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Burning Up, Chilling Out in the Land of Viagra

August 16, 2000|CHRIS ERSKINE

MIAMI — And into Miami we go, full of unreasonable expectations of what a vacation should be, hoping for Acapulco but getting South Florida instead. So Flo. Viagra Falls. First stop for fugitive investors and retired grandmothers.

"I like it here," says the little girl.

"Me too," I say.

What's not to like? Miami has recovered nicely from all that Cuba boy business. Mayor Gloria Estefan has given up politics for now and returned to show business. It's a good time to be visiting South Florida. Everywhere you look, there are signs of hope. Everywhere you look, there's a grandma.

"There's one," says the little girl, pointing out the car window.

"Actually, that's a grandpa," her older sister tells her.

She counts grandmas the way some kids count Volkswagen Beetles. She's got two grandmas down here but could probably have as many as she wanted. A hundred grandmas, passing her from lap to lap at condo association meetings, running their fingers through her hair.

Yep, Miami is paradise in her eyes. Full of grandparents and parrot jungles. Alligator farms. Nice rental cars.

"When are we going shark hunting?" asks the boy.

"Maybe tomorrow," I say.

"I want to go para-sailing," says my lovely and patient older daughter.


South Florida is a tough place to pin down. There are miles of condos, stacked like sugar cubes along the beaches, the buzz of air conditioning units filling the heavy air.

There is hyper-hip Miami Beach, a world-class beach city, sleepy by day but alive all night.

And there is the usual array of exotic Florida attractions, alligator farms, parrot jungles, jai alai frontons, beautiful race tracks and hundreds of pawnshops, handy as 7-Elevens.

It is a fascinating and maddening place, even if you've lived here before and know how to get around, as we do. Even if your reflexes are still fairly quick.

"Watch out, Dad," says my older daughter as another driver crosses three lanes to exit.

South Florida has always tested your traffic skills, but now Viagra boils in the bloodstream of about half the drivers. Maybe it's my imagination, but it appears to have created an aggressive, slashing style of driving. Drivers under the influence of Viagra. DUVs.

"Look at that," I tell my wife as a red Oldsmobile plows into a shopping cart.

"Oh, God," she says.

"I'll bet that old guy's full of Viagra," I say.

"Oh, he's probably just blind," she explains.

"Probably both," my older daughter says.

"What's Viagra?" asks the little girl.

"Love medicine," explains the boy, who knows a thing or two about love.

Lucky for us, there is always something to do here in South Florida. We drive around visiting in-laws. We play golf. We head to the beach, where the surf is 87 degrees, warm as a cup of tea.

Anything you'd catch in these Gulfstream waters would likely be precooked. Lobster. Scallops. Toss in some potatoes and you'd have a full meal.

Especially in August. In August, Miami cooks in its own juices. For hours, we lie around the hotel pool and the beach, sweating profusely and reapplying sunscreen. Thick as clown makeup, this sunscreen, full of the waxes that make it waterproof.

"More," my wife urges as I paint myself white.


"More," she says.

Doesn't matter. This is Florida sun. It not only penetrates the sunscreen, it passes through my body like X-rays, glancing off my gallbladder and then igniting several jai-alai ticket stubs under my lounge chair.

In 15 minutes, my spleen is sunburned. After 20 minutes, I'm starting to feel it in my liver.

"I think my pancreas is burning," I tell my wife.

"You should turn over," she says.

One afternoon, I escape the heat and humidity by watching soap operas with my stepmother-in-law.

"I'm going to the boardroom now," one of the soap opera characters says.

"The boardroom," my stepmother-in-law explains. "That's where all the crooks are."

"Just like in real life," I say.

"These shows are very realistic," she says.

Watching soap operas with my stepmother-in-law is like watching Monday Night Football with Joe Montana. She knows all the players. She knows all the inside stuff.

"He's a rich kid and a bad guy," she explains when they cut to a handsome young man in a hospital bed. "His dad's a bad guy too."

"Just like real life," I say.

The handsome young man in the hospital bed is hearing some bad news. I can't tell what. Maybe he's being sent to South Florida. Or L.A. He's taking it hard, whatever it is.

The guy grimaces. He's got one of those abnormally large Adam's apples that bobs up and down when he's worked up. Like a goiter, this thing. If I watch too closely, I get dizzy. Fortunately, my son stops by just as I'm about to fall out of my father-in-law's favorite chair.

"Dad, when are we going to hunt sharks?" the boy asks again.

"My spear gun's in the shop," I tell him.

"Then why'd we come down here?" he asks.

"To eat crab," I say. "And visit your grandparents."

"Mom says the crab places are closed for summer," he says.

"Now you tell me," I say.

On TV, the guy with the Adam's apple swallows hard.


Next week: golf and his grandfather.


Chris Erskine's column runs on Wednesdays. Reach him at

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