At five feet eleven inches and 228 pounds, Zach Thomas was an unheralded player from Texas Tech University when the Fins drafted him in 1996. Football pundits thought he was too small to play middle linebacker, a position that requires banging heads with 300-pound offensive linemen on a weekly basis. But that didn't stop former head coach Jimmy Johnson from taking a chance on the human wrecking ball from Pampas, Texas. Entering his ninth season, Thomas has proven himself as one of the toughest hombres to don the uniform of Miami's storied football franchise. For the second year in a row, and for the eighth time in his career, he led the team in tackles (166) this past season despite missing games because of injuries. During a loss to the Cleveland Browns this past November, Thomas recorded five tackles while playing with a separated shoulder. His performance earned him his sixth election to the Pro Bowl.
Tucked away in a patch of urban green is a tangible reminder of Miami's humble roots. Built in 1857, it's the oldest house in Miami-Dade -- a rambling cross between Little House on the Prairie and an Alabama shotgun shack. William Wagner was a white pioneer who settled here as the Seminole wars raged. He built the area's first postcolonial church, ran a mill nearby, married a Creole woman, and watched Miami grow from a malarial outpost to a real town. The house is so charmingly out-of-place you can't help but like it.
When the book about South Beach in the gay Nineties is finally written (and what a story it will be), there most certainly should be a chapter dedicated to the one and only Shelley Novak. The hirsute, zaftig drag queen has been hosting her Shelley Novak Awards for the past eleven years. Eleven years! "And I've been doing drag for fifteen years. I don't think anybody I know has made that kind of commitment to anything! I know marriages that haven't lasted that long," quips the blunt-spoken Bostonian. Her awards ceremony is always ribald and ridiculous, fluffy and fun, with a couple of outrageous musical performances tossed in for flavor. "If anything, it becomes like a Friars Club Roast, but it does get taken very seriously. I try to nominate people who I know will get up onstage and break down in tears," chuckles Novak. Besides hosting South Beach's longest-lasting awards ceremony for drag queens, Shelley takes part in the education of the gay community by hosting her own monthly film-screening series, Shelley Novak's Hollywood. Before she stepped into the dazzling spotlight at crobar to hand out awards this year, Novak stood in the darkness of the Miami Beach Cinematheque, to host a suitably reverent tribute to her recently deceased namesake, Shelley Winters. Winters and Novak shared more than a first name. Both were talented yet overlooked for their more svelte and glamorous counterparts. And it's because of actresses like Shelley Winters -- and her other namesake, Kim Novak -- that Shelley Novak continues to proudly carry a torch for almost-forgotten film stars. "The reason I do Shelley Novak's Hollywood is because there was a generation lost," the adorable, self-depreciating cross-dresser reveals. "When I was a young gay kid in 1985, I had all these older gay guys introducing me to John Waters and David Lynch, and because of AIDS, that generation died. For the kids now, there's nobody to look up to for advice, or to teach them old Hollywood, or camp value, or what books to read," she explains. Novak does her part to keep the drag flame burning, welcoming young queens into the circle while simultaneously recognizing the courage and longevity of old warhorses like Henrietta, who's been dressing up since the Fifties. Always an awarder and almost never an awardee, this playfully modest South Beach institution maybe should just write a book of her own.
During the Twenties, farmers and other locals who made fortunes in the land boom built this verdant, vibrant neighborhood, sparing no expense on architecture. The houses remain -- framed by NE Second Avenue, NW Sixth Avenue/I-95, the Design District, and Little Haiti -- with all of their chimneys, porticos, balustrades, alcoves, wrought-iron fences, cement fences, wrought-iron-and-cement fences, and plenty of other tasteful and fascinating ornamentation. A couple of decades ago, the area became a magnet for immigrants -- some of the larger homes were converted into rooming houses. The future looked dim for historic preservation, but as sometimes happens in such circumstances, the new arrivals rebuilt Buena Vista, creating a neighborhood with the emphasis on neighbor. Trees abound, lawns are mown and hedges trimmed, people ride bikes and kids play outside. East Buena Vista (the portion between North Miami Avenue and NE Second Avenue) tends to be a bit more upscale, but the entire residential respite from the nearby commercial and cultural chaos is remarkably pleasant and peaceful. The folks in Buena Vista clearly have faith in the future, which is the most important thing for any neighborhood.
