Bipedal Stories

Exploring the world on two feet

South Beach: Miami

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.

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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 Tides

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.

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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.

Puerto Sagua

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.

South Street: Philadelphia

“We have 45 minutes. We can get a drink.” A group of women walked past me. Saturday, a day of freedom unshadowed by anticipation of the week ahead. They laughed, energy in their step. Bright sunshine chipped away at the bitter cold that had encased Philadelphia for the past week.

“I’ll have a beer.”

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They had come to the right place. South Street’s ramshackle head shops and fast-food grease pits have given way to Whole Foods, Starbucks, and taverns with craft beer on tap. Just east of Broad Street, new condos rise above the bones of shuttered warehouses.

I felt light on my feet, giddy at the hint of spring. At 11th street, I stopped to contemplate Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens, mosaics of glass on either side of the alley. Tourists photographed the installations, laughed at their reflections, refracted and scattered in a million little pieces of glass.

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I checked my watch. I wanted to get at least to 5th Street before heading back to Broad Street for a concert at the Kimmel Center. I needed to stretch my legs, inhale the outdoors. The winter had been tough. If I picked up the pace, I could make it with time to spare for a Starbucks.

Rose Hill: The Bronx

I got off the 4 train at Kingsbridge Road. I ambled up the hill, away from the winter winds skating off the Harlem River. The sidewalks bustled. A linguistic mix of Spanish, English, and New York echoed off the grey-granite-faced buildings. A mother pushed a child in a stroller, led an older child home from grade school. A balding gent sold churros from a grocery cart. A backpacked college student pulled his wool cap tight, checked his iPhone, walked toward the subway.

I reached the Grand Concourse. A few blocks south, on a patch of green in the middle of the Concourse, was a small, white clapboard cottage. In 1846, Edgar Allan Poe and his wife Virginia moved to this workingman’s cottage in what was then the countryside. Virginia died in 1847. Poe remained in the cottage until his death in 1849. I toured Poe Cottage with a group that included a literature student from China and a Poe-obsessed father-daughter duo from Chicago.

The sun had poked through the baffle of heavy grey clouds. I walked south to Fordham Road, a bazaar of off-price clothing stores, cell-phone shops, and cash-for-gold. I turned west. There, set apart from neighborhood’s chaos of commerce, bus-lane congestion, and Manhattan-bound diesel-pumping truckers, was Fordham University.

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I walked along the perimeter. At Bathgate Avenue (are you there E.L. Doctorow?), I doubled back and entered the campus through Fordham Avenue. The city receded. I followed a winding tree-lined path to the center of the campus. The Bronx was still out there, beyond Fordham’s gothic palisades of brick and stone. Inside was birdsong, contemplative quiet. A student reviewed her notes as she entered Walsh Library.

I followed the path to the northern edge of the campus. Across Southern Boulevard was the Bronx Botanical Gardens. I checked my watch. It was time to get going.

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