Certain secret societies require prospective members to take a blood oath, sacrifice a non-essential body part, and sign away all their worldly possessions. But the Bas Fisher Invitational only asks $16 and the ability to make funny faces. Meet those minimums and you're an approved part of the Weird Miami tribe.
This past Sunday, the second Weird Miami bus tour shuttled 40-something vetted members into a few of Dade County's stranger corners. Titled "Goodness Gracious" and led by artists Clifton Childree and Kevin Arrow, the tour took a winding path through Overtown to Tamara Hendershot's Magic City Farm, hippie haven Earth 'N' Us, a Buddhist study center, and everyone's favorite filthy punk bar.
Make the jump for some video, notes, and 20 photos.
Since the official meeting time had been set for the unnaturally early hour of 8:30 a.m., every single member of the group was sluggishly muttering: "Pancakes, eggs, bacon, coffee." So our first stop of the day ended up being Jackson Soul Food on NW Third Avenue.
Like almost every place these bus tours visit, the people at Jackson's were obviously unsettled by this sudden flash mob of outsiders. And the restaurant's resident comedian Cole didn't shy away. He punched the fact in the face, joking: "You couldn't have picked up a couple of black people on the way here? Three is all I'm asking." He smiled: "I haven't seen this many ..." Someone shouted: "Artists!" "Yeah, artists ... Since my federal trial."
Not too long ago, Jackson Soul Food was renovated with help from the Community Redevelopment Agency. And after breakfast, our tour guides brought in ex-firefighter and former CRA director Frank Rollason to take us around Overtown. He showed us several neighborhood landmarks -- the Ward Rooming House, Third Avenue gardens, and Just Right barbershop and beauty salon -- that have benefited from the agency's program. But he also noted that Overtown's probably the next site for South Florida's never-ending condo invasion.
The last thing we saw in Overtown was Purvis Young's mural on the façade of the Culmer Overtown Branch Library. Back when Rollason was a firefighter, the department would regularly destroy Young's work. "Purvis would wander Overtown painting on the plywood outside boarded-up buildings," Rollason recalled. "And the fire department would be sent out to tear down the murals and toss them in the dumpster."
Rolling toward our next weird stop, Kevin Arrow decided it was time to practice the dark arts. He ordered one side of the bus to scream "Red!" while the other side screamed "Yellow!" We were all told to look side to side in sync with the call and response chant ... "Red!" Look left. "Yellow!" Look right. "Red!" Look left. "Yellow!" Look right. "Red!" Look left.
At the end of the street, there was a small house painted bright red and mustard yellow. The sidewalk and driveway and gates and lawn ornaments and shed all matched perfectly. "It might be the Spanish Consulate," said Kevin. "We don't know." We were warned not to get off the bus because the lady who lives inside carries a shotgun.
Fifteen minutes later, we disembarked from the bus, beginning a part of the tour that Kevin decided to call "Sneaking Into Backyards." And we started by breaking through the gates of Tamara Hendershot's Magic City Farm, an urban hideaway where the former art dealer and proprietor of Vanishing Novelty Gardens gathers odd artifacts, furniture she finds in the trash, and stuff she calls "hodgepodge-y junk."
The property is also studded with little homes. Ms. Hendershot lives in the farmhouse while the boathouse has been converted into a guest residence. "It was originally a farm," she said. "It was built in the '20s, maybe late teens." And four years ago, she added a bunch of little cottages salvaged from a crumbling trailer park on NE Second Avenue.
"I'm a big traveler so all the fabrics come from all over Asia," Ms. Hendershot said. "Other than that, it's junk off the street. Everything rots and we replace it with more junk." She also mentions: "We're sort of an animal rescue place. That's why the dogs, the cats, the ducks, and chickens are here. And the pig was an anorexic pig so we rescued him. This is a melting pot for the failures."
The home invasions continued at Earth 'N' Us, an experiment in sustainable urban farming and communal living that's run by an older dude with a big beard named Ray. Several other human beings live there, not to mention a gang of goats, some emus, chickens, snakes, Mexican iguanas, and turtles. In addition to wholeheartedly pursuing alternative lifestyle options, Ray and his crew also play a lot of volleyball, drink tons of Busch beer, and barbecue almost every night.
The third and final backyard was Lama Karma Chötso's Kagyu Shedrup Chöling Tibetan Buddhist Dharma Center of Study and Practice. Right now, the center is building four stupas, which are religious monuments meant to store Buddhist treasure.
"These stupas are being built in South Florida in order to help balance the elements," Lama Karma Chötso explains. "One of the things you do first is you bury negative things under them, so we buried weapons -- knives and one person had a toy cannon. Then once the stupas are done being built, all four of them will hold 7,000 or 8,000 tsatsa as well as relics and consecrated substances."
It will also be a meditation site. "Circumambulation is a Buddhist practice that is a very powerful way of accumulating merit," Chötso says. "You always keep the object that you're circumambulating on your right so you're going around it clockwise. In the stupa mandal, you'll be able to do kora -- which is a Tibetan word for circumambulation -- around all four and then there will be paths so you can circle each one." Even Lama Karma Chötso's dog has learned the basics of kora.
Leaving the Dharma Center, the bus diverted south down NE Second Avenue. There was only one stop remaining. And soon the suspicious whispers started: "Where the hell are we going?" and "No fucking way!" and "Really?" Then we chugged up to Churchill's and there were a few moans of disappointment.
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What? OK, maybe you've been to the pub a million times, but you've got to be an asshole not to love the place.
Yeah, you had the usual cold beer. You had the eat-at-your-own-risk bar food. You had the scuzzy restrooms. All the expected pleasures. But the naysayers shouldn't have worried because our tour guides had made sure to plan a small something special. On stage, Clifton's country jug rock 'n ' roll crew, Boise Bob and His Backyard Band, rumbled through a Sunday evening set of songs about Kmart, Texas, punk rock, possum meat, and hooting, hollering, and getting drunk. The beer cans piled up and the sun went down on Weird Miami.
The Weird Miami Bus Tour returns with Christy Gast's "Ripe Riparian" on September 19. It's currently sold out. But you can add your name to the waiting list by calling 305-879-6978 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.