You've heard scary things about Miami. You've heard that it's a wild, crazy, dangerous tropical place where everybody has a gun, the traffic is insane, crime is rampant, the politicians are corrupt, the voters have the intelligence of eggplants, and the cockroaches are the size of Shetland ponies. Well, relax! As a longtime resident of South Florida, I'm here to tell you that this is not true! The cockroaches are more like Rottweilers. - Dave Barry
Bienvenido a Miami!
The city of Miami, by itself, is rather small: Jacksonville
has a greater population. However, when you throw in Hialeah
, Coral Gables
, Miami Beach
, and all the other gems-in-the-urban-nightmare that make up Miami-Dade County, Florida
, and look at it as only one small portion of the entire urban-nightmare-full-of-gems that is South Florida
, Miami is a pretty happenin' place. Everything Will Smith has to say about it is true
The city was founded in 1896 near the site of Fort Dallas, a minor base built by the United States Army for its war against the Seminoles. After the Florida East Coast Railroad was built in the late 1800's, the area gained a reputation for warm weather and sparkling beaches, and its growth was phenomenal following the advent of air conditioning. Today, South Florida is the southernmost major metropolitan area in North America, and Miami is its hub.
If you're planning on visiting Miami, here are some tips:
- Bring a Spanish phrasebook. In Miami proper, 75% of the population speaks Spanish and 50% of the population speaks English, so if you need to ask for directions or confront strangers for any other reason, Spanish will be more useful than English. In case you aren't in the know, this is because half the population of Miami is either one of, or is descended from, the boat people who came from Cuba following Fidel Castro's revolution... and a good portion of the remainder is made up of natives from various banana republics in Latin America. ("Will the last American leaving Miami please bring the flag?")
- Keep toward the beach. South Beach is awesome. Bal Harbour is awesome. Liberty City is not, and if you end up there by accident, you will be shot. Most of what you will want to see is right on the Atlantic Ocean, or not too far away. Go too far inland, and you'll find yourself in a barrio or a gated community... either way, there won't be much to see.
- Drive. Miami has a mass transit system, but it's not that great. The only intuitive public transportation in the city is the Metrorail and Metromover, and unless you happen to be staying right next to a station, you probably won't find them to be all that useful for getting around the city. Buses in Miami are true products of the ghetto, and best avoided at all costs.
- ...but know how to drive. Since most of Miami's population learned how to drive in the bowels of the Third World, you will have to adjust to Miami driving, which is somewhat similar to New York driving only more harrowing. Turn signals are on every car, but never used. Hazard flashers, on the other hand, are turned on whenever it starts to rain, and traffic on every single road will immediately slow to about 15 miles per hour as soon as the first raindrops fall. Speaking of which...
- Bring an umbrella... and a flashlight with plenty of batteries, a camping stove, some signal flares, several gallons of distilled water... perhaps an ark. In the summer, there is so much rain in Miami that surfboards replace skateboards. Okay, it's not really that bad, but if you're coming to Miami for any extended period of time, you should be aware that you will probably get to experience the fun of getting hit, or narrowly missed, by a tropical system of some kind... and, if you've come in the right year, by a full-fledged hurricane. The most important corollary to this rule is always go to the beach before 3 PM: during the summer, it rains EVERY afternoon. Speaking of which...
- Know your beaches. South Beach, the closest beach to downtown, is the most famous in Miami: it's the home turf of supermodels and gays, and it's where Gianni Versace was shot. The next few miles of beach are lined by condominium towers: then you'll find Haulover Beach, which is where people go to be nekkid. Miami's beaches are not as spectacular as you might think: the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico coast are much prettier, although they have the disadvantage of being populated by rednecks (as opposed to those in South Florida, which are populated by 500-pound French Canadians). Speaking of which...
- Don't try to get a tan in the shadow of a 500-pound French Canadian. Not only will you not get tan, you will vomit when you see them wearing G-strings. And they all wear G-strings, for reasons unknown.
- Go to the Bahamas. Dammit. They're right next door: you can get a round trip ticket to Freeport or Nassau for eighty bucks, or just find a boat and drive out there yourself. And unlike Miami, everyone speaks English there. (Tho' you won't be able to understand their patois when they talk to each other, but that's another point altogether.)
Oh yeah, I almost forgot: Don't go to Miami.
Go to Fort Lauderdale
. I mean, it's where Miami Vice
was shot, and Lambda Lambda Lambda
can't be wrong.
Major colleges in Miami include the private University of Miami, the public Florida International University, the parochial Barry University, and the satellite Johnson and Wales University. Professional sports teams include the Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins (Pro Player Stadium) and the Miami Heat (American Airlines Arena): the Florida Panthers now play up in Sunrise, a good distance from Miami.
See Vizcaya, the Jackie Gleason Theater, Calle Ocho, Chalk's, everything along A1A, and Fisher Island (from a distance, of course).
And if you can't come here, read Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen, or play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, or watch Bad Boys or All About the Benjamins or The Birdcage.