Ask and you shall receive. My husband and I decided to go to Miami for Art Walk, which takes place near the Wynwood Walls the second Saturday of every month. A friend of ours, John Griffin-a grafitti artist-was painting a warehouse wall. We found a hotel room for a hundred bucks and were off for that excitement I was looking for.
Day 26 Notes From Miami
1) The hotel was near Bayside Park where we walked while viewing massive cruise ships maneuver their way out of the harbor, listened to street musicians, and watched a little four year old girl pass by on a pony, shouting, “Whoopee, ya like my pony?”, waving her arm in the air like a cowgirl lassoing cattle.
2) After our walk and a sixteen dollar lunch for two at Ceviche 105, a Peruvian restaurant, we stopped in a bodega for a six pack of beer for the room. We must have looked like tourists because the man at the register asked, “First time here?” We told him we’d been to South Beach, but yes, this was our first time in Downtown Miami. He offered us a box of Hershey chocolate squares and said, “Welcome.”
3) I felt dizzy coming from the heat of the street into the air conditioned hotel lobby. Rich complained about the enveloping oppressiveness. He was wearing a synthetic polo shirt. I told him he needed to start wearing one hundred percent cotton or switch to wife beater T-shirts.
The heat accentuated the smells of the city, a whiff of sewage that we both agreed might have been the cruise ships emptying their bilges, mingling with the aromas of roasted chicken and trash from overloaded dumpsters. We regrouped, had a cold beer, and Rich caught some tennis on TV.
4) I asked for excitement and I got it. Walk number two for the day was all that and more. Deciding to save money, we took the bus to Wynwood for four dollars and planned to catch a cab back to the hotel. We sat next to two adorable black children, about two and a half years old. The little boy had a long, skinny blue balloon. He was taunting his little girl friend with it, waving it in the air, covering his eyes, playing peek-a-boo, all the while shouting, “Loon. My loon.” She was shrieking with jealousy. Her hands were so tiny, perfect little replicas of adult hands, not pudgy baby hands but slender, with tiny fingers. She grabbed for the balloon, howling and kicking when the baby boy pulled it away. Her mother attempted to distract her by finding Dora the Explorer on her smart phone. It worked, she calmed down and watched Dora but now the boy was howling. Suddenly his “loon” was not so exciting compared to TV on a phone.
5) The front desk guy at our hotel told us if we took the bus on Biscayne Bay Road, it would bring us close to Art Walk, one block away. We got off at 25th Street and walked one block east. This was not Art Walk. This was not a good neighborhood. I stopped a middle aged woman on the street and asked her if she knew where the Wynwood Walls were. She shook her head, “No English.” I thanked her but as we walked towards a corner store, she shouted, in English, “No good around here. Be careful. No good.”
In another bodega, we asked the cashier for directions. He was sitting behind a window with a small hole for passing money through. It occured to me the window was probably bullet proof. He didn’t speak English. I looked out the window across the street to a gas station where a cab was filling up at the pump. “Let’s grab that cab,” I said.
As we headed out the door, we passed a young man entering. I asked him where the Wynwood Walls were. Four blocks west. We were on SE 2nd, the walls were on SW 2nd. “Are you driving?” he asked. “No, walking,” my husband replied. “Oh, okay then, go straight down this road.” He pointed across the street. “If you were driving, you’d have to go down another block. It’s one way.” I laughed nervously. “I thought you were going to tell us it’s too dangerous to walk.” “Nah, it’s safe. Have fun. I just came from there. It’s hopping.”
6) The young man’s definition of safe was slightly different than ours. We are transplants from New Hampshire. The four blocks took us past mostly abandoned warehouses and big empty parking lots, enclosed by chain link fences topped with barbed wire.
There was an occasional house or two, tucked in between the warehouses. Two women sat on a porch, talking to another woman standing on the stoop. I could only make out bits and pieces of their conversation. “The coroner knew him….Terrible…Shot point blank…I’m telling you, the coroner knew him.” Rich looked at me and muttered under his breath, “walk faster.”
We picked up the pace but I was having a hard time keeping up. Rich complained, “Why didn’t you wear sneakers?” “Because I’m in Miami on a Saturday night. Sneakers and capris?” I gave him a look as if to say, what do you know about fashion?
The low rumble of a dog growling interrupted our bickering, followed by vicious barking. We both jumped. Two pit bulls and a German shepherd were on the other side of the fence we were passing. I was thinking “we’re nuts, I knew we should have taken that cab” but I kept this complaint to myself.
Finally we arrived at the Wynwood Walls, dripping sweat, sticky and clammy. My heels were rubbed raw but DJ’s pumped music from art galleries and the place really was hopping. For several blocks, the buildings were covered with graffiti and murals. A city of art. We purchased a cold beer from a shopping cart on the street, found our friends and John who was painting a wall behind a funky bar where the smell of the spray paint cans was intoxicating.
7) In an art gallery, I saw a painting of Marilyn Monroe. The artist’s interpretation of Marilyn, had she lived a long life, was disturbing. Her face was ruined. Baggy eyes overly made up, red clown lips. Her décolletage as wrinkled as a prune.
I am fascinated with Monroe, her vulnerability, her marriages, her potential. In San Francisco several years ago, I ate spaghetti Carbonara at a sidewalk cafe in the shadow of the church where she married Joe DiMaggio. I loved that he still brought roses to her grave long after she had passed away and despite the fact they had divorced. I couldn’t bear to look at the picture.
There was a lot of darkness in many of the pieces we saw that night. Old record albums with a skull imprint superimposed. Political statements. Cartoon characters wearing gas masks. The graffiti was more upbeat and whimsical.
8) We easily caught a cab back to the hotel and had an interesting conversation with the driver who has been living in Miami for twenty years. He moved from Greece to Chicago when he was twelve. Twenty years later the cold winters drove him south. We told him about our walk to Wynwood. “Ah, most of the people are nice. Hard workers. It’s just a few bad eggs here and there. You see them, you cross the street. They cross the street, you walk faster. They reach for something under their coat, you run.” Or you take a cab ride with a nice Greek man.