A PRACTICAL GrNE FOR MOVMI TO
AMERICEA'S MOST INTERNATIONAL CITY
Ma sers Pmroject, Srner 2009
University of Florida
Ted per, Corntee Chair
Wmarn McKeen, Ronald Rodgers
This project would have never even been conceived in the first place if not
for Gus and Michelle Moore, my employers and proprietors of the Miami Tour
Company. Without them I wouldn't have even thought people would find this
information useful or entertaining.
I would also like to thank everyone who contributed information to this
report: Steve Frigo, Mike Clifford, Graig Smith, Shelly Montalvo, Maria De Los
Angeles, Christina Martin, Janey Coffey, Lauren Tow, Hazel Goldman, Frank
Rodriguez, Lyle Chariff, Ryan Marx, Jason Seuc, Tere Estorino, Mick Burke, and
Audrey, Brittney and Gabby over at Tootsie's.
The people who contributed my anecdotes were also key in putting this guide
together. So an extra special thanks to Jamey Prezzi, Lindsey Rogers, and Christy
Also special thanks to my committee chair Ted Spiker and my supervisory
committee, William McKeen and Ronald Rodgers. Jody Hedge for guiding me
through the process and Kim Walsh-Childers for assuring me this was a viable
Lastly, I'll thank my various friends and family who have been a part of the
entire UF experience. It's been an interesting ride.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
In tro d u ctio n ................................................................................................................... 4
Chapter 1 W here to Live.................................................................................... 11
Anecdote: Urban Living Means Being Able to Walk to More than
Dry Cleaner and Porn Shop..............................................................24
Chapter 2 Finding a Job ............................................................................. 26
Anecdote: This Ain't the Diner Back Home, This is South Beach.....38
Chapter 3 D driving in M iam i ............................................................................. 42
Anecdote: Assume Nobody is Ever Legit............................. ........... 55
Chapter 4 Dating in Miam i....................................................... .........................57
Anecdote: The Bait and Switch............................................................. 65
So it was winter. The freezing rain had let up just long enough for a snow flurry to move in, and
the air temperature was somewhere between "Meat Locker" and "County Jail." It was hard to
remember the last time you saw the sun, and your vacation time was up. Even if you had any, you didn't
have the money to go anywhere that was not vaguely reminiscent of a Russian army camp. In short, life
was looking pretty bleak.
You made your way out to your car and your foot hit an icy patch. The foot gave out, your body
went slamming backwards, and you found yourself with a massively bruised head, laying on the cold
concrete, staring up at a white sky. And then the freezing rain started. Again.
As you gazed at the sunless sky above, freezing rain pelting your eyes and your head throbbing
from the spill you just took, you thought to yourself "There has to be something better. There has to be
somewhere where I never have to deal with ice scrapers or snow plows or freezing f*#$&ing rain again.
I'm moving to Florida."
And it seemed like a good idea at the time didn't it?
Flash forward three years and you are rushing to catch an important business flight out of Miami
International Airport. On the way you realize you have forgotten a power cord for your laptop, and stop
at the Walgreen's in your affluent Miami neighborhood to get one. You rush in, and have to talk to not
one but four employees because you can't find anyone who speaks enough English to find it for you.
Thirty minutes later you get out in just enough time to rush through the Tower of Babble that is MIA
before you miss your flight.
And as you stare at your plane leaving the gate without you, you think to yourself, "There has to
be something better. There has to be a place where people do things efficiently, and communication is
easy. There has to be a place where when people say they're going to do something they do it, and do it
quickly and on time. I can deal with the weather. I'm moving back to Chicago."
This, my friends, is an all-too-familiar story for Americans who move to Miami. Because despite
our year-round sunshine, our world-class nightlife, and our cosmopolitan feel, Miami is, in no uncertain
terms, not like moving anywhere else in the Unites States. Not even melting pots like New York or
Chicago, not even cities with a large Latin influence like LA or Phoenix. This city is an animal unlike
anything you've ever seen. Living here will not even vaguely resemble what you're used to.
I have lived in this city all of my adult life, and there are still things every day that make me
wonder why I still live here. I've been a bartender, a personal trainer, managed a strip club and held a
score of other jobs that exposed me to every type of person this town has to offer, and every day I still
see something that surprises me. Maybe it's an interview with a local business person who shows up
half an hour late and doesn't even apologize. Or maybe it's a counter person who doesn't understand
what "no mayo" means. But at this point, I get it. In the course of my work as a relocation specialist for
MiamiBeach41l.com, I handle dozens of questions about moving to Miami every day. And nobody really
seems to know what they are in for.
After reading thousands of questions over the years, I have realized that people have similar
questions when moving here. Where should I move? How do I find work? Is Spanish really THAT
necessary? (yes). But what I've seen more than anything else is misconceptions that people have of this
city, and quite often these misconceptions lead to the wrong motivations for moving here. And so I have
taken all of the answers I have given to the thousands of questions I've gotten, and put them into this
Miami Relocation Guide.
I have also enlisted the help of many Miami transplants and longtime locals to try and explain
how this place works. And between what I have learned, and what my local friends have shared, the
information you will find in this guide should allow you to decide whether or not Miami is for you.
MIAMI IS WHAT YOU THINK. AND NOT WHAT YOU THINK
The overriding theme of this book is very simple: MIAMI IS, IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, NOT LIKE
MOVING TO ANY OTHER CITY IN THE U.S. You will see this mentioned many more times as you read, and
the sooner you understand it the easier your decision will become.
Miami is a good decision for some, an absolute disaster for others. What you need to consider is
whether or not moving here is something that will work for YOU. Not your friend who moved here and
hated it, not your cousin who moved and thought it was perfect. But for you. There are aspects to this
city you may love that others may hate, and aspects that you may hate that others would love. What
you will find in this book is the information you need to make the right decision.
The first thing you must ask yourself is what your pre conceived notions are. What things pop
into your head when you hear the word "Miami?"
Sunshine? Yes, in Miami there aren't many days when you won't see the sun, but nearly half the
days of the year are rainy. So your perception is both true and false at the same time.
Glitzy nightlife and beautiful people? If you have a lot of money the places you see on the Travel
Channel can be your playground. If you do not, South Beach can become a giant show behind glass.
Traffic? The average daily roundtrip commute in Miami is an hour and four minutes. This is
about on par with cities like Philadelphia and Atlanta but considerably shorter than average commutes
in New York, Washington, and Southern California.
Crime? We rate near the top of the U.S. in petty theft. But our rate of violent crime is well below
that of our northern neighbors Jacksonville and Orlando.
Diversity? Miami is certainly a diverse city in the sense that it is not a city full of white, English-
speaking Americans. But it is also one of few major American cities to have nearly two thirds of its
population of one ethnicity.
High cost of living? Housing costs in Miami vary a lot, and while the most desirable parts may
look prohibitively expensive, over-building and development have created a market where many people
can live comfortably.
No matter what your perception of this city is, some of it is true, and some of it is not. What you
will learn in the pages that follow is how accurate your perceptions really are.
THEY MOVE FOR ALL REASONS, BUT FEW KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT
There's all kinds of reasons why people move here. Many, like our hypothetical friend on the
last page, come because they are sick of winter and want to be warm and stay that way. Others find
themselves attracted to the glitz, glamour and nonstop parties they see on television. Still others move
because they see more opportunities in Miami than in whatever city they live in. And, in the great South
Florida tradition, some people come here to escape.
But despite all the perceived advantages Miami appears to have over other cities, since 2000,
the number of native-born Americans in Miami-Dade County has dropped by about 180,000. And why,
you might ask, would so many want to leave this American version of paradise? Well, many who move
here don't understand what living here really means. Not to say that it's a bad place, or that nobody can
make it. It's simply that if you move just because you want to be somewhere warm, you will not last.
If you are moving for the weather, you will get used to it. And then you have to deal with
everything else that comes with Miami. In this book, you will learn enough to figure out whether the
sunshine outweighs the challenges living here might pose.
If you are moving for a good job, your chances of long-term success differ depending on your
industry. In this book you will not only learn what jobs exist in Miami, but what you can expect when
you go to look for one. And you can see if your field is one that offers you the kind of advancement you
may need as your career goes on.
While Miami is certainly a fun place for the young and single, it can present a whole different set
of challenges for those who want to raise a family. An environment like Miami's where you have a very
fast-paced lifestyle can make a kid grow up fast. In the pages that follow, you will hear from people who
have grown up in Miami in recent years as well as parents who will share their own stories about what
it's like to raise children in this city.
Even those without children often overlook the social aspect of living here. This city attracts a lot
of different people, some of them good, some of them wanted in seven other states. So you have to be
careful of who your friends are. Similarly, as an American you may find it difficult to fit in culturally in
Miami. Here you will find out what your day-to-day social life might be like, and whether or not it
sounds like something that would appeal to you.
WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE YOUR MOVE SUCCESSFUL
Moving here is not impossible, nor is it a constant battle to make life bearable. But if your goal is
to make this a permanent move, you must first approach it with a long-haul attitude. When you first get
here, you will love it. Then you, like so many other Americans, will have that "I can't believe this place, I
have to get out," moment. It may take a few months, a year, or even a few years, but you will have it.
And if you are expecting it, and look at it as a challenge you must battle through, then your move can
Second, you need to understand that the rules in Miami are different. It is the only city in
America which is governed, both politically and economically, by a culture that is the American culture
you know. That's not to say that other cities do not have large numbers of minorities in positions of
economic and political power. But the culture of those cities still remains more-traditionally American.
This is not the case in Miami. Things happen here that don't other places, and things are
commonplace here that are unacceptable in other American cities. And though you do not necessarily
need to accept these differences, you do need to understand them. Because if you expect things to run
in Miami the way they run in the rest of the country, you will likely find yourself massively frustrated and
looking for a way out. In this book, you will learn what a lot of these rules are, and how you can expect
to play by them.
And last, but far from least, you must have a sense of humor. There's a reason guys like Dave
Barry and Carl Hiaasen have been so successful poking fun at this place: It really is a ridiculous city. And
the sooner you don't take the insanity too seriously, the happier you will be.
Mayor arrested for fixing the election? Hilarious!
Developer bribing the County Commission to pave the Everglades? I expect nothing less!
Going 2 solid days without communicating in English? Of course, this is Miami! You gotta love it!
The sooner you throw your hands up and say "This place is not normal," the easier life here
becomes. The sunshine does not encourage Miami to be a serious, industrious city. If you want that,
stay somewhere cold where people work 60-hour weeks. If you want a place where everyone is out to
make as much as they can doing as little work as possible, regardless of its legality, this is the place for
you. There's a reason O.J. came here after his first trial, and it wasn't for the golf.
WHAT THIS GUIDE IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT
This guide is in no way, shape or form endorsed by the Miami Chamber of Commerce or the
Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. This guide has information that organizations devoted to
promoting the city would just as soon not make public. I'm not giving you a simple list of restaurants and
realtors with a few handy phone numbers for setting up your electricity and Internet thrown in. I'm
giving you the cold, hard truth about life in Miami. And the truth about Miami is both beautiful and ugly,
something the CVB would not necessarily tell you.
Much like Miami, this guide is not for everyone. A lot of people move to Miami every year, but
as the statistics show the ones who leave are by and large the Americans. So Americans, irrespective of
race, creed, gender, religion or sexual orientation, are the ones who need help in deciding whether or
not Miami is the right decision for them. If you are from another country and think you might find this
guide helpful, please read on! But be advised that the stories, statistics and advice herein are intended
for people from the United States. The culture shock for them is far greater than it will be for you.
This book will also deal exclusively with Miami-Dade County. Miami is considered part of a
metropolitan area known as "South Florida" which includes both Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale) and
Palm Beach County (West Palm Beach), and many use the terms interchangeably. But moving to
Broward or Palm Beach is very different than moving to Miami-Dade, and as such will not be discussed
in great detail. Also, the terms "Dade" and "Miami-Dade" will be used interchangeably, much as they
are by the entire local population (the county's name was changed from the latter to the former in
And despite the admonitions in the past few pages, this book is not a cautionary tale. Yes, you
will read some disaster stories, but you will also hear from people whose moves were successful. The
purpose is to let you know what you are really in for, both good and bad, so you can make an educated
decision and not uproot your life only to find that you can't stand the city. But it's not meant to scare
Good luck in your move, prospective Miamian. I have assembled a large cast of long time locals,
transplants, city experts and veterans of the Miami scene to help you in your planning. This guide will
be, if nothing else, a great education in an unusual place, and hopefully of great assistance as you plan
CHAPTER 1- WHERE TO LIVE
If one decision you make during your relocation will determine whether or not you make it in
this city, which part of Miami you choose to call home is it. This city offers great areas not only for
young people looking to have a good time, but for families looking to put down roots. We have areas for
wealthy, middle-class and even lower-income people that are all livable. But we also have some areas
that are flat-out horrible. We have areas that resemble shanty towns in third world countries, and
suburban gridlock that will make you wonder why you ever moved. The key to quality of life in Miami is
picking the right part of town to call home, and without proper guidance you can end up in an area that
does not suit you at all.
So before you pack up the U-Haul and head south, you will want to figure out where you're
going. Miami is a big city full of lots of different areas. And, as the old saying goes, if you don't know
where you're going, then you'll never know when you've arrived.
If you have a job lined up before you arrive in Miami, move as close to that job as you possibly
can. Because a bad commute in Miami can be worse than a bad trip to the dentist. But you will have
other things to consider when deciding on a place to live. Are you a young family looking for good
schools and safety? Or are you a young person looking for the heart of the action at an affordable price?
Do you want to live somewhere where you don't have to use a car? And how comfortable are you with
Because each area of this city caters to a different type of person, no one area is going to be
right for every American trying to move. In this chapter we will examine the best areas to move for a
variety of different demographics. This way you can be armed with the right information, and can land
yourself in an area that fits you the best.
THE YOUNG AND SINGLE
For the young and single, there is no greater city to live in then Miami. Beautiful people,
beautiful weather, nonstop nightlife and a steady flow of tourists make this a great place for those
devoid of any significant responsibility. And the best thing about being young and single? More parts of
town will suit what you are looking for than any other demographic.
The most obvious area for a young person to move is South Beach. South Beach is the southern
tip of the city of Miami Beach, which lies east across Biscayne Bay from the city of Miami. Though South
Beach has no official geographic boundaries, it is typically considered everything south of 25th Street in
Miami Beach. And because it gets more national media attention than any other part of the city, so does
it seem to be the place that attracts the most newcomers and transients (not "transients" as in
homeless. "Transients" as in people who come and go quickly).
If you have the money, I highly suggest living on South Beach. Your commute to the rest of the
city will not be too difficult because you will usually be going against traffic. You are walking distance
from nightlife and the sand, and the only real downside is the incessant noise and traffic that make life
in "SoBe" occasionally unpleasant. As a matter of fact, if you can find a job in South Beach, you may
even be able to survive without a car.
You will also meet people from not only all over America, but from all over the world. South
Beach attracts all types, and if you want excitement and intrigue, well, this is the place. But as with
anything, you only get what you pay for.
Rent is typically higher than it is in the rest of Miami as a studio will cost you at least $800 a
month, and a one-bedroom is in the $1500 range. Two bedroom apartments in the Beach rent for
around $2700, so you really don't save much by getting a roommate. This may seem cheap if you are
coming from New York or Boston, but remember that Miami is one of the worst cities in the country for
cost of living keeping pace with salaries. And as a young person your salary may not allow you to live it
up as much as you'd like.
The lifestyle in South Beach can also burn you out very fast. If you do not have a "real" job you
are likely going to be working in the service industry, and you may find yourself going out four or five
nights a week. It's easy to get caught up in the endless nightlife in South Beach, and if you never escape
it you can find yourself immersed in the culture of sex, drugs and perpetual partying. This is obviously
not true for everyone, but if you know you are the type of person who finds it hard to turn down a social
invitation and wants to move to Miami to do more than party this may not be the best location for
Should you choose to make South Beach your home, the area offers several locations that are
very residential and may keep you away from the commotion. The area south of Fifth Street, known as
SoFi, offers a variety of older and newer apartment buildings, as well as the luxury high rises that make
up the South Beach skyline. This part of South Beach is much quieter and less touristy than the rest
while still featuring a wealth of clubs, bars and high-end restaurants.
West Avenue on the west side of the island is lined with high rise apartments that house most of
the Beach's service industry employees. These buildings offer spectacular views of both Biscayne Bay
and the ocean, and some of them are reasonably priced. You may also want to look at the Flamingo
Park area, which runs from 5th St. to 11th St. between Alton Rd. and Euclid Ave. This area offers a lot of
older, art-deco apartments that are probably the most affordable in South Beach. Of course, because
they are old you have things like wall unit air conditioning and no parking. But, as I said, you get what
you pay for.
Lastly, if you are hell-bent on living near the ocean but can't afford South Beach prices, looking
north of South Beach is also a good option. It's only a short bus or cab ride south to all the action, and
you can save a couple hundred dollars a month in rent if you're willing to be a little more removed.
Brickell, Miami's financial district, is located just south of downtown across the Miami River.
The area has seen a recent boom of nightlife and entertainment, but even more so it has seen a boom of
condos. You may cruise the streets of the Brickell area and notice luxury highrise condominium buildings
everywhere around you. What you will not notice, however, is many people living in them. During the
last housing boom, developers threw up buildings without much strategic planning, and when the
market crashed in late-2008, many were left holding the bag. What this has left is a glut of unsold
condos in Brickell, most of which now rent at reduced prices.
