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Now in our third calendar year
PCR #136  (Vol. 3, No. 44)  This edition is for the week of October 28--November 3, 2002.
La Floridiana by Will MoriatyWilliam Moriaty
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Will and Greg's Excellent Adventure in Miami

(Background image on this page: A beautiful and fiery sunset over Cypress domes dotting the Miccosukee Indian Reservation between the Collier and Broward County line on day one of our trip.)

Okay, so I get no points in an original title, but one of my best friends, Greg Van Stavern and I did our yearly pilgrimage to Miami for the annual South Florida Airline Historic Society's airliner collectables convention, and it was indeed an excellent adventure. Last year was the only year that I made the trip alone as Greg had just recently wed Dee Dorsty (see Nolan Canova's Pop Culture Review, Issue #86 in the 2001 archives).

New Car, New Threads
This year we traveled in my "new" car, a 1999 V-6 black Firebird nicknamed "The Huntress" in honor of the DC Comics character featured in the WB's "Birds of Prey" series. The "Huntress" replaced the '93 garnet Camaro which graces previous NCPCR editions. We left the Bay area around 3:15 P.M. on Thursday October 24th heading southward to the eventual overnight destination of the Red Roof Inn on LeJeune Avenue directly across from Miami International Airport. At 3:40 P.M. we were rocketing over the Sunshine Skyway on a beautiful blue day with relatively few clouds.

Changing Scenery
Our first hint at South Florida's sub tropics was just the other side of the Skyway in Terra Ceia where majestic Florida Royal Palms proudly display their statuesque form against the brilliant blue skies. The first hint of the Everglades is found in Charlotte County where the medians of Interstate 75 are submerged almost year around. The tree canopy is quite thick with South Florida Slash Pine from Manatee County southward to Collier County, almost being more reminiscent of north Florida's pine flatwoods.

A moment on Alligator Alley
With threatening storm clouds hanging heavy over the Everglades, your intrepid author, seen with his black Firebird "The Huntress" , takes a moment to relax along a canal on Alligator Alley.
As the Bells Toll
At the tail end of I-75's west coast run lies the toll plaza that shifts the road eastward through the Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County and the Everglades in Broward County. This east-west run of I-75 still retains the name "Alligator Alley", which was formerly a two lane State Road known as State Road 84 and officially named the "Everglades Parkway". Before that it was a cross-Florida drainage canal. The journey across the Alligator Alley is absolutely wondrous for the person attuned to Florida's native ecosystems. The first thirty miles out of Naples is comprised of Cypress swamps growing over pure limerock and coral. There are some "islands" of South Florida Slash Pine and Oak. These "islands" or hammocks sustain plant life adapted to drier environments, as they are only literally inches higher than their adjacent Cypress swamp neighbors. This is an incredibly desolate area where you will not see any human dwelling for close to 40 miles until you reach the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. About every one half mile throughout this section are wildlife underpasses, allowing Raccoons, White Tailed Deer, American Alligators and Florida Panthers to safely get from one side of the road to the other.

Miccosukee Indian Reservation
The only place to purchase gasoline in the linear trek between South Florida's west and east coasts on I-75 is at the Miccosukee Indian Reservation (http://www.miccosukeeresort.com/reserve.html). A dramatic change occurs almost instantly at this Reservation. West of it is a tree line of Bald Cypress, east of it trees become virtually non-existent as the land becomes a River of Grass known as the Everglades. After gassing up Miccosukee Reservation, we were blessed with a golden, fiery sunset, which Greg captured on film from the County Road 833 Bridge over I-75. The view is to the west looking over the Cypress trees. The play of light, color and texture was incredible that first day. As the sun was setting gold, localized thunderstorms had purple to black clouds, with a gold sky to the west and dark blue to the east. The setting sun made the sea of Sawgrass, which we emerged into immediately east of the Reservation, turn an incredible gold to sienna color with a black sky behind it (a true Clyde Butcher moment).

A Moment In the Everglades
Shy of operating an airboat, the closest to the Glades that we would get is where airboats and boats are launched from Interstate 75 and one of four locations in Broward County. Here the Sawgrass are only separated by a canal, filled with Bass, Nile Perch, Gar, Bluegill, Water Moccasins, Alligators, Turtles and fresh water birds. Some introduced Piranha and African Walking Catfish also inhabit these waters. From this vantage point it becomes apparent that with the exception of the Sawgrass, which stretches uninterrupted from horizon to horizon, and the roadbed of I-75, the entire view shed is water below and sky above. The Huntress and Greg and I decided to take in this wondrous natural treasure as the last light of day started to slip away.

Bright Lights, Big City
As dramatically as the tree line disappears at the Collier-Broward county line, the primeval Everglades literally borders the Arvida development which signals your emergence into Florida's Gold Coast, the most densely populated and culturally diverse area of the State of Florida. To the east is Fort Lauderdale, the "Venice of America" with its thousands of miles of canals, and to the south is Miami, Florida's largest and most cosmopolitan city. Once in Miami, Greg and I made our ritualistic dinner stop at the Miami Subs on N.W. 36th Street in Miami springs next to Miami international Airport. I would then show Greg the post September 11th Miami International Airport that has all but been fortressed off with Jersey barrier walls from public view and access. From there we proceeded to our hotel room, ready to run amok in Miami.

