Valentine's Day, 2001. The scene: More than three dozen Miami notables, from county Mayor Alex Penelas and Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler to Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce chairman Philip Blumberg and United Way chief Harve Mogul, gather before the school board and urge members to grant bumbling back-slapper Roger Cuevas another two years in office as superintendent of schools. Union-boss-for-life Pat Tornillo is also present. As he has on other occasions (such as the time this paper made a stink about the diploma-mill degrees held by Cuevas and several of his top administrators), Tornillo comes to the defense of Cuevas, arguing that, with all the other problems facing the school district, the continuity of leadership Cuevas could provide is needed. The school board decides to extend the superintendent's contract by two years (at $251,690 per annum). Just seven months later the school board is under heavy fire from the media, state politicians, and the public for financial and ethical scandals. Cuevas, until then the board's happy, well-fed puppet, becomes the board's well-compensated scapegoat and is fired. At the same time the district faces a huge shortfall in state funds. When the cash-strapped district suggests that teachers take a couple of days off to ease the strain on the budget, Tornillo agrees. But then the disgusted union rank and file vote down the compromise. His back against the wall, Tornillo suddenly adopts the language of militant union bosses of old, charging that teachers shouldn't have to take a cut just because the school board wasted so much money on things like Cuevas's lucrative golden parachute -- up to $800,000. Now that's chutzpah!
Mayco survived years in the trenches at county hall as a competent and fair-minded bureaucrat, only to be knocked off by county Manager Steve Shiver for -- gasp! -- releasing public information to the press! Shiver forced him to resign and then had the gall to seize his computer minutes later, a humiliating blow to a veteran professional like Villafaña. After knocking around town and a brief stint at the State Attorney's Office, he followed old boss Merrett Stierheim into a true snake pit -- the public school district. May he bring sunshine to the dark corners.
No one can adequately explain the day-long, perpetual traffic jam on the westbound Dolphin Expressway (SR 836) just after you pass over Le Jeune Road and Miami International Airport appears on the north side of the road. This is our Bermuda Triangle, the place where time inexplicably vanishes. There never appears to be a good reason for the sudden crush of cars slowing to a crawl -- no accident, no disabled vehicle, no construction. It just is. Could there be some unknown force field that compels Miami drivers to drop to school-zone speed (which, ironically, they rarely observe in actual school zones)? What up, Miami?
Let's face facts: It's no secret that thoroughly married women have by and large given up on the frills along with the sexual thrills. So you can pretty much assume that any female shopping at Victoria's Secret for lacy apparel that couldn't cover a kitten's rear end is on the legitimate prowl. And if she's not now, she's planning to be. So go ahead. Give it your best shot. Try picking her up while she's picking up a teddy.
Part records technician, part social worker, part comedienne, Minnie Bishop is a pleasant surprise when you walk into the Miami Beach Police Department's snazzy building at 1100 Washington Avenue. Even if it's five minutes till closing time, Bishop will deal with your problem without the hostile stare we've come to expect from government service workers. With a hearty laugh and a "Hold on, baby, we'll see what we can do for you," Bishop swings into action, brown eyes sparkling behind wire-frame glasses. She can help a domestic-abuse victim needing a battery report, fax police documents to the U.S. Attorney's Office, and keep up on the office gossip all at the same time. Bishop also has a million stories for every occasion, some sad, some funny, whatever she thinks you need to hear. "I've laughed at my desk and cried at my desk," she says.
More than any other city in our great nation, Miami can use El Paracaidista (The Parachutist: Miami Newcomers' Guide), a year-old monthly newspaper that also appears online. Venezuelan Ira Guevara and Argentine Cynthia Zak, both thirtysomething journalists, say they founded El Paracaidista largely as a response to the Cuban balsero influxes of 1994 and 1998. The sheer numbers of Latin Americans who move to Hispanic-majority Miami every year make it expedient to form enclosed networks and never become integrated into mainstream U.S. society. Thus El Paracaidista does what its name implies: helps soften an immigrant's landing with an introduction to the complexities of American institutions and practices (of which even many natives are ignorant) -- everything from filing an income tax return or securing a home or business mortgage to locating the right magnet school, a doctor who makes house calls, or a good deal on a cell phone.
