The Lotto and Indian gaming gobble the gambling pie in South Florida, leaving the pari-mutuels crumbs. Gulfstream, located next to Aventura at the county line, belies this paradigm by continuing to present high-class racing, comfortable seating, diverse concessions, and other diversions within a still-lovely venue. That was most obvious at the beginning of 2004, when 21,000 turned out for this season's opening day. A mind-numbing, heart-pumping reunion of punk supergroup Blondie provided an inventive, charming, "Atomic" sonic blast matching in quality the group's August 4, 1979, show at Sunrise Musical Theatre. The band drew thousands of rockers who wouldn't know a saddle from a sawbuck. Meanwhile an ace, eleven-race card ended with three handicap (meaning better horses must carry more weight to even the odds), $100,000-guaranteed stakes races, including the Mr. Prospector Handicap (named for the horse who set the six-furlong-course record in 1973), which showcased Cajun Beat -- among the best four-year-olds in the nation -- and close challenger Gygistar. The exhilarating music and thrilling races made one wish every day were opening day.

Take it from Adora, the hardest-working drag queen in Miami, the legendary Tiffany is the original transgender bomb. When looking for a special guest star for the final Adora and Ivana Noche Latina show at the Cactus Bar and Grill, the only choice was Ms. Arieagus. "She's fantastic," Adora says. "She's super nice, a legend, and unbelievably professional." Arieagus, born in Alabama, began her career performing at Pensacola's Red Garter in the early Seventies. She toured the state and much of the world. With some 30 years experience she has more than 40 titles under her skirt, including Miss Continental USA and Miss Universe. She called it quits in South Beach in the late 1990s and moved to Fort Lauderdale. "I was getting too many parking tickets," Arieagus explains, exuding Southern charm. Adora brought her out of retirement at the recent memorial tribute to South Beach diva Sexcilia, who died in January. At the final Noche Latina she sealed the deal with powerful singing and a silver cocktail dress that wouldn't quit. Now 50, Arieagus makes rare appearances on the nightclub circuit. She spends most of her time working as an HIV case manager for Center One as well as helping raise funds for the Kiwanis, the American Cancer Society, and various HIV-related organizations. Her next step? The White House.

In Miami you don't ponder the now-mythical life of Che Guevara so much as argue about it. The legendary Argentine guerrilla's name is cursed, cried over, or simply shuddered at for the loss it represents to so many Cuban exiles. In fact Menéndez's own father, who fled the island in 1960, was as wary as anyone else while paging through Loving Che, asking sourly, "Why did you have to print so many pictures of that son of a bitch?" As Menéndez's title suggests, her novel is an attempt to grapple with those emotions, with that revolutionary moment's enduring appeal to new generations. Forget dry historical accounts: Menéndez conjures up a sweaty love affair involving the protagonist against the backdrop of Havana's 1959 convulsions. Menéndez crafts passages that cement her as one of our city's finest voices of the Cuban experience, one whose ability to create lyricism out of pain is rare.

BEST LEISURE ACTIVITY OTHER THAN CLUBS OR MOVIES

Surfing South Beach

For the first time since the Sixties, and maybe ever, there's a thriving surfing community in South Beach. On most winter mornings, up to 400 rowdy surfers litter the ocean, straddling variations of long and short boards. No, our beaches haven't suddenly developed the kind of overhead breaks enjoyed by surfers on the West Coast, or even north of Palm Beach where Atlantic swells make it to shore without being intercepted by reefs and islands. But a growing number of local wavers have discovered that from fall through the beginning of spring, when South Beach receives consistent doses of swells, barreling peaks accompany the incoming tides, big enough for carving. The best known local surfer, Ron Keindl, a former lifeguard, often helps keep order, separating "kooks" from the more experienced riders who might slam into them. "Don't go down there thinking you're going to be the man," he cautions. There are rules, he adds, and "a definite pecking order."

Tucked between the disorderly conducts on various afternoon Spanish-language courtroom programs, Telemundo has been airing a remarkable set of antifungal medication advertisements. Yes, remarkable antifungal medication advertisements. The first one, for Hongosan (hongo is Spanish for fungus or mushroom), ran a few months ago. The subtle charms were difficult to discern at first, but slowly one could feel the pain of the man-on-the-street who suffered from "un mal olor, una picazón excesiva." Certainly the plaintive cries of the pretty spokeswoman begging the viewer to no longer suffer the torment of hongos demanded further attention. Oh yeah, there's also an angry battalion of mushrooms and a cartoon superhero in red tights in the spot. Then Hongomex began running antifungal medication ads. A Mexican cartoon character suffers from hongos all over the place. His hongos resemble Scrubbing Bubbles. They grow even angrier than the aforementioned mushrooms. As the fungus fighters compete, viewers are treated to an infectiously catchy song and a fiesta during which a cured man dances with and leers at a tall redhead. Freedom from fungus turns into sexist stereotyping. Where's the cure for that?

