Thu, Jan 28, 2010
Jeremy Glazer is a legislative analyst, a former high school teacher, and that rare breed– a Miami native. He identifies himself as a “future hall-of-famer” on his phone message, but he says he hasn’t decided yet which hall of fame, or what his achievement will be. He recently finished his first novel.
He came across our radar last year as the winner in the Amateur category of Under the Sun’s unpublished writers competition, with his story Home. We’re fortunate to have another contribution from Glazer this month– one that highlights the shifting character of the city.
I had just finished swimming in the ocean and was walking back over the dunes when I saw a couple ambling towards me. As soon as I spotted them, I knew the peace of my morning was over.“Could you take our picture, please, sir?”
You wouldn’t believe how often I get this. Even when I’m walking down a crowded street with a group of friends, I’m the one who gets stopped. Either I have a trustworthy face, or somehow I look like a native. I usually pretend I can’t speak English. But I couldn’t really blame these two for picking me— I was the only other person on the beach.
I come as early as I can on weekend mornings so it’s just me and the pelicans and a pack or two of kids stumbling off their hangovers. The light is magic at that time, when the sun is first up. It’s like the water has been turned on before the land, and the ocean is glowing while the shore remains in shadow. The world is divided.
These mornings remind me of what South Beach was like when I was kid. My family would come every Saturday. We’d park on Ocean Drive in front of decrepit buildings with decrepit senior citizens on their porches. Back then it was called ‘God’s waiting room.’
I keep a picture in my wallet from that time. It’s a shot of my family standing on the beach. We’re in the sand, in front of some palm trees with crumbling hotels behind us. The soft pink of the early-morning lights our faces, but the buildings behind remain in darkness. We look like we are glowing.
There’s one copy of the picture left. Since I’m the only one in my family still in Miami, I think it’s rightly mine. I carry it around because it reminds me of what this place used to feel like before it became so popular. Back before there were tourists like these two.
The couple walking toward me wore the standard tourist uniform: khaki shorts, uncomfortable sandals, shirts tucked in. In a place where everyone is trying to seem like something they aren’t, the honesty of their costume was touching.
I felt sorry for them. Sorry enough to agree to take their picture.
“Can we get it next to a palm tree, with some of the hotel signs behind us?” the woman asked, pointing to a particularly dense pack of neon. “It’ll look just like a postcard.”
They definitely felt small town, so I figured I’d have a little fun.
I said “Are you sure you want to hand me your camera? I might just run off,”
The woman suddenly seemed nervous and I felt bad.
“I’m just kidding,” I said.
She looked reassured and gave me the camera. I put my beach bag and towel down and stepped back to take the picture. When I looked through the lens, it reminded me of the family picture I carried around. The couple smiled and struck the uncomfortable-looking pose they all get—arching their backs a little, a hand on the palm tree as if they were pushing it away, awkward smiles, heads turned slightly to emphasize whichever side someone once told them looked good.
God I hate tourists.
I pressed the button to take the picture, but nothing happened. I tried again. They were so patient, standing stock still, and I realized the camera wasn’t on. I fumbled with it for a minute, but after several tries, I couldn’t get it to work. They broke their pose and walked over to me. The woman reached for the camera and tried to turn it on. The guy walked closer to the ocean.
“Look, honey,” he called out. “Isn’t that beautiful?”
Neither the woman or I could get the camera working.
“Batteries must be dead,” I told them.
There was silence for a second and they turned and looked at each other. They seemed so sad that I figured I should help out.
“Just walk down this street and you’ll see a CVS where you can get some.”
“We’ll just get ‘em downtown,” the man said. “We’re on our way to catch the bus there for some shopping.”
I couldn’t let that go. Downtown Miami on the weekends is a ghost town. I asked what they were looking to buy and they told me they wanted to go to a mall.
They said their hometown didn’t have big stores and they were looking for something fancy like Macy’s.
“You guys should go to Dadeland,” I said. “That will have everything you’re looking for. Just take the bus downtown and then transfer to the train going south. It ends right at the mall. Ask the busdriver, they’ll tell you how.”
“You must be a native,” the man said.
“Yeah” I replied. “I get that a lot.”
But this time, I didn’t mind. It even made me a little proud. And it softened me up.
“You know what,” I said, “while you’re at Dadeland, get some barbecue at Shorty’s. Right across from the train station. Classic Miami. And when you get back to the beach, try Tap-Tap for dinner. Cheap, good Haitian food—chicken, fish, rice and beans. You’ll like it.”
“Thanks,” the woman said. “You’re like the Miami ambassador.”
“One more thing. There’s a real Cuban place, Puerto Sagua, on 7th and Collins. It’s where the locals go. Try it. I hope you enjoy your stay,” I said.
And I really meant it. As they walked off I watched for a minute like a proud father. The woman turned around after about fifty yards, and waved.
I started home and thought about walking these same streets with my family on those Saturday mornings. They were all gone now, tired of Miami. Tired of the traffic, the constant change, the corruption, the perpetual fight not to get ripped off.
I crossed the street and went in to Puerto Sagua. It was the first place I had ever tasted Cuban coffee when I was little and it was still a part of my morning ritual. I sat at the counter, nodded at the familiar cashier, and ordered a cafe con leche. I looked around at the faces. They might as well have been the same people sitting there since I was a kid. Even here with all the change, things do become familiar. Maybe that’s what being a native means.
I finished the coffee and reached in my bag to get my wallet to pay, but it was gone.
It took me a minute, but then I knew what had happened. Camera with no batteries, just enough confusion to get me to forget about my beachbag for a minute. Did I really just fall for that?
I thought back to the couple. Their perfect tourist uniforms, their wide-eyed wonder. Now I hated them. I hated that they had fooled me. I hated that I was going to have to blow my Saturday reversing the damage of a stolen wallet.
The cashier noticed me rummaging through my bag.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Next time pay for two.”
I shrugged a thank you. I was too embarrassed to explain. And then I remembered the one thing I was not going to be able to replace from my wallet–the old family picture.
Now it was going to be even harder for me to remember how this place used to feel.
You can contact Jeremy Glazer at firstname.lastname@example.org.