Saturday, May 16, 2020

Embracing the Beard

For years, my guy friends and boyfriends have sported facial scruff and beards. Some bushier than others like 70s' rockers. Others nice, neat, trim and professional.

Still, the idea of a beard or any type of facial scruff never appealed to me. I am not a beard snob. I always went for the clean cut look, even on my days off or on vacation when you shouldn't have to shave. (The photo below is of me in Islamorada in February before the coronavirus craziness began.)

I thought beards made guys look older, too mature, muy Hemingway-esque. Although my friends looked good in their fashionable beards and were proud of it, I didn't subscribe to that look. I wanted to look as young as I felt and a beard would not help with that, or so I thought.

Each morning as I embarked on my day, I enjoyed the simple act of shaving even if I worked mostly from home in recent years at the South Florida Sun Sentinel and had no where to go except the local Starbucks. Maybe it was something I got from my dad. Every day, he shaved his face, added moisturizer, combed and slicked back his dark black (and then gray hair and then less hair.)

Even at his nursing home two years ago before he passed away due to complications from Parkinson's disease, he insisted on having his face clean and shaven. (That job sometimes fell to me mine when a nurse or aide was tied up in the mornings and I happened to be there on a visit.) Also, my dad could be impatient and as soon as I walked in, he’d say "Afeitame, Yonny!" (Shave me, Johnny!) When I think of it now, all my uncles in Miami, like my dad, were clean shaven.

But ever since the coronavirus pandemic worsened in mid-March and I had to work remotely like the rest of my New York Times colleagues, something clicked for me. I knew I wouldn't be getting a haircut anytime soon. I knew I would not be in the newsroom for a few weeks (or months.) So I have let my hair down and my beard grow.

At first, the beard itched as a mix of salt and pepper hair began to sprinkle my face. (I was surprised by how much salt there was on the sides but anyways...)  After a while, the itching subsided; I got used to having an itch here and there. And the beard literally grew on me. (The above photo was from my first week of not shaving in mid-March.)

Once a week, I trim it so it doesn't appear too thick and bushy. I kinda like it even though I do look older with it (again, the gray and silver don't help.)  I do miss the fresh smooth skin of a post-shave.

But for now, this will do and that's okay. And since I wear a face mask when I go outside, no one has really noticed 🧔🏻

(The below is what two months of no hair cut or shaving look like.) I'm thinking a future blog post will likely be called "I'm Turning into a Bear."

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Lost and Found Shipwreck

Every few years, a nor'easter or rough seas unearths a shipwreck in York Beach, Maine. The sight of the wooden skeletal remains of the ship has become a local oddity and attraction because as soon as it appears, it eventually disappears, thanks to help from Mother Nature and the town.
But no one has really known how old the vessel is or where it came from until now.  Stefan Claesson, a marine archaeologist, has spent the past two years studying the age of the wood from the hull and historical records in New England.  His research has led him to believe that the 50-foot ship was a cargo vessel named The Defiance that set sail from Salem, Massachusetts in 1769 before crashing ashore in southern Maine.

I wrote a story about his research and the history of the shipwreck recently in The New York Times.

(Photo above and below from York, Maine Police Facebook account.)

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Some Really Old Cars of New York City

Ever since I moved to New York City a few months ago, I've noticed certain cars. Not shiny brand new vehicles and leases that have rolled off the lot. Not the typical classics and collector's cars that are shown on TV auctions. And definitely not the tiny Minis, Fiats and SMART cars that owners amazingly squeeze into the tightest of spaces in Manhattan, although they have a charming toy-like cuteness about them.

The cars I've noticed during my walks in the Upper West Side on my way to work and back or while I run errands stand out to me because I remember when they were first rolled out. In a way, they remind me of certain years in elementary, middle and high school. Even college.  These are classics in their own way. Chances are that the average person would overlook them. But to this car aficionado, they are retro cool, flashes of the past.  (Below is a late 1990s or early 2000s Chevrolet Cavalier that I noticed on my block the other day. It looks new!)
Whenever I spot one of these time capsules on wheels, I stop and marvel at how their owners have kept them in such good shape. It's as if they've emerged from a showroom or released from a garage where they were preserved from New York's weather.  I think the expensive nature of living in the city perhaps made these owners really take care of their vehicles and they have held onto them for as long as they can as in decades.

Here are some of the cars from days gone by that have caught my eye during my neighborhood strolls. I will add to the list as I encounter more. I have seen others but sometimes, I just need to rush and catch my train.

Acura Integra: My guess this model is from the late 1980s (1988 to 1990?)  I've seen the owner, an elderly man, move the car from one side of the street to the other during the week for the city's regular street cleaning. The car appears to be in mint condition. The headlights still pop up like eyebrows. I didn't notice any scratches. The car gleams in white. Speaking of white, the white building in the background is where I live.
Cadillac Coupe de Ville: I've also spotted this car on my block often. It's definitely from the mid to late 1970s because my uncle Frank had one when I was younger and it offered one of the smoothest rides, like a boat on wheels gliding down the street. Amazingly, this Cady still runs because, the owner also parks it from one of the street to the other. It's a little car dance that NYers must do to maintain a vehicle in the city.
Volkswagen Cabrio: This car is a throwback to the early and mid 1980s. I remember seeing the convertible in high school and college movies such as "You Can't Buy Me Love,'' the nerd-to-stud-makeover movie with Patrick Dempsey in 1987. (I also liked the movie because it was great seeing another guy with similar dark curly hair in a movie.)

