Since the object of a first date is getting to know the other person well enough to determine if you like him/her, consider Dave & Buster's the ideal venue. This sprawling 60,000-square-foot entertainment-and-dining complex offers a variety of options for learning about someone else. Consider the Million Dollar Midway, which features more than 200 interactive and virtual-reality games. See just how much that guy really likes to play golf, or exactly how big a princess she is if she won't risk her manicure. Find out if he's sensitive (does he cry when his virtual Corvette crashes?) and see if she's got game (can she swish a basket?). Then move on to one of the countless bars, where you'll discover if your date can hold his/her liquor of if he/she ends up literally being a crashing-off-the-barstool boor. If the date goes smoothly, consider heading for one of several dining areas for a meal. If not, try scanning the Skeeball. No need to bust your chops when there's plenty of pickings at Dave & Buster's.
If you want to get back together good and fast, just spend a half-hour or so together in this dark, desolate zone of urban destitution. Seven years ago a huge homeless encampment known as the Mud Flats was spread out here, and despite a multimillion-dollar cleanup and relocation, the area is still a haven for people with serious problems: window-washers, panhandlers, all manner of lame and halt. They don't so much live here anymore as work here -- there's money in those SUVs trapped in lines at the traffic lights leading to the expressway entrance ramps. This is the time and the place where you and your estranged need each other most. You need, at all costs, to escape from these looming shadows, and this you can do with the help of that wonderful person next to you, clutching your arm like a tourniquet, who will never let you go again.
It can be a little difficult to tell if the men indeed are single, since sitting in saunas and baths is an easy excuse to take off that ring. And a certain percentage are going to be tourists, seeing as how this is in a hotel. But a surprising variety of employed, respectable men make their way to Miami's most soporific hot spot on any given evening (days are not recommended as employed, respectable nontourists should not be lounging). The age and ethnic range also is desirable -- all over the place, that is. But what makes the baths a particularly conducive meeting ground? Well, having no choice but to sit side by side in one of the many overheated rooms or the Jacuzzi has a way of forcing conversation. "It wasn't this hot last time I visited." "Oh, do you come here often?" That kind of thing. But more serious talk can, and sometimes does, follow. How ecotourism is a mixed blessing for Ecuador; which hotels are the best bang for your buck in Moscow; what the best waterways are for boating in Miami. The high temperatures have a way of loosening more than leg muscles, and often attitude gets checked at the door as stress and shyness dissipate into the humid air. If you need more loosening, there are white Russians (the drink) in the café. Open every day, noon till midnight. All days are coed.
The frozen drinks and spicy merengue beat have a way of shaking loose a girl's inhibitions. This Ocean Drive patio bar is full of out-of-town women looking for a Miami adventure. Slick back your hair, splash on the alluring cologne, and join the local Lotharios on the dance floor. Don't worry if you don't know how to salsa. If you can fake it well enough, you'll be a mambo king in the eyes of that little blond sales rep from South Jersey.
Park the car for the day and get on Miami's billion-dollar transportation boondoggle for a self-guided tour of the city. You can enter a station at any point along the 21-mile convex curve from Hialeah to Kendall. You'll travel a crazy parabola through neighborhoods as different from each other as the people are in this highly stratified society. The views are by turns breathtaking and depressing on the journey through Hialeah, Brownsville, Allapattah, Overtown, downtown Miami, and the Brickell area, then south along Dixie Highway through Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, and South Miami. Then jump to the Metromover downtown for a photo-worthy whirl above the Miami River and the pulsing streets of the center city, catching occasional glimpses of Biscayne Bay. Metrorail's history is one for the books. Voters approved a bond issue to build it in 1978, but plagued by cost overruns and construction delays, the complete $1.3 billion elevated train track wasn't open for business until 1985. And it hasn't exactly done much to relieve our ridiculously congested roads; only a tiny percentage of Miami-Dade's population actually uses it. Still we like Metrorail (or Metrorail, as its detractors lovingly call it). It's as much adventure as you can have for a pocketful of quarters.
As a member of the county commission since 1993, Natacha Seijas (the former Mrs. Natacha Millan) has perfected a foolproof method of alienating people. She's mean. She's arrogant. She can throw a scowl that cracks granite. And so as she prepared to run for re-election in 2000, most political observers predicted her time was up. Her archenemy, Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, had made her defeat one of his top priorities. Her opponent in the commission race was Roberto Casas, a popular and affable member of the state Senate. Seijas's chances for survival were considered so slim that even some of her natural allies, such as Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and his stable of cronies, hedged their bets by financially supporting both candidates. But in this case the pundits were wrong. Seijas worked harder than Casas, knocking on doors and acting throughout the campaign as if she were twenty points behind in the polls. Simply put, Seijas wanted it more than Casas. And she concentrated on the right issues: responding to constituent concerns, introducing an ordinance to provide higher wages for employees of companies that do business with the county, and looking out for elderly residents. If a victory by an incumbent can ever be considered an upset, then Seijas pulled off an upset last fall, winning another four-year term. She's still mean. She's still arrogant. And she's still insufferable. But you've got to hand it to her: She fought a hell of a good race.

