Tag Archives: Dominoes

Calle Ocho: The Great Clotheshanger Day Two Detour

28 Apr

I knew my second day in Miami would be great the moment I woke up. I always feel great when I wake up without the alarm clock. Well-rested, and pretty much on my own for the day, I set out on a hunt for clothes hangers, knowing full-well the search could lead to an adventure if I loosely arranged for it to be so.

I headed straight for Calle Ocho. This wouldn’t be the logical place to go for clothes hangers, but I wanted to check out the Goodwill Superstore, and that happened to be at 982 SW 8th Street. Calle Ocho is a landmark street within Little Havana (Spanish: La Pequeña Habana). “LH is a neighborhood of Miami, Florida, United States. Home to many Cuban immigrant residents, Little Havana is named after Havana, the capital and largest city in Cuba… LH is occasionally called the Latin Quarter. LH is noted as a center of social, cultural, and political activity in Miami. Its festivals, including Carnival Miami, Cultural Fridays, the Three Kings Parade and others, are televised to millions of people every year on different continents. It is also known for its landmarks, including Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street/Tamiami Trail)…It is undoubtedly the best known neighborhood for Cuban exiles in the world. Little Havana is characterized by a robust street life, excellent restaurants, cultural activities, mom and pop enterprises, political passion, and great warmth amongst its residents.”–Wikipedia.

Colorful and Political Street Art, Calle Ocho, Miami, April 2012

I arrived at about 2:30 p.m. and drove down the strip from SW 17th down to SW 11th. I noticed things were pretty quiet, but I saw some mysterious nooks and crannies waiting to be explored. I decided to leave my whip in the KFC parking lot, to avoid paying a meter. I began my stroll and immediately noticed I was getting a lot of attention here. One young man walks by and asks me, “Ay mami, are you a tourist?” I said “No,” defensively, giving myself away. He ended the exchange with a smirk and, “You look like one.” Even though it wasn’t a compliment, I felt like it was a nice primer for what was to come. I smiled.

Festive Street Corners, Calle Ocho, Miami, April 2012

On Calle Ocho there is a little nook called the Maximo Gonzalez Park which doubles as one of Miami’s famous Domino Club meeting spots. What follows is what I wrote as I sat in the shade here, hiding from the sun, sipping on a sugary Cuban espresso:

“I sit on a bench in the shade as many men sit in groups of four, at designated tables, playing their beloved game of Dominoes. Pigeons flutter around my feet, pecking at seeds and trash. The clinking of the plastic tiles seems wedded to the lively murmur of conversational Spanish. Occasional victorious or dismayed cries interject.

Men playing dominoes at Maximo Gonzalez Park, Calle Ocho, Miami, April 2012

It is a lovely day, must be 85 degrees in the sun. But in the shade, a breeze still reaches us from the ocean and the effect is pleasantly balmy. I’ve been met with many stares while walking down this street. They have all been followed by smiles of approval and mild interest. Especially in the Dominoes Park. Most of the men here are older, 60+, but some are young. I see two other women here, both look ethnically Hispanic. I feel singular, but not alien.

I bought an espresso from a window cafe a couple of blocks back. It’s just now cool enough to sip, and upon first taste I notice how sweet it is. Lots of sugar has been added (I want to inquire later as to whether or not this is how locals drink it, or if the waitress thought I wouldn’t want it straight). It is strong, thick. Very good. I already feel slightly sick from the rush of caffeine.

Two other Caucasian tourists walk into the square and I’m embarrassed! Ballcaps and tennis shoes, they remind me instantly that I’m one of them. Also reminding me is a dark-skinned man with a slight flat-top hairdo that is peering at me from around a cement column. He wears a Matrix-like trench coat and has been following me at a safe distance as I’ve traversed the famous street. He carries a yellow legal pad and pen, as if he’s taking notes. There’s no difference between he and I except I am using my Blackberry to write this now. He could be a lost, quirky, Calle Ocho pirate author.

The pirate of Calle Ocho in a trenchcoat, as seen from behind. Sometimes the followed becomes the follower. Calle Ocho, Miami, April 2012.

As I sit here I’m reminded of Columbus Park in Manhattan. Nestled in my favorite part of Chinatown, it is a shaded triangle of respite from the city snarl. Many locals sit at designated tables and play Mahjong all day long. There, you will find that most of the players are old as well, except they’re of Asian descent. Like I’m doing here, now, you can stroll into Columbus Park and watch people play for hours. While I don’t know how to play Mahjong, there seems to be similarities between the games. Perhaps I say that just because both utilize similarly shaped plastic tiles. That’s something else I should look into.

I would like to while away the hours here, but I didn’t pay for parking and don’t want to risk getting a ticket. This is a lovely spot, an oasis compared to the heat right outside the gates.”

Shortly before leaving, I met Jules. He was a 30-something construction worker, with a 15-year old son. Jules was hitting on me, but in an acceptable gentlemanly fashion. We made small talk, he told me he’s lived on Calle Ocho all his life, and we shared a laugh about our shared unemployment being the reason we were hanging with the Dominoes Club on a Thursday afternoon.

Delicious piggie, Calle Ocho, Miami, April 2012