We’re barely halfway into the month of March yet I feel like enough has happened over the past eleven days to provide enough blog fodder for a three month span. Perhaps I’m overstating things a bit, but it’s not often I spend part of one week in three different cities in separate regions of the Continental United States. Sure, I enjoy traveling, but I’d hardly be pegged as a frequent flier. If you were to list my travel record since my jaunts to Las Vegas and Costa Rica in the Spring of 2005, you’d see I’ve more or less been a homebody for the past two years, save for a pair of less than eventful outings in the Fort Lauderdale region of Florida.
The tide is beginning to turn though and I seem to be getting a set of road wheels, sky miles, and sea legs all at the same time. This weekend the latest adventure in the life of the newest Kessler family jetsetter took place in Miami, Florida. The funny part is that after my grandfather passed away several months ago I had written somewhere that I didn’t see myself ever actively trying to enter the state of Florida again for the simple reason that I found it to be devoid of anything living or breathing. I didn’t use those exact words, but that’s what I more or less meant.
However, several weeks ago when my editor for JoshSpear.com asked if I would like to go to Miami to represent the site at a Sony press event…I half-heartedly lunged at the chance. I figured a few free days in a nice hotel in a town where I didn’t know anyone would provide an excellent chance for me to focus and get some valuable writing done. Plus, if I was lucky I could take some of my free time and head on over to the World Chess Hall of Fame. Fortunately, it didn’t go down like that at all.
I woke up early Saturday morning after staying in on a rainy Friday night, all packed up with new gear, ready to take Miami by storm. As my car service drove me towards JFK I stared out the window as we cruised down Atlantic Avenue taking notice of streets I had never before taken notice of. For instance, until this particular moment I was not aware that there was an Alabama Avenue that intersected with Atlantic Avenue. Who knew you could get a quick geography lesson on your way to the airport?
Like most instances I travel to the aiport, I end up giving myself entirely too much time. This time I would wait nearly an hour and thirty minutes before boarding my flight. However, I always figure it’s better to be safe than sorry or early rather than miss your flight. A nervous energy began building up inside of me with every second that flight time drew nearer. Normally I expend all of that nervous energy the night before a flight as my mind dances around visions of fiery air collisions and prevents me from catching any semblance of normal nighttime rest. However, this was a different nervous energy. I slept without worry the night before, but once at the airport the fact that I was walking into a situation where I essentially had no idea what I was doing or really any of the details of my impending trip put me ill at ease.
Once I sat down on the airplane my mind was distracted by a marathon baby screaming session that didn’t seem to abate for a good twenty-five minutes. This would have been less irritable had we managed to take to the air on time, but as our flight was delayed for a slight period due to the inclement weather, I began to suspect that by the end of the day I would spend entirely too much time in the company of the world’s pre-eminent baby bawler.
After about an hour and a half delay we finally took off. I spent the majority of my flight stealing glances at the girl on the other side of the aisle who looked like a good friend of my old roommate Rob. I figured that if she had known me she would have said something so I didn’t have to make first contact. I also heard her speak at one point. Her strange accent quashed any chance she could have been who I thought she was. I sort of let it go, but part of me still suspected that I knew this girl somehow and I would occasionally still glance over apparently unconvinced that there was no common link. I didn’t feel like blurting out a clichéd, “Do I know you?” and eventually the plane landed and we both got off and went our separate ways, though there was never really any togetherness in the situation I suppose.
Once I exited the baggage claim I was met by a representative holding a binder reading “DIME Press trip” which was exactly what I was there for. I was led to a swanky limo which took me to an even swankier hotel, The Biltmore, an historic accommodation nestled in the palm tree-laden land of Coral Gables, Florida.
