1 Reason to Go to Miami Now

Yes, I am mocking my own tendency –and travel writers everywhere– to use numbers in headlines. I was trying to find a hook that explained my sense of urgency. There is one main reason to go now: Miami is living on borrowed time. I wanted to see Miami before climate disruption wreaks Katrina or Sandy-like damage.

Al Gore dedicated many hours to training the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.
Al Gore dedicated many hours to training the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

I am so glad I saw New Orleans before Katrina because now every story is how it is coming back. While it is still a special place, it is still an echo of its former glory. Just as articles are encouraging people to see Cuba before it loses its Cubanness, see Miami while it is in its prime.

Building construction and growth is rampant. At the same time the oceans are getting warmer. Miami Beach is flooding during king tides and it is one big storm or hurricane away from major damage. Over time this will fundamentally change Miami. I hope the leaders and citizens of Miami make smart decisions and adapt in advance of major property damage and loss of life. I am also glad I saw it now.

Miami at night from hotel balcony.
Miami at night from hotel balcony.

I went to Miami for the Climate Reality Leadership Conference to learn more about the challenges facing our home planet because of the choices made by humankind. It is emotionally challenging listening to the scientific news and to see example after example of natural disasters related to climate disruption. The only thing that saved me was some good news about the growth rates of clean energy adoption, and the enthusiasm and commitment of 1200 other participants from 80 other countries. People are organizing support for their governments to make more serious commitments at the next climate talks in Paris. There is still time to change our behavior and reverse the damage.

I had very little time to get out and about and enjoy Miami. The Hotel Urbano where I was staying was inconvenient far from the main conference hotel Hyatt Regency. It was a 36 minute walk in the intense humidity or rain. There is a free trolley but I never allowed time to take it. The hotel is better located for the aquarium or the Vizcaya Gardens. So I relied on the Lyft app a lot and it proved affordable and super responsive. Once I got over the disappointment about Hotel Urbano’s location, I could appreciate the beautiful pool and quality food. The formica tables and cafeteria style layout does a disservice to the very good food they serve. Both my All American breakfasts and my cheeseburger on a pretzel roll were excellent. The rooms are just okay. I never could figure out the lights—why some worked and others did not. Housekeeping was lackadaisical. Overall I would still say it gave good value at $95 a night.

One night I joined some colleagues for a Cuban dinner at the Versaiiles restaurant. It had the same formica tables as Hotel Urbano Though it was set up for larger groups. The menu was expansive and included all the Cuban classics. I had the good fortune to go to Cuba about 15 years ago and eat some amazing food. This did not match those memories. It was moderately priced and a mediocre experience.

I met up with Jim, my friend from my Trek Travel Tour de France experience. We met in Coconut Grove where his maritime law office is located. We ate at Monty’s where Jim assured me I would have another average experience. At least I finally got some great clam chowder. The popcorn shrimp caesar salad was also tasty. He described some of the challenges of bike riding in Miami. If you cycle, check out the once-a-month Critical Mass rides when there is less potential conflict with cars. Or look for the Gran Fondo rides that start in October.

After talking to a half dozen drivers I learned a lot about the city. Miami is a very Latin city of hustle. People are very transient. They are also moving from job to job chasing the American Dream. Miami seems to be giving people a foothold. It is definitely an advantage if you speak Spanish and English.

People in Miami love, love, love air conditioning. The conference organizers warned us in advance to wear layers. I brought a jacket and scarf and a light sweater. At different times I used all of them. When I met up with Jim we sat outside. The evening had cooled slightly. It felt like a warm hug and after a short while I did not think about it again. Another occasion I was outside but in the direct sunlight and I wilted after just 10 minutes. Another time it was raining so hard I could hardly see across the street. Miami is a city of extremes and can be stressful.

Catching a Concert at Oracle Arena

Recently I attended a concert at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. I do not appreciate reminders of my advancing age. This whole experience made me feel old! First, I could not remember the last concert I have been to at a big arena. (I actually tried to recall.) I do remember going to see U2 at Arco Arena (aka Sleep Train Arena) in 2000. It was amazing. They designed a set that created an intimate-like setting for 17,000 fans. The sound waved through our bodies as we all sang along to every song. I believe Gwen Stefani and No Doubt opened the concert but they did not make a big impression, except that they seemed dwarfed by the set. In contrast, the arena erupted with electric lights and excitement when U2 took the stage and did not ebb until after the last encore. The sound was not as good as a concert hall, but it was as good as it gets in a basketball arena.

