Miami Is Another Country

In New York City you have different neighborhoods some dominated by Italians, some by Jews, some by Germans, some by Afro-Americans, some by Puerto Ricans, some by Irish, some by Indians and some by a whole combination of these and more ethnic groups. While you might hear foreign languages in many places, there are so many of them in New York that the City has true diversity – although diversity has no inherently good moral quality.

Not so with Miami.

When people call the city “little Cuba” they mean it. The U.S. Census has Miami’s Latin / Hispanic population at 70 percent (some define themselves as Hispanic white or Hispanic black), while almost 20 percent of the population is Afro-American.

About 22 percent of the population is Catholic, although a full 60 percent of the population considers itself non-religious. While the state of Florida is sometimes called “little Israel,” only a shade over one percent in Miami are Jewish. (In New York City we have a rapidly shrinking “little Italy,” a little “Chinatown,” a “little Korea,” a “little India,” a little Beirut – for the lower streets of Bay Ridge – and on it goes. Hey, in New York, you get a “little” of something or other all the time!)

Spanish seems to be the dominant language, which pleased my wife the Beautiful A.P. as she speaks Spanish. As for me, I just stand there smiling as she enjoys conversation after conversation. She could be talking to someone about his family being murdered and I stand there with a goofy grin on my face. I am sure some Miamians thought I was a total idiot.

In Miami I was in a different country, a vacation-touristy-type country, meaning a pretty Latin American or island country given the weather, the Palm trees, the ocean, the sands, the Spanish speakers and the architecture; plus all the beautiful people, those tanned men and tanned women posing in skimpy bathing suits at the beaches (particularly South Beach), or at the pools, often holding drinks in their hands as if they were in commercials.

Being there in late September was – to put it frankly – awful, absolutely awful. The temperatures hovered in the high 80’s and low 90’s, while the humidity was at steam bath levels. I sweated like crazy. Maybe that’s why so many of the beautiful people walked around almost naked. Even some of the non-beautiful people were almost naked too – not a pleasant sight.

We stayed at the Sonesta Bayfront Hotel in Coconut Grove.

I had already stayed at a Sonesta in Baltimore and loved its old world, classy style. The Coconut Grove Sonesta at first seemed less appealing but by the third day I loved the place. It was clean, had a great restaurant, pool and terrific views from one’s room. Our traveling companions Jerry “Stickman” and his wife the Lovely Tres, along with the Beautiful A.P. and I would sit on our adjoining balconies, watch the sunsets, the ocean, while drinking fine wines.

Our meals went from good to great; from gourmet to not-so gourmet. The first night we ate at Bombay Darbar (, an exceptional Indian restaurant. The following day we ate lunch at a good Cuban restaurant in South Beach, Puerto Sagua.

Thankfully I did not go into the men’s room at Sagua until after lunch. It was covered in graffiti – with graffiti on top of graffiti (all of it un-artistic). The stall toilet was covered in shit and someone had taken a small dump in the urinal. The place stunk. Had I gone to the bathroom before lunch I would have left the restaurant.

Prior to eating at Puerto Sagua, we toured South Beach with Art Deco Tours with Christine and Company. ( Christine is a vivacious young woman with a true love for Miami and her tour was excellent. I recommend it highly.

That night we ate at a French restaurant La Plame d’Or at the Biltmore Hotel. Terrific gourmet with excellent ambience.

One of the reasons we went to Miami was for Stickman and me to attend a Tampa Bay Rays’ baseball game and a Miami Marlins’ baseball game. So on Sunday morning Stickman and I headed to Tampa Bay (St. Petersburg) – a four-hour trip from Miami – to watch Tampa Bay take on the Baltimore Orioles.

We had breakfast at Sonesta’s excellent Panorama restaurant and at 8am off we went. The wives would have their day in Miami; while we’d be continuing our baseball odyssey.

Going to Tampa Bay became an ordeal. Suddenly, out of nowhere (so to speak) I had to go to the bathroom; go urgently, as in the saying, “If I don’t go now I will explode in the car.”

“Jerry,” I said, holding myself in. “Pull over. I can’t hold this.” Jerry Stickman pulled over and I squatted beside the car. EXPLOSION! The road we were on went through the Everglades so there were no houses anywhere; just swamps and grasses and small trees as far as the eye could see, with a stream running beside the road. There was a big, electrified fence between the side of the road (where I squatted) and the stream. It didn’t dawn on me just then why such an electrified fence was there. EXPLOSION!

The cars coming towards us on our side of the highway could catch a glimpse of me squatting the way the Japanese squat over their floor-level toilets. EXPLOSION!

“Aaaaarrrrrggghhhhh,” I said inside myself. What could I do? Cars flashed by. (“Mommy, that man is showing his rear end.” “Timmy don’t look.” “Oh God, Sarah, he just blew a big one onto the ground!”)