Biltmore is Beautiful
Upon entry I was given an envelope housing my trip itinerary, and then moved over to the front desk to check in. The first event of the trip was to be a barbecue on the back lawn at 7:30pm. It was just around 5pm when I arrived so I had time to settle in to my room, iron some clothes and shower up for BBQ time. The shower was absolutely delightful. The water presssure was at blast through your back strength, which conjured up memories of the anything but low flow showerhead in my mom’s house that had recently gone the way of the dodo. The next best thing was the two kinds of soap. I made sure to use both the regular soap and the exfoliant soap, because you only live once.
After nearly flooding my bathroom and drying off, I put on one of my fancy new shirts from Thursday’s shopping spree and hit the barbecue scene. The first people I met were Clay, Jonny, and Eric. We made quick introductions and named the sites we worked for, save for Jonny who was working in cahoots with the people in charge of the event. I didn’t quite remember either their names or their sites right off the bat and had to have a refresher course later on, but they seemed like good guys and were just as unsure as to why they were there as I was. Knowing that, I was immediately comfortable.
We had a beer and some small talk before advancing to the generous barbecue featuring chicken, ribs, shrimp, and steak amongst other things and we sat at a table across from some fellow invitees from Italy but didn’t make much conversation with them. Jonny also unveiled some clues as to what we’d be doing on the trip, though our itinerary had spelled out the majority of the plans, he would give us the actual details. Our next day would be spent at a commercial shoot for the latest line of Sony Digital imaging projects that would feature an entire city street engulfed in foam, which we would then cover on our respective sites.
Despite the warm food and the warm locale there was quite a chill in the Coral Gables night air. My long sleeve shirt did little to deter my teeth from chattering. At that point we took the party inside and sat around a table getting to know each other. I introduced myself to Stephy from PSFK as Jonny had mentioned someone from that site was going to be at the event and seeing as I had a friend working for that site as well, I thought we might have some common acquaintances. While our common acquaintances were nil we seemed to hit it off. Actually the lot of us pretty much got along famously. We powered through plenty of awkward conversation topics, probably at my insistence, including John Travolta’s cha-cha related contract requirements and I met some pretty great people, like Ola from Sweden,Ruth from England and Michelle, Aisling, and Olivia from Ireland.
After several hours of lively getting to know you chit-chat the clock struck one A.M. before eventually springing forward an hour and we headed for bed. We had a presser in the conference room at 10am with three of the guys responsible for the ad, prior to actually going to the shoot…so being alert for the morning seemed somewhat important.
The next morning a good portion of us met for a breakfast buffet to fill up before our mini-junket…making several return trips to the buffet for astonishingly tasty fresh fruit. You know what they say about those Florida Oranges. They’re from Florida, and they’re orange.
When buffet time came to a close we found our way to a hidden nook of the hotel where our meeting was taking place and settled in like we were at a elementary school dance. Boys on one side, girls on the other. I felt entirely unprofessional in this setting as two of my colleagues at my table had cameras that were leaps and bounds beyond my point and shoot and they also carried voice recorders. I just jotted some notes down and enjoyed the show. The show as it turns out was pretty exciting. The shoot site was going to have the world’s biggest foam machine on site, capable of producing up to two million gallons of foam per minute or filling up an entire olympic-sized swimming pool in 24 seconds. Hot damn! This was going to be a site to behold.
From the conference area we took a little downtime making our own large bubbles from a bucket on the back lawn before loading up on a bus for lunch at an Italian place in downtown Miami whose name escapes me…but regardless of where we were I was amazed by the comfort level of this newly formed ragtag bunch of journalists and Sony digital imaging representatives. We seemed to have quite the rapport and were getting along famously.
Foam Swirls Through The Miami Sky
The lovefest continued as we pulled up on set on Miami Avenue between NW1st and 2nd streets. We all clamored with our respective camera equipment to get good shots of the foam filled action as extras roamed around the sudsy locales snapping away on their Sony equipment as cameras captured their every move filled with wonderment and discovery. There was a lot of that going on behind the cameras as well. To see an entire block filled with foam is certainly not something you see every day and I had no doubt in my mind that the commercial would come out looking fantastic.
