Wednesday, December 23, 2009

American Airlines Sucks


I had a special surprise for my readers -- I was going to be writing from Hawaii for three weeks! But thanks to the complete incompetence of American Airlines, my parents and I were never able to take this trip of a lifetime.

So, American Airlines, I am officially ripping you a new asshole and here's the long story why:

My brother left Miami for Los Angeles nearly 20 years ago and he recently moved to Oahu with his wife. My parents, who are in their seventies, have always missed my brother in spite of family visits over the years, so for them it was a big deal to go to an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, especially at their age.

My dad purchased three plane tickets for us early in September -- Miami to Los Angeles, Los Angeles connecting flight to Honolulu -- reverse itinerary on the way back. My dad is old school and doesn't believe in any electronic ticketing business, so he went to the American Airlines office in Coral Gables and purchased the tickets in person. No travel agent, no Expedia or Travelocity; this was straight from the horse's mouth, if you will. He got the traditional ticket stubs in his hands and was happy.

Without much else to do, the retirees were eagerly planning the trip. Travel guides were read. Packing started a month before hand. And in Oahu, my brother was planning fun stuff for us to do. I even planned a tweetup with @neenz, to connect with the social media scene on the island. I was also looking forward to doing some travel writing here on Sex and the Beach, because I'm reviving that part of my career. This was important for me on a professional level.

On Monday morning, we took a taxi at 8:30 am from South Miami and arrived at Miami International Airport around 8:50 am, about two and a half hours before the 11:30 flight to Los Angeles. We had one piece of luggage to check. Not surprisingly, the airport was crowded and lines were long. We decided to check baggage curbside. That line was chaotic, but shorter than the ones inside.

After one hour, we finally reached the counter, the skycap told us that there was a security issue and that we would have to stand in line again inside. This is when the real cluster fuck started.

"What security issue?" I asked. When I got a blank stare and no answer, I asked again: "Do you mean a random security check?" "Yes," he answered hastily, while shooing us off.

At this point, my sister, who was hanging out with us and just happens to be a Miami-Dade County Aviation employee now for nearly 30 years, was livid. She approached an airport staff member who was outside and he told us, in a rather hurried and brutish manner, that we had to get our boarding passes at the self check-in machine and that we would be issued a luggage tag. He pointed to some random location in the lobby, which wasn't the TSA section where travelers normally drop off luggage.

OK, whatever. At this point, we were desperate to have a boarding pass in hand.

The self check-in machine would not issue us boarding passes, so he told us to skip the regular check-in line and speak to a woman behind the counter. He then ran off.

We did speak with her. When we explained the situation, she was disgustingly rude. She literally tossed her hair, raised her nose and said "I'm not dealing with you people" and stormed off. Yes, she walked away, huffing and puffing. I wish I had gotten her name. She was a complete bitch.

We tried self check-in again, to no avail. An American Airlines staff member tried to help us. He was actually very nice, but had no answers. He directed us to a supervisor, but she refused to expedite the process for us, so we had to stand in line.

While we were in line, my mother went to sit down at my sister's office by Concourse C. There was no freakin' place to sit anywhere! Her hip was hurting. She was also short of breath from the anxiety. She has high blood pressure so we thought this was best.

I got on the phone with American Airlines and reached a friendly customer service agent who told me that our dates of birth were missing from the reservation. Apparently, American Airlines started taking this information after September 14th and my dad had purchased the plane tickets earlier. He then asked me to try self check-in again, but it still didn't work.

He then said that in the worst case scenario, we could try again tomorrow, as the same itinerary was still open. He also said that if we took a different flight our bag could still be waiting for us in Honolulu.

By the time we made it to the counter, the flight would be leaving in half an hour. We learned the flight had been delayed twenty minutes, so we had 50 minutes of grace time. The attendant, who was a little harsh at first, called the gate and said that the flight would be boarding in twenty minutes.

So here was the deal: we could in theory make the flight, if we ran and got past security in time; however, the problem was that it was too late to check luggage. And, unlike what the phone agent had told me, we were obligated to be on the same flight with the suitcase, because the bag could not go on a different flight all the way to Honolulu.

And obviously there was another problem: my parents can't run to anything, sheesh! I could, but I wasn't about to leave them behind. And nobody offered to get us wheelchair access.

Already, my dad had resigned himself to missing the flight. I could see the disappointment in his face, which was getting red. He has an arrhythmia condition and I didn't want him to get angry. Luckily, I was there to handle the situation with grace and diplomacy, which I somehow managed to muster. But believe me, I was seething.

The counter attendant hailed over the same supervisor as before. I explained the situation. They had suggested we buy two regular carry-ons and leave the big suitcase behind, which was really ridiculous, because we still wouldn't have made it to the gate in time. Then, after some consulting among themselves, they tried to give us highest priority stand by on the next flight to Los Angeles at 1:45 PM. The connecting flight to Honolulu from Los Angeles was overbooked by three. The supervisor said that odds were good we'd make that too.

Otherwise, there would be no more flights until December 24th, they said, contrary to what the phone agent had told me. My dad was very angry that he could not get his original flight and didn't want to risk a standby nightmare getting stuck in Los Angeles.

This kind of thing might work with young, adventurous travelers, but not with senior citizens.

My parents were so fed up at this point, my mom had to take a tranquilizer, and my sister had to call her boyfriend, interrupting his day at work, to come pick us up, as she didn't want my dad to shell out another $35 for a taxi. My sister took the rest of the day off work, too.

I had asked the supervisor what the security issue was and she had no answer. I was very determined to get to the bottom of this. At least we could learn something from the experience, right? But I never really got a clear answer.

On the way home, I spent an hour on the phone with a very pleasant American Airlines agent. She kept apologizing for putting me on hold, but she said she was searching all the records to get our entire history.

Her conclusion, which she claimed was certain, was this: in October, the Honolulu to Los Angeles flight had been changed. We were never notified of this (we should have been) but my dad, having some presence of mind, went back to the American Airlines ticketing office in Coral Gables earlier this month to make sure everything was still OK. By the way, that office has no phone number. You have to go there in person.

That leg of the itinerary now had a different flight number and was only 15 minutes later than the old flight. This had nothing to do with the airline, she said. Usually it's some FAA regulation that forces airlines to change flight numbers and times.

Very well. No big deal, right? Well, apparently it was, because the self check-in computer did not register the change in flight number, it did what any computer would do: it couldn't process a section of an itinerary that no longer existed. So then it wasn't a security issue, right? It was a computer glitch, apparently. I guess you can't blame my dad for being old school!

And here's where things get even more convoluted. Who was responsible for updating the self check-in computer? Shouldn't that be done automatically? Or was the ticketing agent in the Coral Gables office supposed to notify the computer that we had approved the change? And furthermore, why was my dad never notified of the change? Why were we not told that there'd be a security issue at curbside check-in?

We still don't know what the fuck really happened. Even fucking Sherlock Holmes wouldn't be able to figure this one out.

Listen folks, that same ticketing agent, whom my dad visited today, is not taking responsibility for this. And I'm still not convinced that the flight change was the so-called security issue.

The phone agent I spoke to was very kind. She reimbursed us immediately, but it will take one or two billing cycles on the credit card to get the refund. She also told me to check TSA's website. Apparently, you can send TSA a letter asking you to be removed from a terrorist list if you happen to be on one. "I'm a terror, for sure," I said. "But definitely not a terrorist." We laughed about it. I want to personally thank her for being so patient.

But you, American Airlines? No thank you and here's a hearty fuck-off.

Every single dealing we had with airport and airline staff at was so rife with inconsistent information that at the end of the day, even the nice employees didn't know what the hell they were talking about. We kept getting different answers to our questions.

We purchased those plane tickets fair and square. We were there on time and in spite of the blizzard up north, we should've been on this flight. This happened because American Airlines did not have its shit together, period.

I'm young and can handle this, but you broke my parents' hearts. They are in their seventies and they dreamed of spending Christmas with my brother and his wife. It was all about being there on Christmas Eve. They fucking planned this trip since September, for pete's sake! You have lost some great customers who have been faithfully using your airline for European trips ten years plus and counting. You can't reimburse us for the disappointment, can you?

