BEST LOCAL BOY MADE GOOD 2002 | Ben Greenman | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
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 ( Last year the McSweeney's publishing imprint released Greenman's debut book, Superbad. According to reader postings on (and quoted by Greenman on his Website,, "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.
She was a late entry in this contest, but Alonso decisively swept the field of contenders. At press time the Miami-Dade County Commissioner was facing one misdemeanor charge, three felony charges, and up to five years in prison. More charges are possible. Way back in 1993 New Times devoted 13,000 words to Alonso during her failed campaign to become mayor of Miami. The opus by former staff writer Steven Almond, "Meet Miami's Next Mayor," began with this: "On those days when passions flare, when Miami cannot help revealing its more ominous shadings, half the city seems determined to have Miriam Alonso canonized. And the other half to have her eliminated. There is no middle ground when it comes to the woman who would be Miami's next mayor. She is savior or demagogue, invisible outside extremes, and impossible to ignore." In retrospect the criminal charges shouldn't really surprise anyone. Questions about Alonso's integrity began the moment she arrived in the United States with her husband Leonel, who has been charged with four felonies and faces up to fifty years in prison. What were the circumstances under which they defected from Cuba? When exactly did they arrive in the United States? How had Miriam managed to obtain a Ph.D. in only three years? Why can no professor at Catholic University (Washington, D.C.) recall advising or approving her doctoral thesis? Where did she and her husband acquire the half-million dollars they'd spent by 1979 purchasing Miami real estate? These troubling questions and others remain unanswered. But a Miami judge had a solid answer for her in 1988: He yanked her from her debut race for a seat on the county commission after it was proven she didn't live at the address she listed on her oath of candidacy. If she was willing to cheat in order to run for office, is it such a stretch to imagine her cheating once she gained office? Here's something else to imagine, something even Alonso's sworn enemies must have thought improbable: Miriam behind bars.

Why do so many sanctimonious people turn out to be wicked? And has there been anyone in public life more sanctimonious than Demetrio Perez? Back in the Eighties, as a Miami City Commissioner, he sought to consecrate the Cuban-exile cause by, among other things, introducing a resolution to have the city honor convicted terrorist Orlando Bosch, handing the violently anti-Castro group Alpha 66 a taxpayer gift of $10,000, and demanding that director Brian De Palma rewrite the script of Scarface to soften its harsh portrayal of Cuban immigrants. Later, as candidates maneuvered for appointment as city manager, he was accused of but never charged with offering to sell his vote for $50,000. As a member of the school board he argued that students should be forced to rise whenever an adult entered their classroom, that the National Guard provide school security, and that uniforms be mandatory at all schools. As a "safety measure" he wanted all students to squeeze through a human cattle chute lined with metal detectors and x-ray machines. Suspension as a form of punishment was ineffective, he argued, and should be replaced with hard labor. All this while lying about where he lived in order to run for his seat on the board. And don't forget his shrill pronouncements against the violence fostered by America's gun culture -- this from a man whose concealed-weapon permit allowed him to pack heat at all times, which he did with relish and without apology. He even was arrested carrying two handguns through a security checkpoint at Miami International Airport. His chain of private Lincoln-Martí schools teach a rigid and hateful form of moral discipline, to which he gleefully subjected little Elian Gonzalez while simultaneously and shamelessly exploiting the boy for publicity purposes. But the end of Perez's long turn on the public stage revealed the depths of his depravity. A rich man, he was caught stealing $18,000 in rent and subsidies from two elderly women who were his tenants. In September he pleaded guilty to five federal criminal charges, but he escaped prison time. Too bad. Some hard labor might have done him good.
Architect B. Kingston Hall designed the Seymour in 1936 for developer Benjamin London, who named it after his son Seymour. Sixty-six years later the tropical Art Deco jewel still stands, nestled in the center of the nation's only historic district composed entirely of twentieth-century structures. But it lives a new life. In keeping with the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation's mission of illuminating the economic viability of historic preservation, the property, acquired in January 1998, underwent a complete renovation and reopened in August 2001. Currently MBCDC headquarters, it also houses a local office of the Florida Department of Children and Families and a one-stop career center for the Hispanic Community Center, plus it plays host to exhibitions and lectures. The Seymour boasts smart touches, including original color schemes such as a gleaming white exterior and forest-green and deep-burgundy lobby, a restored ziggurat fireplace, and tile-and-wood floors in the exhibition space featuring patterns that outline the original floor plan. An exuberant example of Art Deco, the Seymour also accommodates the Urban Arts Committee, a group of concerned citizens passionate about preserving and promoting midcentury Miami modern architecture (MiMO), the Technicolor splendor of which was evident in the Seymour's inaugural art display: "MiMO -- Miami Modern Architecture, 1945-1972: A Photography Exhibit."

