I worked at The Miami Herald in the mid 1970s, the newspaper my introduction to big-time journalism, Miami my first foray into big-city life. The Herald then was fat with pages and news and ambition. Besides several metro-Miami editions, there were a half-dozen aimed at different sections of the state, plus two for Latin America that were flown each night to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Caracas.
New York City journalism had recently experienced a major upheaval with many of the dailies closing, sending dozens of staffers heading south for jobs in Florida. Many landed at the Herald, adding to what was already a diverse group of wily veterans, including a refugee or two from pre-Castro Havana.
There was Gene Miller, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative work. When he was present, his loud and dogged phone interviews dominated the newsroom.
At the other end of the spectrum was demure Edna Buchanan, her appearance belying her skill with grisly stories from the police beat; and Jay Maeder, whose laconic demeanor masked a rapier wit which eventually found fruition in a column.
Jim Dance, a talented and eccentric editorial writer, was a fellow native of southern Appalachia. He was from Middlesboro, Ky.
Then there was Ben Hunt, a Brit who had been declared persona non grata in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia for refusing to vote, a requirement for all white residents. He had worked for papers in London, Johannesburg, and Toronto.
It was an interesting mix, making for an interesting publication.
At that time, South Beach wasn’t exactly seedy, but it was years removed from today’s glitz. The atmosphere was traditional beach-boardwalk. A Coney Island habitué would have felt at home – and many of them did.
The south end of the beach gave way to a greyhound-racing track. Many of its patrons were regulars at a bar/restaurant a half block away. The Turf was dark and smoky, an escape from the sun, sand and surf a short walk away. It was close enough to the Herald via MacArthur Causeway that it became one of our regular dinner-break spots. Our usual waitress was a Brooklyn escapee with an accent that was thicker than the burgers.
Another favorite, within walkiing distance of the Herald on Biscayne Boulevard, was the Lobo Lounge, a place that could have been a mainstay of many Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Most often after work, we headed to the North Dade Athletic Club, where the only athletic equipment was a pool table. The hours were the main attraction – as a private club ($5 to join), it stayed open until 3 a.m.
The Herald building was on Biscayne Bay, which meant spectacular views from the east-facing windows. We could watch the seaplanes of Chalk Airlines as they landed on the water. Or the Goodyear blimp, tethered next door to the Chalk facility on Watson Island. A bit farther south, there were usually several cruise ships tied up at the Port of Miami pier.
That was 40 years ago, and now, in May 2010, I’m beginning a two-month journey by returning to Miami, where I’ll be boarding one of the successors to those ships. But I’ll be checking out the old Herald neighborhood before sailing. I’m sure my favorite views have changed, my old haunts have disappeared, the tropical funk replaced by sparkle and glamour. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing Miami again.