The venues and themes may change, but the dress code stays the same. "We command the following attire at our fetish events," the masters say on the Website. Rubber. Vinyl. Military uniforms. And, yes, leather: fabulous, skintight, slick, and sexy leather. (There are more attire allowances, but you have to check them out for yourself.) The parties have been a monthly hit for nearly a decade, largely because the rules themselves create the fantasy -- the freedom within boundaries (or bondage). If leather is your thing, enjoy.
Before the Cuban revolution, La Época was a major department store on the island. Although it still occupies a physical location in central Havana (as a dollar store of all things), the brand -- along with much of the essence of Cuba -- made the trip across the straits and settled in downtown Miami on NE Second Avenue. For 40 years, el exilio flocked to the packed store, even after the shopping district lost much of its vibrancy. This past December, though, La Época moved over to the old Walgreen's location on Flagler. Many will remember the 1936 Streamline Moderne structure as the site of a popular cafeteria; however, now the contents of La Época are spread across three of the exquisite building's five floors. The increase in elbow room is certainly welcome, but more important, this underscores that the downtown resurgence isn't a pipe dream.
Just meandering toward Doral's driving range on a sunny South Florida day will put you in the golfing mood. From the flowers to the fountains, the palms swaying and that endless landscape of beautiful Bermuda, it's the perfect setting to start swinging. And speaking of grass, Doral is actually one of the few Miami courses that allow you to practice on the grass. So you can avoid the feeling of carpet under your club and concentrate on firing at the flags.
For a town that prides itself on its architecture, Miami Beach often seems to have lost its way in historic preservation. Demolition-by-neglect appears to be a favorite tactic of property owners, so when the City of Miami Beach promised to renovate the Colony Theater, interested residents and artists emitted a collective sigh of relief. The small 1934 Art Deco structure is demure by Beach standards. It was built for the Paramount chain at the quiet end of Lincoln Road, which probably saved it from the wrecking ball. After renovations in the Seventies, the 465-seat theater became a focal point for performing arts groups as well as films. But it fell into disrepair again until a new fixup was approved in 2002. Unfortunately, as often happens with government contracts, the renovation went way over budget and schedule. Instead of $1.5 million and one year, the project stumbled over obstacles that set the final price tag around $6.5 million and pushed back the opening date three years. The renovations were extensive: The floor was restored and a new three-story wing was added to the backstage area. In order to highlight the exquisite façade, the entrance was shifted to face Lincoln Road, and the lobby was redone, including restoration of murals. The place reopened this past February. Despite the troubles and costs, residents and art lovers are happy to have it back. It's way better than another cookie-cutter condo.
This winter festival concentrates on socially conscious documentaries, the kind of fare that often otherwise goes unseen in the local community. Unlike the better-known Full Frame Festival in Durham, North Carolina, The Florida Room handpicks its films along a theme. This year it was "The State of Our Water." The acclaimed PBS Point of View film Thirst and other films such as Bottle This! and The Miami River told stories about the privatization, pollution, and politics floating around the water issue. In other years, festival themes have tackled identity and diversity, politics and unsung heroes. Cofounder Rhonda Mitrani, who worked in postproduction for Miramax, is also a director whose film Cuba Mia aired on PBS; plus she's a busy video artist and a screenwriter. Cofounder Juan Carlos Zald’var is a New York University-trained director and video installation artist whose work has appeared in galleries and on PBS and the Independent Film Channel. If documentary can help change the world, it's good to have these two workhorses shepherding the way.
On June 1, when Joe Arriola surrenders the illustrious job of Miami city manager, we recommend he try his hand as a media critic. In the January 2006 edition of Miami Monthly magazine, Arriola showed off his screed-writing ability in a column lambasting the Miami Herald's coverage of Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts' plan to open a five-star hotel on Watson Island. "How this business deal was spun into the city cavorting [sic] with and giving land to communists is an interesting story -- it's what happens when cheap McCarthyism, lazy reporting, and brainless editorial decisions intermingle," Arriola wrote. He concluded his diatribe against Miami's only daily with the following excerpt: "Despite all its Pulitzer Prize-winning glory, the Herald today seems more reminiscent of a cheap supermarket tabloid lacking the vision and the wherewithal to mature alongside the rest of Miami." We suggest that Miami's only daily hire Arriola, whose mouth is more than big enough to fill the void left by the now dearly departed columnist who once worked at New Times.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®