Best Of :: People & Places
Liberty City is in desperate need of a leader. When native Houstonian Rev. Gaston E. Smith took over the pulpit at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on NW 58 Street, it seemed the troubled community had found one. The fiery preacher was a role model, a diplomat, and a father figure, all stuffed into a linebacker's build and a flashy three-piece suit. When he's not booming the Word on Sundays, he's visiting ailing parishioners in the hospital or coaxing gangbangers off the street. His potential made it even more tragic when Smith betrayed the flock that adopted him: Last year, he was convicted of stealing from a county grant named after Martin Luther King Jr. His supporters claim he was railroaded by trumped-up charges, but the fact remains that he was careless and irresponsible, not the leader Liberty City needs. His sentence was suspended, and Smith remains the church's pastor, so he'll get a second chance to make a difference.
What you need is a weekend away. But alas, Miamians, you're already living in the very place most Floridians vacation. So where to go? If you answered the Keys, go ahead and line up in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Seven Mile Bridge. (Besides, it's the same pastel motels, just more coconuts.) Instead, steer the car north like you're heading for Disney, but bypass all the mouse-touting exits and that spooky biblical theme park called the Holy Land Experience. Deep in the Ocala National Forest is Wekiwa Springs State Park, where you can spend the weekend camping in a backcountry Florida Shangri-la. Here's the scene: Moss-draped oaks canopy the park's springs, and pristine blue water nestles in natural rock that, thanks to the Floridan Aquifer, is always a cool 72 degrees. As for lodging, choose one of the campsites in the inner circle for the best shade, and kayak the Wekiwa Lagoon for some guaranteed gator watching. Camping costs $24 a night, or for primitive camping, $5 a person. Otherwise, park admission is $6 per car. For noncampers, the park is open 8 a.m. to sunset.
Most TV news talking heads, even the dudes, look and act like failed beauty queens trying to make a second career for themselves. But WSVN's Belkys Nerey bucks that trend. The 42-year-old Emmy winner is a solid, straight-up anchorwoman — telegenic but still intelligent. Born in Havana, Nerey spent her childhood in Long Island before tripping down I-95 to South Florida. Once here, she studied radio and television at Miami Dade College and Florida International University, got her start in cable news, and earned a spot in the Magic City's media parade as cohost of local gossip institution Deco Drive. Today, Nerey is cruising through the post-Deco phase of her career, holding down WSVN's nightly newscasts alongside Craig Stevens. And whether it's a celebrity sex scandal or a political con job, she always delivers the day's stories with appropriate seriousness. Case in point: Unlike some of the lesser faces populating the public airwaves, Nerey never falls prey to that annoying TV anchor tic of flashing a vacant smile after reporting Miami's latest murder.
Without warning, a woman brandishes two bushels of tree limbs and proceeds to beat our friend Lourdes from toes to shoulders. Between sweeps of the soggy branches, the woman dumps bucket after bucket of cold water on our friend. No, she's not swabbing the deck of a fishing boat. She's helping Lourdes relax with platza, one of the traditional spa treatments available at the Russian and Turkish Baths on Miami Beach. The baths attract Miami's ultimate relaxation-seekers, those who are willing to abandon modesty, vanity, and sometimes plain old comfort if it gets them closer to bliss. Women and men in barely-there bathing suits, heads wrapped in towel turbans, endure the volcanic heat of the schvitz as if sweating were a way to absolve past sins. A skeletal older man stands under a heavy waterfall that pounds on his bony shoulders. He raises his head, eyes closed, waiting to be beamed up to the mother ship. Make your way through the rest of the grotto-like rooms and hear the cries of those jumping into the icy polar tank; catch glimpses of red flesh, pores screaming from the extreme heat, and shield your eyes from the meaty woman having the mud hosed off. What are you looking at, you perv? Pass the wet branches and wait your turn. A day pass costs $30, and the baths are open from noon until midnight.
