Visit Crandon Beach on a gusty day and, for a $5 parking fee, here's what you'll find: kite surfers swooping and twirling in the distance and sandpipers dozing on one leg just offshore. The placid, lagoonlike waters make Crandon a perfect spot for swimming or wading. And its near-empty beaches are a welcome retreat from Miami Beach favorites. Besides, no other local waterfront spot can rival Crandon's velvety white sand and plentiful amenities -- among them meandering promenades, ample picnic areas, shaded pavilions, outdoor showers, and concession stands. For those with children, there's the Family Amusement Center with its antique carousel, roller rink, and sandy playground. You can also rent cabanas, complete with private restrooms and showers, for $20 per day or $200 per month. These small, mostly concrete spaces are better suited to storing lounge chairs and surfboards than lingering over mojitos. But who really needs a roof when there's so much sand to ply? And once you've had your fill of beach, you can sample some of Crandon Park's other offerings, such as fine restaurants, tennis courts, and a championship eighteen-hole golf course.
Born in Miami during a mainland visit by his Bahamian parents, this great American actor came to the Magic City as a fifteen-year-old in 1942 and remained in the United States after that. At first he had a really rough time, experiencing racism and difficulty in getting a job, which inspired his civil rights activism as an adult. Poitier joined the U.S. Army at age eighteen and while on leave auditioned impulsively for a Broadway production of Lysistrata. He got the part, and within a decade had copped the Oscar for his performance in 1963's Lilies of the Field, the first black to win in a leading role. Poitier maintained activity onstage, onscreen, and in the burgeoning civil rights movement. Roles in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), as the suitor of a white woman (and by extension her uptight family), and To Sir, with Love (1967), as a teacher and inspiration to a bunch of teen hoodlums, were landmarks of their time. Today those films are still eminently watchable, in large part owing to Poitier's elegant elocution and reserved manner. And don't even get us started on They Call Me Mr. Tibbs.
In 1980 more than 125,000 Cubans fled the iron fist of Fidel Castro in what would become known as the Mariel Boatlift. Mirta Ojito was born in Cuba and lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Havana for sixteen years until her family joined the exodus to the United States. Ojito's family made it to Florida together, but many others were not as fortunate. Finding Mañana paints a bleak picture of the postmodern Cuba where self-expression was a crime and religion was rejected. But not all is despair and tribulation. As Ojito puts it: "We left the way one leaves a cherished but impossible love: our hearts heavy with regret but beating with great hope.''
Let us now have a moment of silence for Don Carter's, the little bowling alley that could, and did, for 30 years. The Kendall branch opened in 1976, when most of the overcrowded suburb was but a gleam in an ambitious developer's eye, and it sadly has gone the way of most Miami businesses that possess any glimmer of authentic retro chic. Shuttered. Kaput. Finis. If you're the kind of "athlete" who owns your own bowling ball and shoes, you'll have to head out to the annoying brightness of Bird Bowl (9275 SW 40 St., Miami; 305-221-1221, www.birdbowl.com) or even farther to the Homestead Bowling Center (111 S. Homestead Blvd., Homestead; 305-246-1333). Hipsters can enjoy Lucky Strike Lanes (1691 Michigan Ave., Miami Beach; 305-532-0307, www.bowlluckystrike.com). Just know that no self-respecting bowling alley serves coconut shrimp and hummus, dudes. Progress has marched on, but the memories remain. Don Carter's felt like the real deal -- musty, dark, and funky. The ambiance could be described as inadvertent kitsch (and isn't that really the best kind?), with cheesy track lighting, garish patterns in the carpet, and a distinct lack of contemporary chic flourishes. And the deals couldn't be beat. On Monday nights, visitors were able to pay $10 for the Bowl Your Brains Out deal: all-you-could-roll plus music, raffles, and Lightning Strikes, a stonerific explosion of special effects, lights, lasers, and fog. Ah, the good old days. Rumors of the location's imminent closing swirled for months. This past October, the following statement was posted on the company's Website: "While we are saddened to see this great establishment close, we will be open through October 2005." The date came and went, and the year came to a close. Two other dates were publicized as being the last call, but Don Carter representatives finally confirmed the tragic truth. The Kendall area landmark went out with a whimper, not with the promised celebration and hubbub. Sorry, boys, no more balls will roll down those familiar wooden lanes. Eventually the familiar gray building will be razed and maybe rebuilt into some bullshit chain store. Sentimental fans will lament, zip up their bowling bags, and then make the trek up to the remaining Don Carter locations in Tamarac and Davie.
This past December, when Chuck Zink quietly entered a nursing home after a major stroke, native South Floridians spread the news that our good friend was dying. To call The Skipper Chuck Show popular would be an understatement. From 1957 to 1979, every youngster in town wanted to appear on it. The production seemed a cheery reprieve from the often scary and confusing world that adults inhabited -- when Zink bravely ordered desegregation, it became a bellwether. No right-minded kid could forget the cheery Popeye's Playhouse at the end of a maze of dark hallways in that giant box where WTVJ shot the show. During his long career, Zink was also an announcer for The Jackie Gleason Show and the Miss Universe Pageant. His day jobs included weatherman and radio personality, and he earned a bronze star for bravery during World War II, but it was as host of a seemingly simple kiddie show that he made a lasting and positive impression on the world. When he passed away this past January, fans found it easy to lift their hands in the Skipper's trademark three-fingered gesture and wish Zink "peace, love, and happiness" one last time.
