Photo Permission by Michael Trainer
THE IMPORTANT MEETING
HELD AT SMITH & WOLLENSKY
REGARDING MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND
May 11, 2012
By David Arthur Walters
I was one of the lucky outsiders to be invited to a Miami Beach Police Department presentation of a community defense strategy hosted by Smith & Wollensky, a high class restaurant situated on Government Cut in South Pointe Park in the upscale South of Fifth Street Neighborhood. The “Important Meeting Regarding Memorial Day Weekend” was sponsored by Carla Probus and Stacey Kruger, prominent South of Fifth canine club enthusiasts, socialites well known for their association with the Miami Beach political elite and their sponsorship of Meet & Greets.
Time flies so fast in South Beach that nothing really seems to happen except Memorial Day Weekend, which in South Beach has little to do with remembering the sacrifices our civil warriors made for our freedom from slavery, but is about hundreds of thousands of freed black folk swarming to the beach over the holiday weekend to celebrate their brand of American culture. That culture is said to be urban, therefore promoters dubbed the event Urban Week, a misnomer if not an euphemism, for urban areas do not have one-hundred percent black populations that like to cruise around drinking from red disposable cups while listening to hip-hop music, not that there is anything inherently wrong with birds of a feather flocking together.
Here the Afro-Barbarians again. The cops are laying out a welcome mat for them. It is a safety mat. The minority of bad guys in the crowd will be arrested for every violation. The bad boys and gangstas, by the way, are mostly from Miami-Dade County and Broward County. Atlanta rid itself of a similar swarming event, not with mass arrests but with massive towing. The Atlanta swarmers did not come back—they swarmed to South Beach.
Yes, how time flies! It seems like it was just yesterday when cops put a hundred or so bullets into a man who had shot someone in the head during a filling station robbery upstate before he drove down to South Beach in a stolen car for the Memorial Day Weekend, panicked when he saw cops approaching, and proceeded to ram a few of them with the car. The car was surrounded at the corner where it came to a halt, and he was summarily liquidated in Bonnie and Clyde fashion. A video of the thrilling episode was posted on the Internet. Thousands of bored people loved the unplanned reality show.
Actually, Urban Week is not so freaky if you do not mind the madness of crowds. Never mind the misconduct of the fringe element: the shootings, the noise, the defecating on tables, urinating in the middle of the street, stuff like that. Never mind the stampede when a plastic alligator pops out of a box and people run for their lives, trashing the sidewalk cafes and neglecting to pay their bills. Of course the climate of callous disrespect for the hapless residents of “chic” South Beach, who are converted annually into unwilling hosts, can be somewhat disconcerting.
I had finished my laundry as usual on Friday morning, at the ghetto laundry on Sixth Street, and hurried down Washington Avenue towards Smith & Wollensky’s in South Pointe Park for the Important Meeting Regarding Memorial Day Weekend, slightly annoyed again by the misspelling of ‘point.’ I recalled that, just last Sunday, during my usual stroll in South Pointe, I overheard two ladies, as they exited the fabulous Continuum condominiums, where they no doubt have multimillion-dollar apartments with thousands of square feet, discussing Wollensky’s:
“I was mortified by the delay in ordering dinner at Wollensky’s,” one lady said. “Elizabeth was pretending she had never seen the menu!”
“Good grief!” exclaimed her friend.
Now there I was, at Smith & Wollensky’s for the Important Meeting Regarding Memorial Day Weekend, dying to have some free coffee and pastries. Commissioner Deede Weithorn, Police Chief Raymond Martinez and other police officers would be the guest speakers.
Ms. Weithorn along with Commissioner Jonas Wolfson had just spearheaded a successful effort to rid the city of its longtime autocratic manager, Boss Jorge Gonzalez. He had gotten too big for his britches and had been ostracized in Greek fashion. Ms. Weithorn said she had also won a bout against cancer, and noticed that having a positive or negative attitude has little to do with whether one survives or not. I believe the point is to get on with what must be done regardless of what happened. It is time to leave the past in the dust and get on with the future. I add that one can live in the now, as tomatoes do best.
