To some, it’s the first day of the week. To others, the seventh. Some use it as a day to worship. Others use it as a day to relax, wind down, watch big men in tights play with an oval pigskin, mentally prepare for another agonizing workweek.
For me, Sunday is a day usually filled with lethargy. A day to lie in bed past 10:00 a.m., read the newspaper, watch some TV (at somebody else’s house, of course), take a dip in the pool, a late afternoon jog on the Rickenbacker Causeway. You know – get away from the monotony that consumes a lot of our Monday through Friday routine.
This past Sunday needed to be different. I yearned for something different. Something away from tall buildings and cranes, people even. It was time to play good ole tourist in my own backyard, something long overdue.
So I took a shower that day, made sure I smelled good, jumped in my ride, loaded 3 albums currently on heavy rotation in my CD changer (Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”, The Beatles’ “White Album”, Kanye West’s “Graduation”), and headed south on US 1 to visit the second oldest city in Miami-Dade County.
Before reaching my ultimate destination, however, a pit stop at Bargain Town, located at Packing House Road and SW 244 ST just west of US 1, was necessary. Its appearance, recently altered by the South Miami-Dade Busway that separates it from US 1, instantly takes me back to Taxco, Mexico at the age of eight. It was one of those summer vacations that was really a trip, not a vacation (thanks Mom, thanks Dad), where I was looking for the swimming pool at every stop of the way only to be faced with 50 degree weather while trying to convince my mom that 50 degrees was warm enough for me to do the 200 meter butterfly stroke. Anyways, immediately upon entry into Bargain Town one senses the community – rural community – formed by Mexican and Central American immigrants drawing on experiences left behind in their native homelands. Women dress in indigenous wear, while men don cowboy outfits in honor of their favorite Narco film-inspired action hero. Modelo Especial is the beer of choice around these parts. Numerous garbage cans filled with empty bottles spilling onto the ground tell me so.
Upon relieving myself and perusing through the various indoor and outdoor kiosks carrying new and used goods, not finding any bargains, and catching one last waft from the roasted corn kiosk, it was time to continue my journey down south.
Back on US 1 I couldn’t help but notice how smooth that particular stretch of pavement has gotten. “First sign of progress?”, I wondered.
Next stop: Goodwill Superstore in Homestead Plaza, where serendipity proved to be on my side. As I meandered my way through the men’s section, a tailor fit long sleeve shirt caught my eye from afar. Price tag? Five beans. You have got to be kidding me. Who gives up on quality fashion? I grabbed it just before the guy behind me, whose eyes glanced and spotted the shirt at the exact moment I lunged towards it, got an opportunity to visualize himself in it. The Dennis Rodman “box out” proved to be a worthy technique.
New old shirt in tow, I jumped back in the sedan and headed west to the southern end of Krome Avenue, downtown Homestead’s Main Street. With its small town atmosphere, refurbished Mediterranean revival structures, specialty stores, antique shops, the Homestead Sun, the Seminole Theatre, ArtSouth, and authentic Mexican eateries amongst other interesting and unique retail opportunities, it suddenly donned on me that downtown Homestead is the only area in all of South Miami-Dade that truly offers an urban village-like experience in a suburban, almost rural setting.
Miami-Dade College’s Homestead Campus, which now houses five permanent facilities on its site, and the must-see one block stretch of Washington Avenue flocked with Hispanic immigrant owned businesses that offer everything from tax preparation services to dollar store knickknacks, are a short walk from Main Street. Also within walking distance is the last phase of the now almost complete South Miami-Dade Busway, an exclusive, two-lane, two-direction roadway built on an abandoned Florida East Coast Railroad right-of-way, which will go all the way down to SW 344 ST (Palm Drive) and serve as a “convenient” alternative to get South Miami-Dade residents (and their cars) off of US 1 and into express buses that will take them as far north as the Dadeland South Metrorail station.
The site of the now half-razed Borges Market (IGA) sits nearby. I was saddened to see the somewhat MiMo influenced structure in its current state. I was looking forward to having a tall 99-cent can of Arizona Green Tea sitting out front as Mexican and other immigrants go about their business in the heavily trafficked aforementioned strip on Washington Avenue. It was not to be on this day. I had to settle for digital photographs of the fenced-in façade that sparked a similar, although much less intensive, nostalgic feeling to the one I felt when I took Polaroid photographs of Bobby Maduro Stadium (Miami Stadium to the old schoolers who remember seeing Cal Ripken, Jr. and Don Mattingly train during the spring in preparation for the upcoming regular season) just days before it was demolished to make way for Miami Stadium Apartments. It still stings every time I stop in the Arab-owned corner store (the owner swears I’m of Arab descent – Mom? Dad?) across the street on NW 10 AVE and daydream about what and who once stood there. For Pete’s sake, Public Enemy, Two Live Crew, and Run DMC all performed at Miami Stadium. No respect for history I tell you.
I always marveled at the size and shape of the lot on which Borges Market (IGA) once sat. Located on a triangular-shaped lot bordering Washington Avenue (Homestead has one too) to the west, Parkway Avenue to the southeast, and Civic Court to the northeast, I always felt that its highest and best use was not a rundown supermarket whose better days were stuck in a time warp left way behind.
Apparently, City of Homestead officials felt the same way when the City purchased the large swath of land to build a new City Hall that will accommodate the increasing demands of its population. Described as an awe-inspiring architectural masterpiece by council members who viewed drawings of the building’s façade and interior design, the three-story, 79,580 square foot structure will house most city departments and the Council Chambers, which will seat 300. The second floor will also house an Emergency Operations Center designed to withstand those oh-so-memorable Category 5 hurricane winds.
As I drove south on Krome Avenue through its southernmost tip, past the Landmark Hotel and the Redland Hotel to the east towards Florida City, the face of progress cannot be ignored. Anyone who visited this area of Homestead five years ago can see the changing face of its streetscape, the freshly painted facades of older commercial buildings, the busway cutting through a long-forgotten stretch of Henry Flagler’s railway, a slight sense of civic pride.
The change caught me by surprise – a little bit. The image of a natural disaster ravaged area is not the first to come to mind anymore. One can almost visualize an area teeming with life. Not the life experienced in the wee hours of the morning in the debauchery zones of South Beach and other areas closer to the urban core, but the life seen in Pleasantville-type films of yesteryear where people walk to the grocery store, the drug store, the hardware store, the movie theater, restaurants, the library, a bookstore, school, work, and all the other places we drive to these days no matter how close to home they are.
Approaching Florida City on Krome Avenue, directly east of where I stood, I saw a very tall sign towering over US 1 reminiscent of the ones seen in Kissimmee, Florida on the way to see the Mouse. This particular one caught my eye. It advertises Cracker Barrel. It lets one know that the restaurant is open for business hundreds of feet below. Paying close attention to the growl in my empty stomach, I was suddenly faced with an important decision. Cracker Barrel or El Toro Taco? Corporate America or Mom & Pop? Although I couldn’t have gone wrong with a fully loaded Chicken Burrito and a frosty Modelo Especial, the Eggs in a Basket (which, by the way, are not on the menu in this particular location) and the freshly squeezed lemonade from the country kitchen were calling out my name.
Besides, I was still playing tourist. Remember?
La Proxima Semana
Part Deux: The Other Homestead
Adrian Salgado is a Realtor Associate with RED I Realty in Miami, FL and can be reached at 305-491-7179 or SalgadoA@gmail.com. Call him and tell him what a swell guy he is.