Miami artist George Sanchez Calderon's contribution to the Art Basel art fair last December was the carnival he installed one night at the Buena Vista rail yard just south of 36th Street in Wynwood. Beneath circus banners and a Ferris wheel, local musicians, poets, and dancers strutted their stuff, along with the future developers of the 56-acre tract, who helped pay for the bash. Hundreds of revelers were lured over from the Design District by the scent of free booze and flirtation. But Midnight Midtown Midway, as Sanchez dubbed the event, was even more layered than that. He had planned a secret little happening within a happening. "The only people who knew were the fireworks guy, the toothless Ferris wheel operator, and my one buddy who was standing next to him," Sanchez recounts. At 11:30 p.m., as the Ferris wheel seat carrying Sanchez and his girlfriend Judy Perez whizzed through the air, he popped the question. "The Ferris wheel was spinning, so she was confused and convoluted, but when she said Yes, I stuck my hand out, signaled to the guy to stop the Ferris wheel on top. And as we were going up to the top, I pressed fast-dial on my cell phone to the fireworks guy. So the moment the Ferris wheel stopped, on the exact apex, the first fireworks went off."

When Luis Botifoll passed away last September at the age of 95, he left behind a 44-year legacy of community activism unmatched by any one man -- and that's just the story on this side of the Florida Straits. Twice exiled to the U.S. and a graduate of Tulane University, Botifoll was a lawyer and well-respected newspaper publisher in Havana before fleeing in 1960. He immediately went to work on the problems facing the exile community here in its new "temporary" home. Perhaps his greatest impact was felt not in publishing or law, but in banking. In 1970 he joined Republic National Bank, where, with remarkable foresight, he saw to it that Cuban exiles with impressive credentials but little credit history in Miami received business loans other banks denied them. Within a few short years the community vibrated with new growth; the bank prospered as well. (Lesson: A little well-directed money can go a long way to help people.) Botifoll later turned his attention to building bridges among South Florida's sometimes contentious ethnic groups. He also proved to be a wizard at raising money for many organizations, including United Way and the University of Miami. Age seemed not to slow him down at all. He died a few hours after meeting with Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, a session devoted to local community issues, of course. Next year in La Habana, amigo.

When Luis Botifoll passed away last September at the age of 95, he left behind a 44-year legacy of community activism unmatched by any one man -- and that's just the story on this side of the Florida Straits. Twice exiled to the U.S. and a graduate of Tulane University, Botifoll was a lawyer and well-respected newspaper publisher in Havana before fleeing in 1960. He immediately went to work on the problems facing the exile community here in its new "temporary" home. Perhaps his greatest impact was felt not in publishing or law, but in banking. In 1970 he joined Republic National Bank, where, with remarkable foresight, he saw to it that Cuban exiles with impressive credentials but little credit history in Miami received business loans other banks denied them. Within a few short years the community vibrated with new growth; the bank prospered as well. (Lesson: A little well-directed money can go a long way to help people.) Botifoll later turned his attention to building bridges among South Florida's sometimes contentious ethnic groups. He also proved to be a wizard at raising money for many organizations, including United Way and the University of Miami. Age seemed not to slow him down at all. He died a few hours after meeting with Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, a session devoted to local community issues, of course. Next year in La Habana, amigo.

In shops along Calle Ocho and Hialeah's Palm Avenue rest bundles of Libre, a Spanish-language newspaper published by disgraced politician Demetrio Perez, Jr. In 2002 the former school board member was removed from office for defrauding two women out of $18,000. The same year, the Miami Herald also exposed how Perez pocketed more than a million dollars in rent payments from public-school funds while he was on the board. Public disgrace is becoming common among journalists, so the sanctimonious Perez naturally launched a newspaper. His weekly publication is a testament to the man's enormous ego and conservative political ideology. Every Wednesday Libre readers are bombarded with communist-bashing propaganda from Perez and decrepit Castro antagonizers such as Armando Perez-Roura and Agustin Tamargo. Perez shamelessly promotes his other business ventures: An advertisement touting Perez's for-profit Lincoln-Martí schools and excerpts from his Citizens Training Handbook are examples. If you buy his worldview, you'll love Libre. If not, read it for laughs, really hearty laughs. You can't lose, even if you're just some illiterate sexist: Thalía or Shakira or some other bodacious Latin bombshell adorns Libre's front page on a weekly basis.

Urban America is part community newspaper, part local-music rag. A recent issue transitioned from an op-ed piece encouraging pay raises for teachers to profiles of Orlando MC Swamburger and SoFla R&B act atripthroughthemind. The writing: ambitious and workmanlike, sparked by an unabashed belief in the power of hip-hop culture. The enthusiasm has proved infectious. Since 2000 the monthly, run by publisher Brother Tony Muhammad and editor-in-chief Aisha Medina, has developed a 50,000-plus readership of mostly young urbanites drawn to topics and personalities rarely found in mainstream media.

