The early reviews were dire. Like Ghost Rider 2 awful. Fans hoping to drive to the new Marlins Park, the Miami Herald warned, would face Mad Max traffic barbarity and waits for parking comparable only to Soviet breadlines.
See, Miami's finest minds failed to consider how the masses would actually get to the gleaming silver stadium in Little Havana they paid $360 million in taxes to build. In a neighborhood that's a public transit black hole, the Marlins included only about 5,000 new parking spots for the 37,000-seat ballpark.
But how bad could it really be? There was only one way to find out: an epic race to Marlins Park.
Marlins Park traffic
So we hauled our Schwinn out of the closet, called up Coconut Grove's Spider-Man rickshaw pilot, dusted off our kayak, and, yeah, bought some potato sacks. Our fastest Volkswagen was gassed up, and we scoped out a route by Metrorail and trolley.
Half an hour before the first pitch on opening night, we assembled outside the Miami-Dade Public Library on West Flagler Street in downtown Miami, about a mile and a half from the ballpark. Who would prevail?
Team Bike: Tim Elfrink, managing editor
Time: 14 minutes
This is what victory looks like: a purple 1968 Schwinn Varsity, its curved handlebars wrapped in sky-blue tape. Made of steel (or lead maybe?), it weighs more than a Toyota Prius. Yes. It is glorious.
On the survivability index, I usually rank a rush-hour, downtown bike ride somewhere between fighting a bear with a laser strapped to its forehead and hiking sans pants to the North Pole. I was terrified. True to form, at the very first stoplight, a woman on her cell phone pulled a move I call the "Miami swipe:" a blind right turn on red, executed at full speed with no signal. The Schwinn's 44-year-old brakes squealed like Heath Bell at a buffet — but they held.
After that brush with death, though, the rest of the race was — dare I say? — really relaxing. Fading sunlight sparkled off the Miami River as I inhaled the smell of Garcia's grilled conch. After narrowly outracing the NW Fifth Street drawbridge, traffic was light through Little Havana's leafy side streets.
And then there it was. Marlins Park. There are only two tiny bike racks at the Third Base entrance — and five cycles were already crammed in. So I locked up to a stop sign, ran to the gate, and prayed Miamians were on their least felonious behavior.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Team Car: Gus Garcia-Roberts, senior staff writer
Time: 20 minutes
This is the way I pictured the race would go down: I would speed like Ryan Gosling in Drive to the stadium, where I would jam the steering wheel left, tumble out of the moving vehicle, leap into the air as the winner, and then hop back into the driver's seat. Here's how it really happened: I got stuck on the bridge on NW Fifth Street. Whereas the little French boy on the bicycle was able to ignore traffic laws, I had to do a whole bunch of time-consuming maneuvering.
Trying to find parking near the stadium was like playing blackjack. There were plenty of free spots six or seven blocks away. Five blocks away, some hustler was charging only $2 to park in a driveway. But you keep thinking you'll find a free spot just a bit closer. Before you know it, the locals are charging $30 and you can't just do a U-turn because the street is crawling with cops.
I found an unoccupied meter on NW 12th Avenue. It was broken, with its screen reading an eerie "6666," which seemed appropriate given the taxpayers' role in the occasion.
Free parking, two blocks from the stadium! I sprinted to the park, the journey having taken me exactly 20 minutes. I still placed second behind the bicyclist. That pinko.
Team Rickshaw: Ciara LaVelle, arts and culture editor, and Michael E. Miller, staff writer
Time: 32 minutes
"Chicks dig the rickshaw," proclaimed Shaun, New Times' human Clydesdale for the afternoon. As he donned sunglasses, yanked up his spandex Spider-Man suit, and hoisted his American flag-draped buggy, we had second thoughts. "We might not get there first, but we're going to have the most fun," Shaun added ominously. "That's for sure."
To prove it, he spun his chariot in concentric circles as passersby hooted, "Hell, yeah, Spider-Man!" He leaped off walls, slalomed between trees, and popped a massive wheelie that left him dangling six feet in the air from the handles. Game on.
Shaun soon hit his stride, his sneakers slapping pavement as he passed bewildered bridge dwellers and muddled motorists. The Miami River was a blur of blue and gold.
We got caught behind the drawbridge, and once it raised, Shaun sprinted across in a last-ditch effort to win — only to stop, confused, at a five-way intersection. He wheeled into a garage to ask for directions. A chorus of oil-drenched mechanics hollered while Shaun spun 360s.