Of course, in a building that was designed to sell hundreds of million-dollar condos, you would
expect some nice amenities. And these amenities exist. But because the condos aren't selling, and thus
nobody pays maintenance dues, the amenities are often completely neglected. Unfilled pools are not
uncommon in Brickell. Nor are unmanned security desks and unlandscaped fronts. But if you can handle
living in what feels like a lit-up, air-conditioned ghost town, Brickell can offer some pretty good deals.
"A lot of people are saying that we're at the end, or close to the bottom of the market," says
Jamie Prezzi, a realtor who specializes in the Brickell area. "I worked with hundreds of renters last year,
and at this point a lot of them are ready to buy.
Rents in Brickell, while not the cheapest in the city, are considerably more affordable than in
South Beach. An average apartment in Brickell now rents for around $1500 a month for a one bedroom,
and $1900 a month for a two bedroom. Rents are often negotiable with landlords, though, as many
investment-property owners are looking to rent to avoid financial ruin. But Prezzi warns you probably
won't save more than a couple of hundred dollars a month off the average, so don't make insulting
Brickell has some great conveniences like proximity to the seldom-used Metrorail and
walkability to grocery stores, restaurants, bars, clubs, and most office buildings. You can likely avoid a
horrendous commute, because even if you end up working elsewhere you will be commuting against
traffic. If the entertainment options Brickell provides aren't quite your scene, you are a ten-minute drive
from both South Beach and Coconut Grove, which are both affordable taxi rides.
Coconut Grove is another excellent location for a young person moving to Miami. Well, SOME of
Coconut Grove. The other parts are perfect for a young person if they happen to be selling crack "The
Grove," as locals call it, is a lush, tree-filled district that is home to arts festivals, marinas, shopping,
nightlife and many of Miami's young professionals. It is also home to large numbers of homeless,
welfare recipients and drug dealers. The key, of course, is knowing who lives where, and avoiding the
areas where you do not want to live.
East Coconut Grove the area closest to Biscayne Bay has a variety of older homes, older
apartments, and newer buildings. The West Grove is entirely different. While the City of Miami has
slowly been gentrifying Coconut Grove for the last 20 years or so, the improvement process has yet to
hit this part of the area. Generally everything you find along Grand Ave. between the CVS Pharmacy on
McDonald Ave. and US-1 is considered West Grove. If you stay east of the CVS, and north of Grand, you
are more likely than not in a decent area. But you have to be careful. When you go to look at an
apartment get a good feel for your surroundings. If you feel something is suspect, it most likely is.
Coconut Grove is home to artists, musicians, long-time locals, and even some students from
nearby University of Miami. The Grove also offers short commutes to both downtown and Coral Gables,
where you'll likely be working if you have a "real" job.
Downtown Coconut Grove more or less the area around CoCo Walk has the second highest
concentration of bars and restaurants in the city, behind South Beach. And most apartments in the good
part of the Grove allow you to walk to all of the action. You are less likely to meet transient people,
though you may very well find a few folks who fit the traditional meaning of the word "transient." Petty
theft and mugging are not uncommon here, so be careful when walking around at night and when
parking your car.
Rents in Coconut Grove are comparable to Brickell if you want to live in an apartment that does
not share a wall with crack peddlers. Median rent on a one bedroom is $1500, and about $1900 for a
two bedroom. Again, you can find cheaper and more expensive places, but this is about what you should
expect to pay.
Though Coral Gables is an area traditionally thought of as more-popular with families and
wealthy, older people, it also offers a fun urban lifestyle for the young and single. Downtown is full of
bars and restaurants, mostly concentrated along Miracle Mile (SW 22nd St.) and the area between
Douglas Road (SW 37th Ave.) and LeJeune (SW 42nd Ave.). Coral Gables is a business center during the
day, much like downtown Miami. But unlike downtown Miami it actually offers a pretty vibrant
downtown after all the workers go home for the night.
"Coral Gables is great for people who want more urban living experience," says Janey Coffey, a
realtor who specializes in Coral Gables. "Younger people can have an easier social life as far as going out,
and you can live in a condo and walk to almost everything." Rent in "The Gables," as locals call it, can
vary from $1200 a month for an older, two bedroom garden apartment to $14,000 a month for some
luxury condos downtown.
Coral Gables also offers logistical advantages. Because the city is home to the University of
Miami, no part of Coral Gables is more than a ten minute drive from campus. If you are a graduate
student, or considering going to UM for grad school, this makes the Gables a close option. Also, most of
Coral Gables is near the Dolphin Expressway, allowing you quick access to 1-95 and other expressways.
Biscayne Corridor, running from NW 15th Street up to about NW 50th St. along Biscayne
Boulevard., is one of the more up-and-coming areas in Miami. This area has several names as it moves
north from downtown, from the Design District to Midtown to Wynwood. It is an area that has an urban
feel, with rents slightly less than one would find in downtown or Brickell.
A lot of people lump all of these areas together and call it either "The Design District" or
"Midtown." The actual boundaries of the Design District are only the five blocks from NW 36th St. to NW
41st St. between North Miami Avenue and US-1. And nearly all of the property in there is commercial.
The area just south, known as Midtown, features several apartment buildings, the Midtown Mall, and a
variety of bars and restaurants. Lyle Chariff, a realtor who specializes in this area, describes the
inhabitants as mostly younger singles, between 20-45 with middle-to-high incomes.
"Strategically, it's the best location to get anywhere," says Chariff. "Whether you're going to
Coral Gables, the airport, South beach, or Aventura, you can be there in ten minutes. It is THE central
location of the city."
In addition to its advantageous location, the Biscayne Corridor is more affordable than South
Beach or Brickell. The rents, which average about $1500 for a two-bedroom, also make this an easier
option than some of the better-known parts of town.
Just be careful when you go to look at places around here. Once you get west of Miami Avenue
you find some of the rougher areas of Miami, places known only for producing football players and petty
theft. The Biscayne Corridor is much like Coconut Grove; if you go to look at an apartment and it seems
to be in a questionable area, it likely is. The closer to the water you are here the better, and don't
wander too far. Miami is a fun place, but it can also be very dangerous.
This area just west of Brickell near downtown Miami got its name as the location the majority of
Cuban immigrants settled in after leaving their homeland during the Castro revolution. And while it still
retains much of its Cuban character, the area is changing. As generations have grown up and the
demographic has gotten more prosperous, Cuban-Americans have moved out to Miami's suburbs. Little
Havana now has more Central Americans than anything else, with Cubans making up only about a
quarter of the population.
Through the 1980s and into the early 21st Century Little Havana was considered a high crime
area. But it has improved over the last decade. New development along the Miami River has led to the
opening of a few new bars and restaurants in the area, as well as some nicer condo buildings. The
University of Miami hospital just across the river is also in the midst of a multi-million dollar expansion.
"The biggest misconception of the area is that it's just crack houses, drugs and robbery," says
Frank Rodriguez, a realtor who specializes in Little Havana. "But among younger people now you'll find
that reviews of the area are good. But it's going to take another decade or so for the identity to be
The demolition of the venerable Miami Orange Bowl and upcoming construction of the Florida
Marlins' baseball stadium are other large-scale improvements on the horizon for Little Havana. The area
is close to both the Dolphin Expressway and 1-95, making it convenient to get anywhere in the city. You
can also take public transportation fairly easily, and downtown and South Beach are both ten minute
drives when traffic is normal.
Rent in Little Havana is also considerably less than you will find just a mile east in Brickell. And
while the area is still struggling to change its identity, it may be ideal for someone just starting out who
wants a lower cost of living. The average rent for a studio is $550 a month, a one bedroom goes for
about $750 a month, and a two bedroom will be about $1100. During the housing boom of the mid-
2000s, Little Havana saw a lot of condo conversions that have since gone unsold. As such, these newer,
luxury apartments can be rented for about $1300 a month for two bedrooms, about half what you
would pay in South Beach.
Obviously, if you live in an area called "Little Havana," it's not exactly going to be Main Street
USA. But if you come from an urban area, Rodriguez says the culture shock shouldn't be too severe.
"If you come from a setting like LA or the Bronx it's a walk in the park," he says. "But someone
from Central Iowa or North Carolina? They might find it a little drastic."
So you got married and have decided to start a new life together. And this new life is going to
begin in Miami. Typically the only people who decide to do this arrive by raft, but if for some reason you
thought moving to a city full of sex, drugs and corruption was a good idea for a young married couple,
then Bienvenidos! That whole dual income, no kids thing is a real financial windfall and my suggestion is
to live here as long as you plan on not having children.
While buying a condo may seem like a good idea, given the current market it may be a while
before you make any money on it. So, ultimately, renting is cheaper. And the first thing you want to
consider when looking for a place to rent is where you are working. I'm not saying move into some rat
hole in Doral because you happen to be working for Carnival Cruise Lines, but try and make your
commute as short as possible.
I have illustrated the pluses and minuses of several areas for young single people previously in
this chapter. Take a look at those descriptions to give yourselves a general frame of reference. But I will
detail here some information about some areas that may be more relevant to a young couple.
CORAL GABLES/COCONUT GROVE
The Gables and Grove are not only filled with condos, but both offer a variety of houses as well.
The Gables median home price is considerably more expensive, with houses starting around $500,000.
Coconut Grove, however, has an average home price just over $400,000 in the area that is fairly
inhabitable. Apartments in these areas tend to be cheaper, but if you are looking for a starter home in a
safe area these parts of town will likely be convenient to your work and any social endeavors you plan.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous realtors may try and pass off lesser parts of town as the Gables or
Grove. Coconut Grove is rather large but do not consider anything west of McDonald Ave. or south of
Grand Ave. These areas are still not safe, and despite cheaper rents are not worth the risk. Coral Gables
is its own city, and as such actually has geographic boundaries. But a lot of people will prey on a
newcomer's lack of this knowledge. The boundaries are complicated, but if you follow along on a map
you can make sure when someone tells you a place is in Coral Gables, they are telling you the truth.
Coral Gables begins at SW 37th Ave. in the East and extends west to SW 57th Ave., or Red Road.
It's northern boundary begins at SW 8th St. in the east at SW 37th Ave., but then shifts south to Medeira
Ave. at Salzedo St. Medeira is the northern border until LeJeune Road (SW 42nd Ave.) where it shifts
north again to Mendoza Ave. Mendoza remains the northern border until Cortez St., where it reverts
back north to SW 8th St. SW 57th Ave., or Red Road, is the western border until SW 72nd St. (Sunset
Drive), where Coral Gables effectively ends. The eastern part of the city borders Biscayne bay and
extends west back to Red Road if you are south of SW 88th St. (Kendall Drive) North of there the
western boundary is Erwin Drive. This sound complicated enough? Well, if you have a hard time
following the directions, just ask a tax appraiser what city you are technically in before you sign
anything. The "Coral Gables" name can sometimes tack on an extra $100-200 a month.
In recent years South Miami's nightlife and entertainment options have expanded, and it is a
convenient area to shopping, dining and employment. Similarly, the rents in this area are considerably
lower than in Coral Gables to the immediate north, and the location is more convenient than nearby
Kendall. Average rents in South Miami are in the $1500 per month range for a two bedroom, although
this may be slightly skewed by the poorer parts of the city west of US-1. If you move to this area, make
sure you remain east of the highway.
South Miami is also one of the few parts of Miami where you can use our oft-maligned
Metrorail. The South Miami station sits right across US-1 from Sunset Place mall, and can take you to
work downtown or at the hospitals very quickly. It also allows you quick access to Dadeland Station,
which features Target, Best Buy and a variety of other "big box" retailers that usually require a car trip.
MID MIAMI BEACH
Many people who move to Miami want to live near the ocean. However the hustle and bustle -
and more importantly the astronomical prices of South Beach don't always make it the easiest place
for a young couple starting out. That being said, the city has other beachfront areas that are quieter and
more family-friendly. So if you and your significant other want to enjoy the ocean and don't want to
have parties and Brazilian models thrown in your face all the time, going north of South Beach is not a
Dade County has several miles of oceanfront, but it's not all a convenient drive. The
expressways that act as causeways to the beach don't exist between 41st St. and Aventura Mall, living in
mid-Miami Beach is much more convenient. Med-Beach is the area north of South Beach at around 25th
St. up to 71st St. It is popular with older people, orthodox Jews, and longtime beach residents who don't
want to deal with the insanity that is South Beach. Rents in this part of the beach are cheaper as well,
with a two bedroom around $1800 month. Again, not cheap, but a lot less than you would pay a couple
of miles south. The apartments in this section of Miami Beach are older, though, and may lack the
amenities you are looking for. If you are the kind of person who absolutely MUST have a pool and fitness
center, with two incomes a one bedroom in a nicer building in another part of town is probably a better
I will not sugar coat this for you, Kendall is a traffic nightmare. If you can imagine the
stereotypical South Florida sprawl, then imagine that entire sprawl with one road leading in and out, you
might have Kendall on a good day. It's an area strewn with chain restaurants, non-descript malls and
cookie-cutter housing developments, all the while featuring a populous that is largely English-
challenged. Again, if you are comfortable with Spanish, this may not be such a bad aspect of Kendall. But
the traffic, boredom, and proximity to nothing other than freeways to get you out of there may be
enough to dissuade you from calling it home.
Most of Miami is not what you see depicted on T.V., but Kendall is about as far from it as you
can get. It is neither glitzy nightlife nor rampant crime, Latin Flavor nor lush tropical paradise. It is
suburban sprawl at its worst. The upside to Kendall is that you can get a relatively nice apartment or
townhome for a reasonable price in a safe area. It may even be a part of town where you could look
into buying provided you don't mind sprawl; the average home in Kendall sold for about $225,000 in
2009, A two bedroom apartment can be had for $1200 a month,and because Kendall is a newer area,
most of these places have basic amenities like dishwashers, laundry and large kitchens. If you can deal
with traffic and the suburbs, Kendall might be a good choice.
FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN
My first inclination to tell people who think of moving here with children is "What on God's
Earth are you thinking? This place is a capital of sex, drugs, and hedonism. Why would you want to raise
your children HERE?" But over the years I've gotten to know a good number of people who have grown
up here, and by Miami standards they have turned out pretty normal. This is not a guide on how to raise
children, but there are some things you should know if you want to move here with kids.
"You grow up fast in Miami," says Steve Frigo, who has spent all 28 years of his life in Miami.
"Anything you want you can get here."
"Miami is a very material environment," says Ryan Marx, who also has spent his entire life in the
city. "So you have a lot of pressure to look your best and be in shape. It takes a lot out of your childhood
just keeping up with people in a material sense."
And in addition to material pressure and availability of everything, drugs are ubiquitous among
"Growing up, drugs and crime were very apparent here," says Mike Clifford, a Nashville attorney
who grew up in the Miami suburb of Palmetto Bay. "Drugs became commonplace as early as the sixth
grade. Drugs are so easy to obtain here, and it's cheaper than anywhere because it's so abundant."
Others who grew up in middle-class areas found that the nearby ghettos were convenient places to get
drugs as young teens.
"We would skip school and leave Pinecrest, drive up 152nd or 168th to the west side of US-1, at
104th Ave. or so, it's what we called 'the crack hole,'" says "Scott," who asked that his name be changed.
"So you can just go there, skip school, buy crack, go back to the east side of US-1, go to someone's
house, roll up a bunch of blunts with crack on them and get totally stoned. And skip school. I was in
honors and AP classes skipping school, riding out to the dope hole in the middle of the day. And I was
This is not to say that every child raised in Miami is going to be driving into bad neighborhoods
to buy crack as soon as they get their drivers' license. The key, say most that grew up in the city, is good
parenting and keeping kids active. And given our perpetual sunshine, it is easier to do here than most
"It takes good parenting to have your child take a wiser path.," says Marx. "The key is to keep
your kids enjoying the environment that is provided. You can surf, ski, fish, play sports, and you can do
them to an extent you can here that you can't other places."
You also must carefully consider the neighborhood you select when you have children. Some
areas of town are very family friendly, and some are not. Also, convenience to where your children
need to be is a major concern.
"As a parent, your life becomes all about scheduling," says Tere Estorino, who is currently raising
a pre-schooler. "You need to live close to your job and keep your kids at school between home and
work. You need to create a world where you can avoid the commute. If you live in Dade but work in
Broward, forget it. Wherever your job is, move near there."
And while advice on where to live with children varies depending on who you ask, one part of
town comes up in nearly every conversation: Pinecrest.
This city in southwest Dade has perhaps the most normal feel of any part of Miami. And families
realize this. In addition to being one of the few parts of the county that actually enforces traffic laws,
Pinecrest has some of the highest testing schools in the state of Florida. It also offers an environment
where people feel comfortable going outside any time of the day.
"The beauty of Pinecrest is in the morning or evening you'll see people out jogging or out
running. It seems to be one of the most comfortable locations for relocating areas because it's safe,"
says Hazel Goldman, a realtor who specializes in Pinecrest. The area incorporated itself as a separate
city in 1996, and as such uses its larger tax base to fund several parks, public activities and a police force.
Parents also involve themselves with the local schools. Though Pinecrest consistently has high-
scoring schools, it constantly faces budget cuts as part of the Dade County Schools. Just like the rest of
the city. But when money is running out, local parents step up to the plate.
