Monday, September 16, 2019

Another Beantown Cuban: Alex Miranda

Anyone who grew up watching South Florida TV knows Deco Drive,  WSVN Channel 7's entertainment and celebrity gossip show. It's been around for 23 years, dishing on the latest hot spots and happenings in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Over the years, the show has become a launching pad for anchors such as Louis Aguirre, Belkys Nerey and Lynn Martinez.

Now you can add Alex Miranda to the list. The Miami native and former Beantown Cuban is the latest addition to the Deco Drive team. Alex studied broadcast journalism at Emerson College. A few years ago, he interviewed me for a class assignment when I was a Living/Arts writer at The Boston Globe and my first book Boston Boys Cluhad just been released.

We met at a Starbucks near the college in Back Bay. I remember that in person, at first he off as shy, carefully taking notes in his note pad. But on camera, he was totally animated and fun like he is now.

Years later, we find ourselves in our Miami hometown. Recently, I caught up with him at his Kendall home for an interview about his new job at WSVN, South Florida's Fox affiliate.

Here is a profile I wrote for my paper the South Florida Sun Sentinel about Alex, how he discovered his love of entertainment journalism in Miami and Boston and the places his career have taken him over the past 10 years.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The juggling jogger of South Florida

During my runs in Coral Gables, I've occasionally spotted a certain fellow runner. The first few times, I did a double-take. It wasn't because he was shirtless, sweaty and shredded although none of that hurt.

This guy isn't just running. He's juggling balls, three to be exact, of various sizes. A football, tennis ball and another round ball.

I don't know how he does it. The talent! I've fallen now and then during my own runs because I tend to move to the beat of whatever dance music I'm listening to Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez, etc. (Not to brag but I did a 8:15 mile the other day.) When I am not timing myself, I run a slower pace to one of Oprah Winfrey/Deepak Chopra's 21 Day Meditations. They make 2 to 3 miles feel like five minutes. I call those my Oprah/Chopra Runs.

Anyway, I shot a video of the talented mystery runner doing his thing Aug. 8 just before I was about to start my own run near the University of Miami. In fact, that's where I usually spot him. He must be a 'cane.

Maybe he should be on NBC's "America's Got Talent" or some fitness talent show.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Beetle love

This is the last year that Volkswagen produces its iconic octogenarian Beetle. The last model recently rolled off the assembly line in Puebla, Mexico. I thought I'd list some of the things that I enjoy about my old-new Volkswagen Beetle since the car comes up in conversation often.

The Beetle has a long history. The idea for the original Beetle goes back to the early 1930s when lead engineer Ferdinand Porsche (who later launched the luxury Porsche brand) designed the car under Adolf Hitler's regime during World War II.  The first one was produced in 1938. Hitler wanted the an affordable simple car or the people car's (Volkswagen in German) for civilians for the country's then new network of roadways. It was an air-cooled, rear-engine vehicle that could seat five people. (This orange Beetle convertible I photographed below is not my Beetle but one I've seen around Miami often. It looks like the early model.)

The car has evolved over the decades, from the original egg-shaped model to the bubbly New Beetle revival in 1998 and the more recent beefier redesign in 2012.  My car is a 2016 Beetle S (basic Beetle.) Whether it's the original or the new new Beetle, the car is a classic and has never gone out of style. (That's my Beetle pictured below.)

I like to think of the Beetle as the poorman's Porsche. VW is Porsche's parent company. A 2019 basic Beetle starts at $20,000 while a new Porsche 911 Carrera starts at (gulp!) $97,000.  Despite the big price difference, I can see a slight resemblance between the vehicles.  Pictured below is my Beetle on the left parked next to someone's Porsche 911 Carrera at a Miami supermarket. See a design similarity? Am I being too optimistic? Should I check my glasses?

You can park it almost anywhere, even in tight spots as I did in the photo below. Actually, I'm not even sure that's an official parking space in Miami's Coconut Grove but the car fits so I park it there when I go to the gym.

Despite its small appearance, the car is roomy on the inside. The Beetle is just one inch longer and wider than the current VW Golf, another hatchback (yes, I compared the design specs.) The Beetle also comfortably seats four adults (and a Fox terrier.)

