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.

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.