Weekend in Miami

We went to Miami over the weekend with our friends (and Tampa hosts) Ying and Ståle — not to soak up the beach or to eat Cuban food (though we did a little of both), but because Ståle was running a marathon and Ying and Erik were running the 5K.*

It’s a 4.5 hour drive to Miami from Tampa, and we started our journey in minor chaos. The AirBnB apartment we’d booked got canceled the day before, and we scrambled to find a new one.** Ståle had a work emergency and couldn’t leave at our appointed time. And it was raining a little, which somehow made everything seem that much more topsy-turvy. At 8:30 we pulled into the parking lot of Tropical Chinese Restaurant, where we’d reserved a table for our Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner. We had steamed fish and gai lan and Peking duck, which the waiters carved tableside and then rolled into little temaki (not very Chinese, but delicious).

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After dinner, we got a bit lost meeting our new host to pick up the keys. And then we got confused about the apartment number, not realizing we were on the 44th floor. We tried our key on the 4th-floor equivalent of our apartment and the door opened to reveal a nice man (with an equally smiling lady behind him, opening cupboards and looking into them) who said in reply to our, “Sorry, wrong door,” “Sorry we can’t help you! We just got here ourselves.” By the time we settled into the apartment and went to bed, it was around 1 AM.

The next morning I walked onto the long balcony and made a quick sketch on Erik’s iPad:

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I didn’t bother with the panoramic setting on my camera, but you get the idea:

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The best thing about the apartment — and it was a pretty good apartment — was that that park in the above photos was the start and finish line of the marathon. So Ståle could just walk across the street to get to his race, and we could do the same to cheer him on.

Ying and Erik waiting for an elevator:

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We had delicious Peruvian ceviche for lunch that day, and then drove to the Miami Beach convention center, where the runners could pick up their bibs. The center was also hosting a fitness expo (to coincide with the marathon) as well as an antiques show ($20 admission, or I would have gone). Traffic was insane. So were the drivers, crossing double-yellow lines and cutting between cars apparently at will. Hours later, we had another yummy meal near the beach — more seafood; Ying and I discovered a mutual taste for octopus — and followed it up with dessert at a friendly little Argentinian diner/bakery.

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The next morning was the 5K. We left the apartment at 6:15 AM, intending to take the bus, but then couldn’t find the stop, even though Ståle ran up and down the street looking for it. So we got a cab instead, which dropped the other three at the 5K start line an hour before the race time, and me at the finish line with even more time to spare. The driver asked why I wasn’t running, and we began a lovely chat. He told me he used to live in LA, where he would dance tango and salsa every night before going back to work in the morning. He still works in computers Monday through Friday, paying as much of his son’s Florida State college education as possible, “so he won’t have to keep paying after graduation.” I showed him my sketch of Auntie’s living room, and he said, “How you know my house? I don’t have this [the hanging scroll], but the door is the same, and I have this [china cabinet], and the chairs, and sofá.” He said he likes to paint when he has time, and even bought a book to help him with faces. When I left the car we shook hands and wished each other a good day and a good life.

I can’t say I wanted to get up before 6, but after talking to the taxi driver and stepping out into the fresh air, I realized that to be transported to Miami Beach around sunrise is a gift I would be happy to accept anytime and anywhere.

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The sun came up and I retreated to the relative shade of the finish line, where I made another sketch:

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Before long Erik came running through, followed not long after by Ying and Ståle together.

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We ate a brunch and then returned to the apartment for showers and naps, and later, a hearty Cuban dinner. There were already road closures for the next day’s marathon, so we opted to walk and take transit to dinner instead of driving. Miami has a convenient, free light rail system that runs through downtown. I so enjoyed the view from the trams that I made a video of the ride:

The next morning I woke up around 8 and looked over the balcony to see the marathon underway, with spectators lining the course, and half-marathoners beginning to finish their race.

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That’s the light rail line in the photo below.

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By the time we got out to watch Ståle cross the finish line, it had begun to rain, and we wove through the crowds over muddying lawn and slippery metal bleacher seats. On our way back to the apartment we saw medics transporting a young man out of the area, into a waiting ambulance. There is so much human drama at these events — so many obstacles and triumphs and habits we don’t know. At the finish line people seem to recognize this, cheering for strangers, encouraging the ones who seem to be struggling. And yet as soon as you leave the finish line and try to make your way among the masses of people all going different directions, that solidarity dissipates.

We checked out of the apartment and navigated across the road closures to the Design District, where we had a swanky brunch. Ying and Ståle had wanted to go to a breakfast place they remembered from a previous visit to Miami, but it had no tables available, so I found us a new restaurant, my decision based — not entirely but very heavily — on the typeface used in its signage. Instead of the usual bread basket, we received cinnamon cookies and walnut-encrusted bacon.

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Around the corner from the restaurant, an Elvis sighting:

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On the drive back to Tampa we passed through the Everglades.

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No one had the energy to stop and explore, but we counted alligators from the car windows. Ståle and Erik claim they saw one moving around, but the ones I saw just looked like big dark sticks on the riverbanks. We talked on and off, reminiscing about school days (in Norway, Ståle only had PE once a week!), Ståle sharing stories from the marathon. Around the two-hour mark I had some trouble staying awake, but played an alphabet-sighting game to keep from falling asleep. Meanwhile, Ying finished a lecture (she’s a professor).

We arrived in Tampa as the sun was setting. We had dinner in a kitschy tapas restaurant in a historic district, then came back home to sink happily into our accustomed surroundings. In less than three weeks Ying and Ståle’s house has come to feel almost like our own. We leave on Thursday.

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*It’s not our first friends-and-marathon-related trip.

**There’s a lesson in following my instincts. My gut told me the first host wasn’t reliable, but we booked anyway because the place looked nice. If you want to be all Sherlockian, it wasn’t my gut but a number of observations that sent my warning flags waving… anyway, next time I’ll take heed.

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