Adam Hill goes to Miami
Adam Hill here. I used to write songs. That burden has been lifted from me I suppose. You could find me at the bars years ago but have no fear, middle age did not wring out all of my creativity. I wrote the novel Old Timer’s Blues Blues based on the Stringbean murder of 1973.
The Hill family lives in Nashville but we vacation every year at my mother in laws in south Florida. This year we took a trek down to Miami.
I think we got on the road around 8 AM and drove south. About an hour and thirty minutes we could see the cityscape on the horizon. Nothing like seeing a city a long way off. This day was going to be a day with God’s hand all over it. It was clear without a cloud in the sky.
We took a left over to Miami Beach. You read about places all your life. You see them in movies. You see Miami Beach on BURN NOTICE. Being there is the tops.
The paint jobs were ice cream colors against a royal blue sky. Art Deco curves forever. You felt it was 1955 if you squinted.
We parked in a big multi level garage. We hit Washington. We start walking. It’s hot. It’s hot laid upon hot. The kids wilt immediately. Mom and Dad do too.
My dream was to find a Colada and a guava pastelito.
We passed a place called Charlotte Bakery. It looked local. It looked family owned. There was probably some awesome place right around the corner but you have to pick a spot to start. Venezuelan place. Nice folks. There was a window perch for the coffee machine and a little window bar. I could have sat and read a book for hours.
I got a guava pastry. Not sure if it was a pastelito. This place was Venezuelan so I’m not sure if it’s the same. I chickened on the Colada because the heat was tearing my house down. The wife got an empanada with chicken and cilantro. Smart move. The kids got meringue cookies. They looked so beautiful all whipped up. Bad dad. Bad move. We ate. The kids and I should have gotten protein. We hit the street. The heat is still the winner. It’s everywhere. The Miami Heat’s name is an epiphany.
We cut through a wide alley over to Collins on 14th I think. We passed a ball stuck in the alley https://images.app.goo.gl/bpzJpWpVPGL9bWhLA
You could see the beach entrance. It felt a little epic. The beach looks movie ready with bright crisp colored chairs and umbrellas set out in measured rows. The kids wilt further. They become a chorus of, “This sucks and worst day ever.” My goal as a dad is to be Paul Rudd in Ant Man or to be Steve Carrell in Alexander and the No Good Very Bad Day. I end up being the dad of kids who grow up to be super villains most of the time. I lose my temper but we aren’t going home. I put them in the shade.
I hit The Starbucks on Ocean Drive. I spied hipster Fruit Roll Ups and water. Ok team, chug water, eat the bars. They recover. Our new goal is to hit 10th street. That’s got the Welcome Center, the AC, and the lowdown. We stop every two blocks so they kids can regroup. Wife and I take pics. Sweaty pics. The screen had so much glare you couldn’t see a thing. Hotels. Art Deco. Color. Neon signs resting in the sun, waiting for the night. The kids let us know that it’s hot when we forgot.
We make the trek down to 10th. Muscle bound dudes with no shirts on. Not as many bikini girls as I thought there’d be. Maybe they fly in a different part of town. Lot’s of foreign tourists. I bet the locals were up north.
We make it to the Welcome Center. AC on tap. The wife asks, “Any particular Art Deco house we should see?”
Desk Clerk 1 deadpans, “There are over 1,000 houses as part of the tour.” He was drunk on his own boredom. He handed her a pamphlet. He smiled, I think.
Desk Clerk 2 was full of information. She talked fast. Rapidamente. She was great.
She wanted me to see every art destination that Miami had to offer in four hours.
Funny story. I’ve been learning Spanish off and on for about 2 years now. I’m terrible at it. I can read it a-lot better than I can speak it. I guess that’s true for everyone. I’d been led to believe that Miami was all Spanish all the time so I brushed up in the days leading up to the trip. My crash course made me aware of a mistake I’ve been making.
I’ve been saying “desayuno” for “excuse me.”
That means, “breakfast.”
Alright, go me. So the word I was looking for is “disculpe.”
Maybe I won’t forget it now. I can live knowing that I’ve said “breakfast” before to some guy in the aisle of the Mercado on Murfreesboro Pike.
We leave the AC and cut across 9th from Collins. I see a snow cone spot called Snow Social. Let’s do it. We go in. Young guy running it. Just moved from Brooklyn. Digs the weather. You can always sell Snow Cones, ya dig? We dig. I get the coconut. Wife gets lemonade. Girl gets horchata. Son gets rainbow. We get revitalized and cooled down.
Here is the cold truth on a trip with kids. The lady at the Welcome Center said we should go to lunch at Mi Ceviche but if we are worried about the kids we should go with the 11th street diner. It’s got small burgers, chicken fingers, you know that menu. This is the parent life right here. Walking there we passed a Middle Eastern spot with hummus and grape leaves and rad looking stuff on a plate. Place about two yards wide and rolling forever back. Shot gun shop. It called to me.