It's probably just as well that the government center courtyard isn't extravagantly landscaped and decorated, because it would most certainly be overshadowed by the real-life dramas that unfold there on a daily basis. Its location is a natural magnet. The Metrorail's government center stop is directly above it. Within your field of view is the Miami-Dade Cultural Center, the county courthouse, the central bus terminal, the main public library, and various government buildings. It's hard to imagine a resident or tourist who hasn't at one time or another crossed the courtyard, at least on the way to someplace else. But it's the people with nowhere else to go who make the place so engaging. The benches invite area bums and crazies to sit a spell while being regaled by their own. Relatively quiet Sundays, when the missionaries drop by to sermonize to the apparently drunken flock, might even be the best time. Unlike other people-watching spots, however, you won't just be a spectator here. You'll become part of the entertainment when, without fail, somebody will approach you hoping for "spare" change, some attention, or simply directions how to get out of there quickly.

It's probably just as well that the government center courtyard isn't extravagantly landscaped and decorated, because it would most certainly be overshadowed by the real-life dramas that unfold there on a daily basis. Its location is a natural magnet. The Metrorail's government center stop is directly above it. Within your field of view is the Miami-Dade Cultural Center, the county courthouse, the central bus terminal, the main public library, and various government buildings. It's hard to imagine a resident or tourist who hasn't at one time or another crossed the courtyard, at least on the way to someplace else. But it's the people with nowhere else to go who make the place so engaging. The benches invite area bums and crazies to sit a spell while being regaled by their own. Relatively quiet Sundays, when the missionaries drop by to sermonize to the apparently drunken flock, might even be the best time. Unlike other people-watching spots, however, you won't just be a spectator here. You'll become part of the entertainment when, without fail, somebody will approach you hoping for "spare" change, some attention, or simply directions how to get out of there quickly.

Suicidal bicyclists are nothing new to downtown, South Beach, the Grove, and other auto-clogged communities, but lately there's been a number of them who have tossed out the delightfully revealing bike shorts and tight shirts for three-piece suits and Italian leather shoes. This development might be nothing more than fallout from the metrosexual trend that somehow made it okay for guys to pluck their eyebrows (bleccch). Who cares? It's hot, hot, hot. Now some gearshifting Einstein needs to figure out the mechanics of pedaling around glamorously in evening gowns and cocktail dresses.

In recent years the CRA, created to revitalize long-suffering Overtown, routinely handed out taxpayer money for a plethora of intangible goods and services, often "with no evidence of board approval," as Miami's auditor general Victor Igwe put it not long ago. Like the $4250 a CRA employee received (on top of his salary) to photograph bus benches in the Bahamas. Or the $125,000 former county transit administrator Vernon Clarke was handed to study bus stops for eighteen months. Or the $200,000 per year in consulting fees that went to Richard Judy, ex-director of the county aviation department. (He was fired in 1989 after commissioners learned he'd spent $300,000 without their approval.) In all, some $17 million seemed to have disappeared over a period of years. Finally the FBI, the IRS, and the State Attorney's Office took notice, which concentrated the minds of city commissioners. In December 2002 they ousted executive director Annette Lewis, a protégée of Art Teele and a specialist in invisible-project budgets, pleasant obfuscation, and ignoring public-records requests. Lewis was replaced by former assistant city manager Frank Rollason, who looked around, didn't like what he saw, and began making changes, including firing Judy because he couldn't figure out what the guy was doing for $200,000 per year. This past January commissioners voted to create an independent oversight board for the CRA and to rotate the troubled agency's chairman, stripping Teele of the title he'd held and the fiefdom he'd controlled for six years.

In recent years the CRA, created to revitalize long-suffering Overtown, routinely handed out taxpayer money for a plethora of intangible goods and services, often "with no evidence of board approval," as Miami's auditor general Victor Igwe put it not long ago. Like the $4250 a CRA employee received (on top of his salary) to photograph bus benches in the Bahamas. Or the $125,000 former county transit administrator Vernon Clarke was handed to study bus stops for eighteen months. Or the $200,000 per year in consulting fees that went to Richard Judy, ex-director of the county aviation department. (He was fired in 1989 after commissioners learned he'd spent $300,000 without their approval.) In all, some $17 million seemed to have disappeared over a period of years. Finally the FBI, the IRS, and the State Attorney's Office took notice, which concentrated the minds of city commissioners. In December 2002 they ousted executive director Annette Lewis, a protégée of Art Teele and a specialist in invisible-project budgets, pleasant obfuscation, and ignoring public-records requests. Lewis was replaced by former assistant city manager Frank Rollason, who looked around, didn't like what he saw, and began making changes, including firing Judy because he couldn't figure out what the guy was doing for $200,000 per year. This past January commissioners voted to create an independent oversight board for the CRA and to rotate the troubled agency's chairman, stripping Teele of the title he'd held and the fiefdom he'd controlled for six years.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®