"Teachers have gone to parents saying they were losing funding," says Goldman, "and parents
go out and get what they need for enrichment. This is an area where it's nice to see the kind of
commitment people have to the schools." Goldman also suggests inquiring as to which school-
assignment area your potential home falls into, to make sure your child ends up in the appropriate
place. Visiting schools before moving, she says, is also a good idea.
Pinecrest runs east of US-1 to Biscayne Bay from SW 88th St. (Kendall Drive) in the north to SW
136th St. in the south. Many unscrupulous realtors may refer to an area west of US-1 as Pinecrest, and it
is not. Nor is anything south of 136th St., which is then Palmetto Bay. These areas are often much less
expensive, but do not be fooled. Pinecrest comes at a price.
Lots in Pinecrest tend to be large, from one-third to a full acre. As such, the cheapest home in
the city is around $450,000, but the median is closer to $550,000. You can rent condos in Pinecrest for
as little as $1000-$1200 a month, but these are more appropriate for single people moving to the area,
Palmetto Bay is also a separately-incorporated village just south of Pinecrest. Like Pinecrest, it
has plenty of single-family homes, and a more suburban feel. Much of Palmetto Bay also falls into the
school zones for schools in Pinecrest, so your children can attend schools in that area and live in
Palmetto Bay. And the average home price in Palmetto Bay is just over $320,000, although this figure
factors in several multi-million dollar homes on the water.
Palmetto Bay runs east of US-1 from SW 136th St. to SW 184th St. all the way to Biscayne Bay.
One might read this and think "Why would I want to spend all that extra money to live in Pinecrest when
Palmetto Bay looks like the same thing for half as much?" And in a lot of ways, one would be correct.
But Palmetto Bay has its disadvantages. It is a lovely area, but a further commute if you are working
north. If you live in the southern part of Palmetto Bay you maybe adding 15 minutes each way if traffic is
bad. Lots also tend to be smaller in Palmetto Bay, and some parts of it do not lie within school zones for
the higher-testing schools in Pinecrest.
Goldman recommends this area for those who want a suburban lifestyle who may not be able to
afford Pinecrest. But the two have a lot of differences, and you should figure out if the advantages
Pinecrest offers are worth the money.
Nicknamed "The City Beautiful," the Gables has loads of amenities such as the Venetian Pools
and Biltmore Hotel, and lush, banyan tree-lined streets perfect for family living. If your family has
money, that is. Like Pinecrest, the Gables is one of the wealthier, more exclusive areas of Miami-Dade
County, so it provides a fairly stable environment for children. But unlike Pinecrest, the cultural
influence is heavily Latin American.
"I think anybody who moves to Miami in general is going to be really surprised by the level of
the influence of the Latin American culture, but especially in Coral Gables," says Janey Coffey, a realtor
who specializes in Coral Gables. "It's definitely a transition to live in Coral Gables after you've lived in
Virginia or Ohio or somewhere like that because sometimes the daily stuff is difficult."
This aside, the city is still one of the more sought after parts of Dade County to call home. The
average home price in Coral Gables is around $400,000, though Coffey says that amount is more typical
for a 2-bedroom starter home than something for a larger family.
Turning north off of NW 36th street as you go along Miami International Airport's northern
retaining wall brings you to Miami's version of Main Street, U.S.A., right in the heart of America's most
"Miami Springs is one of the few communities here that has a small town culture," says Coffey,
who also specializes in Miami Springs. "Everything that's going on, everybody has an opinion. Like if
there's stray cats, you have pro stay cat people and anti stray cat people. For people who like that it
would be perfect."
Miami Springs is an excellent place for people coming from smaller-town environments who
want a similar feel when they come to South Florida. You will find families in Miami Springs that have
multiple generations living just blocks from each other and many families that have lived there for
generations. It is one area of Miami that has a coherent community, as children leave for bigger cities
and come back to raise families in the Springs. Unlike much of Miami, it is not very transient at all.
"There's a lot going on for families and children as far as events and festivals," Coffey says of
Miami Springs. "There's also a little less Latin American influence than a lot of Miami-Dade, and it's a
Though Miami Springs does not offer much in the way of rental properties the median sale price
for a home is just over $225,000, making it an affordable relocation option for families. But Coffey still
warns newcomers to look at their commute and where their children will be in school before making
Defining where Kendall begins and where it ends is kind of like trying to map the boundaries of
the universe. Almost every Miamian has a different definition. Generally, it runs West of US-1 out to
wherever the County Commission has extended the Urban Development Boundary into the Everglades
that week. It begins in the north at SW 88th St. (Kendall Drive) and ends at about SW 152nd Street. Many
areas in there go by different names, but for the most part this stretch of unincorporated Dade County is
known as "Kendall." It is the epitome of suburban sprawl, but does offer some affordable options and
decent schools for families.
If an inconvenient commute and sprawl are not things that bother you, Kendall may be a logical
choice. The area relies completely on the services of Miami-Dade County, and as such local residents
have little voice in what goes on in their neighborhoods unless they live in gated communities. The
median sales price for a home is under $200,000, so if keeping cost of living low is a main concern for
you, Kendall is a good option. As I've said many times before, where you live will determine the success
of your Miami relocation, so take a look around Kendall before deciding on a move there. If you think it's
a place for you, then it can be a very economical choice.
As I stated in the introduction, this guide is about Miami and Miami-Dade County. That being
said, a good number of people get jobs in Miami and commute from Broward County in the north.
Broward is home to Ft. Lauderdale, South Florida's second-largest city, and is generally considered part
of the Miami Metro Area. And while many people do the commute from Broward every day, few who do
it recommend it.
I only mention Broward because it offers more family-friendly areas than Miami-Dade. It is also
newer, cleaner, and easier to get around. Areas like Hollywood, Pembroke Pines, Miramar, Davie, Ft.
Lauderdale, Plantation and Coral Springs all offer plenty of nice, newer houses and lots of amenities. The
schools in Broward also score better than those in Dade, and the area feels more like the United States
than Miami. In actuality, Broward County is more diverse than Miami-Dade, as its biggest ethnic
majority makes up only 47 percent of the population.
Some Americans living in Miami develop what native Miamian Mike Clifford describes as "EBIB
Syndrome," where "Everything is Better In Broward." Because life, supposedly, moves easier because
Broward has fewer cultural barriers. But the commute can be brutal, so you must weigh whether or not
an hour drive each way to work is worth having a dry cleaner who speaks perfect English.
SINGLE PARENTS AND OLDER SINGLES
As it has been since its founding, Miami is a place people go to start over or get away. And for
better or for worse, a large part of this demographic includes the recently-divorced and single parents.
Whatever your motivation for moving here as part of this demographic, that's none of my business. Bad
divorce, crazy ex, whatever. But if you are coming here to start a new life, you have a lot of things to
Do you want nightlife and excitement? Look back at the section on places for the young and
single to move. In Miami people are fairly ageless as it is. Do you want a place that is convenient for you
with your children, even if you do only see them every other weekend and 2 weeks in the summer?
Then take a look at the section on family relocation. Do you want proximity to your job? Then move
where you work. Fun as being single in this town is, a brutal commute can more than offset that.
Also, consider northeast Dade County. It can be an ideal spot for a single person who does not
want to be in the middle of the insanity of South Beach, Brickell or Coconut Grove, but wants to have a
nice place near the water. The cities of Sunny Isles Beach and Aventura both offer nice condos near the
water at lower prices than Miami Beach. Surfside, which is just north of Miami Beach, has smaller, older
apartments at a lower price, but is still only blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. If you have children that
come to visit, you can get a place with 2 bedrooms which is near the water. So they can enjoy it.
SOME FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE
Your Miami relocation experience will rely heavily on what part of town you decide to call home.
And so that decision is not one you want to make lightly. Before you move, it would be a good idea to
make a couple of trips to the area to scout out different parts of town and see what feels best for you.
Do not spend a weekend on a rooftop bar in South Beach and assume that's what life in Miami will be
like. Nor should you spend a week crawling through suburban Kendall traffic and think that's all the city
is. Save some money, and some vacation time, and give Miami a nice, long visit to scout out different
parts of town before you move. As I said, before, this city is not always what you think it is, and until
you've seen everything, you won't know what's right for you.
"URBAN LIVING" MEANS BEING ABLE TO WALK TO MORE THAN THE DRY
CLEANER AND THE PORN SHOP
From Jamey Prezzi, Realtor specializing in South Beach and Brickell
I grew up in a small southern town in South Carolina where the word "cosmopolitan" wasn't
even in most people's vocabulary. My husband grew up in Split, Croatia which, though a fun vacation
spot, is not exactly the commerce capitol of Eastern Europe. We met and married in Charlotte, NC which
is certainly a larger city than either of us were from, but was not teeming with diversity and culture. So
both of us have always wanted to live somewhere faster-paced.
In 2004, we had the opportunity to move and my husband was dead set on South Beach from
the first moment we visited. He said South Beach reminded him of his home town in Croatia. I just
wanted to live somewhere that offered culture, diversity and opportunity and be able to park my car
and walk to meet friends for shopping and dining. Like, you know, real city life.
So Miami it was. We didn't know anyone who lived here so we thought as long as we were close
to the downtown part of the city, it would be fine. Boy were we wrong. We moved to the far side of
Brickell in 2004, before the area really exploded. So while now you can live in Brickell and walk to shops,
restaurants, grocery stores, or pretty much anything else, then you could pretty much only walk to a dry
cleaners and an adult video store. And that's true of every part of Dade County. It was a very nice
building. Very affordable and it allowed our two large boxer dogs. But when we walked them, instead of
running into a neighbor and other pedestrians, we typically ran into automobiles and the occasional
For two years, I hated Miami. I loved the weather, but it was like living in an isolated downtown.
The traffic was terrible, it rained more than I'd expected, and the lifestyle I'd come here to live I wasn't
living. We thought pretty seriously about leaving, but thought maybe we'd give another part of town a
In 2006, we bought a condo on South Beach and have never looked back. South Beach is
amazing, and exactly what I was looking for. It's sort of this self-contained mini city that offers a big city
feel in a paradise kind of way. Which is pretty much what I think a lot of people think of when they think
of Miami. But really, that is something I've only found in South Beach. Because it was exactly what we
were looking for, it was the best move we could have made and now we love living in Miami. We have a
thriving real estate business and really love the life we have made for ourselves. And I'm really glad we
didn't leave after trying just one area.
But I know South Beach is the perfect part of town for everyone. Other people like Brickell
better. Or Little Havana. Or Coral Gables. Or Pinecrest. The great thing is Miami and the Beaches has
something to offer for everyone. It really depends on how you like to live and what you like to do with
What I learned from this whole experience is that you have to really get to know Miami before
you decide where you want to live. Yes, living near work was nice, but that part of Miami didn't have
what I was looking for looking for, and I ended up disliking the city as much as if I'd had a bad commute.
Loving life in Miami takes a lot more than an appreciation for nice weather, and moving from one part of
town to another has completely changed my opinion of the city.
CHAPTER 2 FINDING A JOB
When one thinks of great, industrious cities of the world, Miami is certainly not the first that
comes to mind. New York, perhaps. Beijing. Chicago. Places that are cold and full of tall buildings. Miami
is a place more associated with time away from work than with actually doing any. And as you sit in
bumper-to-bumper traffic on Collins Avenue on a Tuesday afternoon in July, you may ask yourself "Does
anyone in this town actually WORK?"
Rest assured, despite its reputation and outside appearance, Miami has plenty of people who
And not just people trafficking drugs or bribing politicians either. When you are a top vacation
destination like Miami, the hospitality industry (or "service industry" as it is called locally) is a major
employer. You may well notice many members of the service industry checking you in at your hotel,
serving you drinks when you go out, bringing you your food as you enjoy some outdoor dining, or giving
you a lap dance you didn't really want. But past that, people in Miami have "real" jobs too.
Miami offers opportunities in health care, technology, education, marketing, public relations,
international business and pretty much any other field you can think of that the 11th-largest
metropolitan area in the country might provide. And while it's not impossible to find a steady, regular
job in this city, like everything else it poses its own set of unique challenges. In this chapter we will
examine how to get a job in both the service industry and the traditional workforce.
YOU'RE NEVER TOO GOOD TO BE A WAITER
If you have a job in the corporate sector, but are so eager to move to Miami you have decided to
wait until you got here to find work, you'd better have some money saved. It may take you some time to
find regular employment here, and in the meantime, you're going to need money just to survive. So
while you wait to find a "real" job that fits you, you can always find work in the service industry. This is
one of the great things about Miami.
Even if you are not someone looking for a corporate gig and just want to come somewhere
warm, Miami provides a lot of opportunities to make money in non-traditional ways. Dade County has
5,711 issued liquor licenses from the State of Florida. This not only means there is no shortage of places
to get liquor in Miami, it also means you have more opportunities to find a job serving it. The city also
boasts hundreds of hotels and restaurants, meaning that no matter what, somebody, at some point, is
Because no matter how good the money is, there are always people leaving the service industry.
"People come and work here and realize it's not for them," says Mick Burke, Beverage Manger
at the Clevelander in South Beach. "I'd say turnover is pretty high. We spend a lot of time and money
training people, and the next thing you know they're gone."
You may hear that finding a job in the service industry is all about who you know, and what they
can do for you. And while this may be true for some of the higher-paying, and more prestigious jobs in
Miami hospitality, it is by no means the only way to find one. If you just want to get your foot in the
door of the Miami service industry, the best thing to do is use those feet and start walking around.
THE CASTING CALL
South Beach is Miami's main tourist destination, and as such is the best place to look. New
restaurants or clubs will often have open "casting calls" where anyone can walk in and apply for a
position. You can learn about these "casting calls" in a few ways, Internet sites like Craigslist being the
most popular. But the Miami New Times also prints announcements for mass hirings somewhere
between the phone sex ads and the page for "escorts."
These mass interviews are typically full of new transplants looking for work, and if nothing else
may introduce you to some new friends. But before these people can become your friends, they are
your competition. So be wary of anyone you meet as they may well be trying to undermine your
Anyone who says something along the lines of "I heard they're only hiring for graveyard janitor
shifts here. This is lame," and then continues to stick around for the interview is a good example. You
will notice the crowd will have varying attire on, as most South Beach Service Industry-wannabes don't
exactly know the protocol for these sorts of situations. Here's a basic rule: you always carry more
credibility if you are dressed professionally, but do not come off like you're too good for the job.
What does this mean?
It means that you should dress like you might for casual Friday at your old office job. A polo and
khakis are fine for gentlemen and a nice sundress or semi-casual office attire works for ladies. Do not
roll in in what you were wearing to the beach that day, or even jeans (unless they are designer and
you're going for that look), and do not wear a suit.
"I have never seen a service industry where you are pretty much only hired for your looks," says
Christina Martin, a 7-year veteran of "the biz" as it is called. How you look is going to carry a lot more
weight than your resume in a situation like this. But a resume is always something that's a good idea to
The most important thing to remember about a casting call is to show up early. Typically the
managers there want to get all the hiring done that day and the bar only needs so many positions filled.
So once they find enough qualified people it becomes a day-long game of "Thanks, we'll call you."
Miamians also have a tendency to get a late start on everything, including waking up in the morning. So
if you can find one of these that starts at 10 a.m., and you're the first one there, your chances have just
HITTING THE MEAN STREETS OF MIAMI
Your next best bet is to hit the streets and as with the casting calls, brining a resume is a good
idea. Most bars, clubs and restaurants have standard applications they will have you fill out that require
all the information they are seeking, but a resume will always set you apart.
"It shows you take pride in your work and what you've done," says Burke.
Scouring the Internet and newspapers for Help Wanted ads may seem like a good way to find
out who is hiring, but more and more restaurants are utilizing Web 2.0 in their hiring practices. The
Clevelander, one of the most sought-after employment spots in the beach, utilizes both its own website
and a Facebook group for applications. And Burke says that they do, in fact, hire people who send in
applications online. But many jobs that are publicly advertised are typically filled by the time you get to
the place to apply. Because managers hate hiring, the first semi-qualified person they find, they take.
So what do you do if that advertised job is gone? You hit the streets. South Beach, as you know
by now, has the largest concentration of bars, clubs and restaurants in the city and thus is an excellent
place to start. You can begin your trek at the western end of the Lincoln Road Mall and literally work
your way east, going into the restaurants and bars along the road and inquiring about employment.
"About 3 o'clock is the best time to go in," says Gus Moore, who worked as a waiter in South
Beach for nearly a decade.
When you go in, make absolutely sure you ask for a manager. Many times a hostess will hand
you an application, then take it and tell you to come back. And if you don't see a manager, don't hold
your breath. Employees treat applicants like the competition, so if you don't get to see a manager and
you really want to work there, Moore suggests going back in at night.
"When you go in at night, you're a guest, you're paying for stuff," he says, "so they treat you
totally different. It's a good idea to make friends with the bartender or a waiter or something, and just
ask them what it's like to work there. You can find out a lot and actually look like you know something
about the place."
Burke, from the Clevelander, also advises that if a place is not hiring, they will tell you upfront,
but to check back in every three or four days to see if something has opened up. And hold on to your
application so you don't have to keep filling forms out.
GETTING THE JOB YOU WANT
Any job that you might associate with the hospitality industry, you can find in Miami. Whether
you want to be a server, barback, bartender, busser, hostess or even a dishwasher, you will always find
openings and opportunities here. But it takes different things to work different jobs. What might make
you well-qualified to be a server might not make you such a good bartender. And though you may think
you prefer one over the other, often the money is not what you think it will be.
