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03.29.2002 - Day 1

Kurt and I step off the plane into a virtual sauna in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  With a little luck, all our luggage arrives (thanks, Southwest!) including the large bag full of camping gear and the other even larger bag full of diving equipment. The first obstacle to overcome is finding the Alamo rental location and obtaining our vehicle. Fortunately, the employee assisting us at Alamo was the manager and he certainly managed to talk us into an upgrade from our original reservation of a Geo Metro to an almost-new Toyota RAV4. Only 900 miles! And it was the Special of the Week! Yes, we are suckers, but we thought it just might come in handy with all our planned activities. Besides, Metros are TINY!!

With all our gear tucked safely inside our new, trusty RAV4, Kurt and I head south to the city. Our reservations for the first two nights are in Miami Beach (a.k.a. South Beach to those “in the know”) at the Doubletree Surfcomber Hotel. True to the promises on its website, the hotel is in the heart of the Art Deco district, right on the beach. It’s Friday night, just after midnight when we arrive at the hotel and the scene is certainly alive (to put it mildly!). We have a little trouble determining where to park as there is only a small circle drive in front of the hotel (which is mostly occupied by cars already) and absolutely no available street parking anywhere to be found, much less a garage or anything of the like. OK, OK, I admit we may be a little sidetracked by the fabulous colors, the throngs of people and the intense traffic. Nonetheless, we finally figure out that we can just valet the car and get inside before we wind up in a wreck and really reveal ourselves as tourists.

While we are checking in, Kurt and I remember that we haven’t eaten since 2pm in Kansas City, so we ask the clerk if any restaurants might still be open in the area. The clerk proceeds to tell us that most food places are already closed. Just the bars are open now. (At least, that’s what we think he said…) But he does offer up a pizza place just a few blocks away that will deliver after midnight. We tell the poor guy that we are interested in going out, not staying in, so he tells us he thinks we can still sit down at the restaurant. After dropping all our junk into the room, Kurt and I head out to find this lonely pizza parlor.

Without really knowing where the most action is in the Art Deco district, we decide to head north, the direction from which we came. I thought perhaps I had spied a couple of places that might still be serving food, despite what the clerk had said. After a couple of blocks, we happen across a unique pizza place – the first restaurant we see. Not wanting to pass up food of any kind if it’s scarce this time of night, we race right in and order a couple slices apiece. While we are consuming this bit of food, we realize there’s a pretty good show unfolding right before our eyes. Evidently there’s a big dance club right next door to this pizza place and as we had anticipated about South Beach, all dance clubs that are worthy of being seen at have LONG entrance lines. Needless to say, people of all sorts are wandering into the restaurant and begging the owner to use the restroom. The owner is a real stickler that only paying customers can use the bathroom. It proved to be a great show! (And we quickly learn that we are extremely underdressed for the occasion…)

After sedating our appetites slightly, Kurt and I decide to head back south to see what we could see. Eventually we find THE street in South Beach where the heart of the action lives: Collins Avenue. There is almost too much going on here to really express it respectfully. The entire atmosphere oozes with sophistication, money, class, high fashion, vanity, ostentation, more money, vogue and the feeling that it’s all about what you look like and who you know. People are everywhere: in restaurants (yes, there are gazillions open – not just one lonely pizza parlor), in shops, in cars cruising up and down Collins Avenue, in incredibly long lines outside of very trendy-looking night clubs and competing with Kurt and I for space on the sidewalk. The colors and architecture of the buildings are loud and bright and dripping with gaudiness. Each car out does the last in the competition to be the supreme queen in tricked-out vehicles. And as a backdrop there are the raucous, thumping beats emanating from the multitude of dance clubs. Whew! Just describing the scene is exhausting!

Kurt and I wander around in amazement, not quite sure what to do with ourselves. We can tell one thing for sure – that we are certainly not wearing the right attire to be seen on the streets of South Beach; everyone else is dressed in the height of fashion. We also feel a little out of place because we’re not really ones to spend the night dancing away in some fancy nightclub. So you can imagine our elation when we happen across a rather tame-looking Irish Pub. True to the image its genre invokes, the bar sports dark wood, delicious beer on tap, and pool tables. Despite the presence of one of Kurt’s favorite pastimes, we spend most of our time in this bar sitting at the front window watching the interesting scene float by. It’s entertainment at its best!

Eventually we tire of people watching, so we meander out onto the street and continue our investigation of the Art Deco District. We finally reach the ‘end’ of Collins Avenue – at least the end of all the action - so Kurt and I head east one block, back toward the street our hotel is on. Surprisingly, here is another world only slightly tamer than Collins Avenue. Despite the fact that it’s nearly 3am, the area is still brimming with life and fashion. As we pass by a street side café, we notice that we are still hungry so we stop for a small snack and another drink. This time we dine a bit more refined, on hummus and mixed drinks, while we listen to the waves breaking on the beach just a few hundred yards away. Perfect.

Barely able to keep our eyes open, Kurt and I stumble back to the hotel and drop into bed. (To Day 2)