South Pointe Park
Photo by Bruno Fontino / Courtesy of the GMCVB – MiamiandBeaches.com
The theme song from The Muppet Show bops from your cell phone with polyphonic glee and wakes you from a lazy Sunday afternoon nap. It's your hookup. Excellent. By 4:20 p.m. you are holding the perfect sack: The dewy-sweet, skunky aroma wafts from the snack-size Ziploc bag filled with herbal refreshment. Fluffy with cotton-candylike crystals and little red hairs. Awesome. You pull a few tubes, call your buds, and roll a bone for the road before catching the South Beach Local down to the park. Everything is perfect: the temperature, the breeze, the smell of barbecue in the air. You play with a few dogs and contemplate tossing a Frisbee but decide to chill on the rocks and toss stones into the waves as the sun changes from orange to red. The clouds blush shades of pink as the cruise ships begin blowing smoke, gliding through Government Cut and out to sea. People wave from the deck -- the honeymooners, families, and retirees. You wave back and snap a photograph of the mammoth beast of floating buffets and ballrooms. "Man," a buddy speaks after what seems like an hour of silent meditation, "I am so hungry." You nod and remember that Joe's Take Away is stumbling distance from the park. The last pink and purple ribbons streaking across the horizon fade to indigo as you pull yourself away from the shore and head toward what will surely seem like the best meal you've ever had. Sweet.
A liquor store painted with beer-case-toting flamingos seems an improbable place for politically inspired poetry. All the same, there it is in black plastic letters on the M&M Package Store sign facing Le Jeune Road. Recent gems have included "Borrowed More $$$ Than All Previous Presidents Combined / Fiscal Responsibility Redefined" and "Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld Real Axis of Evil Fomenting War and Plutocratic Upheaval." Local politicians haven't been spared either. "Sweep Miriam Alonso out of office with the same broom she flew in on," the sign proclaimed when Alonso, a former county commissioner, was facing corruption charges several years ago. Store owner Robert Gewanter tries to put up a new message each week, but sometimes he can't. There's a business to run, you know. Gewanter says the signs are an amusing way to promote civic discourse. "Only once did anyone ever threaten me with a lawsuit," he comments.
With a diversity in wildlife rivaled only by watering holes in the Serengeti, the bicyclist or tram-rider on the fifteen-mile Shark Valley loop is almost guaranteed a stellar showing of Everglades fauna: Roseate spoonbills, wood storks, and great blue herons delicately pick their way through shallow pools and pose serenely in branches. Spotted gar, red-belly turtles, and anhingas swim beneath the water's amber surface. Cormorants decorate the tram road's watchtower like gargoyles, and short-tail hawks soar overhead. The king of this jungle, however, is the American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, whose green-gray bulk is draped over every muddy bank and drainage pipe that can offer him some sunshine. Beware of this dweller of murky puddles: He may seemingly ignore the fluttering and prancing of the wildlife around him, honed by millennia of evolutionary adaptation to expend as little energy as possible (he navigates canals swimming, propelled by the merest flick of the tail) but the gator is no slow fuddy-duddy of a predator. "Never get closer than fifteen feet to an alligator," warn signs and brochures. "If it hisses or opens its mouth in defense, you should back away even farther." A nice reminder, rendered totally unnecessary at the first glimpse of sharp, crooked teeth. Bike rental is $6 an hour; tickets for the tram are $14 for adults and $8 for children.
Commuters destined for downtown or South Beach from the airport area (including Miami Springs, Virginia Gardens, and Hialeah) can travel sixteen blocks in less than two seconds. The intersection of NW 36th Street and Le Jeune Road (with State Road 112 directly overhead) is among the busiest on Earth, and the two standard eastbound routes are a commuting catastrophe. With a "right turn only" sign funneling overused NW 36th Street into one lane at a particularly busy point, and ongoing construction in multiple locations, it too has become useless. As for 112 (known in parts east as I-195), it's jammed by an expensive toll facility and includes a confusing-as-all-get-out merge into I-95 (bear north to go south) for those hoping to eventually reach downtown. The secret: After passing Le Jeune on 36th Street, just before the Club Pink Pussycat, turn right onto NW North River Drive (known as the "Aluminum Trail" because it's lined with recycling depots). This relatively low-traffic four-laner angles and turns into NW 20th Street (just don't turn anywhere), which goes almost all the way to the bay.
