As the city spills ever outward, formerly rural residential land becomes densely populated suburban sprawl. This particular traffic nightmare -- about a mile east of Metrozoo -- is a maze of too-short turn lanes spilling stopped traffic onto busy SW 152nd Street, traffic lights at seemingly random intervals, horn-honking motorists, and general craziness that makes people wonder whatever happened to their once-idyllic neighborhood.

We don't know about you, but we've been around these parts long enough to admit to a kind of airsickness and bone-tiredness of all this Starbucks-KFC-Subway-Howard Stern-no money down-fatal accident on the Palmetto-¡tu eres comunista!-we'll pay you to drive this SUV-live on the scene of a drive-by shooting-South Florida ambiance. And sometimes we dream of getting back to a quieter time. When that mood strikes, we're likely to pay our five bucks and slip into the oldest building in North America -- William Randolph Hearst's twelfth-century Segovian monastery (which still operates as an Episcopalian church). Past the gardens and stone cloisters, and onto a smooth oak bench. Aaahh ... starting to feel human again.

When a guy can afford to donate his salary to charity, you know he's loaded. Arriola, Miami's blue-eyed angel of death -- er, city manager -- made off with a cool $42 million when he sold Avanti/Case-Hoyt, his family's printing business, two years ago. Since then he's done a magnificent job of flaunting his wealth. First he joined Merrett Stierheim's team trying to straighten out the public-school system (salary: one dollar), then quit in a huff, but not before insulting Stierheim by calling him a "horrible leader" who "doesn't respect women, or blacks, or Hispanics." More recently Arriola publicly insulted the reform-minded chairman of the county's Public Health Trust, attorney Michael Kosnitzky, labeling him a "cancer" in that organization. Then he accepted Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's offer to become city manager and loudly proclaimed he'd donate his six-figure salary to the United Way, but not before unceremoniously, gleefully, firing several veteran city officials. Is this what it means to be filthy rich?

The South Beach flesh market might be a little intimidating for a woman of a certain age. You can only visit so many malls. And sunbathing at the beach does bring up the ugly specter of skin cancer. The perfect answer to entertain and impress a visiting matron, an activity that will in fact make your mother feel like a queen, is to partake of a proper English tea at the Biltmore. Several courses are involved, beginning with those little watercress sandwiches with the crust cut off, followed by tender scones, clotted cream, and chocolate-dipped fruit. Plus your choice of a series of fine teas, all in the elegant grandeur of a landmark hotel. Everything but the fog. At $18.82, plus tip, it's a bargain. Available from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Call ahead to make reservations.

At the Eden Roc it's always the Fifties, baby. Just like it oughta be. You walk into the lobby, with its staircase floating down from the mezzanine, fluted rosewood columns, and ornate terrazzo floors. Spin in a circle. So much open space it's breathtaking. You can almost see Sammy Davis, Jr., tapping across the floor toward Harry's bar, where Frank Sinatra is ordering a martini and chatting up Liz Taylor. The Roc opened in the mid-Fifties, a creation of purest swank from the mind of daffy architectural genius Morris Lapidus. After Hollywood left, though, the 349-room hotel was sold and renovated many times, resulting in a creeping horror of Seventies and Eighties-era notions of style covering the old splendor. In 1999 new owners pumped millions into a makeover that essentially restored the grand dame to her original self. And we like her, yes we do.

Unfortunately, with the closing of Drama 101, competition for this award has dwindled further. But fortunately we still have Mad Cat. This troupe led by Paul Tei dares to be different. It doesn't always work, but that's what experimentation is all about. Mad Cat also has done a great service for Miami in attracting and developing that elusive "younger" audience. From Tin Box Boomerang, written by young local Ivonne Azurdia, about two Mexican-American sisters living in a trailer park; to Shoot, about three young girls and gun culture; and Azurdia's eerie reworking of Edgar Allan Poe in Portrait, this theater has offered up challenging, relevant, and resounding works. On the fringe? Way. And stay there.

Spangler is a blue-eyed, ruddy-cheeked 26-year-old with an old man's voice and a talent for the well-turned phrase. He spends his afternoons and evenings attending the most obscure functions, from little girls primping at a hair salon to rabbis blessing a restaurant to a drag-queen diva primping for a night on the town -- in short, the thousand little moments that come and go unnoticed every day in the Magic City. At its best Spangler's prose divines unadorned human motives from piles of random detail, provoking in the reader a moment of recognition. Here's an example from one story: "Like a batter in the major leagues, a restaurant hostess in Miami Beach meets failure early and often. She chooses her pitch: a young couple, good looking and tan, tourists perhaps. She squares herself to the plate: wide smile with white teeth, good eye contact. She swings. 'Hi, how are you tonight? Would you like to see our menu?' They smile in acknowledgment but do not break stride. She misses."

While her specialty remains thrashing the school board, teachers' union, and classroom chaos, this "Pitbull in Pumps" (a nickname from her days in Tulsa television) has branched out recently. She's looked into everything from failing police radios in Miami Beach to prescription drug prices to medical fraud. For her fans, Jilda knows how to cut to the chase. To the retired dentist whose "resonator" had no tangible medical value, the relentless investigator asked, "Have you cured AIDS?" Does she have detractors? Of course, and she's proud of the long list. "Why do I have to explain it to Jilda Unruh?" one of the teachers' union members demanded of her when she questioned him about his bloated contract. Well, sir, because if you don't respond, she might just sink her teeth into you.

Morgan has long been well-known and well liked on the local theater scene, but her work this season really showed off her range of skills. The British-born actress recently knocked off the crotchety Scottish housekeeper Mrs. Hudson in Sherlock's Last Case for Actors' Playhouse, plus some bizarre comedic cameos as an android actress and a wacky wigged hooker in Comic Potential, also at AP. And her work in Tom Walker for the New Theatre was a range in itself -- playing Tom's nightmare of a harridan wife and doubling as his new love, the harried Widow Baine. While Morgan has been lauded for each of these performances, it's the breadth of her abilities that's really remarkable. Some actors do well by playing the same role over and over. Lisa Morgan is never the same twice.

Bayside Marketplace
One can easily debate the wisdom of our city fathers having turned over a waterfront park to a mall developer who populated the place with chain restaurants and stores you can find most anywhere. But such concerns don't appear to trouble the brows of the hordes who routinely descend on Bayside every weekend and who look like they're having a whale of a good time. The worst offense associated with a tourist trap is the feeling you're being ripped off. In fact Bayside is home to some dining and drinking establishments that are not extortionately priced (there are even deals to be had at lunchtime) and have the advantage of decidedly pleasant views of the marina, the port, and the bay from the many outdoor terraces. Just be forewarned: Nights when a game or concert is on at the American Airlines Arena, parking rates skyrocket at Bayside's garage and nearby lots, and the resulting traffic jam on Biscayne Boulevard can make you question why you ever bothered to abandon the comfort of your couch.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®