Life can be very twisty turny like an afternoon at the amusement park. Dare I get more specific with the inside jokes and say that for the Wife and I, life is like a day at Coney Island. One minute you are hustling and fighting your way to get to your destination, the next second you are walking on the seashore listening to the waves and looking at the water. A moment later you’re screeching along out of control on a rickety old roller coaster that feels like it will fall apart any second. Suddenly things calm down again and you celebrate with a Nathan’s dog and stroll down the boardwalk watching the chaos around you till it all starts over again. That’s life (feel free to hum the Frank Sinatra song to yourself, that’s what I am doing).
Things have been a bit roller coastery here on our little Coney Island as of late. Unfortunately I think the wife and I still have an extended visit or two to the House Of Horrors ride before we can take that ‘out on the other side’ boardwalk stroll but we will get there. Like during hurricane season at the beach, sometimes you just have to hunker down for a bit and weather the storm before you can go play in the water again. Once in a while the storm might completely ravage that house of cards of a life you built for yourself on the shore but the beach itself always returns to its peaceful beautiful self again afterwards looking like nothing ever happened.
One of the ways the Wife and I pass the time when we are in hunker mode is we make plans for the future. The old ‘if you can live anywhere’ conversation seems to pop up a lot. We have both extensively traveled so the list is long but the problem with beloved places from the past is they change. What we found endearing about them disappears over the years. For years I thought I would retire in Miami, Florida but I don’t think so now. I lived there for years but the people and things I cherished there have changed or moved. This is nothing new, but that and my current roller coaster ride have been causing my head to do some wanderin’ and ponderin’ about places I loved that are no more.
Coconut Grove in Miami is an expensive place to live. Full of ritzy high-rise condos overlooking Biscayne Bay, expensive trendy shops, overpriced restaurants and million dollar houses tucked away in banyan tree covered streets. But it was not like that when I lived in Miami back in the late 70s / early 80s. It was a free-spirited bohemian minded neighborhood where old timer Miamians, hippies, artists, hobos and openly gay couples wandered the sidewalks together past the art galleries, head shops, health food stores, funky bars and groovis restaurants. Many a late Saturday night was spent at the midnight showing of Rocky Horror at the funky Grove Cinema Art-Film House.
Of course this was before the Liberty City/Overtown race riots, the Mariel Boatlift, the cocaine drug wars, Hurricane Andrew and the influx of mega rich Central and South Americans driving house prices to astronomical levels so high reading the real estate papers will cause your eyeballs to lunge two feet forward out of your face as if you’re a character in the old cartoons. The streets are the same but the neighborhood is not what I knew and loved. Like an open casket funeral, the body is there but the soul is gone.
I did not live in Coconut Grove, but like so many other high school and college aged kids back then, we wanted to. We would flock there in the evenings and weekends to hang out. I certainly was not one of the ‘cool’ people but I guess the hopes were if you are in the general proximity of funky folks maybe a droplet of cool will rub off on you a bit. A sorta being cool by proxy thing. It didn’t happen. Once a dork always a dork, but we still had fun there.
Fast forward to 15 years ago when I met my wife here in Texas; back then I had a pair of roller blades that I had occasionally used with friends when ‘blade-ing’ about town was popular. I was never too comfortable on them and usually looked like Frankenstein on wheels spending most of my time with my torso and legs rigid and stiff while my arms frantically waved trying to prevent a clumsy fall. Unfortunately this was nothing new. I never roller skated as a kid and the second time I ever put on regular skates was in Coconut Grove. When I was young there were a half dozen places you could rent them by the hour and hundreds of tanned beautiful people would skate up the winding local streets and down to Peacock Park, past Monty Trainers and the boat docks over to the Biscayne Bay shoreline.
A handful of us from school went down one sunny weekend afternoon to see and be seen, as we joined the crowds skating around the neighborhood. Well everyone else cruised about the streets of Coconut Grove. I carefully shifted my death grip from light pole to street sign to mail box trying to keep my rolling time greater than my flailing and falling time. Everyone else said they had fun when they regularly checked up on me but I never got more than three blocks away from the skate rental place. I actually was OK with it; at least I fared better than my first time on skates.
My high school girlfriend’s Mother had asked us to accompany my girlfriend’s younger sister to the local popular skating rink since she was uncomfortable with her going alone. We usually stayed away from places like that but having just recently gotten out of the doghouse for getting home way after curfew a few weeks before, we thought it best not to argue. Feeling pretty ridiculous about it, I never admitted to anyone that this was my first time ever putting little wheels under my feet. How hard could it be?
Bad popular disco music blared through the cavernous building as kids with poofy 1970s blow-dried hair wearing a lot of loud polyester clothes zipped around the big oval. I only got out on the floor once very briefly and learned very quickly that I was better suited standing by the snack bar leaning on the counter. I was about as graceful as a Walrus dancing ballet in stilettos.
A short obnoxious senior named Nestor kept hitting on the way too young 12 year-old sister of my girlfriend. Having been assigned by her Mother to watch over her, I took it as my manly man duty to step into things and be her protector. Well,the truth is after my girlfriend told me I needed to step in and perform my manly man duties breaking things up, than I most definitely attempted to duly do my duties as manly manishly as I could… on skates for the first time.
Unfortunately, when you are too busy holding onto walls and railings to stop from falling flat on your ass, it is very hard to intimidate someone. Especially when every time you attempt to charge and confront them they zip around you in a perfect effortless circle as you flail and wave your arms all around like a spastic flightless bird attempting to lift off before foolishly collapsing to the ground in a pile of itself. It was not pretty. At the time I was upset and aggravated and embarrassed… but now, decades later, I look back and laugh. I wish all my current amusement park of problems were that silly and surmountable. It would be nice if in the future I could look back at my current woes have them seem so trivial but as the years pass the problems grow bigger and uglier.
I have lots of memories, good and bad, of Miami but the places I loved have changed or are gone. I’ve moved my future dreams to other parts of Florida but just this year when I visited, I saw the same cycle starting there too. I am sure there are new versions of the old Coconut Grove where the hippies, artists and hobos can hang out with the old-timer Miamians like me. Either way, I’m not going anywhere right now but letting my head wander did the trick. It did take my mind off the roller coaster and moved me to the beach… for a little while at least.