And you couldn't have picked a better person to piss off, American Airlines. I'm a forum editor and writer at Miami's premiere travel website, Miami Beach 411, where I have already bitched about your airline's incompetence. Millions of people visit that website and thousands of people trust my opinion.

Wow. I am all for being a nice person and supporting prosperity in business, but when you shit on me and my family, I gotta tell it like it is.

So, American Airlines, don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. And as for you, Miami International Airport, that's a whole other blog post.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Back to Miami, Part 4: Lazy Days in Florida

A retrospective series on how I missed my trip to San Francisco and found my way back to Miami from Atlanta, traveling as a single woman alone, using only public transportation to visit friends and do some backyard tourism in Florida.

In Part 3, I wrote about how I made it back to Miami on Greyhound bus, Amtrak and Tri-Rail. Here's what I did in between.

TALLAHASSEE

The natural side of Florida. Picture courtesy of jimbowen0306.

An old friend of mine from high school moved to Tallahassee for college and never came back to Miami. She still lives in the state capitol with her husband and two kids, so it was catch-up time. The rest of her family moved there too and as her father had recently passed away, it meant much for me to see her mom, who has always been my second American-pie gringa mama.

When things got too Cuban for me at home during my rebellious teenage years here in Miami, I could always seek peace and quiet (plus great liverwurst sandwiches) at my friend's home. Her parents always treated me like I was part of the family. I enjoyed vicarious American Christmas holidays with them -- we never had fresh baked cookies and English-language carols at home, but my friend's family didn't have roast pork either -- so I had the best of both worlds growing up here in Miami.

And we had history here. Kids, parents, everybody was involved in Coral Gables High School Band. My friend and I participated in three Orange Bowl parades and half time shows, as well as countless Coral Gables High School football games.

My friend used to say I brought out the Cuban in her and I always joked that she brought out the American in me. This trip was only the third or fourth time I've seen my friend since high school, but as always, it was if no time had passed.

I didn't do much touristy stuff in Tallahassee and that was just fine. The first night, I stayed at The Governor's Inn where my friend is a manager. The boutique hotel is charming and offers a great continental breakfast.

Across the cobblestoned street, there's a classic college pub where I enjoyed a drink after my long Greyhound ride, playing career adviser to the sexy blonde bartender who was graduating from FSU and wanted to be a sports psychologist. She showed me the page where she had posed for a campus charity calendar. I hope she wasn't using that as a resume item for graduate school.

On day two, I stayed at my friend's house and enjoyed some real Southern hospitality for a few days. My friend's home is on the outskirts of the city in a neighborhood surrounded by forests. Actually, her home is practically in a forest, so the sound of cicadas and other critters at night was intense. What stars we could see through the dense canopy shone bright in the dark sky.

It was great to just kick back at night outside, surrounded by huge pines and oak trees. BBQ and beers and talk was all we needed. Another culinary highlight was making Cuban black beans for the family and finding dragonfruit, of all things, in a suburban Tallahassee Publix.

By day, I watched Spongebob Squarepants with her kids, hiked in the woodland part of their property and cooled off in their huge inflatable pool, which was filled with fresh spring water from the Florida aquifer. It's hard to explain, but the water felt silky smooth and was so refreshing, I thought maybe, just maybe, this was the whole fountain of youth thing, though I didn't look any younger after dipping in the pool.

I also had a touching conversation with one of her sons about the trials and tribulations of being a sixth grader -- unloyal crushes, bullies, assholes. Yeah, those are the typical situations we all have to deal with through life, son.

DELAND

Canoeing near Deland. Photo courtesy of anoldent.

After a few days and two Greyhound bus rides later, I ended up in Deland.

My friend Doug from Miami Beach 411 and his roommate Dave graciously hosted me for two nights at their home in Deland, a sleepy but quirky little town in Central Florida, close to Daytona. Home to Stetson University, Deland is definitely a college town but seems even more old Florida than Tallahassee.

The first thing we did was stop at a 24-hour Walmart for wine and snacks. The last time I had been in a Walmart was in some remote part of Texas during a long-ass road trip from Miami to Colorado. Walmart late at night in Central Florida is surreal, especially if you've just spent half a day on Greyhound buses. Our cashier was at least 80 years old and wore as much makeup as dearly departed Tammy Faye Baker. God bless her though, she was sweet as pie and as charismatic as Tammy Faye. You don't get that kind of customer service in Miami.

The next day, we went canoeing in the St. John's River out of Hontoon Island State Park. I rowed up front while Doug rowed in the back. It's said that you can always test the resilience of a couple if both can row together. Doug and I weren't a couple, but we did pretty well, even in the stifling heat. Battling against the current was rough, yet we managed in some kind of awkward choreography.

The canoe trail along one of the branches of the river was beautiful. Gorgeous homes and lush trees flanked the north bank of the river. The south bank was completely wild with native flora. At one point, we came upon a row of towering cypress trees, their knobby roots sticking out of the water. Save for glimpses of homes and the occasional pontoon boat docked in someone's back yard, the scene was almost primeval.

We didn't see much wildlife, save for one alligator, which seems to have spooked Doug. The river was wide and deep; no worries about close contact with gators here.

I was horrified, however, when I got my period unexpectedly early, midway through the two-hour canoe trip. (Hey, this is a single woman's guide to chronic living, so it's completely appropriate to mention menstrual mishaps here!)

Doug and I are friends, but he's a guy and it's not like I was about to blurt out loud "Shit, I can't believe I just got my freakin' period early, right here in the middle of the Saint John's River, on a hot summer day, canoeing with a dude who probably doesn't know a tampon from Q tip," which is exactly what went through my mind. I was very concerned about the embarrassment I would experience were I to have an accident! But there I was, in a canoe -- nothing to do but row on.

There were other matters that were more important. Doug rescued his schizophrenic roommate from the streets a few years ago and is his caretaker. At first I was a little creeped out about the idea of staying in the same house with Dave, but actually he just kept to himself and was very well-behaved, almost child-like, really. He spent hours laughing to himself in a back porch and when he was with us, he barely spoke.

Doug has sinced moved to San Diego because he gets better government support there to take care of Dave. Doug is an angel, probably earning huge karma points in that big bank in the sky. How many of us would have such trust, compassion and patience?

On the last night, we had dinner at a great Thai restaurant followed by drinks at a very groovy wine and beer bar. I was off to West Palm Beach the next morning but not before stopping by a truck where a man was selling spicy boiled peanuts.

WEST PALM BEACH

Some local friends picked me up at the Amtrak station just in time for happy hour at O'Shea's Irish Pub on Clematis. Later, they dropped me off at an old friend's house in Palm Beach Gardens. More catching up talk and sleep -- I wouldn't do much here.

FORT LAUDERDALE

I arrived here via Tri-Rail and took a taxi to the Hyatt Pier 66, one of my new favorite South Florida properties. Located by a luxury mega-yacht marina, the remodeled Hyatt has a lovely pool area with lush landscaping. It pleased my eye, because I'm sick and tired of South Beach being all concrete and silicone. And in spite of the luxury boats, the property itself is not over-the-top ostentatious. It's elegant, to be sure, but relaxed and just right. The room rates weren't bad either, and that was a relief, since I was traveling on the same budget I had planned for San Francisco. My room had a huge terrace and a fabulous view of the Intracoastal, Port Everglades and the Atlantic ocean.

It was great just to be on my own again, but that wouldn't last long. The marketing guy in charge of social media knew I was coming and we ended up throwing a somewhat impromptu sunset tweetup at the hotel's waterfront café. A few more local friends showed up at Pelican Landing, which is now one of my top ten waterfront establishments. It's off the beaten path -- you need to walk through the marina to get there. Try the fish tacos and conch fritters, if you go.

The next day, I took the watertaxi to the Stranahan House on the river. At $14 per person for a full day, I enjoyed getting about Fort Lauderdale this way -- I enjoyed it immensely, in fact -- and I didn't even take advantage of all the stops! The taxi staff is entertaining and you can even bring booze on board. It's absolutely and utterly ridiculous that Miami doesn't have a similar service on the bay between Miami Beach, Downtown, Brickell and Coconut Grove.

The Stranahan House is a must-see for locals and visitors.

