My friend Jim and I went on a trip to Miami. We’d driven down from Atlanta to check out the beaches, driving with all the windows down to get the breeze as beach towns and high-rise condos blurred by. Elderly men wearing Bermuda shorts and black socks padded along the sidewalk to the shuffleboard courts. By the pool of their condo, blue-haired, deeply tanned, leather-skinned women were reclining on sun loungers.
Gazing at the Intracoastal Waterway, I admired the luxury yachts moored by the colonnaded mansion. I was enticed by the lore of Florida as we ventured into its storied past of rum-smuggling, pirates and alligators. Coming into the city, the Miami skyline ahead of us, we rolled up on a car blasting the staccato rap of reggaeton.
We crossed Biscayne Bay and came into South Beach. Getting out of the car and heading toward the beach, I felt the salty air against my face. The Beach was a place where self-created people came to seek casual pleasure and synthetic happiness. We had also come here to indulge in the night life.
We wandered into the first hotel displaying a vacancy sign. Dropping off our bags, we headed straight to the patio bar and order tropical cocktails. We sipped umbrella drinks and looked over at bikinied women hanging out poolside. After a few mellowing drinks, we wandered Ocean Drive.
A young woman in a pink bikini rode by on a bike cruiser, her long blond hair fluttering in the breeze. A muscle-boy wearing wraparound shades roller-bladed along the concrete path past a woman with streaked blond hair. She had such a fit body, that he couldn’t help but look back at the tiny shorts that showed off her butt cheeks, and nearly side-swiped a group of tourists taking selfies along the beach.
I had lost my sunglasses the day before and got tired of squinting against the bright sun and reflections from the ocean. I walked a few blocks west to a store that sold beachwear, T-shirts with tacky quotes and Miami souvenirs to buy some shades. In the window, a headless mannequin wore a T-shirt that read, “Ted Bundy is a one-night stand.” Walking in I also got a chill from the frigid air-con.
Feeling cool, wearing my new shades, we headed for the art deco district of pastel-hued buildings with neon marquees and facades of washed-out colors—corals, key lime, pink and aqua. Jim took iPhone photos of the prow of the nautically-themed Essex hotel with porthole windows. On the patio of a pink art-deco building some college kids were drinking mojito pitchers accompanied by noisy music that mingled with their loud laughter and vapid banter about doing beer bongs and keg stands and getting completely shit-faced at some huge rager.
We walked past a hotel painted in baby blue with motifs of starfish and a lighthouse and took a look at the Webster fashion boutique decorated in pink and turquoise. I understood why people were lured to this place with its art deco buildings and classic cars parked along the road. It brought me back to the Roaring Twenties, back to a time with booze, flappers and jazz.
Later we took a walk along 12th St Beach. Rainbow flags fluttered in the breeze. Gay men, etched with muscle, were strutting and posing along the beach. An oiled-up man in Speedos sipped from a bottle of Evian water, checking out a heavily-muscled guy in tight bursting shorts, the tails of his Hawaiian shirt knotted around his sculpted abs.
That night the beach traffic was heavy as expensive rides were rolling along the strip. A white Ferrari Testarossa glided down the street, pumping out synthesized instrumental music. My attention was distracted by some skimpily-dressed girls tumbling out of a long black limo, laughing and chattering away as they headed for a bottle club.
The loud beat coming from the club was hypnotically repetitive. There was a tight door policy and a line had formed around the block. A surly bouncer stood looking out over the crowd, doing face control, deciding who entered, picking them out of the crowd. An attractive girl in a thigh-gripping miniskirt flashed him a driver’s license and he motioned her through.
We went into the next club decorated with Greek white columns and faux-Renaissance art on the wall. There were ceiling-to-floor mirrors, thick purple carpeting, pink and blue neon lights and an onyx dance floor where women danced sensuously with their eyes closed, feeling the intense pulse of the electronic music.
Posturing at the sleek bar was a blond guy wearing a pale blue T-shirt under a white linen suit and pants and white slip-on loafers without socks. We sat at a black lacquered table. I chewed on a stirring straw, glancing around at haughty and remote women in bodycon dresses.
A man in a tight black T-shirt, wearing padded headphones, stood in an elevated DJ booth, spinning techno music. Two Brazilian models and their guy friend sat on a white sofa that stretched along the wall, drinking chilled champagne and eating chocolate-dipped strawberries. I could hear their conversation.