It's rare to spot these VW gems on the street anymore unless you go to a VW car club meeting or to a classic car show. I spotted this particular Cabrio on my way to Starbucks on Columbus Avenue.
Plymouth Neon: Again, spotted on my block. This compact was all the rage in the mid 1990s. Plymouth rolled it out as an economical sedan aimed at younger buyers. I remember the car's badge was in purple. Although it was adorable (at least to me), the car wasn't very reliable, according to friends who have owned it. Yet it still had that cute factor with those big round lights. It looks like it's grinning, no?

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Catching Up with Jazz Jennings

Jazz Jennings has been in the spotlight ever since she six-years-old when she was interviewed by Barbara Walters on ABC's "20/20" news program.

Jazz is now 19 and a transgender advocate. She is the star of her own reality show"I Am Jazz" on TLC. Since 2015, the show has followed her family and her friends in South Florida.

Cameras have also chronicled her transition. Last season, she underwent her gender confirmation surgery which led to some complications.

I interviewed Jazz for a story in my paper The New York Times recently. She talked about her surgeries, going to Harvard and the importance of being happy in your own skin. Here is the interview.   Photo courtesy of TLC network.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The USNS Harvey Milk

Most people may remember Harvey Milk when he was played by Sean Penn in the 2008 film "Milk."
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official of a major city (San Francisco) and a gay rights leader who was gunned down in 1978.

What people may not know was that Harvey served in the Navy.  He was discharged after officials learned that he was hanging out in a park known among gay men. He probably would have served longer in the Navy if things were different back then.

But they are different now. So much so that the Navy is building a ship that will carry Milk's name where it goes. When completed, the ship will refuel others out at sea.

I recently wrote a story about the ship and Harvey's legacy in The New York Times.

A rendering of the USNS Harvey Milk. Photo from the US Navy,

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Eating Up The Big Apple

Greetings from New York City!  I recently traded Miami's towering palm trees and near constant sunshine for fall leaves and chilly weather. I swapped my Volkswagen for the reliable New York City subway system. And I went from running in Coral Gables in tank tops and shorts to running in a hoodie and sweatpants in Central Park in the Upper West Side.

Last month, I left my job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel where I worked for seven and a half years to become a breaking news and viral news writer at The New York Times.  The job required me to pack up and move to the Big Apple.
My stories run the gamut and geography from a Pennsylvania teenager who created a prototype that can eliminate blindspots in cars and a multi-vehicle crash on Virginia's Interstate 64 to the eye-opening discovery of three cows that washed away during Hurricane Dorian yet somehow found their way to a national park in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Each day and story is different, kind of like the hectic news cycle in South Florida.
I'm settling into my Upper West Side neighborhood which reminds me a lot of Boston's Back Bay and Brookline neighborhoods.  The streets are lined with trees with falling red, yellow and orange leaves. Red and white brownstones sit shoulder to shoulder on each block.  And there's Central Park, with its hilly and winding trails, perfect for running, walking or cycling.
I've also come to appreciate and rely on the subway, particularly the C line, my new friend. Instead of driving an hour or so each way from Coral Gables to the South Florida Sun Sentinel newsroom in Deerfield Beach, my commute is a 10 minute subway trip to Midtown where The New York Times is located. During the work week, I sometimes get caught up in a riptide of people as they make their way across the bustling city streets and on and off the subway cars. The day leaves me feeling somewhat exhausted with all the walking around. I've lost five pounds since I moved here and I think it's all the walking I do, about 5 miles a day (7 on the days I run.)

Little by little, I am beginning to explore New York on my downtime. This weekend, I trekked the High Line, the 1.4 mile walkway enveloped by trees and some pieces of art above Chelsea. My cousins and I also braved climbing the 16 stories and 2,500 steps of The Vessel, the alien ship-looking landmark in Hudson Yards off West 34th street and 10th Avenue. My legs are still kinda sore from that adventure.
So all in all, I'm settling into this new chapter of my life and enjoying what New York City has to offer. I do miss Miami and a special guy and a certain white Fox terrier there but I plan to visit them and my family as often as I can.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Private Florida Keys island for sale and it's not Kokomo

The story began with a sign. The other weekend, I was down in Islamorada, one of my favorite places in South Florida. I wanted to feel the warm tropical cross breezes of the Atlantic and Gulf. I also wanted to see the aquatic canvas of various blues. I just wanted a quick get away from the hustle and bustle of Miami to relax, read and ride my bike.

As I explored Islamorada on the bike, I came across a sign. It literally stopped me in my tracks: ISLAND FOR SALE

A closer look revealed the price tag: $17,000,000.  Whaaaat? 
I strolled over to the entrance where a blue-and-white painted gate simply greets visitors (or trespassers) with Terra's Key. I snapped some photos and kept thinking about the island and how it's hidden from the road.
From the neighboring Amara Cay Resort, I noticed in the distance how the palm trees ribbon the rear of the island. A narrow road connects the island to the Overseas Highway and the rest of the Florida Keys.
Curiosity got the best of me. Back at work, I called the realtor and a Florida Keys historian. I then found myself writing this fun story for my paper the South Florida Sun Sentinel about the island and its storied past.

The island began as a farming community in the early 1800s. It's named Terra's Key after the current owner James Terra who bought it in 1991 for $3.1 million.

(I shot the above photos with my iPhone. The photo below of the island was courtesy of Patti Stanley,  the broker associate who represents the owner.)

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.