The Stranahan House deserves a post all its own, but suffice it to say it's an essential stop in Fort Lauderdale. Home to one of the city's founding fathers, the house has been exquisitely restored with authentic furnishings and decorations. Our tour guide was a sweet lady -- a retired college professor originally from Eastern Europe -- who made the city's history come alive for us in a very relaxed, one-hour tour.

From the Stranahan House, I walked down Las Olas and then took the water taxi again to Downtowner Saloon, which had been recommended by some locals, for some refreshment. This is another new favorite, laid-back waterfront spot. I'd be returning there later that night with some friends to eat and I'll probably end up there again next time I'm in Fort Lauderdale. Try the clam chowder -- it's rich and actually tastes like clams.

The whole downtown riverfront area of Fort Lauderdale is quite pleasant, in spite of the fact that there is a penitentiary amid the expensive, towering condos. Miami is now only coming to realize the value of clean, well lit and beautiful riverfront areas, though clearly, both rivers have very different characters and functions.

Taking phallic imagery to a whole new level ... these yummy tapas-style plates dominated the brunch at Hyatt Pier 66. Well worth the indulgence!

The next day, I splurged on brunch at the Hyatt's Pier Top, a venue located on the top of the hotel tower that rotates 360 degrees every hour. Brunch was about $60 (with discount) and featured all kinds of all-you-can-eat mouth-watering small-plate goodies, as well as fresh sushi, a carving station, desserts, and of course, endless drinks. A light jazz duo accompanied guests but the real star of the show was the view -- simply breathtaking, especially on a clear blue day.

(Pier Top is not your typical restaurant. It's only open for brunch on Sundays and for special events. Call ahead for reservations.)

MIAMI

After such a sumptuous repast, going back home on Tri-Rail was quite the downer. But I made it to South Miami by train, metrorail and finally, by foot.

This trip taught me that it's completely possible to enjoy Florida without a car, though of course it's obviously more convenient to do the 2-axle Turnpike shuffle if you want to explore deeper without having to rely on public transportation. It also taught me that there's way more I want to see in the state and that you'd probably need at least a lifetime to see it all. I've got some years left. Bring it on!

SIDE NOTE

One of my new favorite Twitter finds is @hiddenflorida, managed by Hilda Mitrani, a blogger for Visit Florida. She focuses mainly on everything not Miami and not Disney. Check her stuff out for Florida fun off the beaten path.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ford Fiesta: Farewell

Earlier this month, Brad and I went to Los Angeles for the official U.S. unveiling of the Ford Fiesta at the LA Auto Show. Ford flew a bunch of us agents for a two-day event, which included a special concert and awards ceremony at the Hollywood Palladium.

Brad and I won Best Adventure Video for Gator Wrastlin' mission!

While at the Palladium, we happened to bump into a social media acquaintance, Jeff Turner, who shot this video:



I wrote about the LA Auto Show experience over at Miami New Times, so I'm going to take a more personal tack here. But suffice it to say, Ford's campaign was absolutely brilliant. I'm not a marketing expert and I can't predict if it's going to sell cars, but the campaign generated millions of impressions in social media networks.

And besides, it was just plain fun. I was amazed at the amount of creativity and talent shared among all the agents in the project.

Brad and I returned the car to a local Ford dealer in South Dade a day before we went to LA. It didn't dawn on me how much I would miss the car until I got back to Miami.

I was never really into cars, but now I have much more of an appreciation for the art of motor vehicles and driving. My own car, a '98 Toyota Corolla, feels like a golf cart compared to the Fiesta. There's something about the power of the engine, the steering and the manual transmission that make a whole world of difference when driving. I keep reaching for the stick shift and now that it's not there, I feel like I'm in limbo!

Driving a great car in manual transmission is like taking the lead in a tango. I felt like the car was my partner and I was guiding her every move; she responded to me beautifully. The car felt like an extension of me. It was powerful. With my Toyota, the driving experience is very passive and blah. I guess I did become very passionate about driving after all!

(Of course, I'm talking about the Ford Fiesta here, but I'm sure this is true of any quality car out there. Being a girly girl, I seriously used to think all driving experiences were the same. So not true!)

I really enjoyed being part of this project and bringing some great content here to Sex and the Beach. I had the chance to do some hyper-local storytelling that I probably would've never done: we captured Memorial Day, featuring Jimbo's and interviewing a veteran on Ocean Drive; we shot a parody of Scarface, including locations El Exquisito Restaurant, Maximo Gomez Domino Park and Elian Gonzalez's house; we geocached in South Miami, Coral Gables and Pinecrest, including the historic cemetery on Erwin Road; we helped build a house in Liberty City with Habitat for Humanity; we checked out the local graffiti scene with artist Atomic; we towed the car on a bike down Flagler street; and, finally, of course, we wrestled an alligator in Orlando.

I also got to know Brad better and work with him as part of a creative team. The Ford Fiesta may be out of our lives now, but I doubt this is the last time we're going to collaborate on some cool projects together.

The Fiesta project was also personally rewarding for me since I used to suffer from agoraphobia and had a fear of driving. It's amazing to me that I was able to conquer that condition and end up driving a car -- a stick shift no less -- all over local expressways! I even drove most of the way to Orlando and back when we went on our Gatorland mission.

When I was caught up in the agoraphobia, I never in a million years would've dreamed about driving so much and enjoying it so. But while I had the Fiesta, I would drive the car every day, even if I didn't have to go anywhere. It was a thrill to go down beautiful Old Cutler Road just for the heck of it.

I hope that I can be an example to others who are suffering from panic attacks. If I could get over it, so can you. For me, there was quite a bit of serendipity involving the Ford Fiesta project; it was no mere coincidence. Driving like this was the culmination and proof positive that you can turn your life around from such a crippling condition.

Thank you Brad and Ford -- it was a great ride!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ford Fiesta: Carface!

Our final Ford Fiesta mission: recreate scenes from a movie shot in your city. No doubt you've already guessed which movie we picked. Enjoy!



Did you recognize your Miami-Dade landmarks?

South Beach at Ocean Drive: The Palace Bar, Casa Casuarina (the infamous Gianni Versace gate) and the Carlyle Hotel, where another classic Miami film, The Birdcage, was filmed. As well, South Pointe Park, with a view of the behemoth condominiums. (And yes, that was Brad, fully-clothed in the water late afternoon when we had a slight cold front. Two takes.)

In Little Havana: the former home of Elian Gonzalez and site of such powerful political controversy, El Exquisito and El Pub restaurants, the sidewalk of stars, the Tower Theater and Maximo Gomez Domino Park. (And yes, filming that scene in front of Elian's house felt a bit like sacrilege!)

Although I only have a cameo in this video, I'm all over it, believe me. It was so much fun to play director for a change, instead of being in front of the camera. But of course, there was also much collaboration. Although Brad and I story-boarded our scenes, much of it was improvised on location, including dialogue. (Señor Gator also made a cameo. Remember him?)

This parody was a bit of a challenge because not only did it have to be done under five minutes, we had to keep it family-friendly. So instead of the word "fuck," which Tony Montana glorified in Scarface, we used the word "Ford" and instead of dealing cocaine, we went after the perfect cup of coffee.

We also didn't want to show any disrespect to Elian's family nor make fun of the Cuban wet foot/dry foot immigration policy ... but so it is.

Special thanks to local comedic genius Freddy Stebbins, who spent half a day with us shooting in Little Havana and let us use his kitchen for a location. This video would not be the same without his chongalicious performance and his manly voice-overs!

Thanks also go out to: Juan Coro of El Exquisito Restaurant, who warmly collaborated with us to let us shoot in "la ventanita" (window) of his iconic Little Havana restaurant; Ivan Mladenovic of Preemopc, who let us take over his living room one night so Brad could watch Scarface for the first time; and finally, to the Miami Beach Police Department for not getting in our hair when we double parked to shoot on Ocean Drive.

WHAT'S NEXT?

I'll be returning the car to a local Ford dealer at the end of the month. No word on whether I'll throw a fit and they'll have to yank my hands from the steering wheel. I will surely miss driving this car!

Ford is flying Brad and I out to Los Angeles next week for the LA Auto Show, where the Ford Fiesta will have its official U.S. unveiling. Three lucky agents will have a chance to win a car!

