Most of us here have been cast in some other version of the city. Ours is one of the poorest metropolitan areas in the country, which you probably know. It's an immigrant gateway, of course, everyone here from somewhere else. The mayors of both Miami and the larger, more important Miami-Dade County were born in Havana. Latin America dominates the culture, but there's also a strong European influence. Most condos these days are being bought up by Russians. Most of the people here aren't buying condos, though. They're just trying to get by.
"That's the biggest problem with Miami," says Tad Schwartz, head of a prominent public relations agency. "We market luxury, but for the most part the population is poor."
Finding the rest of the Miamis
These other Miamis are just as interesting, if not more so. I've enjoyed sitting on a wooden bench in a Honduran dive in Little Havana, watching their national team play soccer on TV. I go out of my way to return to Liberty City, the neighborhood from the movie Moonlight. It's not a tourist attraction, as there are no places to really see, no attractions. It's very poor, and too often violent. Still, it's rooted; people in Liberty City have been in Miami longer than anyone. I like the Saturday street barbecues that pop up. Even better are the tangy chunks of conch served up in a Solo cup from the back of an ice cream truck. "There ain't no place like it," says Luther Campbell, the once-profane rapper who ran for county mayor four years ago. "Liberty City is the crown jewel of the whole entire South."
This other Miami never stops serving up something I want to investigate, or taste, or just soak up on most Saturday afternoons. I'll be driving way down south, deep into the subdivisions of Kendall, closer to Key Largo than to Miami proper. I'll pull off for a hamburger and see, in some shabby concrete strip mall, a Wendy's, a PetSmart, a storefront advertising Asian massage, and also, tucked in a corner, this unknown nightclub of surprisingly high ambitions. Live Latin music acts all week long. Check out all these places, if you get the chance.