I am in the middle of the worst case of Writer’s Block in my lifetime.
I’ve been through this before and it usually dissipates naturally without my having to work it it. This one hasn’t and only seems to have gotten stronger the more I kick at it. In an effort to kick it to the curb, let’s talk about some of the reasons why this might be happening.
1). To begin with, I actually write every day . . . In my head while UberLyfting. I am on the road for hours and hours on end. During that time I write paragraph after paragraph in my head. This article, for example, has already been written dozens of times. I have, in my head on any number of occasions, reordered these paragraphs and come up with certain wording and bullet points. Writing so much in my head, by the time I get home to my keyboard it already feels finished, so I don’t bother to put it down digitally.
2). Speaking of when I get home: I sit down at the PC —with the tee vee on in the background— and start reading the news of the day on the various websites I haunt. Then I start farting around on the facebookery. By the time I next look at the clock it’s 3 or 4 in the afternoon and I no longer feel like writing.
3). Speaking of the afternoon: This is somewhat difficult for me to admit, being as how I’ve been a professional writer my entire adult life, but I stopped being able to write in the afternoons. It used to be that I could write day or night. I would wake up at any hour and start pounding on a keyboard, creating legible sentences and paragraphs. Writing was something that I had to do, not necessarily something I wanted to do, altho’ I did. Words were always pouring out of me in one form or another.
However, I noticed a number of years ago (about 5, if I had to estimate) that, while I could write up a storm in the mornings, any word craft later in the day was junk. All my articles for NewsHounds and PoliticusUSA were written early in the morning. Most (if not all) of my posts at Not Now Silly were written in the morning. If I tried to write in the afternoons, it came slowly, if it came at all. And, what I produced was of such poor quality that I’d often scrap it entirely or spend so much time editing it into shape that I may as well have scrapped it and started over. That may have been easier and faster.
4). I used to set aside time every day to write because I had assignments due, or a post I was compelled to write. Lately, I don’t seem to have anything I really want to write about, so I make posts on the facebooky, as if that’s really writing at all.
5). One of the heavier things weighing on my mind (but not the most) is this: If you’ve been following along at home, you’ll know how I’ve been writing about Coconut Grove for the last decade; first trying to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House (a battle lost, as the house has now been replicated, not renovated) and then moving on to fight the runaway gentrification on Charles Avenue. My last article on that topic was Rapacious Developers Are Destroying A Historic Black Neighbourhood.
Not to put too fine a point on it, no one shared this article. I’ve checked every corner of the internet I could shine a light into. I could not find a single instance of it being shared. None of the stakeholders in Coconut Grove seemed to care enough to share it. No one who professes love for Charles Avenue shared it. I couldn’t get the Miami Herald to look into it and no other pundit or publication showed a scintilla of interest.
It was a severe blow to my ego.
“Why the fuck should I knock myself out?”, I started to ask myself in the way one asks questions in your head during moments of self-doubt. I don’t live in Miami. I don’t even live in that county. The E.W.F. Stirrup House is 37.2, 40.1, or 41.2 miles away from me (depending on which highway I take). On a good day I can be there in an hour. On a bad day it’s take 3 hours. Three fucking hours on I-95 that could be better spent, even if it’s just cleaning lint out of my navel or farting around on the facebookery.
Why should I spend all that time, all that gas, all that energy, all that money on FOIA requests, when the efforts of my research are not appreciated by those I thought I was helping?
And, that particular thought bothers me as well. Was I doing this because it was the right thing to do? Or was it because I was trying to impress people in Coconut Grove? I thought it was the former, but this question preying on me makes me think that maybe it was the latter.
6). Here’s a larger data point looming within my Writers’ Block: While trying to get over this hump, I started writing an intensely personal confession about something from my past. It’s actually something I had been working on for decades, but —again— only in my head. Without going into detail (because that’s what that post would have done and will still do once [if?] I get back to it), I have recovered a childhood memory that has me questioning WTF?
Then I began the slow and emotionally difficult process of writing an article about it. I was making incremental progress on it, despite having to kick against the writers’ block. And then: Disaster!
As odd as it seems, the news of the day made me question whether I should finish and publish the article. It’s not that I couldn’t make this confession. It was more that I couldn’t make it at that time. It would have appeared as if I was jumping onto a bandwagon, trying to make something that was not about me all about me.
Consequently, I shelved the article to the point of deleting the draft I has been working on. It’s gone and, if I ever want to finish it, I will have to start it all over again.
It’s something I need to write eventually (if only for my sanity), but don’t know how much time will be needed before it no longer appears that I’m just trying to shine by reflection of other people’s difficulties.
7). Last, but certainly not least, because it’s really the #1 reason I am going through this: I feel like I’m losing my ability to rite gud. Whether it’s because the lack of use has atrophied my writing muscle or because my brain is not firing the way it used to. When I do try to write I occasionally get lost in the paragraph. I hit a dead end and no longer remember where I was going. Then I have to sit and reread what’s there before I can find the roadmap that gets me out of there. Occasionally, I’ll even lose my place in the middle of a word.
There’s no GPS system for getting lost like that. I have to find my way out of the maze on my own and there are times it’s a struggle.
For all these reasons I have been having trouble getting words down lately. The only saving grace is that this article came relatively easy and quickly. That may be because I’ve written it in my head many times already. Or, maybe, hopefully, fingers crossed, I am getting over this hump.
I have been writing about the subject of Demolition by Neglect on Charles Avenue for the last 9 years. I have also tried to interest the Herald in some of the shenanigans I have uncovered to no avail.
