From the day she began writing for the Miami Herald in 1982, first as a freelancer then as a staffer, Meg Laughlin has wrapped her prose around the lives of some of South Florida's strangest characters and most disturbing stories. We love her for that. At Tropic magazine she chronicled the bizarre machinations of Hank Blair, a U.S. Customs agent who couldn't stop himself from sadistically harassing Susan Billig, the mother of a young girl who mysteriously disappeared decades ago. She looked into the cops' killing of bus hijacker "Nick" Sang and found that the Joe's Stone Crab waiter wasn't what he seemed to be. Laughlin showed us the depth of suffering Magda Montiel Davis experienced after kissing Fidel Castro. And then there's Elian. Laughlin enlivened the Herald's occasionally lackluster coverage of the case with sparkling writing and ample enterprise. She was the one who toted up the eleven times Marisleysis Gonzalez was hospitalized. And it was she who figured out how Demetrio Perez and company were programming the six-year-old at Perez's Lincoln-Martí school. She had no problem cadging Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin into admitting the weird reason she took a side in the custody battle for Elian. All part of a day's work. Says Laughlin: "I'm gonna miss the kid."
Invitations are for the spineless masses and the spiritually lazy. Who are these elite snobs to banish you from their South Beach soirees? What do Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio have that you don't? Money? Looks? Fame? Bah! Level the playing field with the one thing you do have over them: smarts. This takes just a little preparation. First scour the papers for news of a fab event. Then call those responsible and make your pitch. If it's a PR firm, remember the name of it as well as the name of the person with whom you spoke. Say you are "media." Make up the name of some fashion magazine -- Cut or Plastic or some such. If they say they've never heard of you, say it's a Condé Nast prototype due out in the fall. Make sure you dress appropriately. You also can show up at the door with attitude. Approach the person holding the list and give your name. When they can't find it, roll your eyes, look pissed and say, "Maurice with that PR firm, whateveritscalled, phoned me personally, and I told him I'd only do this if he made sure I didn't have to wait at the door." Once inside drink copiously, drop names, and try hard to have fun.
Let's see now, in just the past twelve months, there has been a series of hunger strikes to free immigrants held at the Krome Detention Center. "Nobody listened to me," Marta Berros, leader of the group Mothers for Freedom, told the Herald. "My son was being tortured, and nobody wanted to listen until I did the hunger strike." Members of exile organization Vigilia Mambisa protested the Los Van Van concert at the Miami Arena with a "daylight hunger strike," not eating for two days from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. A group known as Municipalities in Exile made their strike (in solidarity with fasting dissidents in Cuba) even more palatable by fasting from only 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Hunger-striking Haitian detainee Arnel Belizaire dropped nearly 100 pounds after he stopped eating solid food to protest his INS incarceration. This past January his lawyers admitted that Belizaire might not realize his hunger strike could be "a futile action." Only a few months earlier, Democracy Movement leader Ramon Saul Sanchez launched a twenty-day, liquids-only hunger strike to win release of his boat Human Rights, which the feds had impounded. His strike was not a futile action. After the boat was returned, Sanchez transported it to Jose Martí Park, where he and 100 others celebrated its return. Food and drink, appropriately, were not served.
John de Leon straddles the fence -- bravely and proudly. In the past year, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Greater Miami dared to write an editorial calling for Elian Gonzalez's dad to raise his own kid. At the same time he listened to complaints of excessive force filed by exile protesters who wanted Elian to stay in Miami. He filed a lawsuit against the City of Miami when its leaders tried to block the Cuban band Los Van Van from playing within city limits, and then he supported the exile hard-liners who protested outside the Miami Arena, where the concert eventually was held. He angrily denounced the ban of Cigar Aficionado's Cuba issue at Miami International Airport, yet quickly leaped to the defense of the six Cuban rafters hosed and pepper-sprayed by the Coast Guard when they tried to land in Surfside. De Leon is sensitive to the concerns of the exile community (his parents arrived from Cuba in 1959), yet he is painfully aware of its unfortunate propensity for trampling on the First Amendment. He may hold the most important job in Miami. "What we saw," he said after the Los Van Van show, "was a highly charged event on both sides. But the community was relatively unscathed by the whole thing, and I think it demonstrated to everybody that people can have strongly opposing viewpoints and be able to express them and live together in the same place." True. And in no small part because of de Leon's difficult work.