If you're in the area, come join us and a bunch of other agents for a free concert at the Hollywood Palladium on December 1st. RSVP required at Eventbrite.

If you miss the event, don't worry. Tune in to CurrentTV at 11:30/10:30 central time for a follow-up broadcast. And of course, no doubt I'll be tweeting with pictures and video live from @fordfiestamiami.

If you've enjoyed following our adventures, feel free to vote for "Maria D and Brad S" everyday until December 1st at the Fiesta Movement site. No prizes here -- it's just a popularity contest (which honestly, I don't care about, but there, I still had to tell you!)

The Fiesta Movement has been not only a brilliant social media project, but also one of the most rewarding and creative things I've done in my life. Although it sucked that I broke my leg, I wouldn't change a thing as it made it possible for me to work with Brad. We make a bad-ass, wicked storytelling crew of two! I'll be posting more of my thoughts on the subject after my trip to LA.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Biggest and Tastiest Cock Evar!

My birthday is today, but I celebrated yesterday on the beach with many friends during a very windy evening.

I thought about writing something serious about being 42. You know, kvetching about how I'm still single, don't have kids, am a struggling creative type, still have some weight to lose bla bla bla ... but you know what? I'm just not feeling it!

I was surrounded by so many wonderful friends yesterday, that I can't complain about one fucking damn thing. Friends in person or friends from a distance -- it didn't matter. And thanks to social media, today has been just as warm and fuzzy.

My friend Pam Anderson (yes, that's her name, and she's indeed a sexy, well-endowed blond!) made me a colossal and delicious carrot cake, complete with a larger-than-life fondant penis. If this penile pastry doesn't scream "Sex and the Beach," I don't know what does!


After I blew out the candles, my friends requested that I take a big bite out of the dick tip as a ceremonial first slice. Then I put on a latex glove and sliced accordingly. Of course, Lorena Bobbitt jokes were flying around the table.

Interestingly, most of the men wanted a slice from the scrotum, while the women preferred the shaft. A "prostate massage" proved unfruitful, but most of the testicles were left over.

Pam also made some tasty cupcakes with little marzipan cocks.

I won't even tell you what some other friends got me as a gag gift, but let's just say that it requires two AA batteries and can put a smile on my face!

Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure whom I would fantasize about while using this fleshy, 6.5 inch vibrating dildo; while I am attracted to a few single and very handsome men in my circle, I'm not particularly inspired in a romantic way right now by anyone. My love life seems to be like the eye of a hurricane -- very still while every one else's seems to be blowing around right by me.

I did however meet a younger guy in South Beach this Friday who had me falling in love for like 10 minutes. He was not only good looking and pleasant, but smart ... imagine that! All we did was talk but I'm pretty sure our pheromones were having a party of their own. No word on a repeat performance. But as we all know, relationships in South Beach are usually shorter than the life cycle of a fruit fly. Sigh.

I really, really despise the word "cougar" but this wouldn't be the first time that a younger man held tightly on to the reigns of conversation. Hey look it, they come to me, ok? I'm not chasing any tail.

Anyway, cupid seems to have flown the coop, but love from friends is definitely in the air. The love I get from my friends is something I cherish deeply. There is only one word that comes to mind when I think of my friends and connections: abundance. Thanks to all of you for being in my life!

In related news, perhaps inspired by being a forty-something, I'm starting a musical duo with my friend @bachinaminuet, a very talented musician who makes people's lives better through that art. The duo will be called Peri and Meno, "music for all of life's pauses." Stay tuned for some very hysterical lyrics!

Note: special thanks to Carrabbas on 39th street and Collins Avenue for putting up with all our shenanigans!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SoFla Blogup 2009


I fondly recall the first blogger meetup in Miami ... though Hidden City has told me that proto-bloggers socialized in Miami as far back as the dawn of the interwebs.

But in recent history, circa 2006, several established bloggers who are still active today got together for conversation, drinks and food at Tobacco Road. The meetup was inspired by the fact that Stormhoek Winery had put together blogger shindig in South Beach for a Gaping Void campaign. A few people were turned off by the commercial nature of the event and decided that "we" could meet up all on our own. I don't remember who "we" was; it was a loosely defined collective. It just sort of happened.

None of us had met in person, though we knew each other's blogs well. There were no name tags and we had to introduce ourselves one by one -- kind of like when you're in elementary school on the first day of class and have to tell the rest of the kids what you did last summer. I remember talking to some fellow bloggers before the event who were downright shy. "OMG, I have to meet people in person? What's that all about?"

Putting a face to the blog was a big deal back then, but boy, how things have changed since 2006! For many of us, social media has made the face-to-face far less awkward.

It's time to get together again. James and Annette from Soul of Miami and I have teamed up with Graziano's at Brickell for another afternoon of socializing on November 21st, 2 - 5 pm, possibly longer -- if any spontaneous plans should occur.

The first hour will be bloggers ONLY. Afterward, readers and fans are welcome to mingle! Please visit Soul of Miami for details and to RSVP. If you are a blogger, make sure you do reply so we can have a name tag ready for you at the door.

RSVP AT SOUL OF MIAMI

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Local: Holy Moly Redlands Guacamole!



On October 10, Schnebly Redland's Winery in Homestead hosted a special event to benefit four local high schools with culinary arts and agricultural programs. The goal was to beat the Guinness World Record for largest guacamole and they did it!

Under the supervision of their chef instructors, students mashed 3,428 pounds of avocados, diced 489 pounds of tomatoes and squeezed the juice out of 478 pounds of limes. Mixed together with 98.5 pounds of mayonnaise, the guacamole beat the previous record by 103 pounds for a whopping 4,114 pounds of the green stuff.

Later, the guacamole was seasoned with cilantro, green onion, a little hot pepper and salt for individual sale to the public. Guacamole wasn't the only avocado treat served up -- the sale of avocado ice cream, pies and bread also helped with proceeds. The event raised $4,789, which will help the young chefs-to-be in cook up even more in their daily classroom adventures.

If the idea of avocado ice cream seems strange, don't forget that it's a fruit. And yes, Schnebly makes a crisp and delicious wine from the creamy pulp. The alligator on the bottle's label refers to the old days when Florida pioneers called the fruit gator pear.

Students also competed for best recipes, with local chefs Allen Susser, Michael Schwartz, Darren Lee and Giancarla Bodoni as judges.

Michael Schwartz of Micheal's Genuine in the Design District had worked with students earlier in the week to come up with recipes. "We went to the schools, talked to the kids and game planned what they would prepare," Schwartz said. "They came up with recipes and ideas, and we tweaked them a little bit. But really they did all the work. The program is amazing."

About 1,000 people enjoyed the lovely grounds at Schnebly Winery that day.

Read more about Schnebly Winery at Miami Beach 411.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sex and the Beach Author Still Crazy After Four Years of Blogging

Wow, it's hard to believe that four years have gone by. So much so, that I totally forgot to celebrate this blog's anniversary. If I were married to me, I'd expect roses, champagne and an honest apology!

It's amazing that I didn't even know what a blog was just weeks before my first post.

It all started on October 10, 2005, when the newly created Manola Blablablanik pondered about things that no longer even cross her mind, unless, of course, she's giving advice to some wayward newbie just entering the mauling claws of life on South Beach.
Seven months after breaking up with her boyfriend, with whom she had faithfully spent most of her mid-twenties, my dear friend Boobette had already sowed her wild oats. I lived vicariously through my younger alter-ego, also a writer. Ten years her senior and a veteran of South Beach, I listened attentively to mini-me. "I'm such a ho," she told me one day with a pang of bewilderment. "I slept with more men in the past seven months than I have in my entire life!" And that's when it all started, because I immediately blurted out, "well, that's because you live in HoBe!"

Manola has certainly come a long way, hasn't she? She has deleted her blog accidentally and recovered her blog fortuitously (thanks to the help of a friend in Google); she has gone on hiatus a couple of times; she has survived the Jurrasic period of blogs after witnessing many of them go sadly into extinction; she has transformed from a secretive hide-behind-your-pen-name persona to a leading participant in a massive, national social media campaign; she has moved from the beach to the mainland; she has broken her leg; she has brazenly remained a spinster; and most impressive of all, she has suffered from agoraphobia and panic disorder but recovered fully with incredible, fearless resilience.

manola alligatorDarwin was wrong. He meant: "Survival of the craziest."

