by Jana Hill
(Swans - July 4, 2011) Miami is nothing like it used to be. Even when I was born, in the big scheme of things not too long ago, there was some sort of soul there, something tangible. I don't remember the artifice of skyscrapers, people distantly walking down the street with nothing but cash and death in their eyes. The first time I left I knew I'd go crazy if I didn't get out and fast, and I couldn't have been more wrong.
I took I-95, a brutal two-hour guerrilla driving experience in rush hour traffic, got cut off more times than I can count, mostly by big white sport utility vehicles driven by flailing men on cell phones. I passed my exit and had to turn around, ended up in a neighborhood similar to the one I remember from so long ago. It could have even been the same one. I almost want to live in one of those houses again, every one with bars on the windows and doors, every one some shade of pink or teal (needing at least two more coats of cheap flat paint) as if bright colors could disguise the darkness all around them.
There's garbage everywhere, the sky so dirty I can't even tell which way is east; the sky can't slope down into the ocean as it wants to anymore. There are too many people breathing into it. Too many cars, too many buildings, too many everything. In the distance though, the pollution won't obscure the high rise condos where the rich people live on Biscayne Bay. They stand there like some sort of insulting monument on the edge of the river Styx.
I'd paint my house teal or pink, no primer, or maybe yellow. I'd sit on an upholstered couch outside my front door smoking cigarettes looking vacant all day, watching other people look vacant all day. Everyone greets me in Spanish, and I've forgotten so much that all I can muster is "¿cómo estó?" for a stranger, maybe "¿que haces, bolobos?" for an old friend.
Getting back on the highway I saw a homeless man under the overpass. He was in a wheelchair, trash bags of belongings strewn about him, his head down and eyes just partly open. He could have been dead, where nobody could even safely stop to check. It seemed somewhat a perfect place to die, need be.
I think I had it backwards. I wanted out because I couldn't see the beauty all around me. It's not the in-your-face type. Leaving is what drove me to madness at one point because had I stayed, I might have seen this sooner.
The world is ugly, and Miami is honest about it. Everywhere else is too pretty, covered up by architecture and landscaping and the occasional Target store, smelling like high-grade gasoline, well-dressed jerks walking down the street not even lending a stranger the cash and death in their eyes (don't look up, just keep looking down). But Miami is pink and teal. It smells like shit. The suffering is obvious. And I'm smitten with the honesty -- it's ravishing.
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About the Author
Jana Hill resides in South Florida. She shares her home with the canine incarnation of Ignu the Holy Madman, and two very bizarre (and loveable) feral cats. She currently works as a "Canine Enrichment Specialist" (dog trainer) at a local humane society, and is preparing to go to grad school. (back)