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Saturday, October 30, 2010


I was helping my son set up his booth at a Fairchild Gardens festival last weekend. He mentioned casually, "See that older man selling conch fritters? I met him earlier, he used to play in the NFL".

George Mira was one of my boyhood heroes. As a teenager I'd watch the Key West native play quarterback for the University of Miami. In 1963 he led the nation in total offense and tied a NCAA record for passes completed.

They called him "The Matador" because of his Spanish heritage, good looks, and his scrambling ability. In '64 he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and spent 7 years in the NFL (including backing Bob Griese in Super Bowl VI for our hometown team).

When I walked over to his pink trailer, the former Dolphin was busy selling fritters with his son Jason. Five for $5. I felt nervous waiting in line, like a fifteen-year-old hoping for an autograph.

When I finally met him Mr. Mira could not have been nicer. He invited me into the booth (the size of a small bathroom) to chat. While Jason worked the fryer his dad and I exchanged stories. His were much better than mine. We soon realized we had enough friends in common (Ted Hendricks and a few Key West natives) for me to call him "George".

For two days I stopped by to pepper him with questions about conch cooking, football, and the old days in Key West. He has seen the UM's Jacory Harris play the night before and knew exactly what Harris had to do to improve his game.

I learned that, in the old days, it was impossible to starve in the southernmost city ("Fish, conch, and coconuts were everywhere!"). His friend "Papo", now in his 80's, had once owned the meanest fighting chicken in the Keys. As the festival was winding down on Sunday I asked the most important question, one shrouded in decades of mystery.

Bum Farto had been the Key West fire chief in the early 70's. Rumored to have been heavily involved in the drug trade, he disappeared on February 16, 1976. For years after that t-shirts asking, "Where is Bum Farto?"were big sellers in the old town.

Here was my chance to get the answer. I asked George, "So, what really happened to Bum Farto?" He laughed as I continued, "Does he sleep with the fish or did he move far away?" George gave it his best shot. He said he had heard that Chief Farto had moved to Costa Rica. He had family there. "Is he still down south?" I asked. George did the math and answered, "I dunno, it's been almost forty years . If he's still alive he'd be 90 now".

Football was good to George Mira -he is a healthy, happy man with many friends- but it never was a money maker. As the festival was ending he visited our booth and explained,

"Back then we played because it was fun. I was the first QB drafted in "63 and I got $12,000 a year. Many of the players on the San Francisco team had second jobs. They'd practice 'til five then go sell shoes or somethin'. Guys like me started to change things, we paved the way. If I was the first quarterback drafted today, I'd get ten million dollars to sign".

The Matador was laughing at the thought as he headed back to help pack up the trailer.

George Mira and Jason, one of
his three sons.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Last week we parked behind a painted truck on Commodore Plaza in Coconut Grove.

A woman stared
out the back window

a faded squirrel relaxed on its rear-view mirror.

As Garfield begged
on the front bumper we wondered,
"Why would a person do this?"

It all made sense when we saw the bumper sticker...

I'd say he was doing his part.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


The Flagler Flea Market used to be one of my favorite hangouts. A ten-minute drive took me to what seemed like a third world country, one selling ceviche, sacrificial chickens and three mangos for a dollar.
It hurt to see it replaced by the garish Magic City Casino two years ago but just last week the flea market popped
up again.

Now its "Century Marketplace" located on the north side of Ocean Bank, just north of NW 7 Street and Lejuene Road. You enter "round back"on 43d Avenue. There were no parking or entry fees last weekend but that will probably change.

As you can see , most of the stuff is schlock, things you'd never dream of buying but who cares? Loosen up and enjoy the another world. Groove to the Cuban son being blasted by the CD sellers. Get your goldfish food wholesale and better yet buy food for yourself on Produce Row.

I bought lemons at 1968 prices (ten cents each), a calabasa that could feed twenty, and an avocado perfectly ripe for guacamole. You may not speak the same language as the sellers but Spanglish or hand signals work just fine.

The new market is open on weekends from nine to five. Tell them The Grove Guy sent you.
They'll have no idea what you're talking about.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


A hundred of us gathered at the Grove Bookstore last Thursday to celebrate a new book on our village's history, Images of America: Coconut Grove. After neighbor Bobby Ingram sang a few songs the authors, Arva Moore Parks and Bo Bennett, told us about their project.