“So I call my agent,” said a brunette model, “and ask why I haven’t done a shoot in months…and she’s like ‘I’ll call Alfonso and call you back.’ Well, Diego, you won’t believe it…she never calls me back! And I’m like, oh my god that bitch.”
“Don’t sweat it, Ana,” said Diego. “I’ll take care of it.”
“I’ll make some calls. Maybe arrange an accident for her.”
Ana looked away. Apparently, she had been in a short relationship with the owner of iKon Modeling Agency who was sitting in the opposite corner of the room nuzzling his new girlfriend. He dismissed Ana with a haughty glance and engaged his girlfriend in animated conversation and exaggerated laughter.
“Carlos is such an ass,” Ana said, tossing her head in the direction of her ex-boyfriend, her lip curled in disgust. “Look how he’s carrying on with that bimbo. He must think he can make me jealous.”
She was beautifully vapid. I found their conversation getting so tedious that I stopped eavesdropping and Jim and I decided to go hang around the bar.
Jim slid onto a bar stool and ordered us some cold beers. Sitting alone at the bar was a lanky guy in a green silk shirt. After a while, he leaned over and introduced himself. Manny was a Miami local of Cuban origin and seemed eager to talk.
“Been in Miami long?” he asked.
“Just since morning,” I said.
“Atlanta…We’re beat. Been on the road ten hours straight, driving through the night.
“Driving all night? That’s a bit much. What was your hurry?
“Wanted to get more days out of our stay here, ” Jim said. “So when did you get here…to Miami?”
“I was born here, bro. My dad was a political refugee. Castro released him from prison and he came over on the Mariel boatlift in 1981.”
The subject of Miami in the early ’80s came up.
“It was the most violent city in the world,” Manny told us, “The murder stats were off the charts. Castro admitted that by letting all these people go, he had flushed the toilets of Cuba. Many were good, hardworking folks. But Castro used the opportunity to get rid of his rapists, murderers, criminals and even mental patients. Now the streets of Miami were flooded with immigrants needing quick access to money to survive. Cocaine had also come into Miami in a big wave. Dangerous characters were toting MAC-10s and meting out violence on a huge scale. The county morgue overflowed with so many bodies they had to rent refrigerated trucks to store all the corpses.”
“That’s messed up, man.” I said. “But I can understand the lure of it. There was a shit-load of money to be made.”
“Sure was. The Medellin cartel was consolidating its control. Pablo Escobar even had a pink mansion on Miami Beach. They made a fast fortune. Their money was washed clean by building much of the city’s skyline.”
“I heard the party scene back then was unreal!” Jim said. “Fueled by cocaine and cases of Dom Perignon. “
“You bet. You know the Mutiny hotel in Coconut Grove? Well, no place in the world sold more Dom Perignon. The drug lords had so much champagne they filled their Jaccuzzis with it. They didn’t even bother counting their money and paid their bills with wads of cash. Some of the reputed smugglers were into powerboat racing, using their boats to move kilos of drug powder from the Bahamas to Miami.”
“Come on and we’ll go to a cool club in Miami,” Manny said, seeing that we’d all finished our drinks.
Walking into Equinox was like entering another world after the rather boring and pretentious South Beach clubs. There were caged dancing boys and leather-capped men with neatly trimmed moustaches. Shirtless bartenders, wearing tight gym shorts and sneakers, were shaking up exotic cocktails. Sexy, semi-clad women with plunging necklines were doing flaming shots at the bar.
“Something, isn’t it?” said Manny.
I certainly agreed.
With a neon drink in hand, I wandered around, scoping out the strange life-forms in the darkest parts of the club.
Slightly disoriented, I bumped into a woman, a blue-skinned Venusian.
Manny motioned to her and said, jokingly, “Something about Venusian women makes them so much more attractive than Earth women.”
A man wearing a green suit with orange spots and ten-inch platform boots walked by a group of shirtless men dancing close together to the synth pulse of machine-music. Go-go boys were dancing on raised blocks above the throbbing crowd.
“You need to see this,” Jim said, coming up to me.
A man, wearing a leather gimp mask was holding a woman on a leash. Most people on the dance floor were joyously weird, chasing the energy, their bouts of excess seeking more intensity as the music pumped on.
Just before closing, we paid the inflated drinks bill and left. It had been a good time, so I picked up a party flyer from a guy at the door passing them around during the spill-out from the club.