue grills picnicking, swimming, wildlife watching, and a hiking trail, along with showers, toilets, and even fresh drinking water. The coastline is predominantly rocky, but the clear waters make it ideal for snorkeling. And there are some small areas of sand if you feel the urge to bronze. What's more the place is large enough to never get overcrowded, yet small enough to feel like your own private paradise (especially if you head there on a weekday). Best of all, it's free. So grab some grub, anchor offshore (low tide is less than three feet high), and chill. Sleep under the stars and bathe in crystal clear ocean waters ... you deserve it. It sure beats waking up to reality.
Last year's summertime calendar brought us 6/6/6, the apocalyptic number of the beast. Some predicted the Antichrist would appear on that hot as hell June afternoon, but it didn't happen.This summer will bring 7/7/7, which is sacred and mystical, according to various traditions. On that day Miami will host the Sacred Sevens Selebration. (In case you haven't checked, July 7, 9007, will fall on a Saturday; of course, the town will be either underwater or nuked by then.) It's all organized by the people at MysticalFlorida.com, who put on the Tropical Fairy Festival at Coral Castle every October. "This festival will raise positive energies and provide an outlet for people to experiment with their spirituality," says Atina Komar, the festival's organizer, "and honestly, days that don't appear very often give us an excuse to throw a party."The festivities will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in South Miami. There will be drum circles, live bands, magicians, spiritual workshops on well-being and self-healing, as well as performances by jugglers, dancers, and singers. There will also be games and a costume contest for children.
Want the moon to yourselfç Haul your bike out to Shark Valley after sunset and have at it. There's nowhere better to check out that massive cheese wheel in the sky than the River of Grass. Cruise around the fifteen-mile paved loop with wind in your hair, bird songs in your ear, and mysterious water splashes every few feet, as the glowing disk makes its way across the evening sky. It's beautiful especially the view from the observation tower halfway into the ride and it's free after 5:15 p.m (the gate closes at 6:00).
You make the 45-minute trek to work every day. And every day at least two jerks cut you off or give you the finger. At work your micromanaging boss breathes down your neck because he's a sadistic maniac. The kids fight, your visiting in-laws are annoying, and you're behind on your bills again. Does the Mobius bandlike cycle of stress ever endç Sure you can plop yourself down on the couch and wish your life was copacetic as Shaq's, but that's a poor excuse for relaxation. What you need is mental and spiritual rejuvenation, both of which can be found at the Wat Buddharangsi, a Thai Buddhist temple in Homestead. Wat's Eastern-influenced architecture is striking; ascending steeples are adorned with red tile and gold decoration. The same color scheme can be found inside, with a large Buddha as an inspiring centerpiece. An aura of serenity permeates the inside of the temple as bright sun rays fill the quiet, open spaces. Patrons are encouraged to forget material possessions and control their lives during the temple's many ceremonies and prayers. Some rules for visitors: dress conservatively, remove shoes upon entering, and avoid making loud noises. The temple is open to the public every day from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and hosts special events at least once a month.
It's not that the sand is whiter or the sea greener. Nor do those few feet of ocean boast more waves or fewer pesky sea critters. It's just that Third Street not Second Street, not Fourth Street, but either side of the lifeguard stand on Third is where the cool kids hang. Week in, week out. It's where the hot Brazilians can be spotted in their pseudo-Speedo trunks, flexing taut muscles as they battle through endless games of foot-volleyball. It's where the Latinas and the Euros throw caution to the wind and discard bikini tops without so much as a flinch. Coolers stacked full of beach essentials (i.e. beer), lithe bodies, and paddleball games abound. In all its skin-baring, sweaty glory, Third Street beach epitomizes this city we call home.
Metrozooç Go south until you smell it, turn west until you step in it ... oh, hell yeah. Stinky jokes, offal puns, and a heap of fun arrived at animal land this past October to January when, we shit you not, the clever hypesters at Miami Metrozoo laid waste from an assortment of critters on tables, the floor, and well, the stuff was everywhere but in the fan. Think of it: bird turds, big-cat scat, doo-doo from the greater kudu, and maybe one damn huge steaming dollop from Dahlip, the approximately 40-year-old Asian elephant. Based on a book by Dr. Wayne Lynch called The Scoop on Poop, this 5000-square-foot traveling exhibit made perfect scents to garner youngsters' interest in animals nothing like poop to pique the curiosity of kids. It worked. The display of fauna feculence made national news and received plenty of coverage by local TV news for once, they literally broadcast crap. Field trips from many schools visited the stools, and attendance soared by about a third more than typical of the three-month time period. "Best turnout in five years," says a spokesman. So hold your nose and hope that The Scoop on Poop becomes as much of a tradition as Metroboo, Bear Days, Egg Safari, Ball of the Wild, Venom Week, and Feast with the Beasts. As for the last eat up, you productive creatures. Your output is needed, so just doo it.
