News: Take A Sign

Don’t Be Stupid In Paradise.

I received several suggestions from City Attorney Jose Smith subsequent to the publication of my article about purse snatchings and other thefts in South Beach’s South Pointe Park, which has been fabulously renovated under former City Manager Jorge Gonzales. He said his own family members had electronic valuables stolen at the tot park there. He recommended better police coverage, video surveillance, and public education including signs.

Capt. Mark Causey, who heads up the Special Investigations Unit for the Miami Beach Police Department, said that efforts were being made to apprehend what might be a career criminal operating in the park.

Capt. David De La Espriella, well known for his pioneering work in Community Policing, said there were signs warning the public to protect their valuables, but too many people tend to behave stupidly in the beautiful surround. He noted that the Gonzales city administration was averse to cluttering up parks with signs. He said lockers were being set up for people to secure their valuables while on the beach.

The aversion to signage seemed ironic to me in view of my investigation of the signage blight on the streets, with half of the signs unpermitted due to the lax and selective enforcement policy of the city’s code compliance officials.

In any event, we should know from the Garden of Eden myth that we should not continue to be stupid in paradise after we are robbed of our innocence.

I walked around the park again to examine the warning signs. I found many gaudy greenish signs warning people not to misbehave in one way or another, signs publishing a special rule for sex offenders, and a huge sign advertising the names of city officers, but I did not notice any signs warning against thieves until I asked a private security guard, who said there were a few such signs in the enormous parking lot.

I surveyed the parking lot and found two “Park Smart” signs on the north row of parking spaces, none in the center row, and three on the south row, for a total of five signs, each about a square-foot in size. A member of the valet service said there were virtually no few thefts in the parking lot when the service was operating because it was being watched. Yet many thefts occurred on the beach and within the park where most visitors had ventured from the hotels and surrounding streets.

To be sure of the signage, I flagged down a Parks Department truck and asked Edgar Rodriquez. “Where were the signs warning people of thieves?” He said there were “big” signs in the parking lot, and that was all, because there should be no signs inside the park. I pointed to the top of the hilly landscaping that elevates a portion of the walkway.

“There should be a billboard on top of the hill saying, DON”T BE STUPID, PROTECT YOUR VALUABLES!” I jested.

“They do not read the signs. Look!”

Two guys were riding their bikes on the elevated sidewalk, disobeying the commandment set forth on signs below.

“No bicycles up there!” Edgar shouted. The cyclists shrugged stupidly, so I cupped my hands and yelled, “Please do ride bicycles on the hill!”

“No English!” shouted one cyclist.

“Maricon!” Edgar answered with a favorite Latino term of endearment. They got the message, dismounted and took their bikes off the hill.

“Do you know about the Take a Sign program?” he asked me,

“No, I’ve never heard of it.”

I told Edgar that I had often spoken with the Park Department guy who attended to the park before it was renovated.

“I think his name was Jimmy, an Anglo, I believe. There was a discrimination issue, problems between the union and management. He sued the city for something and was proud to talk about it.”

“You should not sue the city. That was a long time ago. There are always issues.”

“You’re Cuban?”

“No, I am Rodriquez, I am Columbian. Before I was transferred down here from the beach up north, I was commended for my work,” he said proudly.

“Do you know Capt. De La Espriella with Internal Affairs? He’s Columbian.”

“No.”

“Isn’t Rodriquez a Mexican name?”

“Mexicans have mustaches. You cannot please everyone. There will always be complaints because people are different, black, Cuban, Columbian, Mexican. This is the problem government has. Look at those trees there. One will claim it is getting less water than others, or that one is blocking its leaves from getting sunlight.”

“Well, make sure the trees are watered equally,” I remarked as he drove away, and we laughed. Of course some trees need more or less water and light than others to thrive, something that cultivators of human beings should be aware of.

As chance would have it, a Beach Rescue vehicle pulled up, and a lifeguard disembarked in a scene reminiscent of Baywatch.

“What do you do to stay in shape?” I asked stupidly as I approached. “Do you go to the gym a lot?”

“I am a lifeguard,” Lt. Leigh Emerson-Smith, a Beach Rescue lifeguard for 32 years, responded. “I swim. I was an Olympic swimmer. This job is heaven for me. Who are you?”

