Miami: A Trip Back South
Updated: Apr 3, 2020
Note: This post was originally written March 12, 2020.
Nestled among the palm trees, in between the causeways and along the shoreline. Cliches play themselves in the most delectable and obvious manners. A pair of young mothers smother their babe in sunblock until she is lacquered white, all while she plays carefree along the sand. All the common offenders struggle to get my attention in what is an unusually quiet and empty stroll down ocean drive.
The bodies are still there, playing in the outdoor gyms, raising themselves above the bars. Rollerblading, bikini shapes have changed but their chiseled bodies are just as I remember them. Troves of Latin groups all walk in clumps creating a cacophony that is both familiar and ear shirking as they raise their voice above everyone else within the group. The ‘remaining’ tourists try their best to take selfies along the landmarks. Finally, those who are clearly unaware of the hysteric calamity outside their realms, continue to live their best unexamined lives during their spring break. So much remains the same and yet after returning for the first time in over a decade, the sights appear more like blurry memories than clear landmarks of a time gone by.
I was 20 the first time I walked along the boulevard on Ocean drive, one can describe the scene as a bit more raw and unintended. I was a lot more raw and unintended. Long were the days of the area being the seediest most unwelcome spot along the shore, filled with all the vices that still remain, but at that time without the glossed pastel covers of the buildings that over the years have become one by one an empty shell of what it once was. There was a sense of excitement and hope, the future was bright.
I remember walking along Lincoln road, taking in the buildings. Art galleries lined up the streets among cafes. I remember the Lincoln theater, which is now an H&M. Today, it’s architectural character competes with bins of clearance items filled with t-shirts and socks, I purchase some. The entire area has become an outdoor shopping center, one that also functions as an art walk, perhaps it always was.
Sprinkled along the street, Botero’s sculptures stand voluptuous and proud, the perfect counterpart to the body shaming message all the shops promote in the hopes of a sale.
Body image has always been a part of the culture of Miami, it is the beach (the gay beach) after all. Yet, the message has evolved into a new, more intrusive, insidious and self-conscious iteration.
At the Equinox gym on Collins Ave, a billboard with two muscled yet extremely lean men reads ‘Make yourself a gift to the world.’ Chain stores now line every corner of both Collins, Lincoln and its adjacent streets. I couldn’t find the clubs I used to go to, even if I tried. Gentrification went wrong some may argue. There is a sense of nostalgia, something has been lost. Even if what replaced it, doesn’t seem to be any more questionable than what was there before.
From outside the idyllic key, the news permeates into everyone’s devices and in conversations along the streets, at bars, even front desks now lined up with sanitizer and wipes. Conversations all center about the ‘threat’ that we face and who is at fault for our feeling of helplessness and uncertainty. The US has hardly been hit by this impending, still distant and confusing calamity, yet everyone already has a causality from the first pandemic of the 2020s. Some complain about job security and cutbacks, others are just upset about the lack of toilet paper. As for myself, I continue to grieve the loss of the chance to take my mother abroad on what was supposed to be a once in a lifetime trip to Italy, Austria, and France, the irony is real.
A common sense of optimism or denial seems to be a running theme. It will all be over soon, we’ll get there in no time. It’s all a hoax, it’s just the flu. So many confusing messages, so many insidious ‘paper cuts’ of uncertainty that leave me as confused and assaulted as when I walked down memory lane on Ocean drive, What the fuck happened?
My mom sleeps next to me on the beach, and I can’t help to tie it all together. I left home to come here over a decade ago, I was escaping the threat of becoming dull, to die inside. It’s been the first time in that tenure that we have reconnected for an extended period of time, it’s both coming home and to the past. I can hardly recognize her and our relationship sometimes, just as I can hardly recognize what South Beach has become. In full circle, I find myself back into the past, at the bridge of where it all started, this time with an impending somewhat confusing threat lurking outside the white sand shores into the future, not from the past.