Anyone who thought Nat Chediak's career was over when he and the Miami International Film Festival parted ways hadn't been following his career closely enough. An historian of Latin jazz and a music producer (and film producer, with associate-producer credits on Fernando Trueba's homage to Latin jazz musicians, Calle 54), Chediak won a Latin Grammy last fall for producing the Bebo Valdes Trio's CD El arte del sabor. That album went on to win Chediak his second regular Grammy in February. And just weeks before the big Grammy awards show, he returned to the stage at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, this time to present Spanish singer Martirio to a wildly enthusiastic crowd. While we wish him well in the studio, the fruits of which anyone anywhere can enjoy, we are selfishly hoping to see more live performances courtesy of Nat Chediak, presenter.

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."

Every day from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. everybody eats. No sermons. No complicated rules like the Salvation Army and some church soup kitchens hit you with. Donny Esmond is a man you can talk to: "If a guy makes a real effort, we see he's trying, we can help him get back on his feet. But if you're just hungry? Come on over anyway." We can unequivocally recommend the chicken noodle and organic vegetable soup. And the fried-chicken dinner? Delicious.

Since 1989 the Krishnas have been serving up excellent vegetarian grub to anybody who walks into their Coconut Grove garden. The dal and rice are plentiful, and the perfumed curries are sweetened with coconut. No matter how broke you may be or how defeated you may feel, the food and atmosphere at Govinda's will make you feel better -- no strings attached. Really. Have no fear, there is no drumming or cymbal-playing here. Instead the lonesome wanderer is nourished in a peaceful dining room with servings fit for a god. Donations are accepted, of course, and there is a dinner club for those who can afford a five-dollar meal. Those donations, in turn, help buy food for the poor and homeless. The temple provides about 100 meals each day to the homeless through its Food for Life program.

These are arguably the least congested toll booths on the turnpike's Homestead extension. Easily readable signs direct motorists to four SunPass lanes, four exact-change lanes, and eight change-provided lanes. The 75-cent toll also buys you a nice glimpse into the overdeveloped western fringes of Miami-Dade County, with cloned single-family houses to the east and explosive rock-mining operations to the west.

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.

Located at the more sedate, northern end of this beachfront strip, the Front Porch dishes up fair-priced, hearty portions from morn' till night. The best seats in the house are, as the name would suggest, on the front porch, where the scenery stretches from Lummus Park to the dunes to the Atlantic. Or lower your gaze slightly to watch the parade of pedestrians without anyone sashaying into your salad. Weekday breakfasts or late lunches are blessedly peaceful, but expect a wait on the weekend as locals line up for the bounteous brunch. And with a full bar, it's also an ideal spot to quench your post-beach thirst with a cocktail in a casual but civilized environment.

Just north of the SW 152nd Street exit from the Florida Turnpike, a pink-and-white checkered building with a 50-foot-tall rook's tower provides an odd counterpoint to the endless suburban sprawl of strip malls and cookie-cutter housing developments. The building houses the corporate headquarters of Excalibur Electronics (makers of electronic novelties) and the World Chess Hall of Fame & Sidney Samole Chess Museum. The museum, official hall of fame for the United States Chess Federation and the World Chess Federation, was founded in Miami by Shane Samole, whose father Sid in the Seventies created the first electronic chess game after watching Spock play chess against a computer during a Star Trek episode. The building's medieval theme continues outside, where a giant sword embedded in a boulder stands sentry at the front door, and inside, where suits of armor and stone façades set the aesthetic parameters. There are no audio recordings of Bobby Fischer ranting about the U.N. (although you can see Fischer's old competition table) but there are plenty of other tidbits to chew on. According to a chess timeline (weirdly set in a very dim hallway with pinpoint lights set like stars in the ceiling and ethereal music coming from unseen speakers), the word "checkmate" comes from the Persian "Shah mat," meaning "the king is at a loss," and the bishops seen in modern chess sets were elephants in the original version, which first appeared around 600 A.D. (medieval Europeans, most of whom had never seen an elephant, changed the piece to something they were a little more familiar with). You won't run into large crowds at the museum unless they're hosting a tournament, although Milena Migliorelli, in charge of PR, says they have a following among diehard chessheads: "People are always surprised we're here, although we do advertise in Chess Life."

SECOND-BEST REASON TO STAY IN MIAMI FOR THE SUMMER

Back-yard mangoes

They're sweet and juicy, big as softballs, and more numerous than flies on a cow. They're versatile, too. You can make them into breads, cakes, salsas, jams, or chutneys. And if you know someone with a tree (and who doesn't at least have a friend of a friend?), mangoes are free all season, from spring to autumn, when mango-tree owners actually are relieved to see the last one plop to the ground. What else could you ask for from a fruit? Only that it not crack your skull on the way down.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®