I (try to) walk 3-4 miles everyday. I walk because I hate to run and I want to try and stay healthy. I also walk to clear my head and be outside. I live around some fascinating neighborhoods and walking through them and noticing how different each house is and how each family chooses to landscape (or trash) their little spaces constantly reminds me of how different we are as people. The familiar sites and smells of June let me know that it is once again mango time in Miami. The trees are bursting and I see children and adults alike, with tables of mangoes in front of their yards. Some with clever handwritten signs, some with mango “barkers” declaring the prices and some with both. Some use the honor system. I do not discriminate.
This is not legal per se, but as you can imagine, police in Miami have real issues to worry about. As I pass one table I snap a picture of a lady selling the mangoes she has just picked from the tree you can see standing alone in her yard. She tells me she has great mangoes and that she hopes I am not going to report her. “With that hat…never!” I say as I walk by and tell her that I’m on a walk and will stop back by to get some mangoes. I say this to three other people that I see along the way but the truth is that on this day, like many others, I have left the house without cash. Tomorrow is another day but the mangoes will not be around forever and when I get home I put dollar bills into my walking shorts so I can grab some mangoes the next day.
I remember the first time I was introduced to mangoes. I was 12 and working at Merriam Lane Market unloading the morning trucks that came in before we opened the market. There weren’t many in that first load but we were just starting to stock mangoes for the season. Most produce coming in boxed up from City Market wasn’t ripe yet but Frank, the owner, had gotten a ripe mango from the Italian boys that run the produce docks down by the river while he was at market. The market I worked at was open from April to October each year and the calendar of each season seemed to be broken up into separate blocks of time distinguished by when a certain fruit or vegetable arrived and demanded prime real estate in the small market. There was the anticipation of the arrival, and rumors of how the crop would be. It would be decided how many bins we would need and where they should be placed. The announcement would come that a certain item of produce would be coming in that week and the countdown and buzz would begin. During it’s run, all discussion turned to that fruit or vegetable as word of mouth spread and customers would come in looking for what everyone was raging about. It was that way with California asparagus and avocados in May, O’Henry peaches in June, Rocky Ford cantaloupes in July, local watermelon and Mount Ranier cherries in August and Concord grapes in September. It was also that way for mangoes in June and the truck had just pulled up with our first mangoes. Before he cut into it to share with all of us, his mother, who also worked at the market and who we all called grandma, began to give us a lecture on the possible dangers of eating the skin. Grandma was always giving lectures but the skin of many mangoes does contain urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy and poison sumac that can cause contact dermatitis and make a person extremely uncomfortable for a while. Her lectures always included horrible stories of those she knew who had been afflicted with whatever malady she was warning us about. Frank gave me a slice of the mango and told me it grew in tropical areas. I recall how sweet and juicy it was and I was immediately hooked.
Growing up in Kansas, I was bombarded with images of all things tropical by travel advertisements my entire life. Knowing that the bread basket has little to offer in the way of exotic vacations, tourism boards from every other part of the world flood the plains with their images of mountains, thriving downtown scenes, palm trees, beaches and/or blue waters. Tropical areas became associated with a magical land of relaxation, intoxication and small bikini’s where everything was just right all the time. Over the years my mind lumped mangoes into that fantasy. When I moved to Miami 5 years ago and saw the trees bursting with mangoes and all the small bikini’s (definitely not in that order) I knew I was in that tropical locale of my mind that was unlocked when I bit into that mango for the first time.
And that time is here again….for a while
There are things in life that should not be compromised. One of these is coffee and more importantly ones morning ritual towards obtaining that coffee. I had fallen into a funk that lasted only 10 days or so but quick diagnosis of the funk could be traced to a change up in my morning routine….or my lack of a morning. I had started to work on my photos late into the night and falling asleep whenever it happened and each night it got later and later. My alarm would still go off at the same time but I would turn it off and sleep until I woke up, which kept getting later and later until one day I woke up at 3pm and realized that I had been getting up at the same time for 4 days. There’s something about waking up that late that makes me feel like a slacker. I am a man of leisure after all but not a video gaming teenage stoner on summer break. Stuff still has to get done son and I really needed to get my morning groove back. Last night while walking to a friend’s house I decided I had had enough and was going to take my mornings back over.