During a game in Detroit against the Lions this past season, on his way to a 1695-yard rushing season and his first Pro Bowl appearance, Frank Gore showed us why he is probably the best running back to come out of the University of Miami. Around the 50-yard line, the former Coral Gables Senior High star lowered his helmet and scampered through six Lions defenders during a breathtaking 61-yard touchdown run. What made Gore's scamper even sweeter is that the 49ers were facing third and sixteen. And it's only his second season. The last time we saw such unbridled explosiveness from Gore was during his 2000 senior year at Coral Gables (in which he rushed for 2353 yards and scored 34 touchdowns). Gore made it to college despite a childhood learning disability that required him to take special classes throughout his elementary, middle, and high school education. He helped raise two younger siblings and care for his mother Liz, who has a kidney ailment that requires dialysis (she remains on a transplant list). But his breakout as a Hurricane was cut short when Gore tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in March 2002. Things didn't get better the following season when he blew out the same ligament, but in his right knee. You felt bad for the kid. But he was drafted in the third round by the 49ers in 2005. Last year Gore finally blossomed into the star running back we always knew he would be. Yet Gore hasn't forgotten the people who helped him reach the big time. He invited his former coach, the Hurricanes' Don Soldinger, along to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. "He's the best I've been around," Soldinger says of Gore. "He has a good feel for what is right and what is wrong. Frank is one special cat."
Miami is among the worst cities in the nation when it comes to finding peace. The bayfront is privately owned, the streets are jammed, and if you don't own a boat, it's hard to find a quiet place. Greynolds Park, boys and girls, is the glorious exception. There's something for everyone in this 249-acre beaut, which was donated to Miami-Dade County back in 1936 by the head of a rock-mining company. On one side, you have a golf course. Nearby, there's a large and quiet nature area. There are also several kids' playgrounds and great places to throw parties. You can't find a better place to take the family on a Sunday afternoon that is unless you can hop on your Lear Jet and head for Switzerland.
Best friends forever Petey, a Boston terrier, and Loverboy, a (female) yellow Labrador retriever, meet just about every day for a rumble. Baba, a shih-poo (shih tzu–poodle mix), maintains a wary but curious distance, but Pepe, a miniature poodle, isn't shy: Soon he's attached himself to Loverboy's hindquarters, and Petey is having none of it. It's all in good fun, though: Dog owners know better than to bring antisocial mutts to this six-and-a-half-acre park, which contains separate but adjacent large- and small-dog pens. As this pack of sociable hounds demonstrates, owners usually congregate in one spot or the other, and dogs of all sizes romp together. After your pooch has worn himself out, you can enjoy a peaceful walk along Indian Creek, the park's eastern border. But the best thing about Pine Tree Park is its ample shade. Its dozens of old banyans and other fine shade trees, combined with that ocean breeze, will keep you and your four-legged pals cool on even the most draining dog days of summer.
Former state Rep. Ralphie Boy, of Hialeah, was once a rising star in the Republican Party. The onetime school teacher was elected to the State House of Representatives in 2000 with 70 percent of the vote and then worked his way up the ranks in Tallahassee, sitting on the education, appropriations, and insurance committees. He also became chairman of the Pre-K-12 Committee and vice chairman of the Education Council. But he had a little problem with running his mouth. Back in October 2006, our own bigmouth called fellow state Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Republican from Miami Beach, on the phone. One call probably by his brother-in-law went like this: "Hey, bitch. You're nothing but a bitch. You ain't nothing but a bitch, brother. My nigger. Fuck." Just a few days before that infamous call, Barreiro had filed a House complaint against Arza, claiming the arzhole had used the n-word repeatedly when referring to Miami school superintendent Rudy Crew, who is black. Ralphie apologized, saying that anger got the best of him. Ralphie resigned. Good riddance, Ralphie.
Who cares if noted fashion designer Michael Kors said her clothes concoctions "belong strictly with flip-flops on Ocean Drive." No one cares what a stuffy old queen has to say anyway. We, on the other hand, love Uli's "Miami-esque" fashion designs. And though she came in second place to dirtbag designer Jeffrey Sebelia and lost out on $100,000, a Macy's mentorship, and a Saturn Sky Roadster, Herzner still got a dreamy opportunity: to show off her line during New York's famed Fashion Week. And her shimmering silvery minidress was sold for $3425 during an online auction on www.projectrunway.com. By comparison, Sebelia's garish striped dress fetched only $2900. Take that, punk rock loser! It won't be long before Uli says auf Wiedersehen to Miami for fashion stardom in the Big Apple.