As the mayor of Coral Gables for the past eight years, Raul Valdes-Fauli treated the electorate as if they were serfs and he their lord and master. He was more than haughty. He was brazenly contemptuous of the public. Drunk with power, he did his best to turn the City Beautiful into the City Hideous by disregarding its history and tradition, throwing open the doors to one bloated eyesore of a development after another. But Valdes-Fauli and two other members of the city commission, Dorothy Thomson and Jim Barker, finally went too far. Last year they approved a $16.5 million construction project that included a 60,000-square-foot annex to the historic city hall. The plan also called for closing a portion of Biltmore Way. Their actions solidified public sentiment against them, and in April all three were voted out of office and replaced with a reform-minded slate of candidates that immediately halted construction on the new annex and promised to sharply regulate all future development.

In 1998, after eking out a victory in one of North Miami's ugliest mayoral elections ever, attorney Frank Wolland faced widespread doubts about his ability to overcome the town's growing racial and social rifts. At least a quarter of North Miami's 60,000 residents are Haitian; blacks now make up 55 percent of the population in this once-lily-white stronghold. Wolland's 1998 opponent, Joe Celestin, was the first Haitian to run for North Miami mayor, and his passionate supporters took the loss hard. But Wolland began an effort to encourage Haitians' involvement in civic life. He even inquired about enrolling in Kreyol classes but couldn't attend regularly. The feared ethnic polarization didn't occur in North Miami, and some Celestin supporters even wound up on Wolland's side for re-election. Thus his decision to take a breather from politics prompted a flood of calls to Wolland's law office, begging him to reconsider. "A lot of people were very unhappy," he concedes. "They came to me, and we talked it out. I just think it's time to spend a little more time with my kids and my [law practice]. So I decided to sit this one out." In retrospect Wolland's departure ushered in, as gracefully as one could hope, a new era of majority black leadership in North Miami.

The Cagney and Lacey of the Clinton administration are now in South Florida. There was never much doubt that native Miamian Janet Reno would return home, even with the hard feelings among Cuban Americans over Elian. But landing Donna Shalala as the new president of the University of Miami was indeed a coup. For political junkies looking to add a little West Wing sizzle to their next humdrum cocktail party, inviting one or (dare we imagine) both of these Beltway vixens would be just the ticket. Imagine the stories they could swap while munching on croquetas and sipping mojitos. "Well, that's what I told the president. “No, sir, I don't know if club soda is really good at removing stains.'"

They are the children of the Cuban exiles who formed modern Miami, and they are among those who will shape the future of the United States. There also is the possibility they will play leading roles in a future Cuba. But regardless of how things shake out in their ancestral home, Garcia and Ugalde are a force to be reckoned with here and now. Garcia, as many in both Miami and Washington, D.C., are aware, is the new executive director and long-time spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation. He has been active in politics for a good part of his 37 years, and no doubt his political star will continue to ascend. Ugalde, Garcia's wife of nine years, has been less publicly visible though no less accomplished. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard with a law degree from the University of Miami, she served for six years as associate general counsel for UM. This past February she moved into the spotlight when she was named senior advisor to Donna Shalala, the new University of Miami president and former secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®