As I look back on the last four years and how I've grown -- I must say I'm pretty happy. Every single writing gig or social media project I've been involved with has come through this blog.

When people ask me about blogging, I always say it's a process of evolution. I don't need to know where I'll be tomorrow, because as long as I can write, things will move in whatever direction they need to. That's the beauty of blogging.

I want to thank all my readers, supporters, friends and writing clients for following this blog and having faith in me. The last four years were good. May the years to come be even better! And if I ever made you snort coffee out of your nose, well here ... here's a Kleenex.

Muah!

Here's classic Sex and the Beach. My all time favorite cartoon:

the new sobe dining trend

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Ford Fiesta: Cracker Country Gator Wrastlin' Adventure!



Our fifth mission was one of the best yet. Brad and I went to Gatorland in Orlando to fulfill his lifelong dream of wrestling an alligator. Ever the closet country boy, my buddy Brad grew up on a farm and wrestled juvenile livestock when he himself was a kid. At long last, Brad was ready for the challenge.

I've also had a special place in my heart for the reptiles, since I used to come across them in my hardcore Everglades fishing days -- sometimes a little too close for comfort.

Even though Brad got all the hot reptile action on this mission, believe me, I was no less shy. Whenever he was in front of the camera, I was only a foot away from the gator's business end, capturing the footage you see in the video.

For the first time since we started doing these Ford Fiesta missions, Brad and I actually drove out of town for adventure and really got into the whole spirit of the road thing. I drove for four hours straight from South Miami to Orlando down the turnpike. This was a big deal for me, considering my panic attack situation a year or so ago, when I could barely get behind the wheel of a car. Talk about freedom!

I'm not going to get into too much detail here about Gatorland, because I'm going to be writing a story at Miami Beach 411 about this amazing park. But I will tell you this: of all the parks in Orlando, Gatorland is one I would not only bring people to, I'd insist that they go. And honestly, I can't wait to go back.

Right next to busy Orange Blossom Trail is this amazing swampland, covered with natural vegetation, where humans can learn all about the wily ways of gators, crocodiles and other animals. It's a conservancy of sorts -- gators that would otherwise end up as Gucci bags have a safe place to live out the rest of their lives.

And the best part of all: we got a humbling lesson in history. The term cracker is not some pejorative term for redneck, as we thought it was. It actually refers to the sound whips made when cowboys used to drive their beasts across the prairies and hammocks of Florida.

Cowboys in Florida? Why, yes -- and not of the cocaine variety. Before oranges, Florida used to be big on cattle husbandry. Heck, even today there are even some wild Florida cows roaming out there among the cypress trees and palmetto.

Anyway, in the hammocks, and especially during the dry season, alligators would hang out in deep pockets of water, which were obviously sources of hydration for wild animals as well as herds of cows.

The hunkering, hungry reptiles could just grab one of those thirsty suckers by the snout, which wasn't good business for cattle ranchers, so the crackers had to get the darn critters out of the way.

And that, my friends, is the origin of alligator wrestling. Cowboys didn't have to do that in the Wild West, did they?

Actually, that really wasn't the best part. The whip cracker guy was really hot. He spoke in a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth drawl and boy, he could talk gator. Impressive. They don't make men like that in Miami, do they? I might need to get me a cracker boy to whoop this city girl's ass in shape! Though that might be like Crocodile Dundee does the fetish club ... I don't know.

Anyway, that's all I'm going to say for now about Gatorpark -- enjoy the video!

PS ... do yourself a favor and call Gatorland's main phone line before 5 PM EST. If you don't laugh your ass off, you aint alive: 1-800-393-5297.

Special thanks to Tim Williams, Brandon, Donny and the rest of the warm and friendly park staff who helped make our visit such a rewarding day.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Book Review: Tantric Sex for Busy Couples


You're probably wondering why I'm reviewing a book for couples on a blog for single women, but knowing what you want from a potential sex life is important homework on the path to coupledom.

Though Tantric Sex for Busy Couples (Hunter House, 2009) is aimed mainly at heterosexual, established relationships, it's chock full of information that will help anyone -- gay or straight -- looking for skills in intimacy both inside and outside of the bedroom.

Diana Daffner, a certified sexologist and Tai Chi instructor living on the west coast of Florida, authored the book with contributions from her husband of 24 years, Richard Daffner, also a certified sexologist. The 212-page paperback offers step-by-step physical exercises based on Diana and Richard's daily practice, which has helped their relationship maintain a spark over the years.

The practice is informed by principles of Tai Chi and yoga, but you needn't be a martial artist or yogi to understand her clear and simple descriptions of these principles. In fact, the book is a great primer on chakras, energy centers, ying and yang and other concepts. Also, the exercises are extremely simple and require no major physical exertion.

This is not a pornographic book offering up 101 sexual positions, but rather a tastefully illustrated guidebook for couples looking to break down intimacy barriers on physical as well as spiritual levels. The exercises help couples communicate intimately with and without words.

This also isn't a book about quickies on the kitchen floor or sex focused exclusively on achieving orgasm (not that there's anything wrong with that kind of sex). It's about the tantric approach to sex, which is based on energy and opening of the heart, as well as exploring all emotions -- even uncomfortable ones.

Most people think of tantra as a wild, orgiastic sexual practice, but the truth is, it's really about connecting -- taking an ordinary act and making it sacred. And you can have intimacy on all levels, even without sex, which is one of the reasons why this is an interesting read for anyone interested in cultivating relationship skills.

I had a chance to speak with Diana over the phone in what ended up being a delightful conversation.

On the subject of whether to have sex with your eyes open or closed, Diana believes it's important to have different experiences with eye contact. "Senses are heightened with the eyes closed, but to be able to look outward and feel a connection inside, that is the training of tantra," she said. "Most people don't even look themselves in the eyes and that in itself is a tantric practice."

Here's where practicing tantra comes in handy, even if you're a single woman. One of the first exercises in Diana's book is called solo stillness, which you can practice with yourself, even without a partner. Solo stillness is literally about standing still, centering yourself, tuning into your body and creating a space where connection can occur. After all, if you are not connected with yourself, how do you expect to share yourself with another?

And then there's the next level: practicing solo stillness in front of a mirror, eyes wide open, which is a very intense tantric practice. "Connect with the one behind your own eyes," she explained. "Look back at yourself and see yourself. Acknowledge yourself. We expect this from others but not ourselves. Be accepting of your whole body."

This is not a narcissistic practice, but rather a way of shedding those fears and inner dialogues that keep us from feeling secure in the presence of a lover. The first level of intimacy we need to cultivate is a deeply personal one. Hush that mind. Forget about the freckles, wrinkles and folds of fat. Look deeply within, while looking out.

I highly recommend this book to any woman who is curious about developing intimacy either with her current partner or with a future lover. We can't expect some prince charming to sweep us off our feet and give us what we want if we haven't paid close attention to our own desires. Forget Cinderella and happily ever after. Love and intimacy requires work, and you don't have to wait until you're in a relationship to start taking what's sacred about love seriously.

Too many times, we gals seek validation in the arms of a man and that leaves us feeling empty. Tantra begins with you, before that man ever penetrates your body. Our pre-relationship homework here is to fearlessly explore what we're willing to share with someone else.

And besides, what happens after you meet prince charming and he stops rocking your world in bed? Falling in love can only take you so far. "The break up rate is high. People fall out of love," said Diana. "But there is a way to continually recreate that first rush of love. True tantra is accepting. Everything has the potential to be sacred."

Diana and Richard offer workshops and retreats in South Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. For more information, visit them at Intimacy Retreats: Tantra and the Art of Conscious Relationship.

Disclosure: Dear FTC, I was not paid to write this book review. I wrote it because I damn well felt like it. But like any professional writer, I did get a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher. Are you going to fine me? If so, please contact my attorney. Thanks, Maria.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Local: Beauty on the Beach

Postcard, c. 1940

You still have a few days left to catch the Wolfsonian Museum's Beauty on the Beach: A Centennial Celebration of Swimwear exhibit.

