Best Of :: People & Places
Public basketball courts are a mixed bag. Some are so filthy that if you simply dribble around for 10 minutes, your hands turn black with dirt and grime. And don't fall, because that hand you put down to save yourself might land on a used condom, or needle, or maybe some broken glass. That's why when a new court opens, it appears as an oasis in the desert of dilapidated and poorly managed ones.
Normandy Isle Park is such a refuge: The green asphalt is smooth and free of cracks, nets hang from the rims, the courts are well lit, and water fountains function. A lot of things can ruin a public basketball court: a dominant crew monopolizing court time and intimidating newbies, an atmosphere that promotes bickering over every call, interminable waits to get in on a game. Nothing is worse than showing up for some pick-up hoops and finding a bunch of meatheads posturing and running their mouths more than the court. Normandy Isle, perhaps because it hasn't been around long enough — it was christened last year — is free from all of those things. Best of all, if you're playing during one of those sweltering Miami days, just hop in the park's pool when the games end.
Thirty-seven-year-old Angel Soto made headlines this past December when he took police on a wild, multicar, high-speed chase that seemed to end after he crashed his Volvo into a U.S. Customs building near Miami International Airport. When he tried to escape, cops tackled and beat him. Unfortunately for the officers, helicopter-mounted news cameras caught them wailing on the goon. Two of them were suspended. "They're just as bad as me," Soto told TV reporters as he left jail. We hear you, buddy.
The Miami Herald has certainly employed some great opinion-makers over the years. Carl Hiaasen is tops. Pulitzer-winning Leonard Pitts did well for a while. Joel Achenbach and Gene Weingarten, who moved onto the Washington Post, were clever and mischievous. (Weingarten's Pulitzer this year was a tribute to the idea that spit-ballers can make good.) And Liz Balmaseda, who also won a Pulitzer in the role, changed the newspaper's (and the city's) dynamics at a time when it was an old boys' club. But for our money, the best of 'em is Fred Grimm. This is a guy who long ago covered the South and whose deep Southern roots flavor much of his writing. He's a gent with a smile and an encouraging word for colleagues — and old-style, kick-ass Herald sarcasm for just about everyone in elected office. Take a recent column that pointed out the hypocrisy of Florida supporting Scripps Oceanographic Institute in Palm Beach County and advocating teaching of intelligent design in schools. The message of "cracker" and "bible-thumping" Florida legislators to Scripps, Grimm wrote, is this: "Either do your so-called biomedical research by giving equal time to the seven-day creation theory, the 7,000-year-old earth theory, and intelligent design, or take your (monkey) tails straight back to Cow-lie-forn-ya."
Maybe it's because Miami is such an international place; maybe it's because we've just got so much damn crime — but whatever the reason, the Magic City's juiciest stories always seem to wind up playing out in federal court, and that's where the Herald's Jay Weaver comes in. Weaver has covered the tribunales full time for about four years. Over the past year, he has guided South Floridians through the complexities of former Panamanian general Manuel Noriega's battles with extradition, the wave of rampant Medicare fraud, and, of course, the trial of alleged terrorist José Padilla. Soft-spoken, friendly, unfailingly gracious in person — no small feat at the Herald, where a fair number of writers have the personality of poison ivy — he's also a hell of a good reporter. When seven Miamians were arrested and charged, among other things, with conspiring to blow up the Sears Tower nearly two years ago, Weaver put his nose to the ground. Months before the trial began, he unraveled for readers what is probably the most haphazard and absurd case brought by the Bush administration since ... well, since the last absurd case in the war on terror. When defendant Lyglenson Lemorin was acquitted, and then hauled off to a deportation center anyway, Weaver visited the man's wife and wrote about the Haitian-American family's struggle to remain intact — in terse, pointed language, as always. "Lyglenson Lemorin, acquitted of terrorism charges last week in federal court in Miami," he wrote, "is still a guilty man in the eyes of the U.S. government."
Maybe the hardest thing an actor will ever have to do onstage is convey a sense of intimacy — not with the audience, but with fellow actors. You, the audience, just walked into the place, you don't know these people, you've never even seen them before, and somehow they must convey chemistry, history, and a gazillion unseen moments in the characters' unwritten pasts. In Fill Our Mouths, this happened many times. Katherine Michelle Tanner's character time-lapsed through a profound lesbian affair with Lela Elam's; Tanner's relationship with her husband, played by Brandon Morris, was solid and yet vaguely on the rocks; and when the play opened, Elam was on the verge of a tense transitional moment with her deaf girlfriend, played by Kim Ehly. Figuring out which one of these dynamics was most convincingly portrayed is impossible. Playwright Lauren Feldman didn't weigh the play down with exposition, and yet by the middle, you felt you could write these characters' entire shared histories. Whether it was Ehly playfully wiping flour across Elam's face, or Morris's loving, if occasionally bullheaded, attempts to deal with Tanner's infidelity, or the exquisitely subtle signs we were given that Tanner and Elam's relationship was blossoming into something more than platonic — any given 10 minutes of Fill Our Mouths was filled with enough smartly acted humanity to convince you that you'd been with these people from the beginning.
It might seem a little counterintuitive at first: drink, then run — and then drink some more, run a bit, and finish it all off with a few "down-downs," which consist, oh yes, of drinking (teetotalers need not worry — water is okay too). It's called hashing, and, crazy as it sounds, it's a worldwide sport, with chapters everywhere from Boca to Baghdad. The premise is fairly simple: Every week, hashers gather in a different location and send out a "hare" to lay a trail — using chalk, flour, toilet paper, whatever — for the rest of the hashers to try to follow, shouting the customary "On, on!" to show they're on track. The wily hare, not wishing to be caught, lays various ingenious traps for the hashers in pursuit. It's not easy, but when things get sticky, the hare stops everyone in their tracks with — what else — a hidden stockpile of beer. Afterward, everybody gathers in a raucous circle to sing songs, make merry, and impose down-downs on each other. Although Miami has yet to claim a hash all its own, the Fort Lauderdale/Miami Hashers are always nearby, and they're a hell of a nice group of people to spend a Monday night getting sloshed with. For information about the next hash, call the hotline. On, on!