As I was finishing up, I noticed it – an alligator, a BIG nasty-looking alligator, staring at me from the stream parallel to the road. Oh, my God, I was already embarrassed by the fact that I had dumped my brains out; now I would be eaten by an alligator. I could see the headlines: “Famous Writer Eaten by Alligator after Having Loose Bowel Movement on the Side of the Road!”

As I pulled my pants up, I realized now why the electrified fence had been erected – to protect humans from alligators!

Getting in the car, Stickman said, “Well, that’s a first for me!”

“I’m mortified.”

“On we go!” he said.

Ten minutes later, I said: “I gotta go again.”

“There’s a rest area coming up,” said Stickman.

We made it and I made it too. EXPLOSION!

We had to stop a third time at a gas station and I literally battled several elderly men to get into a stall. “You son of a bitch,” said one old guy I pushed aside. EXPLOSION! “Oh, man; oh, Christ,” said another man. “You smell that?” EXPLOSION!

Thankfully, the gas station had a sundry store with a mountain of Imodium piled high on the counter. Evidently I was not the only one to experience what I had been experiencing. I took two.

“I think I will be all right,” I said.

“This has been a first for me,” said Jerry again.

“I’ll never live this down.”

“Can’t wait to read what you write about this,” said Jerry Stickman.

“You crazy? I’m not writing about this.”

The Tampa Bay game was fun. Stickman bought us Diamond Club seats. You had your own private club with all sorts of food and drinks, all covered by your ticket fee. Jerry had a great time; eating and drinking and eating and drinking and eating a little fruit and a huge stack of cookies for dessert – he got his money’s worth. I ate a couple of cookies fearing anything more might start me going again. Those were the most expensive cookies I ever ate.

We got back to Miami around 8:30pm; sat on our balcony with our wives and as he poured the wine Jerry said, “Frank has a great story ladies. It was an amazing trip to Tampa Bay.”

“Oh, yeah, I really wish you could have come along,” I said. They were anxious to hear about our wonderful trip – and I told them. Their faces went from anxious to horrified. Evidently I can tell a great story.

The Beautiful A.P. and the Lovely Tres left Miami early Monday morning. Jerry Stickman and I stayed in order to go to the Miami Marlin’s game that night.

Now I must admit this. I have a small quirk in my personality. I love to go to aquariums when I visit a city. Lately, I’ve dragged Jerry to aquariums in Chicago, Memphis, Baltimore and Hawaii, among others. So today we would go to Miami’s Seaquarium. (

We took our wives to the airport at 5am, went back to Sonesta, finished our evening’s interrupted sleep, had breakfast and headed out to Seaquarium.

Of course, the day was brutally hot and drippingly humid. We figured the aquarium would be indoors and therefore air conditioned. That had saved us in a hot, humid Honolulu, Hawaii. We’d relax, watch the fish swim; in short, have a comfortable indoor day.

The Miami Seaquarium was outdoors.

It was not the typical aquarium with indoor rooms filled with tanks of various sizes; instead it was a world of shows. Jerry and I saw the Sea Lion Show (great fun), the Killer Whale and Dolphin Show (spectacular – and by the way, Killer Whales – also known as Orcas – are not whales but dolphins) and the Dolphin Show (disappointing). We also visited the weird looking Manatees (often thought to be mermaids – ugly as hell mermaids) and watched them eat bushels of lettuce. We saw giant sea turtles and a whole area of alligators – an animal now associated with the worst crap of my life.

It was a fun time.

Now let me tell you about Jerry “Stickman’s” quirk. He is an eater of food that I would normally avoid. He loves fast food chains (the man even eats White Castle!) and he watches shows like “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” and “Burger Land with George Motz.” Jerry is also a world traveler. He and the Lovely Tres probably spend as much time on the road as they do at home. I think he has been to about two-thirds of the countries in the world. He’s been to every state too. One of Jerry’s favorite activities when he travels in America and Canada is to visit the recommended restaurants on those shows. Sooooo…

We went into Little Havana to eat lunch at El Rey De Las Fritas, a highly recommended restaurant where we would eat a supposedly unique Frita.

Little Havana is a sad area of Miami. Just about every house and store had safety bars on the doors and windows. Still, Jerry and I had the greatest Frita! I have never tasted a hamburger like that. So if you are in Miami check this place out. The restaurant was clean and it is in a little shopping center.

Got back to the hotel, took a nap and then headed for the Marlins’ ballgame. We were two of about 3,000 fans. Miami is not a baseball town.

That was our trip. It was a fun four-day visit (except for when I was you-know-whating).

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Naked in the Bathroom

He was naked. In the handicap stall. In the men’s room. Sitting on the toilet. At Bally’s in Atlantic City. You could see in the stall because the door was not flush. He was Asian. Naked.

