Miami street signs that promise to change your life

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I drive a few blocks north on Collins Avenue when I'm distracted by the marquee of a former movie theater that was built in 1931 on 74th Street. Bold red and black letters read, "Condesa Gym: Drama classes, zumba, tai chi, cardio boxing, belly dance."

I have stumbled on the perfect spot to get fit and learn some acting, which could come in handy in my nascent second career as a road sign entrepreneur. After all, a good salesman has to know when to turn on the charm even if he doesn't have any.

Inside the theater, the scent of stale sweat hits my nostrils like a left hook to the face. Thumping techno music echoes throughout the cavernous auditorium where gym equipment, barbells, and a parquet dance floor have replaced the rows of theater seats. The movie screen is still intact.

Condesa Gym owner Ricardo Brito lounges in a leather chair in the lobby. A salt-and-pepper-haired, muscular man wearing blue jeans and a body-hugging navy polo, Brito explains I can opt for a three-month membership for $100, but for an extra $50, I can also take the classes he offers. The acting component is taught by his Cuban-born wife, who graduated from Havana's Instituto Superior de Arte. "In the fall, we are going to put on local productions on Friday and Saturday evenings," Brito says. "We'll be allowing our students to play roles alongside professional actors."

But that's not all, Brito continues. "We're a dance school too. We teach tango and salsa Tuesday and Thursday evenings." I was set.

By the time I meet my dream woman, I'll be a dashing, hip-swaying real estate mogul with a chiseled body and an ultramagnetic command of the English language.

On a Thursday morning in early August, I park in the semicircular driveway of a single-story blue house on the corner of Sheridan Street and 58th Avenue in Hollywood. Nearly a month after learning English by pronouncing words in Spanish and finding out how I can make money buying and selling real estate using road signs, I still have had no luck getting a date on echatepaca.com. And my mission to track down a dating service on a sign post has hit a dead end. So I called the tarot card reader whose number I saw on a post and now find myself in front of her house. I need some spiritual guidance. Maybe I was looking in the wrong place.

A sandy-blond, middle-aged woman with thick-framed spectacles answers the glass front door. Her name is Valentina, a Catholic woman whose father is from Yugoslavia and mother is from Argentina. She leads me to a room where the deck of tarot cards rests on a table.

"Guen was de las taym ju had a riden?" Valentina asks. I inform her it is my first tarot card reading. "O, berri guut," she replies. "I layk furs-taymars."

She instructs me to cut the deck three times. Then she grabs the cards and begins to lay each one down face-up. "I guill tel ju de trood," Valentina explains. "De guut and de bad."

According to the cards, she says, I need to look after my health. "En six mons, ju mae haf problems wid jur blud," Valentina says. "Et cuud be hai colesterol or hai blud preshur. Ju nid tu exersaese mor."

I would also start something new in my career, she adds. Well, becoming a road sign entrepreneur is definitely on my horizon, I tell her. "Ah," she says. "Guell, de cards sae in tu jers, ju will maek moni. Bot not naow."

I inquire: What about my future lady friend? "I sens daubt," Valentina concedes.

She points to a card depicting a woman under the pale moonlight. "Der es a guman," Valentina asserts. "But shi es duen blak majeek on ju. Shi dun't guant ju tu sockcid. Only fale, fale."

Who is Teresa Guzman ("Der es a guman")? And why would she want me to fail ("fale, fale"), or was it fall?

I was dumbfounded. Here I was searching for a woman, and she had already found me. And it wasn't good.

Valentina instructs me to surround myself with only positive people and energy. Before I leave, she offers her assistance: "I kan halp ju. I kan du a klensin — una limpieza — for ju. But et es goin tu caost ju sum moni."

One hundred fifty dollars to be exact.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.