If you go to work in a high-end restaurant or steak house, like Smith and Wollensky or DeVito's,
servers will have average checks in the hundreds of dollars, and walk with $200 a night. Bartenders, on
the other hand, are often stuck pouring glasses of wine for the service bar and are lucky to clear $150 in
tipout (money the servers give them out of their tips for making their drinks). Conversely, in a sports bar
or pub setting, a server may only make a hundred dollars or so in a night, where a bartender who slings
drinks to a packed house walks with over $500.
The figures I have quoted you above are by no means guarantees. South Beach is an inherently
seasonal environment, and the kind of money you might make in the winter and spring will be a lot
more than you will June-August. As such, every service industry veteran will advise you to budget your
money for lean times, although every service industry veteran will also admit they never did. It's hard to
think about saving when you go out after work with $400 in cash.
While many places in South Beach include service charges on their bills (typically in the 15-18
percent range) good service will often be rewarded with something extra thrown on top. And it is not
hard to impress people with good service here. Miami is known for having rude, slow service pretty
much everywhere, and if you are friendly and cordial you will really stand out.
"Seriously," says Moore, the veteran server, "if you're just nice and polite to people, and
anticipate needs, you can go far. Everybody just has this attitude here like they're doing you a favor by
serving you, so when you're nice it's almost unexpected."
Salesmanship is also a good thing to accentuate when looking for a job in a high-priced
restaurant. Michelle Moore, Gus' wife who he met while serving at the now-defunct Tuscan Steak, says
that talking up your love of selling expensive wine to thirsty diners is a great way to impress managers.
"In high end places, a lot of it is how much you sell," says Mrs. Moore. "If you go in and talk
about your passion for selling Opus One, you have a much better chance at getting hired."
Our late operating hours and reputation for world-class nightlife make a lot of people think that
bartending here can be a lucrative career. Unfortunately, you will not be the only person who thinks
this. And even if you have experience from your hometown you may not find getting work here to be all
that easy. Especially if you are male.
Looks count more for bartenders in Miami than any other position in the service industry.
Because sex sells, and if Miami is full of one thing, it's sex. And who better to sell drinks to intoxicated
people than a good looking barstaff? So the best thing a guy can be is good looking. The next best thing
he can be is fast. Men are the workhorses behind the bars in high-volume clubs. While the women flirt
with the male patrons to get bigger tips (tips are pooled at most busier clubs and bars in Miami) the men
sometimes have to work twice as hard to make the same amount. Owners love male bartenders for this
Big clubs will also hire male bartenders who have a clientele that will follow them to a new
venue. For instance a beloved bartender from a smaller bar like Finnegan's Way can bring his regulars to
Space or Cameo during later shifts. If you are new, this is likely not a viable option for you, but if you can
start out at a smaller place and develop a following, it helps your chances considerably.
Lacking experience, some opt to attend bartending schools in the area, which promise
employment after graduation. The schools are legit in this promise, as they will give you interview leads
every week until you find a job. But most of the leads are to nicer restaurants where you likely won't
make over $100 a shift. The schools do give you the requisite knowledge to make drinks, but the only
way to get a job at one of our more-lucrative venues is to have experience behind the bar. And the best
way to get this experience? Lie.
"I got a job at Sport Cafe on Washington and I didn't even know what a screwdriver was," says
Michelle Northern, who bartended for seven years at downtown's Club Space. "I got a copy of the
Clevelander drink menu and had it in the drawer, and I'd look at it every time. That's how I learned to be
You can also take a job as a barback or server and try and work your way into a bartending
position. While this does happen occasionally, it is not a quick process, and if the bar you work in does
not think you have what it takes, the worst thing you can do is remind them.
"One thing I hate is people who've put in two weeks and start asking me when they can pick up
bartending shifts," says the Clevelander's Burke. "We know you're here, we'll come to you, It's easier for
us to promote from within, because we don't have to train you on our culture and environment. But it
takes six months. Be hard working, and you show me, and we will come to you."
Getting a job in a club takes a bit more effort. Aside from networking through other bartending
jobs, being persistent and consistent can also pay off.
"I got hired at Space because I called them every weekend asking for a manager I'd met over
there," says Northern, "and asked them if they needed anyone for that night. Every week they needed
"So make yourself available," she says. "Keep your regular job, but try to take a Friday or
Saturday off so they'll call you when someone's sick. With 20 bartenders somebody gets sick every
week. Then they'll I think of you when someone quits. That's how I got the job at Space."
The money will also vary greatly depending on what type of establishment you work in. A hotel
bar that is not also a club (like the Clevelander) or a nice restaurant with a slow bar will usually make
you $150-$200 a shift. A good night shift at a relatively busy bar can make you in the range of $350 a
night. The bigger clubs can net you anywhere from $1000-$2000. But the money is not always constant,
and Burke warns he has more than a few nights when he sends people home because business is slow.
Miami is also a city where strippers come to make big money. I field several questions every
month from strippers asking about working in Miami. Now, am I suggesting that some of you ladies
reading this come to Miami and, lacking any serving skills, go to work taking you clothes off? No, of
course I'm not. But if it is a profession you are inclined to look into, Miami offers a lot of opportunities.
Miami-Dade and southern Broward Counties have over 30 different strip clubs that range from high-end
exclusive places to dive bars with poles.
If you are coming from stripping in another city be advised: Miami is very permissive when it
comes to its strip club culture. The city allows full nude dancing with full alcohol bars. This is fun for
most of the patrons, but means dancers have to not only deal with the general level of harassment that
comes from customers, but must deal with from people who are drinking. Touching the dancers during
lap dances, at least anywhere but between the legs, is also allowed in pretty much every club. If you are
uncomfortable with this, you can still find jobs in clubs, but you will find money harder to make.
"It's hard to compete," says "Audrey*," a dancer at Tootsie's in Miami Gardens." You got girls
here that are just nasty, and if you don't do what they do, it's harder to get a dance."
On that note, many strippers at Miami clubs sell extra services both in the club and outside of it.
And because the sex-for-cash is so prevalent inside even the nicest Miami clubs, you may find customers
who are expecting that from you during a lap dance. Again, this is not something that's required, but
Audrey says that she has seen it much more in Miami than in other cities in which she's worked.
*-Stage names only were used
Just like with any city, the amount of money you will make depends on the club you work in. I
managed one of the "dive-bar-with-pole" places in South Dade and most of my dancers rarely walked
with more than $150 unless they were doing "extra work." But if you want to make the kind of money
that girls come to Miami to make, there are really only two clubs that the strippers I've talked to would
recommend: Tootsie's and Scarlett's.
Tootsie's is a Vegas-style megaclub in Miami Gardens, not far from Dolphin Stadium. Scarlett's is
in Hallandale in Broward County, and is more like a nightclub with strippers. It is very popular with
couples and groups of girls. But, according to "Brittney," a dancer who has worked both there and
Tootsie's, "it plays more techno than any stripper wants to ever dance to. Tootsie's you pick what you
But the money either place is good.
"I have slow nights, but on a weekend if I don't leave with a grand, I'm pissed," says Audrey.
Finding work at these clubs is not difficult. "Gabby," who has danced at several clubs in the
Miami area, explains the process:
"In the big clubs, they're too busy to really have you do anything. So they'll look at you, and if
you have a nice body they'll hire you. Then you dance when you work, and if you're good you get more
shifts. At the smaller ones, they make you dance for the managers and stuff, with nobody there. It's
The two clubs I've mentioned are far from your only options for stripping in Miami, but offer the
most opportunities to make the most money. We also boast large clubs downtown, in South Beach, and
all over the city that may look enticing because of their locations. But every stripper I've talked to has
advised trying to work and these two clubs first.
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?
"It's a helluva lot of fun," says Michelle Northern from Club Space about life in the service
industry. "A Helluva lot."
But making all this money and having all this fun must come with some cautions. The lifestyle of
laying on the beach all day and slinging drinks in a nightclub may seem like a permanent vacation, but
reality it can take a toll. Remember, things are open later here, so if you were used to getting off your
waiting job at midnight back home you may find yourself not getting off until 2 or 3 here.
"The worst part was the physicality of it," says Christy Degeorgis, who moved to South Beach
from New Jersey to work in the service industry. "The toll it takes on your body is something you rarely
even think about."
Many people also get caught up in the lifestyle the service industry affords. Keeping late hours
and having large amounts of cash can lead normal people into a lifestyle of sex, drugs and alcohol.
Cocaine is rampant among servers and bartenders in Miami, as is sex among coworkers. This fast-paced,
responsibility-free lifestyle can derail you from your goals and be hard to get away from.
"It's hard to get out of because the money's good, and you end up seeing a lot of old haggy
bartender who couldn't get out of the scene," says Northern. "You can come here trying to be a
professional or go to school, and you start picking up more shifts to make more money, and you end up
quitting school to bartend all the time."
The key to maintaining some normalcy to your life is having a nightly routine after your shifts so
that your nightly tradition does not become drinking until 5 a.m. and going home with a coworker.
DeGeorgis advises cooking a small dinner, taking a shower, reading and going to bed, even if you are
doing all of this at ridiculous hours. It's the service industry. Your schedule is going to be weird.
YOU BETTER PRAY YOU STAY HEALTHY
The only people I have ever met who worked in restaurants who had health insurance were
either married or in college, meaning they got it through their spouse or their school. A lot of things that
others get at as part of their job are not included for those working for cash. Most people in the industry
are young and therefore do not concern themselves with things like insurance. Of course most of them
tend to drink a lot and dabble in illegal substances while working odd hours and partying excessively. So
maybe they should.
Even if you do have health insurance, should you find yourself injured you will be lucky if your
employer even keeps you on. That is to say if you get injured and are unable to work, you will be taken
off the schedule and all of your shifts will be taken by someone else. When you heal, the new people
may very well not want to give up their shifts and you may be stuck either looking for another job or
working Tuesday afternoon lunch for a few months. If you have been somewhere a while ("a while"
meaning 10-12 months in this business) they will often give you your schedule back if you are a good
employee. But that is, again, if you are lucky.
If you can't work, even if you are promised your job back when you recover, you make no
money. Because waiters don't get sick pay. Even if job security is not an issue, having money will be.
Your employer may be sympathetic, but no one is going to say "gosh, Timmy, that sucks you broke your
leg. Here's what you would have made this week in cash. We'll keep this up until you can work again."
So what happens? You keep working and your injury never heals, that's what happens. I have a friend in
Chicago who bartends and broke her foot back. And she has not missed a shift because of it. And her
foot? Probably worse than it was the day it was injured. But can you blame her? Having a messed-up
foot sure beats the hell out of being homeless.
You also meet a lot of people in the service industry who are used to hustling everything in their
lives. So while you may want to trust and befriend your new coworkers, you never know what kind of
person you are going to meet. This is not to say everyone in the service industry is trying to take
advantage of you, but it's not exactly working in a cubicle at Microsoft either. It's not necessarily an
educated workforce, nor does it tend to come from any one particular background. So you may have an
illegal immigrant from El Salvador working next to a guy with a law degree. But you never know
anyone's real story.
And lastly, don't forget that you are completely expendable. Burke, from the Clevelander, says
he has stacks of hundreds of applications of people who want to work at his establishment. So if you do
something your employer doesn't like, they will not hesitate to fire you. You have to either play by the
rules or don't get used to the money, because employers know that ten people are out there hungry to
take your job.
"Every meeting we had at Space, the manager would come in and say 'You are all replaceable,'"
says Northern. "There's a lot of people out there who want your job, so be careful. There's only so much
you can get away with."
FINDING A "REAL" JOB
The process of finding a professional job here is not terribly different than in might have been in
your hometown. But like everything else in Miami there are also some marked differences you should
be aware of when looking for work in the corporate sector.
Your chances of landing a professional job improve exponentially if you live in the area. It is not
impossible to land a job without living in South Florida, but you will find a large number of posted ads
that specify "local applicants only." Local employers do not inherently believe people from out of town
are capable of working here, quite the contrary. Miami has the lowest amount of college graduates per
capital in the country, so we are always looking for qualified applicants. But the logistical difficulties in
interviewing people from out of town, as well as the notice it requires to bring them in, makes many
employers stipulate that applicants must be from South Florida. And even if they don't stipulate it on a
job posting, it is often an internal policy.
Another reason local employers do not like to hire people form out of state is that many move
here without fully realizing what the city is like. Like so many service industry workers, professionals too
move here with dreams of beaches, palm trees and endless sunny days only to realize that the city is a
lot harder to live in than it is to visit.
"When I interviewed for my current job, one of my directors was probing into how experienced I
was with real Miami life and culture," says Jason Seuc, a coastal development consultant who has lived
and worked in Miami for ten years. "Many of the engineers they hired worked for a year or 6 months
and left town.
"They were mostly white dudes from other parts of the country and they were like 'Forget this, I
have a family I'm out of here. I didn't realize it was like this.' If you progress personally, and you have a
kid, maybe it was fine before, but now it's not."
DIFFERENT INDUSTRIES. DIFFERENT CHANCES
Your industry is important to consider before moving. Because as fun as bartending or serving
might be, if you can't find a stable, professional job your chances of lasting in Miami are slim. Like any
city, Miami has industries that are big, and industries that are not. If you specialize in cold-water
commercial fishing, Miami is probably not the place for you. If you are a maritime lawyer, the job market
is your oyster, provided you don't mind working twelve hour days.
Despite all the jokes about the numbers of old people in South Florida, health care is a huge
industry in Miami. If you have experience in the field you may find it easier than anyone to find a job
here, and pharmaceutical sales are also very common jobs in the region.
Miami also has more lawyers per capital than any other city. This may not speak well as to the
city's quality of life, but regardless if you are an attorney and don't mind working long hours in private
practice you can find a job relatively easily. Maritime law, as I stated earlier, is particularly large here as
many cruise companies and other commercial nautical businesses base themselves in South Florida.
The service industry aside, the world of hospitality provides a lot of professional jobs in Miami.
Every large hotel, mega-club, bar and cruise line needs support staff. This would include accountants,
public relations people, marketing teams or any other job associated with running a business. It's a
good idea to check the corporate websites of many hospitality-related businesses in the area to see if
any have an opening for a job that fits your skill set.
Finance is also a big industry here; Brickell is the second largest financial district in the country
behind New York City. But don't think because you spent time working on Wall Street that you'll be able
to waltz into any job in Miami. Our financial district is so large because most major banks in Latin
America have headquarters here. We are the capital of Latin American finance which, if you've ever
seen "Blow," you are well aware is very different than American finance. Unless you have a good grasp
of the Spanish language and Latin culture in addition to your financial knowledge you may discover
finding a job to be difficult.
These are obviously not the only fields that offer employment in Miami, but they are the ones
that offer the most opportunity. If you are considering relocating, at the very least scour in Internet
looking for what types of jobs are available here before making any decisions. If you are in one of the
above-mentioned industries, your chances are pretty good. But even if not, don't be afraid to look
around. There are jobs to be found in Miami, but not always the ones you want.
HABLAS ESPANOL? YOU BETTER LEARN
If there is one piece of advice every professionally-employed person in Miami I've known has
asked me to pass on to potential relocators, it's that they should learn Spanish. Just take a gander at
some of the ads for jobs on the Internet. What percentage say "Bilingual required?" Half? More than
half? And even if it's not required, often it may say "Preferred," or "Helpful." And as anyone who has
looked for a job knows that this means if someone applies with that qualification and you don't have it,
you won't even be getting a phone call. If you're not bilingual, it's going to be a long road.
But this is not true for everyone.
"The higher up you go, the less need there is to speak Spanish," says Seuc, the development
consultant, "You're just telling your Spanish-speaking employees what to do. But anything that has to do
with people, it's highly recommended. It's really important to be important to communicate with
customers, and the majority of them are Latin."
This, combined with Miami's lack of an educated employee pool, means that if you come here
with a degree and no Spanish, you still have a chance of getting a job. But a degree AND Spanish
fluency? That makes you an ideal candidate.
Once you have a job in Miami, you must also understand that your coworkers will be for the
most part Spanish-speaking even in white-collar jobs. This is something many Americans do not expect,
especially when they come from cities where the Hispanic population is typically employed in labor and
"To be part of the corporate culture anywhere, it's important to speak Spanish," says Seuc, who
himself is bilingual. "It helps if you're Latino. But I'm not and I can still joke around in Spanish, which is
important relative to fitting in. If you don't speak Spanish, you still have to be used to it."
There will be many occasions where you will be sitting in the office break room and the usual
banal office chit chat about kids and pets and who is sleeping with whom will all be done in Spanish.
Many of you probably see this as a godsend since you will not be subjected to the ridiculous office
banter that forces more and more of us into telecommuting, but eventually you may start to feel left
out. So here are some topics you may bring up around the refrigerator de agua:
How much fun you had at your niece's quincenera last week
The funny thing you saw on "Que Pasa USA"
Why Castro needs to Die
Why Chavez also needs to Die
What your abuela made for dinner last night
How much you cried when your son said he might be moving out of the house at age 28. And
just to clarify these are not tears of joy.