The great dice controller Jerry “Stickman” and I were on our Odyssey in Atlantic City. The Odyssey is a single day where we pool our money, and go to all the casinos on the Boardwalk (now just five of them as opposed to the 12 in AC’s glory days), where we play one hand of Pai Gow Poker, two hands of blackjack, two hands of mini-baccarat, $40 in a $5 slot machine (one credit per decision) and we each take the dice two times at the casinos whose tables fit our criteria — we have to get our spots and we want 12-foot, standard-bounce tables. If we can’t get that we skip playing craps.

Naturally, except for craps, we are not playing with an edge at any of these games. We don’t wait for high counts in blackjack or find tables where we can get the edge banking at Pai Gow Poker and there is no way to beat mini-baccarat. We don’t bet much at these games, just $25 on each decision. Obviously, there is no edge to be had at $5 slot machines. So in games where no edge is to be had, our tactic is to play very, very few decisions and pray.

At craps we go with our normal bets, obviously far bigger than the bets we make at the other games. This trip we ended at Tropicana where we had a great meal at Carmines. This Odyssey also allows me to scout out the various casinos to see what’s what.

Did we win? Yes. Just barely at the games where we had no edge thanks to a hit on the last slot machine we played. That’s short-term luck. And the power of prayer.

In craps we both had consistently good rolls so skill won out on our Odyssey.

In fact our almost-week in Atlantic City saw me shooting damn well, consistently hitting repeating numbers (which is a wonderful thing). We basically played at 6 am and 9 am with a break in between for breakfast. We did not play evenings or afternoons (except once each when a table was open).

And what of the awesome Stickman, the great, amazingly great, the dice controller with the perfect throw? He wasn’t as consistent as I. Poor lad. All he did was explode several times for monster rolls tickling the 50 mark! It was a dream trip, that’s for sure. Up from the first session and building each session from there. (Let me caution you: It doesn’t always go that way.) Great games; great conversations; great meals. A player’s dream trip.

And then there was this naked guy in the bathroom at Bally’s.

The moment we entered Bally’s from the Boardwalk, there on the stairs leading to the casino were three drug (heroin) addicts, two guys and a girl. I knew them (generically) from my life in New York City. Droopy eyes; sneers from the guy who was most awake; with the girl — totally zonked leaning on his belly — with the second guy blinking to stay awake.

Jerry “Stickman” recognized them too — Memphis had been good schooling for him in this world peopled with the zoned-out dregs of society.

In the casino, which was somewhat crowded, there they were, leaning against the walls, maybe every hundred to two hundred feet apart, the “salesmen.” The druggie would go to a salesman, tell him (they were all men) what he wanted, and then pay the salesman who would use his phone to call the “distributor” who was somewhere else in the building or outside the building.

The salesmen were throughout the casino. In the lobby too and in the portico where you crossed over into Caesars – brazenly standing right there – yet we saw none of these guys in Caesars.

It was then we headed for the restroom; going through the lobby which was empty except for a salesman waiting for orders. In the bathroom was a maintenance man trying to fix a stall door.

Inside the bathroom, we talked:

“Trump Plaza has moved here,” said Stickman.

“Yeah,” I said. “The outer world is closing in on the Boardwalk casinos.”

“Will the casinos last?”

“I really don’t know,” I said. “Resorts looked pretty crowded.”

“Bally’s is becoming the dumping ground from the Trump Dump.”

“Except Bally’s casino is bright and inviting; although some of the wrong people have accepted the invitation,” I said.

Trump Plaza had become known as the Trump Dump and it was always inhabited by the druggies. Its closing was cheered by many casino players who would no longer play in a casino where so many hazy creatures slithered along.

Then I saw the naked guy in the bathroom. He was in the handicap stall; just sitting there. He was Asian and he stared down and then lifted his head and stared straight ahead, then down, then straight ahead — over and over.

I didn’t know if Stickman had seen him. He was at the urinal and I tapped him on the shoulder.

I whispered, “There’s a naked guy in there.”

He whispered back, “Yes. Let me finish peeing.”

“Sorry,” I said and headed out of the bathroom. I passed by the maintenance man who was feverishly trying to fix the stall door.

“That was weird,” said Stickman as he left the bathroom.

“What do you think that was? He loses not only his shirt but also the rest of his clothes?”

“I don’t know. This place is really bringing in the wrong crowd,” said Stickman.

“If this were Vegas they might be able to throw out the drug crowd. I don’t know if they can do that in Atlantic City.”

Stickman nodded. I shook my head.

My God, a naked guy in the bathroom of a casino that had so many of the wrong types seemingly thriving.

That might be more of a herald of Atlantic City’s demise as anything else.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]