People Wandering Around In Foam Taking Pictures
SNAFU: Situation Normal All Foamed Up (that was just awful)
After the actors broke for lunch we had our own foam fun, taking turns taking pictures of each other frolicking amongst the bubbles. Everyone got into the act and just seemed to revert to a childlike state of merriment. Hey, bubbles are fun, can you blame us?
Stephy and Michele Foam Frolic
Those who live in glass houses should throw foam
I can totally juggle foam
Foam is Fun For Children of All Ages and Nationalities!
We spent about an hour or two on set and even talked to the director a bit before making a move for the hotel. There we split up for a bit and took naps or did work. I wrote a thing or two for JoshSpear.com, before showering and meeting up with Clay, Aisling, Stephy, and Michele by the pool for a drink before our fancy group dinner at Barton G.
When our rowdy bunch arrived at the aforementioned restaurant there was a bevy of steaming cocktails with chocolate monkeys hanging from the from the rim or should I say limb of the glass (I should probably say rim). These concoctions were certainly worthy of capturing in a photo or three, as were the rest of the culinary creations at this particular establishment, the most thrilling of which were the main courses and the desserts. One of the props from one of said main course became a mascot for the rest of the trip. Jonny bestowed the name Dave upon him, whereas Stephy referred to him as Cluck-Cluck, though I always prefer giving animals people names over onomatopoeia.
Drinks are fun for people of all nationalities,
but only if they’re above that nation’s legal drinking age.
Firedogs love RibsFilet Mignon goes Moo
That Ice Cream is on Fire! Get Help!
Despite a rather filling meal the night didn’t end there. A large portion of the group, myself included, descended upon the popular Miami night spot, Nikki Beach. If we were going to spend a couple of days in a town as lively as Miami, we were going to do it right. And let me tell you we did it right until at least 3:30. Or that’s when Eric, Jonny, and I left for the hotel. It was a good time and all but if we had to sit through another horrendous dance remix of a Bon Jovi song we might’ve had to off a spiky-haired tight-shirted Dolphins fan. Several of the girls actually ended up staying until 6am and one of the other guys in the group didn’t make it home in time to participate in Monday’s outing.
Outside Nikki Beach
Inside Nikki Beach
Getting Into The Groove
Irish Michele with Fashionable Evan
Ola’s A Dude Hanging Out
Normally I think it’s never a good idea to enjoy a late night of drinking and then go on a boat the next morning, but the Ocean Breeze catamaran we embarked on the next morning after our club jaunt was quite alright. It was steady sailing all the way on Biscayne Bay. The oddest part about the boat ride was that one of the guys in charge of the boat tour insisted on constantly telling us about how big the Key Biscayne tennis tournament was. According to him it was the 5th most important tennis tournament in the world next to the four grand slams. While that may be true, it didn’t seem important enough to repeat ad nauseum.
My Attempt At An Artistic Photograph…Notice the Horizon and all of the lines ‘n’ stuff
Eventually our cruising along came to a halt and the boat dropped anchor near a sandbar area, which signaled the perfect time to unveil the catered lunch and allow anyone who wanted to take a swim, the chance. We were also taken out on a separate speedboat by a guy with a special Nike Speedboat racing glove to feel the 90 MPH wind whipping into our face. I was on the first go around with Stephy, Michele and Ruth. The boat stayed anchored at the sandbar until everyone else had their turn on the speedboat, then it headed back into the harbor.
From there we got on the party bus where we were en route to trade one boat for another. There was a new stranger on the bus who just started giving us a history lesson about the Miccosukee Indians of South Florida. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that he was talking to us, but seeing as I like history, I was interested in his lesson about the sovereign Miccosukee nation inside the state of Florida. Why was he telling us this? Because we were headed towards Miccosukee land in the Everglades for an airboat tour of the region.