Michael Putney doesn't tweet. He doesn't pop up when we search his name on Facebook. And as far as we can tell, he doesn't blog. No, sir, Michael Putney is decidedly old school, and in this Internet age, we couldn't appreciate him more. While most TV reporters seem to come and go, Putney has been covering local government and politics in South Florida for nearly 30 years. Add to his incisive reporting a hosting gig on This Week in South Florida, one of the few must-watch local programs, and his occasional columns in the Miami Herald (which often upstage the newspaper's regular gaggle of columnists). There are few voices on local airwaves we trust as much as Putney and who report on politics with such authority.
Miami is a town where clubs spit out adjectives like exclusive, VIP, and upscale like an overchewed piece of Juicy Fruit. But WALL Lounge is actually one of the few places that can blow hard without bursting its own bubble. Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union, the All American Rejects, Erykah Badu, Swizz Beatz, Jamie Foxx, Jason Binn, and Selita Ebanks are just a few of the celebrities who have walked through WALL's infamous doors. Other guest sightings have been rumored, but unless the press snaps a picture, they're almost impossible to confirm. In fact, it's nearly impossible to get a photo of the place, period. WALL's success lies in its size; it is so boutique it does not merit a VIP section — the lounge itself is the VIP. So if you're lucky enough to get in, keep the video phone ready — you might catch a TMZ-worthy moment.
Last year, two giants of late night faced off in the sort of epic brawl we hadn't seen in years. It was splashier than Mothra versus Godzilla, cattier than Hillary versus Barack. No, it was not Leno and Conan. It was Alexis Valdés versus Mega TV. In Spanish television, the squabble over Valdés's contract to host Esta Noche Tu Night, his version of The Tonight Show, was bigger than the Peloponnesian War. The host wanted the classic wish list: better pay, less work, creative freedom. Mega TV scoffed and took him off the air to negotiate. For two months, the network brought in more guest hosts than Regis looking for a new Kathy Lee: Albita and z-listers such as Cuban model Sissi. But Valdés isn't easy to replace. Since fleeing Cuba in 1990, he has become a meganova of Latino comedy. He has several features to his credit, including voicing a character on DreamWorks' Madagascar 2. On his show, he confronted Enrique Iglesias with a sendup of the singer's Lothario father. And his Cristinito, a Spanglish-speaking doofus, has become as familiar as Carnac the Magnificent. This past February, the two heavies reached a deal that would return Valdés to Esta Noche, but only for two nights a week. That's a pity. It leaves three empty evenings without the king of monologeando, or as Mega calls him, "El Johny Carlson" of Spanish late-night.
Except for the beaches, South Florida is one big swamp. So why not show off the primitive, more adventurous side of the party town, throwing in a little dash of danger for good measure. Billie Swamp Safari is more than 2,000 acres of wilderness stretching through Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in the heart of the Everglades, close to Alligator Alley. Witness wildlife in the vastness of the Florida wetlands on the Swamp Buggy Eco-Tour, and spot deer, antelope, bison, several species of birds, and, if you're lucky, the elusive Florida panther. Or take an exhilarating high-speed airboat ride across the river of grass and check out all manner of snakes, turtles, and fish. The summer-wet season is the best time to spot alligators as they wade through the obsidian waters of this fragile ecosystem. But for folks really thirsting for adventure, stay overnight in an authentic Seminole chickee and take a special nighttime tour of the fabled Everglades under the moon and stars. Sure beats sitting in traffic waiting to arrive at an overcrowded beach. The park opens at 9 a.m., with airboat rides beginning at 10 and swamp buggy tours beginning at 11. Rates start at $15 for airboats. It's best to arrive early; tours and rides run every half-hour.