The commissioner looked remarkably well. During her recent campaign, she told me she had lost a lot of weight, and that there was a rumor bandied about that she was dying. When I said that I had never perceived her as fat, she said dresses can conceal the burgeoning issue. It did not occur to me at the time that she actually had cancer. I figured the rumor of her impending death was just another instance of dirty political campaigning, implying that we should not waste our vote on someone who will die in office. In retrospect, she was not dying: she was living.
There was nothing new about the policing plan presented by the Miami Beach Police Department, except that the presentation was smoother than ever. It had been vaunted and discussed around town for some time. But I had decided to attend the meeting because I had never laid foot inside of that expensive restaurant. Most importantly, free coffee and pastries had been advertized. Further, a stroll in the South of Fifth enclave would make me feel well-to-do.
Everyone got a little colored map entitled “Memorial Day Weekend Traffic Plan.” It looked very much like Manhattan on a New York City subway map. The cops did a good job of describing the plan. The more times they describe it, the better they get. There is the traffic loop, cordoned off neighborhoods, observation towers, checkpoints for drugs, guns, drunk drivers, and, we might hope, for Molotov cocktails. And there will be cameras recording every tag to get almost instant feedback so stolen cars and wanted criminals can be seized. And so on and so forth. By the way, every little ordinance will be enforced, so the crime rate will soar.
The welcome mat was being publicized only to keep the tiny minority who prey on fun-loving swarmers away. I opined to a fellow at my table that the publicized plan will be perceived as a challenge to black integrity:
“Many people will come wearing handcuffs as bling.” I said. “Jesse Jackson might have to bail Al Sharpton out of jail. Do you remember what Sharpton said when confronted with the fact that the prosecutors did not rape Tawana Brawley?”
“He said that was not the point. A similar point might be made in South Beach.”
I was tempted to ask the speaker at the time, a SWAT officer, how effectively the fire and police departments might respond to a riot where our historical Art Deco buildings were being torched by a crowd incensed by the spectacular display of police power. The question if posed would have been scary, so I kept my mouth shut.
There were a few black people attending the presentation. I noticed that they were all relatively young, well dressed, and attractive, especially Cory, the city’s sidewalk café coordinator. No news there: almost everyone has already observed from time to time that black can be at least as beautiful if not more beautiful than white even after white is deeply tanned. Cory said the sidewalk cafes would not be closed down for Memorial Day Weekend because the owners wanted the money. She said she could relay objections to city officials, but she was powerless as a coordinator to change anything. She was congratulated for her honesty.
A bold gentleman, no doubt descended from an earl of old, offered that it was absurd to address a sociological problem with a traffic plan. I cannot remember the analogy he used because it seemed false to me. I think he meant that using a monkey wrench on a barrel of monkeys would not make them behave. Another South of Fifth resident chimed in, to say he had only one hip hop CD, and that the gist of the problem with Urban Week is that we expect the “barbarians” to behave as we do. Well, that liberal honky made a good point, but it has been made so many times that it is no longer news. Liberality including tolerance has been a virtue for gentlemen ever since Aristotle penned his Ethics. Culture is bottom-up today, not top-down. Heck, today’s WASPs imitate hip hop culture and make tons of money off it, having already made trillions off Blues, jazz and rock. People will revise their ethical codes and do anything for money and power. For example, even arch-conservatives are coming out for gay marriage nowadays.
Swarms attract predators and parasites who conceal themselves in crowds to prey on fellow creatures. In my opinion, addressing sociological issues associated with human swarming with a mechanical plan designed to prevent chaos and thwart crime is an appropriate sociological response to a sociological problem.
Another liberal-minded, well-heeled gentleman worried at length about the probability that privacy would be invaded by the automatic reading of all license tags and almost instantly matching the information with a national database. He thought doing that would “make everyone suspect.” Shades of Big Brother, you know. The surveillance system is already up and running, the SWAT officer had said, and will be passé after Memorial Day.
