It's the graveyard used as a setting for spooky nightmares. Large, creaky iron gates guard the two entrances. Old, crumbling tombstones dispersed among headstones tall enough for someone to hide behind. Fully grown oak and mahogany trees blocking the light to form imposing shadows. From the rich, white, and powerful in the Burdine crypt to the graves of the poor, black laborers buried in the rear, the cemetery's subterranean residents foreshadowed the city's diversity today. To learn more, a lot more, take a guided tour with local historian Paul George (305-375-1492), who'll point out the many war veterans, five mayors, and the city's original instigator, Julia Tuttle, all of whom are buried there.
Here in Miami we love our immigrants. Each wave of newcomers brings exciting cultural detours, nuances, inventions. Just try getting pupusas and mondongo in Omaha. And what we love most in our new arrivals is colorfulness. No blending into the Zeitgeist, no assimilating by imitating. Stand up and stand out! Make some noise! The definitive example of perfection in invaders comes by way of the monk parakeet and its relatives. (Perhaps as many as 30 species of parrot have nested here, though only the gray-headed monk and the brightly hued canary-wing are established.) Parrots, led by the monk species, have flocked to our sunny climes, setting up shop throughout the urbanscape. No research has been conducted and estimates of numbers vary wildly, but we've all seen them light up the sky in flashes of green and yellow as flocks move from coconut tree to power pole to rooftop. Earnest breeders with no natural predators, the urban wingers are thriving, and so far, despite the putdowns of bigots posing as ecologists, are causing problems for no one except FPL, whose poles make for excellent parrot hangouts and nesting sites. Some people, offended by the birds' color or unusual way of speaking, claim the parrots pose a threat to citrus crops and to large birds scared away by squawking. These naysayers repeat the usual refrain: Go back to where you came from. Or worse. We say live and let screech.
A pleasant, almost ethereal cerebral dysrhythmia occurs when you proceed from the hot, mean, dirty streets of downtown Miami to the main library. The lights glow softly, the air feels cool and clean, the people seem sedate and serene. Deep in the northwest corner of the second floor lies the Florida Room, an inner sanctum, a placid place devoted to Miami, to Florida, to realities other than what waits for you outside. Here you'll find The Florida of the Inca, Florida in the Making, and Florida: Land of Change. By loading up some microfilm and spinning through old copies of the Miami Herald you'll be transported to 1937, 1954, 1968, or any time you want. The room holds county perspectives and state profiles. Florida's statutes, maps and plats, old phone directories (from back when they listed your place of employment along with your name, address, and number). References: animals, architecture, water, land, linguistics, treasures, wars, plantations, folksongs, folklore, real estate, foods, plants -- all of it Florida. And if you want to get out of town, step over to the genealogy section and peruse History of Cuyahoga County, Ohio (1879), Tyrrell Cemeteries, North Carolina 1732-1984, Early East Tennessee Tax Lists. Or to get the perfect perspective, grab Victor Rainbolt's The Town that Climate Built. The ancient Miami-PR tome is undated, but a computer-bar code search suggests it was likely published in 1925. An excerpt: "Here may be found the out-of-the-way things that excite the imagination."
This is one of the richest resources Miami can call on. In its 30 years of existence, Switchboard has grown from an advice center for hippies on bad acid trips to a versatile organization that almost anyone in a crisis can turn to. It's not just a crisis hotline, though that best-known feature of Switchboard will this year receive some 130,000 calls, and more than 50 around-the-clock volunteer counselors will refer callers to appropriate services, according to assistant executive director Gigi Laudisio. While a total of about 63 volunteers and student interns contribute hugely, primarily as (trained) crisis counselors, Switchboard's two-million-dollar annual budget also pays 32 full-time and 10 part-time staffers, some of whom work with numerous other helplines operated by the organization: one for people with disabilities; the nation's only hotline for deaf callers; two lines exclusively for teens; a WAGES hotline to help with work, housing, day care, transportation, and other problems facing people moving from welfare to work; a Miami River line even takes reports and questions about environmental concerns. Staffers also conduct free family counseling sessions and support groups in English and Spanish, as well as "life skills" education programs within the Miami-Dade public schools. As part of this community outreach, Switchboard is the only organization in the United States to receive funding for a pregnancy-prevention program targeting girls with mental and physical disabilities.