The plot of any Telenovela (if you are unfamiliar with Telenovelas take the plot of any American
soap opera and substitute Spanish character names)
Any Pepito joke
Problems can occur, however, when supervisors give instructions in Spanish and assume you
understood. For instance when your boss, Diaz, says to your coworker, Gonzalez, "Neccecito que
escribas los Reportas de TPS otra vez. Antes de las 5." He looks at you, nods, and then moves on. Well
Gonzalez may have understood his boss' request to have the TPS reports written again before 5, but
what you heard may as well have been "I'm going over to La Carreta for lunch. You want some Ropa
Vieja?" So you went on reading celebrity gossip and looking for flights back to Portland and guess who
didn't get their TPS reports done on time? You. And now Gonzalez gets promoted and you are still stuck
in the break room listening to Mirta drone on and on about her niece's Ounce. Now, does this happen a
lot? No. But it does occur. So if a supervisor says anything in Spanish to a coworker, make sure you ask
him or her to repeat it in English so you do not get left in the dark.
This actually is an issue you can legitimately take up with your supervisor as many find it easier to
converse in Spanish and will forget that you may not understand them. Most are very understanding
about it and, at the very least, will send out a memo asking that office conversations be held in English.
The memo, however, is typically written in Spanish.
You should also know that dressing for the Miami workplace is slightly different than it is in your
hometown. For instance:
You do not need to wear an undershirt, as the oppressive humidity here makes them a non-
essential part of the dress-code.
Light colored suits are acceptable year-round, but you can still wear dark ones as well.
Ditch your navy-blue wool suits as they will cause you nothing but discomfort and misery in the
months of May-October.
Light fabrics are perfectly acceptable.
The warm climate allows for a lot more dressing-down than some other cities.
INTERVIEWING IN MIAMI
So let's say you decide that the Miami workforce is for you. And somehow you've managed to
score yourself an interview. The person interviewing you, unless you are from Latin America, will most
likely be of a different culture. This is not an obstacle many Americans consider when working in
Cleveland or Syracuse, but for better or for worse this is an undeniable fact of working in Dade County.
I'm not saying you should change the name at the top of your resume to one that ends in Z, but you may
want to make yourself more appealing to potential Latino interviewers. This may, again, include some
knowledge of Spanish, an at least feigned appreciation for Latin Culture (Google "Sabado Gigante" and
that can be a good start) or as little as walking in with a Caf6 Cubano and some pastelitos. Discussing
race and hiring in the same section is often considered taboo, but in Miami you must be aware of your
surroundings. And in this town, your surroundings mostly speak Spanish.
Hispanic culture also dictates that nothing should ever start when it is formally scheduled. This is
vastly frustrating to most people not familiar with it, especially when showing up for a job interview. You
will rarely begin your interview within half an hour of the scheduled time, but you still must show up
then on the off chance your interviewer is running on schedule. Do not get impatient or think the
interviewer has forgotten about you if he or she doesn't call you into the office for a while. This is just
one of thousands of cultural abnormalities you must understand if you plan to reside in Miami.
MIAMI IS ONLY EXPENSIVE RELATIVE TO WHAT THEY PAY YOU
People writing to me often seem to think Miami is an expensive place to live. But in terms of
sheer cost of living Miami only ranks 26th out of America's 50 largest cities, according to Forbes
magazine. That being said, our city ranks as the third most overpriced behind Los Angeles and Chicago, a
title Forbes arrives at by comparing earning potential to cost of living. Simply put, salaries in Miami are
not commensurate with what it costs to live here. Our average salary ranked 36th on Forbes' list,
meaning there are 35 cities in the country which pay their people more. Many of them cheaper places to
live. Perhaps it is the large immigrant population willing to work for less money, perhaps it is the culture
of greed this city has, but whatever it is most employers here do not pay enough to live comfortably.
Yes, there are chances to advance in your career and make more money, but many industries
here do not offer advancement past a certain point. That is to say if you are career-oriented, and want
to get to the top of your profession, Miami may not be the place for you.
"If you want to be a doctor, pharmacy, technical field, you'll never make the money here you'll
make in any other city," says Christina Martin. "You can do ok in business, higher education, PR, or any
soft skill jobs, really. But you're not going to make it to the top."
But do not be discouraged. Dade County is home to over 2.2 million people, and most of them
have jobs and places to live. While finding work here can be difficult, it is wholly possible. If you can
hustle in the service industry, or survive the Spanish workplace, Miami may prove to be a successful
move for you. People move here for the weather and the culture, but rarely for career advancement. If
your priorities lie outside the office, then you will enjoy your life here. But few people make work the
main focus of their life in Miami, there's just too much else to do when it's sunny all year. Hopefully this
is your mindset as you consider relocation, and find a job that makes your move here an enjoyable one.
THIS AIN'T THE DINER BACK HOME, THIS IS SOUTH BEACH
From Christy DeGeorgis, former hostess at Pelican Restaurant, now residing in New Jersey
I moved down to Miami from New Jersey in January, with visions of laying on the beach all year
and walking around South Beach shopping, eating, and doing whatever else it was people in South
Beach did all day. I'd been down on vacation a few times, and loved it. Why couldn't this be my life? I
had some money saved up and figured it was enough to get me through until I found some sort of office
Well I got to town and quickly realized that moving here costs a lot more than you think. I was
new so I went out almost every night, spending hundreds of dollars on God knows what and partying
until the sun came up over the sand. Bar tabs cost a lot more when the bar is open until 5. It was fun,
but it was also expensive. I figured out pretty quick that I'd need to get a job. Since South Beach offered
so many waitressing jobs, and I'd done it for several summers back home in Jersey, this shouldn't be too
much of a stretch.
I hit the streets looking for work, starting on Ocean Drive. I went into every bar or restaurant I
went past and told them I was looking for a server/bartender/whatever position and asked to see the
manager. Finally, at the News Cafe the manager came over, chatted with me, and then went into pop
"Name 5 kinds of red wine," he barked at me. "Five popular cocktails, five kinds of Rum."
Thank God I'd been going out so much and it was all fresh in my mind.
"Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel (REAL Zinfandel, not that trashy rose crap).
Martini, cosmopolitan, mojito, screwdriver and rum runner. Bacardi Silver, Bacardi Anejo, Myers Dark,
Brugal, and Ron Rico." I threw in a well brand to show I had some experience.
"Very nice," he smiled at me, "When can you start? We need you to go through five days of
training before we put you on the floor."
Fair enough, I thought. When you haven't been a waitress in a few years, training seems like a
good idea. What he said next, however, seemed like a terrible idea.
"We'll start you off with the graveyard shift from 7pm-llam." That's right, 16 hours of waiting
tables. Shifts like that don't even exist in New Jersey.
"You know what? Thanks for your time but I just realized I have a sick aunt back in Jersey I need
to take care of. Sorry." I don't think he bought the excuse, but I didn't care. No way in Hell I'm waiting
tables for 16 straight hours. This, I later learned, is a common expectation in South Beach.
I left and as I walked down Ocean Drive, I decided to pop into most of the restaurants and hand
out my resume and fill out more applications. I've heard that if they don't really chat with you while
you're there, you never hear from them. For example, I stopped into Sushi Samba, and they handed me
a test with questions like "What's edamame?", "What's the difference between sushi and sashimi?" and
"What's an omikase?" After the test, they thanked me and said they'd be in touch. I got at least 90%,
and I never heard from them again.
When I got home, my phone rang and it was the manager of The Pelican on Ocean Drive where I
had dropped off a resume.
"Haylo, Chreestie?" the thick Italian accent on the line asked. "We would like to eenteerview
you por a hostess pozeeshun. You are eeitalian, no?" I wasn't quite sure what my ethic background had
to do with my qualifications to seat tourists at an overpriced restaurant, but I was too tired to worry
about calling my local EEOC rep.
"Ah, yeah, yeah, I'm Italian. When would you like me to come in?" I asked him.
"Eh, you know, you just come in and work. You prefer daytime or evening?" Apparently this was
a one-question interview that consisted of discovering the origin of my last name.
"Daytime," I told him. This was perhaps the biggest waste of breath I've had since I told my ex-
fiancee "Yes, I'll marry you!" since he called back an hour later to tell me to be there at 5 p.m. the next
I went the next day and reported to work. This was when I learned getting a job in the service
industry is easy. Working in the service industry is not.
I thought the job would be ok until I realized that being a hostess on Ocean Drive meant
standing in the sun for hours on end. With no chair. Since it was January it would cool off at night, and
I'd be freezing and some days I had to bring 3 changes of clothes to work. Not to mention I constantly
had smoke blown in my face and the incessant techno music left my head ringing at the end of the night.
I guess I also didn't go about buying the right shoes. I was shopping for "cute' when what I
should have been shopping for was "comfortable." So while I was wearing cute shoes, my off time was
spent laying on my couch with my legs in the air. And not in the good way. I had to let my lower body
recover for the next shift. And I realized this was pretty crazy. I wanted to go out and do things, but my
legs were saying "just stay in." What kind of life was that?
One thing I had failed to think about was that the hours here are extended. Like back in New
Jersey, the kitchen was closing at 10. Here it's closing at 12. The shifts were not that hard back home,
maybe 5 hours and I still had enough energy at the end of a shift to go out and drink with my coworkers.
Here all I wanted to do at the end of the shift was take a shower and go to bed.
In addition, my manager was pretty slimy. He was Italian, and I came to learn the only reason I
got the job because I was Italian as well. Every employee there was pretty much Italian (like from Italy)
which was interesting but I never met anyone I could carry on a real conversation with. We had one
server who wasn't Italian, and if it was raining, this guy got the section outside. If it was a nice day, he
got the section inside. This was pretty much the standard procedure at the Pelican.
Eventually, I realized the service industry was not for me. I just started calling in sick because I
couldn't physically make it in. Maybe if they'd given me a day off I'd have made it. Who knows? When
you move to Miami and decide you want to be a waitress, you really don't think it through. You don't
think "Do I want to be waitress?" You think you can do it and it won't be a problem, and you get here
and think "Well, that's what everybody does." And then you get into it, and you realize it's not at all
something you want to do.
CHAPTER 3- DRIVING IN MIAMI
Back in the 1980s, the Miami Convention and Visitors' Bureau proposed a new tourism slogan
for Greater Miami and the Beaches: "The Rules are Different Here." And while many might argue that
this applies to pretty much every facet of life in South Florida, nowhere does it hold truer than on the
roads of this city. Nowhere else do you see the complete disregard for rules, lax legal enforcement, and
flat-out insanity that you do driving around Miami. And that's just during the middle of the day.
A great number of factors contribute to Miami being named the #1 city in America for road rage
2 of the past three years. Yes, you could blame the heat for elevated temperatures, but you don't see
people in Phoenix or Orlando getting in fistfights with the mayor in the middle of a major expressway.
The heat is far from the only thing that makes driving in Miami a wilder ride than half the ones they have
at Disney. There's a lot more to it than that.
Given that Miami-Dade County has the nation's highest percentage of people born outside the
United States, it reasons a person or two in the city may have learned how to drive in another country.
And while much of America is full of people who take traffic laws as seriously as they take any other
laws, El Salvador is not. As such you get a populace that considers traffic signs mere suggestions.
Similarly, though the State of Florida does not have the most stringent requirements for obtaining a
driver's license, criteria are still a bit stricter than in some foreign countries where, as one local who
moved from Dominican Republic put it, "You can get your license out of a Cracker Jack box."
In addition to a large amount of the population that regard the rules of the road with about as
much reverence as they do the naturalization process, Miami is also home to a good number of people
who probably learned to drive on a Model-T. Though the city's reputation as a retirement haven has
long since passed, Miami still has more than its share of retirees with nearly 15 percent of the
population over 65. When you combine these two elements of questionable driving you often get a
scene like this one described by Graig Smith, a longtime Miami native:
"I'm driving up US-1, up the ramp to 95, and there's a guy in the left lane, the
LEFT lane, going no more than 45. So I make the mistake of trying to signal to get over
and pass him, and every car in the right lane speeds up so I can't. Finally I see a break,
and start to move over, but the car behind me decides he wants to go first, and gets
over without signaling. I finally just turned off my signal and cut off everyone in the right
lane to pass this slow old guy. As I'm getting over, I hear the guy behind me slam on his
brakes, and I'm pretty sure he ended up getting rear-ended. But I just kept driving."
To make matters worse, the local police don't really prioritize minor traffic violations. Miami has
things like cocaine and humans washing up on its shores, locals targeting tourists for violent crime, and a
petty theft rate that rivals Johannesburg. So while some may find it frustrating that illegal lane changes
are not prosecuted with much vigor, such lax enforcement can allow those who do not follow traffic
regulations a bit more leeway.
Stop signs are summarily ignored on a regular basis. People double park in the middle of a busy
thoroughfare. And don't even get me started on people swerving over medians to get to freeway exits.
While I will go into more detail about some of the more common violations that are considered
commonplace, most minor traffic laws here are more or less suggestions.
In this chapter we will examine not only some peculiarities of Miami's rules of the road, we will
also take a look at how the city is laid out, and which routes to avoid. Some of this may seem outlandish
or unbelievable, but after a week of driving here you will understand exactly what I'm talking about.
THE MIAMI LEFT
In most normal cities, when a light turns red, it means "stop." In Miami, however, it means
"Three More Cars." Sometimes four, depending on traffic. This, however, only applies to cars turning
left. So say you are creeping out into the intersection to try and make a left, no less than two cars will
inch up directly behind you waiting for the light to change so they go through too. When you approach
any intersection, you should pull out as far as you can to allow as many cars as possible to tailgate
behind you through the red. This is what passes as common courtesy in Miami. If you do not pull out as
far as you can you will be honked at, cursed in Spanish, and generally disliked by everyone else who lives
here. Not that that wouldn't have happened anyway.
Please note though, this law does not apply to motorists attempting to go straight through an
intersection. In other words while it is perfectly acceptable for a car turning left to be the 4th car through
an intersection after the light turns red, those going straight must stop. How else are the left-hand
turners supposed to make it through? The idea here is that lacking a left turn arrow, the people going
straight will have an opportunity to move relatively soon. Those turning left have to wait a lot longer.
Again, common courtesy.
Noting this phenomenon, many intersections in the city have recently adopted the flashing
yellow when a light turns from red to green. So you are theoretically supposed to proceed with caution
once the light changes, as there are more than likely a few cars still turning left as your lane gets the
green light. Apparently a few motorists did not appreciate the rash of red-light runners and made it a
point to teach them a lesson by blindsiding their passenger sides. Lesson learned, but the flashing
yellows may help this situation.
DON'T TAKE THAT HONKING HORN PEROSNALLY
There are places in this country where honking your horn at someone is considered rude. I have
been in Seattle and utilized mine to indicate to a driver that his light had turned green. When I passed
him he proceeded to curse at me, flip me off, and then follow me for a couple of miles to really
accentuate his point. Had I honked at him in Miami, he likely would have just ignored me and continued
his text message. Horn use in Miami is as ubiquitous as Spanish and humidity. So if you are the type to
think that a honking horn is some affront to you, or a direct insult, get over it quick. Because in Miami,
we like to use our horns.
It is not unusual to see someone driving down an empty street and honking their horn for no
reason. One might think they were doing it to show off, but I doubt anyone on earth drives down the
street honking so as to say "Hey, look at me! I'm in a 9 year-old Astrovan with no A/C and worn out
paint job!" Occasionally it is to attract the attention of a lady or group of ladies walking down the street,
as apparently many believe the car horn to be the most naturally arousing sound to the human female.
Though in all my years I have yet to meet a woman who says "Damn, you see the way that boy honked
his horn?! I gotta get me some of that!"
You may often also see people in parades of cars, waving flags and honking horns loudly for no
apparent reason. On a Tuesday. These people are most likely celebrating a win in a major international
soccer tournament or the overthrowing of a government. Occasionally both.
Horn use in Miami is acceptable if the person in front of you has sat at a green light for over a
quarter of a second, if someone has failed to go three cars through a red, if someone is moving too slow
in front of you, if someone is moving too fast in front of you, if someone cuts you off in traffic, if you see
a friend in the next car, if your hand slips off the wheel, if you feel like listening to the sound of your own
car horn, if "Tainted Love' comes on the radio and you want to honk along, or pretty much whenever
you damn well feel like it. You paid for the horn, you may as well use it. Now if only people would apply
that logic to turn signals.
CHANGING YOUR CITIZENSHIP, OFTEN EASIER THAN CHANGING LANES
The turn signals on most cars in Miami are used less frequently than the airbags. Confusing?
Sure. Dangerous? Absolutely. Really, really inconsiderate? Of course, but then again "consideration of
your fellow man" is not exactly something we are known for down here. So when you are driving,
especially on the expressways and major arterials in the city, don't be surprised when the car in the far
right lane makes a left turn across four lanes right in front of you. Without signaling. If you drive in
Miami long enough, you learn to be ready for anything.
A big reason why people don't use turn signals here is because it has become a way of saying
"I'm not from here, speed up." For example, let's say you're driving up US-1 and you decide you want to
move over a lane to your left. Doing what most responsible drivers do, you turn on your indicator to let
other drivers know you intend to move over. But instead of letting you in, all the drivers around you
seem to speed up. That car in the lane to your left that was going 40 all of a sudden is going 50. And so is
the car behind that. Your only chance of getting over is either risking a collision or gunning in front at the
next red light.
For some reason, people here are always in a hurry to get somewhere. And you getting in front
of them in their chosen driving lane is apparently the only thing that will keep them from getting there.
So once someone has driven in this city long enough, he or she learns to just stop using signals, because
they become a blatant invitation to be blocked from your intended lane change. Essentially it becomes
a vicious cycle of disregard, but it is for better or for worse the way it works in Miami.