It puzzles me that Rasken and De La Paz were able to get a story which went into their specific complaints and yet accuse others of planting the story, with no evidence whatsoever.
Meanwhile, this morning I published a story on my little old blog — which keeps fighting gentrification in West Grove — that is a much bigger story about Charles Avenue and its continued destruction. I hope you will find it newsworthy enough to actually do an article on it.
I would be happy to talk to anyone who would like to follow up on this story, or any of the others I have written about what’s been happening on Charles Avenue over the last decade. Feel free to call anytime: 954-XXX-XXXX
While this story is best told in situ, so one can see all the players and how all of these properties and machinations connect, I am leaving for a 3 week road trip early Friday morning. However, I will be glad to meet with someone any time today or tomorrow if they would like a small tour. I live in Sunrise up in Broward, so I would need an hour’s notice.
The Not Now Silly Newsroom has documented time and again how developers around Charles Avenue have done nothing but obliterate that history.
The latest outrage is the most massive attempt at gentrification in West Grove since the last outrage, which was the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums (which this reporter calls The Monstrosity). First a quick course in a century plus of West Grove history.
In the late 1800s, as cities in the north were already metropolises, Coconut Grove was still a mix of swamp and dry land, just getting started. Its settlement pre-dates the City of Miami, which grew faster and taller.
Commodore Ralph Monroe, one of the earliest residents, advertised in the north to his rich industrialist friends. He offered a totally immersive rustic experience at Camp Biscayne, where people could fish, hunt, and sail. This was before any roads could bring tourists to South Florida. Boats were the only way in. South Florida’s tourist boom — now its biggest industry — begins there and then.
The earliest gathering of what could be considered a community in Coconut Grove were the Bahamians that drifted up through Key West looking for work. Mariah Brown (known as Mary the Washerwoman at the Peacock Inn) was able to buy a small plot of land on what would become Evangelist Street and, later, Charles Avenue. [Her house on Charles Avenue is now a replica.] Eventually a gentleman by the name of Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup became the largest landholder in Coconut Grove, and one of Florida’s first Black millionaires.
E.W.F. Stirrup had a crazy idea that would have got him lynched anywhere else in the south. He thought that growing Black families needed Black home ownership. As more people moved to the area for work, Stirrup built more than 100 houses with his own hands on land he owned in Coconut Grove. These simple shotgun and Conch-style homes were sold, rented, and bartered to the hardworking men and women who really built Coconut Grove — and greater Miami — out of the swamp.
That simple fact made Coconut Grove a unique place in this country. Before it was swallowed by Miami (in an illegal annexation that could never happen today), it had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in the country.
Skip ahead a bunch of decades. The neighbourhood remained, for the most part, cohesively Black, as Black districts often do, because White folk won’t live there. And, as Black districts often are, this one was poor; the average wage was less and, therefore, the ability to get home loans was decreased, if the people weren’t redlined altogether. The neighbourhood slid into a slow, inevitable decline. However, the area that surrounded this enclave became one of the most exclusive in in this entire country. The Black pioneers, and their descendants who continued to own the houses, became land rich and cash poor. That’s why West Grove (as distinguished from White Grove, to be blunt) was ripe for gentrification.
Read about the wall Miami mandated built to separate the Black and White communities in Coconut Grove: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
If one drives around the neighbourhood, you’d see how, on lands that once belonged to Stirrup (and his descendants), properties have been bought, combined, developed, and walled off. These very small gated communities along Franklin — of 4-12 units — were the first beachheads into what has become over the years runaway gentrification. Grand Avenue, once the thriving Black business district, is undergoing its own challenges through gentrification, but that’s another story for another day.
I digress. Here’s some more recent history.
Approximately 15 years ago someone amassed several contiguous properties on Main Highway at the corner of Franklin Avenue. A developer bought the package and built The Monstrosity.
I entered the picture afterwards, in February of 2009. I remember returning from that first visit to Coconut Grove and telling several friends that I wasn’t sure what I had discovered, but I thought there was a story to be written. I was wrong. There have now been many stories written.
On the day this writer discovered the Charles Avenue Historic Marker — and the E.W.F. Stirrup House — it was my very first time in the neighbourhood. And, coincidentally, it was these 2 properties immediately behind the historic marker — 3227 and 3247 Charles Avenue — that provided the first mystery to be solved. That day I rushed home to look Charles Avenue up on Google Earth. Despite these lots being empty earlier in the day, Google Maps had a small house on each lot; one a shotgun, the other a Conch style, if I recall correctly.
Where did these houses go and why?
In a coconut shell, here’s a short history of these 2 properties:
They had been in the Stirrup Family for a few generations. When the rapacious developer showed up to build the Monstrosity, he entered into a complicated property swap with the Stirrup descendants. In exchange for 2 brand new condos in The Monstrosity — and $10 to make it all legal — they would give the developer these 2 properties on the north side of Charles Avenue and a 50-year lease on the historic E.W.F. Stirrup House.
Almost as an aside, this writer spent almost a decade trying to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House from Demolition by Neglect, despite it being designated historic in 2004. That fight was lost and is told elsewhere in these pages. Long story short: That house is now replica after the same developer used Demolition by Neglect (nearly a decade of open windows on a wood frame house) to argue in front of Miami’s Historic Preservation Board the house was too far gone to be saved. In other words: They used the conditions they created to successfully argue they no longer had an obligation to restore the house, instead building a recreation.
