The Continued Story: Florida
by Bill Dixon
Mars, I suspected, was actually a little nicer and more logical than NE 22nd Ave, Miami, Florida. I drove down in the old diesel VW Rabbit. It fit right in with the neighborhood. I could park it in Hadi’s yard, inside of the chain link fence he’d installed around his property, to slow down the numerous local felons. The property on our street was next to a slum called “Overtown”. As a result, there was a dangerous element trudging from Biscayne Boulevard to “OT”, as we called it. The traffic, prostitutes of both sexes, thieves, winos, assorted “bustouts” and the like passed by daily, but mostly at night. Gordon, who had a “practical solution” to curb the flow of miscreants, suggested that we install a ten-foot chain link fence across NE 22nd Ave., at the OT entry point. I told him that might be frowned upon by the City of Miami. He gave me a pitying look.
He had acquired that which was necessary to complete the project: a “Dead End” sign, stolen from some other location, about a hundred feet of tall, galvanized fencing material, posts upon which to suspend it, a roll of barbed wire for the top of the fence, the hardware to install it all, bagged cement and the ladders and required tools. We would tie the fence into two existing security fences on opposite sides of the street, and which protected boarded-up commercial properties facing each other. Then, we’d install the dead end sign at the open end of the street, on Biscayne. Everyone on the block, on both sides of the street, would provide labor for the project, including me. I shrugged, and signed on.
The plan was to begin erecting the fence on a Sunday morning. We would dig the post holes the day before, set the posts and attach the chain link to one of the buildings. We’d park a truck across the opening we were closing, and set up construction sawhorses and “No Admittance” yellow tape. The next day, Sunday, we’d install the Dead End sign at the open end of our street, first thing in the morning. We’d unroll the fencing material, and stretch it across the other end of the street, and attach it to the posts as we went. The final task was to snug everything up, attach the fence to the building on the other side of the street, and tie on the barbed wire across the top.
I waited for the City to close us down on Monday morning. They didn’t show up. Actually, they never showed up. The street is now a real dead end. Gordon was right.
Miami was not a very organized municipality. When I looked at the existing installation of parking meters, it appeared that a truck full of parking meters cruising up and down city streets had driven by and hurled the meters off of the truck. Then, workmen following behind, installed them wherever they’d landed. Very few were the same distance apart. Some were too close together to get anything longer than a motorcycle parked in them, and some were far enough apart to park a truck in between them. I started to catch on to the Miami methods and “best practices”.
Turn signals meant nothing, for instance. They would not indicate which direction the driver was turning, or even if he or she was turning at all. Speed limit and no parking signs were similarly observed sparingly by the local inhabitants. Our dead end sign WAS observed, however, because it was backed up by the high fence we’d installed, and afterward, a large trash pile. There were two of these piles on the street, one near each end. A trash truck, with a clam-shell pickup claw attached, would show up about once a week, and transfer the piled-up rubbish, tree trimmings and discarded furniture into the truck it was attached to. If necessary, it would return. Sometimes, the piles were seven or eight feet tall.
The trash piles were dynamic. Someone would walk up and throw an old chair or a suitcase, or something else onto the pile. A few minutes later, one of the other residents might approach the pile, and remove one or both of those items, or trade rubbish of their own for rubbish that they felt was nicer than theirs. The trash piles were always active scenes. I once pulled a discarded fishing rod out of the debris, myself, and repaired it for local use. Later, I fished a rickety wooden kitchen chair out of the pile, and glued it back to sturdiness. I exchanged my less desirable front porch chair for it, shortly thereafter. There was no shame in picking trash on NE 22nd Ave., and it was rather fascinating to watch the piles wax and wane. Usually, one drank beer on their porch while observing the action, and weighed the recent deposits as possible future withdrawals for household acquisitions. First come, first served was the rule, and there was never a possession dispute that I noticed during my residence periods.
My host was less accustomed to American law than I, and he had installed a soft drink vending machine back by his coin-operated laundry machines, but, stocked it with beer instead of soft drinks. I noticed a seven-year-old, purchasing a can of beer out of it, to take to his dad, and advised Hadi that it might be prudent to either restock it with soda or at least take down the Budweiser sign he’d put on the machine. He complied, to some degree, but he pointed out that he could net a larger profit on the off-brand beer he was vending, and wasn’t going to switch to soda…..
As it seemed to me, on reflection, that an inspector of some sort was unlikely to visit him, and that his tenants would likely complain about the loss of convenience, so I agreed with my host. The Budweiser sign came down, at least, and everyone was happy, I guess. Hadi still had his twenty-four-hour, coin-operated, auto-saloon operating. His tenants and neighbors could acquire a can of the necessary at any hour, and he had discovered an even cheaper brand of beer with which to stock the vending machine, than the off-brand swill he had used originally.
I was just getting accustomed to the local behavioral expectations, when it came time to head back to Columbus, and get back to work. Travail in the apartment management business occupied me until I was able to shake loose again, and head south, a month or two later. I had recruited two college buddies, Paul and another pal, and we bought airline tickets to Costa Rica, where none of us had been before. We landed in San Jose, and secured lodging in a modest local hotel in the downtown area.
