My Miami: Broiled dolphin and palmetto bugs

December 13, 2005

Penn State alumnus Paul Levine provides this personal guide to South Florida and the Orange Bowl. A lawyer, novelist and screenwriter, Levine is the author of "Solomon vs. Lord," a legal thriller set in Miami. For details, check http://live.psu.edu/story/14167 online.

By Paul Levine

First, the good news from Miami. Hurricane season is over. The crime rate is down. And palmetto bugs don't bite.

Now the weird news. There are no sharks in Shark Valley. The morgue is on Bob Hope Road. And vultures endlessly circle the courthouse. No, not lawyers in Porsches. Real vultures with five-foot wingspans.

This is a place where the county commission once named a street after a major drug smuggler and the chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce had her Uzi stolen from a bedroom night stand. Okay, I confess. As a writer of crime fiction, I see Miami through tinted lenses. But having lived there 30 years, South Florida no longer seems exotic.

So let's de-mythologize the place. Take away the palm trees, the ocean, the chatter of foreign languages, you've got, well ... Shamokin. Still, you may need some tips for your upcoming trip to the Orange Bowl. (Excuse me, the Fed Ex Orange Bowl. Not to be confused with the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the San Diego Credit Union Bowl, or the Vitalis Sun Bowl).

NEWS FLASH: There's no more Orange Bowl Parade. Okay, that's three years old, but Penn State hasn't been to the O.B. in two decades, so maybe it's news to you. On Penn State's four previous Orange Bowl trips, the Blue Band marched on Biscayne Boulevard on New Year's Eve. Thankfully, the alternative event, the King Mango Strut, still sashays on. (Check http://www.kingmangostrut.org for details.) Organized by the offbeat citizens of Coconut Grove, the strut's theme in the year of Katrina, Rita, Wilma, et al is "One Disaster After Another." No John Philip Sousa, but the Mango Singers will warble their rendition of "FEMA." Sung to the tune of "Feelings," the ditty begins, "FEMA ... where the h*** is FEMA?"

LEGAL NEWS: By local ordinance, it is necessary to mention the name "Shaquille O'Neal" at least three times in every newspaper story.

HOTEL TIP: You call the front desk to report your bathroom is filled with cockroaches the size of Shaquille O'Neal's sneakers. The desk clerk replies: "Those are palmetto bugs, sir, and they won't bite."

LOCAL COLOR: Recently, a Miami Herald headline proclaimed: "Surfer Punches Shark, Rescues Girl."

MORE ABOUT SHARKS (or the lack thereof): Shark Valley is part of Everglades National Park. Take the educational 15-mile, two-hour tram tour through an honest-to-goodness Everglades slough packed with alligators, snakes and birds of every hue. Make reservations by calling (305) 221-8455. Shark Valley is a one hour drive due west of Miami on Route 41 (Tamiami Trail), which brings us to ...

TRAFFIC: A word about South Florida highways ... YIKES! I now live in Los Angeles, and the traffic in Miami is worse, if only because more drivers are armed. True story. When driving to the airport for the move west, here's the last bumper sticker I saw on the Miami Dolphin Expressway: "Honk if you've never seen a .44 Magnum fired through a car window." The first bumper sticker I saw in Los Angeles: "Ban Fur." Then, there are Mia-muh's lousy drivers. Dave Barry, my former next-door neighbor in Coral Gables, insists that everyone in Miami abides by the traffic laws ... but unfortunately, the traffic laws of their countries of origin.

THE MORGUE: As for the Miami-Dade County morgue on Bob Hope Road, "CSI-Miami" is not filmed there. The interior scenes are shot on sets in the Los Angeles area, while certain exteriors are filmed on location around South Florida.

DINING TIPS: If that last item whetted your appetite, let's talk about restaurants. Everyone knows about Joe's Stone Crab on Miami Beach. Then there's Norman's in Coral Gables, known for its innovative "Floribbean" fare. Or Mark Militello's high-end "New American" restaurants, stretching from West Palm Beach to South Beach. Likewise, high-rolling carnivores flock to Prime One Twelve on Miami Beach, where a Kobe beef hamburger costs $30, plus two bucks for chimichurri sauce.

They're all wonderful. But also pricey and packed during Orange Bowl week. So, here are some tips for relaxed Florida dining. Try the Quarterdeck restaurants at several locations from Fort Lauderdale to Jupiter. The broiled dolphin is outstanding. No, you're not eating Flipper; it's mahi-mahi. Also, the very casual Latin American (yes, that's the chain's name) restaurants in Coconut Grove, Coral Gables and Kendall serve terrific Cuban sandwiches, guava milkshakes and sweet plantains.

Fine, but you're from Pittsburgh and you miss home cooking, meaning french fries and a fried egg on your sandwich. No problem. There's a Primanti Brothers on Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Short on game tickets? Walk around the corner to the Parrot Lounge, where the local Penn State Club gathers to watch every Nittany Lion game.

CRIME RATE: The days of the cocaine cowboys are long gone. Crime is down, doubtless because Shaquille O'Neal recently received his badge as a Miami Beach reserve officer.

METEOROLOGY: The average daytime high temperature in December is 76 degrees; the average nighttime low is 61 degrees. Maybe, you'll want to move on down. Real estate prices may have peaked, and a lot of my Miami pals are putting their homes up for sale. If you don't believe me, here's another verse from the Mango Singers, again to the tune of "Feelings."

FEMA ... whoa, whoa, whoa, FEMA.
I want to scream-a,
I'm moving out of town.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009