Sunday, November 9, 2008

South Beach Goes South

by Andrew

South Beach needs to be saved by a hunky lifeguard: The economic meltdown and the housing crisis have kicked sand right in the face of this erstwhile model magnet. When I was last here, six years ago to do an article for a magazine, South Beach had a serious case of the cools. Euro-trash playboys in Maseratis competed for space on the promenade with Hollywood glitterati and boy toys on rollerblades. But now it's over the hill, like one of those supermodels who once graced the cover of Sports Illustrated but now vies for attention by appearing on reality TV shows. Any wine bar that offers drink discounts and happy hours has lost its mojo, but the practice is now rife throughout South Beach. Paunchy coupon-cutters, awaiting the feeding trough of their upcoming Caribbean cruise, now rule Ocean and Collins, pestered by increasingly desperate hostesses who used to work at TGIF. It's all quite sad.

Gays are still much in evidence, but they seem to be biding their time, waiting for the next big thing somewhere else. The staff at our hotel were all queer as $3 bills, but they wore their Halloween pirate costumes with all the elan of the customed figures at Chuck-E-Cheese. The zip is gone.

The one redeeming feature of South Beach, however, was the Halloween bash down on Lincoln Mall. Children and adults, all dressed in their ghoulish best, descended on a half-mile stretch, extracting candy from the stores and restaurants that line the pedestrian mall. Given our desire to travel light, the children had to substitute sophisticated costumes for imaginative word play. Katharine cut lots of holes in a white sheet and went as the Holy Ghost. Graham wrote pithy sayings all over his white sheet (e.g., "It was a dark and stormy night) and paraded down the avenue clutching a pen. He was a ghost writer. South Beach, with its host of cross-dressers, gays, and transgender tourists, looks pretty much like Halloween on any given night, so it takes something special to stand out on this particular holiday. The winner, hands down, went to a gay fellow dressed as a scantily clad devil, clutching an axe and the bloody wings of an angel that he had evidently just dispatched.

Graham was a little cautious at first, reluctant to push his way into restaurants, salons, and clothing stores in search of booty. Katharine had no such qualms and shot into each and every establishment that presented itself. Graham soon caught on, only to breeze confidently into an ostentatiously gay bar and request candy from the bemused bartender. One patron, well into his cups, told Graham that this particular establishment specialized in a different kind of candy. Needless to say, I hustled him into the Godiva chocolate shop next door at a brisk pace.

Despite an impressive haul of candy, the children proclaimed Miami a bust and expressed their fervent hope that Panama City would be an improvement. What kind of monsters have we created?

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