For thirteen years Miami has been lucky enough to host the weird and wonderful sounds of new music concocted by local composers and freaks from around the world. Festival director Gustavo Matamoros looks for artists who push the boundaries of that thing called music into an exploration of pure sound. The Subtropics' sound safaris will travel anywhere from the street corner to innerspace. This year's festival captured, among other things, the random electronic patterns of Sony Mao and Needle; the analogue chaos of George Tegzes; the sonic deconstruction of Celia Cruz by Ileana Perez Velazquez; the musical meanderings of the Sephardic Jews as tracked by the Duo Kol-Tof; and Sam Ashley and Jens Brand's pseudo-collaborative performance "The Bugs Who Could Be Revived After Being Dead."
Call it a mixture of financial planning and public confession. "Money Makeovers," a column appearing every other Sunday in the Miami Herald's business section, is an addictive snapshot of a community's fiscal health. Readers volunteer to have their finances scoped by a certified financial analyst. While the volunteers receive free financial advice, they also must put their often-disastrous financial history on naked display. Notable participants include the high school science teacher who collects snakes. "My comfort level is not as okay as I'd like it to be," he said, referring to his stock portfolio, not to the albino boa constrictor he keeps on his property. There's the former professional baseball player who is dangerously -- perhaps embarrassingly -- leveraged in tech stocks. And there's the pathetic attorney and single mother who overspends her $70,000 income by $3000 per month, piling up enormous credit-card debt and squandering her IRA. Doh! Fortunately the column provides inspiration, too. Take the uniquely Miami story of John Quinteros. The former drug dealer, busted on national TV by Geraldo Rivera, is rebuilding his financial life after spending more than six years in prison. Now a restaurant manager, Quinteros wants to bump up his 401(k) contributions and increase his investment in stocks. "When I got out, I did not have a penny to my name," he said triumphantly. "Now I have a beautiful wife and a family, a nice house, and a growing portfolio." Beautiful indeed.

Government flacks are essential, and not just to disseminate information during emergencies like hurricanes or sewage spills. Good ones help journalists extract key, sometimes incriminating, public records from the bureaucratic maw. Whether they are called public-information officers, media-relations managers, or press agents, the best ones share some common traits: They are briskly efficient, and they understand the news business. Former Miami-Dade Communications Department director Mayco Villafaña set these standards for his staff. Anyone who observed the post-election insanity after the presidential vote witnessed Villafaña's Herculean effort to accommodate the media crush without letting that impede the important work of the elections department. As for Rhonda Barnett, she has never lost sight of the notion that public service means keeping the public interest foremost. Barnett always responds quickly and is never daunted by red tape. She also boasts a dream résumé: a master's degree in library science and a decade of experience as a television news producer in Boston and South Florida, picking up four Emmys along the way. Unfortunately politics and professionalism are uneasy bedfellows at county hall these days. Both Villafaña and Barnett were fired recently.
They get miffed about overdevelopment and lobbyists lurking at city hall. They've successfully battled high-rises, and don't even try to tell them what to do with their neighborhood's sidewalks. Go to just about any public meeting at Miami Beach City Hall, and you'll see a couple of them in the audience -- watching. They are members of the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, and they like nothing better than to chew on a squirming public official along with their coffee and toast. Each Tuesday morning this motley gaggle of Miami Beach property owners, entrepreneurs, and condo-board types converges on South Beach's oldest Cuban diner about 8:30 to get a clean shot at invited guests. When the chatter from their rear corner table rises above the general restaurant din, you know the guest speaker is being sliced and diced. Although the group began meeting in 1995, it became a force to be reckoned with in 1997, when its members took on high-rise developer Thomas Kramer and his $1.5 million campaign to defeat the "Save Miami Beach" referendum. The ballot measure passed overwhelmingly, and now a citywide vote is required whenever officials seek to increase density on waterfront property. Political foes sniff that the group is more attitude than substance, but we like the club's tenacity and political savvy.

Many politicians, hoping to impress an increasingly influential voting bloc, attended the March 10, 2001, Fanm Ayisyèn Nan Myami (Haitian Women of Miami) fundraising banquet at a local hotel. Miami Mayor Joe Carollo was scheduled to award a key to the city to the featured speaker, Marie St. Fleur of Boston, the nation's first elected Haitian-American state representative. St. Fleur is a forceful advocate of programs to combat domestic violence and protect battered women. At the banquet St. Fleur spoke at length on the subject, at one point invoking Eleanor Roosevelt's words: "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water." And on St. Fleur went, oblivious to the controversy surrounding Carollo's recent arrest for allegedly hitting his wife -- with a tea canister no less. Although the mayor's staff later denied that Carollo's next surprising move was prompted by St. Fleur's words, he suddenly arose well before she had finished her speech and left the banquet room, key to the city and all.
The past year has provided uplifting proof that there is no shortage of locals willing to risk their lives to help others in a uniquely South Florida jam: rescuing people who have driven off the road into a canal. Remember these heroes next time you hear someone badmouthing Miami and its rude citizens.

•November 4, 2000: Four Miami-Dade police officers -- Eduardo Garcia, Will Sanchez, Pedro Polo, and James McDonnell -- dived into a canal at SW Seventh Street and 122nd Avenue to rescue a nineteen-year-old woman trapped in her sinking Nissan. The car was submerged when the officers reached it. "She had been holding her breath, and by the time we'd gotten there she was on her last breath," Garcia told the Miami Herald.

•December 7, 2000: Off-duty Hialeah police Lt. Joe DeJesus jumped into a canal on Griffin Road in Broward at 11:00 p.m. to rescue a woman whose van had veered off the road. She was unhurt.

