The year was 1995 and with not too distant visions of Miami Vice episodes playing in my head, and the nightclubs and neon of a big city calling to my then naïve but desperately intrigued 20-something self, I packed up everything without knowing a soul and moved to Miami. At my father’s insistence, he manned the wheel on the slow move from Virginia, navigating my modest worldly possessions down I-95 until we pulled in to a gas station in the early evening of that New Year’s Eve, my first official stop in my new neighborhood. Much to my father’s alarm, the parking lot had a noticeable number of suspicious, motely looking characters congregating in the shadows of the brightly lit gas station logo, conveniently located mere blocks from my new abode. As I reached to open my door my dad’s arm shot out and blocked my exit. With a look of grave concern reserved only for fathers of female offspring he said, “I don’t know if this was such a good idea.”, clearly not implying our choice of gas stations but rather my decision to move to South Beach. With understanding but difficult restraint, I remained in the clunky moving truck that had been my prison for the past three days (did I mention my Dad drove *slowly*?). After a quick fill up he silently drove the few blocks to my new apartment, located on a main strip of this art deco wonderland above a sushi restaurant. While he was no doubt making an interpersonal wager as to whether he would first be picking me up to move back to Virginia or filing a missing person report I enthusiastically jumped out. I WAS HERE!
After unloading into my tiny, studio apartment with a scenic view of the back alley I was ready to hit the ground running. It was NEW YEAR’S EVE and time to celebrate! Of course, he was as enthusiastic about this as he was about the questionable characters that we shared the gas station parking lot with but this time it fell on deaf ears. A presto-change-o and a hug with a promise to be safe and I practically took the door off the hinges as I ran out to explore my new stomping grounds.
My first stop was the landmark 11th Street Diner, an enticing (and still loved) concoction of aluminum, art murals, signed celebrity photos, a 24 hour menu, and cheap booze. From there it was a whirlwind night spent bathing in pumping bass and showering in a spray of colorful lights.
The next day was a blur of hangover induced slumber on the couch amongst a forest of moving boxes. Foggy, brief interactions with my father occurred throughout the day as he navigated and inspected his daughter’s new territory, occasionally returning with observations & tidbits. After mostly relaying his findings with skepticism and caution he BURST into the apartment with as much enthusiasm as I had burst out of it the previous night. With an unforgettable combination of excitement and joy on his face it was quickly apparent that South Beach had, at least in one regard, just gained a new fan as he exclaimed, “I JUST SAW THREE TOPLESS WOMEN ON THE BEACH!”.
Hey, whatever it takes.
For first timers visiting South Beach (Note: Only visitor’s call it “SoBe” so avoid that for “cool points” when speaking with locals) do be sure to pay a visit to the 11th Street Diner for a casual, fun, unique & tasty experience. If you’re young be prepared to disco nap – the night time party doesn’t truly get started until around midnight. If your clubbing days are behind you then bring your spanx and grab a seat in the Florida sunshine on Ocean Drive. Order a delicious, refreshing, minty mojito, perfected at Mango’s, long served there before it became “a thing” due to both the drink and the establishment’s Cuban roots. The people watching from there is as good as the view from the beach and is equally, if not more, beautiful.