At one time in our city's history, you could visit Virginia Key and discover signs that told you exactly where you were: "Colored Only," they read, and black residents knew this was the only slice of South Florida where they were allowed to sink their toes into the sand or enjoy the sensation of sun-warmed seawater on their skin. Flash-forward a few years, and Virginia Key was known for two things: the sewage treatment plant and Jimbo's. Nowadays Jimbo's is still going strong (thank the Lord for drunken tradition), and the tables of history have turned for old Virginny. The beach is back, better than ever, and it's open to sun and sand lovers of all creeds and races. The park makes full use of its 82 acres, with areas to camp, places to picnic, spots to sunbathe, nature trails to hike, and a brand-new carousel to ride with the kiddies. There's even a stage for live performances. And then, of course, there's the beach: serene and beautiful, with calm, lapping waters you won't be afraid to splash in. Soon you'll be saying, "South Beach where?" And, "Crandon what?"

Forget about the people who blog about their favorite movies or their kids or the vegan meals they eat every day. Eye on Miami is smart, witty, and informative — almost like daily newspapers used to be. It's the conscience of the local blogosphere, concentrating on foreclosures, housing woes, corrupt politicians, and the rampant waste of taxpayer money in our community. It's an easy-to-read, simply designed site — the right-column index of scofflaws and newsy topics is especially handy — with an edgy voice. The two people who run the site (Genius of Despair and Gimleteye) do it anonymously, but they still let their personalities shine through. (One classic post described Genius of Despair accidentally hitting University of Miami President Donna Shalala with a chair at a concert.) What the blog does best, however, is research and explain the often hard-to-understand issues in our area. The bloggers think nothing of taking a news story printed in the Herald and explaining the festering, moldy truth that lies beneath the people quoted in the story. They research foreclosures, lobbyist records, and campaign donations — often with sobering results. The truth isn't pretty here in the Magic City, but thankfully Eye on Miami is watching.

Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
Photo by Amadeus McCaskill

The bronto-size exhibit filled the Miami Science Museum with some of the rarest dinosaur fossils on the planet in a sensational show that made its U.S. debut in our own back yard. It boasted a whopping 14 of the reptilian behemoths' mounted skeletons, as well as an impressive array of pristinely preserved feathered dinosaur and bird fossils hailed as the missing link between the meat-eating dinos and the earliest bird. The undisputed star was an 85-foot fossilized skeleton of Mamenchisaurus jingyanesi, one of the longest-necked beasts to have ever trod the Earth. The length of two school buses, the gargantuan creature was featured in the "round-up" scene in the Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World and was the favorite of local students visiting the show during public school tours. The museum even built an interactive playroom where the sandbox set could unleash their inner paleontologists, freeing mesmerized parents to roam the enlightening boneyard on their own.

If you lived in South Beach from roughly 1987 to 1997 — during those transitional years when the area was no longer God's Waiting Room but not yet Developers' Heaven; when the low-rent buildings were populated by unemployed artists, barely employed writers, drag queens, drug dealers, Holocaust survivors, fashionistas, club kids, refugees from wherever, wannabe whatevers, plus the glut of trend-sniffing celebrities who kept it all unreal — then this book will bring back everything you've forgotten. Which is likely everything; the drugs were better then. Fortunately author Brian Antoni, who moved to SoBe in the late Eighties and researched Miami's hottest nightspots for the next 20 years, did remember all, thanks to a secret weapon: a pad in his pocket. And he tells all in this novel, with charmingly ingenuous prose that perfectly evokes the oddly innocent decadence of the era. Disclaimer: Resemblance to any real people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Hah. Figuring out the real identities of the thinly disguised rapacious real estate moguls, crooked politicians, and other local icons is half the fun.

Books & Books
Courtesy of Books & Books

By now, everyone knows Books & Books is Miami's literary mecca. Famous authors flock here not only to recite their works to admiring crowds, but also to shop, read in the store's quieter nooks, and feast on offerings from the in-shop café. It's that inspired combination of reading material, social succor, and fine dining that makes this place a must-visit. It also explains why the Books & Books book club is Miami's finest. First Course is a fortnightly evening meeting held at the Coral Gables flagship store. For $40, you receive an appetizer sampler — such as ceviche, avocado salad, and hummus — and a glass of wine with which to wash it all down. Club coordinator Debra Lynn puts a lot of thought into the sessions. She takes pains to choose a mix of topics, story types, and authors, and always seeks the kind of high-quality literary fiction that would make store owner Mitchell Kaplan beam beatifically. Just a warning: This isn't the kind of book club you can just show up at without having read the book in advance. So far this year, they've discussed and dined over Dave Eggers, Anne Enright, and Ben Fountain, and at one of every four sessions, the author stops by in person to discuss his or her tome with the participants. Where else in Miami would that happen?