You and your pals just completed your own version of Amsterdam's famous Cannabis Cup reefer contest by filling up bong bowls with White Widow and Northern Lights and maybe some Haze. Packing a couple of green leaf, Dutch Master blunts filled with Afghani. Rolling up some Summer Breeze, Bubblegum, and other hydro hybrids that leave all involved seriously stoned but lively upped thanks to North American pot's high quality. (Crappy weed tends to make you tired.) But you aren't smoking crap, and ripification has been achieved. Now what? Since 1971 Richard Bradwell has owned and operated the Neighborhood Fish Farm. Open from 10:00 to 6:00, his back yard features 137 concrete ponds filled with more than 200 species of tropical fish that wait to mesmerize red-eyed stankers like you. Fish from Africa, Indonesia, China, and Japan can be bought or fed or simply stared at for way too long. It's outdoors, it's free, there are always a couple of lawn chairs for a sit. Rock music blares. Sushi jokes are slurred. You can buy a 79-cent guppy or blow $500 on an exotic species that enjoys eating fruit monkeys and birds. You might want to ponder that sort of investment after the buzz wears off.

Filling the oxfords of late local broadcast legend Ann Bishop of WPLG-TV was a challenge accepted by Kristi Krueger, who has proved herself up to the job at 5:00, 6:00, and 11:00 p.m. Maybe her eleven-year tenure as a health reporter helped her become sufficiently inured to calmly deal with Miami's demoralizing daily news cycle, which brims with shootings, child-abuse cases, and bloody hit-and-run tales. Maybe her good humor and refusal to take herself too seriously have allowed her to endure smug Dwight Lauderdale's condescending remarks aimed at her (on the air) all these years. Maybe her class and composure have prevented her from falling apart even as she was allegedly being stalked by a soccer mom. Whatever the special combination of qualities that Miami's best anchor needs, Krueger has. For that we say, "Brava!"

It's no coincidence that the benches at Domino Park (as this landmark is known) face toward Cuba. The old Cuban men from the surrounding neighborhood of Little Havana know the reason, and value it. As each takes a turn sitting on the benches playing dominoes (or fichas), they are reminded that though they sit in the middle of Miami, they will never turn their backs on La Patria. The park, named for a Cuban revolutionary of the late Nineteenth Century, is the hub of eastern Little Havana. People of all ages meet to play chess, throw down some bones, and sip coladas while smoking (Dominican) Monte Cristos to the tunes of El Sol radio. First-generation Cuban immigrants won't live forever, so the next time you have out-of-town visitors, take them down to Domino Park. Sit and talk with an old Cuban about the way it was. Have a cigar and some café, ponder the possibilities ... wait, who needs out-of-town visitors?

During the overheated, slightly premature media frenzy that accompanied the fall of Saddam, CBS affiliate WFOR journalist and cameraman Mike Kirsch was our man in Iraq. As an embedded reporter with the British Army, he reported on the invasion of Basra, winning a 2003 Suncoast Emmy for his efforts. His past wartime adventures include sojourns in Bosnia (where he was attacked by ten Serbian police officers) and Afghanistan. "Mike," marvels his bosses at CBS in a press release, "has a reputation for living his stories." "Surviving" might be a better description.

You won't find localized renditions of The Sopranos or Law & Order on Cable TAP, but you will be inundated with half-hour vignettes about the people and organizations that make this subtropical, multiethnic frying pan their home. A droning commissioner maybe, a cultural lightweight for sure, maybe even a Wayne's World-level egofest. But other times -- most of the time actually -- the station broadcasts way cool shows, often for specific audiences, a much nobler use of the airwaves than lowest-common-denominator commercial TV, which would air executions and sell ads for dirty bombs if they could get away with it. The public-access channel provides time slots for nonprofit groups, government agencies, and educational institutions. These organizations create programs (Haitian Forum, Pasos A La Libertad, Pedacito de Puerto Rico, Ways of Israel) that deliver specific messages to area viewers. Lacking the boring interruptions of conventional TV advertising, TAP makes room for innovative public-service announcements, including a spot that encourages adults to support afterschool programs and another to remind coach potatoes to take care of their colons. Wow, a TV station that can literally save your ass.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®