“I’m a reporter checking out the thefts. Do you have a lot of thefts on the beach?”

“We have thefts every day. It is really very sad.”

“I think the cops have an undercover guy around here.”

“You would have to flood the beach with undercover officers to catch the thieves. Many of them look like ordinary people, so you never know who is going to steal something by their looks.”

I asked Leigh if she remembered the big discrimination issue with the unions a few years back. She did, and said it was a shame that the petty kind thing lingered on.

She applauded the organizational skills of Cubans.

“Given their numbers, blacks would be running this country if they were as organized as the Cubans.”

She said she was very impressed by the new administration, the changes it was making, and said the new city manager, Jimmy Morales, had actually come over to the beach and toured it with her, saying it was very important to the city. She said she thought he should make more changes in staff, though, noting how two high officials were saying malicious things in Spanish in front of her, unaware that she had lived in Columbia and understood Spanish.

By coincidence, she mentioned Edgar, and said it was a pleasure to work around such a hard worker at South Pointe, but that he was going to be transferred because his good work was needed elsewhere. She also spoke positively about the work of a Mr. Falls.

I asked about new lockers for securing valuables, whether they were just an idea or actually existed. She said there were two trailers of lockers on the beach, one at 7th Street and the other at 11 Street, so I headed in that direction.

Along the way I noticed two elderly tourists using portable toilets arrayed in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Beach Park near 3rd Street, a park that has public restrooms. By the way, although it is extremely politically incorrect for me to say this since he was ousted, I would rename South Pointe Park the Jorge Gonzales South Pointe Park after his death.

The Australian tourists, who did not want to be personally identified with toilets, said they had visited Miami Beach 30 years ago when it was pretty and clean. Now they were appalled by the filthy restrooms on 10th Street inhabited by tramps, so they came to this park, and decided to use the portable toilets set up for an event rather than go inside the public restroom a few steps away. They said filthy public restrooms leave a lasting impression on visitors from clean places, who may never return because of that experience.

I cannot say that I blame them. Miami Beach tramps do tend to trash and flood the public restrooms, which are rarely attended to. I have even had to call the city about backed up sewage including human waste.

I ventured onward toward the security lockers on 7 Street, pausing to observe the groundwork being done for the new restrooms near 5th Street in Lummus Park, the old ones having been demolished. As usual, the contractor signs did not bear license numbers as required by law, and were most likely not permitted since we have to mark the city’s code compliance division absent when it comes to enforcing many codes unless someone risks retaliation by making a fuss.

I walked onto the beach at 7th Street, where I observed several white trailers, with no signs indicating that they offered locker services. But one square trailer did attract me, sort of like the monolith in 2001 Space Odyssey. And there it was: a bank of attended, high-tech lockers available 9-to-5 at a charge of $5 per day, thanks to a big concession company called Boucher Bros.

The attendant, a high school student whom I shall not identify unless I receive parental consent in accordance with general AP guidelines, was informative and had an excellent customer service attitude.

Boucher Bros. is a big company, I was advised, and has many of the chairs and umbrellas on the beach. Its name is on the edges of the blue umbrellas. The company is testing the locker-trailers on the beach, and at present there are only two. Another locker is needed on the South Pointe end because tourists are saying they do not want to walk all the way back up the beach to recover their valuables.

True, the lockers are not easily recognized because there are no signs, and the city does not like signs on the beach, but that is being worked on.

Yes, the public restroom at 10 Street is horrible so do not go there. Use the hotels because most of them are nice enough to accommodate tourists.

Finally, it is too hard for high school students to get jobs. That was the second time I heard that this week from ambitious kids.

I left some grandfatherly advice, recounting how I had left home at six-feet tall and 13-years-old in the old days when employers were not so careful about checking ages and credentials, and I managed to work myself into an important position, after which hardly anyone ever asked me for credentials.

I said the biggest mistake I made was running away from home and then not staying put in one place. For example, if I had stayed in South Beach in 1969, I’m sure my business today would be as big as that of Boucher Bros, and I would hire plenty of high school kids.

About David Arthur Walters

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