Homestead-Miami Speedway
Naysayers were quick to bitch about putting ten million bucks into fixing up a nearly forgotten raceway in deep South Miami-Dade, but when the new version of the Homestead Miami Speedway opened this past autumn, it had its first sold-out race in nine years. The new variable-degree banking system increased the amount of banking and speed in the turns, and also allowed for three cars to drive side-by-side, which makes for exciting racing even if nobody crashes. This state-of-the-art system is thought to be the wave of the future, and with an estimated $120 million pumped into the Homestead area during NASCAR weekends, it's certainly paid off.

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.

You can't help but notice Miami's newest mixed-use skyscraper rising from the Brickell Avenue concrete jungle. The Espirito Santo Plaza, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, boasts 36 stories of office and retail space, restaurants, an 11-story atrium, a hotel, and private residences. Theoretically you could move in and never leave. But then you'd miss the experience of basking in your home's understated elegance. A graceful parabola gently guides the eyes upward and, at certain angles and times of day, creates an optical illusion: Is it concave or convex? The parabola is an architectural reference to the St. Louis Arch and serves as a symbolic welcome to Miami, gateway to Latin America. It is also a geometrically perfect wave coursing across the front of the building. In fact throughout the plaza, moving water creates a unified aesthetic theme. The tower's quiet, clean lines are welcome in a city that too often feels the need to shout in order to be noticed.

You can't help but notice Miami's newest mixed-use skyscraper rising from the Brickell Avenue concrete jungle. The Espirito Santo Plaza, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, boasts 36 stories of office and retail space, restaurants, an 11-story atrium, a hotel, and private residences. Theoretically you could move in and never leave. But then you'd miss the experience of basking in your home's understated elegance. A graceful parabola gently guides the eyes upward and, at certain angles and times of day, creates an optical illusion: Is it concave or convex? The parabola is an architectural reference to the St. Louis Arch and serves as a symbolic welcome to Miami, gateway to Latin America. It is also a geometrically perfect wave coursing across the front of the building. In fact throughout the plaza, moving water creates a unified aesthetic theme. The tower's quiet, clean lines are welcome in a city that too often feels the need to shout in order to be noticed.

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.

The City of Miami's hapless Historic and Environmental Preservation Board actually managed to save a building once. It was back in 2001. The structure was the 75-year-old Firestone building at SW First Street and Twelfth Avenue in Little Havana. But as part of the deal, the guardians of the city's architectural flame decided to let Walgreens tamper with Miami's oldest sign, an 84-foot-long, 36-foot-tall, neon rooftop beauty that spelled out F-i-r-e-s-t-o-n-e. Walgreens recently opened shop inside the old service station, where generations of Miamians flocked for toys, bikes, and appliances, as well as tires and gas. The famous old sign now reads, W-a-l-g-r-e-e-n-s. The chain drugstore, however, did agree to use five of the original letters: two e's, an r, an s, and an n. Those letters, of course, spell sneer, which is about all that hardcore preservationists can do in this town.

The City of Miami's hapless Historic and Environmental Preservation Board actually managed to save a building once. It was back in 2001. The structure was the 75-year-old Firestone building at SW First Street and Twelfth Avenue in Little Havana. But as part of the deal, the guardians of the city's architectural flame decided to let Walgreens tamper with Miami's oldest sign, an 84-foot-long, 36-foot-tall, neon rooftop beauty that spelled out F-i-r-e-s-t-o-n-e. Walgreens recently opened shop inside the old service station, where generations of Miamians flocked for toys, bikes, and appliances, as well as tires and gas. The famous old sign now reads, W-a-l-g-r-e-e-n-s. The chain drugstore, however, did agree to use five of the original letters: two e's, an r, an s, and an n. Those letters, of course, spell sneer, which is about all that hardcore preservationists can do in this town.

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.

Hell hath no fury like a reformed dolphin trainer. Anyone who has dealt with Russ Rector knows that all too well. From 1968 to 1975 he worked and performed with the creatures at Fort Lauderdale's Ocean World. Today he is president of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation, which he founded in 1992 as a platform from which he could launch relentless attacks against those who do what he once did: hold dolphins captive, or otherwise endanger them. In 1990 he clung to a buoy off the Dry Tortugas to disrupt a U.S. Navy test of underwater explosives he believed could harm the area's wild dolphins. In 1993 he and other activists made a very public stink when Aruba proposed to build a tourist swim-with-the-dolphins facility. In 1994 he was arrested for trespassing at North Key Largo's private Ocean Reef Club, where he was denied access to check on the welfare of three captive dolphins held by the club. In July 1995 he set his sights on the aging Miami Seaquarium, which keeps dolphins and a killer whale named Lolita. Acting on a tip from employees, he videotaped what appeared to be serious structural problems with the main performing stadium. His protests to county, state, and federal agencies went nowhere. For several years in the mid-Nineties he noisily argued that Lolita's holding tank was too small, again to no avail. But last year the 55-year-old sea-mammal advocate connected. Brandishing another videotape and a safety expert's report, commissioned by his foundation, Rector documented scores of electrical code violations at the Seaquarium. This time Miami-Dade County officials responded, slapping the attraction with nearly 140 violations. Cost for repairs: roughly a half-million dollars. Last month he was at it again. A new report by the safety expert alleged more violations, including inadequate emergency exits for Seaquarium visitors. Is he obsessed? Yes. Is he overbearing? Yes. Is he a hero? Certainly not to Arthur Hertz, CEO of Coral Gables-based Wometco, which owns and operates the Seaquarium. But to many other people, here and elsewhere, the answer is yes. He's a hero.

Hell hath no fury like a reformed dolphin trainer. Anyone who has dealt with Russ Rector knows that all too well. From 1968 to 1975 he worked and performed with the creatures at Fort Lauderdale's Ocean World. Today he is president of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation, which he founded in 1992 as a platform from which he could launch relentless attacks against those who do what he once did: hold dolphins captive, or otherwise endanger them. In 1990 he clung to a buoy off the Dry Tortugas to disrupt a U.S. Navy test of underwater explosives he believed could harm the area's wild dolphins. In 1993 he and other activists made a very public stink when Aruba proposed to build a tourist swim-with-the-dolphins facility. In 1994 he was arrested for trespassing at North Key Largo's private Ocean Reef Club, where he was denied access to check on the welfare of three captive dolphins held by the club. In July 1995 he set his sights on the aging Miami Seaquarium, which keeps dolphins and a killer whale named Lolita. Acting on a tip from employees, he videotaped what appeared to be serious structural problems with the main performing stadium. His protests to county, state, and federal agencies went nowhere. For several years in the mid-Nineties he noisily argued that Lolita's holding tank was too small, again to no avail. But last year the 55-year-old sea-mammal advocate connected. Brandishing another videotape and a safety expert's report, commissioned by his foundation, Rector documented scores of electrical code violations at the Seaquarium. This time Miami-Dade County officials responded, slapping the attraction with nearly 140 violations. Cost for repairs: roughly a half-million dollars. Last month he was at it again. A new report by the safety expert alleged more violations, including inadequate emergency exits for Seaquarium visitors. Is he obsessed? Yes. Is he overbearing? Yes. Is he a hero? Certainly not to Arthur Hertz, CEO of Coral Gables-based Wometco, which owns and operates the Seaquarium. But to many other people, here and elsewhere, the answer is yes. He's a hero.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®