|Pops and I soon after I moved to Florida 10 years ago.|
I opened this joint (originally called “Headly Westerfield’s Aunty Em Ericann Blog”) in April of 2012 to publish Johnny Dollar Has Proven Himself To Be A Very Dangerous Person. Then I had to decide what else to do with it. It has metamorphosed into what you see here today, the Not Now Silly Newsroom.
When I fired up this place, I had no real plan; I still don’t. I merely followed my interests, writing about whatever rang my bell at the time. I took the position that my interests, as interesting as they are, would be of interest to other interesting people. And, I also assumed, that my droll, tongue-in-cheek writing style would be endlessly entertaining, not to mention interesting.
Not following a road map has led me to some very interesting places.
F’rinstance: I never thought I’d be writing about Coconut Grove, which is 35 miles from where I live. I was still disguised in my Street Performance Art Installation as Aunty Em Ericann, when I discovered the Charles Avenue Historical Marker, the E.W.F. Stirrup House, and the shuttered Coconut Grove Playhouse. I distinctly remember getting home that day and telling friends I had found a story at the corner of Charles Avenue and Main Highway. I just wasn’t sure what it was yet.
That first encounter with Coconut Grove gave me an almost endless supply of stories about that community and its rich history. It’s the oldest neighbourhood in Miami and, at one time, had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in the country. Today the 33133 Zip Code is considered one of the most exclusive in the nation, while gentrification of The Grove continues to bulldoze the rich Bahamian history the original village was founded upon.
But it wasn’t just Coconut Grove history I got sucked into writing about. I also wrote about Trolleygate and Soilgate, long before the Miami media discovered those stories. I wrote about [allegedly] corrupt politicians and the Distrct 2 election campaign. I’ve written about the continued encroachment of Marler Avenue, which became the third chapter of my popular Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins series. I’ve written about bad neighbours and rapacious developers, who just so happen to be the same person. I’ve written about parking problems and valets run amok. And, of course, I’ve written about my campaign to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House for something other than a B&B for rich White folks.
It took me quite a while to realize why Coconut Grove was one of the few places in Florida where I felt truly comfortable. To begin with, the Grove isn’t suburban, which is really what the rest of South Florida feels like. Hugging the east coast, it’s just one long, sprawling suburban landscape; gas stations and strip malls separated by gated communities, and indoor malls, all connected with ribbons of highways, each radiating the midday summer heat.
Coconut Grove is different. It still has faint echoes of the original Bahamian culture that built the neighbourhood. Later those original settlers were joined by artists wanting to capture the tropics in paintings, and one can still feel that vibe throbbing under the surface. The Bahamians and Bohemians got along together famously and, by the ’60, were joined by folksingers such as Fred Neil, John Sebastian, David Crosby, and Joni Mitchell. On a quiet day you can still hear their songs in the off-shore breezes.
There’s a deep Hippie vibe in parts of the Grove, the parts where I felt the most comfortable.
Montage by author
The overarching rubric for all of my Coconut Grove stories was Unpacking Coconut Grove. Right now I’m feeling nostalgic because I am Packing Coconut Grove; trying to tie up all the loose reportorial ends as I prepare to leave South Florida.
I’ve taken care of Pops for the last decade and I’m simply burned out. It’s time for me to return to Toronto, the city I call home, to recharge my batteries.
Ironically, I’m returning to Kensington Market, which has a similar Hippie feel as Coconut Grove. I lived in Kensington Market many years ago, but was able to experience it again anew when I visited Toronto in September. I spent most of my time in the Market and felt comfortable and at home. Soon I will be able to call it home.
by contributing to my Go Fund Me:
My Freedom of Information requests from the City of Miami are beginning to add up, not to mention all the other costs of researching systemic racism and corruption in Coconut Grove