"McCay back to Baumeister, over to the far side, Frolik takes a feed from Baumeister, he fires, he scores! L.A. face with an Oakland booty!" So goes just one of a myriad hilariously classic calls from Florida Panthers radio play-by-play announcer Randy Moller after every Panthers goal. A former first-round NHL draft pick of the Quebec Nordiques, Moller finished his playing career with the Panthers in 1995 before landing in the booth as their radio color analyst. When 790 the Ticket named him feature play-by-play man, Moller blew up the radio waves, peppering every Panthers goal with pop-culture references from movies such as Wedding Crashers ("He scores! Ma! The meat loaf!") and Austin Powers ("Score! Get in my belly!") to classics such as Jaws ("Score! We're gonna need a bigger boat!") and Animal House ("He shoots, he scores! Do you mind if we dance wif yo dates!"). Moller has also taken to quoting the likes of Christian Bale ("He scores! Oh, good for you!") and Tracy Morgan ("He scores! And I draw ding-dongs on people!") after every goal. The next time you watch a Panthers game, do yourself a favor: Turn down the volume on the tube and turn on Moller's broadcast. It's pure fun, as sports should be. And in an industry that features the same old, cliché-ridden, stodgy game-callers, Moller has solidified Panthers games as must-listen radio during the NHL season.
We're convinced this recently renovated gem is now the ultimate place for a resident's staycation or a visitor's escape. Let's boil it down to the basics: First, the interior designers have gone for an organic theme with the décor but didn't go over-the-top with Tommy Bahamas touches. Blessedly, no one made it all MTV-ed up in there with damask wallpaper, thumping techno music, or Alice in Wonderland-esque embellishments. Instead, they opted for a neutral color palette, incorporating lots of natural woods and fibers with pops of color, and even gave those who spring for an ocean view full-out floor-to-ceiling windows (rooms run anywhere from $275 to $375 a night for liquid scenery). The whole place is still light, bright, and lush, and the pool and beachside areas remain highlights. (Try a cocktail on the wraparound porch; then nap off the hangover on a swaying hammock.) Palms restauarant Essensia's new executive chef, Frank Jeannetti, uses ingredients that are wholesome, local, organic, and seasonal. The Palms also boasts a luxurious Aveda beach spa where locals are entitled to special discounts, and everyone gets a good ol' rubdown for a fair price. All in all, the location is sublime, the prices are right, and everything is new, new, new. The Palms is the bomb.
Radio waves travel through empty space at the speed of light in all directions at once. Smoke on that deep thought. Commercial ones flood the electromagnetosphere with an endless tsunami of horrible adverts and lame, overplayed music. But every Friday night, cool water washes over Miami radio with Sound Theory Live as local and touring bands perform at the WDNA studios and answer questions about their music. So far, acts such as Morning Flesh, Suenalo, Radioboxer, Fusik, Ketchy Shuby, Locos por Juana, Ed Calle, Jacob Jeffries, ArtOfficial, the State Of, Mayday, Afrobeta, Nil Lara, Conjunto Progreso, Jahfe, King Bee, the Spam Allstars, the Big Bounce, and many others have played the show. Since March 27, 2009, Carlos Garcia has volunteered his time and energy to provide this unique venue on the public airwaves and via the global information superhighway at WDNA.com. Born and raised in the MIA, the 38-year-old Belen, UM, and FIU grad — who works as an accountant by day and is the vice president of the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana — shows a true commitment to supporting local music. Got a band? Wanna play live on the radio? Contact email@example.com.
When Virginia Gardens elected J. E. Hardy mayor in 1947, only 50 residents of the small, lush green village were registered to vote. Virginia Gardens ceded from neighboring Miami Springs after that town passed a law banning the keeping of horses — something that didn't sit well with the transplants from the Old Dominion state. They transformed Virginia Gardens into a community of barns, stables, and a duck farm. More than half a century later, Virginia Gardens maintains its rustic appeal, minus the barns and stables. And residents work hard to keep up the village's manicured lawns and abundant tree canopy. The Virginia Gardens beautification committee stays busy by regularly planting trees in the swale areas of residences and village property. According to recent U.S. Census data, the population of Virginia Gardens hovers around 2,300, with more than half the residents married with kids. The enclave is tucked between Miami Springs and Miami International Airport.