•January 12, 2001: Hialeah residents Jim Gentilesco, Jr., and Rene Abreu jumped into a canal at West 44th Place and Fourth Avenue when they saw a 40-year-old woman's car slip into the water.

•January 14, 2001: Hans Schaefer, Eduardo Suarez, and his father, Eduardo Suarez, Sr., swam to the bottom of a murky canal off NW 137th Avenue and 104th Street to reach a woman whose car had plunged into the water.

This tiny, bucolic slice of South Florida, incorporated as a city in 1937 and sandwiched between the cities of Miami and Miami Shores west of Biscayne Boulevard at NE 86th Street, almost feels like a hippie commune in Vermont. Dogs roam freely, people actually sit on their porches. But the lush subtropical foliage (a sanctuary for birds, according to a sign greeting visitors at 86th Street) brings you back to Miami. Something else unique to South Florida that connects this charming village to the past: Along the edge of the Little River canal, on NE Fourth Avenue Road, you'll find a Tequesta Indian habitation mound. A tablet erected in 1949 in honor of the natives marks the spot. Directly in front of it is a grassy patch of land overflowing with plants and trees for all to enjoy. But it's the neighborhood's ungentrified feel and a varied and colorful array of residential architectural styles -- from English Tudor to Spanish Mediterranean -- that give this city of 2000 residents its real charm.

Known the world over for opulent accommodations, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group constructed its latest masterpiece adjacent to downtown on overcrowded Claughton Island, also known as Brickell Key. A November 2000 opening introduced Miamians to a heretofore unknown brand of low-key luxury. More than $100 million was spent on the wedge-shaped building, which includes a serene lobby accented by elegant bamboo trees, 329 expansive rooms decorated with modern furniture and plush fabrics (bamboo floors in suites), bathrooms covered in Spanish marble, and balconies that overlook Biscayne Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, or the Miami skyline. Add to that a state-of-the-art gym, a charming swimming pool with Jacuzzi, a lush full-service spa, the splendid restaurant Azul, and the more-casual but equally enticing Café Sambal. Rates that range from $550 to $4000, and recent guests Spanish rulers King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia suggest a stay that few simple folk can afford except in the off-season.
Opa-locka. Dusk. The parking lot of an abandoned housing project. The potholed lot is empty save the car of a reporter, who has pulled over to take a cell-phone call. Up ahead a round-faced man wearing a black Martin Luther King T-shirt slowly winds toward the car. He is sipping from a longneck bottle of Budweiser. When he reaches the car, he smiles, revealing a bridge of gold teeth.

"Hey man, you live here? Damn that's nice! I'd live here myself if I could. You're on the phone? Oh man, I know what you're doing. I know exactly what you're doing. You're talking to your girlfriend! Your wife doesn't get off work for another hour, so you're talking to your girl. Don't say no, man! Don't tell me you got no wife. I'm smart. Ah, yeah, that's what's happening man.

"Hey man, seriously. Don't be doing that. You got to stop that. Go home to your wife and kids. I know exactly what's going on here. This is what you do: You call your girl tomorrow, you tell her that you've talked to the Lord and he told you this wasn't right, that you've got to go back to your wife, that your kids need you. I'm smart. I'm smart. And I know. Every month you get more bills. Paying for your girl adds up. Then you get another bill, and you say, “Damn, another bill!' Then you have to look at your kids. Man, I'm tellin' you there's nothing worse in the world than to have to look in your kids' eyes and tell 'em you're a deadbeat dad. You hear me? Hang up that phone, brother! I love you. I want you to do the right thing.

"Oh man, my back hurts. You mind if I lean in here a little bit? You see how I walked up here, all slow and all? That's how I know what I'm talking about man, 'cause my wife shot me in the back. Look here, I'll lift up my shirt. Let me just turn around here. You see that? You see the hole? You don't ever want to be denying no child support. Listen to me! You're going to hang up that phone, brother. You're going to do the right thing. I can tell. I know. I'm smart, man. I'm telling you I'm smart. And I know."

Oh, how many, many times have we heard the complaints: You newspaper people only care about bad news. Everything you print is so negative. Why can't you ever write about the good things? How about being uplifting for a change? Well, we are delighted to announce that someone has been listening. Someone who cares. Someone who works at the malevolent Miami Herald, of all places. In his role as the paper's television critic, Terry Jackson can be as viciously snarky as they come. But once a week he parks his mean streak. Every Thursday, in the "Wheels and Waves" section, he pens a column called "Behind the Wheel," in which he test-drives and reviews new automobiles. We have it on good authority that the column represents Jackson's quiet effort to bring some sunshine to the otherwise gloomy pages of Miami's Only Daily -- despite what cynics say about the influence of automobile dealers and their advertising dollars. No, for his determination to utter nary a discouraging word, for his selfless service to the community, Jackson deserves praise and a reprise of some typical headlines from the past twelve months: Luxury in a pickup? The nimble Sierra C3 suspends our disbelief. •Escalade a classy SUV competitor. •Extra-roomy, redesigned Le Sabre gives families alternative to minivans, SUVs. •SC430 convertible coupe is eye-catching. •The new explorer is better in every way: handling and ride vastly improved. •Toyota takes a fun mini-SUV and makes it larger, better. •Nissan aims for cutting edge in reviving the Z. •Interior makes Lexus LS430 a ride in lap of luxury. •Chrysler's minivans improve on success. •Acura's MDX meets demand for luxury SUV. •Volvo's XC: Wagon for a new age. •Fast and stylish, Lexus IS 300 a top performance sedan. •Performance is a plus for redesigned Aurora. •Breakout designs mark a new course for Cadillac. •New SUVs look like performance vehicles. •Pickups keep on truckin' -- new models far from basic. •Going topless is the secret of Pontiac Sunfire's success: fun convertible shows less is more.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®