THE PERVE AND SWERVE
I want to talk for a minute about a topic few like to openly endorse: Drinking and Driving. And
while I'm not going to tell you to go out and do it here, the culture of this city is far more susceptible to
rampant drinking and driving than most others. Miami is a party city. It is also a very spread-out city.
What this means is you have a lot of people partying a long way from where they live, who must
somehow figure a way to get home. And taxis are expensive. So what does this create? A lot of drunk
Between murder, cocaine trafficking, voter fraud, street crime and immigration, the local police
have a lot to worry about. And, for better or for worse, drunk driving isn't always one of them. There is a
pizza place on SW 17th Ave. frequented by police officers whose parking lot I have swerved into on
multiple occasions, gotten a slice, then gotten in my car right in front of them and sped away without
much more than a passing glance. On another occasion, an officer was sitting with a girl talking to her as
three friends and I got in my car after having stolen some street signs, obviously intoxicated. I don't even
think he looked up. I imagine the ensuing conversation going something like this:
Girl: "Hey, uh, shouldn't you maybe stop those guys? They look pretty drunk."
Cop: "Nah, they're fine. They just had pizza, right? So anyway, where were we? Oh yes, my badge...."
Even upstanding, professional, responsible people drink and drive regularly here because that's
just what people do. Now, am I saying that people do not get DUI's in Miami? Of course not, half the NFL
has gotten a DUI here. Am I saying you should just go out and drink and drive without regard for the
safety of yourself and your fellow Miamians? No, no I am not. I am just giving you information that you
may take one of two ways:
* You may look at it as license to not take taxis everywhere you go when you are planning a big
night out. Nor do you need to appoint a designated driver.
* You may look at it as cautionary: If you are out driving late at night, chances are a ton of drunks
are on the road with you. So be careful. Or don't be careful. It's all in the interpretation.
WHEN YOUR INSURANCE PREMIUMS ARE MORE THAN YOUR PAYMENT
If you are relocating here, you have no doubt looked into insuring your car in Miami. Upon doing
this, I'm sure your reaction was somewhere between "Did my computer mess up and misplace that
decimal point?" and "Well, so much for retirement." Yes folks, sadly Miami-Dade County has some of
the highest insurance premiums in the nation. And despite insurance companies' general love of raping
the ever-loving soul from people who live down here, the companies actually have some fairly valid
reasons for these exorbitant premiums. First, as stated above, drivers here pretty much do whatever
they want and so accidents happen a lot. Second, many here do not bother to buy insurance, so those
who do buy it have to make up the cost.
Many people here come from countries where insurance is a luxury item up there with running
water and electricity. So a lot of newcomers don't bother buying the stuff unless they have to, such as
when buying a car. But these people will buy a policy to get the car off the lot, make one payment, and
then let it lapse.
Does Florida have laws requiring insurance? Of course we do. We also have laws against
marijuana use, underage drinking and not wearing a seat belt. And the penalty if you are caught without
insurance? About $85. If you do the math, you could get a ticket a month for an entire year and as long
as you weren't in an accident you'd still come out about $1000 ahead. If you are a good, law-abiding
citizen and like things like insurance, I highly recommend you get uninsured motorist coverage. Because
when you get hit by an '85 Camry with three tones of paint, even if the driver miraculously sticks around
after he hits you, odds are he won't have the means to fix the front end of your Range Rover.
PEDESTRIANS: SPEED BUMPS WITH A PULSE
You know how in your hometown, pedestrians have the right of way? Well, technically that's
ture in Miami, but in reality they are considered a road hazard only slightly more treacherous than a
traffic cone. If you are walking around Miami, do not ever expect a motorist to stop for you or wave you
across a crosswalk. It just doesn't happen. If you want to cross a street, you wait for the light to change
and the four cars running the light to clear the intersection before you go. And even then, make it quick.
You never know who's coming next.
You see, in other cities they have these concrete strips set up along the sides of roads intended
for the movement of pedestrian traffic. Some call them "sidewalks." But since most of the sprawl in
Miami was set up as fast as someone could construct a cheap wooden-framed house, those "sidewalks"
somehow got lost in the mix. This lends itself to pedestrians literally walking on the shoulder of a major
arterial, just waiting to get mowed down by someone who has been legally blind since the Carter
PINECREST: THE GREAT EXCEPTION
In Southwest Miami-Dade, we have this little theme town called Pinecrest. Pinecrest's theme is
"Normal American City," whereas the majority of the population are native English-speakers, the stores,
supermarkets and restaurants run rather efficiently, and, oh yes, the police actually enforce traffic laws.
In all my years in Miami I have only gotten two moving violations, and both were in Pinecrest. Most who
have been here a while know to actually follow the rules once they get south of Kendall Drive.
The Village of Pinecrest is an affluent suburb of Miami that runs from SW 88th St (Kendall Drive)
south along US-1 to SW 136th St. It only exists east of US-1, until you reach Biscayne Bay. If you are
driving in this area, be advised that you are expected to follow normal traffic laws by the Village of
Pinecrest, and they will ticket you with enthusiasm. How else do you think they pay for all those nice
parks? So all the driving advice you've gotten thus far? Feel free to use it anywhere else in Miami-Dade
County. But when you get to Pinecrest, revert back to what you learned in your hometown or you will
be contributing to the Village's annual budget.
MINIMIZINGYOUR AGGRAVATION ON MIAMIS' CROWDED ROADWAYS
Now that you have learned the rules of the road in Miami, it's time to figure out which roads
you are going to use. And, more importantly, when to be on them. Miami's layout is surprisingly simple,
and if you can time your commute right you may find yourself telling your friends back home, 'Yeah,
people talk all the time about how bad the traffic here is, but I never notice it." But it is not as easy as it
Miami-Dade County is set up on a theoretically simple grid. Because our city was founded as a
small fishing village on the mouth of the Miami River, the main intersection of the county is Miami
Avenue and Flagler Street in the heart of downtown Miami. Or, as you may notice if you look at a map,
the extreme northeast of the county. It doesn't really make a lot of sense, but is simple enough.
Everything is set up on a grid with Avenues running north-south and Streets running east-west.
But in Miami, we have built one or two gated communities with winding, difficult streets that can
confuse someone not familiar with the area. The canal system set up to dredge the swamp that the city
used to be also creates a lot of streets that do not go all the way through. As do the man-made lakes
that the aforementioned gated communities are built around.
Developmental obstacles aside, many streets also change names and even numbers as you go
along them. SW 8th Street, for example, begins with that name, then becomes "Calle Ocho" as you get
into little Havana, US-41 in some spots, and then Tamiami Trail near the Everglades. All are the same
road, but share several different names. You will also find Miami is the only city where streets have both
names and numbers. If you are using some sort of computerized direction system like a GPS or
mapquest, the system will recognize either the name or the number. If you do not, you may find
yourself a little frustrated by locals who use the names of streets as opposed to the numbers.
Several avenues ending in 7 ( 27th, 37th and so on) have designated names, as well as every 16th
Street, beginning with SW8th Street in the south. 42nd Avenue, which runs by the airport, is also named.
I must reiterate, locals will use the street names as opposed to the numbers when telling you how to get
somewhere, so knowing which name corresponds to which number is crucial if you are looking for a
home, business, or anything else. Here is a handy chart of the main named/numbered streets in the city:
SW 8th St
SW 24th St.
SW 40th St.
SW 56th St.
SW 72nd St.
Sw 88th St.
SW 104th St.
SW 112th St.
SW 124th St.
SW 136th St.
SW 152nd St.
SW 168th St.
SW 184th St.
SW 200th St.
Calle Ocho/Tamiami Trail
Chapman Field Drive
Coral Reef Drive
Though this grid runs throughout all of Miami-Dade County, we have a few exceptions. The first
is Miami Beach and the beach cities north of it : Surfside, Haulover Beach, Bal Harbour, Sunny Isles and
Aventura. The beach cities have a series of avenues (Collins Ave. being the only one that runs the entire
length) and streets that begin with 1st street in South Beach. These street numbers do not coincide with
streets on the other side of Biscayne Bay, so as soon as you find yourself crossing the water, be aware
that the number of your street is going to change. The other places that do not fully follow the county
grid are Coral Gables and Hialeah, which we will discuss later.
ONLY THE FIRST OF MANY PROBLEMS WITH US-1
Before Interstate 95 was built in the 1960s, US-1 was the main highway into Miami. Now, it is
the bane of the existence of pretty much everyone who lives south of downtown. The highway has more
names than any other street in the city, going from US-1 to Federal Highway to South Dixie Highway to
Pinecrest Parkway back to US-1. But it's all the same: A big stinking mess. Because it is the main
southwest-northeast artery in the city, it is the commuting route of choice for the masses living in
Miami's southwestern suburbs.
South of downtown, US-1 creates a giant diagonal right in the middle of the grid. This wouldn't
be so much of a problem except the signs mark it "US-1 North" and "US-1 South," despite the fact that it
moves more east to west. This confuses many newcomers, as they find themselves going from crossing
SW 57th Ave. to SW 72nd Street in a matter of blocks. So do not let US-1 confuse you as you travel on it.
The highway is a diagonal that can take you all the way to Key West if you keep going. But, honestly,
avoid it at all costs. They don't call it "Useless One" for nothing.
CORAL GABLES: TOO GOOD FOR THE GRID
There is a city just southwest of Miami called Coral Gables that does not completely fit into the
grid. It is home to expensive homes, expensive shopping, expensive bodies, and street signs you couldn't
see with night vision goggles. For some reason, Coral Gables, the ever-trendy rich suburb that is home to
the University of Miami, wanted to be totally different that the rest of Miami when it set up its road
system. Sure, the main streets like LeJeune Road and Coral Way still go straight through the city, but the
rest of Coral Gables is a labyrinth of winding streets with names that sound like pasta sauces. So you
may be heading north on Salcedo Street and then all of a sudden you are going west on Albegna and
then southeast on Anastasia. And you come out two miles south of where you started.
Don't try looking at street signs, either. In order to make absolutely sure you knew you were not
in Miami, Coral Gables also abandoned the easy-to-read white on green street signs with the not-so-
nearsighted friendly black on white. Written on stones. On the ground. So when you are driving around
you not only can't read the signs, you can't even see them unless you happen to be in a car that drives 8
inches off the street. The good news is the median income in "The Gables" is roughly 900 times that of
everyone else in Dade County combined. So getting lost there, while extremely irritating, will most likely
not find you carjacked like so many German tourists.
HIALEAH: ON ITS OFP SINCE 1925
Hialeah has always wanted to do things a little differently. Not only is it the only part of town
where traffic intersections offer a greater selection of produce than the local supermarket, it also has its
own street grid separate from the rest of the county. One might be traveling north from Miami
International Airport on NW 42nd Ave. and, without making any turns, find himself on East 8th Ave. Thus
is the beauty of Hialeah streets, and part of the reason we had a rash of tourists getting lost and
ultimately carjacked in the early 1990s.
Fortunately, Hialeah's civic officials have begun to put the county street numbers on the roads
signs of main arteries. Unfortunately, they did not bother doing this for the rest of the city, so again you
may find yourself cruising along on a street in the northwest triple digits and all of a sudden find yourself
on W 21st St. The East-West dividing line in Hialeah runs right next to the fabled Hialeah Race Course,
but aside from that the only way to get to know Hialeah's special grid is to study a map. Or drive around
the city, which may put you in so much culture shock that you never return. And if you ask a lot of
Miamians, never returning to Hialeah is a fate they could be completely happy with.
AVOIDING MIAMI TRAFFIC- SURFACE STREETS
As I may have mentioned, traffic in Miami is unpleasant, but it is avoidable. And the best way to
avoid traffic? Live as close to your work as possible. A lot of people move here and decide their main
priority is living near the beach, or living near Coconut Grove, or living in a nice neighborhood. And it's
all well and good until their first day of work when they show up an hour late because they didn't
realize 1-95 South is a parking lot between 7-9 a.m. Sure, some think they can handle it, but if you find
yourself in Miami stop-and-go for 2 hours every day, it can ruin your relocation experience
The traffic flow here moves towards downtown in the morning, and away from it in the evening.
In this respect, we are like most major cities. We also have the advantage of downtown being on one
extreme side of the city, so that traffic essentially moves in one direction at a time. This makes figuring
out how to avoid traffic very simple, but actually avoiding it much more difficult.
On nearly every East-West street, traffic moves east in the morning and west in the evening. If
you are north of Flagler Street (Miami-Dade's North-South Divider street), traffic will move south in the
morning, and north in the evening. If you are south of Flagler, it's the opposite; north in the morning,
south in the evening. You will know which side of Flagler you are on by looking at your street address. It
is' NE or NW, you are north of it, SE or SW you are south.
Make sure you are not moving in any of those directions at those times when planning your
commute. In the sections that follow here we will discuss the various routes you may utilize, and when
they are the most crowded. Unless you are taking the Palmetto Expressway, you can probably live a life
here with minimal traffic congestion. If you plan it right.
AVOIDING MIAMI TRAFFIC- THE EXPRESSWAYS
We have nine major expressways in Miami Dade County. But despite the number of
expressways we have, most of them get unbearably clogged at one point or another. The good news is
that with one exception, the congestion is only temporary. Meaning much like with surface streets, if
you can stay off the expressways at certain times of the day, the amount of time you spend in traffic
should be minimal.
INTERSTATE 95 1-95 was the original expressway in Dade County, and runs from the county line with
Broward in the north, to downtown in the south. Over the years it has seen a lot of changes, most
recently the addition of variable-toll lanes that run from just north of downtown to the Golden Glades
Interchange in the northern part of the county. These lanes offer no entrance or exit between the 1-95 -
Airport Expressway (SR112) interchange until the Golden Glades, but do make the trip considerably
faster. These former HOV lanes now charge your windshield-affixed prepaid toll pass, called the
SunPass, a variable amount depending on how thick traffic is. So for instance, if you wanted to take the
Toll Lanes in the middle of the day when traffic is light, it will cost you 25 cents. If you want to take it
during rush hour? It can cost you a few dollars.
These lanes currently only run on northbound 1-95, but will be opening southbound by 2010. By
2012, the lanes will extend all the way north to 1-595 in Broward County, which is the highway that leads
to Ft. Lauderdale International Airport and Port Everglades.
But for now, the only way to ensure you don't hit traffic on 1-95 in Miami is to go north in the
Toll Lanes. Otherwise you have to time it. Timing the traffic on this route is simple, though: Do not come
south between 7-9 a.m. or go north between 3-7:30 p.m.
SR-826 THE PALMETTO EXPRESSWAY If there is one thing that could serve as an icon for everything
that is wrong with Miami, it's the Palmetto Expressway. Why is the Palmetto so awful? Well, if you can
imagine a road with never-ending traffic, give it uneven, shifting lanes, scenery that has you begging for
Northern Nevada and drivers who disregard all common traffic laws, you've got 826. The Palmetto runs
straight through the heart of suburban and industrial Miami for 24.4 miles from suburban Kendall
through Doral and Hialeah to North Miami Beach. There is no good time to be on the Palmetto, as even
late at night they have been known to shut down all but one lane for construction causing inexplicable
traffic jams at 3 a.m. Did I mention the mayor of Hialeah once punched guy out on live TV during a
traffic jam on the Palmetto? I think you're starting to get the idea.
SR-836 THE DOLPHIN EXPRESSWAY The Dolphin Expressway is the major East-West Expressway in
Dade County. Do not even think about going East between 7-9:30 a.m., and even after that the few
miles in front of the airport between NW 72nd Ave. and NW 42nd Ave. can slow down considerably.
There is also a $1.25 toll going eastbound into downtown and South Beach. Also avoid going west during
the above mentioned evening rush, typically between about 3:30 and 7 p.m. Once you get west to NW
107th Ave., you will have to pay an additional $1 toll to continue on to the interchange with Florida's
Turnpike and the new extension out to NW 137th Ave.
SR112 THE AIRPORT EXPRESSWAY 112 is the other major East-West expressway in Miami, though it
only runs from 1-95 to Miami International Airport in the west. The traffic flow on this route follows
much the same pattern as the Dolphin, but sees roughly half the traffic of its parallel expressway to the
south. This route is a good option if you live in Miami Springs or Doral and want to get downtown
quickly. Much like the Dolphin, it also features a $1.25 toll when you head eastbound.
FLORIDA'S TURNPIKE AND THE SUNPASS Florida's Turnpike system starts just south of Ocala in North-
Central Florida and runs south over 300 miles to Florida City near the Florida keys. To drive the entire
thing from Miami to Ocala will cost roughly $22, but even in Miami-Dade alone you will find four, $1
tolls as you make your way through the county. But do not be fooled. Just because the Turnpike costs
money doesn't mean it is not jam-packed. North of SW 40th Street up into the County Line the turnpike
can get very congested going north in the morning. Southbound at night is worse, as starting as far north
as the NW 106th St. (not far from the county line) traffic can get backed up well into South Dade, as far
as SW 184th St. That's a long way considering a mile in Dade is 16 streets.
The Florida Department of Transportation promotes its SunPass, a pre-paid toll system, as a way
to beat the traffic. The SunPass Mini was introduced in 2008, and is a cheaper, smaller version of the
transponder box people had used previously. The mini is a small sticker that you can affix to your
windshield and costs on $4.99. This prepaid system, where you assign a credit card to the pass and it
refills each time your toll balance reaches below a certain level, is becoming more useful as more
expressways offer expanded SunPass lanes for your commute. It may not save you so much during your
day-to-day gridlock, but it can at least make the tollbooth experience a little less hassle.