Would this have been the fate of the E.W.F. Stirrup House if it had been owned by the White pioneers of Coconut Grove? One needs only look to the Barnacle State Park, where Commodore Monroe’s house was saved, for your answer. E.W.F. Stirrup was his friend and contemporary.
But, back to these 2 houses. Where did they go?
The developer knocked them down to use the lots as a marshalling yard to build The Monstrosity. That neatly solved a construction problem. Crews were able to use the Stirrup property as a pass-through, as opposed to having to use the busier Main Highway. However, the neighbourhood lost 2 affordable houses of “vernacular style”. Ironically, the city of Miami successfully passed a law to save these “vernacular” houses recently, saving these last few shotgun and Conch-style homes. Had this law been in place, I would have had a greater shot at saving the Stirrup House and the developer never would have been able to knock down the 2 houses across the street.
What happened to these 2 properties after that? Financial jigger-pokery, if you believe blogger Heinz Deiter (and I do). Deiter alleged that the developer valued the 2 condos in the not-yet built Monstrosity at $500,000 each, which was a huge stretch. Then he went to the bank and claimed he now owned $1,000,000 worth of property on the north side of Charles Avenue. Despite prevailing property values to the contrary, the bank took his word for it.
He was able to obtain a bank loan using those properties as collateral. Once these properties were no longer needed for this grand scheme of building the Monstrosity, the developers had a new scheme. They simply stopped paying off the bank loan and allowed the properties to go into foreclosure. The bank repossessed, put the properties up for auction, and they were bought by a company whose owner was a partner in other companies with the developer who had just defaulted. Then, through some more LLC jiggery-pokery, these properties were conveyed back to the same developer.
Bank distress auctions are supposed to be arm’s length. This one was not. By my estimate the bank took a $750,000 bath on these properties. When I tried to interest the bank in what I considered to be a fraud upon it, they were very incurious and didn’t seem to care at all. After all, it’s only money.
Not Now Silly has written other stories about these 2 properties, like the night valets from Commodore Plaza were illegally using them for overflow parking at $6 a car, ripping off the city of Miami and creating chaos on a residential street.
Which gets us to the real topic of this post after all that preamble. These 2 properties, combined with several others, both on Charles and William Avenue, will be turned into what appears to be a 30 room, 2 story hotel.
Back in 2016 I worked on a secret project, which was an attempt to connect all the various rapacious developers in Coconut Grove with all the properties they owned, or controlled, along Grand Avenue. I created a map, which I colour-coded by property ownership. It was during the making of this gentrification map that I accidentally discovered that Peter Gardiner (of the Pointe Group) had not only bought into the redevelopment project at the E.W.F. Stirrup House B&B, but had purchased these 2 properties under discussion at $1,000,000 a piece.
I booked an appointment to interview Gardiner, knowing I was going to pull a massive Bait & Switch.
We started our discussion with the Stirrup House and he assured me that as a lifelong Coconut Grove resident, he wants nothing but the best for Coconut Grove. Whenever he said that, and he said it several times, I heard, “Nothing but the best for White Grove.” He talked about what a wonderful steward his companies will be in Coconut Grove.
When I thought we had exhausted that topic, I pulled out my colour-coded map of Grand Avenue. I told him that these properties along Grand — including ones he owned through Pointe Group — have now been flipped so many times that the properties can no longer pay for themselves. Property is a machine that has to pay for itself. These properties along Grand will never pay for themselves unless Miami upzones the properties allowing for heights and densities greater than the 5 storeys allowed in the Miami 21 plan.
Read more about Grand Avenue here and of a 16-year old
Grand Avenue improvement plan that never happened here.
Then I also let him know that I knew he had recently bought these 2 properties on the north side of Charles Avenue. I laid out the history of these properties, including the suspected fraud upon the bank, and his only reaction was that maybe he hadn’t done his due diligence on these properties. Ya think?
Keep in mind that these 2 properties were overvalued at $500,000 each when they were traded for condos in the Monstrosity. They sold in 2015 for $1 million each, a markup of 100% on properties that were valued by the owner himself. However, Heagrand Inc, bought them for a mere $215,000 at the bank’s distress auction just 4 years earlier.
These properties (and all of the others that will need to be combined to build this hotel) are zoned Single Family. However, based upon the price paid, they will NEVER be able to make back their money by building a single family home on any of these lots, and a few of them still have houses on them.
I made it clear to Peter Gardiner in 2016 that I would fight him tooth and nail on any upzoning effort and that was 2 years before I saw this hotel rendering.
These developers have property flipped themselves into a corner. They now have land that can never pay for itself. The only way they can make any money whatsoever is by building big and building up. By building a hotel on these properties, as a matter of fact.
Something I’ve learned: Developers have better lawyers than the city. They tend to get whatever they want. Something else I’ve discovered through this process of investigating properties is that developers plan for the long game, sometimes decades in advance. This plan has been in the works since the beginning. I heard talk of it 9 years ago, but dismissed it as a fantasy. But the fantasy now has an architect’s rendering.
CROSSING THE LINE FROM JOURNALIST TO ACTIVIST
Recently I did something I’ve never done before as an advocacy journalist. Normally I research a story, write it up, publish it, and then promote the finished article. This time, while still researching this article, I went to the neighbourhood Homeowners’ Association [HOATA] and passed around the architectural rendering you see here. I challenged them to fight this project with everything they have otherwise the gentrifiers win and the neighbourhood loses.
