Best Of :: People & Places
Everyone smokes in cemeteries. It's an age-old rite of passage for any pothead. You toke, take a seat on someone's grave, and let your chemically deranged brain trip on the exasperating enigmas of human existence. The Neptune Memorial Reef, however, is some genuinely next-level shit. Located three and a quarter miles off Key Biscayne, the reef is an actual underwater necropolis where real-deal dead people's cremated remains lie encased in enormous concrete vessels shaped like giant seashells, starfish, and chunks of coral. With plans to eventually occupy 16 acres of ocean floor and house 125,000 human bodies, this deep-sea burial ground is still in its early stages. Right now, there are only 1,200 plots covering approximately one and a half acres. But even so, the whole thing looks like a mythical sunken city filled with architectural ruins (arches, columns, gates) and gargantuan, algae-encrusted sculptural monuments (a five-ton lion, for example), all of it populated by weird sea creatures including tangs, triggers, eels, and stingrays. Find this stoner mecca by boat, or ride there on Poseidon's thigh — the GPS coordinates are N25° 42.036, W80° 05.409 — then sink 45 feet to the ocean floor. A cremation and Neptune Memorial Reef placement package costs $4,000. But it's totally open and free to divers. So get your scuba certification. Hit that spliff. Touch the afterlife.
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.