This route, which was part of the trail for the Everglades Bicycle Club's Snowbird Century this year, takes you on a tour of some of South Florida's most unique areas. Begin your trek near the Fruit and Spice Park at 24801 SW 187th Ave. and ride north to 232nd Street, where you'll need to make a left. Enjoy the Homestead scenery as you pedal to 217th Avenue, where you should turn south. As you travel down this avenue, you'll pass the Schnebly Redland's Winery (30205 SW 217th Ave.), but you should probably wait until the return trip before stopping there, otherwise you might not get much farther. Keep heading south until you reach 392nd Street; go west. At 232nd Avenue take a left and you'll be in the Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area. Riding through here, you can glimpse native Everglades birds and other animals, so be sure to have that camera phone ready. While you're down this way, take a look at the former test site for the world's largest solid rocket motor. The land was owned by Aerojet when it was testing the motor for NASA, but the company sold the site in the Nineties. You can still see the giant silo where the rocket was fired. Once you're well rested, turn north on 232nd Avenue and begin the ride home. Don't forget to stop at Schnebly's this time around, and try some of the tropical fruit wine like the mango or passion fruit versions, but don't "taste" too much or you might not find your way back to the car.
It slices through one of Miami's most long-suffering neighborhoods and is patrolled by police hell-bent on keeping white people away, but NW One-Four is dotted with treasures between Booker T. Washington Senior High School (just west of Seventh Avenue) and the Miami Herald building (at bay's edge). There's the amazing Overtown Youth Center (a.k.a. the Alonzo Mourning rec center), which is right next to breezy Theodore R. Gibson Park, which includes a library, swimming pool, Chinese restaurant, and church clustered in the same lot. And then there's Bigtime Productions' ten-stage, full-service film studio, Ice Palace, which is just the sort of money magnet the area needs for development. There are two killer nightclubs -- I/O and PS 14 -- and unlimited potential. Eventually the performing arts center will become the anchor of this stretch, bringing to the area a flow of lawyers, politicians, and power brokers -- the sort of (white) people who can fight back against police harassment. Ever since integration, black people have been taking their money out of O-town. It's time for people of all colors to spend their cash in the neighborhood. With Habitat for Humanity working nearby and plenty of residents fighting gentrification, there really seems to be hope for bringing Overtown out of its morass. One-four is the key path to that progress.
What makes Miami a great city? It's the water, stupid. So when you're thinking about mounting your two-wheeler, and you don't feel like driving to the Keys, try the causeways north of downtown on a Sunday morning. Do it early when there's no traffic. Begin in Miami Shores at NE 96th Street and Tenth Avenue, and then meander south to 79th Street. Turn left and cross one bridge, then another. Smell the salt air. Revel in the views of downtown to your right. Look out upon Biscayne Bay. Then you reach Normandy Isle and Miami Beach. Next head north through the Beach's forgotten neighborhoods -- Byron Avenue is a pleasant route -- before reaching 123rd Street and heading west. Ahhh. Again the view of downtown. Again Biscayne Bay. There are fewer hills on this part of the sojourn, so relax, Lance. Pedal all the way to West Dixie Highway and head south through the Shores to 96th Street, where you turn left. Soon your car beckons. But you continue on to the dead end and settle on a bench in a pretty little park that looks out on -- you guessed it -- Biscayne Bay.
