While driving back home on Sunday from visiting my father-in-law, I decided to take the “scenic route” through South Beach. Being stuck in traffic we had a chance to take a look at the Beach and see how far it has fallen, how much a mere shadow of its former trendy-in-a-boutique-kinda-way glory days in the mid- to late 90’s. The litmus test was when we were driving down Washington Ave. and spotted some of our old favorite stores, especially Pop and Uncle Sam’s. I mean, Uncle Sam’s, dude! There was a time when Uncle Scam’s (as it is also fondly known) was THE place to get the really good music, not to mention the latest awesome dance anthems, European trance, indie rock and of course, our favorite, the Goth/Industrial/Darkwave/Synthpop tunes we were all swaying to at The Kitchen and The Church. Right there our plan for the Monday bike ride was made: we’d bike our way down to South Beach and come check out Uncle Sam’s and the rest of the area, then head back up.
See the highlighted route we took on this Labor Day Bike Ride.
It’s not entirely accurate because we took a few shortcuts and routes that Google Maps just does not support, but it’s essentially correct. When all was said and done, we ended up riding about 11 miles.
Monday morning we woke up pretty early and by 11:30 am we were already on our way, riding our bikes down to South Beach.
Whereas last time we rode north, this time we were heading south along the pink sidewalks of the city of Miami Beach. Of all the cities in Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach is purportedly the best one for bicycling; we live in this city and we wanted to put that to the test. Most of the Beach’s sidewalks (yes, they are all pink) are fairly wide, though they sometimes taper to just a couple of feet in width and are littered with lamposts, benches, newspaper vending machines, signs and the ever-present stretches of canvas covering fences around construction projects, of which there are a thousand and one in the Beach.
All was well with the sidewalks up until we reached about a quarter of the way, where a large new apartment complex is being finished. This is what we came across:
And not once, but twice along that small stretch of road before it joins Collins Ave. Yes, the sidewalk on the other side of the road is fine, but that is no excuse for this complete disregard for pedestrians, bikers and the city.
The rest of Collins Ave. was actually pretty good, especially along the Middle Beach area as we were riding alongside the canal. We had to switch roads along the way a couple of times because of the sidewalk situation, especially in areas where it simply ends. Once we reached the northernmost area that can still be called South Beach, we stayed on Collins Ave. and rode it all the way to SoBe proper, making another small detour along the way to join with Washington Ave. near the Miami Beach Convention Center.
If there’s one thing that was inescapable was the amount of old Art Deco hotels that were closed pending renovation, then left to rot when the real estate bubble popped. We must have seen at least 10 different hotels, including one that is very close to our home, the Tropicair.
While parts of the Beach have enjoyed a resurgence (mostly South Beach), there’s still a lot of decay hiding in the backstreets, unfortunately. Especially when you see these beautiful buildings that with some love and money (ok, a lot of money) could be new jewels for the city, showing us the glamour of yesteryear.
Arriving at Lincoln Road Mall, we decided to stop at Fritz’s Skates & Bikes to check out the bike seats; I really needed to do something about my seat if I want to keep riding a lot. We took a look around and I ended up buying a gel seat cover. It was a bit more expensive than it would have been at Target, but my butt needed it and it thanked me for it afterward. Some cold water and an iced coffee later, we were on our way to Uncle Sam’s, just a few more blocks south. We did get to use, if only for a little bit, some of South Beach’s actual designated bike lanes, at least while we were riding east-west (on the streets), given we have yet to see a bike lane along one of the avenues. Finally we got to Uncle Sam’s.
What a disappointment. We first went into Pop. Pop used to be a place where you could get tons of little pop-culture knick-knacks that were useless yet cool, plus some cool retro t-shirts and costume accessories suitable for the gothically-inclined crowd. The current store is still named Pop, but it is nothing like before, having only a selection of cheap, trendy clothing dominated by a selection of somewhat-funny-yet-bordering-on-the-vulgar t-shirts, none of them having anything to do with pop culture, past or present.