SR 864 THE DON SHULA EXPRESSWAY The Don Shula, named after the legendary Miami Dolphins
football coach, is a short, 6-mile expressway that connects the Palmetto to the Turnpike. It runs diagonal
southwest to northeast, and is used primarily by those traveling to points east from the southwestern
suburbs that are more easily accessible from the Turnpike. Traffic on the Don Shula is not usually too
bad, but it's not a major commuter road either. It also has a $1.25 toll should you choose to use it.
SR 878 THE SNAPPER CREEK EXPRESSWAY The Snapper Creek is a good route to take to get to areas
like Kendall and South Miami if you want to avoid US-1. The expressway begins just north of Dadeland
Mall on US-1 and connects to the Don Shula in the south. It has exits in Kendall and South Miami, and is
useful for bypassing US-1 and getting to those two locations.
INTERSTATE 75 AND THE GRATIGNY PARKWAY
The Gratigny parkway is an expressway that runs through the northern part of Hialeah into Opa-
Locka just west of 1-95. It eventually turns into the beginning of Interstate 75, which runs to Broward
County, turns west to Naples, and then continues north all the way to the Canadian border in Michigan.
While the Gratigny is not a frequently-used commuter road, 1-75 is useful for those commuting from
Western Broward County into Miami. Its most-congested times are similar to that of 1-95; southbound is
heavy from about 7:00 to 9:00 a.m., and northbound between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m.
THE BEST COMMUTE FOR YOU
Even if you memorize all the roads, figure out their congested times, and do your best to avoid
them, living and working in the wrong places can make all that knowledge useless. Sure, you know
driving north on US-1 in the morning is going to be a less-enjoyable experience than having your wisdom
teeth pulled, but if you get an apartment in Kendall and a job downtown, it's hard to avoid.
Though they are nice areas, Kendall and Pinecrest offer you almost no alternatives to sitting in
traffic should you choose to live there. Kendall is a large continuum of sprawling planned communities
which almost all lead out to Kendall Drive (SW 88th St.). This means that all the people living in those
communities are all trying to get on the same street at around the same time. Similarly, Pincecrest's
location east of US-1 and near Biscayne bay make it great for parks and recreation, but terrible for
traffic. You cannot reach any major expressway other than the Palmetto, whose entrance ramp often
backs up for miles onto northbound US-1 in the mornings.
If you find yourself working downtown, you also want to avoid living in any city with the word
"North" in it, or anywhere in Broward County. 1-95 south in the mornings is a parking lot and as of now
has no toll-lane options to minimize your commute times. What is normally a 10-minute drive from
North Bay Village to downtown can take 45 minutes to an hour some days.
The general rule for avoiding a horrendous commute is to live east and work west. This is easier
said than done as downtown and Miami Beach are both east, and most affordable housing is west.
Working in Broward County is a good option, as it features a strong job market and a commute against
traffic. There are some other routes that are not so horrendous, but you get the general idea. Consider
the traffic patterns when choosing where to live, because as I said before, a bad commute can really ruin
SO ONCE YOU'VE FIGURED IT OUT, IT AIN'T THAT BAD
So see, driving in Miami isn't that bad, now is it? Sure, you have to avoid half the roads in the
city during half the day. Sure, most of the drivers you encounter will blatantly disregard every traffic law
on the books, only to honk and curse you out when you dare to follow them. And sure, if one of our fine
motorists hits you, the chances of his having insurance are about as good as his chances of speaking
English. But once you've figured out how to get around this city, it isn't as bad as it's made out to be. We
may have bad drivers and traffic, but so does any other city you'd want to live in. Just follow the advice
and guidelines I've given you above, and you can become that American animal known as the Miami
Driver in no time.
ASSUME NOBODY IS EVER LEGIT
From Lindsey Rogers, local student and Broward County resident
I had to drive down to Miami to visit some friends who were at UM. I hate driving in Miami,
because even though drivers in Broward aren't exactly "courteous" or "possessing of legal vision," at
least most of them learned how to drive here. Miami, it's like driving down the street in Bangladesh or
something. I keep expecting chickens to cross in front of me and the guy in the next car to pull out an M-
16 if I cut him off. It's happened. Don't laugh.
I had to take the Palmetto Expressway back up to Broward, or "civilization" as I like to call it.
Driving the Palmetto is not an experience I try to have very often. I once had a truck full of flip flops lose
its load right in front of me on that highway, and if you've never had a swarm of foam sandals descend
on you at 75 miles an hour, I don't suggest adding it to your Bucket List. It's kind of like being attacked
by an angry plague of flower-printed locusts. At any rate, I had almost reached the turnoff to 1-75 and so
I attempted to get over to the right. Apparently a two-toned Buick from the Nixon Administration had
the same idea.
I had no way of knowing this, of course, because he didn't bother using his turn signal and he
was going twice as fast as the flow of traffic. This testament to fuel inefficiency slammed into the side of
my little Scion. This being Miami, I fully assumed he would speed away as fast as he could, fearing
repercussions from either the bench warrant he undoubtedly had out for him, or the INS. Probably both.
But to my shock he pulled over to the shoulder.
"Wow," I thought to myself, "an honest Miami driver. Maybe the Easter Bunny and Elvis are
riding in the front seat with him." Sadly, they were not. But the driver, a Haitian man who looked to be
in his mid-thirties, got out and met me in front of my car as traffic crept by.
"I am so sorry, Miss. Sooo sorry," he told me in broken patois (I speak Creole patios surprisingly
well and was able to understand much of what he said). "You are ok, yes? You need me to call the
police?" He reached for his cell phone.
"Yeah," I told him. "I'm ok, but my car is not so good."
"Oh, yes, yes I see," he told me. "Should we call the police now then?"
"That's probably a good idea," I responded. He opened his cell phone and called 911. He spoke
with the operator and explained where we were and what had happened. His English was broken, and
his knowledge of Hialeah landmarks was lacking at best, but I figured I'd let him deal with the call since
the accident was, in fact, his fault.
"Ok, they come soon," he told me as he slapped his phone shut.
"Good," I said. "Should we exchange insurance information then?"
I was 99% sure the answer to this was going to be 'Oh, no, no, miss, I don't have any,' as there
are more people in South Florida who have firearms than have car insurance. Fortunately my parents
are well aware of this and shelled out for uninsured motorist coverage for me as long as I was in the
area, so I wasn't too concerned. Well, you can imagine my shock when instead of a pained look and a
laundry list of excuses about his mother-in-law needing an operation and his insurance lapsing for a
week and being denied coverage because he is an immigrant, he said, "Yes."
I watched in disbelief as he walked back to his Foreign Oil Dependency Machine and went to his
trunk to retrieve the information. Odd, I thought. Who keeps their insurance information in the trunk?
As he dug around I saw him pick up a towel. And then place it on the rear of his car over the license
plate. And then slam his hood and run to the driver's seat like his ass was on fire and the seat was made
of ice water. Some burning Bridgestones and a whole lot of black smoke later, he was gone into the
Hialeah night. And the police never showed.
Eventually I called the police, and of course, they'd never gotten a call about the accident. As a
matter of fact, I severely doubt that cell phone he had was even operative. Probably one of those candy
phones they sell at Walgreen's. The Miami-Dade squad car rolled up and took my statement.
"Yeah," the officer told me, "We've seen this. You really oughta make a mental note of his
license plate next time. Then maybe we could catch him."
His compassion almost overwhelmed me.
"I was just SLAMMED into by some crazy Haitian in the middle of f*%king Hialeah!" I screamed
at the officer, "And you want me to remember a f**king LICENSE PLATE!? Are you INSANE?!"
"Calm down, mamn," he told me, "So you live in Davie?"
"You come down here much?"
"Not if I can help it." I was tiring of his Dade County condescension.
"Yeah, well this kind of thing happens a lot in Miami, you know? When you're driving here, just
assume everybody on the road is illegal and you should be ok."
Very reassuring, I thought. You've gottta love a city where you have to assume nobody is legit to
get by. And people wonder why I refuse to cross the county line.
CHAPTER 4 DATING IN MIAMI
As someone who has relocated more than a few times, my best advice to anyone moving to a
new place is to first establish a core group of friends before you even think about getting into a
relationship. But no one ever listens to this advice. Because while our need for social connection is deep,
our need for sex always seems to run deeper. And when you live in a city that is choc full of international
models, it's hard to focus on finding people to go watch baseball with.
Yes, Miami is like any other city in that you have good people and bad people and everyone else
in between. But like so many other aspects of living here, the rules are just different. The cultural
makeup of the city creates some unusual and often frustrating situations with which you may be faced.
For instance I bet you never thought you'd have to deal with getting the third degree from a girls' father
at 32, did you? Or that you'd have to be quiet when you went back to a guy's house so you didn't wake
up his mom at 28. Or that someone might ask you after a third date if you wanted to marry them for
But you can survive the insanity, and love can be found. Dating in Miami is probably a different
process than it is where you're from, and the appeal of sexy exotic models only lasts for so long. But if
you know how the game is played down here, your sex and social life can both be a lot of fun.
A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME
If you've been dating around your hometown for some time, you've probably figured out how
things work. You know what men expect from women and women expect from men. What the
relationship expectations are and how people treat each other. The first thing you must do when you
move here is take all of that, and completely forget it.
The first major difference you will find in dating in Miami is cultural. Miami is dominated by Latin
American culture. And so the rules of that culture, much as they govern business and politics, also
govern dating. Especially when it comes to the family.
"Hispanics are very family-oriented people," says Ryan Marx, who has lived in Miami his entire
life and dated women from several different backgrounds. "I find that the language barrier is tough. If
you don't know the language, you can't relate to their family. And it's hard to stay in relationships
because of their deep family bonds." Aside from the family, he says, you may also find that expectations
of gender roles are different when dating people from other cultures.
Aside from cultural differences, Miami's sprawling geography can make dating difficult as well.
Because many people in Miami still live at home, you may meet someone who resides in far-flung
suburbia when you live in the heart of the urban core. This makes geographic desirability major factor.
"I was dating this girl who lived with her parents out on 167th Ave., practically the Everglades,"
says Mike Clifford, another longtime local. "It took just a few times of sitting on Kendall drive for ten
miles in traffic for me to say 'This just isn't worth it.'" And because Miami doesn't have an extensive
freeway system like other sprawling cities such as Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area, one can
find one's self in a similar situation very easily.
In addition to cultural and geographical barriers, Miami is also a city where long-lasting,
meaningful relationships can be hard to come by. Because so many people move here and quickly leave,
relationships tend to be fleeting as many are hesitant to put down roots Similarly, the booming service
industry attracts a lot of people who do not have stable lifestyles, and therefore stable relationships are
not a priority.
"It's easy to date in Miami," says Christina Martin, who has lived in the city for ten years. "But
it's a lot harder to date seriously."
The important thing to dating in Miami is to not take anyone too seriously until they have
proven otherwise. There are good people out there, as a city as large as Miami couldn't continue to
thrive if nobody ever got married and raised families.
"It's absolutely possible to find a real relationship here," says Maria De Los Angeles, author of
the popular Miami dating blog Sex and the Beach. "It's really just based on you."
REAL LOVE IS RARELY FOUND OVER A TECHNO BEAT
So how does one go about finding all these great people in Miami? Well, despite the endless
nightlife and constant social opportunities, it may not be as straightforward as you think. There are a lot
of great places to meet people in this city, but few of them feature monosyllabic names, snooty
doormen, and pounding dance music. Miami may have some of the hottest, sexiest nightclubs in the
world, but that is pretty much all they are good for: Hot sex.
"The intention of going to a club is not to meet someone you're going to have a long
relationship with," says Maria. "But it's great if you want to get laid that night."
The crowds in clubs in Miami are also typically not long-term relationship material. A large part
of any club's clientele is made up of tourists, which are probably the worst people to try and date
because they don't live here. On top of that, you have a good number of people who like to dabble in
illegal drugs, a demographic that rarely makes for a solid life partner. You also have men who buy
bottles to try and lure women into the VIP area with free drinks, and women who go out to get free
drinks from guys who try to lure them into the VIP area.
"If you meet a guy in a club, there's always somebody better out there," says Michelle Northern,
who has lived and worked in South Beach for ten years. "Miami is a transient place, people come here
to party and leave. If you meet men in a club, then forget it."
THE MOST INCESTUOUS JOB IN THE WORLD
If you work in the Miami service industry at some point, somewhere, you will end up dating
someone you work with. And by "dating,' or course, I mean having drinks with after work and sleeping
together. Multiple times. This is certainly not a feature unique to the Miami service industry, but
because Miami's service industry is so large, and attracts such a large percentage of newcomers, it is a
dating resource used more commonly than in most places.
As I've said previously in this book, if you come here with no job finding one in the service
industry is a good idea. Not only because it makes you extra money, but because it can introduce you to
a lot of people. And while the service industry may be a great social tool, pursuing anything with one of
your attractive new coworkers past after-work hookups can be dicey.
"When you have people making 3 or 4 dollars an hour, you get used to hustling in every aspect
of your life," says Christina Martin, who worked and dated in the service industry for over a decade.
'Usually that person is dating like 2 or 3 other people, or is married, or is about to get married. It's just
that culture of compromising your morals financially because you have to, it reaches every aspect of
There is also the adage of "Don't shit where you eat." Just as it is not advisable to date someone
you work with in an office environment, so too is it a bad idea in the service industry. Because it is so
easy to be fired, even a small domestic dispute in the workplace can cost both of you your jobs.
Similarly, a lot of working for tips involves flirting with customers, and if your coworker/partner is the
jealous type, this can create a very uncomfortable situation. Should your relationship not work out,
managers and not keen on scheduling you around when your ex works so you don't have to see each
other. So you have to either hope the breakup is amicable, or find another place to work.
Despite this, you can find success stories. Gus and Michelle Moore met as servers at Tuscan
Steak in South Beach in 2003 and have been happily married for 5 years.
"The key is when you find somebody good here, you hold on to them," says Mr. Moore. "There's
so many just shitty people in this city, when you find a good one, you don't let them go. And I found a
SO WHERE DO YOU MEET PEOPLE?
So if you can't meet people by going to clubs, and you can't meet them at work, where are you
supposed to meet good people in Miami? Well, much like any other city, you have your traditional
avenues like interest clubs and cultural events. But our year-round sunshine allows for a wider-array of
options. The Miami Sports and Social Club offers co-rec sports from January through December, as does
the World Adult Kickball Association, or WAKA, which features weekly kickball games followed by trips
to the sponsoring bars. If you have not participated in a WAKA event in your hometown, Miami is a
great place to start.
We also have running clubs, cycling clubs, scuba diving, sailing, or pretty much any other sort of
recreational sports club you can think of, all of which are typically not constrained by seasonal weather.
This means by living in Miami you have twice the social opportunities you would in a lot of major cities,
and you don't even have to drink.
Maria De Los Angeles, of Sex and the Beach, also suggests the wide variety of social media
outlets as a place to meet new people, like meetup.com and twitter. Online dating is also popular in
Miami. Though online dating is not exclusive to the area, it can allow you to filter people by the
language they speak and the culture they come from, something that can be difficult in Miami. It is not
at all uncommon to meet someone while you are out and think you've really hit it off, only to realize
that he or she lives at home with overprotective parents who barely speak English. Online dating can
remove these cultural barriers.
And while the grocery store has always been a favorite, "unexpected" place to meet people,
some people in Miami take it to a whole new level. No other city has the as many people who get
dressed up like they are going out to a club, when they go to buy a frozen pizza. Depending on what part
of Miami you are in, Publix (our most popular local supermarket) can look like a fashion show. Men
dress to impress and women dress to have their groceries bought for them. It's like all the excitement of
a night club except instead of strobes you have fluorescent lightbulbs, and the techno music is replaced
by an endless loop of Bob Seger's Greatest Hits. If you don't believe me, go to the Bay Road Publix in
South Beach. I have seen, on more than one occasion, women look for men to get behind in the
checkout line, place their items on the belt, and start flirting with the guy. If they are good, they have
their week's worth of groceries paid for with just under five minutes of work. Now THAT'S efficiency.
DATING IN LATIN AMERICA
Even if you find someone with whom you click, you must remember that in Miami you are often
not just dating one person, but their entire family. As we discussed earlier, Latin culture is very family-
oriented and if you are in a serious relationship with someone of Hispanic background, you'd better
hope you are ok by the family. The advantage to being an American is that typically, families see you as
an acceptable partner for their son or daughter even if you may not speak the same language. Many
Hispanics in Miami also seem to prefer dating Americans, as they tend to find people of that culture
more relaxed than what they are used to.
"I hear it all the time from Cuban girls I've dated," says Ryan Marx, "'Cuban men are so
possessive. They're so domineering. I think when Cuban girls are dating American guys, they're looking
for more fairness and a little more freedom."
But it is not just the Cuban women who see Americans as a less-stress alternative. The men also
see American women as laid back and less-possessive.
"My current boyfriend, he's Cuban-American, and he told me Cuban girls are very high
maintenance," says Christina Martin. "From what I've heard, American girls are a lot more laid back, not
as high strung, not as jealous. And in South Beach, they like the fact that we have papers."
