Monday, December 15, 2014

My Oprah Chopra Runs

These last few months, I returned to an old love. Running.  In Boston, I discovered hiking and ventured to the Blue Hills every weekend, rain, wind, snow and definitely sunshine. But I when I took up hiking, I sort of broke up with running for some reason. I left it behind in the rear view mirror of my mind.

That all changed last summer when, long-story short, I had to pick up someone's car from Mercy Hospital. Instead of catching the bus or neighborhood trolley, I figured, why not run the 2.5 miles to the hospital from my dad's place? If I could hike as aggressively as I've done in recent years, I should be able to run some of this stretch along Brickell Avenue and South Bayshore Drive. I wasn't sure if I could do it but to my surprise, I ran the whole thing (although I arrived to the hospital drenched in sweat hugging my family.)  And that experience reignited a passion in something I used to love so much - running.

I first caught the running fever during my junior-to-senior year at Miami Beach High School from my close friends (and neighbors down the street), Christie and Calley Masson. They were beautiful dirty-blonde, pony-tailed twins who happened to be Florida's state crossing country and track champs.

Inspired by their speed and dedication to their sport, I began running a few laps around our neighborhood's Fisher Park. After telling Calley about this, I remember her saying, "You're doing about a mile, Johnny!"  I was surprised I was doing that much. With their cheery you-can-do spirit,  I ventured out of the park and onto the streets of Miami Beach, pushing my one-mile run boundary to three, then five and at the most, seven. (I also ran with them during some of their practice runs.) But in my 20s, I wanted to muscle up like the rest of the guys in South Beach so I stopped running and focused on weight lifting and morning push-ups.

And now I'm running a few times a week like a teenager all over again or The Flash. In the past few months, I've gone from 2 miles to four. And I change the scenery, picking different neighborhoods throughout the week and making these runs into mini-journeys.
Sometimes after work, I run in downtown Fort Lauderdale. I marvel at the electric glow of the towering skyscrapers and the bobbing mega yachts docked by the New River bridge on SE Third Ave.

I also jaunt through Coral Gables' small business district of restaurants, salons and bridal boutiques. Along Ponce de Leon Boulevard,  I admire the clusters of small colorful Mediterreanean-styled apartment buildings and their sprouting ferns and manicured lawns. 

And I run under the cool shade of downtown Miami's Brickell Avenue, to Coconut Grove's South Bayshore Drive. But instead of Mercy Hospital, I hang a left and stop at the cone-shaped La Ermita de La Caridad church . I sit, cool off and watch church-goers pray and say thanks to the beloved Cuban saint. Those scenes always put a smile on my face and the fact that two cats there now like to hang out with me while I rest.

The running Zens me out. My thoughts drift. My stresses fall away in my dust. I find myself in this special spiritual zone where I feel...present, stillness. Just me and my moving shadow ahead or to my side. I don't feel my feet pounding the pavement or my lungs huffing and puffing. I f-l-o-w, like the tropical currents of Biscayne Bay. I'm fueled by my own energy, light and grace.

I used to run to Pitbull and the Pussycat Dolls on my iPod but ever since I attended the Oprah Life You Want Weekend tour in Miami last October, I have found another soundtrack to stride to.

With my smartphone in hand, I listen to the meditations of Deepak Chopra who is introduced by Oprah Winfrey in each stream. (I just keep my eyes open when he guides me to close my eyes). With each step, I repeat the mantra of that meditation (my favorite is ''Shanti Hum'' or ''I am peace'' which is how I feel when I glide like a colt with the wind.

I call these my Oprah Chopra Runs. And the more I run, the farther and farther I'm go, to the point that I've had to ask myself at times, where am I? I'm sure those Oprah Chopra meditations weren't intended for such high-intense cardio runs but I like the combination of opening my mind and spirit as I run along the wide open boulevards of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I just have to remember to keep my eyes open. Namaste.

Deepak Chopra and Oprah in Miami in October.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Voice

A Throwback Thursday - story edition

His voice stood out on Boston and Miami, teasing viewers with the headlines of the day like local movie trailers.

Scott Chapin voiced many of the intros and promos for Channel 7 news in both Miami and Boston (and other markets nationwide) for many years.  I recently found out that after being away for a few years, Scott's back behind the microphone at Boston's WHDH Channel 7 News. It reminded me of a profile I wrote about him at The Boston Globe when I was a features reporter.

