Sunday 7th December. Naples, Florida -> Miami Beach, Florida, USA
Steve's friend Matt met the two of us for a hearty breakfast at a little locals' restaurant- the sort of place that's an institution among locals, but tourists would never find. Steve had offered to drive me across to Miami Beach, and between the two of us, we twisted Matt's arm and finally convinced him that he had to come for a road trip. We swapped Steve's Mustang for his parents' Cadillac and away we went, opting for the more interesting Highway 41 rather than the new tollroad, Alligator Alley. The boys know a guy who runs airboat tours through the Everglades, so we stopped in along the way, hopeful of a free airboat ride. Alas, their friend had just taken off on a tour, and wouldn't be back for a while. We wanted to keep moving, but did stop for some 'gator-spotting' in the ditch along the roadside.
Arriving in Miami Beach brought back fond memories from my first trip, when Cosmo and I drove from New Orleans to Florida with Bettina and Andrea, two very cool German girls. Steve wanted to stop at Wet Willy's bar for a cocktail. He tried a 'call-a-cab'. Matt and I went for the intriguingly named 'attitude adjustment' which should've been called 'pineapple-flavoured-kick-in-the-head-by-mule', but I guess that's too hard to say. Once again, it was hard to believe where I was, looking down on busy Ocean Drive, on Miami's famous South Beach. We walked past the Versace mansion, where Mr Gianni Versace was gunned down on his front stairs, and stopped in at the Clevelander, an open-air bar and nightclub complete with swimming pool. I remembered sitting on the edge of that pool late at night, eleven years ago. When Steve and Matt left to return to Naples, I checked into the nearest backpackers hostel. I'd wanted to stay in the same hostel I'd stayed at years ago, but I didn't remember what it was called, and couldn't be bothered trying to find it at that stage of the day.
Miami's South Beach is the place to be. Ferraris, Porsches and Corvettes cruised the strip with tops down and music blaring. All the beautiful people were here, with their deep tans, hundred dollar hairstyles and chunky gold chains. If I could care, I'd probably have felt a little out of place in my jeans and sweatshirt, and a head of hair that hasn't seen scissors since 2002! Lucky I don't care.
South Beach has been, and still is, undergoing massive development. The Versace mansion is the only private residence on the beach here. The rest of the buildings are restaurants, bars, motels and apartments. Most of the new developments are being built to the original art deco style, which makes for a uniquely laid-back beachfront atmosphere.
When day turned to night, Miami Beach came to life...sort of. The Clevelander, Wet Willy's and Mango's were all packed, along with a few other obvious favourites. Most other places were doing an average trade, if they were lucky. Expensive restaurants seemed to be in overabundance, and most of them seemed to be almost empty. This may be South Beach, but I wasn't about to spend twenty-five dollars on a big white plate with a small portion of food in the middle. I met a couple of guys in a beachfront bar, and one of them came for a wander with me, in search of some good, cheap pizza. The advice of a local bartender proved accurate, and we found a great little pizza joint. I had a huge slab of spinach and blue cheese pizza, and another of ham and pineapple- more than I could eat. The bill? Seven bucks. The little bar on the next corner seemed a more relaxed option than returning to the noisy clubs on the strip. My new friend Eric didn't stay long, but I stayed on talking to the lovely barmaid Alisia, and a few other characters. When I tried to return to my hostel in the wee hours, some prankster had moved it. Eventually I found it, seven blocks from where it'd been earlier that day. I let the receptionist know that I didn't appreciate them moving the hotel without letting me know, but she just stared at me as though I was mad.