Located on the top floor, the exhibit adds to the museum's already rich collection of twentieth-century artifacts. The room is filled with actual swimsuits from the 1920s to the present, all from the archives of famous apparel manufacturer Jantzen. By far the most interesting is the oldest one -- a bathing costume knitted from heavy wool. It's a wonder women didn't drown in those darn things!

Swimming, as opposed to bathing, became popular just before the First World War. Posters, magazine covers, postcards, advertisements -- all which were designed to entice women to the water -- are on display. A short reel of vintage film clips complements the printed material.

The bathing suits, all lined up in a row in chronological progression, show how the shapes of women's silhouettes have changed in the last century. In the early years, freed from the constraints of Victorian dress, women were suddenly able to flex their muscles and expose their bodies in new ways. Fast forward to postwar 1950s and women became bombshells with hourglass bodies. And just ten years later, with the invention of Lycra, 1960s women sported a more natural, less exaggerated look.

As you browse the exhibit, think about what was going on in each decade of the last century. It's clear that the history of bathing suit design in America also reflected the history of women.

The exhibit made me think about how women dress in South Beach today. On the streets of the island, there's a very fine line between swimsuit and club dress. There's also a very big line between nudity and good taste.

But that's what we see outside. The Wolfsonian exhibit focuses more on design: how it was influenced by changes in attitudes as well as advances in manufacturing techniques and materials.

On the ground floor, the exhibit also features large framed black-and-white photographs by New York-based photographer Miles Ladin. Sun Stroke Stimulus asks the question "what does beauty on the beach look like here and now--on Miami Beach in 2009?"

The photos are humorous and playful, capturing just a few of so many South Beach bodies.

The brochure reads: "His intention is to reveal the unadulterated beauty and intensity of nature -- whether the beach or body-- as well as man's foibles and vulnerabilities."

Unadulterated? I find this quite ironic, considering that the aim of all things South Beach is to be nip, tucked and artificially enhanced -- even the buildings!

Food for thought.

The exhibit runs until October 11th. Visit the Wolfsonian for hours and directions. Plan on browsing the museum's permanent collection as well. It's always worth a look.

Sidenote: In the last couple of years, Miami Fever has masterfully documented women's street and beach wear.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ford Fiesta: Super Sombrero Man Tows Car Again!



Based on the success of our first crazy car-towing adventure, the relentless Brad decided to do it again, but this time as a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity, which as you may recall, we supported last month.

Join us next Sunday on Flagler Street downtown for the season's last Miami Bike Day. At noon, Brad will attempt to tow the car once again, this time even further! You can't miss us, as most of downtown will be closed to car traffic. We'll probably be somewhere under the Metrorail bridge on Flagler, next to Museum Plaza. Look for the magenta car with yellow flowers.

The amazing facts:

Fiesta Curb weight: 2250 lbs.
Sombrero Man: 210 lbs.

Brad is pulling a car over 10 times his weight!

Heh, that's not even including Maria's weight ... and you know how much her big Cuban ass has been discussed on this site!

Pulled last time: 2,561 feet .49 miles
The goal this time: 3,402 feet .64 miles

Pledge a penny to a quarter per foot of towing or more and whoever donates the most gets to sit next to yours truly in the passenger seat.

Heh, that's adding even more weight! Better yet, pledge your weight in dollars! The bigger you are, the better! Let's make Brad sweat!

Any donor, personal or business, of over $100 gets a sign on the car.
Any donor of $500 or more gets a sign on Brad!

All money raised goes directly to Habitat for Humanity.

Donate anything you want, or what the heck, just show up to cheer us on! If you can bring your bike and enjoy a nice ride downtown -- even better. Bike Day (9 am - 2 pm) is completely free! Come on down and join the street party, even if you don't have a bike.

To learn more about the event and to donate, visit Soul of Miami/Life is Art -- our faithful friends and supporting crew.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Heart? Liars Need Not Apply!

bed yellow wallpaperNo woman should ever feel like this in the morning.

Deep breath ...

I haven't hinted about my love life on Sex and the Beach in a long time, at least not since my last post in '06 about Mr. Thinks He's Huge, Fractured Mannequin.

There's a reason I created a persona, because I don't believe in airing out my dirty laundry and I highly respect the privacy of others. But sometimes, a story is just too good to be tucked away on some dusty shelf of memory. And besides, this is a single woman's guide to chronic living, isn't it? I owe it to my single gals out there.

So here ya go, ladies, fasten your seatbelts ...

THE AFFAIR

Unless you were literally born yesterday, the story I'm going to tell you is something you've heard before. Boy meets girl. Boy is a player. Boy lies. Boy uses girl.

Because you see, this story isn't just about how I met a man who was one adverb away from being a pathological liar, but also about how impossible the dream of real intimacy seems to me right now.

This man, who hailed from another city, came recommended by a friend. Everything was perfect: chemistry, personality, wit and intellect. We hit it off smashingly and couldn't wait to see each other again. He returned to Miami and after a wonderful time together, I came to find out he was still married; he'd hidden this fact brilliantly from the world, especially from my unsuspecting friend, a trusted person who would have never condoned such an affair.

But one morning, without even looking for proof of anything amiss, Twitter, Myspace, Youtube and Google lay it all out before me. All his seriously fucked up lies started to make sense. The manipulation and craft was brilliant. Earlier I mentioned the word player, but this guy was a top performer, worthy of an Oscar.

I'm not naive. I'm not a prude. I'm not a floozy. I'm not a doormat. I'm not a player. So how the fuck could something like this happen to me? It's embarrassing and humiliating to admit, but I have the courage to speak my mind, God damn it, as I always have. I am not gonna fucking lie: I was used. I hate it. And most importantly, I never deserved it.

Every single of my female readers knows EXACTLY how this feels. It sucks, but we have to own it and move on.

PIGEON HOLES ARE FOR PIGEONS, NOT REAL WOMEN

Being single gets old, folks, especially if you're in your 40s, never been married and childless. I'm tired of the jibes, the pressure and the jokes about being a cougar or a spinster. What? Because of my status and age I have to be either a penis-hunting whore or a zero to the left of plus one? Why can't I just be a regular Jane who wants some honest good lovin' and a decent man to grow old with?

Well, you know what? I'm not out to fuck younger men and I don't particularly care about signing a paper that means I get a break on taxes because there's a penis in my life. What I do care about is living an authentic life and sharing that with someone who is not a lying sack of shit.

I want love. I want intimacy. I want great sex. Why the hell not? And the only way to achieve that is with a man who not only doesn't lie, but also understands what it means to be authentic. This is not about the size of a man's penis, this is about the size of a man's heart.

Did he really think he could pull the wool over my eyes for much longer? This isn't the first time a married man has tried to get into my pants, but at least the others were honest and respectful of my boundaries.

What blows my mind is that my little sordid tale happens all the time ... and what does this say of relationships and intimacy in general? Seriously, on a very deep, human level, what does this say about trust, if even lovers can't trust each other?

The trust that two lovers share creates a chain reaction outside of the bedroom. The kind of disrespect I have experienced is profoundly disturbing not only because it affects me personally, but because it also reflects the state of humanity.

Of course, you bet your ass he didn't get away with squat. I called him on it privately. He gave me his bogus apologies. Whatever.

WHAT A WOMAN WANTS

Freud once asked: "what does a woman want?" That's simple, guys: a woman needs to be able to trust. Break that trust and you're also breaking her heart. Break her heart and she will never spread her legs the same way again with you, even if she fakes her orgasms.

In truth, I feel sorry for him. (Oh, and terribly sorry for his wife and whatever other women he has manipulated.) Tapping into my compassion, I've forgiven him on a human level, but as a woman, forget about it. I'm no sucker.

It's a good thing I found out so soon, before I got more tangled in his duplicity. I really thought I had done enough spiritual work to avoid manifesting an asshole like this, but I guess the universe had some unfinished business for me.

So like I said, ladies, this is a story you've heard before, but there's always room for more caveat emptor. Like chronic living, you can't exactly give up on loving, can you? But when it comes to dealing with men, be very honest with yourself about what you really want. Be on your guard, without being bitter. Open your heart, but don't play victim. Love takes courage, and as shitty as I felt the day I found out he was married, I'm still only joking when I say I'm going to star in the next edition of Golden Girls.