But I told the kids they could get burgers if they made it to lunch so we do the diner. I meant to have Ceviche for lunch in Miami. I meant to have a beer. But, I had a BLT with mineral water and the wife had a Caesar Salad. Both plates were solid, big plate, picture perfect diner takes on these classics. Yes, Diner, Drive Ins and Dives had been there. When you have hot kids in tow you have to play the easy game. There was a taco place called Bodega about ½ a mile away. We never would have made it. But damn my Instagram game would have been strong.
We hit the lobby of the Wolfsonian for AC and a sun break. Neat spot. It didn’t deter us from our goal of the PAMM. Back to walking and taking it in. The Hookah pipe AK 47s in gold cracked me up. The Bitch I Am In Miami t-shirts were a perfect pic for my bud Joe. The glitter tennis shoes. The camo tracksuits. The gold necklaces with names on them. The little sliver grocery stores. Asian spots smelling of Lemongrass and soy sauce. Cell phone holder shops. Vibing New York but less pigeons and more parakeets. Tropical trees and flowers hanging everywhere. Spanish accents doing all the work. Spanish moss hanging in the trees. We returned to the van. We drove down through Miami Beach.
Driving back over the bridge and looking at the city we could see Architectural Digest ritzy looking houses on an island with boats that look like a Bond villains drive them “parked” out front in the water. The city skyline was wide and bright. Little turn here and there. We end up U turning at American Airlines Arena where the Heat play. We pull into the parking garage for the PAMM. Best parking garage ever. It’s tropical. It’s got plants. It’s got green. We come up the stairs. Dig the hanging gardens. Dig the view, you can see the bay. The building pushes up and out and provides shade. It’s a metropolitan paradise.
It’s free admission day. Lucky draw for us. God’s got my wallet. Let’s hit the cafe. The kids get lemonade. Natalies if your curious. Natalies is the bomb. I get an espresso and a San Pelligrino. The kids sit in hammocks. The wife takes pics. I glom the surroundings. I muse on how I LOVE hanging at spots like this. Can I get my laptop and come every day? Live on ceviche, arugula and shrimp? Mineral water with a lime and espresso? I need white linen pants and an indigo linen shirt. Huaraches. No socks. Every day. I sit on the steps overlooking the bay and day dream.
We finish up the beverages and take the elevator to the second floor. Let me say this, The PAMM is a museum. Where I live I forget what this looks like. It’s not a college that let some artists have a show. It’s not a business that has some paintings up. It’s not a warehouse space with big white walls. It’s a perfect mix of wood and concrete. Great and subtle light with expansive space that let’s the work breathe. The building itself has something to say. In case you forgot it’s in Miami, all the info cards are in Spanish and English.
I was intrigued by the Beatice Gonzales retrospective checking out the show on line before we went . In person it delivered. I don’t remember being hit like this since Carroll Cloar’s Memphis show at the Brooke’s a few years back. The colors and shapes and how they represent people, that were studies from newspaper photos made for resonant and strangely memorial like vibrant visuals.
I was tagging along behind the docents tour and picked up part of it. Her impassioned talk about the 1980’s, Columbia, Cartels and explanation of the work, Interior Decoration, a curtain with politicians and elites laughing it up at a party, that asks the question, “What goes on behind the curtain?” Simple. Brutal. Right on.
The Zhao Gang show was a split for me. Chinese political art that I couldn’t give a damn about and art that seemed personal that had charm. They were portraits and still lifes although for all I know they were all of political people in their kitchens. I can’t imagine being an artist in a country where your day in day out expression was bound up in a regime.
The front room had a show by Hew Lock that consisted of model boats hanging from the ceiling, of which I assumed they were a commentary on migrant movement from Africa to Europe and across Europe. But given the proximity of Cuba I gathered that was also front of mind. The show is called, For Those in Peril on the Sea. Our time inside came to an end so we braved the heat again. We walked around the grounds of the museum. Jaume Plensa has a large head-face on the grounds overlooking the bay. Those are always a treat but in the environment of the water and the tropical plants it took on an explosive Eden vibe.
Alright back to the car in the lushest parking garage. It’s getting onto dinner time so we drive into Miami. I always like to get into a city. In Nashville, my favorite places to eat are on Murfreesboro Pike and Nolensville Pike. 12th South, Hillsboro Village, German Town, and of course the storied East Nashville are fine but they only tell you so much. They don’t whisper at all. There’s no room to move. Frankly, they are way out of my tax bracket.
Our destination is the restaurant Versailles in Little Havana. I asked the author Alex Segura who grew up in Miami if it was too touristy and if he had another suggestion. He wrote me back, there are tourists but it’s a legend, you gotta go. If you don’t know, Alex writes the supreme Pete Fernandez mystery series set in Miami.