The developers will use conditions it created — just like they did on the Stirrup House — as the reason to argue for redeveloping these fallow lots;
The developers will use the height of the Monstrosity to argue this hotel is not too big for the community;
The developers will argue they need not plan for on-site parking because the Miami Parking Authority is planning a huge, honking parking garage right next door as part of the Coconut Grove Playhouse redevelopment project;
People [that I won’t name yet] who claim to protect the neighbourhood will come out in support of this massive development (if they haven’t already in secret talks) because they have dealings with these developers in other parts of Coconut Grove;
Miami-Dade County, which is redeveloping the Playhouse property, will come out in favour of this massive development (if it hasn’t already in secret talks);
Gable Stage, expected to occupy a redeveloped Playhouse, will come out in favour of this project (if it hasn’t already in secret talks);
Community activists will fail to mount a successful fight to block this project;
Miami’s Planning and Zoning Board will approve this upzoning because, again, developers always seems to get what they want;
Miami Commissioners will fail to stop the project (if they haven’t already given tacit approval in secret talks);
Miami Commissioners will attempt to squeeze community concessions out of the developers — which will be small potatoes, unenforceable, and forgotten soon after — once they realize this is a runaway train.
To sum up: This battle is already lost unless the community fights the upzoning at the Planning and Zoning Board, to put the kibosh on building a hotel for rich White Folk, so that other rich White folk make a small fortune in a historic Black neighbourhood.
Because, make no mistake, at the core of every story about Coconut Grove is a story about Racism.
David Beckham, who has been trying to bring Major League Soccer to Miami for the last 5 years, has run headlong into an issue that roiled the city just a few years ago: Toxic soil.
Soilgate was a stain upon the City of Miami’s reputation and is a hidden aspect of racism that remains, pretty much, still hidden to this day. For 70 years Old Smokey, the incinerator situated in the Black neighbourhood of West Grove, belched out smoke and suspected carcinogens settling on everything from houses to playgrounds to fresh laundry drying on the line.
Despite decades of local complaints Old Smokey was only shuttered after White parents complained. Because of desegregation their children had been transferred to a nearby school. As time went on, people simply forgot about Old Smokey as the property was turned into a training facility for the Miami Fire Rescue Training Center.
That toxic soil timebomb eventually exploded when — after covering it up for 2 years — the City of Miami announced the closing of 8 parks due to the discovery of toxic soil. The toxic soil came from toxic fill from Old Smokey. The city was simply giving it away by the truckload, as well as using it for parks.
While the parks were eventually remediated (but not to everyone’s satisfaction) and reopened, no one really knows how well the remediation plan of removal and seal will hold up over time.
Meanwhile, Beckham and the Mas brothers are hot to bring football — as it’s known everywhere but here — to Miami. To that end they’ve already tried two previous locations which fell apart over different issues. Team Beckham is hoping the 3rd time’s the charm. The new location is Melreese Country Club.
It won’t be easy. The golf course is the only City of Miami owned golf course in the city, it is loved by people across the spectrum, and is home to The First Tee, a children’s charity whose mission statement is “To impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.” Hardest of all: Approving the Beckham site would require the city to accept this no bid plan and doing so would require a change to the city by-laws to accept a non-competitive plan.
However, it was also discovered that Melreese is another Miami location filled with toxic soil. The location was previously a dump site and fill from Old Smokey may have been used here as well. According to Miami New Times:
The county first realized it might have a toxic problem in Melreese in early 2005 when it started digging in Grapeland Park, a smaller public plot that borders Melreese’s southeastern corner. Beneath a water park in Grapeland, its engineers discovered a serious issue: “Incinerator ash material was found in a layer at least two-feet thick” beneath Grapeland’s soil, according to a DERM report.
In October 2015, DERM hired a firm to drill soil samples and test water at nearby Melreese, a 154-acre course that opened in the 1960s, to see if it also was contaminated. The short answer: most definitely.
The company dug 50 holes up to three feet deep around the course and, in 36 of them, immediately found clear evidence of toxic ash. The ash was silty, “dark gray to black in color” with “brownish-red nodules” and plenty of burnt glass and metal shards, a sure sign of the waste. The thickness varied, but in some places “exceeded four feet in thickness.”
Since Grapeland was in use as a water park, county officials decided the toxic ash had to be removed ASAP. The process wasn’t cheap. In 2006, contractors quietly hauled away 86,000 tons of toxic soil at a reported cost of nearly $10 million. Grapeland is a fraction of the size of Melreese.
Last week Beckham’s boys put on their dog & pony show for the Miami City Commission to vote in favour of approving the referendum question for November’s ballot which would change the city’s charter to accept the no bid contract. However, before they got a chance to reveal their plan there was almost 4 hours of public comment, both for and against bringing soccer to Melreese, to be renamed Freedom Park.
In the end the city decided to punt the issue to another meeting this week after Commissioner Ken Russell* said there were still outstanding issues that need to be addressed, the least of which is the toxic soil on this location and who will pay for the remediation.
It’s supremely ironic that it was Russell who put the kibosh on this plan. Russell ‘made his bones’ over the issue of toxic soil. Russell woke up one morning to find the park across teh street from his house was fenced off and closed without warning. This is where he and his children played. After some investigation he discovered it was due to toxic soil from Old Smokey. Further investigation revealed a remediation plan, which had been worked out in the backrooms of Miami City Hall without any public consultation whatsoever, would be totally inadequate for the job required and would destroy much of Merrie Christmas park in the process. Russell took his fight to City Hall and won. A year later he became the dark horse winner in the race to replace the termed-out commissioner.