“La Fortuna” was our home for about ten days. The first order of business afterward, was to find a bar we could use as a rendesvou point. We came across the perfect spot, a couple of blocks away. I won’t mention the name, for soon-to-be obvious reasons. It was a bar, of course, but also a house of ill repute. The owner was a Detroit guy, who for one or more reasons, couldn’t return to the Motor City, “ever again”, as he said. I strongly suspected that there was a difference of opinion or an unpaid debt involving people with guns, back in MoTown. He gave me what I assumed was a fake name, “Lee”. He was quite nervous until he figured out we were just three beer-drinking Ohio State grads, rather than three representatives sent by the mob to collect their cash or his hide.
Everyone relaxed then. He advised us that his establishment also offered feminine companionship at reasonable prices. I’d been in some saloons in Latin America on other occasions, and I had found that places such as Lee’s usually screened their customers at the door. This was comforting. I once had an unpleasant-looking fellow sit down next to me in a similar establishment, in a similar country, and begin to tell me that he, “Did not like so much my Mister President Reagan”. A larger, more unpleasant-looking fellow promptly appeared from behind us, and escorted my new acquaintance to the door, nodded at me, and then melted back into the darkened booth behind me.
I liked cat houses as places to sip adult beverages, thereafter. Also, they were typically cleaner and had colder beer than the alternative beer joints, plus a “security officer” or two to look after the paying customers. They had a bathroom, too, instead of having customers go out the side door, and pee in the weeds. Lee offered all those services, as well. We immediately established a mutually acceptable relationship.
It was close to Christmas when a couple of Brits came in one afternoon, and traded several frozen turkeys for the products available upstairs. The turkeys were purloined from a cruise ship, where the blokes were employed, they said. Lee, a shrewd businessman, saw opportunity at once! He swapped the frozen turkeys for quality time with the resident hookers on the second floor. He then invited all the Yanks and Brits present to a Christmas dinner at his establishment, ten bucks each, admission, seating at three PM, reservations required, pay in advance.
The gals would cook and serve the holiday dinner. My buddies and I signed up at once. I reasoned that having dinner in a whorehouse would be something I could write a nice story about when I got old. It would also be a good excuse for attending the dinner, therefore.
We’d decided to go to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica the next day, on a train that ran through the mountains to Punta Arenas. It was right on the ocean. We followed our then-usual procedure, and checked into a fairly clean little hotel there. We also found a big bar and house of prostitution combination, owned and run by Koreans, named “Lillie’s”. It was a short walk, a nice place, cold beer, security, etc., but a little bit aggressive on selling their companionship alternatives. I never cared much for the idea of paying for sex, so I tried to ignore the madam.
It wasn’t easy. She kept showing me different options for feminine companionship, although I had repeatedly assured her that I was more interested in talking to a waterwell-digger from Wyoming, called “Mud-dog”. I was planning a trip to Wyoming for the following October, to do some fly fishing for trout, and he had a special spot he said he’d take me to fish there, if I’d look him up. The madam wouldn’t desist, though, so I stood, acted like I was going to drop my Levis, and told her I wanted her, RIGHT NOW, right on top of the bar! She was thirty years my senior, and finally realized that her persistent sales attempts might alienate a mildly insane customer who was buying beer, and paying cash American. She waved off some muscle that had crept up behind me, and shrugged her shoulders. “Nother be-er, meester?”, she asked….. I nodded. The crisis was averted, and everyone went back to what they’d been doing beforehand.
The next day, we took an ancient Danish ferry over to the Ursa Peninsula, just to the south. I sat next to a con artist who claimed to have found gold over on the peninsula, and needed just a hundred dollars to file his claim to the area to be mined. If I could spot him the money, I’d be in for 10% of the gold the claim produced. He pulled a typed contract from his shirt pocket. If I delayed, another miner might file the claim first. I thanked him, but declined the opportunity. When the ferry arrived at our destination, we found a Malaysian woman had established a small resort there, where we spent the night listening to exotic birds, and drinking beer. The next day, we took the old ferry back to Punta Arenas, where we celebrated Christmas Eve.
There was a train leaving for San Jose the next morning, and we caught it so we could attend our Christmas Dinner at Lee’s saloon, there. It was via the old narrow-gauge railroad that we’d taken previously. It was early morning, and we rode through beautiful mountain jungle back to our station. I read a couple of years later that the train had jumped the track, and plunged a hundred feet into a jungle river, en route to San Jose. I guess we were lucky…..
When we arrived, Lee’s place was almost full, with Brits and Yanks in all the booths. The ladies had, under Lee’s direction, prepared a traditional American style Christmas dinner, with roasted turkeys, mashed potatoes, gravy and dressing, about all the fixings, but without the cranberry sauce. The girls were serving heaping plates of food, and Lee was selling drinks as fast as he could make them. Everyone was happy to be there, and the ladies also were doing lots of business as the desserts were finished and the table tops cleared. The next morning, we took a taxi to the airport to head back to Miami, and Hadi’s estate. While it wasn’t the best Christmas I’d ever had, it was undeniably the most interesting.
For me, it was back to Columbus, Ohio, and a responsible life. I wouldn’t get back south until spring, but I’d had enough “Florida: to last me for a while. With a trip to the Mexican Yucatan in the works for March, and after the trip to Costa Rica, Florida, even Miami, was looking pretty normal.