Miami: A Memoir
Oh, Miami… I wish I would have done right by you. I briefly mentioned in a previous blog (“The Eternal Optimist”), how my trip to Miami was solo-travel before I really knew how to solo-travel properly. It was a timid attempt at independence. The trip wasn’t a complete disaster; I did enjoy my time in there, but the problem is that it could have been so much more. The silver lining is that I certainly learned a few travel lessons from this particular adventure.
I’ll start from the beginning:
Two years ago, I was working in a spa as a front desk supervisor. I was stressed and in desperate need of a break. One of my coworkers had just gone on a solo trip somewhere tropical and was raving about how nice it was to just hang out on the beach all day. I was sold. For the next few weeks after, I researched where I could go within my budget. After much deliberation and research, I landed on Miami Beach, FL. I flew out of O’Hare and landed in Miami in the evening, where I took a hotel shuttle to Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort. The hotel was technically in Sunny Isles Beach, FL, which is just North of Miami Beach. This was my first mistake. I was pretty far away from the action in Miami Beach and South Beach; it was a 45 minute bus ride between the two.
When I arrived at the hotel, I was hungry from a day full of travel, so I hunkered down in the hotel room and ordered room service for dinner. I got coconut shrimp and fries, which I enjoyed in my PJs from the comfort of the queen-sized bed in my room. When I finished the food, I was instructed to place the tray outside the door, where it would be picked up. I took the tray outside, while the door to my room abruptly closed behind me, locking me out. I had to walk to the front desk for a new key in my teeny tiny pajama shorts and tank top, my face flushed with embarrassment. The front desk staff were nice enough to act like it happened all the time, but I scurried back to my room with my head down. Once I was in, I decided to call it a night.
The next day, I woke up early and enjoyed a cup of coffee out on the pool deck. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, and I was quick to get into my swimsuit and sit out on the beach. What I was most wanting from this vacation was to lay out in the sun, read, and sip cocktails. I certainly accomplished that, but not much else. Also on the first day in Miami, I did indeed take the bus to Miami Beach, where I walked around aimlessly for a couple of hours.
The main drag is Collins Avenue, where I popped in and out of the same stores I could find in Chicago. I also wandered over to Espanola Way, a twinkling light filled cultural hub full of great restaurants. I chose Oh Mexico Restaurant for dinner for its al fresco dining. After ordering myself a mango margarita and an entrée that I can’t remember, I snacked on the chips and salsa that were on the table. Right off the bat, I started coughing in full force due to swallowing a large bit of chip whole. My eyes were watering, my hands had the table in a death grip, and I could see the waiter in my peripheral, deciding whether or not I needed the Heimlich. Once I got myself under control, my eyes continued to water as I ate my meal. I desperately hoped that no one around me thought I was some sad girl eating dinner by herself, but could sense some pity coming at me. Needless to say, I paid my bill and got out of there as soon as I finished eating (food first, always). I went off in search of a bar to prove to the Miami citizens that I knew how to behave properly in public.
It was twilight by the time I made my way towards a wine bar I had spotted earlier. I walked down a side street, turned a corner and found myself walking down a scarcely populated sidewalk. Coming towards me was a tall, scraggly man, swaying a little as he walked. The sight made me want to cross the street and find a new destination. I told myself to keep walking confidently onward, that I was being paranoid, but as he approached his eyes locked onto me. As we passed each other, he lurched towards me. Whether it was deliberate or not, I don’t know; I dodged him and speed walked away. I high-tailed it to the bus stop, where I frantically called my friend. “I just got attacked!” I squeaked. Though this wasn’t the case, I still worked myself into a frenzy over what had just transpired. I bussed back to the hotel and stopped into the hotel bar to calm my over-dramatically frayed nerves. There, I met an older gentleman who I chatted with throughout the rest of the evening. He had hinted at meeting up the next day, which is when I worked into the conversation that I was in Miami with my mom, who was upstairs sleeping in our shared room. This, of course, was untrue, but I clung to the lie like a safety blanket against a clearly harmless and charming man. Why was I being an overcautious jerk, you might ask? Because I grew up believing there was a stigma that travelling alone as a women could equal danger; such a rookie mistake. If anything, my travels since then have shown me that many people you meet while traveling are friendly and solidly good.
In any case, the next day I did not meet up with my new casual acquaintance. I did, however, get drunk on the beach, on Sex on The Beaches no less. In the afternoon, I attempted to find a paddle board rental joint that I had heard about from the concierge. I didn’t find it, in fact, I got a little lost and wound up just going back to the hotel instead of asking for help or hailing a cab. My misadventure and the fact that my big solo vacation was shaping up to be a little uneventful caused me to have a little pity party in my hotel room.
I got it together eventually, and decided to treat myself to a lobster dinner in the hotel restaurant, Kitchen 305. As I was sat at my table for one, the waitress came over to take my drink and promptly said “aww, honey is it just you tonight?” Umm, yes, yes it is, and if your goal was to make me order three more drinks than I was going to, mission accomplished. I ordered my lobster dinner, which also came with a salad and bread and perhaps a side dish.
When the lobster arrived, I stared at it dumbfounded. It was a whole lobster, which I had never experience before. Lobster tail, yes. Lobster roll, yes. A whole lobster…what the heck do you do with it? I took a picture of it and sent it to my dad, an avid seafood lover, with this message “HELP! I don’t know what to do with this! Which part am I supposed to eat?” I cut into the top of the lobster and green goo flowed out. I turned my plate around and cut into the tail. I ate what little meat I could scavenge from the little guy and then filled up on bread. I left a big tip and walked out of the restaurant feeling a little bit defeated. It was my last night in Miami, and I spent the rest of it drinking PBR and brooding by myself on the pool deck.
The next morning, I woke up early to catch the sunrise. I walked along the beach, taking pictures, and I noticed what seemed to be ocean wildlife washed up all along the shore. The majority of the creatures looked like clear, blue empanadas with tentacles. One of the men cleaning up the shore line in front of the hotel told me not to touch them, they were Portuguese Man of War. They were closing the beaches to swimmers that day due to an overabundance of these little death empanadas. That was my queue to head back to Chicago. I took another airport shuttle back to Miami International Airport, where I was delayed for three hours before finally making it back home.
I was a little bit ashamed of this trip for a while afterwards. I felt like I should have made more out of this trip, should have explored more, should have ventured out more fearlessly. Retelling the story now, I see that a big part of the problem was attitude. I was too easily overcome by any obstacle that I faced. Now I know better. But, I still feel a little bit of a pull back to Miami, to redeem myself for my previous lackluster visit.