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Florida Man!

The real purpose of this trip was now upon us; a conference in Miami

When I last checked in we had stayed a couple of nights in New York before flying over to spend four fantastic nights in Havana, Cuba, but getting out of Cuba and into the US had been an epic struggle. However, we made it in the end and were now in Miami for the 2023 Macular Society meeting, the reason behind this entire trip. It was the first time in Florida for either of us and we knew that friends from all over the world were going to be in town too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Due to the endless hassles we endured leaving Havana for Miami, it was after midnight by the time we checked into our hotel, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach,  killing all of our plans to meet up with friends that we hadn’t seen since the pre-Covid days or gatecrash Mar-a-Lago, that would all need to be put on hold. Once we got up to our room it was abundantly clear that this hotel looked a lot nicer than it actual was; we almost needed a compass and three days worth of food to make our way from the lobby to the room and once there we found clumps of hair in the shower, there was a weird TV from about 20 years ago that I doubt even worked attached to the bathroom wall above the basin, yet we didn’t even have a bar fridge in the empty space where one would usually be located, although there was one, probably ours, laying on the floor in the hallway for the duration of our stay. Still, at least it had a bed and that’s all we really wanted after a such a stressful and chaotic day.

We woke up again at about 9:00am and it soon became apparent that this trip may turn out to be a tad expensive when we went to the cafe downstairs and two cafe lattes and a muffin came to a total of US$28.00 and I think that was before a tip! We savoured our costly coffees and then, because we were staying in Miami Beach, decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and walk into town for a bit of shopping, passing endless, cool-looking art deco buildings as well as a decent amount of strip clubs along the way. We would eventually find ourselves exploring the streets and shops in and around the Flamingo/Lummus area of South Beach, but we were left a little disappointed at the lack of crazy people around thus far. The reason for my high expectations was the result of me playing the Florida Man game which just involves googling “Florida Man” and your birthday. Here’s just a handful of my results (August 30):

Hopefully we’d get to experience some of that weirdness firsthand, but I highly doubt it would be in the immediate vicinity of where we were. Instead, we were surrounded by some really nice shops and cafes, although one place was advertising The Dill Dog, which they proudly described as “a hot dog wrapped in a dill pickle, dipped in corn dog batter & deep fried”. Now, I’ll eat pretty much anything, plus I love pickles, but I’m a little confused how that caught on with the general public as a whole.
Anyway, Anna made a few purchases, I bought some ugly clothes, and before long we had to start walking back so Anna could freshen up for the first night of her conference, this time passing through the Bayshore neighbourhood, taking in more of the beautiful art deco architecture along the way.

That first night of the conference would be more of a networking thing amongst doctors and their peers so I would be a little out of place, thus I did what anyone who knows me would expect me to do — I found a dingy little dive bar and pulled up a stool, this place having a dirty fish tank sans fish directly behind me, and in typical fashion the keg blew while pouring my first drink. I stayed and watched the NCAA Basketball and when Anna was finished she came and joined me, not at all surprised with the place I had chosen. Seriously, it was a lot darker and dirtier than it appears in the photos.
A look back at our first day in Miami, including some of the weirder parts of our room, Miami Beach, and of course the bar:

Thursday, February 16, 2023
Anna attended the conference in the morning so I got up and had another absurdly expensive coffee. While waiting for her I saw an optometrist waiting outside the conference room so I asked if he was there for the meeting, to which he nodded. I mentioned that my wife was an ophthalmologist and after looking me up and down, the optometrist replied, “Sure she is”. I love when that happens, little did this guy know that he would be referring his patients to her if they needed treatment.

When Anna was done it was time to do what we love doing when we’re away, we had to find a flea market and after a little bit of research we discovered Swap Shop. That website doesn’t really give you much information, but here’s the lowdown:

The Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop is a 14-screen drive-in theater in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that doubles as the largest drive-in and largest daily flea market in the world.[citation needed]. Local broadcast advertising states it to be Florida’s second-biggest tourist attraction and the largest tourist attraction in the South Florida metropolitan area. From 1989–2006 the Hanneford Family Circus performed daily (except Tuesdays) in the Swap Shop food court, entertaining the roughly 12 million people who visit each year.

Of course that “in the world” claim requires citation, but it possibly is the largest daily flea market in the US. Anyway, we got in a cab and made the thirty-minute, US$50.00 trek to the Swap Shop and for “the largest daily flea market in the world.[citation needed]“, we were definitely left more than a little underwhelmed. The bulk of the place wasn’t even a flea market, just the cheap clothes, knock-off goods, and pet supplies you see at all markets around the world. Most of the stalls were empty, especially outside, but there were some people out there getting rid of some old clothes and junk, plus a guy in a windowless van selling an insane amount of porno DVDs, helpfully organised in order of category and fetish. There was also a creepy playground and even a Ferrari museum, but nothing could really save this place, so we got going, being passed by two guys with platinum grills driving a crimson low-rider bouncing on its hydraulic, gold rims.
Had we just spotted Florida Man? Who knows, but here is a look around Swap Shop:

