Miami and Miami Beach, Briefly

Downtown Miami, at the mouth of the Miami River

Was home for a few weeks, getting things ready for fall teaching.  On Monday, June 17, I flew south to Miami to attend and give a keynote speech to a customer symposium for SmartKargo, the start-up air cargo software company I have helped on and off since 2014. On the way to the airport, the first T-t-S of the trip, with a young man from Trinidad.  He was a row behind me on the Blue Line, and said, “Excuse me. I’m a little lost.”  I got him “found,” and on his way.

Forty-plus years ago, when I was in graduate school, I got to know Miami well over the course of three summers (1975, ’76, and ’77), when I helped my long and dear friend Herb with some research for a book he was writing on Caribbean tourism, which by happy coincidence was the focus of my Ph.D. research.  But that was nearly a half-century ago, and to say the place has changed would be a colossal understatement.  The drivers of change were the rise of mass tourism (including cruise ships); emigration from all over Latin America and the Caribbean; and a lot of money – sometimes with people attached, sometimes not – from all over those regions.  A great deal of the latter was dirty: wealthy Latins shipping wealth out of unstable places, and lots and lots of drug money.  So while the skyline has grown impressive, it’s a tawdry and tainted impressiveness.

South Florida gets afternoon thunderstorms in summer, and we circled for 40 minutes before we swooped in, just between storm cells.  Hopped in a Lyft car with Oscar from Bogota, Colombia, for a yakking ride east to Miami Beach.  His story was not quite as grim as the Afghan taxi driver in Umeå a month earlier, but it was not a happy one: he was an only child, and could not stay in Colombia because of the violence and, I sensed, real threats.  He doesn’t go back, but his parents come north several times a year.  Whew.

Arrived at the Cadillac Hotel, site of the meeting, in 25 minutes; when built in 1940, it was the largest hotel on Miami Beach, and during the 1950s it was the place for Hollywood types like Jackie Gleason and Ann Margret.  Still and impressive place, with beautiful rooms, lovely grounds, and especially friendly staff.   Checked in, and riding the elevator up and down had two more T-t-S. The first was compressed, with a fellow from suburban Minneapolis, who was lamenting the weather: “Well, we had 45 minutes of sun today.”  The second, slightly longer, with a young German from Munich:

Me: You sound German.  Yes?  Where are you from?
Him: Yes, from Munich.
Me: You’ve got a great country.
Him: Yes, I know.

I added a bit of shading to my assertion, about universal health care as a right enshrined in the German Constitution.  He smiled.  That encounter may well have been the first time — in decades of travel in that country, and in meeting German people elsewhere in the world — when I heard a German acknowledge without hesitation the goodness of his native land.

SmartKargo had arranged a photographer to snap photos to update their website, so I smiled through a bunch of clicks, then met the SmartKargo hosts, and in no time was glad-handing with customers from all over the world: India, Norway, Hawai’i, and more.  Had a couple of beers and a nice dinner.

Up at 5:30, just like at home, but with no dogs to walk I had time for a good ride on one of the gym’s fitness bikes.  After breakfast, it was time to stand and deliver, and the speech was well received (might even get a couple of speaking invitations from it!).  Helped a bit the rest of the day, and reimmersed in the detail of global logistics, learning, for example, that the TSA recently granted Hawaiian Airlines (a SmartKargo customer) permission to use dogs to screen air cargo for explosives; the example was remarkable: personnel had to inspect every loaf of bread flying from Honolulu to, say, Maui, and the process might take 45 minutes.  The hounds can do it in 45 seconds.  Woof!

We finished about 3:30, which gave me time to borrow one of the hotel’s sturdy bikes for a ride north on Miami Beach’s main drag, Collins Avenue, then across a canal and into a quiet residential area, La Gorce, that felt like the 1950s.  It was just so lovely, cool old houses, quiet, no tour buses or honking SUVs.  Back to the Cadillac, shower, and onto a tour bus, west to downtown, then onto the M/V Venetian Lady for a classic “booze cruise.”  On the way, had a nice conversation with Jeff from Hawaiian Airlines, a fellow bicyclist and second-generation airline guy (his dad was with Eastern Airlines for years, and Jeff had worked for Continental and United previously).  It was raining pretty hard when we arrived at the dock, and on the first hour of the boat ride, but then cleared.  A swell outing.

The La Gorce neighborhood from a distance and (below) up close.

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In the Port of Miami: above, a U.S. Navy hospital ship; below, a container ship, and smaller things that float — looked like the guy was ferrying tourists’ jetskis.

Even back four decades, I never thought of Miami nor Dade County as well planned, and this bridge to nowhere (background) was solid evidence!

Up early again Wednesday morning, pounding out 19 miles on the fitness bike, then into day two of the conference.  Finished before three, said a lot of goodbyes, and to the airport with SmartKargo’s new CFO, Mike, then flew home.

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