Life is tough for old musicians. Just ask Ricky Williams -- not the pot-smoking, team-quitting ex-Dolphin. This Williams is a six-and-half-foot-tall, blind piano player, lately of the Forge, currently of nowhere in particular. For the past decade Williams played piano a couple of shows a week at the club most likely to be the last stop for revelers before rehab. Willams says he was paid about $200 per night.
About a month ago Forge management told him not to bother coming in for his usual gig. They said in fact they wouldn't be needing him again for a while, a long while, because they were going to have a DJ instead. Indeed one of the Forge's latest schemes to restore some of the lost luster from its heyday as a gangster hangout replete with an acrylic fingernail full of Bolivian marching powder in every restroom stall includes entertainment by Miami Beach's DJ impersonator Elaine Lancaster.
Williams is an affable giant of a man, prone to hugging strangers, partial to Heineken, and never happier than when tickling out the classics on his 88s. That $400 a week was the main thing keeping him in his $850 apartment in North Bay Village.
Williams, 50, who is also a songwriter, says "They gave me no notice. I was a little hurt by that. I don't want to talk bad about them. I'm looking for work."
His friend and self-appointed agent Miki Adams, a scrappy blond blues singer from Los Angeles, met Williams while vacationing on South Beach a few years ago. She made an annual tradition of sitting in with him for a session at the Forge. The chanteuse, going through the trauma of a divorce and a recent relocation to Miami, found a cause in Williams's plight. "It's the emotional cripple helping the blind guy," she cracks. "They just let him go. No benefits, nothing. I know it's legal, but it isn't right. What kind of people do that?"
Adams got Williams a once-a-week session playing at the Michael Collins Grill on Lincoln Road. She also took him for a haircut and is shopping for some snappy suits to fit his large frame.
"We wanted to capture a little wider music format," acknowledged Maxwell Blandford, the stalwart promoter associated with the Forge. "The crowd out there now, they want more of a world beat. It wasn't the right format. I think he was contracted here. DJs or musicians usually work week to week and when it ends, it ends. It's the nature of the music business."
Only Indicted Passengers Beyond This Point
It sounds as if a federal investigation into alleged monkey business with public contracts at Miami International Airport is still alive. Knowledgeable sources say that a federal grand jury recently sent out a bunch of subpoenas requesting records that could be relevant to the case.
FBI agents and local cops have been scrounging around for about three years trying to figure out if a primate pack of lobbyists hired by Host-Marriott (now HMS Host) defrauded the public by using minority-owned businesses as fronts to qualify for an exceedingly lucrative airport contract approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission in 1998. Legendary lobbyists Chris Korge and Rodney Barreto were among the dudes who helped persuade a majority of commissioners to favor Host-Marriott's bid. The contract is estimated to have generated about $40 million per year in revenues from food and beverage concessions. According to the Miami Herald, some of the money received by Tito Gomez and other minority partners in the Host-Marriott deal may have ended up in the campaign contribution accounts of several Miami-Dade commissioners.
One recent subpoena recipient, Miami Airport Duty Free Joint Venture, was ordered to produce records related to Korge, sources tell The Bitch. The company's African-American minority partner, Carol Ann Taylor, operator of a store called Miami to Go, didn't respond to a request for comment. But another minority partner, Sergio Pino, did. "Never got a subpoena," the chairman of Century Builders Group assured. "Not involved in that anymore."
A School for Scandal
Okay, so The Bitch got a C-minus on her quiz in baroque brochure literature. In fact she never even got the brochure, which clearly stated that Manny Alonso-Poch's new charter school, the Academy of Arts & Minds, would not have an eleventh grade until 2005 or a twelfth grade until 2006. That is why the enrollment for those grades this year is zero, Alonso-Poch scolds, not because school administrators canceled them, as reported here earlier this month. But now that this female dog has done her homework, she believes it is only prudent to review the lesson learned from AA&M, the pride of Coconut Grove's Commodore Plaza. Despite the brochure's assurances, AA&M did scrap its tenth grade this year, which caused a big problem for Alice Billman, who last spring had excitedly enrolled her talented tenth-grade daughter in the school to get her out of way-krowded Krop High, a magnet school.
Long story short, AA&M failed to notify Billman that tenth grade was kaput until the new Miami-Dade school year was about to dawn. By then it was impossible to get her kid into Krop, because it has about 500,000 kids on the waiting list. On August 13 -- three days before the first day of school -- she received an undated letter from Ed Fredie, chief education officer at Charter Schools USA, a private, for-profit company that helps manage AA&M. "After giving much consideration to our enrollment targets and budgetary constraints, and with the agreement of the Dade County Public School System, the Academy has decided to only serve students in the ninth grade for the 2004-2005 school year," Fredie wrote. "The Academy sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience the change may cause you."
Alonso-Poch maintains that the existence of a tenth grade was always "subject to enrollment, like in any other school." He wonders whether Billman, perhaps, should have "kept track of the tenth grade enrollment at the school to get a sense of how enrollment was coming along and make alternative plans? I think a diligent parent would have."
Billman says diligent school administrators would have informed her about the "enrollment contingency" up front. "There was never any mention, verbal or otherwise, that suggested an enrollment criterion," she grumbles. "There were, however, many promises of a full curriculum that would address all levels of students."
In the end, however, it is all The Bitch's fault. "A report by New Times about Arts & Minds High School and its curriculum may have generated enough interest in tenth grade students for the school to have opened with a tenth-grade class," Alonso-Poch admonishes. "Unfortunately for Ms. Billman, that was not the case." Then, revealing his flair for drama, the artful lawyer adds, "Does The Bitch have an agenda to degrade Manuel Alonso-Poch? What have I done to earn her love?"
More Threats to Common Decency
It could only happen in our part of South Florida: Someone has devised an organized activity that contains the words "new wave," "imported beer," and "bitch control" in its description.
Bitch Control Night, which takes place Fridays at Señor Frogs (616 Collins Ave., Miami Beach), is an evening of music strictly Bitch-approved, largely Brit pop, electro, funk, and general indie dance tracks. The Bitch missed the inaugural event, but DJ Ray Milian, who spins with several other turntablists including Christopher Lee, says there was plenty of Fischerspooner for all.
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"It went pretty well; we had like 200 people for the first one and it had a great vibe," observes Milian, one of the creators of the popular PopLife at I/O Lounge. "Hopefully with some time the crowd will grow because there's nothing like what we're doing on the weekend on South Beach."
In other nightlife news, Erwin Perez, El Nuevo Herald's music writer and the founder of the Esencia Latin music showcase, every other Wednesday at Hoy Como Ayer on Calle Ocho, has found that the hugely successful event, a must-attend for industry insiders and locals alike, has grown to the point where it needs professional management. This comes in the form of high-powered publicist Vanessa Conde of Miami Beach's MAPOLA Communications, who also reps syndicated television program Latin Fuze, broadcast in English and recorded in Miami. The show debuts in October on CBS affiliate WFOR-TV (Channel 4).
The Bitch hears that it's not just Perez who's blown up. Tonight's Esencia session, which will offer the spectacle of noted producers Sebastian Krys (Gloria Estefan), Javier Garza (Ricky Martin, Madonna), and others playing alt-Eighties covers such as the Talking Heads's "Psycho Killer" and New Order's "Blue Monday" may be the last at the historic Little Havana club.
Apparently success has been muerte for Esencia, with wall-to-Estefan-photo-covered-wall in-crowd wannabes irritating performers by talking during the music and being rude to (and not tipping) the Hoy Como Ayer staff, some of whom have worked there for years.