It's a dark, still night, and the only sound you hear is that of the leaves being crushed beneath your feet. You stop and look up as a flash of movement attracts your attention to the branches above. Large, round eyes peer down at you, reflecting red in the darkness. Then the silence is broken by a whispered chorus of "The owwwwls!" The ten kids along for this adventure are entranced by the bird's appearance. They point and poke at their friends: "Do you see it? It's the owwwwl!" From a distance comes the call of another feathered wonder, and you head in that direction, hoping to find the second one. What could be more fascinating to a youngster than walking in the woods in the dark in search of wild animals? Particularly since it costs only $5. Besides owls, you might also run into some four-leg creatures, like raccoons rustling in the bushes in search of a snack. And there's the occasional call of a monkey or whatever animal screech the kid next to you can imitate, so don't believe everything you hear (you'll have fun imagining though).
Richard Blanco speaks like a poet should; his voice is a low, soothing rumble that gives his words the weight of authority. He looks like a woman's dream of a poet; on the cover of this year's The Most Intriguing (and Sensual) Male Poets calendar, his shirt is open to reveal a stretch of tan skin, and his eyes are cast seductively downward. But what makes Richard Blanco our choice for this year's best poet goes far beyond his admittedly attractive visage. Blanco's poetry is powerful, and his poetic journey is unique. It all comes from the unique balance of his brain, which has allowed him tremendous success both in writing as well as engineering, the technically challenging field that pays his bills. Blanco did the poet-as-professor thing in colder climes, at American University and Georgetown University. But he's moved back to Miami now and doesn't plan on teaching anymore. "I realized that I am much more of an introvert than I thought. And being responsible for doing a dog-and-pony show for 80 people every day it really wore me out," he explains. "I came to realize that for better or for worse, a blessing or a curse, I needed to exercise both sides of my brain. I need to do my spreadsheets and my math. It's part of who I am. I really get a kick out of it, just as much as I do with poetry." He spends his days as a civil engineer, consulting for city planning projects. His technical skills are reflected in his poems, which reveal a careful balance of prosaic craft and glowing, tender detail. Blanco's first book, City of a Hundred Fires, was written in Miami and captures the nuances of Cuban-American cultural identity with deft brushstrokes. It won the University of Pittsburgh Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize in 1997. His second book, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, revealed a poet pining for home. Blanco has come full circle back to Miami Beach, but the formerly familiar now seems strange. "Now that I've come back and it's changed -- well, Miami changes every 36 hours it seems -- it's almost like a violation, like, how dare you change without me? I'm trying to stop living off memories, and trying to understand this place on its own terms as it's evolving. Miami as a petri dish has always been an anthropological and sociological marvel," he explains eloquently. Blanco says he returned for his muse, the beach. Evening strolls along the lapping shore fuel his creativity. It will be interesting to see how Miami inspires his future poems. While the poetic side of Blanco's brain finds romance in the city's contrasts, the engineer on the other side whispers fears about a lack of public housing, potential financial ruin, and economic and climactic storms. "There's an overlap between my engineering and the concerns of my poetry. The whole idea of the construct of the city, planning and design -- knowledge that I have from engineering of things that they're doing wrong and not doing.É I fear for Miami sometimes, because it's on the fence. And most people don't realize that," he says in a sobering bass.
Our favorite park doesn't have slides, a jungle gym, a golf course, tennis courts, a pool, a beach, a barbecue pit, a cool nature walk. But it does have more than 500 different varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, and nuts. The county-owned Fruit and Spice Park is one of the world's most unusual parks. Located in the middle of the Redland, it showcases the bounteous reap of Miami-Dade's unique subtropical farming community. A hundred varieties of citrus, 65 kinds of bananas, 40 different grapes, and other tropical exotics are on display. You can take a guided tour of the 30-acre park beginning at 11:00 a.m., 1:30, or 3:00 p.m. daily, or you can also explore it yourself at your leisure. Once you're done touring or exploring, you can taste produce in the gift shop. The park also frequently hosts classes, led by staff, on cooking with tropical plants and how to identify edible wild plants. Admission: $5 for adults, $1.50 for kids. Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®