My Beetle's 1.8 liter Turbo engine gets 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. The car averages 305 to 315 miles on a full tank of 13.5 gallons. Since I live in Miami and because the car is black which attracts the heat, I often drive with the A/C on. I'm sure I can go farther, maybe 375 miles on a full tank with the windows open but then I'd be sweating bullets.

I'm no Beetle virgin. A couple of years ago, I owned a 2010 Red Rock edition of the New Beetle. It was a metallic pumpkin-pie orange with a blacked-out sun roof, tinted windows and a black interior. The dashboard lights glowed in purple and red hues. I loved that little bug and other drivers did too. On Interstate 95 or at red lights on US-1 here in Miami, people would give me a thumbs up or ask me about this special edition.

VW only produced 750 cars of this version in the U.S. with the idea that it would become a collector's edition so that's why it's rare to see one on the road. Despite its cuteness and uniqueness, the car had a 2.5 liter engine and was so-so on gas, (20 in the city, 29 on the highway) but it had zip and pep.

But I had to sell the car for cash to help pay for some of my late father's medical needs.  I never forgot the car and that's why I always wanted another vehicle which I got this year. Still, I honor my first Beetle with an orange VW T-shirt I bought (pictured below)

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Former Boston TV reporter gets candid about his addictions and recovery in new memoir 'Mascara Boy'

Boston TV viewers may remember Brandon Rudat as the former clean cut anchor and reporter at WHDH Channel 7.
Off camera, he led another life, one of late night, drug-fueled sex-athons at clubs and bath houses.

In his new memoir “Mascara Boy: Bullied, Assaulted & Near Death,” Rudat offers a candid look at those two selves, the struggles as an addict and the goals he set for himself to lead a sober, stable, and healthy life.

“I hope that stepping forward, sharing my full name and showing my face, and not hiding in anonymity, will remove some of the stigma of recovering addicts and open the hearts and minds of older generations,” writes the 39-year-old broadcaster who now uses his middle name Lee as his surname.

Written in a conversational tell-it-like-is-style, the book is a compelling read, an intimate and raw journal about his public life and private struggles. But the book also serves a cautionary tale, how repressed traumas - if not dealt with head on - can surface in unhealthy ways. The title of the book refers to a childhood nickname that classmates used to bully Lee because of his natural long eyelashes.

The Orange County, California native said his drug and sex addictions manifested from years of untreated childhood abuse. He also struggled with “gay shame” from his Catholic upbringing. At the age of 10, he was frequently groped by a piano teacher and by a youth soccer coach.  At 15, he used cocaine and had sex with older men under the stairs of a Laguna Beach bar.

Lee buried those memories as he pursued a successful broadcasting career. He started as an intern at NBC's “Today’’ show, then reported and anchored at WVIT in  Hartford, Connecticut before landing at WHDH in 2007. 

He made a mark in Boston, reporting for Channel 7 and anchoring the 10 p.m. newscast for sister station WLVI Ch. 56.  During his two years there, he won a regional Emmy for a piece about a fire chief who was a convicted child sex offender and he was nominated for five other Emmys. Off-camera, Lee was spotted at Boston clubs and parties where followers and viewers (including me) were surprised to discover his heavily tattooed-arms and torso, something we never saw on TV.

In 2009, Lee left Channel 7 after a falling out with his managers over the direction of the station.  In the book, he notes that he was not in control of his emotions at the time.  His exit shortly followed the departures of anchor Randy Price and an 11 p.m. news producer after the NBC affialate's ratings were plunging.  When I was a reporter at The Boston Globe writing about local media, I covered Lee's exit from Channel 7.

"I was told . . . that I am very skilled and that I am very talented but I am not right for the station," he said at the time. "Good things will come out of this."
He found freelance work as a reporter at KTLA in Los Angeles where his rampant drug use intensified and his life spiraled out of control.

His routine: “Get off work. Do a dose of G. Get to the sex club and get high on meth for the next 48 hours, “ he writes.  He also describes what's known as being a “bug chaser,” someone who is  HIV negative and seeks to become positive through unsafe sex. In the book, he admits that he contracted some STDS because of his careless sex but remains HIV negative. 