It's an enormous inverted salad bowl. Or maybe it's headquarters of the Justice League of America, where superheroes Aquaman, Superman, and Wonder Woman gather to hatch world-saving strategies. Actually the distinctive building that distracted you so much you nearly veered off the road is the Aventura Government Center. Dreamed up by Michael A. Schiff & Associates and Arquitectonica, the striking contemporary structure swathed in glass and Indiana limestone features a spectacular sloped rotunda, where elected officials meet to make city policy. Since it opened in May 2001, the 72,000-square-foot marvel, housing all government operations (including the police department) has become what its creators had hoped: a one-stop shop for dealing with city business. And quite the looker as well.

Like all truly great annual traditions, Lincoln Road's Halloween parade just sort of happened. There is no sponsor, no formal organization, no one in charge. It's simply an outgrowth of the Road's late-Nineties transformation from a deserted strip into one of South Florida's prime people-watching spots. For locals who hardly need a holiday as an excuse to pose for a closeup, showing up in their Halloween costumes has become a no-brainer. Consequently veteran attendees know to stake out a sidewalk café seat early. Order dinner and a few drinks -- by nightfall the pedestrian mall is engulfed with dead Elvises, vampires, and every drag queen within a 50-mile radius -- all strutting their stuff for an appreciative audience. Never has the phrase freak show been so apropos, or so enjoyable.

A lot of South Floridians quietly cheered this past November when Gittens, less than a year into her tenure as Miami-Dade County's aviation director, lambasted the county commission as "lobby heaven," and accused a lobbyist of lying during a presentation. (Carl Hiaasen described MIA at the time Gittens took over in March 2001 as "operating with all the charm and efficiency of a hillside brothel during an earthquake.") Gittens had a history of successfully fighting corruption in her previous job as director of Atlanta's sprawling Hartsfield International Airport. And even though Miami-Dade County Manager Steve Shiver called her on the carpet for her lobbyist outburst, Gittens hasn't stopped telling it like it is at MIA, or working hard for a more equitable and efficient system of awarding contracts.

For anyone not familiar with the local "rancho" phenomenon, Rancho Grande is a revelation. It really is a ranch of sorts, complete with horses and the occasional whiff of barnyard, way out in what passes for the countryside. But it's a club of sorts too. Tables and chairs are spread around a dance floor, all open to the breeze but sheltered from rain by a patchwork roof. You can drop by any weekend (not open weekdays) dressed like a guajiro or a prom queen or a yachtsman and lounge around drinking beer, sampling the excellent Cuban cooking (while it lasts), and watching. Infants and grandparents, fat, thin, black, white, tall, short, hairless, hirsute. The main reason to drop by is to dance to the DJ music (all Latin varieties), and that's another revelation: On any given Saturday night there's the lone exhibitionist, seemingly a different man each week, stepping and turning for hours in extended experimental theater. There are the couples with amazing vibrating butts. The salseros. The bachateros. The vendors of flowers, toys, chains and watches, snapshots of you, and "African art." Sooner or later almost everyone joins the parade at Rancho Grande.

There's nothing quite like surrounding oneself in bromeliads to ease the troubled mind. This lush little enclave has 150 different kinds. "Bromeliads are cherished for their lovely variations of color, spectacular bloom shoots, and their important role supporting animal life via rainwater collected in their rosettes of leaves," notes the garden's Website. From time to time a greedy subspecies of urban wildlife has been known to sneak in and run off with a few orchids from the Arthur Laufferberger Memorial Orchidaria, another feature of this sanctum. But you can relax. That security problem has been addressed, according to the nonprofit Beach Garden Conservancy, which manages this refuge from the sands and sidewalks of South Beach. The Japanese Garden is an oasis within an oasis. A number of tables and benches scattered throughout the grounds provide perches for those who may enter to slake their thirst or hunger with a little food or drink. The gardens are open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free.

It's a bright and sunny weekend morning. You're headed down to the Keys for some R&R. You think you're pretty smart to use the Shula (SR 874) because it isn't heavily traveled at this hour and it's the quickest way to join up with the southbound turnpike. As you approach the exit for SW 107th Avenue you become aware of a change in your surroundings. Everything seems to open up -- wider lanes, broad grassy median, a smooth ribbon of highway beckoning to you. Is this the turnpike already? Just as you're about to pass under the bridge some involuntary reflex causes you to floor it. You begin to smile. So does the state trooper standing on the bridge, radar gun aimed right at you. Then a quick radio call to one of several FHP cars poised at the on-ramp. You're doomed and don't even know it.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®