Below is the video of some of his promos for Sunbeam Television from 2008. If you look closely, you'll recognize that many of the same anchor and reporter faces are still there.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

RENT the musical heads to Cuba

RENT, the long-running American rock musical, is heading to Cuba. Miami native and FIU theater grad Andy Señor Jr. is directing the production in Havana with 15 Cuban actors.

Andy played the role of Angel, the sweet crossing-dressing HIV positive street performer, on Broadway as well as in national and international productions. He also staged a Toyko production of the show.

The arrival of the musical in Cuba marks the first time that a Broadway production will be staged there in more than 50 years. I wrote an article about Andy and RENT for the Sun Sentinel. Here is a photo gallery from some of the rehearsals in Cuba.

Andy is also assisting with the Gloria and Emilio Estefan musical On Your Feet that will debut next fall in New York.

To the left are some photos of the RENT rehearsals with Andy and the cast in Havana. Photos from

Friday, November 14, 2014

SS Nostalgia

I remember seeing the SS Norway in all its royal-blue glory docked at the port of Miami in the 1980s and 90s. I also recall watching Carnival's Mardi Gras and Festivale ships churn the waters off Government Cut as they embarked on another weekly cruise.

But what happened to some of the classic ships that used to silhouette against the South Florida skyline?

Some were retired and shipped (sorry) to the coast of India to be stripped down for parts. But their spirit remains afloat online where former passengers swap stories and history about these vintage ships.

 I wrote an article about these websites and where some of these ships are now.

(Below, that's me aboard the SS Emerald Seas, my first cruise ship adventure. It was a weekend cruise to the Bahamas - my first time out of the country. I was giddy - as you can probably tell -  that I got the top bunk here. I also remembered that I kept thinking I would bump into the cast of The Love Boat but to no avail.)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Love Boat Reunion

Love....exciting and new....
The cast of the popular 1970s-80s show The Love Boat (you know you know it) reunited Wednesday to christen the new Princess Cruises ship the Regal Princess in Fort Lauderdale.

The gathering also celebrated the cruise line's 50th anniversary. To mark the golden occasion, the company invited more than 24 of the show's well-known guest stars from Mrs. Cuchi Cuchi Charo to the Bradys (Christopher Knight and Florence Henderson. It was my childhood sitcoms on parade.)

They were part of a gold carpet event on Deck 17 aboard the colossal ship. (I say BIG because I was lost for about 20 minutes trying to get off the ship after filing my story of the event.)

Here's a Sun Sentinel photo gallery of all the celebrities. And below are some photos I snapped of the event with my handy dandy smartphone. One thing I didn't capture was that the ship's horn blows to the beat of the show's theme song.

To my right, that's Chris Knight, aka Peter Brady. I couldn't resist a photo in the Green Room.

The pool area looked like a modern version of the one shown on the classic TV series. This was the media swarm.

The whole Love Boat cast was aboard. They were introduced on a jumbo screen with their before and now photo. That's Lauren Tewes, aka Julie the cruise director.

The gold carpet with Jamie Farr of MASH and Charo behind him being interviewed. Both were guest stars on the show.

And that's me with my wind-blown curly hair on Deck 17 overlooking Fort Lauderdale.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What I Learned from Oprah's Life You Want Weekend

Oprah Winfrey came to Miami and brought her Life You Want Weekend, a touring event that serves as a giant inspirational retreat for folks looking to figure out what they want from their own lives, a journey of self-transformation. And she brought along some of her friends - Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, spiritual guru Deepak Chopra, OWN host Iyanla Vanzant and pastor Rob Bell to the AmericanAirlines Arena Oct. 24-25.

After writing a preview about the event for my paper, I was curious to experience it myself. What will Lady O say that we don't know already from her magazine, former talk show and OWN network? How many women (and some men) could pack the arena for something other than a Miami Heat game or an Enrique Iglesias concert?  A LOT, as it turns out.

Whether we strolled the downtown streets of Miami or rode the centipede-like Metro Mover to the event, we all recognized one another thanks to our rubbery white bracelets, which later glowed like bright fireflies during each speaker's session. On my way to the arena, I couldn't help but eavesdrop on some ladies as they talked about how they traveled from New York and Canada just to see Oprah. I nodded and smiled and they flashed a knowing grin when they spotted my bracelet. It confirmed that I was one of them, one of the gals that weekend, looking for a dose of spirituality and some personal growth.

So what did I get out of the weekend? Here are some things that I jotted down in my notepad (I quickly ran out of paper) from my O-weekend along with some photos I snapped with my smartphone.

