Commuting is hard. For the last three weeks I have been living at my parents' house in Boca and driving to work in Miami. Every morning I have to get up no later than 6 a.m. so I can avoid traffic. If I leave at 6:15 a.m., I get to the office by 7:30 a.m. If I leave by 6:30 a.m., my ETA is in Jesus's hands—I could get there by 8 a.m., 9 a.m. or next year.
Waking up earlier is hard, but the hardest part is how much time commuting consumes of my day. I wake up, drive to work, work late to avoid traffic, drive home, eat dinner, sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. There's no time to eat breakfast. There's no time to work out. There's no time to read. Only drive and work, work and drive.
Mass transit has not been a viable alternative. When I tell people I'm commuting from Boca, every single person asks, "Why don't you take the Brightline?" Some—cough, Nelson, cough—even asked twice. Well, friends, mass transit in South Florida isn't designed for my needs. The Brightline stations? One is 30 minutes north, the other 30 minutes south of my parents' place and the one in Miami is a 15 minute drive from my office. The option is inconvenient at best, nonsensical if we're honest.
Using the Tri-Rail warrants a similar odyssey that if I'm lucky, takes two hours. My dad has taken it to and from Miami Beach a few times. One time he missed the connection from the metro mover to the Tri-Rail and he had to wait one hour for the next train. I'm already struggling to fit sleeping, working and driving into 24-hours. Ain't nobody got time for three-hour journeys each way. I take cross-country flights that take less time, for Pete's sake! Therefore, I drive.
The one advantage to driving in my own car is all the time I have to listen. I listen to friends, whose personal anecdotes pepper the monotonous journey up and down 95 with excitement. I listen to podcasts, like This American Life, the HBR Ideacast and Dr. Death, whose unique subject matter makes for great water cooler conversation. And, I listen to music old and new. Most recently, I started working my way through two stacks of mixtape CDs I made in high school that I found in the back of my mom's closet.
Let the record show that no perk outweighs the struggle of the commute. The good news is my time as a commuter comes to an end this Wednesday when I move into a new apartment within walking distance of my office. Yes I'm excited to have my own space again, but I'm more excited to regain four hours per day with which to do whatever I please. 'Til then, please send good vibes (and podcast recommendations). Thank you, Miami.
I have become everyone's go-to Miami resource since I started this blog. My friends, my family—heck!—even strangers will reach out to me for recommendations on where to stay, what to eat, where to drink, and what to do in Miami. (In fact, in 2015, Gatehouse Publishing tapped me to write the Miami edition of their famous The Hunt Guides.) When friends or friends-of-friends come into town, I have helped make their experiences here memorable by providing recommendations tailored to their interests. I have been compiling these lists over the last year to create Margarita's Master Miami Guide, which I am providing below so you can look to it when you're in need of inspiration or share it with your visitors. Next to each suggestion you will find three to five words explaining why it is included in the list and other relevant details. You're welcome, Miami!
What to Eat
Casablanca (fresh seafood, waterfront, white table cloth)
Go to the beach (4th Street South and 46th Street North are local spots. The area from 5th Street to 46th Street is peppered with tourists with the highest concentration between 5th Street and 14th Street.)
There is a lot of chatter in Miami about big name brands pushing out local mom-and-pops. The concern is not off-base. Take a walk down Lincoln Road and tell me you feel differently. Small shops just can't compete with rising rents, shopping seasonality, our fickle "hot new thing" mentality, and other challenges of doing business in Miami. Yes, Lincoln Road has seen a lot of growth in recent years but at the expense of the strip's homegrown roots.
Amidst the paradigm shift, there is hope for Miami-born businesses. For starters, there is a myriad of movements—large and small—working diligently to "save Main Street." Take the Shop Small campaign, an effort from American Express to support local businesses that make a community strong, originating from the concept of Small Business Saturday. Similarly, the grassroots Witness the New Downtown movement is a unified voice of change to transform Downtown Miami with a focus on highlighting and drawing in small businesses. Among its ambassadors are notable Miami entrepreneurs including Elad Zvi and Gabe Orta of Bar Lab, Karina Iglesias of NIU Kitchen, Brian and Randy Alonso of local watering hole, Lost Boy Dry Goods.
Another nugget of good news is that there are small businesses that are surfing the wave of change. When I was walking home from work last week, I was pleasantly delighted to see Fritz's is not only still around but also upgraded its digs to Lincoln Road proper. (Before, the skate, bike and surf shop was located near Lincoln Road with a Washington Avenue address.) Similarly, my favorite working lunch staple Spris is still standing strong after all these years. In my perspective, a part of what gives them a fighting chance is our choice to support our neighbors and a part of it is that the internet has allowed them to elevate their presence beyond physical foot traffic.
I recently read an interview with Chris Brencans, the Chief Marketing Officer for On The Map Marketing, regarding the importance of SEO and how to build online presence. It is clear to me that if each business takes the right steps to increase their own visibility and the small business movements continue to gain momentum, we will see the transition continue—it’s inevitable—but we'll see it settle in a happy balance that allows for both corporate and community driven options to foster our economic growth. And, that's really all I can ask as a Miami-an and a consumer.
Miami is a conveyor belt of people. Except for the elusive few who were born and raised locally, people come and people go. The average length of stay for the friends I've had since I moved here in 2006 is around five years, just long enough to finish a degree or launch a career and then lay down roots somewhere "more serious, more adulty".
Through the tides of change, my Miami traditions have given me a sense of place and helped me burrow my roots deeper and deeper despite the seismic shifts. I'm going on 13 years with little incentive to change scenery. I adapt to each social earthquake by fostering new friendships with which to share the joys of the local experience.