If not, you'll see me and my gray-haired cougar spinster divorcée goddesses living together in some house in West Palm Beach ten years from now. We'll be twittering about hot flashes, the best lube for our dried-out vaginas and tossing coins about who gets to fuck the poolboy.

But I haven't lost hope -- not yet.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ford Fiesta: Habitat for Humanity Team Build



Our August Ford Fiesta mission was probably the most rewarding one yet. Brad, Habitat for Humanity staff, a group of volunteers and myself met in Liberty City where we helped build a home for Nancy Bonise.

Nancy is a working mother of two boys and full-time student at FIU. On the day of our team build, she was already making the house her own by lending a hand in the construction process. It's only a matter of time before she can move in and turn it into a cozy home.

"The boys can't believe they're each getting a room of their own," she said laughing. "They're going to have to get used to so much space. They'll even have a yard that they can play in."

The home itself was a lot nicer than I thought it would be. Located next to a vacant lot, the spacious three-bedroom, one-bath property was already landscaped but still not wired for electricity or ready for kitchen appliances.

I recruited a couple of volunteers on Twitter, including TheTinyJewelBox, but also met a few great folks at Electric Pickle during a Miami New Times tweetup in July who were more than eager to join. Most of these tireless volunteers spent the hot, sweaty summer day hammering away on the roof. Others painted and spackled, while still others helped install closet shelves and doors. A project foreman instructed all of us on what to do.

In attendance were also other future Habitat homeowners. Part of their payment, in addition to a low-cost mortgage, is contributing volunteer hours for "sweat equity." The Habitat for Humanity model is really quite perfect. Most people might think the organization gives homes away for free, but that's not the case. Mortgage payments, which are based on the owner's income at the time of application, go towards the organization and building of more homes. With a low-cost mortgage, any financial prosperity a family enjoys can help with other important expenses in life, like college educations.

In this era of crazy foreclosure numbers, the whole thing is kind of ironic. Most people, actually -- not just impoverished folks -- could really use help with housing. And I want to emphasize again that Habitat for Humanity homeowners are hard working people. They're just buying a decent home at a very reasonable cost, which is something they would otherwise never be able to do without getting in over their heads under some crappy loan terms. And in this entire process, they're also giving back to others who will someday need the same break.

Prior to the team build day, I had toured a completed Habitat for Humanity neighborhood in Liberty City called Scott Carver. Each house looked different and displayed its owner's particular curb style, so it wasn't exactly cookie-cutter. It was simply amazing to see what can rise out of an otherwise vacant piece of land in a run-down part of Miami. It's not just homes that are being built, but better lives and the opportunity for dreams to come true.

GET INVOLVED

On the team build day, Brad and I handed Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami a $500 gift on behalf of the Ford Fiesta movement.

The organization can always use cash contributions, but giving of your time and labor is probably one of the most rewarding things you can do -- you're literally making Miami-Dade a better place to live for your neighbors. I strongly encourage everyone to get involved. One great way to do so is to contribute cash and volunteer hours as a corporate team.

Some of the Fiesta movement volunteers loved the work so much, they went back the following week to help finish the roof! I want to thank all of you who volunteered with the Ford Fiesta team. You guys rock!

Follow Habitat for Humanity Miami on Twitter and visit Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami for more information.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Back to Miami, Part 3: The Greyhound Experience

A retrospective series on how I missed my trip to San Francisco and found my way back to Miami from Atlanta, traveling as a single woman alone, using only public transportation to visit friends and do some backyard tourism in Florida.

greyhound busPhoto courtesy of germeister on Flickr. Yeah, my trip did make me think about Midnight Cowboy's Miami ending.

It certainly is ironic to have lunch at the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta, followed by a six-hour trip to Tallahassee on a Greyhound Bus, but life is rich in so many ways, isn't it?

Other than private tours, I had never taken a bus in my life, ever. Nowhere. Not in Miami and not even in Europe. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but in my mind I thought it'd be very riff-raff with supersize me people watching Jerry Springer on TV. (Oh gosh, that was just awful for me to say, wasn't it?) But in reality, it wasn't bad. After my experience at Atlanta-Hartsfield, taking a bus to my future destinations was actually more relaxing than the crowded cluster fuck that is a major metropolitan airport.

Yeah, it's the way po' folk travel in this country, but so what?

Seriously. Seats are no more tighter than your usual coach cabin, which is a can of sardines as far as I'm concerned. And though my bus rides were longer than flights, it was no more tedious than an airplane and at least we never had to deal with turbulence. Also, I couldn't say I missed the subpar customer service of airports these days. Bus travel had no frills, but heck, for the price, at least what I saw is what I got and I didn't have to deal with all the homeland security bullshit. I guess Greyhounds aren't prime targets for terrorists.

And it's quiet -- God bless America shhhhh! like the last refrain of Amazing Grace -- quiet. On one leg of my trip there was a baby on the bus that didn't even cry.

The drivers were great too. The first one, a brickhouse black woman whom even Mr. T wouldn't mess with, gave us a polite school marm schpiel that basically translated as: "No noise, no loud talking, no funny business, no bullshit, no cellphones, no booze, no hanky panky. Shut the fuck up and let me get you to your destination safely." Wouldn't it be awesome if this was part of a flight attendant safety routine?

The drive, which included stops at wayward bus stations I would've never seen, was quite peaceful. I enjoyed just going with the flow and observing everything that was not Miami.

And not having wifi or a internet access on my cellphone? I guess it was actually a good thing. It gave me time to stop and think, to sit with myself, to meditate on the bus, gather my creative energy, before I could write a little again. It forced me to be patient. It made me be in the moment. And that's what this trip was all about, really -- just being in the moment.

Plus, I met some really interesting folks.

One guy, a Latino Jesus freak who didn't speak a lick of English, was on his way to a Sarasota religious meetup. He tried to hook me. He so insisted on getting my phone number to convert my sinful ass, I thought he should be teaching pick up techniques in South Beach rather than preaching the good word of the Lord. And I thank God for this exercise, because I have never gotten rid of such a well-meaning leech in such a polite way. Sorry, amigo, but there was no fucking way I was going to give you my phone number! And good call on squeezing next to my seat after nightfall when the lights were out.

The passenger behind me on the way to Atlanta was a beautiful, plus-sized woman in her mid-thirties who was so big, she needed her own two seats. She had, however, the face and gaze of an angel. At first, I thought she was obnoxious because she kept on talking about taking percocet. But when I heard her story, I understood why. She had legitimate health issues and had been on a bus for 68 hours, coming from North Dakota, trying to start a new life with her relatives on the gulf coast after a horrific and ridiculously unjust custody battle with her ex. She opened up to me like rain in Miami thunderstorm. I do hope she gets her daughter back and God bless.

I took advantage of the $5 priority seating at each of my stops, which no, didn't mean I had saved up for my Greyhound lifestyle to get mimosas and warm hand wipes before departure. It meant I got first dibs for seats at the front of the bus. I was genuinely worried I'd end up sitting next to some smelly creep, so this was good. I know it sounds really snooty, but trust me, just like air travel, why wouldn't you pick the most comfortable seats if you could -- for only an extra five bucks?

Each leg of my tour cost less then $40, so my total Atlanta to Tallahassee and Tallahassee to Daytona bus adventure was less than $100.

I had a three-hour layover in Jacksonville on my way from Tallahassee to Daytona because the bus we were supposed to take had broken down. This was no worse, however, than being stuck at a friggin' airport. In fact, Greyhound gave us some meal vouchers for the station cafeteria.

The only drawback for the single woman traveler here is that bus stations can be in the skankiest parts of town -- you need a plan B if you get stuck. But in Tallahassee, for example, the station is right next to the local bus station and mere blocks from the capitol, close to hotels. This was a blessing, because my friend, the general manager of The Governor's Inn, had arranged for me to stay there upon my arrival. The streets of Tallahassee were dark but I only had to walk four blocks to the cobble-stoned and quaint street, where an open pub awaited me for refreshment.

Ditto in Jacksonville. You're right next to the city's above-ground rail system. And thankfully, when I thought I'd need to spend the night over in Jax if the bus didn't come, there were brochures for a concierge service I could call for orientation and hotel recommendations. We don't have anything like that in Miami, which is crazy, right? Why doesn't Miami have uniformed city ambassadors like they do in Atlanta and Jacksonville?