Uncle Sam’s wasn’t much better. Their selection of music is still pretty good, but these days it’s so easy to find obscure titles, whether online or even via iTunes, that the store has lost the one main draw it had in the past. Aside from some vinyl club singles and mixes and an assorted number of limited editions and promotional items from special sales (much like indie book stores, Uncle Sam’s still features a lot of special sales and limited edition promotions for new music), there was little there I couldn’t find with just a few clicks of the mouse. Even the once awesome and mighty Goth section now paled in comparison to what it used to be. And let’s not even talk about the ancillary goodness they used to carry: stickers (multiple albums full of options, literally hundreds and hundreds to choose from), patches, t-shirts, lunchboxes, etc. Now they had a few patches, some lunchboxes and perhaps a total selection of less than 100 different stickers. Oh, South Beach, how the mighty have fallen.
We left Uncle Sam’s, popped into Starbucks for some water and were off biking again down Washington. The crowded sidewalks there prompted me to turn down 10th St. and we headed down to Ocean Dr. to ride up the paved path on Lummus Park, or the Beachwalk.
The Beachwalk is awesome, simply put. It is a wide and paved promenade stretching from 5th St to 25th St, or 2 miles. Pedestrians share the path with cyclists and skaters as it parallels the coastline between the hotels and the sand. The Beachwalk is great for riding for its smooth surface and unrivaled views; frankly, they should make all the sidewalks in Miami Beach like the Beachwalk.
That was probaly the most enjoyble part of our entire trip: the surface was great for riding, the people mindful of the bikes, the breeze refreshing and the beach views magnificent; about two miles of pure cycling bliss.
At 25th St the Beachwalk ends and it then connects with the Boardwalk, a raised wooden pathway that continues all the way to 47th St (remember that street). Now, technically only pedestrians are allowed on the Boardwalk (handicapped and official vehicles the exception, of course) and we were going to continue along Collins Ave. instead, but after seeing a bunch of other bikers go on it without a moment’s thought, we said screw it, and decided to continue on the Boardwalk. If someone said anything, we’d just get off and that was that.
The ride on the Boardwalk was almost as nice as on the Beachwalk. The only difference was that we needed to be more aware of pedestrians since the Boardwalk is a bit narrower than the Beachwalk, has siderails on each side that put a hard limit on where you can go (not to mention the three feet elevation over the sand below) and the one-inch slits between each floorboard, not wide enough for our tires to fall in, but enough to make you loose control if you weren’t careful. We did manage to ride from 25th all the way up to 42nd St before my wife decided that we better actually heed the rules and get off the Boardwalk onto the street.
We joined Collins Ave. again and rode up to the Fontainebleau Hotel, following the countour of the road. The problem here was that part of the Fontainebleau and the Eden Roc next to it are under heavy construction, and on this day they had the entire sidewalk in front of the two hotels, about two blocks worth, completely closed to traffic, pedestrian or bicycles.
We rode on Collins Ave. warily when left with no other choice. Whatever you may have heard about Miami drivers is probably true, and you can double the complaints when it comes to drivers dealing with cyclists. There is gross misinformation and plain old ignorace about the rights of cyclists on the road (and I say this from personal experience because I have been learning a lot of things in the last couple of months as we both started getting into cycling), so riding on the street in one of the quiet backroads is ok as long as you pay attention, but riding on Miami Beach’s main north-south thoroughfare is an entirely different matter.
Nevertheless, we braved it and managed not to get killed by a car. As soon as we could, we got on the sidewalk again, right in front of the parking lot to Indian Beach Park, at 4600 Collins Ave. My wife was riding ahead of my, some 30 to 40 feet, and as I got on the sidewalk and looked forward I saw it as it happened.
That’s when my wife fell from her bike, at the corner of 4700 block and Collins Ave.
