This is a guest post by our friends Trixie & Rex, Knights of the Swag. Thank you for contributing your experiences!
Miami. Pink sunsets, flamingos and fake boobs. Frappucinos, fraternities and sunburnt jocks in speedos. Psychopath killers, hot soccer moms, dolphins and Disney World. Just as many clichés as there are major Hollywood productions. So one grey Berlin morning my boyfriend and me finally decided to do what long had needed to be done: Hop on a way overpriced flight and check out the big myth of Miami. And most of all find out: True or false?
Right when we got off the crowded plane packed with pensioners looking to fry their retirement egg on the sunny side off life, it hit us straight in the face: We had taken the right decision. You simply know you are in a special city, if even Will Smith dedicated on of his few precious songs to this place.
Looking at all the grand theft auto drives, lined with palm trees, you get a strong feeling of being in an actual Hollywood film set. With the world-famous magnificent skyline, the harbor with its fancy cruising yachts and all this poppy Art Deco architecture. Everything so fresh, so clean and kind of sexy.
After having bathed in the colorful and shallow Miami Hawaii Shirt overkill culture for quite some time, my boyfriend and me finally decided to do, what is expected of us as, and live up to our own cliché: The cultured Europeans, with bad teeth and an even worse sense of humor.
Following a good friends advice, who had been to Miami Art Basel last year, we got up early and made our way to Wyndwood in Miami-Overtown, in order to check out the small local, yet distinctive arts area and share her amazement for this old and up and coming industrial district. Fancy for a Berlin girl like me, who isn’t into spring break and drinking your own puke out of a red plastic bucket, yet.
Changing from metro to the local bus –almost hidden our own alternative American arts experience – it hit us pretty fast: Public transportation in the States is nothing compared to public transportation in Berlin. If you’re on a bus in the states, you’re pretty much a nerd, a loser or simply someone who doesn’t have enough cash to buy a car. (This then again kind of makes you kind of a loser.) Or you want to be environmentally responsibly and save the nature. (Which obviously: Kind of a makes you a nerd.)
In our case the bus was packed with African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other “foreign” nationalities, which weren’t really nerds or losers, but all had exactly three things in common:
- They all wanted to get to work
- None of them was white
- All of them looked at us
They were probably somehow amazed by two young white kids, with cameras, trying to hind behind a tourist map in a funny attempt to somehow blend in. We quickly realized: Using a map as a sort of magical camouflage shield in a local bus driving through a so called ethnic area of town doesn’t really work – for some reason we stayed the unchallenged center of attention.
Still somehow dazzled, but also amused by this totally unexpected experience, we finally got off in Wyndwood and hit the local scene. At least we tried to. As opposed to during Miami Art Basel the place was pretty much empty. We again felt like in a typical American movie set. This time: The Western. The streets were abandoned, nobody on the street and graffiti of horses on the wall.
We walked around for some time putting stickers up, leaving the occasional tag and checking out the few open galleries. Most of them left us less inspired, than we had hoped, but we felt safe between the nice gallery people and their “Honeys” and “Darlings” and sometimes even “Hey Loves”. Appreciating the warmth of the local art scene – and glad Starbucks hadn’t yet made it out to here – we hit the only café within miles, where we had coffee and food and counted the seemingly endless glowing apples and macbooks.
No big adventure so far. Everything left us feeling pretty alright, even the quite weird and commercial art in the galleries. So we agreed to pump it up a bit and put the cherry on top of this unique day: Following my boyfriends secret Baywatch youth dream, we decided to go to muscle mecca – a.k.a. South Beach.
Hopping back on the M-line, we made our appearance on the local bus again, this time without our map. After 3 stops we got off to change buses to get to the beach.
Finding yourself in the shadow of a heightened freeway bus stop is a general big city experience. Finding yourself in the shadow of a heightened freeway bus stop in some deserted part of Miami, is a really special big city experience. We stood under the freeway for quite some time and were happy.
