We met Mike at the King Mango Strut Parade many years ago. He and his wife, Gina, were wearing the first of the parade costumes that they soon became famous for. While the New York native was employed as a fireman, his life outside the firehouse was more like that of a jazz-loving beatnik, a finger-snapping off-beat daddy-o artist.
Below: Mike in one of his original costumes for our "Love Parade" at the Grassroots Music Festival, 2014.
He often shared original jokes that were truly "out there". When he stopped chasing fires a few years ago he told me he wanted to do two things, find work as a comedian and to participate in a demolition derby. When he later shared his car-smashing experience I told him, "That's it. Tell that story on stage and you'll have them rolling in the aisles!". He added he had done it "to get in touch with my inner whiplash", a typical Mike joke.
Always an original, he showed up at last March's Gifford Land Art Stroll with a table and a bag. "What's your thing today?" I asked. "I'm selling pot holders", he replied showing me his two creative lines, one that held hot cookware and hot (well... lit) pot. He spent the day telling jokes and sold quite a few of his wife's creations.
He and Gina raised two fine sons, Jesse and Mario. Often the family would go surfing in Costa Ricaor on other incredible adventures. Their vintage Toyota camper was covered with murals and poetry.
Mike was the ultimate Grove Guy. Born in '47, he grew up to be wild, crazy, and unpredictable; he and Gina were in over thirty King Mango Strut parades. Besides the Strut he loved dancing, drinking, Conan O'Brien and most of all, the Cleveland Indians.
Gina modelling one of her outstanding creations.
While Mike did many admirable things in his life he was proudest of his family. On visits to his art-filled home he'd tell us about his kids and show off the latest McFall creations. These could include their honor-system roadside mango stand, sleek surfboards and Gina's bicycle that looked like a rolling dolphin.
For this Critical Mass Bike Ride the McFalls had us wearing their fish helmets. Always hilarious, he kept us grinning (like Francesca in the blue fish helmet).
I could always depend on Fireman Mike to make things happen. When we put on our Weird Wynwood parade eight years ago I asked him to lead it. I was on the other end pushing it forward.
Five minutes after we stepped out two cops tried to stop our jovial procession for parading without a permit. While Mike jabbered endlessly about how we were not really a parade, two hundred of us paraded past them. Like every good fireman, he was dependable and got things done.
Sudden pain sent him to Baptist Hospital last Sunday. On Monday, when cancer began taking him quickly, he let it be known known that he wanted no part of the cold, machine-laden scene. Half-conscious he protested vigorously until all agreed it was time take Mike home. An ambulance returned our friend to the hand-painted artist's lair on SW 59th Court.
In the house guarded by coconut and mango trees he took his last breath this morning surrounded by art, his music, and those who loved him most.