Having been left a little let down by Swap Shop we felt we needed to find something extra cool to make up for the time we had wasted there and that’s when Anna discovered the neighbourhood of Wynwood:

Wynwood is a neighborhood in Miami, Florida. Wynwood is known for being an entertainment district, with artwork, restaurants, breweries, clothing stores, and dance venues, among other retail options. Formerly an industrial district, the area is now known for the murals that cover the walls of many of the buildings and many of the sidewalks. It is north of Downtown Miami and Overtown, and adjacent to Edgewater. Wynwood has two major sub-districts, the Wynwood Art District in northern Wynwood, and the Wynwood Fashion District along West 5th Avenue.

That should do the trick! We cabbed it back for almost another half hour and before long we were in Wynwood, immediately wishing we had been staying somewhere around there instead of in Miami Beach. I know that sounds a little overprivileged, but our hotel wasn’t that nice and it was just surrounded by other hotels, there wasn’t much besides my little dive bar nearby, whereas this place was awesome. Our exploration began in the neighbourhood’s Art District:

The Wynwood Art District is a sub-district of Wynwood that contains galleries, outdoor murals and private art collections. The district is centered around Wynwood Walls, conceived by the late urban developer Tony Goldman in 2009. His idea was to revitalize the neighborhood by turning warehouses into works of art. According to the Walls’ website, artists featured at Wynwood Walls include: Shepard Fairey, Okuda San Miguel, The London Police, Stelios Faitakis, Clare Rojas, The Date Farmers, avaf, ROA, Ron English, Jeff Soto, Logan Hicks, b., PHASE 2, Joe Grillo, COCO 144, Gaia, Vhils, Interesni Kazki, Brandon Opalka, Friends With You, DALeast, Faith 47, Santiago Rubino, Daze, Maya Hayuk and Lakwena. The Walls were cited as a tourist destination for family fun by Palm Beach Illustrated in 2018. The Walls are curated by Goldman Global Arts, an art dealer that has a gallery inside the wall area.

Unlike Swap Shop, we could actually spend hours walking around here so that’s exactly what we did, taking in all of the walls and murals, as well as a place to just shoot off guns, but it also didn’t take long for Anna to venture into that Fashion District as well.
Anyway, some of these murals were incredible (as was that doughnut shop and someone’s weird Batmobile-like three wheel car):

If you bothered to read that whole description of Wynwood, you possibly would’ve noticed that it mentioned restaurants and breweries so once we were done wandering around we settled down in the latter, a place called Gramps, for some drinks, snacks, and a few games of giant Connect-4 and Jenga, some of the blocks graffitied with hilarious comments.

When we were done with the brewery the next stop was a restaurant called Kush that not only served food, but also had another 18 beers on tap, definitely a good choice and again we ate well before making our way back to Miami Beach where, while Anna was showering I ducked out to the supermarket and bumped into our Spanish friend, Rosa, on the way home.
Dinner and drinks in Wynwood:

Friday, February 17, 2023
For some reason Anna woke up not feeling particularly great so I went downstairs and bought her a bottle of Gatorade for the bargain price of US$8.39 and then it was time for me to go out again while she slept it off. I went back down to the Flamingo/Lummus shops to buy some gifts for people, particularly a really good sporting goods store to get a basketball jersey for my nephew to cheer him up a little after he had torn his ACL a week or two before. It was probably a better option than the machine gun-shaped bong that I saw, anyway.

Once I had returned back to the hotel Anna was feeling marginally better so we were able to attend the Macula Society dinner where Rosa and another old friend of ours from Germany, Boris, were being inducted as new members into the society and Anna was presenting a study on age-related macular degeneration. She also wanted to catch an early night, because she would be presenting again the following morning so I went back to that dodgy bar again for some karaoke.
Looking back on that final night in Florida:

Saturday, February 18, 2023
It was the last day of the conference and our final day in Miami. Anna’s presentation that morning went well and before long we were saying our goodbyes and were on our way to the airport for the long flight back to Singapore. While in the airport, we heard the following exchange between two girls trying to buy sandwiches:

Girl 1: “I want a sandwich, but everything has meat in it.”
Girl 2: “How about chicken?”
Girl 1: “Chicken is meat…”
Girl 2: *confused look*

Anyhow, we made it home on time, but it’s the coming back that always wrecks us for about a week and it must’ve been even worse for Anna, because just two days later she was flying out again for another conference, this time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

It had been a great 10 days; New York was as fun as it always is, Cuba was absolutely fantastic, but Miami certainly wasn’t what I expected although we probably just weren’t in an area where the action is, or the crazy people for that matter.

Stay tuned, because we’ll be flying back to the US again soon, this time for a conference in New Orleans, as well as a few days in San Francisco.

1 Comment on Florida Man!

  1. Useful information. Thank you for sharing

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