It's beautiful, young, sexy, materialistic, glossy, disposable, stupid as hell, and as substantial as a feather. No magazine -- heck, no other institution -- better conveys Miami's glittering façade. Launched in 1992 by publisher Jerry Powers and partner Jason Binn (and quietly backed by German tycoon Thomas Kramer), Ocean Drive can no longer be contained by South Beach alone. The empire has spread to Canada, the Hamptons, Jamaica, and soon to Venezuela. Such success is a sobering indication of how well it hits its mark here.
Where have you gone, Art Teele? We keep expecting to see the Miami city commissioner's face on milk cartons. Heck, we're not even sure any more where he lives. Ever since his name surfaced in connection with the ongoing investigation into wrongdoing at the Port of Miami, the usually outgoing Teele has kept the lowest of profiles. That's too bad. The city could use his booming rhetoric to stir things up from time to time. It's certainly boring around here without him.
Although the Herald's Joan Fleischman remains the gold standard of gossip in these parts, José Lambiet is a welcome new voice. Since landing a column this past September, the Sun-Sentinel's "South Florida Insider" has broken plenty of juicy news nuggets: a paternity lawsuit filed against former Marlins slugger Gary Sheffield; a snit between (WFOR-TV) Channel 4 anchor Angela Rae and poet Maya Angelou; and actor Jamie Foxx filing charges against On Any Sunday costar LL Cool J after a fight scene in the production of Oliver Stone's new movie turned all-too real. A self-described "go-where-the-action-is kind of guy," Lambiet covers all of South Florida, from South Beach, where figure-skating pixie Tara Lipinski avoided the line at Tiramesu, to Palm Beach County, where boxer Michael Moore was sucker-punched at the Boca Raton Mezzanote. Lambiet even ventured down to a Little Havana outlet store to report on the purchase of a trash can by ballplayer Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Ever scrupulous, Lambiet disclosed that the can was a Rubbermaid.
County Commissioner Katy Sorenson is a politician devoid of subterfuge. There are no hidden agendas with her. She is exactly the way she seems: honest, sincere, forthright. Others may not agree with her positions on civic issues, but no one questions her integrity. The past twelve months marked Sorenson's best year on the commission since her arrival in 1994. She successfully led the charge to pass a gay rights ordinance. She was the first politician to speak out in favor of saving the Miami Circle. And she was one of only two commissioners brave enough to say the county needs to increase its sales tax as a dedicated source of transportation funding. Four years ago when she beat Larry Hawkins, Sorenson was an unknown. Voters weren't really voting for her as much as they were voting against Hawkins, who had become mired in allegations of sexual harassment. This past fall Sorenson won re-election, and this time the victory was all hers.
Resident folklorist at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, Steve Stuempfle is the leading proponent of Miami's unique popular culture. An authority on Trinidadian steel pan music, the 41-year-old Stuemplfe arrived here two years ago from New York and immediately leaped into the pot of disparate cultures that makes Miami great. The Historical Museum, located with the main library and the Miami Art Museum at 101 W. Flagler Street (305-375-1492), has become a showcase for the artistic and cultural traditions of South Florida's native and immigrant communities, and for artists who are usually (and inexplicably) ignored by the local museum community. Various exhibitions and cultural programs at the museum ("Percussion Traditions in Miami," "Florida Folklife," "Miami: The Gateway City") have featured Santería drummers, vodou priestesses, carnival musicians, and many other previously unsung local heroes. "I'd like to see action here at the museum on an ongoing basis that includes a variety of voices," Stuempfle says. "I want to get a lot of people interacting and thinking about what it's like to live in Miami."

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®