I exited the Lord Balfour Hotel on Ocean Drive. I walked north. To my right, the blue-green Atlantic sparkled in the 10 a.m. sun.
To my left, cleaning crews scrubbed the previous night’s revels from sidewalk cafes outside Ocean Drive’s Art Deco hotels.
At 12th street, I entered the lobby of the Tides Hotel. I was looking for a Wall Street Journal. A deck of The New York Times fanned across the reception desk. The concierge, a pretty woman with dark hair in a blue suit, smiled at me. I nodded. No Journal.
The lobby was mostly empty, three Swedes on a sofa, sipping mimosas. The wallpaper was copper and gold, luminescent in the tropical light. The wainscotting was polished coral.
By the 1980s, South Beach had gone to seed, a scruffy backdrop for the fluorescently attired Crockett and Tubbs on Miami Vice. Today, the glam is back, exemplified most famously by the Versace Mansion.
Medium-sized Art Deco hotels change hands at $90 million. The sidewalks are bouillibasse of Latins and Anglos, Europeans and Chinese. We’re here for the sun, a drink, a few days’ respite from the brutal winter at home.
I walked north to 17th Street, an outdoor mall/plaza/shopping mecca. Young hostesses called to me from the doorways of their cafes, their English inflected with Scandanavian affricates. “Breakfast?” “Bottomless margarita.”
At a sporting goods store, I bought a swimsuit. I ate a nondescript salad at an overpriced coffee house. I returned to the hotel, suited up, and crossed Ocean Drive to the beach. The mid-March subtropical sun burned the northeastern gloom from my brain.
I awoke the next morning to a warm rain, a strong wind blowing in off the Atlantic. After coffee, a morning with the Journal, and a 3 mile stroll through the pavered path that winds along the Atlantic, I drove to Miami to wander around Coral Gables. Not much there. That evening, I repaired to Puerto Sagua, a down-at-the-heels Cuban diner on South Beach’s Collins Avenue, for my last meal in the subtropics.
I met a group of runners from Brooklyn, in town for the Miami Marathon. We traded stories about the Apple. I checked my watch, headed back to the hotel. Time to pack and catch my flight back to the cold.