Not Now Silly is agnostic on the issue of Freedom Park provided 2 important conditions are met:
No taxpayer money is spent to build it, support it, or remediate it;
All concessions will be required to sell Freedom Fries instead of French Fries.
* FULL DISCLOSURE: I have been working on a book with, and about, Ken Russell, which may never see the light of day.
As longtime readers know, several times a year we take the mobile Not Now Silly Newsroom into the field, where we meet some of our … err … longtime readers.
These road trips began several years ago under the rubric of Sunrise To Canton Road Trip for Research, with the destination being Canton Township, Michigan to learn whatever I could about a very bad man.
This year’s road trip will take me to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the place I truly consider my home town. The Not Now Silly mobile newsroom will traverse north along the easterly leg of the trip (see map at left), leaving on the 11th of August. After a week in Toronto, I’ll be returning along the western leg of the trip starting on the 19th of August.
If you’ve ever wanted to meet the people (me!) behind the Not Now Silly Newsroom, here’s how you can get involved:
If you are somewhat near one of those blue lines on the map at left, let me know of your interest. Depending on already locked in itinerary, how far away you are from those blue lines, and whether there’s a Starbucks near you (almost kidding), we can meet as I make my way up or down the Unites States. Send me a Private Message and your basic details, like city or town. I’ll see whether I can fit it onto my map above.
Since I cannot visit everyone I want to see while I’m there, I will — as I have done on previous visits — be throwing myself a homecoming, so you can come to visit me. Join me, my family, and my friends on August 15th at:
LOLA 40 Kensington Avenue Toronto, Ontario
Once again the Not Now Silly Newsroom is on the move.
Andrew Rasken is a real estate agent/developer who already owns several properties in Coconut Grove. Recently he purchased — through a shell corporation — two of the historic shotgun houses on Charles Avenue, directly across the street from the replicated Mariah Brown house. Now he’s petitioning Miami to knock them down to build what he claims will be his family home. There are several reasons to suspect that he just wants to flip these properties after he builds some kind Big White Box mega-home on the lot.
There is also reason to suspect that he’s taken Demolition by Neglect to an entirely new level.
According to an anonymous source Rasken [allegedly] had some workmen remove a support pillar behind the house. Then he got the city’s Unsafe Structures Section to declare it an unsafe structure.
In addition, recent pictures of the house by this writer shows brand new damage where the siding has been ripped away in some spots on the sides and back of the house. This will only allow further wood rot and weather damage. Maybe we should call this Demolition by Demolition.
Now Rasken finds himself in a Catch 22: He wants a demolition permit to tear down the houses, but Miami refuses to issue one until the city decides the fate of all the historic homes in the West Grove, of which these are two. Meanwhile, Miami’s code compliance department is ordering him (or his corporation) to bring the houses up to city code.
One reason to suspect Rasken’s motives can be found in the pages of the Miami Herald under this headline:
The article describes a pitched battle between residents of Coconut Grove and the very same Andrew Rasken, developer.
In lushly verdant Coconut Grove, where a wave of ungainly residential redevelopment has mowed down trees and homes by the score, at least one house — late local legend Charlie Cinnamon’s century-old cottage — is still standing, at least for now. To nearly everyone’s surprise, the tiny wooden house has survived the first attempt at demolition by a developer.
In a rare and unexpected move, Miami’s zoning board blocked demolition of Cinnamon’s 1919 cottage, which sits at the edge of an expansive tree-covered property where a developer hopes to build a large house.
It’s unclear whether the board’s decision will survive an almost-certain appeal by the developer, Andrew Raskin [sic]. But Thursday night’s 5-3 vote has heartened Grove residents fighting back against what they contend is the city’s failure to enforce zoning rules amid an onslaught by developers that’s stripping the village’s residential neighborhoods, Miami’s oldest, of their historic look and feel.
According to the Herald article the Cinnamon house only occupies 1,000 square feet of a 14,000 square foot lot, leaving loads of room for Rasken to build his house. However, another wrinkle in his plans are that the neighbours will also resist the building of anything that doesn’t reflect the historic composition and architecture of the Grove. In other words: A Big White Box.
I didn’t recognize the address of the homeless shelter right away, but I should have. I’ve actually picked up several other people there in the year I’ve been UberLyfting.
It’s one of those oddities of modern life that some homeless people have both cellphones and UberLyft accounts. This wasn’t the first homeless person from this place I’ve transported. One went to his mother’s place way up in Boca Raton. Another just went to Dania Beach to spend the day with friends. Both were men and, I want to emphasize, neither were a problem.
It was 6:05 in the morning when the order came in. There were several other people around because these folks are disgorged back onto the streets at 6AM, when the shelter closes. My fare had a woman’s name, which is no guarantee it would be a woman; some people use other people’s accounts. Then I saw her on the sidewalk, huddled in a blanket, with a duffle bag and a small luggage hand cart that had several bags attached. Because of all that stuff, the long handle could not be lowered and it had to go into the trunk sideways, on its back, with the rest of her stuff.
I need to describe Sally Ann [not her real name, but one that’s appropriate]. She was magazine cover stunning; my idea of beauty personified. I have always been attracted to women who look just like her. Furthermore, she was a wonderful example of it. She was not disheveled in any way. Her hair was brushed. She wore a slight amount of makeup. Her clothes were clean; baggy sweatpants, with a layered sweatshirt and hoodie combo. I’ve always liked funky gals, as opposed to prissy ones, so her dressing down only added to the overall effect. She was simply gorgeous.
