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Friday, April 28, 2017

IN PRAISE OF A SMALL TOWN






     We learn much from other people and places. I just spent a week in a small New England town. The experience left me wondering if bigger cities are better. Coconut Grove was probably a lot like Belfast, Maine long ago, a friendly, seaside town with a stable economy.
      When the Grove “grew up” it lost much of its charm, culture, and sense of community. Can we ever get that back?

 
  Fishing off Coconut Grove's shoreline
 
     How often do you walk downtown and see someone you know? Few Grove residents go there. It's designed for tourists and the parking is impossible. In Belfast, parking is a snap and you're
greeted by a stream of smiles and "hello's".
   The lush trees and beloved houses that define what we love about the Grove are bulldozed every day. There’s no one in City Hall willing to stop it.
     Some call it “progress”. They are the developers -and those beholden to them- getting rich by pouring concrete where trees once stood.


     I  returned to Coconut Grove two days ago. A three-hour  bus ride took me through towns like Rockport, Camden, and Damariscotta .
Each was a dreamy wonderland of seaside vistas, New England architecture, and trees "springing" back to life. I kept wondering why we keep destroying these things in Miami.

     The Grove's soul has been sold to produce wealth for well-connected individuals.  There are no effective laws or leaders that will keep the bulldozers at bay. The old will fall, new buildings will rise, and those who can, will leave.
    I left for a few days and lived in a town of 6000 that had five independent bookstores. Three theater groups were presenting plays and the library was crawling with people and activity.        


Belfast’s Town Commons is a three-acre park overlooking Penobscot Bay. 
 
    Last fall they installed an intricate labyrinth to inspire quiet thought. It  honors Phineas Quimby, a local writer who made it big 170 years ago.
    Parking is free and easy.
     


   
      What is the Grove's equivalent, Peacock Park?  It's on the bay but you’d never know it; thick mangroves block the view. The ocean’s horizon was enjoyed for a hundred years then, 35 years ago, a silly city official proposed blocking it with trees and our leaders acquiesced.  
    It hasn't been the same since, a movie theater without a screen.
    Peacock is not even a public park anymore.  Private interests use it more that the public. It is a playground for rich kids attending the private school next door. After school it fills with tykes (and their parents) taking expensive soccer lessons. The city gave half of the park's building to a restaurant last year.
     This would never happen in Belfast, Maine. Their parks are for everyone.

      We have a long history of well-known writers and artists calling the Grove their home. Their legacies are ignored or forgotten.  There are no "Phineas Quimby" plaques.  

    The "mother of the Everglades", writer Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, died twenty years ago.Marjory Stoneman Douglas is a photograph by Jimm Roberts which was ... She bequeathed her charming South Grove cottage to the State of Florida with the understanding that would become a small, simple museum. The State has done nothing to carry out her wishes.  For two decades it has used it to house government employees.  
    Efforts to put a historic marker out front have been nixed as being “too expensive” or “causing too much attention”.  Miami shunning its past is sickening and sad.
     I won’t even get into the Grove Playhouse disaster. When the Grove’s most significant  cultural icon shuts down and rots for ten years it is because Miami doesn't care. The city's mantra: "Tear down and build!".



 
 Detail, the Belfast Opera House



 
     For a week I got to live in town that does care. Last Monday night I dined at “Darby’s” on High Street.  It’s been around since 1865. The movie house ( the "Colonial") next door, is in its 109th year.
     The Grove also has a few businesses that have been here a while. There is reason for hope as much of our local history still begs to be saved. We'll keep making the same choices, "to preserve or pave?".  
     What say you?  I know what Belfast's response would be.
             ____________________________

Monday, April 24, 2017

STILL SNOWING IN MAINE

      It's a good deal, trading Miami's constant sun for a few frigid days in Maine. I am visiting my Coconut Grove friend, Paul Naron, in Belfast. It's a coastal town, set on the north end of Penobscot Bay.  It was once the "chicken capital of the world".

 
   The birds moved south to Maryland and now
tourism seems to be the main industry.