Christina jokes, but people dating you for your citizenship is another extremely common
practice in Miami. Our large international population creates a lot of people looking for a faster way to
naturalization. And marriage is a good one. Most people who have dated in Miami for a while have at
least one story of someone offering to pay them for marriage after a second or third date. You may
think this is as an exaggeration, but when you find yourself in a situation like Christina's and many
others' you'll realize that U.S. papers can be very sexy to our undocumented population.
Christina Martin's story is far from uncommon:
"I was dating this guy Fernando from Argentina. He spoke such poor English it was laughable. So
I showed up for like our third date and I was walking down Espanola Way and he had called me to sit at
one of those tourist trap cafes they have there. "
'Greetings, baby how would you like $10,000?' were the first words out of his mouth
'For what?' I asked him
'For the marriage.' He smiled at me when he said this, like it was cute or something. I'd known
this guy two and a half weeks! So I laughed in his face and walked away. Then I found out he had not 1
but 2 other girlfriends, one who was also an illegal trying to find paperwork too. She worked at the bar
where I met him. Every aspect of that encapsulates what happens when you date in South Beach."
FAMILY IS NUMERO UNO
Though you may well find someone who has legal American documentation, you may find other
cultural hurdles. Because the family is the focal point of Latin culture, its affect on the Miami dating
scene is tremendous. First, you may find a lot more single parents out in bars and clubs than you might
in other cities. Tere Estorino, a single mother in Miami, explains that because she has so much family to
help her take care of her child, it makes having a social life easier. So if you are a single parent you may
find a social group of people in your same situation. And if you are not a single parent, you have a
decent chance of meeting one every time you head out.
Also, because so many households have two, three, or sometimes four generation living in a
house, it is far from uncommon to find yourself dating someone who is living at home. And these are not
the marginally-to-unemployed slackers you might find living with mom and dad in other cities, or kids
fresh out of college. There are professionals in their mid-20s who still have mom doing their laundry and
dinner ready when they get home.
And for better or for worse, the girls and boys living at home live by a very different set of rules.
While the boys are more and less allowed to come and go as they please, bringing whomever they want
home to spend the night, girls in their late-20s still often have to lie about where they are going in order
to stay out past midnight.
Lauren Tow, an American who has lived in Miami for five years, recalls the first time she learned
of this unusual norm of Miami dating.
"I met this guy at some Happy Hour Spot in Brickell. He was a lawyer or in
finance or something. Anyway, he picked me up every time we went out and on the
third date he invites me back to his place. Well, I liked him so I agreed and we get back
and it's this big suburban rambler somewhere in Westchester. I figure he must have
bought when the market was down or something, and think nothing of it. Until we get
to the front door. He goes to unlock the door and he says, 'Hey, we need to be quiet. My
mom's a light sleeper and I think my grandma is asleep in the living room.' I ended up
spending the night and had to be extra quiet, and the next morning he offered to have
his mom make me French Toast. I told him there was no way in Hell I was leaving his
bedroom until I knew his mom was gone. That's just embarrassing."
While having mom make you French Toast in bed may seem like a benefit to dating a guy who
lives at home, having to sneak around and be deathly quiet when you get home is not. Graig Smith, a
Miami native who has dated nothing but women who live at home, talks of all his relationships involving
mute sex while sharing a wall with mom and dad. And depending on what you prioritize in your
relationships, this can create some serious problems.
"My last girlfriend, I think she was so used to being quiet all the time, even when we went to a
hotel in South Beach for the weekend, she still didn't get into it," Smith says.
Beyond putting limits on your carnal endeavors, dating someone who lives at home can also
make the relationship more strained. Steve Frigo, an American Miami native who dates exclusively
Hispanic women, says he has flashbacks to his teenage years when trying to make plans with his 28-
"If she wants to spend the night at my place, she lies to her parents about where she's staying,"
he says, "which I find unusual at 28 years old. The other day she told me, 'You can spend the night
tonight, my parents are out of town.' I haven't heard that line since High School."
In addition to having to wait for a parental vacation to spend the night at your girlfriend's house,
Frigo warns you may also be subject to interrogation by her Cuban father upon coming to the house to
pick her up. Again, another move that few have seen since they were legally allowed to vote. But the
overriding piece of advice all longtime Miami residents give when asked how to improve their chances
of having a successful relationship with a Latin American is to learn Spanish. This not only allows you to
better communicate with your date, but also with their family, their friends, and pretty much anyone
else in their social circle. It also allows you to know when your date and his or her friends are laughing at
a funny joke, and when they are laughing at you.
GETTING CREATIVE WITH YOUR MIAMI DATES
Despite the inherent cultural differences in Miami, the wealth of scenery and perpetual warm
weather give the city an endless amount of options for going on a date. The international flavor of the
city provides thousands of dining choices from dozens of different cultures. We also boast many
waterfront locations for eating, drinking or just strolling and taking in the scenery.
Lincoln Road Despite a name that makes is sound like a shopping center in suburban Illinois,
Lincoln Road Mall is a pedestrian mall in South Beach with restaurants, bars, and some of the
best people-watching in the city. You can dine outdoors at any of its eclectic restaurants, or sip
drinks at one of its many bars. Lincoln Road is also less chaotic and noisy than Ocean Drive, with
less tourists and no cars.
Coconut Grove -The Grove also offers blocks of sidewalk cafes and restaurants as well as a
variety of bars for an after-dinner nightcap. And if the type of restaurant you like isn't in the
Grove now, it will be soon; new places are constantly opening up. Of course, that means places
are closing all the time too. So don't get too attached.
Beaches A picnic or a walk on one of our beaches or in one of our bayfront parks is a setting
you just can't get in other cities. Try out Crandon Park Beach in Key Biscayne, or Bill Baggs State
Park a little further south on the same Island.
Parks Matheson Hammock near Pinecrest is a particularly beautiful location, and even has a
restaurant in it. Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove also is quite scenic, and even features a dog
park if you and your date have pets. The Oleta River State Recreation Area in North Miami
Beach features kayak and mountain bike rentals for an active daytime date.
Vizcava and Wainwright Park Alice Wainwright Park just before the Rickenbacker Causeway to
Key Biscayne has beautiful views of the Key and South Beach. Next door is the Vizcaya museum
and gardens. Vizcaya is a 34-room mansion built by industrialist James Deering in 1916. It is now
a park, gardens, and popular wedding location.
*Pari-Mutuel Facilities Miami boasts a larger variety of Pari-mutuel facilities than any other
city its size in the U.S. Now, am I saying it's a good idea to take a girl to the dog track on a date?
Not unless she's the only girl in the world who dislikes puppies. But the city offers 2 Jai-Alai
locations, two thoroughbred racing tracks, and a harness track all within a 40-minute drive. You
may laugh at this suggestion, because, honestly, the Harness Track in Pompano is not exactly the
kind of place they film the end of Audrey Hepburn movies. But if you want somewhere where
you and your date can do something fun together that constantly stimulates conversation and
creates short bursts of momentary excitement, it's a very original idea.
Even if Jai-Alai or the track is a little too offbeat for you, you still don't have to get caught up in
throwing money around to have a good date in Miami. The city is full of fun, original, and downright
romantic things to do that do not require reservation two weeks in advance and a second credit card.
Stick to taking advantage of the natural assets Miami gives you and you can have a great time.
PEOPLE TO AVOID
People all have their types. So when discussing the types of individuals you'd want to avoid in
Miami, it could mean pretty much anyone. But this city seems to attract certain sorts of people that
aren't anyone's type, and therefore I feel it is my duty to point them out to you before you have to learn
the hard way.
The South Beach Poser This is a person, 99 percent of the time a male person, who claims to
know someone everywhere in the Beach. You name the club, he's got the hookup. And while
there are people in Miami for whom this is true, there aren't many. And the best way to spot a
poser? He isn't even from Miami. He's from New York or LA or Tampa or somewhere, but
somehow miraculously can get you into VIP in any club in South Beach. Provided you are female.
Odds are he doesn't know anybody and is trying to impress you long enough to get in your
pants. The first time the words "My boy works at..." come out of his mouth, run.
The Borrower A lot of guys borrow or rent things in South Beach that are not theirs in order to
impress women. Any guy who mentions his place in South Beach within the first ten minutes of
meeting you likely does not own that place. I've known a good number of wealthy people in
South Beach, and I never knew any of them had money until the fact became unavoidable. Like
so many things in life, those who talk about it the most have it the least. So any guy who flashes
his address and car keys? Avoid him like a leper with the Ebola virus. The fancy car he's driving?
Rented. Or, like most fancy cars in Miami, leased. The South Beach penthouse he told you he
has belongs to a rich friend. Or his parents.
The Reinventor We get a lot of people who come here and just reinvent their whole identities.
Granted, a lot of those people are doing it for citizenship and their new identity is created by the
Argentine Mafia. But others are sort of normal people in their hometowns who come here and
tell people they're something special back home. Remember your freshmen dorm in college
where every guy was an all-state athlete and every girl was head cheerleader? Now imagine a
whole city like that. Screenwriters and real-estate tycoons don't rent Miami apartments with
wall-unit air conditioners that drip on the living room floor.
Now most of the loathsome individuals I have described thus far have been decidedly male. But fret
not, gentlemen, there are just as many unpleasant women in Miami as there are men.
The Girl Who Wants to Live for Free Any girl you meet who insists on going to a fancy
restaurants or high end club, without you suggesting it, should be completely ignored. Because
it does not end at the $200 dinner. It continues on to $18 drinks and then shopping and then
expensive vacations. It's just wasting your money.
Escorts Miami has a lot of tourists who come where with money. And if there's one thing that
rich tourists always attract to your city, it's escorts. Your chance of ending up on an actual date
with an escort is not likely. But if you meet a girl and she is very vague about what she does, or
the job she claims to have doesn't seem like it would pay for that big South Beach apartment
she lives in, she may well be an escort. Similarly, if she is always available during the day, but
never at night, this may be because she is "dating" other people for cash. Many local men have
eventually discovered that hot girl who always insisted on condoms and was never around at
night was doing all of those for a reason.
Women who Aren't Miami has some of the most skilled and deceptive transgenders in the
world. Even sober in broad daylight, some of the best looking women in South Beach aren't. But
when you are drunk in a club at night, it's downright impossible to tell the difference. Adam's
apples can be removed as an outpatient procedure, and hormones can grow breasts and make a
guy a mezzo soprano. There are things you can look for like natural lubrication, but for the most
part it can be tough to tell. I'm not even sure how to tell you how to avoid accidentally hooking
up with a transgender, and if you're one of those people who's open-minded enough to date
one then be my guest. But if you're not, it is definitely something to look out for.
LEARNING TO BE SERIOUS IN A CITY OF PLAYERS
Miami is a city of players. Not necessarily in the sense that everyone is out to "play" each other,
just that the city is known as a place to play. So dating here can be difficult. Even if you can look past
cultural differences, or even embrace them, it's never easy to know exactly what you're getting into in
Miami. But the culture and atmosphere of the city are merely the backdrop, and the secret to having
dating success here really lies with you. As Maria De Los Angeles says, "It's absolutely possible to find
someone here. It's a matter of looking inside yourself and seeing what you're projecting. It's not based
on the city. There are a lot of great people who live here. You just have to know where to find them."
THE BAIT AND SWITCH
From Matt Meltzer, Miami bartender and contributing writer to MiamiBeach411.com
I met Kathy on the dance floor at Pawn Shop downtown. Usually I didn't meet girls at Pawn
Shop since it's kind of a hangout for the Fake-ID-and-Moms-Credit-Card set. But Kathy noticed me as
one of the few guys there in her demographic, and asked me to dance. So we danced, and drank, and
made out a lot. And though she didn't want to go home with me, she gave me her number and told me
to call her. I don't usually call girls I meet at clubs, but she was tall and blonde and had just moved here
from Chicago (I even saw the Illinois tag on her car when I walked her to it), and a girl like that in Miami
is hard to find. So I gave her a call.
I got her voicemail when I called and the first thing it said was "Hi, you've reached Katalina...."
Katalina? Excuse me? Did she give me a fake number? A friend of mine who had lived in Miami a bit
longer than I explained that sometimes Latin girls will use Americanized names when talking to
Americans. Something about playing to their audience or something. Katalina returned my call a brief
while later and during the conversation mentioned she lived somewhere in Westchester. For those
unfamiliar, Weschester is an area occupied almost exclusively by immigrant Cuban families with
anywhere from 3-12 generations living in the same house. I thought this a bit odd, since she said she'd
just moved from Chicago, but whatever. We all gotta live somewhere, right?
She also suggested I take her to dinner. And I love absolutely nothing better than a girl who
suggests I spend money on her.
"I love going out to dinner, to nice restaurants," she told me "Like, when I go out on a date, I
expect to be taken somewhere really nice. That whole experience, I really love it. And I think it's worth
the money to do that." Of course it's worth the money, Katarina, because IT'S NOT YOURS! But I digress.
We made a date and two days later I went to pick her up at the appointed place in Westchester.
The house was enormous. I went to ring the doorbell to pick her up and was greeted by a large Cuban
man who vaguely reminded me of my commanding officer in the Marine Corps. He grumbled some sort
of disapproving greeting at me as "Kathy" flew by him out the front door.
"Bye, daddy!" she smiled as she left.
Oh fantastic. This girl lives at home. I also noticed that tonight she was not wearing heels and
had gone from about 5'8" to about 5'4". I did not feel this was fair.
On the drive to the Grove she explained to me that she lived with her parents, grandparents,
sister and nephew (that's four generations if you're counting), and that she had to be home by 2.
Grandma apparently waits up. Did I mention that Kathy was 28?
"It's only temporary," she assured me.
"Temporary until what?" I asked her.
"Until I find someone to take care of me!" she exclaimed. It was almost as if I was expected to
have known this before she got in the car.
"I know this might be a turnoff," she continued, "but my goal in life is to marry a man who is
going to take care of me and support me." I'm not sure what about my Baby Blue '02 Saturn screamed
"I'll pay your bills!" but it was fast becoming a mystery why, exactly, she was out with me.
"I really only like to date good looking guys." She must have been reading my mind. "Like, I have
to be totally physically attracted to you to go out with you. Does that sound shallow?" No, not at all.
She's lucky I didn't hold myself to the same standards, though.
Kathy then went on to explain that she had lived in Miami for the first 25 years of her life and
then gone to pharmacology school in Chicago for the past 2. In case there had been any doubt before,
"Kathy the Blonde from Chicago," was actually "Katalina Ramirez from Westchester," who lived at home
with her entire family. Again, not fair.
During dinner, I actually got to talk a little about myself and she seemed fairly interested in what
I had to say. She seems even more interested in the $8 glasses of wine she was drinking like they were
tap water. But she did seem to perk up a lot when I told her I was a personal trainer.
"Oooh. So you're a trainer? What can I do to get rid of my belly? Oh, and my ass, I totally need
to get my ass smaller." Hmmm, I thought. How about eating at less of those fancy restaurants you do so
love to have men take you to. That might be a good start.
"I mean, I have a hard time keeping weight off. I know after I have kids I'm going to be one of
those women who never loses the weight. I don't even know if I want kids, because I like nice things and
I don't want to have to spend money on anybody else." Well, it was good to see we had at least one
thing in common.
$85 later, we went over to a sidewalk caf6 called Green Street.
We sat on a couch on the sidewalk, and she immediately ordered a bottle of expensive wine. I
informed her that this is would be on her. Since I paid for dinner. She agreed, with a smile. The wine
came and she took two sips and said, "You're very laid back with girls, aren't you? Like, most guys would
be all over me by now. Like, do you expect me to make the first move?'
"Absolutely," I told her. With that, we immediately began making out on the couch. It was pure
foreplay with clothes on. Grabbing, licking, touching. I could only imagine the show the Argentines at the
next table were getting.
"I feel like I have to hold back with all these people around," she told me.
"Well, I live alone," I answered. "You're more than welcome to come back there and not hold
"Where do you live again?"
"Palmetto Bay." She pulled back like I'd just told her I lived with my wife in a colony of lepers.
"That far??!!" she wined, "I'm not going all the way to Palmetto Bay!" For the record, Palmetto
Bay is closer to Coconut Grove than Westchester.
"Ew, I, like, hate that place," she continued to complain. "There is not shit down there. God, I
totally wish I had, like my own place. My grandma, she waits up for me." I began to think this girl was a
serious downgrade from the cokehead stripper I'd been dating previously. At least she had her own
After another ten minutes of clothed foreplay on a public street, I drove her home to her
Mama's house. She invited me in to sleep on the couch, but I politely declined, opting instead for the
comfort of my own bed and the Hotel Erotica I'd TIVO'd while I was gone.
"When do you get back?" she asked, "Tuesday?"
"Yes," I told her.
"Good," she said. "Next time you can come in and meet my family. Eventually you can stay
here." Nothing I like more than meeting a girls' extended family on date two. This is why I only date
"Why don't you just come to Palmetto Bay?" I asked.
"I told you, I hate driving. I'm totally not driving that far. But we can like, go to dinner or
something when you get back. Call me."
Frustrated, angry and sad at the same time, I began to wonder if this was what dating in Miami
was going to be. Picking up spoiled girls at their parents' houses and not getting past first base until date
twelve. I had avoided Cuban girls as best I could, and I wondered if perhaps this was the reason. She left
her sweater in my car, maybe on purpose, maybe in drunken forgetfulness. Well, Katalina, let's see how
much you really don't want to drive to Palmetto Bay. Looks like this baby is cashmere and should fit my
mom just right.
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