All this only made her story sadder, but it shouldn’t have.
She clearly wanted to talk and was a self-starter. I merely asked a few questions, to keep the conversation going. In the 15 minutes we were together, I learned this much of her life:
She was frustrated when she got in the Grey Ghost because the shelter in which she spent the night evicts people while it’s still dark out. She feels they should wait until it’s light. I was taking her to another homeless shelter where she can get some breakfast. “Why can’t they all serve breakfast?” she wonders.
Sally Ann can barely believe she ended up homeless. It still seems like a dream she can’t wake up from. She had a college degree and a well-paying job. Divorced, she raised 2 daughters alone and put them both through university. One has a Masters; the other a PhD. Neither will give her the time of day or lift a finger to help her.
Opioids ruined her life.
She started the same way that so many addicts start: A tumble down some stairs and a doctor who over-prescribed meds for the chronic pain. She could only afford a few weeks of physiotherapy, so the pain continued, masked by the drugs. Then, before she knew it, the drugs were in control. “Bip, Bop, Boop! It all happened so fast,” she said.
She admitted that she made many mistakes with her daughters while still addicted. She lied to them. She stole from them. While she’s been clean for 8 months, her daughters still refuse to help her.
“Over the years I paid a small fortune to educate them. Charter Schools. University. I sacrificed everything so they could have better than me growing up.”
She lost her job before she lost her addiction. However, once she cleaned up, Sally Ann was convinced all her bad luck was behind her. She was working, although waiting on tables paid far less than her previous [undescribed] job. But the bills were getting paid, even if there was nothing left for frills.
Then a cascade of events (some of which may have been women’s health issues, deduced by the way she skipped over it, as if embarrassed) put her farther and farther behind. The bad knocks wouldn’t stop. A small kitchen repair after the sink overflowed. Unexpected car repairs. The A/C crapped out in the house. just one after another. “Bip, Bop, Boop!” she said again.
So many people are just a paycheque or two away from the same fate. Sally Ann said she had a 5 week cushion when the bad dominoes starting falling against each other. She couldn’t stop them. She started having to push one bill off against another. Then her creditors ran out of patience. Suddenly her house was in foreclosure. Then she was living in her car. Then the car was repossessed. “Bip, Bop, Boop!”
By that time we had arrived at our destination. Her story — and her beauty — got to me. A part of me wanted to say, “I have a spare room. Can you cook?” But I kept it totally professional.
The breakfast shelter didn’t open until 7, so there were a lot of scruffy men milling around. That made me nervous for her. “You going to be okay here by yourself?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. I know all these people. These are my friends.”
As I wrestled her stuff out of the trunk, my next fare was flashed to me by the UberLyfting Machine. I wished Sally Ann GOOD LUCK and zipped off.
It was hard to get her off my mind. I couldn’t get over the fact that she looked nothing like what I expect a homeless woman to look like. She was difficult to shake.
A couple of hours later I got an UberLyftee going to the Miami airport. As I popped the trunk to toss their luggage inside, there was Sally’s blanket. We had both missed it in the dark.
It was a big, thick sports blanket. It wasn’t a cheap blanket when it was originally acquired. By whom? When?
Pops would have loved this blanket, he was such a Michigan fan. Was Sally Ann from Michigan? Could we know some of the same people? Or, did she just pick up the blanket somewhere in her travels?
I let myself have a good cry driving back from Miami. I’ve been close to homeless myself and was now ashamed that I had her blanket. I’m sure having it was very important to her, judging by the way she had it wrapped around her when we first met.
I drove straight back to the shelter, but now it was about 4 hours later. All I had was her first name and made a total fool of myself describing Sally Ann to several people there. No one admitted to knowing her, including the staff. They may have been trying to protect her from a weird man who showed up asking questions. I know I would have.
In the end I gave the blanket to Marley and $250 in cash to the Salvation Army. Maybe they can use it to serve breakfast.
UpLyfting Thoughts is now UberLyfting Thoughts and here’s the reason why:
My last UpLyfting Thought (#8 in a series) was all the way back in November. I thought it might be my last one, which is why it was called “Last Lyfting Log?” I won’t repeat any of that, but here’s the next chapter:
Three days after Lyft suspended me I signed up to Uber.
After 2 weeks, when I still had not heard back from Lyft, I sent an email early in the morning. Immediately, I received a reply which said I had been reinstated. It was dated 2 weeks earlier. It HAD to be triggered to be sent by my email because it arrived in my inbox in the blink of an eye, in less time than it would have taken to open it and read the 1st paragraph.
I stated this to Lyft in a subsequent angry email and they actually disputed that. They claimed they sent it 2 weeks earlier.
At that point I gave up, which is uncharacteristic of me. Maybe I’m growing up.
I could have proven it with the internal date stamps attached to the email, but I had already lost 2 weeks of driving. Any more time spent on this was just eating into my bottom line. Besides, I wasn’t sure how hard I wanted to bite the hand that partially feeds me.
Since then I’ve been driving both Uber and Lyft. I should have done this from the beginning. I’m making more money. While Uber is busier than Lyft, Lyft always seems to be there to pick up the slack when Uber slows down.
I’ll be writing more about the differences as time goes on.
