Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dave Barry on Miami Driving

Bad driving: It's not just for old people
Posted on Tue, Apr. 29,

By Dave Barry

The other day, The Miami Herald ran a story concerning a 73-year-old motorist who was stopped by police.

This in itself is not remarkable. The streets of Miami-Dade County are teeming with motorists who should be stopped by police.

But this man was not driving on the streets.

He was driving on a runway at Miami International Airport.

Really. According to the story, the man ''burst through the southeast gate'' in his Chevrolet Cobalt and ``drove down runway 9.''

You will be relieved to learn that the police don't think he was a terrorist. Apparently he was just a driver who, like so many older drivers down here, got confused. Chances are that, even if the police hadn't stopped him, once he saw a 757 taxiing toward him, it would have dawned on him that he wasn't on Le Jeune Road.

Although not necessarily.

You have to wonder about the security at Miami International. I, personally, have had my shampoo and my toothpaste confiscated at MIA because they were in containers larger than three ounces. If I can't get near an airplane with personal hygiene products, how did this guy get through with a CAR?

But this incident raises a larger question in my mind, one that has been nagging at me lately: Are the drivers down here getting worse?

You're thinking, ''They can't get any worse!'' I used to think that, but lately I'm not so sure. For example, the other night I was driving on the Palmetto Expressway. (I know, I know.) Normally, on the Palmetto, traffic moves at an average speed of 53 miles per hour, calculated as follows:

• 49 percent of the drivers are going 80 miles per hour.

• 49 percent of the drivers are going 30 miles per hour.

• 2 percent of the drivers are, for a variety of reasons, backing up.

But the other night, there was a fourth group of drivers out there: Young male idiots racing each other in cars traveling at -- this is a very conservative estimate -- the speed of light. It was terrifying. You're flowing along with the traffic, going either 80 or 30 miles an hour, and suddenly you see lights in your rearview mirror and, ZIPPPPPP, this weaving blur hurtles past and cuts you off, and while the swear word is still forming in your brain, ZIPPPPPP, another one cuts you off, and then ZIPPPPPP ZIPPPPPP ZIPPPPPP, more of them, using the Palmetto Expressway as their own personal video game, with you playing the role of Annoying Obstacle. It's no use honking your horn at the idiots because the sound waves can't catch them.

If you're wondering how I could tell, at night, that these particular blurs were young males, the answer is: because that's who drives that way. That's how I would have driven when I was a young male idiot, except that I was driving my mom's 1961 Plymouth Valiant, which had basically the same top speed as the Lincoln Memorial.

But today's young male idiots are equipped with much better automotive technology, and they're out there on the same streets as the confused older drivers (of which I am rapidly becoming one). To make matters worse, a new driving hazard is popping up all around Miami-Dade: the traffic circle.

Traffic circles are a good thing, if drivers understand the rules. But this is Miami, where drivers find the concept of ''yield'' to be more baffling than quantum physics. Some drivers barge into the circle regardless of whether there are cars already in it. Other drivers come to a full stop, even when the circle is empty, eyeing it warily, as if it were a space/time warp that might suck them into another dimension. Still others barge into the circle and THEN stop. (It goes without saying that these same drivers would never dream of stopping at, for example, a stop sign.)

Anyway, my opinion, as a person who has been driving down here for more than 20 years, is that the roads are getting worse. What can we do about this? Several solutions come to mind:

• Young males should be issued restricted licenses that allow them to drive only during certain times, namely, the distant future. If that's illegal, we should require them to drive 1961 Valiants.

• Likewise, older motorists unable to pass a simple test (''Where are you?'') would be restricted to driving in the past.

• Miami International Airport should take some security people off Shampoo Patrol and have them guard the gates.

• Just in case, they should also put signs at the ends of the runways saying ``NOT LE JEUNE ROAD.''

I don't have a solution for the traffic circles. Your best bet is to avoid them. If you find yourself in one, close your eyes. That's what everybody else is doing.

I realize this rant has been pretty negative, so I want to end with this thought: I truly believe that we, the drivers of Miami, can do better. I believe that our streets could be safe -- even pleasant -- if we were willing to take our responsibilities as drivers seriously, and to show each other a little basic courtesy.

In other words, we're doomed.

Friday, April 25, 2008

X-Potus in the Keys

Now, that's a tarpon.

More HERE.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Some Novel Writing Tips

You've got to have a delicate touch, because one wrong move and...

Keep it lean and mean:

Don't forget our old friend Evil:

Then there's that special ingredient, sexual chemistry:

To keep from falling into predictable patterns, you've got to work on your flexibility:

Sometimes you've really got to push the envelope to see the world from a fresh perspective:

We spring from the land and sink again into the land:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Here's a very interesting and provocative interview with my first agent, Nat Sobel. He's a terrific agent and helped launch my career, so I'll always feel a fondness for the guy. Though I'm probably one of the "disappointments" he refers to in the interview.

One thing that this interview makes me consider is this question:

How do you make your work stand apart from the rest?

I used to think that good writing made the difference. But these days I'm not so sure. I don't think poetic, lyrical, or powerful prose on its own causes a book to suceed either with an individual editor, reviewer, or with readers in general.

Note in the Sobel interview his mention of "platform."

The other way of describing platform is "hook." Most editors these days are reading new material with a question lurking in the back of their minds: How could we promote and sell this book? What are we going to do to set it apart from all the others?

Twenty years in this business, and this platform, hook issue still bothers me. My solution is this. I just write about what catches my interest and hope my passion will stir others' passions. But to try to guess about what platform or hook will catch the fancy of the general reader...well, good luck with that.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Winding Down

Been winding down lately. End of book tour, end of semester, end of winter stay in South Florida.

Heading to the mountains of North Carolina in a few weeks. A different world up there, cooler, a lot more peaceful (until late in the summer when the Floridiots arrive in large numbers). My wife is a native Miamian and I've lived here for close to forty years, so we've paid our dues in summertime humidity and other nuisances, such as:

And then there's:

Our area got pretty devastated by Andrew, a category 5. No flooding like Katrina, but 150 plus winds for three or four hours, no power for a month, trees leveled, houses all around us destroyed.

We watched as our interior walls quivered and all the big avocado trees and mangos and Indian rosewood and gumbo limbos went down. It was seven years before we had shade again.

That's when we started looking for a summer place in the mountains.

I do a lot of writing in the summer. I find that looking at South Florida from a distance somehow lets me see it more clearly and vividly, even more fondly. A lot of writers seem to have had this experience, writing better about a place once they're removed from it.

Hemingway wrote wonderful stories about Upper Michigan during his Paris years and wonderful stories about Spain when he lived in Key West. I think there's a certain need that some writers have to be removed, at a distance from their subject in order to write about it. Probably one reason is that there's less interference from the actual daily realities of the place. You can describe it as it seems to be, impressionistically, as you experienced it. That is, you are more free to fictionalize if you aren't wallowing in the daily experience of the place.

I remember Robbe-Grillet that ornery French writer saying that he didn't want to go to the seashore to see how seagull truly flew. He thought that might interfere with the way he'd made them fly in his own novel. I like that.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fool

Home at last. Will check in tomorrow. Oh, by the way. How many things can you spot that are wrong in the picture above? It all looks fine to me, but then I've been on the book tour for a few weeks.