Friday night, Oprah donning a sunny yellow gown, strutted back and forth on stage where she spoke for about 90 minutes about her journey from a young girl in Mississippi to Chicago where she launched her long-time syndicated daytime show.

With slide shows of her early days in broadcasting, her home, landscapes and nature, it felt like she was taking us on a personal life tour.

"We are all energy. All life is energy.  What will you do with the energy that is you?'' Oprah asked the audience.

"There is no life without the connection to the spiritual self,'' she continued.

She referenced Maya Angelou who told her, "Your legacy is every life you've ever touched."

Oprah also read from "Invictus", poem that she learned at age 8: "I am the master of my fate I am the captain of my soul.''

She said her show took off when she started using television as a service to help other people. She urged us to do that in our own lives. "Use what you have and begin to share that in service" and how we can all do that in our own jobs whether we're clerks, lawyers or teachers.  If we haven't found a job that we are passionate about, find an outlet or something that you enjoy, something that pays you in its own way.

What really caught my attention was when she explained that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction...The energy you put out there, BAM!, it's all coming back.. Haters, BAM! Jealously, BAM! Envy, BAM! Love is the same thing."  She was BAM! this and BAM! that so much that you could feel it as if she was pointing at YOU!...BAM! My seat mates uh-huhed along with me.
from Harpo

"You cocreate your life with the energy of your intention...You are responsible for your intentions...Be responsible for the energy you bring into a room.''  (I also liked this one because how you enter a room or a situation, sets the stage, so to speak.)

"Everything that happened to you has happened for you, to lift you higher, to make you better."

"You begin the life you want by embracing the life you have."  Be grateful for the smaller things even the shower pressure or clean crisp bed sheets. One of the smaller things I'm grateful for daily is that my VW starts each morning to get me to work in Fort Lauderdale from Miami.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'You are a gift'

You never know what may inspire you to write. It could be a song, a photograph, a memory, something someone said. Recently, some writing came to me and I really don't know where it came from exactly but I may have a clue.

Let me begin. Two weeks ago, I was standing at the post office in Fort Lauderdale. I was feeling frustrated and helpless about a family issue. I wasn't feeling like my typical giddy self. My energy was dim.

And then I looked over to my right and a greeting card stared back at me.  It read You are a gift  with a big heart in the middle.

When I saw it, calmness enveloped me. It was as if a soothing light had come down on me, encircling me with a comforting positive energy. My frustration and helplessness faded away.

I looked down and smiled to myself.

As I left the post office with the new found energy, the following words popped into my head as if someone or some greater power planted them there. A mantra, if you will.

You are a gift,
You bring joy to other people's lives.
You are light,
You are loved,
You are well-loved.

The words replayed in my mind, almost like a verse in a song. Sometimes, it had a beat.

You are a gift (clap-clap!) You bring joy to other people's lives...You are light (quick clap). You are loved (fast clap). You are well-loved. (clap-clap!)  

And for some reason, I heard a Gospel-flavored version in my head:

You are a GIFT (mmm hmm) ....You bring joooooy to other people's LIVES....You are light (that's right)...You are loved, you are wellll-loooooooved (d-e-e-p bass voice in this part. I don't know why but it felt good)

No matter which way I recited or mentally heard the words while driving, clapping, mmm hmming in my Volkswagen despite the quizzical stares from other drivers at stop lights and pedestrians, the words have stayed with me since that afternoon.

Again, I don't know where they came from.  I shared this with an old friend of mine, a classy sage of a lady who knows a little something about intuition and advice. In her soothing voice, she smiled, leaned forward and told me  "Johnny, I think God and your mother were speaking to you, reminding you of something."

Since these words were a gift to me, I am posting them here. A regift.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Richard Blanco's Miami

"A Cuban 'Wonder Years' or like a 'Running with Mangoes,'' a la Augusten Burroughs. That's how Richard Blanco describes his new memoir The Prince of Los Cocuyos that he just published.

It's the latest from the gay, Cuban-American, Miami-raised writer who presented his "One Today'' poem for President Obama's inauguration in Jan. 2013.

The new book chronicles his coming of age (and coming out) while living in Miami's Westchester neighborhood in the 1970s and 80s. (Cocuyos means fireflies in Spanish, in case you were wondering.)

I interviewed Richard for my paper the Sun Sentinel. Here's my story on his book, why he chose to write in more long form than his traditional poetry such as Looking for the Gulf Motel collection and how he hopes his stories may help gay youth know that they're not alone in their struggles. The book is warm and sweet like a Cuban cafecito.

Richard Blanco at his reading in Coral Gables