I suppose anyone who moves to South Beach, where so many are on the make or on the take, should be suspected of something or the other besides being an illegal alien, so s/he should stay under the radar. I thought the liberal fellow might have a warrant out on him, or perhaps should be honored with one. I am not wanted for anything at all at this time, but if I were, I do not have a car, having burned my driver’s license in ’86— two guys from Miami offered me a job driving a getaway car when I was broke, but I declined on the basis that I have no license. I guess I would be safe in a police state as long as I minded my own business, did not criticize the government, or try to take pictures of cops filling up a car with lead, or let anyone know about some of my ancestors.
A fellow feared that the South of Fifth neighborhood would not get the protection it deserved, given the restaurants that have invaded the area, resulting in some of the late-night insults common to the rest of South Beach’s Entertainment District. In any event, he believed that his own neighborhood does not get its fair share of services in return for its tax revenue.
That belief did not jibe with my historical perspective on his hood, which used to be a drug-ridden, cockroach-infested ghetto but became inordinately gentrified thanks in part to a program that allowed taxes collected in the area to be devoted to it. Indeed, some old-timers view South of Fifth residents as “tax hogs,” as nouveau-riche neo-barbarians who have successfully pushed lower and middle class people out. So far I know only one couple who lives there, and they are pretty cool, even a little weird if you know what I mean. I asked them if they knew of any apartments for rent, and they said some were available in their building at a reasonable rate. They sold their house when the market tipped, are paying $8,500 a month rent for their apartment, but a smaller unit on a lower floor can be had for $6,000. Would I like to have the name of the realtor?
Commissioner Weithorn responded to the objection that South of Fifth people were not getting their fair share, stating that every neighborhood felt it was being slighted in one way or another, and left it at that without taking sides. Leave it to a politician. The SWAT officer chime in to say the area will have sufficient coverage for the Memorial Day Weekend.
Ms. Weithorn, a certified public accountant who relishes public budgets, observed that there is no fiscal gain in the Memorial Day Weekend. The security plan for the weekend will cost the city roughly $2 million. It is not a city-sponsored affair, so no additional revenues are collected. Taxes are collected year around, and it is impossible to accurately associate increases with special events, especially when revenue is up on the whole due to the improving economy.
She did not remark on whether or not there is an economic gain after the fiscal result. Hotel business booms, some luxury hotels renting out each room to a half-dozen or more swarmers. A lot of pizza is sold; and chicken wings too, not to mention beer. Still, many restaurants close in anticipation of trouble.
We were asked to applaud Wollensky’s for hosting the police presentation of the Memorial Day plan, which brings me to the most important part of my breaking news—I did not go to journalism school, so please excuse me for not putting it at the top of the news as if it were the apex of a pyramid.
I did not get any coffee because they ran out of cups. Some people were wiping out dirty cups with napkins and reusing them. A genius sitting at my table got himself a plastic water glass and filled it with coffee. The pastries were dried out, maybe more than a day old. The bagels were all right, doughy and chewy enough, but nothing to write home to Brooklyn about. The scene, a long banquet hall on the east side of the building, was brilliantly illuminated by sunshine that morning, the windows themselves countenancing a serene view of the park. And what is not to like about linen and silverware, the very things I watched poor ladies steal, along with salt and pepper shakers and glasses, from restaurants when I was a little boy? Furthermore, I was irked when I heard from a neighbor that Ms. Probus and Dr. Kruger had to pay for the refreshments even though they could well afford them. I imagined that such an upscale restaurant establishment would be wise to promote its food by giving some away, and should foot the bill since the event honored the police power concerned with upholding the law and order especially favored by its high-end clientele.
Finally, it was angrily noted that nary a single city official had shown up for the meeting besides police officers, as if residents were being punished for dumping the city manager. Those who did not attend did not miss much if they read this news about the Smith & Wollensky Important Meeting Regarding Memorial Day Weekend meeting. If they had attended, they would admit that there was nothing exceedingly newsworthy about it notwithstanding the exception of this momentous news report, which I outline over a free cup of joe at Joes Take Out, the manager taking pity on me when I told her I could not get one at Smith & Wollensky. Maybe there will be such a thing as a free lunch someday, O Lord, a good subject for the Blues.