The magic of being an elusive Miami constant is that I have been bequeathed the role of ambassador. I have the honor and responsibility of revealing Miami's charms to new and temporary arrivals and through the induction process, I get to enjoy old traditions with a filter of newness. Most recently, I dusted off one of my favorite South of Fifth rituals, dinner at Fratelli La Bufala, for a visitor from New York.
Even though I was living down the street at the time, I first heard of Fratelli La Bufala from Chef Scott Conant when he touted their calzone on the Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." It gained street cred for me the first time I went in on a date with an Italian New Yorker and he raved about the flavor of the tomato sauce. While I only went back for dinner one other time, their calzone became a permanent fixture of our nights out in the neighborhood, especially when SoFi Public House opened up on the same block and allowed us to savor its cheesy, bready goodness while we played pool.
My most recent visit flooded me with memories of a very special period in my Miami story. It also flooded my palate with the delicious flavors and warmth of homemade Italian food. I devoured the gnocchi so fast I almost didn't get a chance to snap any pics! Most importantly, it allowed me to show my guest that Miami is more than fancy, expensive restaurants that are on occasion not worth their price tag. (Did you know that on Mondays their pizzas are only $10 if you eat in?)
I am grateful for places like Fratelli La Bufala for giving a sense of stability amid constant change and for fostering an eating experience I can be proud of showing off to new friends. What are some of your favorite Miami traditions to share with new friends?
Driving in Miami is like the Hunger Games. Everyone is trying to survive the treacherous arena that is our road network. Each one of us has a different weapon (er, car) and each one of us has a different, incongruous strategy for using it. Some of us use our turn signal, some of us don't. Some randomly stop and turn on their hazards, some turn them on amidst a downpour. It's a mixed bag of surprises, but one thing is for certain: everyone is in it to win it, others be damned.
Back in 2013 I narrowly avoided death. I was driving on I-195 eastbound where high-speed traffic from I-95, SR-112 and downtown merge, when a car on the left lane decided it had to exit stage right onto North Miami Avenue. (If you're not familiar with this area, there are four lanes you need to cross and less than 500 feet to do so.) In his haste, the driver nearly sideswiped my car on the driver side at 80mph. That is, the driver nearly sideswiped me at 80mph.
After that incident, my frustration with Miami drivers reached a fever pitch. It reached a tipping point at which I considered moving to a different, safer city where I was not letting Jesus take the wheel every time I had to go to a meeting or run an errand. Instead of moving, I started this blog. I needed a positive place to remind me that Miami is much, much more than self-serving maniacs behind the wheel.
Example of why Miami drivers are the worst: they block the box.
The fact remains that we do have self-serving maniacs behind the wheel. Miami's driving privileges—because driving is a privilege, not a right and one most of us here do not deserve—are a mechanism for mutually-assured destruction. Alas, this is a wake-up call from me to us that we can't continue to live like this. We need a clear set of road rules and we need to agree to follow them...for all of our sakes. We need to recognize that, as cliché as it sounds, it is better to arrive late than not arrive at all.
So next time you want to scan Instagram while operating a moving vehicle or you want to make a hail Mary attempt from the left lane to make your exit, think about the fact that someone's daughter, sister, wife and friend (read, me) can be the collateral damage to making your life a tiny bit more convenient. (And, god forbid you are the victim of someone else's selfish driving decisions, make sure you get the best Miami medical and lawyer referral service to show the culprit the true cost of bad driving.)
Safe travels, Miami! And for Pete's sake, don't block the box. This article was sponsored by 1800injured.care.
Apparently "there is no culture in Miami." I have heard this apocryphal declaration made by many a Miami-an and certainly by every import from the Northeast. And, while I agree that we are not as institutionally cultured as cities like New York with its world renown museums, galleries and theaters, we definitely have a cultural scene. You just need to know where to mine beneath our glittery exterior of EDM, bandage dresses and champagne showers for those raw cultural nuggets.
For starters, our highly diverse community is brimming with culture by its very nature. As our contributor Celeste points out, "This flavorful melting pot has been brewing for decades. From mass Cuban emigrations to organized crime in the 70s, these hardships still echo and manifest themselves in the flavors and sounds of the city." You can't escape it, but you can definitely bask in it at the Tower Theater with a Cuban film, at the Little Haiti Cultural Center on Caribbean Market Day, at Libreri Mapou during a book reading. One of the most memorable experiences I have had as a writer in the last five years was taking a fiction writing workshop at the Coral Gables Museum led by award-winning novelist Anjanette Delgado, known for her Miami-inspired latina themes...so don't tell me "there is no culture in Miami".
I will concede that our definition of culture is different from other cities. That said, Miami also offers culture in the traditional, high society sense. Earlier this summer I went with a friend to see the NuDeco Ensemble featuring Ben Folds at the Arsht Center, which was perhaps on the avant garde side of the spectrum but was: a) incredible and b) in the end, still an orchestra performance. This year my mom also treated my family to the classical Chinese dance performance, Shen Yun, at the Arsht Center.
There is culture in Miami. One of the local cultural offerings that Celeste and I both love is the Miami City Ballet, which puts on top-notch performances throughout South Florida from Fall through Spring. If you're looking for an "in," a place to meet Miami culture, we recommend starting at the ballet because everyone loves it and we have a world class ballet company in our very own backyard. Don’t just take my word for it—see for yourself! Their 2018/19 season is getting ready to kick-off on Friday, October 19 with Company B. (Make sure you say hi to Celeste who will also be in the audience!)
Celeste and I are hoping this blog will be your go-to resource on your quest to uncover Miami's mythical cultural scene. If you need inspiration, we regularly post about our cultural musings here and on the #ThankYouMiami Instagram. We also want to hear from you. How do you take advantage of culture in Miami?