Last week in Miami Beach:
In Miami Beach I meet Belkis who is a server at a coffee-and-cigar bar on Lincoln Ave, the upscale pedestrian- friendly shopping area near the South Beach art deco district. It’s morning, and I order cappuccino, and sit at one of her tables that has a tall water-pipe on it. She came to US from Cuba with her family in 1980, as a teen. Speaking no English she began high school in Ft. Lauderdale. Now her two sons are in the US military, one in the army, one in the Marines. They have had their tours and are now safe, back in American bases. One is in Kentucky.
Working with Belkis that morning is a younger woman. Her family is from Costa Rica. It’s early for South Beach, and the tables are nearly empty. The thing I see her doing first, is sweeping. She sweeps methodically to clean the entire sidewalk café area. A girl who knows how to sweep: you can see that she works, and that she does what needs to be done. I already know two things about her. I ask her what Costa Ricans are like, what are they known for, a national personality. “We are humble,” she says. Her Dad is Cuban and her Mom Costa Rican, and they met in Costa Rica when her Dad was there to travel. But she considers herself Costa Rican. She says the word humble in a way that makes you think, “Not like a Cuban!” I can see it, that she is humble, so then I know my fourth thing: she speaks the truth. But the first thing that I knew I could just see, that the girl is beautiful, her dark hair very straight as she looks out at the world of coffee and cigars with her humility from large, brown eyes . So here she is in Miami Beach, humble and honest and hard-working and beautiful. Here is the reverse mirror of the vain culture, bodybuilders and models and those dressing to give South Beach its glow.
South Beach is more than the beaches, but first it is the beaches. Long, continuous stretches of hot sand. Then there is the street scene, on Collins and Ocean, because South Beach is the party girl’s natural habitat. Elsewhere they are pretty for men, and in other beach towns pretty for each other. But the South Beach pretty girl is pretty for herself, the mirror on her closet door her harshest critic. And she is wearing heels, outrageous heels so tall and tottering she appears to be only practicing. But some of them, you just know, are serious about all this. About the Masarati’s, Ferrari’s, and BMWs, about the flavored ice water urns in the lobby at the Ritz-Carlton (one cucumber-with-lemon, the other lime-and-mint). There is a way that she stands patiently looking perfect, just next to the Mercedes in the hotel drive while her husband attends the details.
At my hotel there is a pool bar located a few steps from the sand. You can rent a fat-tire, a beach bike to ride the beach path. Or you can get a drink, at a bar with six stools. Drink of the day? The mango-lada. I have beer, Presidente, which I think is Dominican, but I really can’t remember for sure. It comes in cans, so I’m given two. I’m not sure why this is, and I don’t ask, but the bartender says, “You’ve got another one coming.” He’s taken my twenty and returned six. “I give you two. Because there’s cans.” OK. He is friendly, saying, “Hello, my friend,” every time he sees me for the next two days.
At the bar is a young woman on her iPad. She is connecting with friends. Though seated at a pool bar, the iPad is important to her. She is friendly. “Why don’t you move down here?” She says to me when the stool next to her opens up. She seems to be with a guy one more stool over, but their relationship isn’t clear. He’s white, not really speaking to her very much. She is African-American. She’s from NY. I ask her how she got to Miami. She takes me literally and says she flew down for the winter. “How do you work that out,” I ask, “the whole winter in Miami?”
“I figured out what I wanted to do, and I figured out a way to make it happen. I surround myself with people who think like I do.” When her companion slides off the stool she does likewise, and they walk together down the sand path that I know is toward the beach walk.
I am wearing sunglasses that need adjustment. They are loose, but they are nearly new and especially if I want to ride a bike I’ll need them tighter. Just three or four doors from Belkis’s tables I see the ubiquitous sign: SunglassHut. Stepping inside out of bright sun someone is ready to help me. I take off the glasses, and tell her I just want them adjusted and tightened. She reacts with humor, and takes just a second to realize that I am not the exact same guy who just was there an hour earlier. “He looked like you and had the same glasses, and I just adjusted them. I thought you were him. You haven’t been here?” She is from Colombia. Her city, she says, is Calle, the third city of Colombia, but I don’t know it. But she does tell me that Colombia won the match with Mexico last night. She is happy about that. 2-0. She is an architect working at the Sunglass Hut in South Beach. Yes, I think, how many Colombian architects do we need in the US with this economy? Especially in Florida where the housing market squats at the bottom of the dip and just stays there.
I am curious why she is an architect from Colombia working at the Sunglass Hut in South Beach. I give her my card (that says I am writing a book), and she says, “Yes,” she will email me to tell her story. I suspect she is just being nice.