I’ve not stopped collecting vanity plates. I have so many I can easily string that into a series of it’s own, but I won’t. Here’s a selected few:
ESCAPEE ■ SOD DAWG ■ RWDY DOG ■ D-TOTO ■ SELENA P ■
KIK ASH ■ CARIOCA ■ LUV U ED ■ IZZY IT ■ O-ELLIE ■ NYC BOY ■ JIM SLIM ■ CREATOR ■ GNDHG ■ TOMY GRL ■ BE LIGHT ■
DATA GUY ■ CABARET ■ I ZUMBA ■ BET ALL ■ ZOOKPR-7 ■ SCOTTY 2 ■ I JETFAN ■ B1K1N1S
While I still have dozens to list, I’ll have to save them for another day because I need to service 2 13-year legacy clients. However, I’ll leave you with the best vanity plate I’ve seen so far. How do you think this got approved?
Hello again, Not Now Silly fans. Did you miss me? I missed you.
When we last spoke with any regularity, I was in the process of mothballing the Not Now Silly Newsroom. For those who missed it. I put this blog on hiatus after I signed a non-disclosure agreement with Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell.
[Yes, that’s right. I have something in common with Stormy Daniels.]
I had approached him, pitching the idea of a book. I believe Russell’s story is one of those quintessential ‘Merkin stories: Young family man wakes up to city-made environmental disaster right outside his front door, fights inadequate backroom city hall remediation, effects adequate clean-up, gets bitten by the civic improvement bug, runs for public office a year later, and is elected to replace the [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner with whom he battled. Of course I would have fleshed it out a little, starting with his father’s patent for mass producing the famous Russell Yo-Yo, which has been licensed by everybody from Sprite to Daft Punk.
After kicking around several ideas we both had — and various formats we could shoe-horn them into — Russell agreed to collaborate with me on a book. That’s when we signed the non-disclosure agreement that said I couldn’t reveal anything I learned from Russell until an eventual book came out. He couldn’t reveal anything I told him either, but what could I tell him?
Something that began to drive me nuts: This was the first time in all my years as an investigative journalist when I had some great, inside information, but couldn’t report on it due to the NDA. Russell called it the price of access. I called it an itch I couldn’t scratch.
After we agreed to this book project, Russell announced he was running for Florida Congressional District 27. Suddenly the stakes for the eventual book became a whole lot higher. I was gratified he trusted me enough to write his official biography, but knew the project had just become a whole lot more daunting and important.
Since then I’ve done hours and hours of interviews with Russell [every Sunday at 1PM for months], embedded with him on various civic duties, and talked to many people about him. As my research continued, the contours of the book began to take shape. However, I still had a long way to go; and the time in which to do it. The primary wouldn’t be until the summer and, if Russell won that, the general election in November. That would be the obvious place(s) to end any such a book, even though it wasn’t what I envisioned when I originally had this idea.
While returning from a recent Road Trip [to Ann Arbor to cover the 2nd Annual Hash Bash Cup, which will eventually be part of a much larger article here], I decided to detour slightly to Covington, KY. Covington is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, but — more importantly — Covington is where Ken Russell’s father, Luther Jackson “Jack” Russell grew up in the ’20s and ’30s, almost a century ago. I wanted to see if I could find the Five & Dime in which Russell’s father demonstrated Yo-Yos as a teen for cigarette money.
Because I wasn’t sure I’d have time for this side trip, I didn’t tell Russell until it was confirmed in the itinerary. Here’s our text exchange:
ME: Hey there! Remember me? [Every one of my texts to him start the same way.] I have the opportunity to go Covington Kentucky tomorrow. It will add about a half a day to my trip. So, what’s new with you? KR: I just quit the congressional run. I’m sticking around. Sorry I couldn’t tell you earlier, but I just decided yesterday.
IRONY ALERT: I didn’t know Russell had just announced he was withdrawing from the race when I asked, “So, what’s new with you?”
IRONY ALERT #2: I sent my text to him earlier that morning. By the time Russell responded I was in Elyria, Ohio, explaining to painter David Pavlak about the book I was writing about a politician. Pavlak saw the book project fall apart in real time as I was telling him how excited I was to be writing the book.
So . . . all that to explain why I’m kick-starting the Not Now Silly Newsroom. I wouldn’t be surprised if the engine runs a little rough for the next little while. It’s probably going to need points and plugs, and other enginey things that I can only imagine (because I’m not mechanical and rusty on metaphor).
I have a few ideas for some investigative stories, some of which have been percolating for a long time. I will also be relaunching UpLyfting Thoughts as UberLyfting Thoughts, adding new Throwback Thursdays and Saturday Morning Cartoons to the mix, and dropping new posts under the various other rubrics here.
Long time no write, but I thought of you a great deal yesterday and wanted to tell you all about it. For an Atheist like myself, it was certainly a very religious day.
However, first let me share some amazingly weird news, so the following makes more sense. Last year I blurted out to Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell, a gent I have come to know over the last few years, that I loved his life story and wanted to be the one who writes it. He didn’t laugh.
We started kicking around a few ideas for a book — he shot down my original thought that we alternate chapters with “If you’re waiting for me to write something, you’ll be waiting forever.” — and finally came to an understanding: I’d write the whole damned thing. However, he agreed that it would be warts and all biography and I would have a free hand.
Then he announced he’s running for Congress in Florida’s 27th district, now considered one of this country’s districts to watch swing BLUE in 2018.
So, back to yesterday: Once a week — on the Lord’s Day — I meet with Ken and grill him on any topic that appeals to me for the book. However, yesterday he had a full day of ceremonial events, as well as looking after his 2 girls, something he does every Sunday while I interview him around their interruptions. I asked whether I could tag along and embed myself with him for the day. And, we’re off at the races.
