Monday, March 21, 2011

Sink, Florida, Sink

I was not exactly upset at leaving Harlem – the early nights, sirens and starkly empty streets don’t exactly represent the postcard version of New York that is sent around the world. Regardless, I’d done my best to get acquainted with the place. I’d established a regular order at the local deli and seen the same vagrants and street-toughs repeatedly.

It took an hour-or-so on the subway, but the middle of Brooklyn was about a world away. In a rejuvenated post-industrial neighborhood, the buildings may not be as pretty as Harlem’s brownstones, but the shops don’t serve you behind bullet-proof glass.

It took Sam and Max a while to make it to Brooklyn, and my week alone in Harlem probably meant I was happier for the company than them, but I made the most of the remaining solitude by exploring Williamsburg.

The hustle and bustle of Manhattan was removed, and a new calm of being able to walk the streets at my own pace and in a straight line brought with it a nice reprieve. The slow jaunt took me to a remarkable skateboard shop that came complete with adjoining half pipe (gnarly) and the neighboring Brooklyn Brewery. For a while, when the sun was out and the hipsters were still in bed, there was no nicer place in the world than Williamsburg.

Finally, I met up with Max in Manhattan before hightailing back to Brooklyn to catch up with Sam. We reacquainted ourselves again with L line and haggled our way through Chinatown for last minute Miami supplies. Lower-Manhattan occupied the earlier part of our evening, wandering through the financial district as the sun eventually set.
Freedom Tower, the good elf and double Sam

Max, the Londoner of the group, had gone to the same school as a few of the lads from Bombay Bicycle Club, and our Spring Break in Miami had a slight delay so we could catch them in Williamsburg. I can only imagine how it would have felt for him seeing his classmates play to sold out crowds in New York City. Save for some locals, the crowd was mainly made up of Brits arguing about who had travelled further (I won).

Bombay were impressive, and the main lad, Jack, has a musical maturity that is clearly beyond his years and the rest of his band. There was some oddly out of place fistbumping, but what the crowd saw was an excellent young band who have the world at their feet.
Max St Max

We dragged Max away from his catch-up with the band (though he struggled to get through to them as they were being badgered for photos from the crowd. The bar with the big beer cups ($4 for 32oz) was the destination and despite being as lively as a nursing home, we still managed to get a free round courtesy of a trolleyed Irishman.

It was a comparatively early start for Sam, Max and I, and despite the cold of New York in March, we donned our summer kit and headed to La Guardia. Six of us had four different flights and throughout the day we staggered our arrivals into Florida.

I try to avoid flying where possible, generally favouring an overland approach to travel, but with a discount airline and a time disadvantage Spirit airlines were our courier to sunshine. Max and I landed in Fort Lauderdale and made our way to South Beach via a shuttle. The 40 minute trip offered our first glimpses of sunshine and palm trees. The city had a sense of familiarity about it drawn solely from the countless hours spent bashing a PlayStation controller on GTA: Vice City and the final part of the journey took as past the water channel with large cruise ships on one side and mansions with private yachts on the other.

The staggered flights came back to haunt us as no one could check in until Dicky Peach arrived…at 9PM. Still, there was enough time to reacquaint myself with the sun, the sand and summer for what had begun to feel like a lifetime.

A few others had been in Miami earlier, and for some other guy staying at the hostel the trip had already resulted in a broken foot. The lucky lad had found himself in one of the lifeguard towers with a female companion, but when one of the local police shone his torch on them from his quad-bike he panicked, jumping off the edge and landed at a bone-shattering angle. He continued on with his broken foot for a day, and immediately after jumping off the tower climbed back up to apologise. The guy felt embarrassed by the whole situation, but for the rest of us was a brilliant start to Spring Break.

The quick turnaround from Peach’s late arrival culminated in donning my nicest shirt ($15, JC Penney) and heading out to some of Miami’s wankier clubs. We walked past the crowds of girls showing as much skin as they did at the beach and guys with popped collars before lining up to enter ‘Mansion’.

There was all sorts of table service and grinding that made the club a ridiculous place, but two things stood out in defining the night. Firstly, a bottle of beer was $10 sans tip, and secondly you could, and people did smoke everywhere. Attendants walked around selling all sorts tobacco, and Sleeves acquainted himself with a cigar. My interest in paying such inflated prices for anything was as high as my interest in how much the punters standing around me spent on their neck chains. I left after an hour or two feeling poorer than I had for a long time, but content in knowing I wasn’t being duped by what was essentially thievery.

The next day began at the beach, and for the first time I was finally able to get my head wet in the Atlantic. It had been almost a year since I’d visited the beach, and on my previous unemployed summer I’d become well acquainted with the waves. To say I’d missed it was an understatement, and drying off in the sun had hardly felt better…or as hot.

I can’t recall how many hours we spent on the sand that day, but kicking a ball around and swimming with mates carried with it a certain euphoria after what had been a rather frigid 4 months beforehand.