     Paul (the former owner of Shell Lumber) has retail in his blood.  He bought a huge building and is slowly turning it into an indoor farmers market. Check out "The Bayview Room", a great place to knosh on a lobsta' roll.
                                You are invited to the market's opening on Saturday, May 27th. Simply drive north on South Dixie Highway/US1 for thirty hours.           Bring a jacket. A few flowers are pushing up but it's still very cold. It snowed in Bangor- about an hour north- two days ago.
     I might go there, pack some in my suitcase, and bring it home tomorrow. We could use a little more Maine in Miami.       

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

HIT BY A DRUNK, PART II


    
       You run into some of the nicest people in Coconut Grove and sometimes others run into you.        - Glenn Terry, 2016

   Six Months ago Francesca and I were in a car accident.  While waiting at the light in the middle of the Grove a drunk slammed into our car.  The driver, Daniel Recio, staggered out of his Prius, apologized and drove off before the cops could arrive.

    As he shuffled around I was able to take photos of him, his car, and his license plate.  When the police showed up I gave them all of my information and figured they had an air-tight case.

I was wrong.  Today I learned that although they did locate Mr. Recio and gave him a citation, it was later dismissed for being "defective".   If this is how the City of Miami Police and the State Attorney's office operate, God help us.
       __________________________________


Note:  Below is the article I wrote about the accident last fall.
 

HIT BY A DRUNK, PART I

      I drove 11,000 miles across the country this summer. I had no car problems until I returned to Miami.  On 10-15-16, at 9 pm, Francesca and I were waiting for the light at Grand and McFarlane. 
       In the middle of a quiet conversation,                                   
                      W H A M ! 
a drunk's car smashed into the back of ours.
    It happened in less than a second. Our heads slammed back into our head rests. My Honda was shoved ahead ten feet, just short of car ahead of us.


       We looked at each other dazed, and realized neither of us was seriously injured. I climbed out my car to see what had hit us. It was this guy, 
Danial M. Lopez-Recio driving a gold Prius.  




    He quickly asked me not to call the cops adding, "I'll give you $100 cash just to drive off".  I asked Francesca to call the police as I surveyed my car's damage (over $2000 worth).  I took pictures of our cars, of him, and his license plate.  There was a woman in his car. She seemed angry as she made phone calls then walked away.


    The guy got in my face and blabbered on. He tried to make me feel guilty because his car's dents
were bigger than mine. 
I pointed out that he had caused all of them.

      The lush went on to try to sweet talk me as drunks are wont to do. He offer went up to $500 payable the next day. He smiled and added "You look just like Robert Redford in that baseball movie!".  
    Then I knew he was wasted and told him so, "You're messed up, dude". He shrugged and admitted, "Yeah, I'm drunk". There wasn't much more to say.

     Francesca called out, "The police are on their way. They want us to move our cars out of the road."  I moved mine and asked the guy that if he could move his. The boozer said he would if I gave him back his keys. I had not taken them.  Really drunk.
    By then a friend of his showed up to locate the boozer's keys and to help him move his Toyota. I told him I would hold back traffic while they moved the dented Prius.
      I guess they moved it a very long way because when I turned back they were gone. I never saw him -or his car- again.

       A police officer arrived 45 minutes after the collision. He ran the kid's license number so I soon learned who he was, where he lived, and that his car was insured.
      I've long had a fear of driving on Saturday nights knowing something like this  might happen.
Defensive driving would not have helped, I guess our number was up.
     
   We got away with sore necks and a car that has been in the shop for weeks. The guys lousy insurance company (United Automobile Insurance Company) has refused, thus far, to pay for my car or anything else. The Miami City Police, six weeks later, have still not called me -or returned my calls- regarding whether they would bust the guy who took off.
   
   Of course, it could have been much worse. The drunk could have been driving fifty instead of fifteen. Our problems are small compared to what they could have been. Slowly we're dealing with them.
     When you think about all the drunks and distracted drivers it makes you think twice about traveling. Drunks are bad but cell phone drivers are just as big a problem these days. It's enough for make you think, "How crazy can it get?", "Are there any answers?" and "What will happen to "Dan the Drunk" when this case gets to court?"
                    ______________________
                 

Monday, April 17, 2017

BOBBY DOES A 360 IN SONG

     Grove legend, Bobby Ingram celebrated his 80th birthday singing from his South Grove rooftop ten days ago.