Fairchild Tropical Gardens
The lush tropical beauty, axial orientation and forced perspectives created by landscape architect William Lyman Phillips at the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Coral Gables is skillfully and masterfully captured in this shot by fellow traveller Greg Van Stavern.
Fairchild Tropical Garden
On Friday we first did a daylight run of the Airport, with a side trip to nearby Miami Springs where my T.R.E.E. Inc. Vice President grew up. His father was a line mechanic for Pan American World Airways, first working on flying boat clippers at Dinner Key in the 30's and 40's, and then on pistons and jets at Miami International Airport from the late 40's to the 60's. We then headed south to Fairchild Tropical Garden (http://www.fairchildgarden.org) in Coral Gables, which is one of the finest botanical gardens in the country, and the only truly tropical garden of its type in the mainland United States. The breathtaking tropical foliage, with one of the world's largest collections of palms, was even more enlightening as exotic Iguanas, many over 5 feet in length, roamed throughout the pond edges and mangrove fringes, being reminiscent of a miniature scale Jurassic Park. The air was filled with the beautiful melody of exotic tropical birds living amongst the Garden's verdant plant life. But after several hours of touring this beautifully designed work by landscape architect William Lyman Phillips, it was time to move on to the port of Miami and Miami Beach.

Port of Miami
With a cruise ship awaiting passengers at the Port of Miami in the background, your author and the Huntress pose for the camera off of the MacArthur Causeway on Watson Island next to the Chalks Sea Plane base.
The Port of Miami
One of the largest passenger ship ports in the United States is the Port of Miami. With the most modern and largest of passenger cruise ships, as well as incredible cargo facilities; the Port of Miami can be beautifully viewed from nearby Watson Island, which is accessible from downtown Miami via the MacArthur Causeway. The primary canal separating Watson Island and Miami Beach from the Port of Miami is known as the "U.S. Government Cut". It is from here that the last of the scheduled flying boats belonging to Chalk's Ocean Airways (http://www.chalksoceanairways.com) make their runs to the Caribbean waters of Paradise Island and Bimini.

The Clevelander
And what better way to cap off a trip to Miami than having dinner outdoors cafe style at the Art Deco hotel the "Clevelander" along Ocean Boulevard? The gentle Atlantic breezes and moon glimmering on the rustling fronds of the adjacent Coconut Palms made for a memorable and magic evening. Many thanks again to Greg Van Stavern for his excellent camera work, and for being a great travelling companion!
Miami's South Beach
And what would better cap off a day in Miami than dinner along Ocean Boulevard at an art deco hotel in Miami's South Beach section? Well, that's precisely what Greg and I did when we visited the Clevelander Hotel (http://www.clevelanderhotel.com) at sunset. To our east was Lummus Park with its backdrop of Coconut Palms and the Atlantic Ocean--next stop--the Bahamas and then Africa. It should suddenly occur to you that you have reached the end of the road of the mainland United States-beyond Miami's eastern borders lies boundless ocean and an entirely different continent. Needless to say, to this native Floridian, the moonlight reflecting on the rustling fronds of the Coconut Palms, coupled with the electric blue neon from the Clevelander, made this a magic Miami experience. As we left, it became apparent how dramatic Miami's nighttime skyline is with its multi-color buildings and neon laced bridges. This is truly a world-class city.

The Last Full Day
Saturday was our last full day in Miami, and the primary reason we were there--to attend the South Florida Airline Historic Society's airliner collectables convention, which was held this year at the Wyndham Hotel next to the Mel Reese Golf Course across from Miami International Airport. In addition to show organizers Don and Linda Levine were regular convention fixtures including my main man "Miami Mike" Hiscano. For those of you have never had the pleasure to meet this 'Purveyor of Pop Culture and Pulchritudinous Plastic" (Airline, Disney, Miami/Fla., World's Fair, Royal Castle, Miniature Metal Bldg.'s, ocean liner and Collectible toys a Specialty!), he will be appearing at "Floridana Fest II", featuring Florida Souvenirs, Art, Postcards and Kitsch at the Gulfport Casino near St. Petersburg on Saturday March 1, 2003. For more information contact Ken or Barbara Breslauer at FloridanaShow@aol.com

Miami City Hall is located in the same building that housed the Pan American World Airways passenger terminal in the 30's and 40's when "Flying boats" or "Clippers" transported brave souls to Cuba, the Bahamas, the West Indies, Mexico, and Central and South America. Locals would bring picnic baskets to the terminal grounds in order to dine and get in a little plane spotting. As a result the area was then known as "Dinner Key".
Plane Spotting and Baking in the Sun
Greg and I went to the only area near Miami International Airport where you can still get good views and photo shots of Airport operations--next to the El Dorado Furniture on N.W. 72nd Avenue. Saturday was absolutely banner for plane spotting as we reviewed old cargo DC-8's wing in from Central and South America, along with foreign carriers such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, Lufthansa, Martinair, Iberia, Alitalia, Swissair, KLM, Avianca, Aerolineas Argentinas, AeroMexico, Mexicana, China Air Lines, Varig, Grupo Taca, and innumerable domestic carriers, American Airlines foremost amongst them. Our last day light stop took us near downtown Miami as we went to where much of civil aviation started-Dinner Key, where Pan American World Airways first linked North America by air to Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean and Mexico. The former flying boat PAA terminal is now the City of Miami's City Hall, and the former seaplane base now serves as a municipal marina. We capped off dinner at a great commercial aviation themed restaurant on N.W. 72nd Avenue called the "Spirit".

Sunday we make a side trip to Opa Locka Airport, one of the few remaining airports on the planet that still has active four engine piston aircraft that once ruled the skies from the 1940's until the advent of commercial jet travel by the early 1960's. In three short days we had traversed the Everglades primeval, witnessed the most technologically advanced aircraft flying, some of the oldest aircraft still flying, a world-class botanical garden, the largest art deco district in the world, and ran into fellow airline groupies such as "Miami Mike" Hiscano, and Fred "Miami Props" Hartmann---all in all, a most excellent adventure!

"La Floridiana" is ©2002 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.