A swingin' bachelor pad's bathroom? The lavatory in a villain's hideout? Actually the ultracool restrooms at the museum of things made between 1885 and 1945 look more like the facilities in the Batcave, so don't be surprised if at any moment crime-fighting superheroes Batman and Robin roll up in the Batmobile for a pit stop. Gleaming black-glass walls, stainless-steel sinks and fixtures, tiny halogen pendant lights brightening the way to relief. As gleaming clean as Alfred would keep it. Holy modern conveniences, Batman, this is the perfect place to adjust your tights!
The Beach Bar at the Delano opened in 1995 and was recently refurbished to a kind of post-Gatsby sheen. The best time to experience that sheen is about 1:00 a.m. on a weeknight, stretched out at one of the tables down at the end of the hotel's magnificent pool (officially known as the Water Salon). Designed by Philippe Starck, with its Liz Taylor-movie backlighting and drama, the curtains from the ground-level suites wafting like veils, the talk from the pool-shooters way back in the hotel wreathing you with tales of George Clooney and Elle McPherson, you soon forget the day's hustle and competition. And relax. The guys who work the bar -- Roberto, Bruno, Nick, Luis, and Dennis -- will build you a caipirinha, a kind of Brazilian mojito. If you get there a little earlier, you might want to go for the "grille menu," which includes two kinds of steaks, mahi-mahi, salads, and desserts, all for $40, and the Veuve Clicquot, which you can purchase by the glass for $20. If you get there really early, as of this spring, you can enjoy the Beach Party, which begins a half-hour before sunset and will feature DJs playing low-key lounge music. Because the idea is to get ... away ... from ... it ... all.
After working for others and then co-owning a short-lived but ambitious venture (The Strand), Bernstein took a major leap: She left South Beach for Brickell Key and the luxe Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Within a year food critic John Mariani from Esquire named her restaurant, Azul, the best of 2001. The Food TV network hired her to host a series on tropical foods. And the Vita-Prep people picked her to pose with a blender between her legs, an advertisement that numero uno trade mag Food Arts featured prominently. Can any other native make that kind of claim to national fame?
Forgive us our pride. Miami native Greenman worked for New Times after graduating from Palmetto Senior High and Yale University. In his time at the paper he wrote some excellent film and music criticism and several pretty darn funny stories. "Cracking Up" chronicled an experiment in which Greenman followed a mad scientist (the late John Detrick) around downtown Miami on a very hot summer day to see if eggs really would fry on sidewalks. During the 1991 tourism crisis, when violent criminals were targeting rental cars, Greenman produced the "New Times Rental Car Conversion Kit," a handy package of mail-order accessories tourists could use to give their rented vehicles a local look. Now based in New York, Greenman has embarked upon a bona fide literary career. By day he edits the extensive calendar section of The New Yorker magazine, to which he also contributes reviews and other material. In his free time he writes quirky and clever pieces of fiction that regularly appear in McSweeny's, the journal and Website (www.mcsweeneys.net). Last year the McSweeney's publishing imprint released Greenman's debut book, Superbad. According to reader postings on Amazon.com (and quoted by Greenman on his Website, www.bengreenman.com), "Superbad has been described as 'a masterpiece,' a 'piece of garbage,' and 'a book I haven't read yet but which I heard was pretty good in parts if annoying in other parts.'" Author Susan Minot had this to say after reading Superbad: "I don't know what goes on in Ben Greenman's mind, but inside there seems to be a Russian short-story writer, a slapstick gag writer, an art critic, a literary critic, a cultural commentator, a cowboy, a satirist, a scientist, a postmodernist, an anti-postmodernist, a surrealist, a nut, a genius, a stand-up comedian, a child prodigy, a dreamer, and a poet." When Greenman unveiled Superbad recently at Books & Books in Coral Gables, his proud parents invited the entire audience over to their house for coffee and cookies. As Greenman pointed out, this wasn't a take on some classic Andy Kaufman gag. Then again, he admitted, it kind of was.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®