Jonny, Stephy, and Dave en Route to the Miccosukee Nation
Our tour would be given by Johnny Tigertail, a legendary Miccosukee Indian who possessed the talent to communicate with alligators and wear a pretty sweet jacket with hundreds of images of deer all over it. Stephy and I considered asking Johnny where we could get one, but I figured that maybe we should wait to see if they had them in the gift shop afterwards. The group split up onto three airboats, but Clay, Jonny, Stephy, myself and some of the Germans had the pleasure of riding with the Johnny Tigertail.
As we blazed through the sawgrass of the Everglades I had two movies going through my head. The first one that I considered briefly was Adaptation. I thought about the Orchid searching scenes in the movie in an area that resembled that of which we were in. The second film that crossed my mind was Police Academy 5: Mission to Miami, specifically the parts where the wacky bunch of cops speed through the everglades on an Airboat to rescue Lassard and Harris, and when Hightower wrestles a gator to save Captain Harris from almost certain doom. I was hoping we wouldn’t need Hightower on this outing…but who needs Hightower when you have Johnny Tigertail.
Johnny Tigertail (Action Figure Available This Fall)
Pretty Much Choking A Baby Alligator
The first airboat stop we made took us to a little island where the Miccosukee had turtles and baby alligators. They showed us a small variety of snapping turtles and soft shelled turtles. We also took some pictures holding the baby gators and took a look at their wild boar.
A Big Nasty Snapping Turtle
The 2nd stop was an area that more closely resembled an outdoor cafeteria with picnic tables, but was sort of like a 2nd home for our friend JT. He pointed out the open bedroom on the right side that was basically a roof, with something to sleep on under it. That wasn’t as exciting as the turtles and gators, but the next stop was the real deal as we swept across the reeds to reach an Island inhabitated by a couple of gators. We all stood on a walkway but Johnny went onto the ground to exhibit his talent for gator calling. He made a sound that I don’t think any of us had the ability to mimic, though I could try but I suspect it would get horribly annoying. He managed to call out a ten foot long female gator along with her massive seventeen foot long mate and get right up close to them while talking to the group. It was truly an excellent display of man at one with nature. We were all rightfully impressed.
Behold The Fearsome Alligator
Johnny Tigertail Has No Fear…The Alligator is His Friend
That pretty much put an end to our pretty damned interesting Miccosukee experience. We headed back to the hotel for a smidgen of free time, which I spent writing a few posts for other projects. Our group was to reconvene at 8pm for one more voluntary dinner outing. This time it would be our good time crew minus the Italians and Germans taking South Beach by force or by a fashionably late dinnertime.
For our final evening experience our lively bunch hopped on our mini bus a little after 8pm and made straight for the heart of South Beach, stopping just in front of our dinner destination, Mango’s Island Cafe. I’m not quite sure exactly where Ruth from Sony heard about this place, but rumor has it it was recommended by the not so straight (not that there’s anything wrong with that) waiter the night before at Barton G’s. We were greeted at the door by a girl in a leopard print bikini top and bottom that left little to the imagination and her cut (I’m not misspelling cute) male counterpart, sporting a sleeveless form fitting leopard print top that certainly didn’t leave much about his muscle tone to the imagination.
Upon entering we noticed a girl dancing in the round wearing something similar to the hostess and shaking her ass with not anything I would exactly refer to as grace. We were led past that area and sat down near the back of the main room of the restaurant. While my back was to the stage I had no problem seeing the entertainment as their was a huge screen that took up then majority of the back wall projecting all of the dancing action. This was possibly the tackiest, yet oddly enjoyable restaurant I’d ever been at. Okay, so maybe that’s going a little too far, but I certainly got a kick out of the forced sexiness of the entire situation. The menus were even lined inside and out with photos of half naked sexy people, though oddly on the front cover amidst all of that sex appeal was a photo of four children, strategically placed in order to inject some wholesome family appeal into the atmosphere.
