7/19/2014

My first shopping trip in Miami

Almost everyone knows someone who has gone shopping in Miami. When a country is enriched or the government  inflates their currency value in comparison to the U.S. dollar, the middle class makes  frequent shopping trips  to that  city.  They also have secondary objectives such as Disney World, the Seaquarium, and Universal Studio, but the bulk of their vacation  time is spent inside  the shopping malls. 

Miami Airport is one of the most hostile places for foreign visitors in the whole  world. I have been an imperial  citizen for a long time, and I get treated  badly. So  I imagine the  ordeal  they face going  through immigration and customs in Miami must be  almost as bad as what one goes through leaving Cuba,  or Venezuela.


US Passport control provides an unusual experience to would be visitors 

But once the ordeal is over,  and one escapes to the hotel or into the arms  of the waiting relatives, it´s like visitor heaven. Why?  Because Miami has shops full of everything and the prices are phenomenal.

I think the people who go shopping in Miami don´t care that much  about the price,  they worry more about the method they will use to avoid losing the suitcases full of goodies, and  how to disguise what was purchased to avoid  the obscene customs duties some countries charge. 

My first shopping trip to Miami was quite different.  

I will tell you that when I went to the United States from Spain I went to live in a Jewish village in the New York suburbs. When I was in Spain I told the boys that  I wanted to go to America, join  the army, and go to Viet Nam to help fight against the communist threat.  But when I got  to New York  all  my classmates were Jewish so I decided that I would get into the Israeli army to kill Arabs.


Israeli Army Bulldozer kills Rachel Corrie
 while demolishing Palestinian housing
 (from Freerepublic.com article defending the Israeli side)

Lest you think I'm a psycho looking for excuses to kill someone,  at that time I  had lived through the civil war in  Cuba, then  moved to Spain where one could still see legless  Spanish Civil War veterans.  And in America it´s  considered normal to  fix things using guns. So I thought that killing someone was a natural act one could use to impose political views. But let  it be clear,  I  already passed through that stage and luckily I  didn´t get to kill anyone before I was cured of that madness.

That was distracting and off subject.... Anyway, eventually my mother came from Cuba with my sister and I traveled from New York to Florida to live with them. I had been working in a golf course and had saved money, but my my savings didn´t  last long after we rented an apartment and paid  first, last and one month security deposit,  plus phone, electricity, and something to eat until my mom cashed her first paycheck.

That first month was very hard: we had almost  nothing in that apartment. We  bought a bed and we put the mattress on the floor. We had our meals sitting on the floor. We didn´t  have an alarm clock, no curtains, and every penny was counted so we could stay alive until the exact day when my mom got paid.

But eventually came the happy payday,  and my mom decided it was time to buy meat. We were in a fairly rare condition,  we were Cubans who lived in Fort Lauderdale. And Fort Lauderdale at the time was a small town. We could see cows on SW 9th Avenue and Davie.  Right at  State Road 441, where today we see the oldest part of Plantation, was the frontier of human civilization. Where today there are clones of the typical Florida suburbs was terra incognita. 

And I mean it.Places  like Westonzuela didn´t  exist on the map. We called it  "The Swamp", and the only ones who entered that area were lost drunks,  or the Seminole Indians.


The Everglades swamp, now known as Westonzuela

So, right after she got paid, and because  Ft Lauderdale was quite ritzy for our refugee economic status,  my mom decided to buy the cheapest  meat  available: we would go in the public bus all the way  to Miami to buy in a  Cuban meat market  on SW 8th Street.


Typical meat market in a country no ruled by the Castro dynasty

I can´t  remember the outgoing trip, or buying  the meat, because all that seemed a girly thing,   I had gone to carry the meat on the return trip.

My mom got very excited when she saw the prices.  She had arrived from  Cuba  a few weeks before and she hadn´t  eaten a good cut of legal meat in many years  (in Cuba our family ate meat purchased on the black market, but that could be dangerous,  for example,  my aunt was jailed for carrying a lump of black market  meat). 

The old lady  decided we were going to eat meat,  and in huge quantities. She bought nearly 10 kg (22 pounds). She bought beef steaks,  ground meat for picadillo, and also pieces to make meat and potatoes.

But we had a problem. That butcher gave us the meat wrapped in paper.  My mom had no experience shopping in the Cuban quarter in Miami, and forgot to buy a big bag to carry her purchases. That didn´t  stop her, she was going to eat meat.  She bought it, and gave me the large paper bag full of meat, each individual cut  wrapped in in its own piece of paper.

We were lucky, the bus arrived fast, and then we made a good connection to a bus coming up US Highway 1.  What screwed our timing  was the incredible amount of traffic lights and all those bus stops all the way from Miami to Fort Lauderdale.

I was feeling happy, sitting on that bus  with my bag full of meat, when I realized that the blood oozing  out of the meat was leaking through the paper  and was dripping  on the floor. People started looking at me and making weird faces, and then I realized that my pants were getting stained with cow´s blood.

This led to a family conference, and my mom decided we'd get some packages and each of us  would carry one in each hand. This didn´t  work very well, and gradually the paper got drenched  in blood, and dissolved into small pieces. 

We sat in the back, where we could  let the blood gush in peace.  But people stared and stared. Our fellow passengers  came over and then backed off. Other passengers climbed aboard the bus  and jumped back  from the shock when they saw the three of us dripping so much blood. If in those days there had been mobile phones and the internet we  would have been the protagonists of a viral video on YouTube.

Eventually we reached 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale and got off the bus. Now we had to walk from Highway 1 to the house, passing  right in front of Broward General hospital. 


Broward General Hospital, the old 
building facing Andrews Avenue

This worried my mom a  lot because she hadn´t worked  there very  long, and didn´t  want people to think that we were Cuban savages who walked down that fine looking  street dripping blood. But we had no other way to go, so we went as fast as possible.  By then all the paper around the parcels I carried had disappeared, so I decided I had nothing to lose,  and I hung steaks over my shoulders.  

And so we ran and walked as fast as possible to reach the apartment. Upon arrival my mom was hysterical with laughter.  I think she felt that to buy several weeks´worth of meat, then get on that bus and sit there with the blood dripping all over, and to  have done it without going to jail was a huge feat.  Then I realized that in her mind she hadn´t arrived fully in the U.S., and thought she was still  in Cuba.

And that was my first shopping trip in Miami.

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