Running Coconut Grove


By Gordon Cherr


The sign loomed large over I-95 in Dade County. It proclaimed in colorfully bold letters at least 12 feet tall, the following message to all travelers southbound on the interstate: “CALL MR. BIDET FOR A REALLY CLEAN TUSH.”

Now, the 9 hour drive from Tallahassee wasn’t all that long and there was no good reason for me to be hallucinating, and three other people in my car saw that sign, so I guess it was really there. In retrospect, it was the perfect entrance to Dade County, and as it turned out, quite in tune for the remainder of the weekend, which was spent in Coconut Grove. This was Corey’s wedding weekend and I seriously believed that I was ready for whatever might come my way.

We checked into the Mayfair House, a stunning hotel, in the Grove. This was where the wedding reception would be held, two nights hence. Meeting with some of my in-laws (I always referred to them as the “out-laws” when they were doing time, but they’re all free now and have had their civil rights restored, but that is another story for another time), we walked over en masse to Grand Avenue and the Cocowalk, with its fine restaurants and shops, searching for dinner. Our repast was at the Cheesecake Factory, and Tallahassee could seriously use several of these establishments. I took considerable notice of the female fashion of the night: Healthy young women in skirts so short they resembled wide belts, heels more spiky than stilettos, the quintessential FMPs if there ever was such a thing. There was more silicone bouncing around the Cocowalk than in a WD-40 factory at peak production. Having dinner with my in-laws, I exercised my peripheral vision discretely. My gag response is still quite functional.

We tried to retire to sleep, and I had planned an early run. But the yelling and screaming and crashes of broken glass on nearby Florida Avenue continued well on into the morning. It finally quieted down in the Grove around 4 AM (Friday morning). I was up at 7 to run. Now, I thought that maybe I was heat acclimated and there are no hills here, but the rising sun resembled a nuclear blast cloud in intensity and ten minutes into an hours’ run, I knew that one hour was going to be pushing the envelope a bit far. I hadn’t a clue as to where I was going except that this wasn’t going to be a trail run and I found my way to south Bayshore Drive. It was a very busy morning rush hour. (Ha! “Rush hour” is a definite misnomer down here, it is more like a 24 hour around the clock scramble for space and speed on every roadway.) The typical Miami driver has discovered a way to simultaneously occupy both his lane and the bike lane where I was trying to run. Eventually I did find my way to a marina with some asphalt running trails, but apparently everyone in the Grove has a dog and every dog is nastier than the next and you get the picture, don’t you? Self restraint is not big on the agenda in the Grove. Neither is the brassiere, which remains wholly undiscovered in the Grove, even among female runners who were passing by every now and then. Doesn’t that hurt? My concern was purely scientific, but I truly believe that I saw some laws of nature being violated in public. But that’s the Grove, I guess. Fifty one minutes later I crawled into the lobby of the Mayfair House. It isn’t possible to sweat that much, is it? By the look on the face of the concierge, I knew I had broken some rule about perspiring on the fancy carpet.

The day was spent “admiring” the local sights (and there were quite a few) with a fine breakfast at a little bistro on Green Street, a short several blocks away. Why do people in the Grove bring their dogs to restaurants? It seemed quite the thing to do and many people certainly did. There was a small condominium project going up nearby, with a big sign: “Fine condos on the water. From $1.8 million”. Gives you another whole perspective, doesn’t it? Unless you currently live on St. George Island, where many of these same people are building 10,000 square foot houses.

I was able to scope out more places for the next day’s run, and discovered a small neighborhood area literally jammed in between Bayshore Drive and US 1 (Dixie Highway, the southern end of I-95). This looked pleasant enough and shady, without much thru traffic, and I put it on the agenda for the next morning. The houses were small but pretty spiffy with some imposing privacy fences. A few were even for sale (“Fixer-upper, $975,000”). I did learn that you can tell the local runners from the tourist runners like me. The tourists wave and smile and say “hello” to each other as we pass on the road. True to their big city heritage, the locals refuse to make eye contact and always look away.

Friday night was more of the same with music and shouting, screams and the sounds of wailing sirens all night long in the Grove. The sun rose fast and hot Saturday morning. And early. Lathered in sunscreen I stepped out of the hotel lobby and tried to remember just where that neighborhood was. Ah, there it is, Tigertail Avenue, and off I went. There were many more runners out on Saturday morning. Then still another freak of nature: how do those woman wedge their tiny derrieres into those even tighter shorts? Man, some of those looked awfully hard, do they silicone their butts down here too? I mean, can that be healthy? Can you breath like that? That must cut off the circulation to something. Being a humanist, I am concerned about such things.

Miami is raising a generation of soon to be deaf people. In an earlier day it was big boom boxes shaking windows, blasting away. Today it is MP3 players with personal earphones, but the sound is still so loud that it is audible to everyone in a three block perimeter. Still, this run was better than the one the day before. At least until I stopped at the one remaining empty lot in the Grove to relieve myself of some Guinness, only to be chased out of the lot and down the street by a 3′ tall screaming peacock, with an iridescent green neck and very red eyes. That bird definitely looked stoned to me. But no worries, Big Bird was chased off by a rottweiler who was running free on Seminole Street (that was seared into my brain from climbing the street sign pole to avoid Cujo). After forty six minutes and minus one shoe I limped back to the Mayfair. At least I had retained the significant body parts, not a small consolation.

The wedding was great. Corey got married. There will eventually be a third generation of runners in the family. Someday, although not soon enough, my running experiences in the Grove will fade from memory. Mr. Bidet will live on and everyone in the Grove will have a clean tush.