On Monday, July 26th, I flew at two p.m. to Miami, my first time there in nearly four years. The 767 seemed mostly filled with Spanish speakers, so tuning my iPhone to the Buena Vista Social Club, the great Cuban orchestra, fit. We landed at 6:45, I picked up a Hertz car and motored south to dinner at my fave Miami place, Versailles, a Cuban place (despite the name) on Calle Ocho.
Even better, I had a tablemate, Tom Cullen, who I had not seen since early in 2004. Tom was Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Cornell Hotel School for nearly the entire 16 years I lectured there. He’s an exceptionally bright guy, and a nice fellow, and we had a fun dinner, comparing notes on how we are keeping busy in semi-retirement, the state of academia, and more. At 9:15, I peeled off to find my hotel, west of the airport.
Out the door the next morning, west a mile or so to the North American offices of Amadeus, the travel and airline software company. I am still talking with them about a job or consulting assignment, and had a couple of good interviews with the CEO and her deputy. I was done at eleven and had some time, so I motored toward Coconut Grove, the leafy, pleasant, and upmarket neighborhood where I spent the better part of three summers in the mid-1970s, working with longtime tourism guru Herb Hiller.
I stopped to take some pictures, then headed north, back toward Calle Ocho. The night before, Tom mentioned an awesome Vietnamese restaurant a block from Versailles but it was closed. I was set to drive a couple streets west to another Cuban place, the very successful La Carreta, when I spotted a Peruvian seafood place, Rincón Sal y Pimienta (literally, the Salt and Pepper Corner), in a slightly seedy strip mall around the corner from the Vietnamese café. “Why not?” I thought, and in I went.
It was a terrific experience. The waitress greeted me in Spanish, and continued to address me that way throughout. I could cope, which I thought was good, given that I was headed to South America in another week. The menu looked good, and I ordered a jalea mixta, a mixed fried seafood plate, and an iced tea. It was early by Spanish lunch standards, but three guys sat at the bar, eating soup and watching soap operas in Spanish. Soon the place began to fill up. While I waited for the meal, a karmic thought: my last Peruvian meal was three days shy of 40 years ago, in Lima (see previous post!). I noticed the Rincón offered free wi-fi, always a plus. Then the meal arrived, truly a mountain of fried fish, calamari, clams, atop a bed of lettuce and garnished with marinated (but still pungent) red onions. I simply could not finish it all, but it was really, really good.
Just before leaving, I scrolled through my iPhone photos smiling at recent snaps of Dylan and Carson. Just then the wife of the owner walked past, and I quietly said “Mire” (“Look”), launching a wonderful, if challenging, Talking to Strangers moment, because the talking was en Español. But Señora was enchanted with the pictures. We had a nice yak, and at the end, as I so often to, I gave quiet thanks to Don Miguel, my first Spanish teacher, on television in 1960.
Just before two I was back in American Airlines’ Miami, Caribbean, and Latin American divisional offices in Coral Gables, yakking with old friends Adelina, Kathy, Christine, and Peter. I then spent 15 minutes with another Peter, Mr. Dolara, the longtime senior vice president of the division. I have known Jefe (Chief) for more than 20 years, and have always held him in highest esteem. I was there to ask for his help in finding some additional consulting assignments, and he promised to try. He also offered me a desk, phone, and PC any time I was in Florida. A very kind and very good man.
I gassed up the Toyota and returned it. On the shuttle bus to the terminal, another nice T-t-S moment with a Swiss schoolteacher, returning to Canton Zug (the heart of Switzerland) after three years of teaching in Singapore and a couple of months touring in the Pacific and in several places in the U.S. I asked if she was happy or sad to be headed home. “Both,” she replied.
I was happy to be headed home. Since mid-May, I had been away 34 of 70 nights, almost half, and I was headed out again the following week, but at 9:30 I walked MacKenzie around our pond, and all was well.