First up was Three Kings Parade through Little Havana. I know you’ll get the reference, Ken, but for anyone reading over your shoulder, those are the 3 kings that brought gifts to baby Jesus. [I needed the explanation.] It’s one of the biggest parades in Miami.
Double parenthetically: If you don’t mind me saying so, those were very impracticable gifts for a child. Why not a rattle? Or, a brightly coloured mobile to hang in the manger?
Where was I?
I rode in the Commissioner’s car with his girls while he jumped in and out of the car to press the flesh. [Videos can be found on my Facebookery.] While the parade commemorated a religious event, there was little religiosity from out perspective, riding in a brand new Mustang convertible near the head of the parade with the other dignitaries. Although Ken’s girls got to see the 3 camels when they went for a walk with Dad before it started. We never saw the parade.
As soon as we got to the finish line there was just enough time to find an Uber, find Ken’s car [made more difficult because the parade along Calle Ocho cut off the way back], drop off the girls at the babysitter, and rush back to Coconut Grove to attend the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, the oldest Black church in Miami. It was sponsored by the Coconut Grove Ecumenical Network and the Commissioner had been invited to speak.
The church was filled, with an overflow crowd watching on a monitor in the community room in the basement. As people filed in a piano player quietly tinkled some Gospel. Occasionally spontaneous singing would break out from one end of the room to the other as people recognize the tune. Then it would die down again.
Once the official program started, it was like a locomotive that just picked up steam as it approached the end. There was song, humour, several sermons, and the sound of Gospel and the message of Dr. King still fills my ears.
Brother Edward Leonard read the entire “I Have A Dream” speech. What a hard act to follow, but Mr. Leonard made every word sound new and important. Furthermore, it was amazing how much Dr. King’s words rubbed uncomfortably against some of the recent news events out of Washington, not to mention the comparative poverty of the West Grove.
However, I was most impressed with the final Message, delivered by Reverend Nathaniel Robinson, III. He used the Bible story of the lepers to make a connection with present times. “It was a skin problem” he said. The comparison to the colour of people’s skin and Racism was not lost on the congregation. “It was a skin problem” and they were not letting the skin problem define them.
I won’t even try to paraphrase the Pastor, because I would never do him justice. [I’ve looked for a video online and, believe me, Ken, if I find it I’m going to share it.] However, it was rousing enough that more than once I was on my feet applauding and shouting along with the congregation. I felt the dream.
I was so awestruck that I took no pictures or video. I became a participant, no longer a disinterested observer.
No offense, Ken, but you could use a little of that fire and brimstone in your sermons. Your sermons are pretty calming. Pastoral, if you will. There was nothing calm about Reverend Robinson and the congregation reacted appropriately.
Having said that, I have to commend you for your sentiments on the very same day. My Uncle Harry was Pops.
I’m also so very proud of the political positions you’ve taken and how you’ve been encouraging your congregation, and your facefriends, to hector their elected representatives. I also like how you don’t tell them what position to take. Despite the simple fact that you believe in God and I don’t, our politics align almost perfectly.
All told our service lasted 3.5 hours, much longer than your’s. Nyah, nyah.
Just before it ended, I quietly slipped across the street to the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery. This is a place I have visited at least a hundred times. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of it all all hours of the day and night. At one time it was the only place that Black folk could be buried in Miami. The last time I visited the cemetery was in terrible shape. The grass had not been cut and was 3 feet high. Branches broken off by the fury of Hurricane Irma still littered the ground. After a small, quiet cry I sent out a video showing the disrepair the cemetery had fallen into.
You might call this a miracle, but I just call it good citizenship: A woman saw my video. She just happened to work in the Commissioner’s office and jumped onto the problem. She organized a crew of volunteers to get the cemetery cleaned up and now it looks as good as when I first discovered it almost a decade ago.
I never did publish your response to my last Pastoral Letter, even tho’ I promised I would Apologies. Here it is:
Marc, I read your pastoral letter on sin. But I can’t comment on the blog. can’t seem to log in the right way. Nothing unusual there. Couple of comments. I could stand to lose a few pounds also I look older than i think of myself on this side of my own eyeballs. So I guess my sin is vanity. But i think envy is the one most of us can cop to. Me for sure. It’s funny, I think I pretty much agreed with all your comments on sin. Either you’re a crappy atheist of I’m a crappy Christian–as we’re supposed to have big disagreements on sin, right? I think the traditional Christian emphasis on sin is all messed up and serves interests other than God’s or most people. It’s like Trump getting us all focused on something else so we stop paying attention to what matters. I’m guessing most of the things I might tend to feel guilty about aren’t that big a deal but the guilt distracts me from paying attention to things that are. I still eat meat knowing how much chickens and cattle suffer in the agri-business world. Why? Because I like the taste and can easily ignore their suffering. I thought you had a characteristically Jewish approach to sin which I generally trust more than the Christian approach. It’s more sensible, more human. But I’m just blathering now.
It’s never blathering, Ken. I’ve missed our communication. The book project has kept me from updating our Pastoral Letters. Hopefully, I’ll see you during what has become our yearly get together in 2018. Yet I know the primary season is going to be pretty hectic as I embed myself with the subject of my book. And, if the Commissioner wins the Democratic primary, I’ll be up to my ears in writing for the general in November.
However, we must catch up. The invitation is always open for you and your family to have a few days in the sun, but otherwise I might be in Motown in April. Let’s plan to hook up then.