We want to send a shout out to the Big Lip Bandit. All right. All right. Okay. We'd kiss you if your lips weren't so big. All right. All right. Okay. A bppppppppppppppppppppppp raspberry your way, brother. The BL Bandit (actually a relatively modest-lipped Philadelphia native) has turned weeknights on 99 Jamz into a raucous and extremely social party in which the music may be played merely to give his lips a well-earned rest before he unleashes another explosion of distinctive, infectious patter. As most of Miami knows by now, the man has a mouth.
The symbolic heart of Little Havana once again is beating strong, thanks to an infusion of new blood from artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. The old landmarks are still there. The smells of café cubano and oven-roasted pork still emanate from El Pub. Domino Park remains the site of some of the fiercest domino games and political conversation anywhere. And the historic Tower Theater has reopened as a neighborhood cinema. But what's really put this strip back on the map is its growing arts scene, a collection of studios and galleries that has turned the area into Miami's cultural district. The best way to get acquainted with all that's new -- and old -- on Calle Ocho is to attend Viernes Culturales, Cultural Fridays, a neighborhood open house and street festival held the last Friday of every month.

Best Cuban Baseball Player (Recently Retired)

Rene Arocha

In 1991 Arocha became the first member of the Cuban national baseball team to defect to the United States, opening the floodgates for other Cuban peloteros such as El Duque, Osvaldo Fernandez, and Livan Hernandez. For that he will go down in history. Arocha didn't bag a multimillion-dollar contract like other Cuban players who followed. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for a meager $15,000 and made less then $150,000 his first year. But for Arocha it's not about the money. It's about being first -- but definitely not last.
Leave the enormous helium-filled cartoon characters to those big-budget department-store spectacles in major metropolitan areas. The little City of North Miami's parade, which has plodded along NE 125th Street every Thanksgiving morning for the past 26 years, offers a satisfying sampling of marching bands, floats, classic cars, cheerleaders, baton twirlers, clowns, costumed characters, and Shriners. Topping things off: a local celebrity grand marshal (past honorees have included a former football player, astronaut, and news anchor). And lest we forget, Santa Claus. Naturally it's all free, but that's not all. In addition to hailing the day to give thanks and marking the start of the Christmas season, this quaint procession ushers in the WinterNational Festival, three days of family-oriented fun featuring food, music, arts and crafts, carnival rides, and sometimes even fake snow. Yes, fake. After all, this is South Florida.
HistoryMiami
Courtesy of HistoryMiami
People often say Miami has no history. Not true. And the Historical Museum of Southern Florida can prove it. This year's "Tropical Dreams" exhibition traces human activity in the region from the arrival of prehistoric peoples 10,000 years ago through the visit by Ponce de Leon in 1523, the building of Henry Flagler's FEC railroad in 1896, right up through the many waves of migration from the Caribbean and Latin America over the past century. Since its inception fifteen years ago, the museum's folklife program has documented the traditional arts of more than 60 communities, from the Seminoles to the Scottish, the Bahamians to the Nicaraguans. "At the Crossroads: Afro-Cuban Orisha Arts in Miami" put on display beadwork, ceremonial garments, altars, instruments, paintings, and ritual performance of more than twenty local artists in the Afro-Cuban religious tradition. Committed to involving the community, the museum conducts field research, hires local guest curators, and brings on the noise with feisty discussions, lively concerts, and overnight excursions, such as the ever-popular Everglades muckabout.
-- Miami mayoral spokesman Jay Rhodes, reassuring the public that everything was fine, even though his boss, Joe Carollo, had just spent the night in jail on domestic-violence charges.
Well, why not? This is one language in which at least 80 percent of Miami-Dade County residents can claim to have some proficiency. Besides making millions for the likes of Ricky Martin and Gloria Estefan, bilingual performance, when done well, provides an entertaining aural experience and an intriguing oral history, as Michael John Garces proved in Agua Ardiente, the show he wrote and directed. Of Cuban, Colombian, and American origins, Garces skillfully scripted his heritage through a lusty and heartbreaking array of personae. The one-man performance was both soliloquy and son, monologue and dialogue; it was an ode and a diatribe, a rant and a meditation. Garces's mastery of various poetic styles (language poetry, beat poetry, and spoken word) and his strong theatrical foundation made Agua Ardiente not a grab bag of form and language but an organic and energetic piece of bilingual drama.

Every successful liberation movement has its printed matter. American patriots rallied support for the U.S. Constitution with the Federalist Papers; students railed against the Vietnam War with rags like the Berkeley Barb; the Sandinistas published Barricada while wearing down the Somoza dictatorship. Here in Miami we have Urban Environment League's Urban Forum. The diminutive gazette (six by eight inches) is cute, but it packs a rhetorical wallop. "Make no mistake about it," wrote attorney and UEL member John de Leon in a 1999 issue, "public property belongs to all of us -- rich, poor, black, white, landowners, and the dispossessed -- and not to some politicians who are trying to sell these properties as a quick fix for the financial mess they may have created." That was an early salvo in a skirmish that grew into the war over the future of Bicentennial Park. When hostilities were in full rage, UEL president Gregory Bush penned this epic prose for the October/November 2000 issue: "If you seek explanations for the progress made in revitalizing the waterfronts of Sydney, Baltimore, Portland, New York, Charleston, Providence, and Seattle ... there appears to be a common thread related to time, courage, and vision. It takes time to forge a consensus behind a coherent plan of action. It takes time to listen to the voices from nearby neighborhoods and to assess the different constituencies throughout the region.... Without a thoughtful and powerful vision, poorly thought-out decisions will predominate." The Forum chronicles other land-use and planning struggles as well, though the civic equivalent of guerrilla warfare sometimes leads to irregular publishing dates. Back issues are available on the group's Website (www.uel.org).
Mason could be named the best Heat player simply for avoiding the sinful temptations of South Beach. Long known as one of the NBA's more volatile stars, during his pre-Heat days he racked up an impressive arrest record for gun possession, assault, battery on a police officer, endangering the welfare of a child, and public drunkenness. When he played for the New York Knicks under Pat Riley, the coach suspended him twice. This year Mase, as he is known, could win a good-citizenship award. He's quit drinking and taken up Bible study. His relationship with Riley is full of mutual praise. More important, he is having his second-best year in the NBA, with an average of 15.9 points per game and 9.7 rebounds. And he deserves much of the credit for the Heat's success in the absence of Alonzo Mourning. His excellent ball-handling has helped make up for Tim Hardaway's diminishing skills. More often than not it has fallen to Mason to guard some of the league's hardest covers, including Chris Webber, Tim Duncan, and Shaquille O'Neal. He has acquitted himself admirably against these big men. At age 34, which can be ancient in the NBA, he is averaging 40 minutes per game. Mase is a free agent next year. One can only hope Riley finds a way to keep him in the lineup.
The only invitation you need to this soiree is a big, fat full moon climbing into the night sky. Each month, on the official calendar night of the full moon, an often motley but gentle crew assembles on the sand -- with no central planning and no velvet rope. The crowd can grow as large as 500; 1000 is not unheard of. Over the course of the nighttime hours, the Beach is transformed from a tourist mecca where the self-satisfied lounge to a vibrant, feral gathering. You make your own fun here. There's no bar and no sound system. But inevitably drum circles form, people chant, and dancing erupts spontaneously. Sit in the sand and stare at the ocean. Strike up a conversation with that aging hippie or that sleek young club kid or the bewildered sales rep who stumbled up from the Loews hotel. When was the last time you returned home from a night on South Beach with sand in your shoes, a smile on your face, and money still in your wallet?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®