“That is the powerlessness of addiction. That is the powerlessness I had over sex,’’ he writes. “I couldn’t stop. I wanted to, but I didn’t know how.”
He hit rock bottom in LA. Overdoses landed him in an emergency room twice in the same week. He describes how a nurse heard him crying in his bed and handed him a flier for the LA LGBT Health Center which connected him to a support group and his road to recovery.

“That was it. That was the first day of reclaiming my life in earnest, and I have been sober since Feb. 22, 2010,’’ he writes.

The midsection of the book to the end serves as an AA and 12-steps guide. Lee simply breaks down each step including step 10 which is “to take a personal inventory and when you are wrong, admit it,’’ he writes. Here, he shares a letter he wrote to his former WHDH supervisor and apologizes for his "defiant and manipulative" behavior.

Lee says he’s still sober and augments his 12 steps with help from a therapist. In December 2018, he writes how he left his anchor job in Phoenix to spread his message of hope and recovery through public speaking engagements and through his podcast “Escaping Rock Bottom.”

“When we show our scars to the world we’re actually showing people who have also suffered in silence that they no longer have to suffer,'' he writes.

My only critique of the book is the timeline. Instead of having a linear chronological flow, Lee flits back and forth from past and present to detail his journey and his take on news events such as Kevin Hart's homophobic Tweets and the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings) which made it difficult at times for this reader to stay with Lee's story. Whenever he did this, it removed the reader the scenes and experiences Lee was describing.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Another charming read by Robin Reardon

On ChocoruaOn Chocorua by Robin Reardon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In "On Chocorua,'' Robin Reardon introduces us to Nathan, a sweet, good guy about to start college at the University of New Hampshire.
Reardon takes us on his journey of self-discovery as he forms new friendships on campus, experiences his first gay sexual experience and perhaps love, and endures a major loss that will affect that rest of his life.
Along the way, we meet his family - supportive Gram, adventurous and responsible older brother Neil and sister Nina, also college students.The book is basically a year in Nathan's life and the lessons he learns.
Just as she has done in her previous books, Reardon deftly captures the inner voice of a young guy. Nathan made me reflect back on my own early college years.
This isn't a fast read. Expect to settle in with Nathan, his loyal roommate El Speed, coworker and crush Daniel and love interest Aldean as they navigate the ups and downs of college life and different kinds of addictions.
The mix of supporting characters and how they flowed in and out of the story kept me engaged. They popped in and out to guide (or at one point misguide) Nathan.
I've never been to Chocorua in New Hampshire but Reardon transported me there with her detailed descriptions of the summit especially during a life-threatening situation.
This is the first of her trail blazer series and I look forward to following Nathan's journey in college.

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Florida Jeopardy fun

I've been having fun (maybe too much fun judging by my three most recent stories) rediscovering "Jeopardy'' since James Holzhauer began his 22-day winning streak. How does he do it anyway?  Then Miami school teacher Matthew Bunch competed twice during the annual teacher's tournament, giving me another reason to watch (and write.) And the show has resurged in ratings, helping local affiliates such as Miami's WPLG-Ch. 10.

As I tune into the show and quickly blurt the answers (right and wrong but mostly wrong) from my sofa, I couldn't help but wonder about all the Florida-related "Jeopardy" questions from over the years.

With our weird news cycle thanks to all the "Florida Man" incidents and colorful wildlife (manatees, gators, chupacabras, etc.) and personalities (Pitbull,) the Sunshine State has became a bottomless well of trivia for the game show.  Florida is a go-to-resource for all sorts of questions and answers.

At the Sun Sentinel, I compiled some Florida-esque categories and clues that have been featured on the show over the years.

See if you can answer some of them.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Domino Man

Across from the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables, giant dominoes have been rising. The black and white game pieces are being splashed on the pylons under the Metrorail line, creating an artsy domino effect in the neighborhood (where I go running almost daily.)