"Coconut Grove is a very special place", said Arva, "Its residents have fought for over a hundred years to keep it keep it unique, from being overrun by special interests".

A gathering at the Barnacle in the 1880's (photo by Ralph Middleton Munroe).

Many of us were thanked for lending photos to the project. Over 250 archival photographs were used to illustrate our history. Here are a few of them....

Wait, before we get started, let me show you a photo that is not in the book. Historical? Maybe. Hysterical" For sure! Its my friends gathering after the King Mango Strut in the 1980's. (Photo by Michael Carlsbach). While this one didn't make the cut it shows how we've come in a hundred years. Back then men weren't allowed to show off their boxer shorts in public.

This is our neighbor, Bobby Ingram, singing with his partner David Crosby back in the 60's. "Bob & Dave" sang at The Flick, The Gaslight, and any where else they could make a buck.
Photo by Bobby's wonderful wife, Gay Ingram. Yes, its in the book. While Bobby continues to be a popular South Florida performer, David moved to California years ago and hasn't been heard from since.

On the right is "Glenn & Bill", they were a regular comedy act at the Grove's Yuk It Up! comedy club in the 1980's.
Okay, okay. I made this up. The photo is actually in the book because Bill Dobson and I started the King Mango Strut parade back in '82. Here we are posing at our pre-parade"Trashdance" in 1984. Held in the barn at Shell Lumber, you couldn't get in unless you handed over five bucks and dressed in garbage.

When Arva writes a book on the history of the Strut, this photo will surely be in it. It's Austin Burke having a great time as Grand Marshall in the 1988 parade.
"Little Burkie" was a well-known clothier who appeared on his own zany TV commercials when I was a kid. When he died a year after this parade, his wife said in his obituary, "Miami loved my husband. He really knew it when thousands cheered him in the King Mango Parade."
It is only fitting that I end this piece with something that really
does appear in Arva and Bo's book. I took this photo of a group
in the '83 Strut that epitomizes how wonderful the Grove's great
parade can be.
These are the members of Miami's NOW chapter marching as FLAW, Florida Ladies Against Women. With signs like, "I'd Rather Be Ironing!" and "Paying me half as much as a man is too much!", they got their point across while having a good time.
I think Phyllis Schlafly would have been proud.
Images of America: Coconut Grove is a part of a series that celebrates the history of cities and towns across the country. It is available at the Grove Bookstore, Books and Books, and Shell Hardware Store.


Neighbor Charles looked at us as if we were crafting buggy whips and said, "Don't you know people stopped using those in the 80's?". My wife and I didn't care, we continued installing our latest television antennae.

Charles added with his usual wry humor, "For 75 bucks a month you can avoid all that and have 80 channels not worth watching". As he described the demise of the History Channel the aluminum struts snapped smartly into place. What had fit inside a long skinny box now looked like a shiny space satellite.

We clamped it to the end of a long pole and raised it like a flag. I bet you could drive for miles and not see another one.

Our new $35 antennae now pulls fourteen TV channels for free. Sure, four of them are in a language I don't understand but when you're watching masked Mexican wrestlers, who cares?

We may have only 14 channels that aren't worth watching but at least we're not blowing a wad doing it.



Its almost architecture you can eat. Arquitectonica is the putting finishing touches on its new world headquarters in downtown Coconut Grove. With architecture/design offices on four continents, that's quite an honor. The building, located at Rice and Oak, pays tribute to Mother Nature with its state-of-the-art "green" design that includes edible landscaping.

Last month my son Dylan was asked to install a 60-foot edible garden on the building's east side. In the months ahead you'll be able to stroll down Rice Street enjoying a profusion of herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees growing where once was concrete.

Pineapple, papaya, and banana.

Last week Ruy Arango and his brother, Dylan,
were busy putting plants in the ground

Maybe you'd like a garden of your own. Most of my son's business, Ready-to-Grow Gardens, is installing raised-bed gardens in schools and residences. South Florida is perfect for for these because of our thin, sandy soil. Get in touch with Dylan, (786-436-7703 or if you'd like more information. You can also visit his website,

Arquitectonica's new office should be completed this week. With trees shooting out of its atrium and pineapples growing outside, it's another good reason to visit Coconut Grove.