A Mishmash of Cultures
|The Ocean Palm Hotel circa 1950|
For the last three days I have been staying at a place called the Ocean Palm Hotel, which is quite an oddity. It's like a cross road, a microcosm, of what Miami is all about. The place was built in the late 40's and hasn't changed much since then. It sits sandwiched between Trump Towers, which is an ultra-modern, ultra luxurious condominium high rise built by Donald Trump a few years ago. On the other side of Ocean Palm is a half-finished luxury condo building that ceased building during the market crash a few years ago. The entire stretch along the beach is stuffed to the hilt with big shiny new high rises and is touted as Florida's Rivera. When you visually scan down Collins Avenue you see 30 story high-rises and then you encounter our two story, old hotel with its neon "Ocean Palm Hotel" buzzing and flickering like a beacon of obstinacy in the dark. Our hotel, to be honest, has become an obstacle to the concept of what the community of Sunny Isle is trying to achieve. The owner of the hotel refused to sell even though he was offered a hefty 25 million dollars to vacate the area so that it could be bulldozed and yet another tower put up in its place.
What makes this place unique is its clientele. The hotel sits on prime real estate next to Haulover Beach, which is Miami's (and Florida's) only legal nude beach. The beach is about a mile long and is jam packed during the warm months. Ocean Palm is clothing optional at night at the pool and is very liberal with its policies on partying which makes it fun but also can make it difficult to sleep! The clientele here is fiercely loyal and many people come the same week every year and some even stay for a month. It attracts, gay, straight, bisexual, Latin, eastern European, and every other walk of life imaginable. The odd thing is that everyone coexists. Tonight I am at the pool and there is a large group of straight people having a party at one end with disco music playing while the gay and Latin contingent is having their own thing at the other end with Latin music blaring. It's like the battle of the bands and sexual orientations. The other odd thing is that is feels more like a community than a hotel! People know when you come and leave and pay attention to what goes on. I went to my friend Sean's house for dinner tonight down near downtown Miami and when I got back the residents of Ocean Palm were inquiring as to where I had disappeared to for the evening. You don't get that at a normal hotel! In one sense it's cool in another its slightly annoying. I don't even know what my downstairs neighbors in Pittsburgh do nor do I care!
Some of the characters that have encountered have been unique and interesting. I met a guy in his late 60's who was in the Navy and had a life long career of it. He just recently divorced his wife and came out of the closet and is now sowing his wild oats. I also met a guy from Boston who has been living here for over a month because he claims to have met the love of his life. This guy is probably 50….the love of his life turned out to be a 20 year old Latin boy from Miami! The relationship ship to me was rather disturbing. Not because of the age difference but because of the fact that the older guy treated the younger one like a son and the kid was very immature. I wondered how consensual the whole thing was and if the kids family even knew what was going on. I think the kid saw dollar signs and the older guy saw a young play toy which is not all the uncommon in Miami. My friend who grew up down here used to warn me about such things when I had considered moving down here.
Miami is one of the most unique cities that I have been to. It's a little bit of everything all rolled into one. I went out to dinner the other night to a Cuban restaurant and while I sat outside I heard Spanish from a group next to me, Russian from two tables down, and I also overheard two Italian's talking about running numbers sitting at table to my right. Where else in the world could you get all of that at one time.