Thursday, February 26, 2015

Shades of Beetle

50 Shades of Grey had two beautiful actors, lots of grey ties, rope, handcuffs and a lot of huffing and puffing.

But that's not what revved up my engine after catching a screening last Saturday afternoon.

There was a small uncredited role and it belonged to Wanda, Anastasia Steele's light blue classic Volkswagen Beetle.

Yes, I loved the car in the movie. To me, it was a scene stealer, diverting my eyes to its Lady Bug body in the few scenes it appeared.

In one early scene as Anastasia and longtime buddy Jose talk in the parking lot at their university, they do so in front of this little bug before she climbs in. When she cranks it up, the Beetle carried its traditional rear-engine puttering sound.

In another scene after she sees Christians' lavish sports and luxury car collection,  she tells him something along the lines, "What, you didn't know I was a collector of classic cars?" referring to her VW.

When Anastasia renegotiates Christen's S&M contract at his office, she decides to leave and head back home and she does all this in front of her VW as if making a statement - you can't change me, I'm an original.

I think the car says a lot about Anastasia.  Both are independent, reliable, determined, down-to-earth and of course, curvy. (They're also loud in their own way but I won't get into that here. Go see the movie or check out the book at your local library.)

Although there are newer car models out there, she prefers this little tough Beetle to dart around to and from school, her hardware store job and the so-called "Grey House." After he has her car sold (without her permission) to surprise her with a red Audi, she later demands Wanda back (which his driver sold.)

Perhaps I'm reading way too much into this fictional story but you don't see many of these old Beetles on the roads these days, at least not in Miami.  So while moviegoers gushed and giggled about the sex scenes and this sex toy thing called flogger, I sat in my seat and smiled whenever Wanda the Beetle rolled on the screen.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Orchid Man

It began as a gift for my mom. My friend Eric visited her at the hospital and brought her a beautiful orchid. It was bright and radiant, a dose of light needed during a dark time. My mom was losing her fight to colon cancer. She passed away two days later.

What to do with the orchid? I kept it at our childhood home in Miami Beach and made sure it got plenty of light and love. Eventually, I brought it to my little apartment in Coral Gables where it continued to blossom. Then it began to slowly wither. Was it the heat? The humidity? Maybe it didn't like its new zipcode?

 I didn't know what to do so I kept it out by the entrance to my door to add a little life to the bland concrete doorway. I watered it once a week. Still, the orchid shed its petals one by one until all that was left was a pot of dirt and some green leaves. I let it be but I didn't want to throw it away either. 

The plant became a regular topic of conversation with my elderly manager/neighbor Emily (sort of like my Mrs. Roper from Three's Company). She took a liking (or a pity) to the plant. When the orchid and its stand were knocked over (I believe it was one of Emily's many outdoor cats from our building), she repotted the plant for me when I was at work. I know this wasn't easy for her because she's 82 and suffers from chronic arthritis in her arms and legs.

Then the phone calls began.

"Johnny, I think your plant is thirsty?" Emily often said into my voicemail messages to nudge me to water it which I did.

"Johnny, something is happening with the plant. I think it's coming back to life,'' she said in another message.

"Johnny, have you seen your orchid? There are new buds. Oh my,'' she recently said.

"Johnny, wow! Now there are four buds!" she said the other day, calling me at work.

coming back to life!
Indeed, something was happening. My mom's gift was finding a second wind.  I don't know if it was the recent cold weather or the fact that Emily probably talked to the plant when I wasn't home but the orchid continues to thrive. It's sprouting more petals than when Eric gave it to my mom in Nov. 2013.

"Johnny, look at how beautiful the colors are? Now, that's the Lord's work!" Emily said last week as the orchid's silky petals displayed a swirl of yellow and purple.

And now Emily and I have regular chats about the orchid.

"Johnny, I think you should bring the orchid inside because it's supposed to drop to 53 degrees tonight," Emily said last Monday. (Can you tell she has me on speed dial?)

I've become such a fan of this kind of plant that I've become the orchid man. I recently surprised my boyfriend with a purple and white orchid after the one he had bought at Publix dried up. (For the record, I thought his needed some soil but hey, what do I know.)
My boyfriend's orchid. Still alive.

I also gave one to Eric's mom, a classy sage of a lady, who is recovering from ankle surgery in Coral Gables. It felt good surprising her with a pink and white orchid last Sunday.

She beamed when she saw the orchid. Like my mom's, it added a little bright spot to a sterile and drab hospital/rehabilitation room.

And I bought one for Emily yesterday so we can have another one to look after and talk about.

"Oh Lord!" she said when I gave it. "Misery loves company. I've been a nervous wreck over your orchid. How am I going to care for this one!"

"You'll be fine. Just don't over water it!" I said.

Emily's  new orchid
My mom's gift keeps giving.

Thank you Eric.

My orchid keeps blooming

Monday, February 9, 2015

RENT rocks Cuba

RENT, the American pop rock musical, has been staged in Havana, Cuba since last Christmas Eve. The production marks the first time in 50 years that a full-cast Broadway musical has been presented on the alligator-shaped island nation.

 I caught up with the musical's director Cuban-American Andy Señor Jr. the other day in Miami about how the show and its progress. Also, how do you translate a show so well-known for its English songs into Spanish-language versions? Seasons of Love for example becomes Tiempos de Amor.

RENT has been selling out in Havana and continues through March 30. My Sun Sentinel story on the production of the musical is here.  After RENT, Andy heads back to NYC to work on the Gloria and Emilio Estefan musical On Your Feet.

