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Fidel's Gone. Yawn.

Santiago Portal celebrates Castro's retirement.
Marco Kornfeld

Miami woke up Tuesday to this shocking news: Fidel Castro had resigned as president of Cuba.

Um, didn't he kinda do that in 2006, when he had that intestine operation?

Whatever. It was a slow news day.

Some used it as an excuse to gorge on guava pastelitos at Versailles, the famed Eighth Street eatery that draws camera crews the same way leggy Cuban hookers attract pasty German tourists. While the change elicited little interest in Hialeah, Miami Shores, and across much of Miami-Dade, everybody fell into line in the theater of the absurd down on Calle Ocho. Here's how it all went down:

3 a.m.: Granma, the Cuban government's propaganda paper, publishes a message from The Bearded One. "I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander-in-Chief."

3:01 a.m.: Most folks continue snoozing.

3:26 a.m.: Babalublog.com's Ziva is the first blogger to break the news. "My emotions are in turmoil," she writes.

5:15 a.m.: Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina is already up to speed on the details of Castro's announcement, which allows him to spend the rest of his morning perfecting his pompadour. Meanwhile the Miami Herald sends a reporter over to Versailles, which isn't even open for breakfast yet.

7:30 a.m.: A commenter on the Herald website says, "Oh FIDEL! You finally step down after years of watching your own citizens (prisoners) leave your island aboard anything that floats to reach the land of your archenemy — the United States. What a legacy! Congratulations, Old Man!"

8:58 a.m.: "How many years can Raul survive?" bleats a caller on Ninoska Pérez's radio show on Radio Mambí, 710 AM.

9:15 a.m.: During The Footy Show, on Fox News Radio affiliate 610 AM (WIOD), radio host Footy takes local calls. "I think of two words," says Lou from Kendall, "cautious optimism."

Footy's response: "I think of two words too: firing squad." A machine gun sound effect follows.

9:38 a.m.: Nine satellite trucks are parked around Versailles. Members of the news media outnumber regular folks two to one. A tiny elderly man in a white tuxedo and red bow tie sets down a boombox, blasting salsa music near the restaurant's front door. The man, Santiago Portal, dances while holding his right hand in a V for victory, shouting "Viva cuba libre," and clutching a sign that reads "Murió Fidel. Yo Quiero El Cambio." Camera crews jostle to capture the event.

9:51 a.m.: A New Times photographer takes pictures of CBS 4 reporter Evan Bacon prepping for a stand-up. Bacon asks, "Are you going to make me look good?"

9:53 a.m.: On the sidewalk in front of Versailles, you can pick up a beaded Cuban flag necklace for five dollars.

9:59 a.m.: A guy named Rene stands on the sidewalk in front, taking in the scene. He's been to the restaurant dozens of times over the years to protest, rally, and talk to the media. "I even prepare what I'm going to say to reporters," he asserts, pulling out a three-by-five index card from his shirt pocket. The card reads "Castro Dictatorship. Castro Regime. International Pressure. Apply More Pressure. (1) Freedom. (2) Democracy. (3) Economic Prosperity." The word obvious is not written anywhere in his talking points.

10:00 a.m.: In Miami Shores, a man working behind the counter at a deli responds in disbelief to the news. "No shit! He's still alive?" he says. "I'm from Puerto Rico. Hopefully they get their freedom and stuff one day, but I don't know. I don't really care."

10:30 a.m.: Telemundo 51 repeats images of Fidel's classic flat-face fall while a news anchor searches for meaning to attach to the special graphic, "El Retiro de Castro." Meanwhile, on Mega TV, an infomercial for Lincoln Lending Services shows a graphic of a diamond pulsating from Abraham Lincoln's crotch.

10:42 a.m.: Back at Versailles, a plump elderly woman who calls herself "La Gitana" reads the palm of a New Times reporter: "This year you will return to your country." The reporter, who was born in California, is puzzled. "You are Cuban, aren't you?" she says. The reporter says no, and La Gitana presses on with her soothsaying: "You love animals, and you are creative." The reporter gives La Gitana a dollar.

10:45 a.m.: It is raining hard on Calle Ocho. This gives folks outside an excuse to crowd under the awning near the to-go counter, creating a rush on cafecitos and croquetas. Despite the downpour, Miguel Saavedra, president of the exile group Vigilia Mambisa, gives a spirited interview to a comely University of Miami journalism student. They are the only ones standing outside, except for a bearded elderly woman pushing an empty baby carriage and sipping a Natural Ice Light tallboy. After a few minutes, she does a little dance. The TV cameras ignore her.

10:49 a.m.: A fresh-faced Herald reporter pauses at the cafecito counter while talking to his editor on a cell phone. "It was pretty raucous earlier," the reporter says excitedly. "One guy was dressed in a tuxedo! He was screaming in Spanish." The reporter gets off the phone. "Pretty wild, hunh?" he says.

10:54 a.m.: A photographer from one of the many Cuban periodiquitos asks a group of old men holding Cuban flags to pose for a picture near the Versailles Bakery entrance. "Like this," the photographer cries, thrusting his fist up in the air. Nearby, a cameraman orders a cafecito and says, "Nothing's gonna change in Cuba. Nothing's gonna change there until the rats start eating each other."

11:23 a.m.: The rain has stopped. A guy named Eddie, wearing a Sean John T-shirt, wades through a puddle in the restaurant parking lot to talk to a man in a Herald T-shirt. Turns out the Herald guy is setting up a small kiosk so he can sell subscriptions; as a gift for signing up, folks can choose a domino set, a T-shirt, or a cooler. Eddie, who smells faintly of liquor, selects a Copa Latina 2008 T-shirt.

11:25 a.m.: CNN erects a second tent in the Versailles parking lot.

11:31 a.m.: Across the street, someone hangs from a tree a large sheet airbrushed with the likeness of Elián González.

11:41 a.m.: A singer who says his name is Andy Thomas hawks DVDs in the crowd. "It's a comedy about the death of Fidel Castro!" he says. "It's set to the music of The Lord of the Rings. Only five dollars!"

11:44 a.m.: Reporters prepare their stand-ups for the noon newscast. Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Al Diaz stands in the middle of Calle Ocho to get a shot of the traffic, which is backed up for blocks. A guy with six Cuban flags on his car sports a sign on the rear window that reads "To Honor Those Who Are Given the Life for Us." This confusing message is rivaled only by a man holding a pink sign that says "The Times Is Now. No Castros."

Associate editor Frank Houston and staff writers Francisco Alvarado, Calvin Godfrey, and Janine Zeitlin contributed to this report.


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