Day 4: Miami, FL to Fort Lauderdale, FL - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

April 16, 2011

Day 4: Miami, FL to Fort Lauderdale, FL

It's noon on a sunny Saturday afternoon and I'm in a fronton.

A what?

Most sports have arenas. Jai alai, a kind of racket sport popular in the Basque region of Spain and France, has the fronton. Miami Jai Alai's fronton sits two agonizing bus rides away from Pedro's house in a large, old building that vaguely resembles an airplane hangar. I pay nothing to get in and only a dollar for a copy of the day's program.

As I sit in darkness, the rectangle-shaped playing area (called a cancha) shines brightly in front of me, stretching 175 feet from one end to the other, 45 feet across, and 40 feet from floor to ceiling. The side facing the crowd is covered with black netting, while the others are painted a deep green, with the far wall featuring the brightly colored, post-modern jai alai logo. I don't know what the walls are made of, but the ball (called a pelota) pops off of them with a crack. The players catch the ball in a two-foot long, hook-shaped catching basket called a cesta that's made from reeds found only in the Pyrenees Mountains and looks just like the sickle on the flag of the former Soviet Union. They stop for just a second, twist around to load up, and then fling the ball back in the direction it came in a subtle arc at more than 100 miles per hour. Fourteen equally spaced lines divide the floor of the court. Most are yellow, three are red, and I have no idea what any of them stand for.

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At the start of each match, all of the players walk to the center of the court, face the audience, take off their hats, and salute the crowd as triumphant music led by trumpets plays a little too loud over the hollow-sounding loudspeakers. It's a bit over the top when you consider that I'm sitting with 150 people in a place that holds almost 6,000. It smells old and musty, maybe a bit water-damaged, with 80s-era orange and blue seats, and scoreboard signs that look 20 years older than that. A line of pink neon runs around the top edge of the north wall but sits burnt out on the opposite side.

I don't understand anything about what I'm looking at. I only realize the game is over when all of the players and referees walk off the court. But I get excited when a long rally happens. The crowd becomes a little more animated and a few people start to yell out words of encouragement to the players (always in Spanish). Crack off the wall, swish into the cesta, back and forth, back and forth, rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the floor, until one side wins and those that understand what's going on either cheer in celebration or hurl insults at the losing player. I love the insults. But even though I can't explain jai alai rules or strategy, there's satisfaction in seeing people show off such skill. The players in front of me are better at this one thing than I will be at anything in my life, ever.

The passion from the crowd probably doesn't come from pure love of the sport, and the place definitely doesn't stay open from selling programs for a buck. It's all about the money. I join in and place a five dollar trifecta bet. I pick Tico to win because I like his name. I choose Alejandro to finish second because the girls behind me are singing the Lady Gaga song of the same name. And I pick Patxi (pronounced pat-chee) to come in third because that's the name of the fictional jai alai star on Mad Men. Now that's strategy. I win $398.50 if they place in that exact order.

Not a winner.
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I don't win, and most everyone else doesn't either. And unfortunately, most people here aren't like me. They didn't come for the novelty or to appreciate the speed and form of the game. It's all about the gambling and nearly everyone looks as if they don't have much to lose.

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I finally leave Pedro's place just before 3:00. He's a great host—very friendly, keeps a clean and beautiful home, has a Minature Pinscher named Frijol, and he even made me whole wheat berry pancakes for breakfast. Thunderstorm clouds head my way and rain just starts to fall as I say goodbye and ride away.

Your pancakes, can I have one?
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Pedro and Frijol.
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I leave Miami through a maze of sidewalks, past at least a hundred condo towers that look like a more stylish take on Communist-era high-rises, and continue on past Miami Beach and north through a bunch of towns and cities that all look the same and put me on an endless string of busy streets and sidewalks. I figure I've already ridden at least 30 miles on sidewalks so far, and every one of them has sucked. I feel like I'm always a second away from being pegged by a turning car, and several times that's true. I constantly dodge people, dogs, strollers, garbage cans, fallen palm fronds, and I bump over every driveway cutout and electrical panel cover. I do this dance for hours this afternoon.

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Through downtown Miami, toward American Airlines Arena where the Heat are almost ready to take on the 76ers.
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Haven't seen it.
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Beautiful riding somewhere around Miami Beach.
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I had to ride down a side street, through a parking lot, and then along a boardwalk just to see the ocean. Condos, homes, and businesses block all the views from the road.
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I call the hostel near the beach in Fort Lauderdale that I plan to stay at. The number's no longer in service. I do another Airbnb search, find a place that seems similar, call to confirm I have a bed, and then head off in that direction. Within an hour it gets dark enough that I have to turn on my lights. Not long after that I notice something else: no one else looks like me. Every walker, bike rider, car driver, mini-mart shopper, domino player, and church goer is black. The area is generally poor. It's the direct contrast to the mansions, Ferraris, breast implants, and wealth of the past two days.

The place ends up being less a hostel, more a house shared by around half a dozen people, mostly between 30 and 50 years old. I eat soup in the kitchen and get unprompted direction tips from Tony, a 50-something, heavily-tanned guy with a thick Boston accent and a thick gray and black mustache who recently came back from a year and a half in Costa Rica after breaking up with his girlfriend there.

"So ya gonna wanna take Oakland Pahk. Just take Oakland Pahk all the way out and ya meet up with Highway 1A," he says. "Ya take that and just keep goin' nahth. Yeah, it runs all the way up the coast theah for a while. And then it's gonna cut out, and ya just stay on it. All the way. When ya get near West Pahm you're gonna have to cut back in. And then out again. And then cut back in. Just keep goin', keep on following that 1A, that A1."

He's going from memory.

"And that'll get me up to St. Augustine?" I ask.

"Yeah ... I tink ... I mean, it goes in and it goes out, ya know? So ya gonna go out neah the ocean and then come back, and then go out and come back. But just keep goin', all the way. Stay on that road and ya gonna have no prahlems. All ya gotta do is stick with that A1."

It goes on like this for the better part of an hour. Eventually he opens his laptop and we look at online maps of the area he's been talking about. It's the first time he's ever seen Google Maps.

"Oh, ok, yeah! Here we go, see, this is what I was tahkin' about. Right theah, the Hobo Sound, with the state pahk theah, that's really nice. Ya really gonna like ridin' through theah. Not too much traffic, good views. Yeah. Real nice."

Tony tells me that he worked in the South and Central Florida areas for quite awhile before moving to Costa Rica. He mostly built houses, but also did general construction work and whatever else he needed to pay the bills.

"Yeah, I was buildin' a house up on the beach over theah. Yeah, now I remembah how it goes. Eventually ya get to Sebastian State Pahk. It's beautiful up theah, really great. Real nice, ya can camp up theah. But then ya gonna come to the end of the island and ya gonna have to come back in. Just stick to the A1, the old 1A, that A1A highway. All the way. It'll just keep goin'."

Kind of like this conversation.

It's easy to poke fun, but I appreciate that he wants to help, even if the advice isn't actually very helpful. He just wants me to make it where I'm going safely and have a good time doing it. That's awesome.

I stay up late getting route tips, talking to Desiree, watching SNL with the guys, writing, and figuring out where I'm going over the next few days. I don't hit the couch until 2:00 a.m., as a large man with sleep apnea snorts and snores on a loveseat not 30 feet away in front of a TV that loudly plays an infomercial.

Today's ride: 42 miles (68 km)
Total: 223 miles (359 km)

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