If I had polled the roaring crowd at the restaurant, a $20 million buildout owned by Turks and staffed with managers from Great Britain, jammed with mid-January celebrants from God-knows-where to ask who knew the zoning changes that allowed Jorge Perez and the Related Group, Greenberg Traurig and lobbyists to block public access to the Miami River, none would have known what I was talking about.
If I had asked, did anyone know the "Miami Circle" was right there, across the river in the shadow of and blocked by blackened towers? I'm guessing, no one would have raised a hand. The parking area at the entrance to the hotel was filled with Rolls Royces, Porches, Lamborghini, and Bentley's. There had to have been a hundred million dollars of cars jammed "in the front" VIP parking.
Through the noise, my friend said to me, "Miami is on fire." Who was I to argue, nor was I quick enough to answer, "That why we have fire departments."
My mind was otherwise too absorbed with memories of caution abandoned. I thought about Art Teele, the late chairman of the Miami Dade County Commission who blew his brains out in the Miami Herald lobby. Art could have saved the Miami River. I tried to persuade him. He told me Marty Fine was too powerful, the Latin builders who hated him were too powerful. He had to play their game, his way. I thought about whatever bankers met in a room to keep Jorge Perez afloat even though he disappeared a billion dollars of their money, years after Art Teele was gone. The Royal Poinciana Hotel, a hundred years ago, where flappers reveled in another Gilded Age -- whites only -- while the living memories disappeared of native Indians who used the river mouth to trade and retreat back into the Everglades only a few miles away.
"Enjoy, while you can" is the spirit infecting this corner of a city that is recognizable and unrecognizable. In a week I head to southern India and then Burma with a stop in Thailand. I was last in Bangkok more than thirty years ago. A blind fortune teller in the market selling bears, monkeys, and tapirs held my palm, felt my head, and told me I was destined to be a great general. I suppose he was nostalgic for US soldiers who had served nearby to wage that war of necessity.
I look forward to a different perspective at sea level in Asia. Save the Everglades.