Pop artist Romero Britto's work has infected Miami like a great open sore pulsing red, yellow, and blue. When future archaeologists unearth our city, they'll think we worshipped squinting kitty-cats and butterflies — and that our artistic ability fell one Neanderthal short of a cave painting.
Now Britto has teamed up with the luminary responsible for Miami's famous Julia Tuttle Causeway sex offender colony — lobbyist and Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust chairman Ron Book — for the artist's least tasteful project yet. Parking meters, painted a dog-vomit yellow with floral highlights, are now being installed all over the city. The coins they collect will go to Book's homeless agency — minus a thousand-buck overhead to pay for the meters, installation, and Britto's fee, of course — so that samaritans don't give money directly to beggars.
Whenever we read an article about homeless-related projects like this one, the only quotes seem to come from home-havin' talking heads. Riptide wondered, What do the people truly affected think about the work of their so-called advocates? So we joined a ragged malt-liquor-scented gathering — "We're all alcoholics, we're not drug addicts," they declare haughtily — no more than 200 feet from Miami-Dade's introductory Britto meter, outside the Brickell Metromover stop.
Romero Britto parking meters
"You know the movie Cool Hand Luke?" posits Mike Webber, a scrawny, 44-year-old vagrant with a Cheech Marin accent, referring to the movie in which Paul Newman chops off the heads of parking meters. "I wanna slice that thing right apart and pick up all the money. Then I'd share it with everybody."
Rubbed-raw, 37-year-old veteran Mark Donaldson chimes in with some choice words for Book, whom he compares to Scott Rothstein. "Sixty percent of it goes into his pockets," Donaldson says of meter revenues, before indicating his homeless crew and adding, "If we would all get together to pull a scam like that, we'd be in jail in a second."
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"It makes people feel good to put a quarter in that meter," echoes a mysterious, tooth-deficient man named Arnold, "but the only person they're helping is Ron Book."
But won't you guys just blow your cash on Steel Reserve if people give to you directly?
"No, man. When I get money, first I go buy some food. Then I go get my beer," Donaldson says before devolving into a monologue about how he'd love for someone to purchase him a bottle of Jack Daniel's right about now.
As for Britto's project helping to pluck change from his outstretched coffee cup, a beggar named Sam a couple of blocks away, holding a faded sign reading only "Help," sums up the sentiment: "Oh, you mean Barf-o?"