2006.12.06 Back from the third world

Written by David Green.


Just like that, I became an instant fan of Miami, Florida.

This is from the guy who had visited Florida only once—more than 25 years earlier—and apparently found no great reason to return in the intervening years.

And don’t think it was just the warm weather that won me over. Even when I was still wearing three shirts to stay warm in “chilly” Miami, I was having a great time.

Look, on Thanksgiving morning when I walked from my son’s house down the block to the ocean, little lizards scurried across the sidewalk as I approached. I was sold on this city right then. That was good enough for me.

And to top it off, a few days later in a shopping center courtyard, I stood close to what looked like a small egret walking around the shrubbery eating those little lizards.

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Col.) recently called Miami a Third World city. He’s never visited the place, but he certainly doesn’t like what he hasn’t seen. To him, it’s a showcase of what could happen to America if we don’t get that wall built along the border with Mexico.

Tancredo, in his great wisdom, said that if you moved Miami to another place, you would never know you were in the U.S.A.

It seemed like somewhat of a foreign country to me, also, but not for Tancredo’s reasons.

 I’m thinking of trees and birds and...OK, Tancredo, even the people. We went to a dinner at the home of Morenci native David Carlson and there was a Cuban present, along with a Columbian and someone from French West Indies. David is married to a Puerto Rican/Polish Columbian via Brazil, or something like that.

This is a typical Miami crowd, but I think all of those people arrived through the airport. Tancredo’s wall wouldn’t have done a thing to prevent the wonderfully multicultural world of Miami.

On the morning after Thanksgiving, while the family wasted time in bed, I grabbed my GPS receiver and headed out on foot toward a geocache 1.6 miles away. Geocaching can take you to such interesting places.

I was headed for a park up the bay. The hider of the cache noted that Mr. Stallone and Mrs. Ritchie use to live down the street. That’s geocaching in Miami, he said.

I obviously received a slanted view of the city. Ben and his two housemates found a modest size house to rent in Coconut Grove, near his job, in a neighborhood of spectacular homes. Enormous structures in pastel colors with little balconies and decorative gates. A few featured large open areas with steel staircases, looking somewhat like private art museums.

The most interesting thing I learned about these monstrosities is what lies underneath. I saw a couple of them under construction and it’s nothing but cinder block. What we use for factories and grocery stores, the south Floridians turn into beautiful, stucco-covered mansions.

This was only one small part of Miami. I read in the newspaper about shanty towns elsewhere. I wasn’t seeing that, nor was I feeling the summer heat that’s so far out of Tancredo’s and my world.

The trees and shrubs were familiar but strange. Loud cousins of what we know in the north. Flowers are so much larger and showier, just like the houses.

A vine growing through trees looked like our common bindweed, but it had spectacular magenta flowers. One tree had leaves like the Kentucky coffeetree, another resembled redbud. Something else must have been a locust. And all the coconuts and palms? We weren’t in Michigan anymore.

The automobiles grow differently down there, too. Bentley. Lamborghini. Jaguar. Porsche. Aston Martin. Third-world Ben drives his grandparents’ old Ford Taurus—still in excellent condition, but...you understand.

The opulence really is out of the world that I know. How can there be so much wealth in this city?

But as I walked down Bayshore Drive toward the park, with dozens of joggers ignoring me completely, I noticed there were always vultures circling overhead.

It doesn’t really offer a comforting feeling about the city. Enjoy it while you can. With ocean levels expected to rise and the vultures waiting, all of this can’t last. Something has to give.

And me? I’m ready to go again.

    – Dec. 6, 2006
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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