Route 8A, Miami-Dade Transit's exotic Third-World express through the heart of Little Havana, is an experience unrivaled in our public transportation system and dirt cheap at a buck-fifty. Many joke that for norteamericanos this rickety trip down Calle Ocho is like weathering the Florida Straits on a raft; it'll take you to another country, no passport required. Expect to find yourself immersed in spirited teeth-gnashing forums making mincemeat of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. And if you don't speak Spanish, don't worry -- neither does the bus driver who appears in a zone all his own. Chances are a civic-minded translator will likely come to your rescue. You might also find yourself serenaded by a harmonica player belting out woeful tango standards and passing around a hat. Or you could run into a route regular canoodling with a life-size rag doll. The aging dandy is a street performer who dances with the dummy as part of his shtick, and hecklers yell at him to pay an extra fare as he slinks gracefully down the aisle with his tattered toe-tapping inamorata. Catch the infectious whiff of patriotism exuded by the geezer sporting the "Support Our Troops in Iraq" baseball cap with an American flag duct-taped to the brim. When the lady with the guava-tinge teeth waves her Lotto ticket at a man and denounces him an "infiltrator" before he tucks tail and hops off at the next stop, score one for back-yard democracy. Be wary of the guy waving the rusty garden rake -- it could poke out an eye. When you exit at Domino Park for some local color, don't miss the banner bearing an American bald eagle. It boasts, "Welcome to your Homeland Defense Neighborhood," in English.
Development is the enemy of Florida, and Steve Rosen is an enemy of development. He came to public attention when snipers were headed to Miami International Airport to slaughter 300 jackrabbits living there. Instead of carnage, Rosen, who clearly is more intelligent than anyone who has anything to do with running the airport, simply paid to have the bunnies wrangled and relocated. Now Rosen is going to court to stop developers statewide from burying alive gopher tortoises, creatures that are nearing a place on the list of threatened species after a 70 percent decline in population since 1910. Developers simply pave over the animals, causing them to slowly suffocate. Florida grants permits to kill the reptiles. Wal-Mart, for one example, built on top of five tortoises, causing Rosen to rhetorically question whether the retail giant couldn't afford to have relocated such a small number of the shelled creatures. After Rosen filed suit, he was quoted as saying, "This is going to be blood and guts. I'm going after them.''
Let the thrill-seekers roar around in cigarette boats, oblivious to everything but speed and spray. For those who want to see Miami by water but appreciate a glimpse of shy animals and birds as well, the key is to travel slowly and quietly. Miami-Dade County's Eco-Adventure programs offer some fifteen different opportunities to see Miami by canoe. Paddle through shady canals on the Coral Gables waterway tour. Appreciate the moon over Miami on a nighttime canoe trip around the Deering Estate. Watch the sun set over Black Point or Crandon Park. Prices range from $15 to $45 -- the most expensive are trips that require transportation by van, like that down Turner River in the Everglades. The tours are lead by experienced naturalist-guides and are rated according to ability.
Giant scaly creatures from darkest Africa invade Miami! Fierce serpents plunder the Everglades, breeding and eating, eating and breeding, and then ... they slither into the city itself! Creepy crawlers lurk at every turn! Wildlife gone into their gaping maws! Pets perish to the ravenous reptiles! Children -- beware! What this place needs is a new superhero. And here he is, Python Pete, a beagle assigned to snake-sniffing duty at Everglades National Park. Over the years, irresponsible wannabe herpetologists (an idiotic group known as "herpies") have purchased small, young pythons, a particularly docile species. A two- to three-foot-long python survives on a mouse meal every week or two. And they grow. Soon they need to dine on rats, then rabbits ... and by the time they're five or six feet and have outgrown their original cages, the snakes become too much for their keepers, who simply release them in the Everglades. There the snakes have flourished, particularly in the southwestern sector, near Everglades City. Except for swamp dwellers and reptile collectors, nobody seemed to care much until recently, when large pythons were found in urban situations, munching on someone's cat and doing battle with an alligator. Taking a cue from customs workers in Guam, where Jack Russell terriers nose through cargo to find brown tree snakes, the National Park Service folks enlisted the aid of Petey, a ten-month-old beagle who is being trained by owner and wildlife technician Lori Oberhofer to be a "first responder." Oberhofer worked on the Guam project and believes young Pete can learn to locate pythons "and then bark." In the decade preceding 2003, 53 of the big snakes were captured by NPS officials. In 2004 they caught 61. If little Petey becomes successful, alligators and kitty cats will rest easy. Of course there is one fear: Nosey beagle consumed by giant serpent!
Miami City Cemetery
There's just something chillingly alluring about a cemetery located in the heart of the ghetto. Miami City Cemetery is an especially wicked treat. It is the final resting place for famous city pioneers such as Julia Tuttle, William Burdine, and Miami's first mayor, John Reilly. The eleven-acre site was purchased by the city in 1897 from William and Mary Brickell for $750. Today, if you want to bury a loved one in the cemetery, you must own a family plot in which a relative of the deceased has been interred for at least ten years. That's because with 9000 occupied gravesites, the cemetery is full. And this being Miami, the cemetery has been at the center of its own little controversy -- like the time back in 2001 when cemetery workers were misplacing bones and forgetting to rebury the remains of poor dead saps. On Halloween, historian Paul George, to celebrate his birthday, takes you on a guided tour of this legendary boneyard. As he lurks from plot to plot, George relays tales about the mysterious deaths of the inhabitants. To learn more about George's cemetery tour, call the Historical Museum of Southern Florida at 305-375-1621.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®