It took a second, maybe two, but that was more than enough. I saw her bike wobble, her fall from it, then on to the floor, her left arm outstretched to stop herself. Up to that moment what was going through my mind was, “Oh shit, she fell. But it doesn’t seem so bad.” Except she didn’t stop. Next thing I see is her hitting the sidewalk and rolling forward, her head hitting the rounded corner between the sidewalk and the gutter. At that moment a million horrible endings coursed through my mind, images that even two days later keep replaying every so often when I look at her, making me thank G-d profusely.
I flew, almost literally. I jumped off my bike in a motion that a man my size can only accomplish in a moment like this, tossing it aside on to the grass and running to her side. First thing I see is her sitting up, so thank G-d for that at least. I then see the blood coming from the cut above her right eyelid, my eyes scanning her face for further wounds. That’s when I see the lump forming on the left side of her forehead, above her eyebrow, where she hit the sidewalk. It is growing fast, filling up with blood, and turning a horrible shade of purple right before my eyes.
I yell at her not to move as I run back to my bike for my cellphone, dialing 911 immediately, twice even as the blood pumping in my ears doesn’t let me hear if the call connected or not. She looks at me with a curious look, “Why are you calling 911?” I get through and report the accident as best I can, which isn’t that good as I’m incredibly nervous. It’s when I mention the cut that she sees the blood on her hand, and when I mention the still-growing lump on her forehead that she goes white. As I hang up, she looked to her left, at her reflection on the black car parked right next to where she fell. I move to get in between her and her reflection, but she had already seen it and began to panic.
A young man from the nearby construction passed by us and asked, surprised, “What happened? Did someone beat you up?” Which made us both laugh, actually. That’s when my wife explains that she lost her balance when her front tire hit the uneven sidewalk at that spot (see pic below), a tiny canyon running vertically where two slabs of concrete had succumbed to both erosion and the nearby construction.
We could hear the rescue vehicle arriving (thankfully, there is a Fire Station at 53rd St and they responded within 2-3 minutes of me making the call), and the young man helped flag it down to our location. The EMTs checked my wife and in a few minutes they had her in the ambulance, heading to Mt. Sinai Hospital (thankfully only 5 minutes away) while I stayed behind with the bikes and a heart that was racing a thousand beats a second.
In my nervous state I called my wife’s mom and dad, trying to break the news as quickly and as non-alarmingly as possible, then calling my mom in Puerto Rico, who succeeded in calming me down. I called my Rabbi to please come pick me up (since he has an SUV where I figured we could put both bikes), and then had to wait about 15 minutes for him to show up. During that time I texted and spoke with my wife at the hospital, so at least I knew she was still conscious and “well.” Once I knew her mother had arrived I felt a bit better.
Eventually my Rabbi showed up and we worked time-space shifting miracles to fit the two cruiser bikes inside a Bronco that was already packed to the gills with boxes for a massive mailing we are doing for the upcoming High Holy Days. Once back home, I dropped the bikes, grabbed a couple of things my wife had asked for, and zoomed out, making the trip from my house to the hospital (a 5 mile/15 minutes trip) in about 8 minutes.
By the time I saw her again, about an hour after it had all happened, the lump on her forehead had shrunk significantly, thank G-d.
She was very much awake and good spirits, had never lost consciousness or shown any symptom of serious head injury, all of which were very good signs that, ugly as it was, it was all superficial. Still, the doctor ordered a CAT Scan to be 100% sure; it came back negative for any fracture or anything else that could be a problem down the line. After a tetanus shot, a lot of ice, and some Tylenol, she was finally discharged at around 7 pm.
We got back home and I picked up take-out sushi along the way. It was a very nice meal, the entire family together; too bad it came out of this freak event.
By the next day the swelling had gone down more, but as we were warned, all the bruises started to come out. The left side of her face has progressively gotten worse and now she has a full black (actually, more like purple) eye. Today she had an appointment with her doctor (scheduled way before this all happened, but go figure) and he confirmed that there is no damage beyond the superficial one, so it’s just a matter of letting the swelling and bruising go away on its own.
I am just immensely grateful that it was only what it was and not the tragedy it could have been.
Oh, and Miami Beach, I’ll have more to say later about your supposed status as the best city for cyclists…