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 the most exciting thing happening on South Beach," Commissioner Nancy Liebman says about the renovation of the once-decrepit Miami Beach Botanical Garden adjacent to the city's convention center. Well, that might be a bit of an overstatement, but this pocket-size garden is certainly going to be a fun thing to watch grow. Over the past year, more than 100 volunteers have weeded, hauled, pruned, potted, and planted an overgrown four-acre plot, which includes a Japanese garden, a glass conservatory, and ponds, turning it into a lush little attraction that even most locals don't know exists. Now that the garden is being spruced up, more events have been scheduled, including plant sales, classes in orchid and palm growing, concerts, and workshops sponsored by the Florida Master Gardeners. Another draw is the intergenerational vegetable garden, which joins kids with old folks to harvest peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs. A charming gift shop features homemade jellies, jams, flavored vinegars, and other edibles in addition to postcards and books. The best part is that while the renovations continue (at least until the new millennium), admission is free. The garden is open weekdays from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4:00 p.m.

"Damn you all!" Channel 6 (WTVJ-TV) anchor Tony Segreto nearly shouted as much when he delivered the news on January 13: Jimmy Johnson was expected to resign as Miami Dolphins head coach. Word would come at a news conference the next day. The bombshell had dropped without any context (why in the world was the successful and popular Johnson quitting?) so Segreto and, to be sure, several other broadcasters, groped for their own. The fans, he speculated with a frowny face, were responsible. The fans who didn't show J.J. enough love. The talk-radio callers who had the temerity to criticize Johnson for losing by five touchdowns to Denver and for failing to win that Super Bowl championship he had promised. It was a strange attack. Criticism of Johnson was certainly no fiercer than any other coach receives elsewhere in the NFL. And since when do "Bob from Plantation" and "Chuck on a mobile" wield that much clout? When Johnson finally took the podium at Dolphins headquarters in Davie, he explained that he was merely a 55-year-old workaholic struggling to balance work and family. He was not quitting as a coach, he said, only ratcheting down his workload. As for the talk that fan criticism threatened to run him out of town? Groundless. That night Segreto delivered the news with a big smile.
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.
Six major studios, owned by global conglomerates such as Time Warner and Rupert Murdoch's NewsGroup, control Hollywood, determining what films get made, how they're made, and how they're made available to the public. This nation's film industry is driven by one thing and one thing only: market share. If the stock prices drop, so does the other shoe. Which is why the chances of a mainstream movie being worth seven bucks admission are about as likely as François Truffaut springing from the grave to remake Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Which is why there are film festivals.

Spawned at Cannes and reinvigorated by Sundance, film fests now number in the thousands. Besides gathering together cineastes and celebrating the medium, these events should provide the opportunity for ordinary Joes and Janes to see films inspired by artistic vision rather than by test screenings, tracking indicators, and gross-after-negative point returns. The Miami Film Festival falls short by drawing heavily on movies that are either corporate releases or prize winners from other festivals, and by overloading its schedule with Latin fare.

The much less calculated Fort Lauderdale event follows a populist policy, disregarding potential carping by critics and taking an aggressive approach. Films shouldn't be made for critics, and growth maintenance may be good for events, but it's not good for filmgoers. FLIFF's Gregory von Hausch has defined his event's mission as giving opportunity to young filmmakers and bringing films to South Florida that would not otherwise show here. At this past fall's FLIFF, one-third (43 out of 120) of the movies were by first-time directors. Features were acquired from Iran, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Algeria, as well as North and South America. FLIFF also has reached out with sidebar events, called minifests, in Miami, Hollywood, and Boca.

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.
"I've never done anything like this before," says Tina Osterling, a Tampa native visiting the Russian and Turkish baths for the first time. "It's so cool, or I guess, hot." She and a half-dozen others sat in bathing suits, sweating amid a swirling mass of steam said to reach temperatures as high as 160 degrees. Every few minutes she and the others seated on the top tier of the red-tiled Russian Radiant Room poured cups full of ice water over their heads to quell the raging heat. Visitors can also inhale eucalyptus and peppermint herbs in the Aroma Therapy Room, soak in the 100-degree saltwater Jacuzzi, sweat in the redwood sauna or the dry steam of the Turkish Room, play tennis, swim in the Olympic-size pool, tan on the sundeck, and work out in the fully equipped gym. A freezing cold plunge pool and Swedish shower are sure to reinvigorate even the most sluggish soul. If all that activity is too much, a Relaxation Room offers bunk beds where patrons can catch a few winks. It's all included in the $20 entrance fee. Those in need of some fortification can make their way to the dining room for sandwiches, beer, wine, salads, or freshly squeezed vegetable and fruit juices. For a little extra gelt, visitors can indulge in a massage, herbal bath, colonic, or mud treatment. The baths are open to women and men daily from noon to midnight.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®