Monday, January 26, 2015

Digital nostalgia

Former employees, customers and fans of some of South Florida's most iconic brands keep the spirit of former businesses alive online through Facebook groups, websites and blogs. I wrote a news feature about these online platforms where Eastern Airlines, Burdines department store, the Hollywood Sportatorium concert hall and the former WCIX Ch. 6 from Miami continue to be passionate topics of nostalgia.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rocky Horror rocks on

Talk about a time warp! The 1975 campy cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show still draws a colorful crowd at regular Saturday night screenings at the Gateway Classic Theatre in Fort Lauderdale.  I wrote a story on why the picture show endures and who are the young and older folks who keep coming out, dressed in corsets and fishnet stockings. If you're not dressed in some shade of black, chances are you'll stand out and be pulled up on stage during the pre-show.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Living la Pura Vida

"!" I kept saying out loud, as we drove up, up and up the winding curvy mountain road in Costa Rica.

"There are no guardrails!" I continued, looking beyond the road's edge inches away. I tightly gripped the frame of our rented Hyundai SUV and just held on. But once I got over my fear of heights (and I let go of being a backseat driver on these narrow roads) I enjoyed the view and it was quite a stunner. The rolling plantations of coffee trees that unfolded like a fabrics of green and brown. The cloud-covered peaks of trees in the near distance. The sight of black and white spotted cows that happily lingered and munched on acres of land. The central valley capital of San Jose unspooled below where small tiny dots of cars (mostly 1990s Toyota Tercels and Nissan Sentras) descended the sloped city streets.

After years of flying back and forth between Miami-Boston-Providence to visit family and friends, I finally dusted off my passport and changed up my travel itinerary.

 I wanted to experience some place different, break out of my routine (an ongoing goal of mine). But I ventured to Costa Rica for another good reason. I wanted to see where my boo (let's call him Leaf because he's private like that) was from. To better understand someone, it's not enough to speak their language and listen to their stories and experiences. You need to see where they're from because our hometowns beat and reside within all of us and say so much about who we are. Mine happens to be Miami (and then Boston.) I wanted to experience Costa Rica through his olive-green eyes. In fact, Costa Rica was a vibrant living poem of green and light and I noticed many Costa Ricans' eyes shared similar shades of green with hints of brown.  Their eyes easily matched the green of the lush rain forests that we drove past, the pale green leaves of the papaya plants that sprouted mightily from the roadside farms and the bright green of the moss that caked the rocks of the cascading waterfalls at La Paz Waterfalls Gardens .That was also quite a sight and a wet one too. The pounding force of five waterfalls created swirls of soothing mist throughout the trails and an unforgettable liquid roar. (Speaking of, we had fun hiking in the rain and I'm glad I had my black hoodie handy.) I remember how I extended my arm and felt the power of the cool rushing water and I couldn't get enough of inhaling the fresh pure air. Ahhh!

At one point, I leaned back from a pedestrian bridge and saw right through the backside of the falling water, a glass liquid sheet. It was like looking through an underwater lens. Besides the waterfalls, there was an indoor butterfly garden that reminded me of a greenhouse but solely for these majestic winged creatures that fluttered all around, as if welcoming us into their butterfly world. In fact, Costa Rica extended that warm welcome mat throughout my few days there.

One of my favorite stops was the surrounding areas of the Arenal Volcano about three hours north of San Jose. The volcano is so wide, so high, so massive that I found myself staring trance-like at all the plaited trails from former lava flows and the layers of dense rain forest that hugged them.

Although the peak was mostly shrouded by a never-ending conga-line of puffy grey clouds, the volcano was unmissable. Wherever I turned, it was there, looming in the background like a giant cone-shaped moon, an ethereal presence. The Arenal area hotels have funneled some of the volcano's hot water into small lagoon-like springs. Toe by toe, I carefully waded into the muy-caliente water that hinted of sulfur.  But once I adapted to the hot temps, I leaned my head back against the rocky edge and allowed the rising steam work its wonders. (On a side note, Leaf said that these waters have a healing element because they are rich in minerals and I felt more relaxed and Zen-like after sitting in these springs. Maybe a little bit too relaxed because I had to use the bathroom as soon as we got out. Sorry, TMI)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mobile businesses taking the wheel

South Florida's car culture is driving more businesses to take to the wheel. Besides food trucks, we now have mobile boutiques, hair salons on wheels, even door to door gyms in a truck.

