Where the dead vote and skaters go topless

Allan Forteringham March 23 1998

Where the dead vote and skaters go topless

Allan Forteringham March 23 1998

Where the dead vote and skaters go topless


Allan Forteringham

What you have to know about Fisher Island is that it is a 10-minute ferry ride off a Miami freeway.

When you get to the other side, a uniformed young man with an official garden hose greets you, so as to wash off the salt spray that may have despoiled your car on the 10-minute ride.

What you have to know is that Oprah Winfrey has a 540-squaremetre apartment—and two satellite dishes—on top of one of the pink stone residences that speckle the 85-hectare isle. It is now known by the neighbors as the “Mad Cow Condo.”

W. K. Vanderbilt fancied the place as a winter retreat. So he traded his huge yacht Eagle to Carl Fisher, a Florida developer who played croquet here in the mandatory blazer and tie, in return for the island.

There are pictures on the ferry of Vanderbilt, flying in his Sikorsky Amphibian, nipping down from New York for a suntan.

This is all part of the dichotomy of Miami, the Hispanic home of the Helms-Burton legislation that would punish Canada and Canadians for treating Cuba like an ordinary country. No one said Miami—or Jesse Helms—had to be logical.

Along with Fisher Island, there is South Beach. Home of the young and the useless. Miami is the World Capital of Pastel, a city that seems frozen in the 1940s. South Beach is like a bad pastiche of what Muscle Beach outside Los Angeles used to look like.

There is a guy, who lost his youth long ago, in flesh-colored stretch pants doing a crazy dance while thousands of pedestrians pretend they don’t notice him—in case he interprets their attention as encouragement. Custom-painted Harley-Davidsons, obviously worth your mortgage, line the curb.

There is volleyball nightly at the Twelfth Street Beach Club, just opposite the Tides—the new trendy hotel just down from the Versace mansion. It has become a shrine, naturally, akin to the Dakota on Central Park in Manhattan where John Lennon too was gunned down.

Guns are regarded as playthings in Miami. A stroller on South Beach is startled to come upon a 1930s classic black Packard coupe and—seated inside—Bogie himself, with a pistol in his mitt.

Inside the Tides lobby—off-white chairs and sofas and creamcolored marble—the walls are lined with quotes from Oscar Wilde: “I can withstand everything except temptation.” The charming young waiter on the patio, left a $20 bill for a $12 charge, asks: “Do you want change?” Very charming. Very Miami.

On Fisher Island, protected from the masses by that 10-minute ferry ride and the garden hose, residents zoom about the paved

walkways on golf carts. Some of them, as an upper-class joke, are equipped with Rolls-Royce grilles. On South Beach, topless Rollerbladers—bobbing and weaving—are constant threats of danger as they zoom down the sidewalks.

It’s a city of confusion, in confusion, because it can’t make peace between its wealth and the infusion of Cuban refugees who have taken control of the civic structure. In November’s mayoral election—contested by two Cuban-Americans— the Hispanics who are just over 50 per cent of registered voters cast 70 per cent of the votes. The whiteys have given up.

A judge has now declared the results of that election invalid—too many dead people voting—and a major magazine declares Miami one of “The 10 most corrupt cities in America.” Right up there with Youngstown, Ohio, Las Vegas, Nev., Kansas City, Mo.—and Washington.

It is amidst this ambience that Canadians might consider the threat of Helms-Burton, the elephant telling the mouse that it dare not have any trade or truck with Castro’s Cuba, a troubled and impoverished isle that will need all help necessary when the egomaniac ruler soon leaves.

The basic drive, and support, of the Helms-Burton edict naturally comes from Florida, which Bill Clinton’s Democrats must win with all its rich electoral votes if they are to elect Al Gore/Richard Gephardt—Bill Bradley actually—in the year 2000.

Miami, supposedly the anchor stone of the second-fastest-growing state in the nation, is a very unstable city. Where the just-deposed mayor runs around in his chauffeured limousine in a bathrobe. And where clutches of his high city officials and judges are now in the slammer thanks to jiggery-pokery that AÍ Capone (who used to live on Fisher Island) would applaud.

Clinton, the Unabanger with his own personal problems in mind, has attempted to put the Helms-Burton threat on the back burner while he plays golf with Jean Chrétien, the famed non-lingual. He knows that the PM knows he needs Florida’s anti-Castro votes to keep a Democrat in the White House next time around.

It’s hilarious that Fisher Island and the Mad Cow Condo and South Beach and its Rollerbladers are involved in all this.