Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Lies Beneath

We read all the time about some construction project in Europe digging up an unknown 2,000 year old ruin with artifacts and bones and what not. It even happens in places like Philadelphia where records were (supposedly) kept.

But when it happens in Miami, that's a bit more peculiar since Miami is relatively new. Many buildings in Miami are the only ones that ever stood on their location, more often than not because it was swamp before the land was drained for construction.

Take Keystone Point for example: beautiful homes in a beautiful, richly landscaped setting in northern Miami. I wonder if any of those residents know that before their homes were built, that land was an airport.

People need a sense of history, which is part of the reason I drone on in this dopey blog. You need to know why stuff happened. They are now going to tear down my brother's high school, North Miami Senior High.

My elementary school is still functioning normally after more than eighty years, but his high school is gone after only sixty. They're going to build a middle school in its place, it will probably look like a brick.

My brother went right to work after high school. I'll have to ask him if he ever considered college. It wasn't as though our family ever had any deep ranging discussions about careers and college. It just never came up.

"Well, son, I've talked it over with your grandfather and we've decided you should attend Yale, as we did. I've spoken to the dean and it's all arranged." Yeah, right.

I expected just to go to work after high school, you know, eventually get a house something like my parent's house and perhaps get married. Although frankly, marriage never crossed my mind at that point, it was another thing that was just never discussed. Working was no mystery, I had already been working (pretty much) full time for more than two years. If I was going to work, then I would work, no big deal.

But my high school friends were making plans to go to college and I just kind of fell into the idea with this vague notion of being a teacher, maybe even a history teacher. So I signed up at the North Campus of what was then called Miami Dade Junior College along with practically everyone from my high school class. No one had any money in those days.

The school had opened only a couple years before and just two buildings had been built, the Classroom Building and the Library. It was on a huge site with plenty of room for parking and expansion. But was there anything on this site before it? Hmm?

Well, if you've learned anything about my
foreshadowing technique, you'll have guessed that it was an airport. Master's Field was one of three airports within just a couple of miles of one another. Amelia Earhart Field was immediately adjacent to Master's Field to the west and the Opa Locka Airport was located to the north in beautiful Opa Locka.

Opa Locka (originally
Opa-tisha-woka-locka) the Seminole name for the high land north of the little river on which there is a camping place built on an Arabian theme (how about that!) and has the distinction of having a real Sesame Street.

Actually, all the streets are named on the Arabian theme, this photograph is of the corner of Sesame Street and Ahmad Street. I know these streets very well, I worked at the Opa Locka Post Office sorting mail, so I know (or knew) every house.

So, I wonder if today's students of 'Dade County College' know
their school is built on an airfield? The clues are there. During the first years, we parked our cars on the runways, and if you look carefully, you can still find an occasional old metal ring embedded in the concrete. These rings were used to tie the aircraft down. I found some old images of what the airfields looked like before all the changes. Some of the strips were even used for drag racing back in the day. You never know what kind of history is lurking until you check.

So this image is Master's Field (the actual name was Master Field because at one point, it was the main Miami airport, but no one called it that) from 1956.

That's NW 27th. Avenue running along the right border. Then a few years later by 1970, they had added several college buildings, dug the lake and added the gym and stadium. The south-western part is beginning conversion into an industrial park.

By 1986, it was getting difficult to identify the airport heritage.

And now, you have to squint a little to see it.

Stuff is there for you to find if you look for it. What's under your feet?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Praise of Libraries

I know I said a couple of posts ago that spiders are your friends. But as far as friends go, libraries just blow spiders away.

A library is not
simply a collection of books because when a certain critical mass is reached, it becomes a Library. Yes, more than an amalgamation of book components, rather its own entity with its own life and soul. You can feel it when you walk into a good library. You can taste it... and smell it.

The photograph up above is Pattee Library at Penn State. It smells pretty good. I did a lot of my studying right there in the library. They had rooms full of those big super-heavy, blonde-wood library-tables that you could spread out on like some sort of executive.
But I had the rare and sought-after privilege of having a study location right in the stacks. Absolute silence and a locked area to keep my stuff centered there in the middle of the seventh floor stacks. I mean, really! Who could ask for more?

Because, like I said, libraries (and subsequently books) are your friends.

Think about it.

If you have no social status or social skills, books don't care, they're there for you just the same! If you have no friends, they will volunteer. If you have no money, they will take you places. If you have no education, they will teach you. If you don't know anyone, they will introduce you. Yet, they ask for nothing in return. And they smell good. If that's not a friend, what is?

I've loved libraries since I was introduced to my first school library at William Jennings Bryan Elementary. I couldn't believe there were SO MANY books! Of course, I had to work in the library at all the schools I attended. I never had a chance. Maybe it's genetic.

So, as I was saying in my last post, there was another bus line serving Carol City, the City of Miami bus line that would take me practically anywhere in Dade County. 'Anywhere' included the mecca of all meccas, the downtown main branch of the Miami Public Library.