After a while it started to dawn to us, that we weren’t just in some part of Miami, it had to be a special one, because we didn’t see any white people around and everything looked pretty run down and poor. But we held on to our street-smartness and did one of the most normal things ever, at least in Berlin: Waiting for the bus to continue our trip.
The bus didn’t come. But more and more people came. Most of them fitting the average black hoodlum cliché, we know and love from rap videos. The longer we sat, the more we looked like the cliché of the white college students begging to get ripped off, because of being in the wrong neighborhood. It was funny and frightening at the same time. Even the older ones had this particular attitude. We sat there and nothing more happened at first, I was bitten by a bunch of mosquitos while the bus decided to still not come. I started to get, not really nervous, because I felt safe in the company of my boyfriend, but a little bit more uncomfortable, with every minute. It felt like the net was getting narrower and narrower.
We realized, that we were being observed by a good bunch of people, repetitively passing back and forth on the other site of the street. Circling around us for a while, one pretty cracked out looking man finally had the balls to cross the street and sit down right next to us. He lit a cigarette and looked at us. “Yo, man. All good? You need somethin’? What you need, mayn? What you need?”
That was the moment where I internally started to freak out – paying respect to my role as a girl. And also the moment to finally give my boyfriend his chance to live up to his role as a man – and get on a man-mission to save me from all this. He was pleased. We eased of the chair, gave the cracked out guy a “Alright man, peace, have a good day, my man” and engaged in the art of “How fast can you walk while still looking as if you have everything under perfect control and totally belong in this neighborhood”. Making our way as fast as possible out of this rough situation, I looked back once more and saw another guy moving really fast in our direction.
“Yo, white boy”, he was getting closer and heading at us really fast. “Do you know where the fuck you are?!” We admitted we didn’t really know. He shouted at us: “This is fucking Overtown! You are the only white people here! ARE YOU FUCKIN’ NUTS?! There is only one thing you wanna do right now: Get-the-fuck-out-of-here-as-fast-as-you-can!”
That was it for us, we got his point and realized another vital thing: Neukölln is not a ghetto, it’s a nice place with the occasional stabbing or gun incidents. Overtown is a real ghetto. We didn’t know this ghetto – and it didn’t know us.
Our new friend got back at us, still rubbing his hands and looking pretty drug abusive in his outfit. “Trust me, but you have to get the hell out of here! The bus comes one time an hour! What u want? Drugs? I can help u out with that, but move your ass. I’ll walk in the same direction.”
He was, except for us, the only white person around. His eyes were wide open and he was a mad man himself. His gestures were agitated and I was shocked by his whole attitude. He gave us again the strong advice to take a taxi out and that he could easily help us, if we wanted to buy drugs. I experienced the whole sequence in slow motion and I was not able to talk at all. So we moved forward slowly, tried to look as if not in panic, and went down the main street until we finally reached a taxi. In there, I realized that the crazy white guy just probably saved our life.
After driving for half an hour, we hit another ghetto. This time: The rich ghetto. Arriving in South Beach we were amazed by the harsh difference between to places in one city. While the Ferraris and Maseratis where passing next to us, we strolled down the strip, making our way through the heaven of plastic surgery, tanned bodies and fake boobs. Everything was sexy and shiny and mostly full drunken American tourists, trying to have a glittery, crazy neon time before they get back to their grey everyday lives. For today, I was more than done with this city.
Laying down next to the sea, we were trying to realize what had just happened – or almost happened – and made fun of everything: The scenery, the people, the situation we had just been in and most of all us. Because one thing is for sure: There is only way to handle this city – humor.
If there had to be a list of three things describing Miami, I would put it this way:
- Yes: Neon was invented here
- Yes: Miami is the mother of all soulless– fancy show off tourist hotspots
- And most importantly: It’s not a false mythos. When the sun sets in Miami, the sky turns everything in to a peaceful, incredible, almost magical light pink.
Maybe that is the beautiful reward for all those brave people going through all of this every day.