It became apparent that America had taken its toll on the bodies of most of us, with our tiny frames but flabby pale skin left us looking like Pete Doherty. Still, America still had a role to play on our physicality, as that night I would discover an impressive amount of sunburn that resembled a Polish flag and hurt like a German invasion.

Max, Bella, Elle and I walked up and down Ocean Drive with the countless tourists and restaurant hawkers trying to get us into their establishment. All the menus were the same, and it was happy hour no matter what the time of day was, but finally, we settled on one somewhere in the middle of the strip.

The cannelloni was nice, and the Bloody Mary was strong, but somewhere along the way the night began to go pear-shaped for myself. We’d found a cheap bar earlier, and $2 tall cans of PBR were the order for the night. Elle and Bella joined Max and I in games of beer-pong on the table that is a permanent fixture in the bar and things were getting competitive to the point that team photos and kissing partner wagers were put into action.

A couple of rounds were played, and with some coercive arguing I’d managed to be on the winning team for all of them. I began chatting to some UFC fighter in training and his surgically enhanced girlfriend before my tape stopped recording. They were incredibly lovely, and even chanted my name during the beer pong game, however, somewhere between games and conversations I just wandered off into the night.
Team photo

Some sort of self-preservation must have kicked in, because according to receipts and reports I raced back to local 24/7 pharmacy for some ice-tea and aloe vera cream for the brutal sunburn that adorned my back.
The tea was drunk, the after sun care applied and then sprayed all over the room. The excitement got the better of me by this stage, and before midnight, and the leaving time for everyone else I had put myself to sleep for what turned out to be a 12 hour coma.

Job done, two nights in and I was already wrecked.

The beach offered a cure to a hangover that no other solution could. The waves were tiny, the water was clear and the temperature, though not hot was the perfect amount of warm that wakes up every part of your body. I wasn’t feeling 100% for the rest of the day, but from the wake-up to stepping out of the sea had changed me into a new man.

The rest of the day was a rather timid affair, with the embarrassment of the previous determining that things would be taken a little slower. But like a race car approaching a hairpin, it was only a temporary slowdown before a rapid acceleration into stupidity. It was of course St Patrick’s Day, and though he is from Northern Ireland, Dicky Peach approached the holiday like it was his birthday, Christmas and New Year’s all rolled into one.

We all let him have a head-start, but by the time we’d joined him around lunch time at Waxy O’Connor’s, the Irish pub, to watch sports he had well and truly started. I watched Rangers get rorted out Europe before leaving Peach with his 6th or 7th pint.

A quick dip prepared us for the rest of the night before returning to Lush, the same cheap bar that I had dominated beer-pong at before sprinting off into the aloe vera coma. The town’s Irish bars had adopted the nightclub policy and were charging exorbitant prices for entry and product, and despite the emptiness, a group of relatively poor students care more for cost than reputation.

The rounds were constantly coming, and before too long it was determined that we’d all end up with tattoos. It was a group exercise, and for the next few minutes debating stupid ideas was the lead topic at the table.
We tried to encourage Alex, to get the word ‘tight’ on his arse and if that wasn’t harsh enough, Ollie felt ‘pussy free since 89’ would be funnier (even if the date was wrong). It was all but settled and just needed a bit more liquid encouragement before reality would arrive.

Somewhere along the way Dicky Peach fell asleep on the toilet (again) and Max led another Oasis sing-along and celebrated by reenacting a Formula One driver’s celebration but replaced champagne with a can of PBR, pure class.

The group moved on from the bar looking for food and tattoo shops. In a drunk-stupor the idea of a tattoo skipped Sam and we headed to the ocean. We met a group of locals and got chatting to them for a long time. It was so long that phone calls began to pour in about our whereabouts, and before long Becs, Elle and Max joined in for some late beaching.

We had no swim-gear, and the au-naturale swim costumes were revealed by a quick dip in the ocean. Neil, a random guy we had met earlier joined the late night swim and when we realised the water depth was not enough to protect our dignity we returned to the shore to get redressed. A quad bike riding cop came by after and was nice enough to tell us how he has the best job in the world watching people have sex on the beach. He even let me shine a torch on a couple while Becs yelled at them to stop. It was the most authority I’ve had for a long time.

We made a pact to have a quick nap and wake up for the sunrise at the beach, but given the state we were all in before counting sheep, that target was duly missed. Though disappointed, the next morning brought with it a pleasant make up.

Max tapped me on the shoulder with the enthusiasm of a kid who just discovered a reward from the tooth-fairy. There was a cling-film covered foot being thrown through the air and it belonged to Ollie. While we were off swimming around in our birthday suits, both he and Dicky Peach had persevered with their intentions and were permanently rewarded. Ollie’s foot now says ‘Good Ef’ as if to say good ef-foot (good effort) and Peach now has a lovely scroll that reads ‘Your Mum’ on his right bicep.

