Miami Beach, Florida

19-22 April 2012

This is the short story of my visit to Miami Beach in the spring of 2012 as part of the group trip that I took for my brother's bachelor party. The very name "Miami Beach" conjures up images of wealth and luxury, movie stars relaxing on the beaches under a sun-drenched sky or celebrities partying deep into the night at expensive clubs. While we weren't going to be partying with celebrities on this trip, my brother and his friends did intend to have a good time a couple of weeks before his wedding. At this moment in 2012, I was still finishing up with the last stages of my doctoral dissertation and living off of an adjunct faculty's salary, while my brother and his friends worked in the financial sector in various forms of investment banking. That meant that there was, ummm, a bit of a difference in the amount of disposable income that we were able to spend on this trip, and I'm not much of a drinker to boot. As a result I kept away from doing anything truly excessive, and I didn't stay out too long past midnight at the bars. If you're looking for stories of wild partying at the Miami Beach nightclubs, I'm the wrong person to be asking.

The first thing that we did upon landing in Miami was to attend a Marlins baseball game. Marlins Park is the one place captured in these pictures not to be located in Miami Beach at all; it's instead situated about two miles west of downtown Miami. Marlins Park was brand new at the time and had held its inaugural game about two weeks earlier at the beginning of the 2012 baseball season. This was the first time that the Marlins would have their own stadium dedicated specifically for baseball, as opposed to playing their games in the football stadium of the Miami Dolphins. The Marlins had historically suffered from poor fan attendance, and the team owners argued that they needed a new baseball stadium to field a competitive team and raise more revenue. The construction of Marlins Park was controversial because it not only mandated the destruction of the historic Orange Bowl stadium (which had previously stood on the same location) but would also be paid for using public money from Miami taxpayers. The city of Miami would end up paying 80% of the cost of building the stadium (over $400 million) via bond issues, which would come to a total cost of $2.4 billion over the 40 year life of those bonds. It was a staggering sum of money for a sports venue and turned into a major political controversy in Florida, as it certainly appeared as though the Marlins owners were looting the public treasury for their own profit.

So what did all of that money buy? Well, Marlins Park did seem like a beautiful place to hold a baseball game. It was built with a retractable roof due to the frequent rains and high humidity of the south Florida climate, and on this particular day the roof was closed. The most similar baseball stadium that I had visited was Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, particularly in terms of the glass windows out beyond the center field fence. It's genuinely weird being in such a gigantic enclosed space, and it felt like we were inside some kind of futuristic spaceship. The other defining feature of Marlins Park was the home run sculpture, a 65 foot / 20 meter tall tropical scene with clouds, flamingos, seagulls, marlins, and palm trees. Opinion seems to be split on whether this thing captures the essence of Miami or constitutes a horribly tacky piece of tourist kitsch. It ended up being unpopular enough that the sculpture was removed following the 2018 season and placed outside of the stadium. That wasn't exactly a good omen: the architectural centerpiece of the new stadium was so unpopular with fans that it was removed in half a dozen years.

There was also a baseball game taking place, between the Marlins and the Chicago Cubs as it happened on this day. That was a great stroke of luck, as my brother lives in Chicago less than a mile from Wrigley Field and roots for the Cubs (a National League team that doesn't compete with our beloved Baltimore Orioles), plus the Cubs had Notre Dame alumus Jeff Samardzija as their starting pitcher on the mound, the same university where my brother went to school. This turned out not to be one of Samardzija's better days, as he gave up 2 runs in the first inning, and although the Cubs took a 3-2 lead on a bases clearing triple by journeyman 2B Darwin Barney in the second inning, it wouldn't last. Samardzija gave up 3 more runs in the third inning to fall behind 5-3, and the bullpens for both teams would hold up from there with no further runs scored. Here's the Baseball Reference link for the curious.

