Friday, May 06, 2005

The Day The Glamour Died

I have officially declared South Beach dead. That's right kids, it's not in a's over. How do I know? Because I am over it. I, who have been so happy here for the past 10 or so years. I, who inspired (read as: coerced) several core friends to move here because the South Beach lifestyle was so relaxingly outrageous. I, who stayed through every incarnation / exploitation of the Beach from the days of Drag Queens and Old Yettas to the Eurotrash Invasion to the current South Beach culture of Bling, Fake Boobs, and Bouncing Cars.

Since my move here in 1994, South Beach has been really good to me. I came here as a refugee raver from San Francisco fleeing a peace, love and unity dream that, somewhere along the way, morphed into a terrible, dark crystal meth nightmare. South Beach was never an aspiration. But, when the club anthems changed from "Everybody's Free" to "Save Us," I luckily had two amazing friends from back home in Pittsburgh who were there to save me. Jason and Jody were preparing to move from Pittsburgh to South Beach, when Jason came to visit me in San Francisco. I was living is squalor in a lovely neighborhood called "The Tenderloin," sleeping and eating only Monday through Thursday(except for the occasional Cordoruoy City Tuesday night), and had become totally comfortable with my impending self-destruction. Jason guilted me into relocating to South Beach with him and Jody, and luckily, somehow in my amphetamine haze I made the right choice to go. I will be forever grateful to Jason and Jody for literally saving my life.

It was so hard to adjust, at first. Coming from grungy San Francisco with a raver mentality and a new wave heritage, it was hard to see myself ever being a part of this John Waters meets Celia Cruz oasis at the tip of civilization filled with models, body boys and their admirers. A really severe 6 month case of post-crystal depression and isolation certainly didn't help warm me up to my new home either. So I left. I went back to drawing board - Pittsburgh. I can still remember the day late autumn, in Pittsburgh, when I was able to feel again. I noticed the beauty of the changing leaves in the crisp fall air. A few months later, I found my way back to the Beach - this time as a sojouner, not a refugee.

I carved out a little niche in South Beach and re-discovered me. I deepened my years long friendships with my Pittsburgh-gone-South friends and made great new friends from all over the world. I learned to rollerblade, speak Spanish and Kreyol and I went skydiving for the first time. I learned how to ignore that voice that said "you can't do anything," "you're too damaged," "you're not good enough." I took a class just for kicks at Miami-Dade Community College and ended up with a Master's Degree in Sociology from FIU.

One of my favorite things about South Beach has always been it's constantly evolving culture. When I first moved here, Bridgette Buttercup and Paragon were symbols of the kitschy frivolity and slightly seedy air of the Beach. You could ride your bike down Lincoln Road at midnight and not pass another person, except for the occasional x-ed out body boy lookin' for love in all the wrong places. You could see Madonna dancing at a club (and I did, believe it or not). You could pay $450 a month for a cool art deco apartment.

In the later '90s, Lincoln Road had a facelift and condo towers started spring up. Every trust fund kid from Europe and New York with a penchant for models and cocaine headed for the "billion dollar sandbar." The club scene got crazy, a huge movie theatre was built and the Travel Channel became obsessed with Mango's. I still liked it though. It seemed to have the best of all worlds. It had all the spectacle of New York and LA, without that "rat race" feeling. It had the warmth and sexiness of Latino culture without the oppressive military regime that so often comes with it. It believed in classic American rugged individualism without holding on to American stuffiness. Then, Versace was killed.

In 2001, Argentina's economic crisis sent a huge wave of immigrants to South Beach. Armed with European sensibilities and South American know-how, they added a new flavor to the scene, and I made a lot of super new friends. South Beach has been good to me.

But, now the South Beach that I grew with is gone. The greed of the developers did finally prevail over the creativity of the early SoBe denizens. Skyrocketing rents have doused the last flickers of innovative living. The streets between the multi-million dollar condos are filled with Lamorghinis, prostitutes and vomit, and not one fucking parking space. The nights of Queers and Non-Queers of all shades dancing together, united by a string of fierce house divas, have been replaced by crunk thugs, Lil' Jon and misogynistic reggaeton. Most of the Queers who turned every weekend into an ecstasy-fueled celebration succumbed to the crystal epidemic that moved east from California and hit South Beach hard just before September 11th. Some moved away, some died and some are still sitting alone behind tightly closed curtains, cruising the internet and going nowhere.

South Beach has lost its sense of humor. Early on, New York gave us its velvet ropes, fashion elitism and a sarcastic edge. But, from the beginning, SoBe culture had a sense of tongue-in-cheek playfulness and giddiness that just wasn't possible in gritty New York. Apparently, it's hard to laugh when the sidewalks are covered in human and pet waste and the sun is blocked by enormous empty condo towers filled only with investment. The glamour has finally died.


A* said...

You NEVER disappoint me. Cyrus- you are so effing smart it makes me ill. I miss you and love you!!!

hofzinser said...

Um... first time here. Um... yea... WOW. To combine an overview peppered with the personal is hard to pull off. You, sir, seemed to do it without a hitch.


hofzinser said...

...that's all well and good... now friggin post again!

hofzinser said...

Not kidding... you post... you post now!

Autumn said...

Glad you got over the meth thing...that is so not a pretty life! But I have to wonder if you call San Francisco "grungy" because of the state of mind you were in, if so, I hope you return some day and see it in a different life, because if you travel at all you'll see the beauty here when you return.


Cyrus said...

Hi Autumn:

Thanks for the kindness, and yes, meth is SO not pretty!

My description of San Francisco as "grungy" was not meant in any way to be demeaning to the City. San Francisco is breathtakingly beautiful. When I lived there in the early '90s, the City embraced a punk / modern primitive / hippy aesthetic that, coupled with an enormous homeless population, gave the city a "grungy" feel - especially in comparison to pastel-laden Miami Beach. My own personal style is definitely more San Francisco than Miami.

I have been back to visit a few times since I last lived there in 1994, and the City has changed immensely (some for the better, some not). But, I'm certain that San FranDisco will always be this country's bastion of coolness.

Valerie - Riding Solo said...

I have a friend who was into meth. He went to San Francisco. I heard he lived under an overpass and repaired bicycles to make money.

It's such a loss. He was a brilliant lead gutiarist and made beautiful inlaid wood items.

I miss him.

So glad one man made it out, as hard as the road was.