    See a bit of the backyard concert in Richard Fendleman's amazing 360-degree video (linked below). 
 Clicking on the "arrow heads" allows you to "turn you head" and see all over!
     Come to the show using this link:

 https://youtu.be/kVG3UhkWuTE

Thanks, Richard!
                 _________________________

Sunday, April 16, 2017

TROPICAL PARADISE IS TWO HOURS AWAY

     Spring break is ending. We spent most of ours camping on the ocean at Long Key State Park.
How lucky we are to live 85 miles and forty bucks a night from this.

   We brought Pi, our bikes and kayak with us.



    We spent one day in Key West. Our bicycles glided us past the marvelous old houses and landmarks that make the southernmost city unique. We had lunch at the dog-friendly Blue Heaven restaurant and steered clear of most of the touristy stuff.
 

 
 Our new son, Carlos, joined us the last two days. We took him to Marathon's Keys Fisheries restaurant for the freshest of stone crabs.   


    The next day we visited Robbie's in Islamorada watching folks feed bait fish to the hungry tarpon lurking under the dock.





                 Tarpon feeding on distant dock



Hiking through our park's mangrove forest we crossed a bridge and saw manatees slowly swimming in the clear green stream. The water looked so inviting I suggested to Carlos that we strip down and jump in.


 

    We did

 and the outgoing tide quickly swept us out to sea. The "sea"here is two feet deep so we easily swam along the shore until we came to an opening in the mangroves.


 As our adventurous day was ending

  we started a fire, plugged in the party lights,  


 

and prepared a feast on the grill.  




   

What fun we had renting our own piece of paradise for a few nights. Even the beach was smiling.




                                                    ________________________________







.

ROLAND THE GARDNER

      We live in a pretty ritzy neighborhood where few would ever consider doing their own yard work. That's why it was so refreshing to see our neighbor, Roland, happily pulling weeds yesterday.
     He and his wife live three doors down in this amazing house.



 All week long everyone else is visited by crews of Central Americans that mow, clip and blow (leaves) for hours. Their bulky trucks block our narrow streets.
      Leaf Blower Thursday is the worst.  That's when most of them descend to blast leaves from one yard to the next. Their two-cycle sound is deafening. I spend most of the day -when I'm home- wearing ear protectors.  Really.
    Roland rakes. When we pass by he stops to smile and wave.  He then resumes quietly stroking the ground. Our neighbor  told us, "It makes me happy".

____________________



                        

Note:  Francesca and I fall into a third "Let It Be" category.  While we do pick up the occasional fallen palm frond, we let our plants grow and our leaves lying where God intended them to rot.

Friday, April 14, 2017

FREE YOGA FOR SENIORS

    Coconut Grove's premiere yoga center, Dharma Yoga Studio, now has free classes for  older folks.  I've been going for a couple of months and enjoy it very much.




     We do it seated. "Chair Yoga" consists of a series of exercises that leaves you feeling exhilarated and relaxed. You don't need a yoga mat or towel, chairs are included. Just come and take a seat.
    The classes take place on Mondays and Thursdays, 2:15 to 3:15.  Dharma is located on Commodore just east of the Lokal burger joint, 3170 Commodore Plaza.

     Our teacher, Natalie, is inspiring and ever-smiling.  Spending an hour with her  brightens your day.

     The free series is sponsored by the Woody Foundation. "Senior" is not defined by the Dharma folks but it seems to be anyone over 60. 
Barbara Shale, who works the front desk told me, "I'm 71 but I'm no senior!". 
    I am.  
   The classes are not too serious and truth be told, a good bit of joking goes on within this bi-weekly circle of friends.

    Dharma offers a wide variety of classes seven days a week. Most costs between $10 and $15 (you get a discount by buying a series card). To see their many offerings go to dharmastudio.com or call, 305-461-1777.
                     _____________________