Andy Señor  Jr. from

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Writing old school

Whether I'm at Barnes and Noble or Dunkin' Donuts in Coral Gables/Miami, I sometimes prefer to go old school - I write by hand. I've been doing this with my sixth book lately and I find that the writing f-l-o-w-s in a different way.

I really think about what I am going to put down on paper instead of letting my fingers loose to waltz across the keyboard of my laptop in a hyper creative rush.  In a world where we constantly type and thumb messages on our smart phones, writing by hand is a welcomed change of pace, a throwback even if my writing looks like chicken scratch that only I can decipher.  I'm finding that I am writing more scenes and dialogue when I use a pen than when I use the keyboard. No Wi-Fi required either.

Of course, I then have to input what I wrote by pen into the computer. When I do that, I continue the process of editing and rewriting.

Another benefit to writing by hand - it's low-tech and lightweight. I can do it at the coffee shop or on my red sofa while watching reruns of Knight Rider and Charlie's Angles on COZI TV. (Talk about old school!)  My memo pad is much lighter than my laptop.  And my battery never runs out.

I also like using pens from the Hampton Inn. They never seem to run out of ink and they're pretty smooth.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Digital nostalgia

Former employees, customers and fans of some of South Florida's most iconic brands keep the spirit of former businesses alive online through Facebook groups, websites and blogs. I wrote a news feature about these online platforms where Eastern Airlines, Burdines department store, the Hollywood Sportatorium concert hall and the former WCIX Ch. 6 from Miami continue to be passionate topics of nostalgia.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rocky Horror rocks on

Talk about a time warp! The 1975 campy cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show still draws a colorful crowd at regular Saturday night screenings at the Gateway Classic Theatre in Fort Lauderdale.  I wrote a story on why the picture show endures and who are the young and older folks who keep coming out, dressed in corsets and fishnet stockings. If you're not dressed in some shade of black, chances are you'll stand out and be pulled up on stage during the pre-show.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Living la Pura Vida

"!" I kept saying out loud, as we drove up, up and up the winding curvy mountain road in Costa Rica.

"There are no guardrails!" I continued, looking beyond the road's edge inches away. I tightly gripped the frame of our rented Hyundai SUV and just held on. But once I got over my fear of heights (and I let go of being a backseat driver on these narrow roads) I enjoyed the view and it was quite a stunner. The rolling plantations of coffee trees that unfolded like a fabrics of green and brown. The cloud-covered peaks of trees in the near distance. The sight of black and white spotted cows that happily lingered and munched on acres of land. The central valley capital of San Jose unspooled below where small tiny dots of cars (mostly 1990s Toyota Tercels and Nissan Sentras) descended the sloped city streets.

After years of flying back and forth between Miami-Boston-Providence to visit family and friends, I finally dusted off my passport and changed up my travel itinerary.

 I wanted to experience some place different, break out of my routine (an ongoing goal of mine). But I ventured to Costa Rica for another good reason. I wanted to see where my boo (let's call him Leaf because he's private like that) was from. To better understand someone, it's not enough to speak their language and listen to their stories and experiences. You need to see where they're from because our hometowns beat and reside within all of us and say so much about who we are. Mine happens to be Miami (and then Boston.) I wanted to experience Costa Rica through his olive-green eyes. In fact, Costa Rica was a vibrant living poem of green and light and I noticed many Costa Ricans' eyes shared similar shades of green with hints of brown.  Their eyes easily matched the green of the lush rain forests that we drove past, the pale green leaves of the papaya plants that sprouted mightily from the roadside farms and the bright green of the moss that caked the rocks of the cascading waterfalls at La Paz Waterfalls Gardens .That was also quite a sight and a wet one too. The pounding force of five waterfalls created swirls of soothing mist throughout the trails and an unforgettable liquid roar. (Speaking of, we had fun hiking in the rain and I'm glad I had my black hoodie handy.) I remember how I extended my arm and felt the power of the cool rushing water and I couldn't get enough of inhaling the fresh pure air. Ahhh!

At one point, I leaned back from a pedestrian bridge and saw right through the backside of the falling water, a glass liquid sheet. It was like looking through an underwater lens. Besides the waterfalls, there was an indoor butterfly garden that reminded me of a greenhouse but solely for these majestic winged creatures that fluttered all around, as if welcoming us into their butterfly world. In fact, Costa Rica extended that warm welcome mat throughout my few days there.

One of my favorite stops was the surrounding areas of the Arenal Volcano about three hours north of San Jose. The volcano is so wide, so high, so massive that I found myself staring trance-like at all the plaited trails from former lava flows and the layers of dense rain forest that hugged them.

Although the peak was mostly shrouded by a never-ending conga-line of puffy grey clouds, the volcano was unmissable. Wherever I turned, it was there, looming in the background like a giant cone-shaped moon, an ethereal presence. The Arenal area hotels have funneled some of the volcano's hot water into small lagoon-like springs. Toe by toe, I carefully waded into the muy-caliente water that hinted of sulfur.  But once I adapted to the hot temps, I leaned my head back against the rocky edge and allowed the rising steam work its wonders. (On a side note, Leaf said that these waters have a healing element because they are rich in minerals and I felt more relaxed and Zen-like after sitting in these springs. Maybe a little bit too relaxed because I had to use the bathroom as soon as we got out. Sorry, TMI)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mobile businesses taking the wheel

South Florida's car culture is driving more businesses to take to the wheel. Besides food trucks, we now have mobile boutiques, hair salons on wheels, even door to door gyms in a truck.

Here's my Sun Sentinel story on the mobile trend.