I wrote a story about the art installation called "Concrete Landscapes Miami" by Australian artist Bo Droga (picture above standing between the dominoes.)  He gifted the project to Miami-Dade County to help brighten the drab concrete columns that people drive or walk by every day. The creative pieces add a lightheartedness to the area while breathing life into something that otherwise looks boring and bland. Call it cool urban art. Domino, parked.
In general, dominoes are popular in Miami especially among Cubans and Cuban-Americans. We've grown up playing the game, matching the numbered rectangular tiles with family and friends. Little Havana is also home to the infamous Domino Park where mostly older men and women gather daily to play games for hours on end. Before my dad died last year, he played dominoes with fellow residents of their nursing home. Inbetween meals and other activities, the residents sat at round tables where they carefully placed each game piece to match the numbers. I remember hearing the click-clack of the tiles during each round and their laughter (and a groan) when someone won.

As people learn about the 18-foot-tall dominoes in Coral Gables through social media or by simply being in the area, they are stopping by and taking selfies (including me.) 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Looking back at 'Queer Miami'

Before visiting the new "Queer Miami" exhibit, I thought I knew my local LGBTQ history. I assumed the exhibit would focus on Miami's first gay Pride event in 1978, lead up to the 1980s AIDS crisis and then highlight the more recent legalization of same-sex marriage.

Boy, was I wrong.

The exhibit was so much more comprehensive than I had anticipated. It looks back at more than 100 years of LGBTQ history in Miami and Miami Beach from the early Florida ordinances that criminalized homosexual and transgender behavior to the impact of gay/lesbian immigration in the Magic City.

I recently wrote a Sun Sentinel article about the HistoryMiami Museum exhibit which was curated by University of Massachusetts Amherst history professor and Miami native Julio Capo Jr.  Housed in a sprawling 5,000-square-foot gallery in the downtown Miami museum, the exhibit uses a mix of historical records, news articles, video testimonials and memorabilia to tell the story of gay Miami.

While I'm too young to remember some of the things that were pre-1980, there were a couple of displays that really jumped out at me and transported me back to my childhood and college days.

One section centered on the police raids of early Miami Beach clubs and bars that catered to gay and lesbians.  In this part, there was black and white surveillance film of 21st street beach at Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. The footage showed throngs of men sunbathing and lounging.  An enlarged photo captured two men hugging on the beach by the lifeguard stand. 

Growing up on the beach, I remember my parents warning me about this area because of the maricones (fags in Spanish) when I'd go bike riding after school and on weekends.
In middle school and then high school, I was a regular at the  Miami Beach Public Library which was located across from this beach. I remember seeing men strolling up and down the street and meeting up with one another. Although I didn't make the immediate connection then, I knew this was their spot.

Venturing deeper into the exhibit, I rounded a corner and my eyes landed on a familiar face -  the late Cuban-American AIDS educator Pedro Zamora. A photo of him smiling with his arm around his father bedecked the top of a display case about Florida's AIDS crisis. Below the photo was The Miami Herald's front page obituary about Pedro's legacy in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.

I've written some blog posts about Pedro over the years because I saw a lot of myself in him. We were born around the same time and we grew up as gay men in conservative Cuban families in South Florida. So this part of the display was sweet and sad at the same time, like a seeing a long lost old friend.
Another display celebrated The White Party fundraiser. T-shirts, programs, fliers and passes to the HIV/AIDS fundraiser for Care Resource filled the glass case. The memorabilia whisked me back to my first White Party in 1998 at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami. For the occasion,  I bought white jeans to match my white long-sleeved shirt.

I had heard so much buzz about the annual gala that I wanted to experience it. When I walked into the historic home and explored the manicured maze of lush gardens, I was struck by how everything from the guests' fashion to the elegant table decorations and chairs was awash in white. Everyone was in a celebratory mood, sipping wine and drinking to a good cause. 

A vibrant installation of ribbons in rainbow hues awaits visitors at the end of the exhibit. Visitors here are asked to share their own story on a card and to then post it on the wall.

I was only at the exhibit for an hour (I got there at 4 p.m. and they were closing at 5 p.m. so I was rushing somewhat.) But I plan to return to soak up more of the history.

The exhibit is up through Sept. 1, 2019 at HistoryMiami Museum, 101 W. Flagler St.  To read more about the exhibit, visit my Sun Sentinel article here.