That’s One Sexy Menu!
I’d venture to say that this strategy didn’t work, but there was certainly something for everyone. When the men got up on stage, Stephy, Olivia, Michele, and Aisling ran to get a get a close up glimpse of the semi-choreographed shirtless action…and they say men are sex crazed. None of us ogled any of the girls on stage…maybe that was because they weren’t our type or maybe because it was on a huge screen in the back, but we didn’t make any efforts to gaze upon the unenthusiastically dancing forbidden fruit.
The meal itself was okay. It wasn’t as decorative as the food the previous evening, but more or less straightforward cuisine. Some people ate burgers or ribs. I figured if I was at a Cuban restaurant I should at least have something Cuban, so I ordered a chicken dish with plantains, rice and beans that wasn’t bad, but wasn’t anything special either. Rather than stick around for dessert, which is what we would’ve done anywhere else during the rest of the trip, we instead took a walk to grab one last drink at the Delano Hotel.
Sipping on a Heineken inside the Delano
On our way to the Delano we passed by the Italians eating at a nice outdoor restaurant. They caught up with us on our way over to the hotel, which was a little bit of a walk but really only a couple of blocks away. The Delano was pretty much the nicest bar I’d ever been to. I think it’s beyond me to describe it. You really just have to go there once and experience it. Aside from the cavernous well-designed interior, the outside has a swank pool set up with beds surrounding the water’s perimeter. We hung out at the bar for what amounted to one drink. At one point I was going through my pictures and one of the Italian guys, who seemed to have a habit of being a bit of a lurker had his hand on my back and was leaning on me in a non-drunk way as I went through the pictures on my camera. I didn’t want to say anything despite his consistent firm grip on my shoulder. I waited it out until he finally walked away, which was maybe two or three minutes, but felt like a lifetime. Stephy was staring at me the whole time because we had previously had a conversation about the particular fellow’s hovering, uncomfortable nature.
Poolside At The Delano
These Beds Were Made For Lounging
Ola and Stephy Enjoy a Drink In The Pool
Having already experienced far too many highlights over the previous couple of days, the group decided that it was best we not stay out for more cocktails. We called it a night as I hopped into a cab with Jonny and Michele for the trip back to the Biltmore and my final night sleeping on the most comfortable bed ever. It is my hope that one day I will be the richest person ever so that I might live in that hotel…or at least buy that bed. Who am I kidding? I just want to be rich enough to buy a Tempurpedic bed.
Tuesday morning came just like that and I was saddened. I woke up around 8:30 to head down for an early breakfast and get some work done. I ran into Clay who was reading his paper and enjoying the buffet. He had an earlier flight and had to be out by 10:30…I was supposed to be out by Noon and hadn’t packed, so we both seemed to think it best if we just hammered out a meal and got out of dodge. However, towards the end of our meal Michele showed up, followed by Aisling, Ola, Stephy, and Nikolai (I think that was his name) from Denmark. Clay left before I did as I’m never one to walk away from a good crowd. I waited around til about 10:30 before I took my leave of the group, feeling sad that the trip was over. Stephy remarked that it felt like the last day of summer camp. Having gone through that experience many a time, I couldn’t agree more. But like those long summers I spent in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, all good things have to come to an end.
The Last Breakfast
I was packed and ready five minutes before noon having knocked out a bit of work. Ola and I shared a limo together. I was being dropped at the airport and he was renting a Harley Davidson so that he could drive down to Key West, which is an infinitely cooler thing to do than sit in a cramped space for four and half hours next to a woman that won’t get out of the way so you can get in and out of your window seat, forcing you to step over her, which is exactly how it went down during my hour and a half delay and subsequent three hour flight home. Oh well, I guess it’s good to be home, but I could’ve certainly used a few more days.
p.s. Thanks to the wonderful folks at Sony’s DIME division. You’re the best.