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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

Miami Beach

Tuesday
January 7, 2015

"I wish that this weather would never leave"
-Counting Crows "Miami"

As I type this, temperatures are in the single digits here in the greater Columbus, Ohio area. To say that I miss the mid-70 temps that I enjoyed during my trip to Miami Beach would be a major understatement.

On Christmas Eve, I drove down to Nashville from Columbus, one day after circumstances nixed a planned visit to Huntington, WV before my return to Tennessee. The traffic was far more tolerable than normal, including Interstate 65 between Louisville and Nashville, which seems to be in a perpetual state of road construction. I know that traffic projects can take a long time to complete, but the volume of them in that stretch is especially problematic.

Just past 5 p.m. local time, I stopped for a quick dinner break in Elizabethtown, KY. There was a Taco Bell/KFC combo restaurant that caught my attention. But when I went to the door and tried to open it... no dice. It was locked. They had closed just a few minutes before.

The long line at a nearby Arby's should have tipped me off that options there were limited. I ended up going to a convenience store in that same area, and there was a massive line of people waiting to purchase food and drinks. It was supply and demand in full effect.

By the time I selected what I wanted, the line had shrunk, in part because a second clerk had opened another checkout location. The woman who completed my transaction noted that she was surprised by the rush of people, which led me to explain what I had seen with the early restaurant closure.

It was nice to be home for Christmas. When you work in TV news, as I used to, you have to work a majority of the holidays. It's something everyone knows going into it. So it was nice to be able to go in Nashville for both Thanksgiving and Christmas late last year. That worked out well.

The morning after Christmas, my Dad dropped me off at the airport and I flew to Ft. Lauderdale. Southwest doesn't fly into Miami, and since I had transferred my credit over from the aborted San Diego trip to this one, I was stuck with it. Luckily I like Southwest, easily my favorite airline to fly, though their Royal Rumble style plane entry system leaves something to be desired.

In the fun of Christmas the day before, I had failed to check in online until later in the day, which left me stuck in the dreaded "C" boarding group. No matter how early I arrived, I knew was going to have to wait until near the end of the process to board the airplane.

It was a packed flight, and unfortunately I was unable to land my normal preferred spot in a window seat. Instead I landed an aisle seat, thankful that I didn't get stuck in the dreaded middle slot. I quickly surveyed the situation after getting settled into my seat and noticed that there were three children ranging from infant to toddler with a row of me, including the young boy with his father who was sitting next to me.

My MP3 player was loaded with podcasts, which meant I had a means of escaping the crying that I knew was inevitable, though sleep proved to be elusive. Normally the two Dramamine pills that I have to take for motion sickness help to nudge me into drowsiness, but that didn't work for me this time, even with a relatively limited amount of sleep that past overnight.

The highlight had to be when the man sitting next to me opened a sippy cup of water he had for his child. Unfortunately, the difference in air pressure from when he had filled it prior to the flight and what we had up in the air was considerable.

The result? Streams of water shot out, hitting the people in front of his, somehow only grazing me and shooting across to the row of people to our left. He apologized profusely, not that he did it intentionally, and it was noted by others that it was just water and that it could have been much worse.

Once we landed, I collected my luggage before making my way outside. I was looking for the shuttle bus I had read about online that, for a very reasonable price ($22) will take you to the hotels in Miami. I also knew to temper any expectations I had about good service.

The reason: I read the company's Yelp page and the negative comments made by many past customers. And, true to form, as I approached the glorified podium that served as the GO Airport Shuttle's base for doing business, an older woman was lambasting the poor guy working there. She had been told to sit and wait and apparently the van she was supposed to be in had left without her.

In fairness to the angry woman, the shuttle guys were terrible about communicating what to do and when to load up. I talked with at least two drivers who said, no, they were giving a private ride or their vehicle was full or whatever. So I waited, glad to trade freezing temps in Nashville for the warmth of Florida.

Finally, after about 30 minutes, a town car pulled up and a woman got inside. I walked up to the driver and asked if he was my ride, and he said yes. Good thing I was pro-active. He loaded my luggage into the trunk and instructed me to get into the driver-side back seat.

Inside the town car was the aforementioned woman, who at that point introduced herself to me: Erica from Asheville, NC. She was cute and I would guess she's in her late 20s. She told me about her plans to go sailing and how she didn't know anyone in the group but that she was excited about it, etc. We chatted as our ride moved closer to delivering us to our respective destinations.

Her hotel was the first stop, and as the town car pulled up to the curb, I asked her if she wanted to exchange phone numbers. You would have thought I had propositioned her for something vile the way she quickly said "I think I'll just enjoy my vacation" and zipped out of the car in a split-second. That was unexpected.

There aren't very many dull moments at The Catalina.
From there it wasn't too far to get to my place, The Catalina Hotel and Beach Club. I was expecting a skyrise, but the Catalina is actually only a two-floor hotel. By that point it was about 1 p.m. and I figured, no problem, I'll talk my way into getting the room.

I approached one of the desk clerks and asked about the check-in time. The answer: a firm 3 p.m. So I had two hours to kill, with my luggage, in the rather cramped lobby area. Luckily they had plenty of places to sit, and I landed a plum corner spot where I proceeded to read The Death of WCW to kill time.

