[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Miami Nice (A Continuing Series)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Miami Nice (A Continuing Series)

This letter to the editor is what happens when someone lets go of their perceptions of what a place should be, and accepts a place for what it is - good and bad, along with the personal responsibility for making things better.

Required reading, especially for those who can't seem to find anything good about Miami.

I finally ''got'' Miami.

It wasn't my idea to come here. A year ago, my wife was offered a job that meant moving to Miami. Before relocating, I read one of many books by Miami historian Arva Moore Parks to get a sense of the place.

Discovering, among other things, that Miami means ''sweet water'' in Seminole did little to prepare me for what we found: drivers who took my turn signal as a sign for them to speed up and block the lane I wanted to move into; the builder who didn't care that our house wasn't finished and cared even less about the impact on our lives; the on-duty firefighter who used a hook-and-ladder truck to get take-out from the Mexican place one evening; the police officers who would rather sit in their cars and watch a traffic jam than get out and do something about it; and the dry cleaner who thinks that understanding English and returning all of my shirts are optional parts of our relationship.

I was developing a full-blown antipathy for Miami. It all seemed to come to a head recently when we came home to discover a car parked on our newly sodded front lawn. It had rained all day, and the car left deep ruts in our lawn. Down the block, there was a party in progress. I went to the house and rang the doorbell, thinking: "These people have never so much as introduced themselves to us.''

My new neighbor walked with me to look at the lawn damage. He was apologetic. ''This is not the way I wanted to meet you. I really am a great neighbor. I'll take care of it.'' I assumed that meant he would get his gardener on it. He's a lawyer and a partner at a big firm. I thought darkly, that only means they get their hands dirty in court.

Not so. One morning, my wife walked into the house and said, ''Our new neighbors, Ed and Sandy, are out in front laying sod on our lawn.'' Indeed, there were Ed and Sandy, knee-deep in our front lawn, sweating in the morning sun, repairing my view of Miami. I was -- and still am -- humbled. My neighbors gave of themselves to make certain we knew that we were welcome in their neighborhood. If I never have another thought, let it be the image of Ed's muddy hand gripping mine in welcome.

I watched last fall during my first weeks in Miami as neighbors helped one another in the wake of Katrina and Wilma. I'm ashamed to say that I missed the real Miami. All I saw was the damage that had to be cleared.

As Parks points out, South Florida was the last part of the Continental United States to be settled. Miami is just more than 100 years old and, dare I say it, ''we'' are still struggling to get it right.

The truest measure, though, of who we are as city residents is what we do about our problems. As a new Miamian, that also means me. I can carp about what's wrong or follow the lead of my new neighbors and get knee-deep in the life of my new city. Only then will I know how sweet the water really is.



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