The man who was once in charge of making sure the city followed the law accepted a plea deal in February 2008 that included one year of probation. His crime: "making false official statements." In plain English, here's what Fernandez did: He remodeled his office at a cost of $300,000 (those plasma TV sets, in-wall speakers, and DVD players were necessary, of course) and billed taxpayers $1,539 for a dinner at the Rusty Pelican (which happened to also coincide with his son's graduation party). Oh, yeah, and after Fernandez accepted the plea deal and resigned from his job, he told city officials that under his contract, they owed him nearly $300,000 in "severance pay." Ultimate cost to you and me: priceless.

It's hard to prove a negative, but the next time you step into an elevator and don't plunge to your death, you might want to thank Michael Chavez. A county employee for more than 20 years, he has held his current position since 2003. In 2006, Patrick Fraser of WSVN-TV (Channel 7) phoned Chavez on behalf of an elderly couple trapped in their apartment by a broken elevator. Chavez helped get it fixed. His department, Fraser said, "moved as quickly as I have ever seen a government agency move." New Times had the pleasure of coming across this county bureaucrat while inquiring about a pair of condo towers with terrible elevators. Chavez, to our surprise, not only handled the call himself but also rattled off their history from memory, pulling additional records as he spoke and promising to investigate the matter. He was candid, responsive, and, apparently, personally troubled by the report. He followed up with an inspection, a notice of violation, and a fine. "We haven't heard any complaints since," he told New Times. "I guess no news is good news."

Temple Emanu-El

Bored with the humdrum, off-key murmurings that pass for song at your local Shabbat service? Secretly disenchanted with the perky pop tune prayers that have replaced many a heart-wrenching Jewish dirge? Look ye no further: Cantor George Mordechai is in da house of worship. An Australian native and the son of Iraqi Jews, Mordechai brings a blend of Middle Eastern, Indian, Eastern, and Western musical traditions to his Shabbat prayers at Temple Emmanu-El, a.k.a. "The South Beach Synagogue." It doesn't hurt that Rabbi Kliel Rose, the congregation's young, bearded leader, is crazy about Mordechai's music, and holds a note well enough to do back-up vocals, making for a show worthy of kicking off a well-deserved — and Almighty-decreed — day of rest. Services are Friday nights at 7:30 (there is an optional meditation at 7).

Once upon a time — between 1925 and 1931, to be precise — the residents of Miami, lacking giant Hummers, boarded streetcars to get around the city. Then car companies lobbied for the destruction of the rails, and the on-street transit system was no more. Now Mayor Manny Diaz wants to bring the streetcar back. Maybe you like it, maybe you hate it, but Mayor Diaz's plan to build a $200-million system connecting Little Haiti, the Design District, Wynwood, and downtown is one of those issues that gets city activists fired up. Those on the pro-streetcar side tend to see it as the eco-friendly, neo-urban kick-in-the-pants the otherwise car-dominated town needs to move it into the 21st Century. But not so fast: Opponents such as Norman Braman (see Best Citizen) think it's a big, fat waste of money. And Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, elected on an anti-streetcar platform, has called it a "glorified bus." So far, the scale seems to be tipping in the streetcar's favor. But don't let the politicians decide the matter. If you have an opinion, go ahead and clamor for it. That's what democracy is all about.

Lincoln Road Mall
Photo courtesy of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

It's Sunday evening, you partied too much this weekend, and those doldrums are settling in. Stave off a bummer of a Monday with a whole slew of flowers. Once the sun goes down, stuff a few bills in your pocket and head to the farmers' market on Lincoln Road in South Beach. That's when sellers slash prices to a buck or two a bunch. For a mere $10, you can cart away enough flowers to make your home feel like the abode of a Coral Gables socialite. Or buy roses, which usually go for $5 a dozen. Take them to work and start a spicy rumor about you and your fabulously rich (and invented) lover. Monday mornings just got a little more thrilling.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®