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Friday, November 26, 2010


The great thing about Thanksgiving is its simplicity, sitting down for a great meal with family and friends. Thus far I have seen no inflatable Pilgrims in people's yards.

My South Grove neighborhood started a pot-luck dinner tradition twenty years ago. Many of the residents come from other states or countries so it seemed right to form a Thanksgiving family here. We rent chairs and tables and give food assignments. Everyone brings their own plates, utensils and beverages (yes, there is a lot of wine). At yesterday's feast someone gave a short Buddhist homily, another a Catholic prayer, and off we went to eat ourselves silly.

As the sun faded kids began dancing around the fire. We were thankful that none of them got burned.

It was a fitting end to another great November holiday.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


After you retire you do what you want. After years with the local fire department Mike McFall wanted to enter a destruction derby. “It was on my list”, he explained.
The South Miami resident continued, “I figured all I needed was an old car, a dozen other like-minded people, and a race track.. The closest one I could find was in Naples, two hours away. They told me if I showed up in a car with no windows and $50 I could join the fun.”
A destruction derby is a race where the cars drive in a figure-8; it makes smashing into each other easier. And smash they do until the last car moving wins. Cal
l it exciting, gladiators in clunkers, or just plain stupid, this is one popular America tradition.
A friend offered McFall his 1992 Buick Roadmaster. “The station wagon had been in a flood”, explained Mike, “It was rusted to hell but still ran great”. Mike took out the windows and replaced the gas tank with small portable one, like you might see in a bass boat.. He had no trailer to transport his rig so he decided to drive it to Naples himself.

Mike handing over his signed hold harmless form .

Mike headed west on Alligator Alley a few months ago to try his hand at car smashing. Halfway there a cop took notice of Mike’s windowless rolling wreck and pulled him over. He told the officer his story, how he’d always wanted to be in a destruction derby and tomorrow he was getting his chance. “I figure if a cop stops you and you tell them the truth maybe they’ll understand. I guess he did ‘cause he let me go”.
He went another 20 miles until he ran out of gas. For safely reasons you are limited to a three-gallon gas tank. Mike was carrying his in an orange 2 ½ gallons boat tank.
Carrying his empty tank he began hiking to to the nearest gas station. Soon a stranger pulled over to offer a ride. Mike said, “After he heard my story he felt bad for me, he drove me all the way back to my car.”
The next day Mike competed in the last car rolling race.

“What was it like?”, I asked. The retired firefighter said he savored every minute, all twelve of them. After multiple collisions his Buick finally rolled to a stop.
He added, "The race allowed me to get in touch with whiplash again.”
Mike’s car was too banged up to fix and drive home. When someone offered $100 Mike told him, “Oh, you can just have it. Someone gave it to me".

His wife, Regina, was there to drive him back to Miami. Unlike her husband she was able to drive the distance without colliding with anyone.

Mike's wagon, on the left, just before it got whacked for the last time.


I have taught civics and art for twenty years in public schools far from Coconut Grove. I rarely run into former students but I encountered one last month.

The City of Miami gave away fruit trees last month. Francesca and I picked out a mulberry, a mango tree, and handed our receipt to a volunteer. He looked at my name, smiled, then blurted, “You’re Mr. Terry, my seventh grade civics teacher. You’re the only one I remember!”
Gosh, Jason Watson knew how to make a guy’s day.
The handsome, dread-locked young man went on to recall a 1991 field trip I led to Washington, DC, “It was so much fun. Those six days still seem like a dream”. I assured him they were not and that I enjoyed the trip as well…except for the porno.

We were staying at a Ramada Inn in Alexandria . At 11 pm I got a phone call from one of the boys' rooms. They had discovered a porno channel on their TV and wanted to share their good fortune with me.. I rushed down the hall to chastise my students, “Watching porno will mess up your head. If you do it again, you'll be on the next plane to Miami!”

Mostly I remember the headaches the twenty-two teens gave me. Jason remembered nothing but an excursion so special it seemed like a dream.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Everyday people representing our country get blown up and shot at. It boggles the mind to think about the sacrifices made by members of our country's military.

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It was nice to see them honored in Coconut Grove's Veterans Day parade.

This simple annual affair is sponsored by the Grove's America Legion Post 182 . It marched west on Grand, south on Douglas, and entered Charlotte Jane cemetery for a simple service. After a prayer a woman's voice lifted us skyward, her voice reminding us of how amazing grace can be.


After the parade my son ,Dylan, invited me to come along for a South Dade visit. He was buying recycled wood for his raised-bed garden business. After loading what seemed like two tons of greenheart, I asked, "Doesn't Barry Massin live around here?" The former Groveite had moved to the country years ago.

We called Barry and were welcomed at the gate of his 15-acre estate. On his golf cart tour we saw what he
describe as 165 species of trees and plants along with what I liked best, Barry's junk.

A rusting pile of saw blades, some twelve-feet long, was an incredibly shadowed sculpture. Mr. Massin's collection of tractor's seats was the best I've seen (and I've seen many). The best and and biggest thing on the property was Barry's smile and effervescent personality. Anyone who has encountered them walks away smiling themselves.
Barry and Dylan standing by the lake that our host dug with his gigantic earth sculpture machine. While we were there a kingfisher swooped down scaring the tilapia.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Things seemed simpler back then, before there were bluetooths or telephone booths. That's probably why Lake Wales, Florida, has its Pioneer Days Festival every year.

Hundreds of people, young and old, gathered by the lake last weekend to celebrate all things old. My wife and I were there to witness cloggers, canoe races, and "re-enactors" pretending to be lost in time. "Ma" spun wool while "Pa" split wood. Next to their encampment a blacksmith turned chunks of iron into horseshoes.
Several horses grazed nearby.

A husky man threw knives and tomahawks with great accuracy. Later he opened a can of Coke by slashing it with a bullwhip. In the pioneer village you you could buy a hat made from three skunks for $150. It smelled okay and on a very cold day it'd be worth every cent.

Junk food abounded. There was enough kettle corn, corn dogs, and cotton candy to ruin any one's diet. The Lord's Day was also Halloween. If you needed a scare you could tour a haunted tent. If that wasn't enough Spook Hill was two blocks away (that's where cars are known to coast curiously downhill...) Yes, downhill. Its kind of spooky that locals find that interesting.

Living in the past would not be complete without an old car parade. We enjoyed forty of them rolling by, close enough to touch.
There were Corvairs, Studebakers, Packards and Desotos. Its "grand finale" was nine magnificent Hudsons in a row (the one to the left is a Hudson Hornet).
One of them broke down mid-parade and had to be pushed off the street. Maybe that's why they stopped making them in '54.

The Big Tent (as opposed to the haunted one) had non-stop music, dancing, and story telling. The big moment came when the Pioneer of the Year was crowned.

An event like this could be a crowning achievement for any town. They'd just need a bit of history and a big-hearted, hard-working person to run the show.

Lake Wales has Mimi Reid Hardman.
Mimi, the other volunteers, and sponsoring businesses make Pioneer Days happen. The Woman in Red was everywhere. As the wind rippled her patriotically plumed outfit she made sure all was well.

I have known Mimi for over thirty years and have always admired her unceasing ability to promote art, culture, and historic preservation in her Central Florida town (it is close to Disneyworld but not too close).

Coconut Grove could have its own Pioneer Days. Our rich history would make it perfect for The Barnacle or Peacock Park.
All we need is a Mimi.