At the End of the Rainbow is a Melting Pot
When I got to my hotel in Miami Beach, I noted that the front desk clerks, valet guys and housekeepers were a kaleidoscope of browns, and they all spoke at least two languages, some of them three, as noted on their name tags. (A note: The staff of the old Cadillac Hotel, now a Courtyard by Marriott, has their shit together in the most serious way; and by that I mean they regularly make offerings to the Golden Calf of Repeat Business: the elusive goddess, her Holiness - Customer Service.)
I took a walk down the boardwalk at sunset and found myself the obvious minority amidst a sea of Haitian, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Colombian and Cuban faces. There were a few Caucasians, but most of them were from Eastern or Western Europe.
I ate at an outdoor restaurant, where my waitress, bartender and fellow diners were not from Tennessee, by any means. Whitey sat at the far rail, watching it all over a smoke and an Amstel Light to wash down a fresh-fish Caribbean salad, and I was where I needed to be for a moment. My Russian waitress (maybe she was from Ukraine or Czech Republic - I'm bad at this language thing) needed a few lessons in how not to act like a scared child, but she smiled perfunctory smiles and tried her best to understand the foreigner at her table.
I went up to my room, the south-facing balcony of which catches a nice breeze, overlooking the city to the right and the ocean to the left, and I watched the colorful faces darting in and out of the liquor stores and little markets below, or driving their freshly-washed cars along the busy boulevard. White-boy had a perch, and I saw something pretty cool.
I was a foreigner. I was in a foreign and remarkably friendly place, a clean place where the usual city-fear of looking over your shoulder is gone. The cops are laid back, the store owners are laid back , the people jogging or walking the beach or swimming with their kids are laid back. There's cool music all around, people are playing soccer and speaking a dozen languages. I think I can detect French and Russian, and there is the expected Spanish, Creole, Hebrew and Portuguese.
There's something about a warm breeze and warm water. It draws everyone, and for everyone it draws, it takes the jerk out of them. People stop being dicks and bitches. I'm a minority, but I'm in a melting pot where it doesn't matter.
What is it like inland, where the ocean breeze doesn't blow and the property values are nowhere near what they are out here on this strand of paradise? What is like over where the melting pot hasn't yet been blended, where the people gather in their ethnic communities to recreate the cultures of the countries they left behind?
Yes, I'm in a big city, an American metropolis. It is not all sweetness and light everywhere. Just across the bay is Little Haiti, where my client resides. It's a little depressed, a little darker, a little scarier, but if you just act normal, it's not that hard to be ignored as you fill up your tank at the Little Amerika gas station, peopled only by Haitians, and you.
They lay on their horns on their way to work on both the nice side and the not-so-nice side of the bay. In my short, five-mile drive to the client's, I heard no less than nineteen horns. During the day, someone smeared a Styrofoam bin of red beans on my trunk and my bumper in the gated parking lot of the client. With some 600 employees, and me only visiting once a month at most, this was not a targeted red bean smear. No one even knows my car. Or me, for that matter. It was your random act of beaning, for no other reason than "I'm done with these beans and here's a freshly washed white car that could use a little bean action." (And no. It's not a nice car. Think 10 years old. Think Japanese. Don't think Toyota. Think V6. Think sedan. Think Maxima. Think 170,000 miles.)
Someone told me today that Miami ranked among the very top on someone's "Rudest Cities on the Face of the Earth" poll. I have yet to go too far inland, but out here on the beach, I see nothing too crazy. Well, there was some guy across the street a few minutes ago yelling "Tom!" "Tommy!" Tom!" up at a building for about half an hour. He finally realized that Tom was either not home or ignoring him. Maybe Tom just wanted to be anonymous.
Anonymous. That's what I am here, I just realized. And that's why I like it. Everyone's anonymous here, and they walk or swim or play with their kids or lay on their horns anonymously. The guy behind me doesn't mean "Fuck you, asshole!" when he honks because the guy in front of me hasn't gone yet. His honking says, "Hey, people. If you don't mind. I'm going to be late for work, so let's move this line, please." And he said it anonymously.
I just watched a family from somewhere walk below me in the street. The father and son wore matching wide, horizontally-striped black and white shirts. They looked like a couple of 19th Century pirates. Or a pair of 1930s convicts. Whatever they were, they weren't from around here. The girls in their party did everything they could to pretend not to be associated with Daddy Pirate and his heir. So, some things are universal, and girls everywhere are embarrassed to be seen with their stupider relatives. They might've been Argentinian, French, Spanish or Israeli, but wherever these people were from, they belonged in Miami Beach tonight.
Miami Beach. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe I'm just a tourist in a tourist zone. Maybe that's why it's so clean, so happy, so inviting. Maybe that's why no one knows that they should be hating the people who don't look like them. Maybe we're all just from somewhere else, and we don't understand how America works.
Fine then. Let's leave it at that. Let's pretend we don't know how America works. Let's pretend we don't get that blacks or whites or browns or yellows are lower than us. Let's pretend we're just here to enjoy the tropical breeze without any thought to the person enjoying it next to us on their balcony.
Even though they enjoy it at 3 a.m. at a very loud level in another language, let's celebrate their right to enjoy it.
I speak one language. My housekeeper and valet guy speak three. Who's the American now?