Marlins Park suddenly emerged. Shaun picked up the pace, weaving between oncoming cars and toothless old men advertising parking. Children stared and cheered. We whizzed past skeptical cops, slushy vendors, and a giant inflatable Billy the Marlin.
Outside the gate, the rickshaw skidded to a halt. A sunburned, surgically enhanced soccer mom sauntered past with her husband and two kids. From behind her Gucci sunglasses, she glared and sighed, "How lazy can you be?"
Team Public Transit: Jose Duran, web editor
Time: 35 minutes
Miami-Dade Transit may be the punch line to many a raunchy joke, but believe this: For a few bucks and a willingness to sit near the homeless and possibly insane, it'll get you where you need to go.
Besides, I had an advantage. I take the bus to work every day. From the start line, I speed-walked a block north to the Government Center Metrorail station. Immediately, I lost five minutes fighting a vending machine that refused to take credit cards. Gahh! I finally gave up and paid $5 for a one-day pass.
After a five-minute ride on the Metrorail, I made it to Culmer, at the edge of Overtown. Amazingly, four shuttles to Marlins Park were waiting near a team of smiling, helpful transit workers.
Toting about 50 passengers, the driver rolled up to the Fifth Street bridge. "Aww, man! Only in Miami does this happen," someone swore as the crossing gates lowered. With the game set to begin in ten minutes, tension rose. "Bro, there is no way they are going to start at 7. This is Miami — nothing ever starts on time," proclaimed a guy apparently unaware that ESPN wouldn't delay its national broadcast to conform with "Miami time."
Sure enough, as we inched closer to the stadium, fireworks exploded and jet fighters roared above. The previously optimistic dude cursed. "Dude, I'm driving next time!"
Team Potato Sack: Francisco Alvarado, staff writer
Time: 57 minutes
Say what you will about sacks — they're practical. They fold neatly inside a backpack, so parking isn't a problem. They're environmentally friendly too. Also, I found a sweet sack with polka-dots that read, "Party Hop," on the side.
Once the race started, I was pleasantly surprised by my furious pace. The first three blocks took less than ten minutes. I waved to a trio of women in a silver sedan as I skipped past. They looked at me like I was on meth.
Unfortunately, some sacks aren't made for durability. Two hundred feet later, my shoes ripped through. Luckily, I came prepared with backups. I pulled out a spare and hopped on. The sweat pouring down my bald head stung my eyes. The arches of my feet cramped. As I collapsed, I swore I wasn't done.
Eventually, I painfully hopped across the Fifth Street bridge while a guy in a black-and-red Chicago Bulls cap egged me on: "You can do it, bro!" A couple in a Ford pickup honked and waved.
I could see the silhouette of the ballpark just as four jets boomed overhead. I still had at least a half-mile to go. By the time I made it, I had been beaten by a bicycle, a car, a rickshaw, and Miami-Dade Public Transit.
But damn if I didn't beat that kayak.
Team Kayak: Chuck Strouse, editor, and Rich Abdill, blogger
Time: 13 minutes, nautical time
Why would you travel any other way to Marlins Park than by water?
After a homeless guy tried to sell us a shirt ("with the tag on!") in a no-panhandling zone outside the library, we lugged our kayak three blocks to the river's edge, where we dumped it in and jumped aboard.
Ah, the joys of the Miami River! Freighters, tankers, and water taxis bubbling by; the beauty of the Miami skyline behind you; a drug deal to your left; and an odor something like swamp gas all around. If only Norwegians had moved up the fjords as swiftly as we sped down that noxious waterway.
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Disembarking after a half-mile paddle was slightly more difficult. We had to scale a seawall, pass through a $30 parking lot where a lady offered us a mere $15 to "parquear la canoa," and saunter a couple of blocks to the stadium. A friendly dude offered to help us portage for 73 cents, and we had to nudge aside a couple of pincho salesmen. These sidewalks weren't made for kayak-carrying.
We arrived at the ballpark not long after the first pitch. By nautical time, we arrived first. Before the bike. Before the car. Before the potato sack and rickshaw. All hail the SS New Times!
One problem, though: When we yanked the kayak up the stairs to the turnstiles, a stern cop warned that we should get the damn boat off the stadium grounds. "Somebody could trip over it and get hurt," he said. "You wouldn't want that liability, would you? Neither would we."
So there you have it. Driving and parking, surprisingly, are nonapocalyptic, but biking is so much better — assuming you can survive Miami's homicidal drivers. Call Shaun if you want an adventure. Ditch the potato sack. And leave the kayaking to the professionals.