All of the failure and frustration I went through in order to procure my identification turned out to be well worth it. Miami was the antithesis of grey, dead, slushy Nova Scotia in March. As soon as I stepped off the plane, the humidity, heat and florid air wrapped around me like an environmental Snuggie. Everything was vibrant, beautiful and alive.
For the next three days I felt intoxicated. Probably because I was intoxicated, but sleep deprivation and sensory overload certainly played a part in making the entire trip feel dream-like and surreal. Keep in mind: our flight had left Halifax at 6:35 AM and didn't arrive in Ft. Lauderdale until 12:30 PM the following day. To make matter worse, my trepidations about clearing U.S. customs without a passport coupled with my unbridled excitement ensured that I didn't sleep a wink the entire time.
Here's what I do remember about that incredible trip, sketched out bullet-point style to simulate my fractured memory:
- We stayed at the Fontainebleau Hotel, one of the most historic structures on Miami Beach. In addition to hosting such luminaries as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, the hotel has featured prominently in movies like Scarface and T.V. shows like The Sopranos. Most importantly, the Fontainebleau was the setting for James Bond's first run-in with arch-villain Goldfinger in the film of the same name.
- It was a beautiful day when we arrived so instead of taking a nap like sensible people we immediately changed into our swim suits and ran down to the beach. Just seconds after diving into the clear, blue, warm ocean one of my co-workers got hit in the head with a flying fish. It scared the bejesus out of her and we all decided to play it safe and spend the rest of our time poolside.
- Speaking of "When Animals Attack", my boss at the time almost had a coronary when he was menaced at one point by a crazed...parrot.
- Mercifully, the only thing we were obliged to do that first day was attend a two-hour opening session hosted by the bigwigs which segued into an Opening Dinner and Cocktail Reception. For the record, the phrase "complimentary bar" has a different meaning for Maritimers then it does for most other human beings on the planet.
- In order to justify the obscene amount of money the company was spending on this conference, the second day consisted of eleven hours worth of sales highlights, vendor presentations, business development sessions and "MVP Awards". The next two days cut this schedule down by half and ended around 1 PM, leaving the rest of our time free for decadent levels of sloth and wanton debauchery.
- The pro-company rallies we were forced to attend had all the propagandic power of a Leni Riefenstahl flick. In order to effectively trumpet the endless Powerpoint slides which bragged about the annihilation and / or assimilation of our small-fry competition, we were given inflatable plastic tubes to bang together as noisemakers. One particularly nauseating session about projected profits was capped off with the sacrilegious playing of "Only In Dreams" by Weezer. Only corporate pinheads could possibly take a sweet, heartfelt song about wistful longing and heartbreak and turn it into a cynical ode to greed. Not only did this seriously test my gag reflex, I actually thought about contacting Weezer to find out if they'd actually given their permission to use the song. I decided not to because I would have dumped all of their CD's into the nearest landfill if they were actually complicit in this travesty.
- As a anomalous cadre of boisterous Canadians, I'm pretty sure we were all universally regarded as uncouth, ignorant savages. But we were also polite, cheery and friendly to a fault. Eventually we were adopted by a sales rep who kept us in drinks for the entire weekend. In retrospect, this guy kinda reminded me of Gil Gunderson from The Simpsons. Every time we'd try to buy him a drink, he'd get pissed off and say "Hey, if I don't use up my expense account, I'll be in deep shit when I get back". Funny thing is, I'm pretty sure that our company didn't even stock his company's product.
- In the odd chance that we'd recommend their products to our customers, the vendors gave us an obscene amount of free swag. I'm not gonna name names here but suffice to say that some members of our little entourage got so many free label makers they could have started up their own dot com business.
- To meet and mingle with our peers, we were randomly assigned to a table for the closing dinner. Since I'd just been forced to transition from the customer service department within the same company I remember looking around at all the opulence and saying "Wow, I really wish they'd do something like this for the good folks in customer service". Well, as soon as the District Sales Manager I was seated with heard this he cleared his throat, looked down his nose at me and said: "Are you kidding? Customer service wouldn't even have jobs if not for us!" Needless to say, the resulting verbal donnybrook between us certainly made dinner an awkward affair.
- Speaking of food, every morning began with a tremendous free breakfast at the hotel, which some members of our group positively despised. "I wish I could just go to McDonald's and get an Egg McMuffin," they lamented. That's when I began to suspect that I was different from most people.
- After buying a $9.00 rum and coke at the Fontainebleau's bar (not a bad deal in today's inflation-ravaged economy) I was forced to down it in one gulp when everyone suddenly decided that they were going out. As soon as I got outside I kicked myself for chugging down the precious beverage since people seemed to be walking around with open liquor everywhere.
- We had a blast strolling along Collins and Washington Avenue. Amidst all of the evocative neon lights and Art Deco architecture, there was a constant parade of tricked-out vehicles and modified human bodies. Every time I watch an episode of Dexter in which the title character is shown prowling around SoBe I can't help but blurt "I was there!" Then I promptly shut up 'cuz apparently it's not cool to have experiences in common with a serial killer.
- My boss got embroiled in a knock-down, drag-out argument with the owner of an Italian restaurant over their inability to split up the bill. During this fracas I tried to slide down my seat, crawl under the table and disappear into a crack in the sidewalk.
- During our walkabout we encountered a street magician named "Amazing Adam" who wowed us with his David Blaine-like illusions. On the back of his business card is a quote attributed to "Adam's Mom" which reads: "This guy is really special!". Ah, Amazing Adam, where art thou now?
- After stumbling upon the South Beach home of the late fashion designer Gianni Versace we decided to pose for photos on the very same steps where he'd been gunned down by crazed spree-killer Andrew Cunanan. Pretty ghoulish stuff, and I've been on a Jack the Ripper tour, fer Crissakes!
- When my boss tried to take a photo of a pimped-out car the owner ducked down in the front seat and yelled "Hey, man, I've got a warrant!"
- Based on a second hand rumor that "Matt Damon was going to be there", we hung out all night at an open-air bar somewhere on Pine Tree Drive. Jason Bourne didn't show up but the bar itself was pretty rad.
- We found out that electrical storms in Miami are both Wagner-esque and omnipresent.
- When we got back to the hotel from downtown it was pretty late, around 1 AM. Instead of going to bed like sensible people, we got into our swimsuits and bobbed around in the Fontainebleau's lagoon-like pool and grottos for two or three more hours.
- We finally decided to pack it in around 3 am. As we made our trek back through the hotel's expansive and Babylonian hanging gardens we inadvertently stumbled upon a rather boisterous and acrobatic couple "pitching woo" in a hammock. We tried to sneak by as discretely as possible but as soon as the guy spotted us he leapt off the hammock and scampered off into the underbrush. Unfortunately the momentum caused by his vault instantly turned the hammock into a wicker centrifuge which spun the poor girl around two or three times before depositing her on the ground. Dizzy and perhaps slightly tipsy, our girl bundled herself up, swayed to her feet and then stumbled off in search of her fleet-footed Lothario.
Here's the Fontainebleau in all her 60's glory, established in this famous helicopter shot at the beginning of Goldfinger:
E(PICS) I didn't clean up too bad back then, huh? Wow, I actually look vaguely respectable...
For some odd reason, I didn't have a camera with me, but here's a sample of the Fontainebleau's Shangri-La like pool area:
And here's a rare photo of me molesting one of the Fontainebleau's many dolphin fountains, taken apparently with George Eastman's prototype camera. In case you're wondering, that's chocolate milk in that cup, BTW.