Ollie wrestled with the permanence of his decision while Peach was presumably still drunk from the night before in his enthusiasm for his new mark. Regardless of that, he still spent the rest of the day in bed having exhausted himself celebrating the day before.

An Australian guy staying at the hostel was a day late to the party. When everyone was moderately relaxed and waiting for dinner he was steamed to the point of pouring his fruity concoction all over the shop as well as falling onto his arse and laying there for a good five minutes. Worse still, if his slurred accent wasn’t bad enough, he was advertising his nationality through a hyper-boganed Australia visor. There was a temptation to replace it with a New Zealand one, but they’ve had enough of a bad run lately. He was last seen running outside and trying to jump through the open passenger window of a slow moving car.

Still, while he was a wanker because he had pickled himself alive, another Aussie absolutely loved telling everyone how he was studying at Yale and grew up in Bondi. He constantly dropped “Oi!” at anyone who was in his surround, and that group changed every day, as it seemed most people saw through his big-noting exterior. The two of them were horrible, and I even had a couple of friends point out to me how bad Australians are overseas.

The next night offered an opportunity to make a complete hypocrite of myself by acting like an equally wanky antipodean. While Sam and Alex were eventually forced out of Lush for not having sufficient identification, Peach, Max, Becs, Sleeves and I all stuck around to enjoy cheap PBR cans. We were even treated to an impromptu and unenthusiastic pole dance from some random girls.

With enough beer bravado we ventured to the tattoo shop to complete the pledge from two nights before.  Dicky Peach’s beer brain directed us to the store that left their mark on him. I scanned through a computer and copious amounts of porn trying to find the right image to get emblazoned on my arse and when I finally told the guy what I wanted and where he began to erupt in a tat’d up ball of fury.

“I’m not gay, why would I want to tattoo a robot onto your arse?”, was the general flow of the conversation and after about two minutes of anger and a $500 price tag we left. Unfulfilled, but with remnants of sensibility we decided to accept the defeat of such an acquisition.

When everyone else went home, Dicky Peach and I went out to search for Alex, who was off partying on his own at some club he kept telling us was awesome. It wasn’t, and when we all left he went out in search for somewhere else. Later reports by Alex said he ended up in some gay bar. Still, Peach and I were still out in search for a degree of entertainment. As we approached the hostel we worked out the cheapest thrill would be to steal a hubcap from a car.

It was presumed to be easy, but in the land of chrome wheels, finding hubcaps was proving to be rarer than hen’s teeth. The cars that have hubcaps were cable tied to the wheels, and when we eventually found a suitable target, the car behind it lingered with the engine idling for too long for us to make the grab. We tried to wait it out in an ally, but instead turned around and headed to the hostel before finding an eventual goldmine. Across the road from the hostel were two absolute bombs of cars, and with a swift pull Peach had a hubcap in his hand and our little legs sprinted back to the room. The hubcaps adventures would eventually end on Max’s pillow as a nice surprise for him when he rolled over.

It was a late end to the night but the hostel staff barged into our room at an ungodly hour trying to unsuccessfully wake up Alex. “Wake up! Your boat tour is about to leave”. Wait, what? Boat tour? Apparently Alex’s post gay bar adventure included booking himself on a trip around the waters of Miami as soon as he got back…or an hour before he was supposed to go. It was cracking drunk form, even if it wasn’t a tattoo of ‘your mum’.

We spent the final day in Miami at the beach, catching what would be the last warm sun-rays for a few months. Despite the fact that there was finally some swell, we did our best to make it a calm and relaxed day. It didn’t quite go to plan, as like the GTA video games when you get 3 stars a number of police cars and helicopters arrived on the scene.

There were a total of 23 police cars, one van and numerous quad-bikes as some rumble had started at another part of the beach. People kept rolling out, but there were no bloody bodies and only one guy in handcuffs. It seemed like an act of police boredom or any excuse to break up a crowd.

With that bit of excitement pushed aside, we spent the remainder of the night by the beach as the shrinking supermoon provided ample light for us to sit around, talk crap and smoke cigars. It was a real nice way to end what had been a very fun and hectic week.

Many of my friends kept referring to Miami as paradise, and while I can agree that the weather and ocean really do sweeten it up, paradise it is not. I’ve been spoiled by great weather and beaches for most of my life, so I felt I could see through that part of it. Art Deco buildings aside, what it left wasn’t exactly my cup of tea.

Though some people (who all seem to be found on South Beach) care about $400 polo shirts and chrome wheels, I really don’t, and on a wet day in Miami I think that’s what would remain. It was great for spring break, and great to see the sun, and that’s all I took from Miami. On another trip I’m sure I’d think differently of it, but for this one it was all about the beach and bars and that’s pretty much all I saw. Key West and the Everglades will be put aside for another time.

*** Song
Jonsi - Animal Arithmetic
Sigur Ros are a great band to fall asleep to, so when I tried to the do same with Jonsi's solo album I was pleasantly shocked to find that things had turned around. This is the kind of song you want with your first cup of tea and morning beach swim.

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