One of my favorite things about that deal I made with my previous employer in March was that I could now have my entire day free to do the things that I couldn’t do when I was working. All the things that keep us day dreaming and hating the grind. I was now free to take my time with whatever I wanted, including my coffee. I did have and still have much grander plans in store but appreciating coffee is a good place to start. Every day would last an eternity if I wasn’t “working” and I wanted those eternal days to start early and with Cuban coffee so I could go wherever I wanted and take as long as I wanted and handle my coffee (or anything else) guilt free without feeling that I was taking too long to get ready to go to that J-O-B. With no car I had to walk or bike to that coffee and because of this I was able to see many things in my neighborhood for the 1st time. Everything looks, sounds, and smells better when you aren’t driving. I had promised myself that I would live on $10 a day and was making that happen. $1.50 for morning coffee was of little consequence and even with that I was able to eat for the rest of the day under $10.
In April my friend Manu was traveling from Costa Rica to the Virgin Islands and for whatever reason the layover in Ft. Lauderdale is almost 20 hours so I told her she could crash at my pad. For putting her up she gave me a bag of Costa Rican coffee. My roommate has a Kuerig coffee maker so making my own coffee would be dropping off the $1.50 a day and help me save some money. I was also working on cutting a little weight and as Cuban coffee is LOADED with sugar, the drop in sugar would be good too. Two strong cups and I was good to go for the day with maybe a cup in the afternoon. Manu’s coffee lasted a little over a month but I got some French Roast from Publix and continued making coffee at home not quite realizing that I was missing all the benefits of my previous morning routine.
There are three primary places in my neighborhood that I have gotten my coffee for the past couple of years. One is a little farther because it’s in my old neighborhood but I still go there because the coffee girl is cute and even though I do not know her name we have had a caffeinated relationship for some time and those things are hard to walk away from. So sometimes I walk the two miles there and charge it to exercise. Another place, Cafe QBano takes 11 minutes to walk to and requires crossing Biscayne in the morning, always a sketchy proposition. But Nancy, the Cuban owner, makes a mean colada and makes me speak Spanish so it’s always a complete cultural experience. 79 Cafe is the closest and easiest to get to and walking to 79th is a sensory experience in itself that gets you going in the morning.
It’s just two blocks from my house past old Miami houses that were built when craftsmanship mattered and down an alley behind some businesses. On one side of this alley you will probably see the guy that lives under the banyan tree asleep on his couch, tucked in the corner of the lot where many cars cannot see him. On the other, as you walk behind China Palace, you may be early enough to see the chickens of the day behind the barred window, hanging on a string in the kitchen awaiting preparation. And for that day you know that if you choose to eat there, you could in fact be eating chicken and not the other things that the mind conjures up when eating Chinese food. After the alley you pop out on the sidewalks of Biscayne Ave, walking a few doors down entering the small cafe next to the major bus stop at 79th & Biscayne. This bus stop is always a great place to see that intermingling of people that is one half commuters on the way to their day and one half crack head/homeless finishing their nights and stumbling to their resting places in the alleys on the west side of Biscayne. Regardless of what happens, inside 79 Cafe Dago will greet you each day with a smile and deliver what you require.
Last night I still stayed up late but this morning got up at 10 instead of 3. The walk to 79 Cafe was as consistent as it ever was and I looked for those things that I had noticed before. I could smell trees that were still flowering and hear the clustermess of a symphony that is 40 birds and 3 dogs, the rhythmic clip clop of my Vans hitting the pavement and bouncing off keeping the time. The man that lives on the couch under the banyan tree in the alley was just getting up but I was too late to see the day’s chickens hanging in the kitchen at China Palace. When I walked in to 79 Cafe Dago asked where I had been for so long. “Around….just around” was my response and he winked understandably and got right on my coffee. Tomorrow is another day and I’ll get up a little earlier perhaps catching the morning bus stop rush. I suppose I also have to get around to the other coffee stops that I haven’t been to since April.