Around 2 p.m., my buddy Brook showed up. I've known Brook since August 1994, and he was the reason for my trip since I was down there for his wedding. He and Jess (his now-wife) were dropping off gift bags for guests, which was a very nice touch. He noted that they wouldn't let him check in at the Raleigh Hotel across the street, and in talking with others later it appears that all of the Miami Beach hotels are like that.

That info was actually a relief -- I was beginning to wonder if I had left my charm behind in Nashville.

For dinner that evening, early arrivals like myself were invited to dinner at a nice place called Havana 1957. Because of my inability to sleep on the flight in, compounded by having to wait for my room, I ended up catching a nap later than I had planned. I had to hustle to get ready in time.

Upon arrival I found the place packed. It was prime time on a Friday evening, after all. Brook's table was full, but I was able to grab a seat at the bar next to his friend Maggy. She worked with Brook in the NFL in New York and is now in California working for the San Jose Sharks' legal team. It was interesting to hear her talk about the rather unusual commute she has from San Francisco down to San Jose, the opposite of how many people there operate.

After some coaxing from her and others, I agreed to try a mojito. It's a traditional rum-based Cuban drink, and who was I to balk at tradition? It was actually quite good, as was the meal. Eating at the bar was a bit awkward, but overall it was a fun experience.

The next day, Saturday, was designated as Beach Day. The Catalina is across the street from The Raleigh, which incidentally is where all of the wedding weekend activity took place. There is direct beach access from The Raleigh though, which worked out well.

It was nice to be back at the beach in Florida.
I had hoped to find a place to tan before I went down there, as I've become rather pale again since moving from Huntington, where I had a tanning salon literally in walking distance. In lieu of that, I dosed myself in sunscreen designed to stay on even when in the water, playing sports, etc. And it worked like a charm.

The big event of the day was a sand football game. I was feeling pretty good about my chances after spending the past several months hitting the gym hard and putting in some long cardio sessions. But I quickly learned that a cardio machine does not prepare you for playing sand football.

I thoroughly enjoyed the game, but I found myself blowing up (getting tired) much quicker than I had anticipated. Somehow I ended up being on defense against Kurt, Jess' sister's husband, who was seemingly twice as fast as me. It reached a point where I ended up playing more strong safety than anything since I was out of gas.

As if by divine intervention, this guy walked up and asked if he could play, noting that there were uneven teams with Brook as all-time QB. I quickly opted out and let him take my spot. I was spent.

From there I laid out to soak in a little bit of sun, careful to not stay out too long, particularly without knowing how effective the sunblock would be. After that, it was back to the hotel for a nap.

That evening there was a fun get-together in the plaza area behind the Raleigh, where my friends Andy and Nimesh told some amusing anecdotes about Brook. I was late in arriving after what was supposed to be brief nap ran longer than expected (an unfortunate trend for me on the truo), but it was fun to chat with friends both new and old in the time I had there, including Brook's brother Jon and our mutual friends Walter and Bob. It was as close to a 3FL reunion as we may ever get.

The next morning I walked down toward the South Beach area and had a late breakfast at the Cardozo Bar & Grill, which is part of the Cardonzo Hotel. I ended up being seated at an outdoor table. Normally I strongly dislike outdoor dining at restaurants, but it was a comfortable morning temperature-wise and it had a nice view. The meal itself was mediocre, especially for the price, but the experience was great.

The wedding took place that evening, though the actual wedding ceremony itself was a very private ceremony -- the opposite scenario of a Catholic wedding that can exceed a Ric Flair broadway (60 minutes). The real fun and celebration was at the reception. It took place on the roof of the Raleigh, which worked out well with a refreshing nighttime breeze. Jess' favorite local band, the Spam Allstars, performed after the newly married couple was introduced and a video package was played. It was great fun.

You might note in the photo of The Catalina that they had the Spam Allstars play at their $95 a person New Year's Eve party. That's right, nearly $100 just to get in the door. Miami Beach is a pricey place to visit, to be sure.

The following day, those of us still in town went to Jess' parents' place in the suburbs of Miami for a very nice brunch, with delicious food, good conversation and wonderful hospitality. My energy level was rather low by that point, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Using my smartphone, I summoned a Lyft ride to take me from the suburbs of Miami back to the airport in Ft. Lauderdale. Soon enough I was back in Nashville, my brief trip to south Florida sadly having come to an end.

Something that was really fun at brunch was learning that there was a New York Times article published about the wedding. It not only made for a fun read, but it also appeared in the most revered newspaper in the United States, if not the world. Not bad.

One sidebar: when I first learned in 2012 that Brook and Jess met in Montauk, I asked if either had seen the outstanding film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. They hadn't, so I ordered the DVD of it from Amazon and it their way. If you've seen the film, you should understand that it was fitting.

The next day, my Dad and I went to the Music City Bowl at LP Field, where Notre Dame beat LSU in what turned out to be a really exciting game. It's something that came together at the last minute, and while it was rather cold for a game that I didn't have a rooting interest in, it was a good time and a fun thing to experience with my Dad before heading back to Columbus the next day.

Getting to and from Miami Beach wasn't cheap, nor was the hotel. But I had a blast and I appreciate Brook and Jess inviting me to be part of their special weekend, and it will well worth the time and effort to be there for it.


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