Here's my Sun Sentinel story on the mobile trend. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy 2015

Hanging Bridges by Arenal Volcano 

To my readers and visitors to my blog, Happy holidays and New Year!

Here's to new adventures and experiences in 2015! Thank you for stopping by.

Speaking of new adventures,  that's me hanging out on the Hanging Bridges by the Arenal Volcano state park in Costa Rica and standing in front of the rain forest with the Arenal Volcano in the background.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My mom "Mily", a year later

I can't believe it's been a year since my mom passed away from colon cancer. More than 365 days have passed by since I've had her physical presence in my daily life.  But whether I run, take long walks along the bay, drive home from work or dream, she tends to pop up in my thoughts now and then, always with a funny memory, always with her infectious Betty Rubble laugh that made (makes) me break out in a big old smile. It's as if she's letting me know, "I'm still with you, Yonito!" It's a comforting feeling, a balm to the emotional loss.

As a tribute to her, I wanted to repost what I wrote about her last year after her passing. I miss you, mami!

Most people may best know me as a journalist and author. But to my mom, I was simply "Yonito" or 'mi baby'' as she liked to introduce me to people even as recently as three weeks ago.

My mother was my biggest fan and I was hers.  She gladly attended all my Miami book readings where she sat in the back with my father and smiled as I read English words that she probably didn't completely understand. But she knew that they came from my heart. She also happily posed for the camera whenever one suddenly pointed her way which happened a lot during her lifetime.

After a months-long battle this year with colon cancer, my mom, Milagros Diaz, passed away November 15. I still can't believe that she's gone. I keep expecting to see her after work at Mt. Sinai Medical Center or at our home in Miami Beach. I keep thinking she's going to call me to ask me to bring her Cuban coffee like I did every morning when she was at the nursing center at Mercy Hospital this summer. Or that she'll ask me to turn the channel to Mega TV so she could watch Charytin's daily entertainment show.

For those of you who weren't fortunate enough to meet my fun, wacky mom in person, you got to know her through some of my writing. She inspired each of the Cuban mom characters in my four novels. That was her as the overly protective and loving Mrs. Perez, mother of Tommy in Boston Boys Club who sang him Happy Birthday greetings on his home answering machine and who worried whether he was warm enough during Boston winters. My mom served as the muse for Ana Martinez, Ray's mom in Miami Manhunt who gave her son safe sex talks as she shaved some of his upper back hair in their Coral Gables bathroom. (Don't ask!)

My mom was also Maria Martin, Carlos's garden-loving, flan-making mom in Beantown Cubans who died of colon cancer but still visited him in his dreams to guide him in his new Boston home.  And Mami also resembled and acted a lot like Gladys Galan, Gabriel's mom in Take the Lead who kept his childhood bedroom spotless and pristine whenever he visited from Quincy, Massachusetts. She also gladly picked him up from the airport.

Monday, December 15, 2014

My Oprah Chopra Runs

These last few months, I returned to an old love. Running.  In Boston, I discovered hiking and ventured to the Blue Hills every weekend, rain, wind, snow and definitely sunshine. But I when I took up hiking, I sort of broke up with running for some reason. I left it behind in the rear view mirror of my mind.

That all changed last summer when, long-story short, I had to pick up someone's car from Mercy Hospital. Instead of catching the bus or neighborhood trolley, I figured, why not run the 2.5 miles to the hospital from my dad's place? If I could hike as aggressively as I've done in recent years, I should be able to run some of this stretch along Brickell Avenue and South Bayshore Drive. I wasn't sure if I could do it but to my surprise, I ran the whole thing (although I arrived to the hospital drenched in sweat hugging my family.)  And that experience reignited a passion in something I used to love so much - running.

