At the corner of SW Tenth Street and First Avenue, tucked among the gleaming glass high-rises of Brickell, is a portal to the Cuban campo. On the tiny lot sit a half-dozen majestic mango and avocado trees. And in their shade strut a handful of scrawny roosters, their black, white, brown, and red plumes visible from the Metrorail platform high above.
Not for long. Fresh gravel lines the lot. One tree has already been chopped down. Another is missing a limb. And a sign at the entrance reads "$5" in bright red. Progress, thy name is public parking.
Three years ago, a California company called Corday, LLC bought the land and leveled the house of a Colombia family that raised roosters, supposedly for fighting. Somehow the fowl survived, leaving the increasingly feral birds to patrol the lot and surrounding neighborhood. They became a mainstay.
"I've seen 'em for years looking down from the Metrorail platform," 72-year-old Peter Joseph says. "I've often wondered what's going to happen to them." He got his answer last week when a bulldozer arrived.
Corday has contracted the corner to ParkSafe Systems, a company that runs several other valet parking lots in Brickell. The roosters have been scattered, caught, possibly even killed to make room for clubgoers' resplendent rides.
"It just outrages me," Joseph says. "Talk about animal cruelty. How can the city allow it before moving the animals first?"
The city used to have a popular Chicken Busters program to deal with unruly fowl, but axed it last year. Left to its own devices, Corday says it has "donated" 40 roosters to a Homestead farmer brave enough to try to catch them. But roosters remain. And with the lot now open to parking, the fowl's days are numbered, one way or another.
"One or two chickens died two days ago because a car crushed them," says Florencia Szafer, a ParkSafe employee manning the lot in the pouring rain.
"It wouldn't surprise me if some of the roosters were run over crossing the street," admits one Corday executive, who asked that his name not be used because "some of the other parking lot operators are known criminals, and I don't want them knowing my personal information."
He added that the company was trying to avoid that fate and planned to keep the trees.
But some locals are suspicious of Corday.
"They are letting this guy round up these roosters for santería," claims a young woman named Patricia who occasionally feeds the boisterous birds. "I saw one guy out here hitting them with a stick, trying to catch them."
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The Corday executive declined to give the name of the farmer who has agreed to catch the fowl, but said they had found a safe home.
By stick, car, or santería, the roosters are on their way out -- and this tiny taste of rural Cuba will soon disappear along with them. Commuters like Joseph will miss it. But no one will lament the loss like neighbor Ramon Quintana.
"I love them," says the 85-year-old habanero in a faded polo and white pants as he rummages around his makeshift garden next to the lot. He's been feeding the roosters rice and bread for years.
"Go ahead, take one if you like," he offers. "Just don't eat it."