Needless to say, my bar was set kind of high. Fast forward to 2015 and the Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull concert. My friend Noel put out the call to action on Facebook and a number of us–all Enrique fans–responded yes! Noel was able to get tickets at the box office. In fact, the price had just been dropped to $29 for nosebleed sections.

The Sushi House restaruarnt at 2226 South Shore Center, Suite B, Alameda, Califronia
The Sushi House restaruarnt at 2226 South Shore Center, Suite B, Alameda, Califronia

We agreed to meet for dinner beforehand at the Sushi House in Alameda. It was Valentine’s Day so we expected it to be packed. They do not take reservations so I scrambled out of the car to sign up on the wait list while Noel parked the car. We were seated within 20 minutes.

Bento box includes starters of soup and salad and is enough to feed two!
Bento box includes starters of soup and salad and is enough to feed two!

While the service at the Sushi House is intermittent, the food is abundant and delicious. We ate as much as we could before we had to dash to Oracle Arena to make the show. So glad we carpooled! Can you believe parking is $45 a car?

Because I am an Enrique Iglesias fan, I assumed Pitbull was opening for Enrique and not the other way around. Showing my age, right? Oh, it gets worse.

Some sort of DJ rapper was on stage with a couple of excellent hip hop dancers. They were dwarfed by the sets and we could not understand what they were singing for the pounding bass drum beat that felt like a second heart beat throughout my body. I had to overcome the overall desire to retreat to the outside hallway. Conversation impossible. I also kicked myself for forgetting my earplugs.

The view of confetti falling from our seats in the first row of the highest tier at Oracle Arena.
We were in seats in the first row of the highest tier at Oracle Arena.

After what seemed an eternity, Enrique took the stage. Again I was taken by surprise because I was expecting Pitbull. (Full display of the power of assumptions; and admission that I never read my ticket). He sang beautifully on the ballads and with energy on the pop songs. He had a rapper and several excellent vocalists and guitarists accompanying him. He has a couple of songs on his Sex & Love album that feature Pitbull and yet Pitbull did not appear (the rapper filled in) during those performances. I naively thought maybe Pitbull was a no show. The staging was a bit clunky and old-fashioned. The use of fireworks and confetti felt like it was fulfilling audience expectations rather than inspired by the music.

Enrique saved Bailando for the encore and I loved it. My whole fascination with the Sex & Love album was inspired by my Thomson tour guides’ fascination with the song during the Tour de France. We sang it on the bus several times a day and it conjures up fun memories of Aussies and Americans singing in Spanish through the French countryside.

Enrique wrapped up about 11 p.m. and we all looked at each other, gathered up our stuff to go and proceeded to the lobby. Almost immediately another DJ came on to keep the crowd warm. We then realized that Pitbull’s performance was still to come.  We all agreed that we should at least stay and sample his show, so we sheepishly returned to our seats.

The DJ finally ended and six dancers skipped onto the stage and began to disrobe into essentially lingerie. Then Pitbull made his entrance. I know I have been playing the old fart card in this post, yet I do know most of Pitbull’s music from Zumba and pop radio (I adore!). I am still mystified how he can be the main attraction. Most of his songs “feature” Pitbull, that is a singer like Shakira sings the chorus and Pitbull jumps in with his Miami rap schtick. It is all backed up by a club beat. In fact, people play some Pitbull song to get the party started in clubs and at weddings. Now imagine, 15,000 to 16,000 people have been drinking since 6:00 p.m. (or smoking), and then Pitbull starts his act and turns the place into a giant club. People suddenly feel they have permission to act like they do in a club. Only it feels a little overwhelming because it is 100 times bigger. Whereas Enrique talked to us and invited us to drink with him and sing along in Spanish, Pitbull shouted at us to get up and act up. Except his songs did not sound like his songs because he only sampled a little bit of the chorus. So it was a few bars of Shakira and then all Miami club jabber. A few songs in and I let the group know I was okay with leaving. We were of one accord.

We returned to Alameda and found a Mexican restaurant with a bar still open and enjoyed margaritas and conversation. At last the music was not so loud.