Just yesterday, I was driving down NE Second Avenue, and I saw I was trailing a truck with images of raw meat products on the rear door. The tagline for the company read: “We meat all your expectations.” I know in my head that this truck probably drives all around Miami’s streets, through a variety of neighborhoods – both “good” and “bad” – but my heart knows that this truck only drives through Little Haiti — and maybe Hialeah.
All of a sudden, I felt a warmth throughout my body. I love Little Haiti. And I really love driving through Little Haiti on my way to work. There’s always clothing strewn on the road. Always. I get that it’s warm out, but who undresses and then abandons their clothing in the middle of the street just because? Someone in Little Haiti, that’s who. As I drive over a sock or half a sweater, I find myself wondering about the person who left it there: Did they lose it in a fit of passion or a drunken stumble?
From the moment you exit the Shores, things go from distant to intimate. The green yards immediately fall away. Stores lean in close as if eager to whisper their juiciest secrets in your ear. Each is wearing its best tropical colors, making a very “Look at me! Love me!” statement in the morning light. There are beauty salons and clinics that I’ve never seen anyone walk into. And though the evangelical churches look abandoned all day, they open up to showcase folding chairs of prayer after the sun sets.
There’s this dollar store that appears to be open to the elements at all hours. A few women sit there, selling those huge rolls of rough toilet paper that you find in public restrooms. They’re piled on top of each other like street-side stalagmites. One lady is always sitting with her head wrapped and legs spread generously apart, fanning herself. To be fair, who wouldn’t want a little upper thigh breeze action this time of year?
A mural decorates the south side of St. Claire’s Cleaners. Swirls decorate the head of some Earth spirit like Yemaya. Her large noggin floats magically next to a one dimensional fisherman throwing a net from his boat. I remember you’re supposed to pray to St. Claire for help with eye problems. I have a cat going blind at home, so I make the sign of the cross.
The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, with baby in hand and scarred cheek, beckons the curious to enter the botanicas. Inside one, I’ve sniffed all the smells of the living and the dead crowded in that one space. The man working there ripped me off as my nose tingled. I just smiled and handed him whatever cash I had. He said I owe him one. No one wants to owe a Vodou man anything, but life is hard and prayer is not, so I’ll be back again.
Hidden like your mom’s gold when the cleaning lady’s over are non-neighborhood native art galleries and the headquarters of a new nonprofit radio station. One got a New York Times write up, another just closed, but when open, it entertained with noise nights and romantic Valentine’s dances. At a thrift store down the road, you can gawk at flamboyant, young black men who vogue their way through Art Basel week. Even Little Haiti changes channels sometimes.
The Caribbean Marketplace I visited as a kid on a high school field trip seems fancier than ever. It looks like it just jumped off a cruise ship from the motherland and sat right down for a drink of lemonade. Across the dirty street, the Little Haiti Community Garden grows heirloom tomatoes and bundles of bananas.
You can hear Miami’s musical heart beating in Little Haiti too. Sweat Records is covered with the oversized faces of Bjork, Iggy, and Morrissey. Churchill’s Pub opens first thing in the a.m. for neighborhood soccer lovers and bartenders stay late to watch punk, metal, and poetry kids grow gray under its roof. I can’t look at Churchill’s without feeling good to be alive or wanting a cold glass of Strongbow.
Out back, Haitian men place bets at a broken card table. At their feet, the thin necks of teenaged chicks bend toward the grass again and again. Some discordant, wonderful, weird sounds seep over the wall and blanket the whole scene.
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A block away, Sabal Supermarket is a zoo inside. They have nothing I need, but there are piles of yucca that look like dirty snow banks and so many people that Publix would be jealous. Just so everyone knows this is where the meat’s at, a $erge mural on the outside wall explains. First there's a very alive pig standing beside a not-dead goat, and then, well, yes, you know what comes next. It's the butcher "Tony" who's chopping away at those two.
It's good to know that everything's always on the table in Little Haiti.
Follow Liz Tracy on Twitter, just because.