I first caught the running fever during my junior-to-senior year at Miami Beach High School from my close friends (and neighbors down the street), Christie and Calley Masson. They were beautiful dirty-blonde, pony-tailed twins who happened to be Florida's state crossing country and track champs.

Inspired by their speed and dedication to their sport, I began running a few laps around our neighborhood's Fisher Park. After telling Calley about this, I remember her saying, "You're doing about a mile, Johnny!"  I was surprised I was doing that much.

With their cheery you-can-do spirit,  I ventured out of the park and onto the streets of Miami Beach, pushing my one-mile run boundary to three, then five and at the most, seven. (I also ran with them during some of their practice runs.) But in my 20s, I wanted to muscle up like the rest of the guys in South Beach so I stopped running and focused on weight lifting and morning push-ups.

And now I'm running a few times a week like a teenager all over again or The Flash. In the past few months, I've gone from 2 miles to four. And I change the scenery, picking different neighborhoods throughout the week and making these runs into mini-journeys.
Sometimes after work, I run in downtown Fort Lauderdale. I marvel at the electric glow of the towering skyscrapers and the bobbing mega yachts docked by the New River bridge on SE Third Ave.

I also jaunt through Coral Gables' small business district of restaurants, salons and bridal boutiques. Along Ponce de Leon Boulevard,  I admire the clusters of small colorful Mediterreanean-styled apartment buildings and their sprouting ferns and manicured lawns. 

And I run under the cool shade of downtown Miami's Brickell Avenue, to Coconut Grove's South Bayshore Drive. But instead of Mercy Hospital, I hang a left and stop at the cone-shaped La Ermita de La Caridad church . I sit, cool off and watch church-goers pray and say thanks to the beloved Cuban saint. Those scenes always put a smile on my face and the fact that two cats there now like to hang out with me while I rest.

The running Zens me out. My thoughts drift. My stresses fall away in my dust. I find myself in this special spiritual zone where I feel...present, stillness. Just me and my moving shadow ahead or to my side. I don't feel my feet pounding the pavement or my lungs huffing and puffing. I f-l-o-w, like the tropical currents of Biscayne Bay. I'm fueled by my own energy, light and grace.

I used to run to Pitbull and the Pussycat Dolls on my iPod but ever since I attended the Oprah Life You Want Weekend tour in Miami last October, I have found another soundtrack to stride to.

With my smartphone in hand, I listen to the meditations of Deepak Chopra who is introduced by Oprah Winfrey in each stream. (I just keep my eyes open when he guides me to close my eyes). With each step, I repeat the mantra of that meditation (my favorite is ''Shanti Hum'' or ''I am peace'' which is how I feel when I glide like a colt with the wind.

I call these my Oprah Chopra Runs. And the more I run, the farther and farther I'm go, to the point that I've had to ask myself at times, where am I? I'm sure those Oprah Chopra meditations weren't intended for such high-intense cardio runs but I like the combination of opening my mind and spirit as I run along the wide open boulevards of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I just have to remember to keep my eyes open. Namaste.

Deepak Chopra and Oprah in Miami in October.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

RENT the musical heads to Cuba

RENT, the long-running American rock musical, is heading to Cuba. Miami native and FIU theater grad Andy Señor Jr. is directing the production in Havana with 15 Cuban actors.

Andy played the role of Angel, the sweet crossing-dressing HIV positive street performer, on Broadway as well as in national and international productions. He also staged a Toyko production of the show.

The arrival of the musical in Cuba marks the first time that a Broadway production will be staged there in more than 50 years. I wrote an article about Andy and RENT for the Sun Sentinel. Here is a photo gallery from some of the rehearsals in Cuba.

Andy is also assisting with the Gloria and Emilio Estefan musical On Your Feet that will debut next fall in New York.

To the left are some photos of the RENT rehearsals with Andy and the cast in Havana. Photos from