For thirty-five cents, I could get on a bus five blocks from my house and get dropped off right in front of the library. And it was a beautiful library, this is what it looked like in those days.

Look at it sitting there like a temple in the middle of Bayfront Park, all marble and solid-looking. With more books than I'd ever seen! I read my first Freud there. I wrote my papers there with so much at my disposal, it was like stumbling on the Internet! And they even let me take books home!!

So, what did Miami do with this cathedral? This central magnet of all things good and illuminating? Why they tore it DOWN of course! Why would you want to KEEP something like that? They built another one down by City Hall. Looks like a brick.

Yale, on the other hand, designed their library to actually LOOK like a cathedral. Which it IS!
And inside it was just as impressive, I doubt they'll tear it down in ten years.
And they respected their history enough to keep their old card catalog structure so new students would have a chance to feel fortunate that everything is online. Here's Deb wishing that little cart was motorized.
Oh, I'm not really complaining about Miami's decision to destroy my history. I'm certain they had a really good reason. Look, they had a little exhibit of some of the tools we used to use to sort cards. Wow, that brought back memories.

It's just annoying that I've walked into buildings a thousand years old or more but this beautiful structure, BARELY broken in, with all those marble memories and that wonderful smell - this building had to go. Pfffffffthh!

You can call me a Luddite if you wish, but e-books can't replace books any more than the Internet will replace the Library. Supplement, sure. Complement, absolutely. Replace? Naaah. Have you smelled an e-book reader? It smells
faintly of plastic and machine oil.

That ain't the same thing!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Get on the Bus

I went to work pretty much full time at Royal Castle when I was sixteen. That is, if you count
thirty hours a week as 'pretty much' full time. And I guess it is for a tenth grader, but HEY, I needed the money... to pay for a car... to get to work. Hmm, in the magic clarity of retrospect, that doesn't make any sense, does it? But I never said I was smart when I was sixteen. I never said I was smart now for that matter. This is my tenth grade school photo. I didn't have a mustache yet.

But before I was sixteen, pretending to be eighteen so I could work all night alone cooking eggs for drunks in Miami, I was fifteen and only worked sporadically here and there. Interestingly, I have no photographs of my brother or me in our Royal Castle whites.

We wore whatever the manager ordered from the laundry that week and since I was already six feet four at fifteen, nothing ever fit, so I looked like Tom Hanks when he outgrew his kid clothes in Big.

To complete the picture, you have to add the cheap brown canvas shoes that were so soaked with grease that they squished when I walked, the paper hat with the sweat stains creeping up from my fevered brow and the pièce de résistance, the once-white, now-filthy apron harboring generations of disease-carrying flora and fauna steeping in a peculiar meld of burger juice, egg leftovers and five-day-old chili.

OHHH, and it wasn't hot enough in this cauldron, so they made us wear Colonel-Sanders-style black ribbon bow ties. This was the South, after all, and we were gentlemen. Greasy gentlemen.

The ties were designed to keep the steam inside our shirts, but as soon as we were out of sight of any 'manager', we would disconnect the tie from one side of our collar and let it dangle from the other like a tragically crippled black bird with a broken wing.

But, like I said, before all this I was fifteen with Royal Castle far off in the future. It was then that I discovered buses. The part of Miami where I lived at this point is called Carol City. Just a few years before we moved there, it was called 'The Everglades' which is a euphemism for 'The Swamp'. But they cut some canals and drained it and
voilà cheap land! But by the time we got there, it was built up enough to have service from two bus lines.

And if you were a fifteen year old with no other means of transport, the bus was a gift from heaven. One of the lines was the Haulover Beach Bus.

This picture is sort of what it looked like. Somebody captured some old buses from the 1940s and ran them into the ground for us. Just a couple of blocks from my house was the absolute end of the line, but you could get on there and ride all the way to the beach for a quarter.

There was no air conditioning but we all rode in our bathing suits anyway. It was a real treat, because even though my brother and I grew up in Miami, my family went to the beach very rarely. I guess my parents weren't big beach-goers.

Haulover (get it... Haul - Over) is a beautiful beach, this is how it looked a couple of years ago.

My eldest (not old) daughter, Leah visited Haulover as a baby, here's a shot of her just before she dove into the surf.

So since Leah had been there so much, we had to take Heather to Haulover as well when we went down for a visit. Look how cute these people are! Heather with her little hat and Leah hoping not to drown this time and look at Deb just a few months after giving birth! See what happens when you're poor and have no food.

So, Deb put Heather down in the sand and she immediately grabbed a handful of beach sand and ate it. Yay, Heather!

Fortunately, the sand there isn't the sticky crap they have at the Jersey shore, it's larger pieces of broken shell, so we were able to get most of it out of her mouth. Well, some of it, anyway.

I know I can't leave you hanging, so we'll talk about the other bus line in a future post. I know you can hardly wait.