The ins and outs of driving to Miami

Savannah Morning News Sunday column

Sun., Oct. 18, 2015

Planning on driving to Miami, are you?

Want the good news first or the bad?

Too late. Here’s the bad news: Everything will be fine for the first eight hours. You’ll cruise along, la la la, deep into your book on tape. (We were listening to “The Girl on the Train,” which, I’m not sure how this happened, we finished four days later just as we pulled up to our Savannah house). Everything off the highway looks like a strip mall. (If you’re lucky you might find a vendor with fresh fruit and/or veggie smoothies.) You’ll pass some 900 new palm trees held in place by stakes, probably planted by the state of Florida after some earlier boneheaded administration okayed the request by a developer to remove the original 900 palm trees before thinking, “Hey, palm trees might look good here; let’s plant some.” You’ll see a hill and think for a minute maybe you took a wrong turn because Florida is so flat, but then you’ll see the buzzards and realize it’s not a hill but a beautifully landscaped landfill.

You’ll believe your GPS. “In three miles, take the first right turn; destination is ahead” and think, “That wasn’t such a bad drive.” Then you realize someone in the computing cloud world didn’t get the message. Someone in the front office didn’t know that three lanes of traffic on I-95 were about to merge into one. The exit you’ve been looking for is closed so you have to follow a series of detour signs. These detour signs put you close to 79th street, somewhere west of Biscayne Blvd., except you want to be on the east side. Later on you learn this is Liberty City. “Don’t go there,” your friend Julio says. But you’re already there and the GPS is stumped (“Make a u-turn. You’re in unverified territory”). You turn to your brain to find the numbered street you need. With steam coming out of both ears you sputter, “How do people live this way?”

You kind of wonder the same thing the next day when bingo you find a perfect parking spot in front of the Rubell Family Collection in Wynwood where you’re going to see some cool contemporary art. But that’s before you look up and read the fine print on the sign. Miami, oh-so-au-courant, is all about a cashless, mobile PayByPhone system. In Miami there are no meter maids to beg, cajole, implore. There are no meters. In Miami, you buy your time on line. God help you if you don’t have a smartphone. The system even texts to remind you your time is almost up and do you want to put some more money on your credit card?

We follow the prompts, lock up the car, and walk past the coolest, most outrageous walls of graffiti in the world only to see the museum is closed for the day. Errgh.

By this time we’ve moved into the good news column, starting and maybe ending with the air. It hits the minute you leave your car, the perfumed, fragrant, unmistakable smell of South Florida. It’s ambrosia. The street is quiet so you walk a ways to stretch your legs. But you are careful. You look where you are going. Otherwise you might trip on a pair of coconuts, a frangipani limb (with blooms) or a cluster of tough seagrape leaves. They litter the street. Then you walk up to a sweet Airbnb offered by a young couple trying to make a few bucks. The following day they will text to make sure everything is all right. How many times does someone from a hotel do that? By then you’ve seen papaya fruit and starfruit on a neighbor’s tree. You’ve heard a rooster. You’ve passed a bush of fragrant Cuban oregano and some bushy cranberry hibiscus, which I just happened to snag in our fall plant swap.

By this time you’ve had a shot of Cuban coffee and a sweet plantain omelet at Enriqueta’s, one of a million Cuban restaurants to choose from. You’ve found your way down Biscayne Blvd., to Magnum, an epic piano bar and restaurant, all red and black with cushy booths, subtle servers and a singer who must have retired in Miami after Broadway days in New York. It was in the bar, listening to songs like “Mr. Sandman,” “What’s New Pussycat?” and “Whatever Lola Wants Lola Gets” that I started thinking about my grandparents, long gone, who would drive on the tiniest of roads from Michigan to Miami Beach with my mother and her four siblings in the car. Must have taken forever. Next time I think I’ll go that route.





Of chicken pot pie, pastrami and turnips


Savannah Morning News Sunday column

Nov. 1, 2015

These days everyone seems to have a crime story – and an opinion about the city election (is it over yet?). Wait until we get to the presidential election. There is a lot to complain about. For starters there’s the dominance of the watery and tasteless turnip on the local food scene. It’s ridiculous. How many can you eat already without going to great lengths, like caramelizing them, then adding capers, lemon and parsley?

Our troubles continue. The washing machine we thought we fixed is on the fritz, again (it wants to leave random streaks on our whites), last week’s high tides and rain (not related, by the way) covered the road to Tybee, killed plants and interrupted what was to have been a glorious high tide kayak paddle off the coast of the continent.

Innocently, I forgot to bring a blanket to sit – brrr, is this supposed to be the North Pole? – In the neighborhood Starbuck’s, where I go to read the New York Times and dunk biscotti so I sat and listened to my teeth chatter. In other neighborhood news, our local Whole Foods, which charged into town on a white horse and was to change everyone’s lives, said they couldn’t consider selling the New York Times or the Savannah Morning News until “corporate and all the other stores in the chain agree.”

Erggh. Enough already. Unless you count the news from a friend in New York who writes she couldn’t send me any pickled garlic because the “guy from Sahadi’s told her they will go bad out of the fridge. Really? Pickles?? Do you believe him, Jane?”

The good news is Brighter Day Natural Foods (“not a chain but a link to the community”) celebrated its 37th birthday, bless their steady little hearts. Later in the week I rediscovered the beauty of acorn squash when I bought one off the Farm Truck 912 – and Asian pear, yummers, both underappreciated, misunderstood and locally grown. Good to know. Plus someone brought me back a sea salt/dark chocolate bar from the Georgia Aquarium.

But good news, scattered here and there, is elusive.

The day after I went to the Jewish Food Festival and brought home my annual pastrami sandwich (pastrami: kind of like corned beef but smoked and spicy) on really good rye bread (it was very tasty but with a fraction of the meat you get at, say, the Stage Deli in West Bloomfield Hills, Mi.; still I had some great mustard at home), some big pumpkin came out with the connection between meat and cancer. Like we didn’t already have our suspicions? Seriously, people, this is supposed to be big news? Can we talk about all the junk food that abounds, i.e. fake cheese, a large chocolate Oreo health shake, potatoes fried in oil that is darker than night?

(But please, please don’t take away the chicken pot pie I secretly and silently buy – and eat, without leaving the premises – at the Parker’s #31 in Ellabell, Ga., and please, Mr. Parker, please don’t ever broadcast the calories in this “delicacy.” We – I – don’t want to know, ok?)

We already know the culprit of all our miseries. PS, it’s not the word “core,” my absolute least favorite word of the decade, second only behind kegel, as in exercises, something women are supposed to be doing (it has to do with pelvic muscles. There are instructions and diagrams on the Internet if you are in the dark about this absolute must bit of knowledge. Really? Do I have to?).

No, the culprit, and I’m only serious here, is social media. Yes, we get to see the latest videos and antics of our favorite children. We get to read about Ben Affleck. We get to see photographs of the World’s Oldest Trees. But if we have any tendencies toward obsession we also get to read whole threads of “conversations” between people who are not fact checking, not framing the conversation, not holding back anything in the way of fear and fear-mongering. Yes, there is crime. Yes, there are idiots out there, both on the block and running for President.

But keeping your nose in the screen will keep you from going out of the house.

At the Jewish Food Festival a woman stopped at our little clutch of people to ask for the translation of a bit of Hebrew that accompanied some jewelry she bought. After discussion (and consultation on the screen), we decided it meant, “May you go in peace and return in peace.”

Or did it say, “Eat your turnips”?