But yeah ... when I finally made it to Daytona near 11 pm, I ended up at a very unsavory part of town and God forbid I would've ended up staying there alone. Some stations close at night, even though buses make stops at them after hours. These stations are utterly deserted except for a few homeless people sleeping on the pavement and other sketchy characters. This wasn't pretty, gals. While I would totally do the Greyhound thing again, you really have to watch your ass if you're traveling alone, especially at night.

In Daytona, there were taxis there waiting for passengers, but my friend Doug from Miami Beach 411 -- who generously welcomed me to his home in Deland for a couple of days -- picked me up right away.

For the rest of my trip, I depended on the kindness of friends to pick me up or drop me off at Amtrak, tri-rail and only had to take a taxi once. I can assuredly say I made it from Atlanta to Miami without flying and without my own car. More on that later.

Next up: lazy days in Tallahassee, Deland and Fort Lauderdale.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Ladies Night: Marlins Baseball and Hot Firefighters OH MY!



Last Friday I attended the Florida Marlins Baseball Ladies Night. Now, y'all haven't ever known me to be a sports fan, have ya? But it just so happened that the hunks from the South Florida Firefighters Calendar were going to be there, so I figured this was one case where the NOL (National Ogling League) could support a spectator sport.

And you know what? I really actually enjoyed myself and could totally get into going to a baseball game again. Me, who had only been to one baseball game ever, and in that isolated case there was a lot of beer involved!

Kudos to the Marlins for hitting it out of the ballpark with this one. First of all, for 40 bucks per person (plus $10 parking per car) ladies get their own exclusive happy hour, which includes a free drink, DJ, chance at a raffle prize and more -- all at the club level, which is pretty swanky and air conditioned. Let's just say it doesn't smell like popcorn and stale piss up there. Seats are at the bullpen at the lower level, but that's fine too, just no a/c or Smirnoff.

Obviously there have to be vendors and at this particular event, some of them were particularly groovy. I met Yesenia Vargas, a fabulous makeup artist and some teachers from Elemental Studios, a pole dancing fitness outfit in Broward.

Marlins players made an appearance to say hello and so did the Manatees, an all-male dance revue team. The Marlins Mermaids may be cute, but these guys are something else! Even though they're just "regular" guys with day jobs and beer bellies, they can sure bust some serious hip hop dance moves on the field. Later, I was able to confirm this with my own eyes and ears.

THE FIREFIGHTERS

Holy shit. A great example here of why the term "firefighter" is extremely ironic. These two might start a few under some skirts if you know what I mean.

As you can imagine, though, the big estrogen-inducing moment was the appearance of the firefighters, which was a special treat for this particular Marlins Ladies Night.

In true Miami style, the DJ announced the boys with reggaeton pounding in the background. As each calendar boy strutted in and ripped off his shirt, the ladies swooned in hysterics. The last time I saw women acting like that, I was at La Bare on 163rd street, had vodka shots spilled all over my cleavage and needed lots of change for a Benjamin. (If you can't guess what La Bare is, you shouldn't be reading this blog.)

And who can blame these women for having paroxysms of pleasure? Jesus Mary Holy Mother of God, I have never, ever in my life seen such a collection of amazingly sculptural male bodies in one place. They are true works of art, worthy of beholding and eliciting the most sacred of feminine secretions. Seriously. I went to Milan and saw the Statue of David in person. Sorry, Da Vinci, but that boy is a sissy compared to these guys. These firefighters whoop David's ass!

No, really. I swear. You won't find hotter men than these in South Florida. Not even at Score night club on Lincoln Road, which, after the Amoco gas station, is the next best place in South Beach to grab a six pack before midnight.

CARITAS IS SEXY!

But you know what? It really isn't all about looks. (And by the way, they did keep their pants on. They were perfect gentleman.)

The firefighters in the calendar volunteer for the effort and are honestly passionate about the causes they support, which include: Here's Help, a substance abuse treatment program for teens and young adults; Local 10 Care Force, which is an all-purpose community outreach effort for families in need; Safe Haven, which helps desperate parents drop off unwanted babies, no questions asked; Habitat for Humanity; and more.

Ladies, do yourself a BIG favor and go visit these guys at one of many calendar signings coming up locally. For $16 you can get yourself some cheap eye candy of the highest photographic quality. You can also meet and greet the hotties up close and personal.

Believe me, this was so much better than meeting Ron Jeremy at Exxxotica. You can feel good about the whole thing because you're supporting some truly great causes and getting some awesome titillation at the same time. Do you think your boyfriends are doing such good work whenever they jerk off to a titty mag on the john? I DON'T THINK SO!

OH YEAH, REMEMBER THERE WAS A BASEBALL GAME GOING ON?

Club Level was kinda empty. Better than the nosebleed section though.

But back to baseball. Yes, baseball actually happened! The Marlins played the San Diego Padres and the Marlins lost. The stadium was pretty empty, which is kind of sad. It was a Friday night in August and in spite of that, the weather was pleasant.

Nevertheless, I was really surprised to see the variety of women at this Ladies Night shindig. There were young girls, teens, adults and even some grandmas. Mothers and daughters. Nieces and aunts. Women of all ages. It was a great gathering of gals.

One group told me they'd left their husbands at home because this was their special night at the ball game. And one particular fan, a young woman in her twenties -- wearing a t-shirt with every Marlins player's name handwritten on it -- told me she just loved the game and that this was a great chance to hang with her home girls. They come to as many games they can with half a dozen big homemade cheering signs in tow.

Most of the Ladies Nights gals -- at least those who didn't have season tickets -- ended up sitting behind the bull pen on the lower level, as per ticket requirements. Because I was on a media pass, I got to hang around club level, but I eventually moseyed on down there. Sadly, though, as I mentioned above, the stadium was so empty, I think I could've sat just about anywhere I pleased.

FOREPLAY JUST AS GOOD AS THIRD BASE

I did spend some time cracking jokes on twitter about baseball and sex. They ran on an order like this:

"Damn those outfielders have such a good grip on the balls it's like Velcro sex."

"Baseball is a lot like sex you only know something is happening if you look up after there's yelling or moaning."

But here was the best one:

"If sex were as slow as baseball lots of women would be really happy."

To which, my twitter buddy @joelkodner replied:


"And if getting it was as easy as getting Marlins tickets, lots of men would be happy."

Yes, baseball is really slow. A lot of twittering can happen if you're sort of hanging out by yourself. But sitting on the lower level was fun. I enjoyed the energy of people around me, which was guys and gals and kids all getting into the game. It says something that I, who didn't really know squat about baseball, actually paid attention. I found the experience very relaxing and can see doing this with some gal pals surely more than once a season.

As for food, well, after ordering a $16 cocktail, I asked the bartender where the best hot dog was and she looked at me funny.

"Do you like yourself?" she asked.

"That bad, huh?" I asked in return.

"It's skinny and little," she said, scowling, lifting her pinky up to her mouth.

"Geez," I replied. "I don't like my men that way."

"Neither do I," she concurred.

God. I love honesty.

But on the way back home, inspired by Carlos Miller and Burger Beast, I stopped at Royal Castle and got three sliders for three bucks; they satisfied the craving for some greasy ball park type food. Mind you, I don't recommend for a Cuban American honky princess like myself to hang out here late at night. There were so many pawn shops on 27th avenue I could've sold my vagina in Broward and gotten it back fifteen minutes later by Dade.

But heck I really wanted those damn sliders so there you go. Those sliders were so damn good and hit the spot. Fires weren't put out, but you know, they sorta hit the spot that gets hit when you don't hit the spot. Every woman in the world knows exactly what I mean.

Northwest 27th Avenue is a great way to go, by the way. Forget the turnpike. This was fast and had no tolls.

I want to thank the Marlins for a great night at the ballgame. Don't be surprised if you catch me at the stadium again soon. And ladies, don't knock the sport, just because you haven't tried it. Unlike crazy adrenalin-pumping football games, baseball gives you the time to sit back and relax, even if you're not into sports. You might actually find yourself amazed by what's going on in the field.

And really, if you're going to see any guys playing the proverbial field, this is the way to go.