Both the Marlins and the Cubs would turn out to be terrible teams in 2012, each of them pushing 100 losses and finishing in last or next to last place in their divisions. This was expected for the Cubs who were in full rebuilding mode (and would win the World Series four years later), but for the Marlins and their highly touted new ballpark, it was a disaster. Marlins ownership proceeded to trade away the team's best players in yet another fire sale, dumping salary so that they could pocket more revenue. It became apparent almost immediately that the team's ownership had perpetuated a huge scam on the people of Miami, saying anything possible to get their stadium deal and then immediately reneging on all of their promises once the stadium was completed. This line from Wikipedia sums it up nicely: "After years of the pretense that a taxpayer-funded ballpark would finally solve the franchise's cycles of fire sales and low payrolls, the ownership's apparent return to the same policies merely months after construction completed sparked outrage from many Marlins fans." The Marlins have consistently been one of the worst teams in baseball over the six years between my visit and the time of writing, running a team on the cheap and making no effort to be competitive while profiting off the league-wide television and revenue sharing deals. Fan attendance has understandably been terrible and Marlins Park has largely played host to empty seats in the years since its construction. This franchise is a total disgrace and the stadium debacle represents capitalism at its absolute worst. The people of Miami deserved much better.

Leaving aside that unhappy note, the remainder of these pictures are from Miami Beach itself. Miami Beach is located on a barrier island just off the coast of the rest of the city proper, with Biscayne Bay running between them. The big tourist area is concentrated on the southern end of the island, at the appropriately-named South Beach, where the most expensive restaurants and hotels and clubs can be found. Aside from those hedonistic pleasures, Miami Beach is also known for having the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world. They were built when the island was first developed as a tourist resort in the 1920s and 1930s, and fortunately most of these historic buildings are still standing with their unique style of design. Several of the hotels in the pictures above date from that era and demonstrate the characteristic features of Art Deco design, with the geometric forms of Cubism mixed together with bright colors and luxury styling.

It was late April on the calendar, which is typically one of the better times of the year to visit south Florida before the heat and humidity of the summer months kick in. However, we weren't so lucky on this trip as the weather had instead proven to be overcast and slightly chilly, with occasional brief spurts of rain. It was also unusually windy out on the beach, even more so than the typical sea breezes that always are present, and the lines of palm trees along the road kept swaying back and forth with each gust of wind. There were few people out on the beaches and no one seemed to be trying to pick up a tan. We spent some time on the beach tossing a football around and doing some swimming, but it was too cold and generally unpleasant to spend more than a few hours out by the water.

These pictures were taken on a Saturday morning as I walked along the beach. The rest of the group was sleeping in after a very late night of partying, and I went out by myself to take in some more of the Miami Beach scenery. I walked through the Art Deco historical district looking at some of the various buildings, and eventually reached the end of the island at South Pointe. Yes, that's the actual spelling, I don't know why it has the extra "e" on South Pointe. This spot had some particularly tall condominium buildings as well as a pier that stretched out into the bright blue waters of the ocean. The sea itself had a dazzling clear color to it despite the otherwise gloomy weather, and this was a great spot to watch the ships coming and going through the harbor. The channel that leads from Biscayne Bay out to the ocean runs right past South Pointe, and there were some very fancy luxury ships passing through. This is some of the most expensive real estate anywhere in the world, and it attracts the rich and the famous on an annual basis.

I headed back north again a few streets in from the beach, walking up the largest traffic byway known as Washington Avenue. This looked more like the typical setup for a beach town, lots of stores catering to tourists and less in the way of historic architecture. I passed by the Jewish Museum of Florida and the Miami Beach police department headquarters, not exactly the biggest attractions. At least the Miami police cars stood out with their bright pink coloring, not something that I've ever seen elsewhere. If it hadn't been for all of the palm trees along the sides of the road, I could have been in a city virtually anywhere.

This route eventually took me past an elegant post office and then back to where we were staying, at the Suites on South Beach. It was a bit of a hole in the wall place, but located right on the beach and with easy access to all forms of public transportation. The one other thing that I have to mention about this trip was the food: we ate several different meals at a restaurant named Havana 1957 Cuban Cuisine, and the place was simply outstanding. I don't even have a particular affection for Cuban food and I thought it was great. We liked the place so much that we went there three times in total even with all of the other potential options for meals. I should have taken a picture but of course this was back before I had a camera on my cell phone. Although that sounds ridiculous today, cameras still weren't a standard feature back in 2012 and lots of older phones (like the one I was using) lacked them.

Those are all of the pictures that I have from this four day trip to Miami Beach. It wasn't a vacation taken specifically for tourism purposes, and the main goal was to let my brother have a great time with his friends, which was certainly accomplished. They had a fantastic few days of partying and I was largely along for the ride. While Miami is one of my least-favorite cities in the United States, it's still a highly unique place and worth visiting for its important role in popular culture. I probably won't be going back to Miami Beach any time soon, and I'm glad that I had the chance to see it.