Versailles was way cool. Our waiter was a PROFESSIONAL. Black pants and white shirts, a myriad of rooms and tables, mirrored walls, 70’s style. All of that set the stage but the food was the main event. The pork chop sample in the Criollo made me want a whole one. The rice was boom, sumptuous and full of broth and spices.
We hit the bakery on the way out and bought Decaf Cuban Coffee. It’s sad being old. You go decaf after the clock hits noon. This was the most resonant decaf I’ve ever had. Bitter as time, sweet as a kiss. I wanted to sit out front of the cafe with a little espresso in the morning and read more of James Ellroy’s This Storm and people watch. See how many Spanish words I can pick out. Aqui always makes me smile. It means here. Parents say it to kids a-lot.
We hit rush hour traffic. None of it as bad as Atlanta or Nashville. I think we got lucky.
North of town the wife needed to stop. We probably could have picked a worse gas station exit but I don’t want to try again—cops at one gas station with lights on and out in force, one place looking like a shell station sign with a shack and the spot we hit. Homeless gent eating his dinner piecemeal. Begs a bit in the parking lot, goes in the store, buys a bit of food, comes out and dines on top of some part of the buildings electical. Wife goes in. Bathroom door says “Absolutely No Bathroom” She asks the register attendant. The lady says she can use it. There’s no way to shut the door.
The wife, comes back. While she was inside I watched our homeless gent. The kids complained. Wife gets in, I try to turn on the car. Grunt grunt engine. Nothing. GRunt grunt engine nothing. I lay my head on the steering wheel. I look at my phone. 2% Wife’s phone isn’t much better. Mine won't even call Roadside. I get out to check the back for cables hoping to get the attention of a North Miami good ol’ boy with a hero complex, come on Burt Reynolds 2019.
Homeless guy doesn’t know my car won’t start and that I am looking for jumper cables so he takes this moment to chat. Black Betty broke his heart, a truck broke his arm, but he’s going to get a million for the lawsuit. I give the homeless guy a buck and wish him luck. I get back in the car, we have no jumper cables.
The wife just flat out prays. I try the car again. Car turns on. That sweet sound of an engine coming on fills our ears.
PRAISE GOD LET’S GO. Buckle up. I tear out of that parking lot on two wheels. Once we hit the interstate we drive at solid 80 mph. I stay on it. HOV lane. My mantra is, “Your job is to pass cars.”
About 15 minutes later, the boy starts coughing, for some reason when he starts coughing he likes to really dig into it. Usually when he does he ends up puking. Well, there was no reason to want to try and suppress this urge in this situation so he ends up puking all over the back seat and his sister’s arm. He got the last bit in a cup. Wife chair surfs to the back and switches with sister. Fortunately we had wet wipes, but wet wipes only do so much. I drive a fast click all the way home.
Boy doesn’t puke again, he must have just had too much sun, and too much heat, and too many burgers. No stomach bug on vacation. Praise God. We pull in the drive in Fort Pierce. Kids in bed, I clean out and scrub out the van. I drink a Topo Chico and look at the stars. The next morning I drop the car at the garage to get a car battery and walk to the Cuban Cafe Mervis’s. Which has incredible Coladas and plantains. I read James Ellroy. Not quite Versailes but very welcome.
Miami is off topic for me I guess. But I wanted to capture this. Look at a map, if you're in Miami you’re in the Caribbean. The land knows more than the lines. This ain’t the south, though Florida is in the south. I’ve always said Florida is so far south, it’s north again. Now, I think Florida is three states, kind of like Tennessee is. North Florida feels like the south but almost like the Wild West version. Cattle, cowboys, farms. But then you move to middle Florida and throw in Orlando and Cape Canaveral. Then south Florida. The jungle is there, it’s just kept at bay with lawnmowers.
Most everyone, in the little town we stayed in I mentioned that I was going to or had gone to Miami to said, “What did you think?” or “Have fun with that!”
They always seemed disappointed when I said, “It was awesome!!” One guy I talked to was displeased that they speak Spanish there.
People from the small towns sometimes don’t like the big towns. Even when I was a kid I was interested in the big towns. I like art. I like food. But the first time I moved away to a bigger town, I wanted to go home so bad. The next time I did better. The third time I moved to New York City.
It was unlike any place I've ever visited. The closest place I’ve ever been was New Orleans but Miami was different even from that.
I’ve been thinking I’m tired of the Garden and Gun south. Not that I even know it. I’m not in that tax bracket. Though, I certainly wouldn’t mind being and good for you if you are. But I tire of the Instagram ready south. But again, Miami wasn’t even southern and I wasn’t surprised it wasn’t and I don’t even think I thought it would be. I'm always curious if I could go to Mexico City. I want to. This felt like maybe it was close than I'd ever been.
I ain’t even southern. I’m Appalachian. I guess I’ve drove 40 East or West so many times it was just nice to see a new patch of road.
Maybe I shoulda got a cigar.