It's getting harder and harder to recommend anything on Ocean Drive, especially a hotel. For a night of partying, the crowds and the noise can still be seductive as part of the SoBe experience. But for postparty hours, when quality lounging quarters are required, that cacophonous street life should be a distant and silent memory. Which is why the Tides is an amazing oasis. For some nearly inexplicable reason, those few steps that lead up and off Ocean Drive toward this calm and cool hotel continue to transport you to another world. As the name suggests, the Tides lulls you into the lap of luxury. Unlike other fabulous hotels, such as the Delano and the Biltmore, crowds don't throng the lobby and pool area. In fact the pool is on the mezzanine, not something you often see around here. It's secluded and elegant, like everything else at the Tides. But let's get straight to the point: Whether you're a local or a visitor, if you're going to throw down some bucks (and here you most definitely will, as rates range from $300 to $2000), a room with a view is imperative. At the Tides every room has an ocean view, a simply fabulous view. The Art Deco hotel, built in 1936, is one of the tallest buildings in the area, so there's nothing to obstruct your sightlines. The whole place, from the lobby to the restaurants to the huge rooms (45 of them), is draped from head to toe in a egg-shell color. The sandy shade conveys the feeling, especially while you're in a fluffy beige robe sitting in your room staring out at the blue expanse of the Atlantic, of being safely ensconced under a huge soundproof cabana on the beach, 1000 miles from the cares and the crowds of the world.
Ungurait is the spokesman for one of the most overworked and politically perilous government offices anywhere. Yet he remains helpful and straightforward in the face of even the most taxing demands. No question is too small, no fact too obscure. Ungurait will research and promptly report back. The infrequent times he can't dig up all the details or answer you immediately, he'll apologize and get on with the job. That inspires confidence, which is almost an oxymoron when applied to the world of flacking.
It's far away from the Shangri-la of South Beach, but earlier this year Lazaro Gonzalez's home in the gritty heart of Miami became the best photo opportunity since Gianni Versace gave his life for the benefit of local tour-bus operators. When young Cuban rafter Elian Gonzalez moved into the modest abode rented by his Uncle Lazaro, the house became the Miami destination. Until police blocked the street to all but residents, cars loaded with vérité-seeking tourists slowly would parade past at night, as if the house featured an elaborate Christmas-light display. For weeks, all day long, leathery old men and matronly women maintained their vigil behind the barricades (and occasionally through the barricades), smoking cigars and chatting while hoping for a glimpse of the boy. Vendors did brisk business selling Cuban flags and other memorabilia. Hordes of media drones beamed images of the scene around the globe. Given that kind of exposure, local tour guides are all smiles: This place will be a cash cow for months, maybe years to come.
El Chamba has been around since 1989. Except for one minor detail (it finally has an operating permit), not much has changed at this ramshackle soap-and-suds center for cars. El Chamba's native Nicaraguan owners take pride in the fact that the only machine used on your ride is a heavy-duty vacuum for the carpets. "Machines can't think," notes Leon Mateo Sanz, one of the owners. "God forbid they should damage the car." Here, at this odd Flagler Street intersection, where several roads converge to become one-way streets, manual labor is the only way to go. A live human attends to every nook and cranny of your car. A variety of perfumes add the final touch. For a truly Miami experience, we recommend "ocean mist." Fragrance included, a complete job costs ten bucks.
Miami's municipal-bond rating is improving. Mayor Joe Carollo will serve out his term in office. An eerie calm permeates the city's tumultuous political environment. Don't thank government leaders. Thank Miami attorney Ben Kuehne. His courtroom argument was simple: A proposed charter referendum for a "strong mayor" amounted to an illegal recall of Mayor Carollo. That was all Judge Fredricka Smith and the Third District Court of Appeal needed to knock the referendum off this November's ballot. Kuehne's pro bono work allows the mayor to complete his term, and earns for his firm, Sale and Kuehne, invaluable publicity. (What? You say he did this solely on principle?) The political stability should last until Carollo's next outburst at city hall.
First things first: There is no beach at Jensen Beach. It's not on the ocean. But it does hug the western shore of the Intracoastal Waterway (known up there as the Indian River). Caribbean Shores is a funky waterfront inn just outside of town, which is just north of Stuart, which is about 100 miles north of Miami, which basically means it's a completely different universe. And that's good news for anyone seeking relief from the pressure cooker we call home. The facilities at Caribbean Shores include a two-story, standard-issue motel; a dozen or so charming old-Florida-style bungalows; and a big house on the water divided into four suites. The informal atmosphere is enhanced by whimsical color schemes (pastels everywhere), and the views across Indian River are splendid, especially from the "Swan" suites. But don't expect fancy amenities or organized activities. The Shores isn't a resort, though you'll find a pool and a fishing pier and nice landscaping. It's just a delightful place to spend a couple of relaxing days alongside the water. You can bike across the causeway to Hutchinson Island and its alluring, wide-open beaches. Or you can wander around the old part of town and pick through a nice assortment of antique shops. For dinner drive up the road to Conchy Joe's, famed for its conch chowder and fresh seafood. Lodging is quite reasonable, particularly in the off-season, which runs from May 1 to December 1. Pretty decent Website, to boot.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®