Just as the season had gotten into full swing this past November, we went to Joe’s Stone Crab for dinner at 8 p.m., the heart of their rush hour. You might think that means we are masochists who love waiting three hours for a table in a bar packed tighter than a sardine can. Not at all. On that night we were confident our wait would be mercifully short-not that we had anything personally against the raucous group of sunburned, hairy-legged visiting businessmen, in an assortment of plaid shorts, talking loudly about how much they had recently spent on cigars.
Our confidence was not misplaced. About ten minutes after we arrived, the couple we were meeting walked in. Bob Graham and his striking wife, Adele, command a certain attention, and not just because almost everyone recognizes him immediately. After a round of handshakes, Joe’s general manager waved a menu as if it were Moses’ staff, and the crowd, doing its best imitation of the Red Sea, somehow found room to shove back on itself and created a neat little pathway for us to head to our corner table. Serving eight years as Florida’s governor, and then 18 as a U.S. Senator, does have its perks, at least when it comes to skipping to the front of a line.
But if what we wanted that night was a quiet chance to talk to the Grahams, that was as unlikely as Joe’s doing an early-bird special. There was an almost nonstop stream of diners, restaurant workers and even a few passing tourists who had heard the ex-Senator was there and wanted just a moment of his time. Some said thanks for his public service. But most wanted to tell him how frustrated they were about the recent Presidential election. Graham had made a run for the top job and come frustratingly close to nabbing the Veep’s spot on the Kerry ticket before Edwards got the nod.
“I’m so disturbed, Senator,” one young Miami Beach resident earnestly told him. “I can’t believe the rest of the country thinks so differently than we do here.”
“You wouldn’t think this is a red state,” the Senator said, turning to us. “At least not tonight!’
But red-not as in Communist red, but as in Republican red, a deep, vibrant shade-Florida is, and certainly was most importantly on Election Day. This month, as George W. Bush gets inaugurated for his second term, many people in South Florida are ruminating about the reality of living in a blue dot in a red state in a red country. In South Beach, the issues of the day don’t even include gay marriage, which 11 states managed to reject. Here, even those of us in the heterosexual world have moved far beyond that to cocktail chatter about gay divorce and the burning questions of which of two partners will end up with the Ocean Drive penthouse and which will keep the beach house at Fire Island. But for a place that likes to pride itself on being progressive, open-minded and laid-back, why were there so many depressed and irritable people after the election? And if the election seemed history already, this month’s inauguration is, for some, bringing it back like a bad case of the red-country blues.
“You’re making me sick, reminding me it’s the inauguration,” says Merle Weiss, co-chair of Miami Beach Art in Public Places and an avid and outspoken Kerry supporter before the election. “Yecch. Look, we have a very large gay population, and Bush is going to do whatever he can to prevent gays from having equal rights. Just like he will try to take away a woman’s right to choose. On Miami Beach, people are very broad-minded, liberal, inclusive and diverse. Everyone gets along with each other, and that is why it is such a great place to live. Bush tries to prevent that from happening. Now, some of the rich people who live here may like him. I asked a friend, ‘How can you be for that idiot?’, and she said, Taxes.’ I said, ‘You have a zillion dollars, so what are you going to have, $5,000 more and get stuck with him?’ I don’t understand why anyone voted for him.”
“I’ve just been depressed since the election,” says Suzanne Litt Lyon, a Miami Beach closet and wardrobe consultant “I was never more entranced and impassioned by an election as this last one. It’s very disappointing.”
“Unlike many people who voted for Kerry, I actually liked him,” says Ken, Suzanne’s husband and the noted Miami caterer. “He was the candidate for me. I liked what he stood for. But now we have four more years of Bush. I’m nervous about the Supreme Court, but that will get sorted out, but I am fearful of America becoming a theocracy. I am a godless Jew and don’t like living in a society like that’s
“I am more hopeful than I was at the election,” says Jane Russell, a real-estate consultant for Exquisite Properties, “but also a little bit depressed about the whole thing, as we all are here. We are surrounded by such a conservative country. It’s like we are a little oasis. If you’re gay, black or a woman, I don’t know how you can support Bush. You have to be so deluded. I just have to stay away from sharp objects.” However, not all blue voters are so distressed.
“I actually don’t think it’s as bad as many of my friends do,” says local art patron Mera Rubel!. “I don’t like to think about what could have been or what might have happened in a Kerry administration. I like facing reality and that means where do we go from here? A second-term President, without any worries about being reelected, can often take on bold challenges and really accomplish something. We can’t forget that Bush is very conscious of history since he is the son of a President, and he may surprise us. He was terrified of the curse of the second term because of his dad, and now he can let go. I really believe in America, and I am a very optimistic person. And that is how I approach this inauguration.”
And some may be surprised to find red voters in South Beach who are actually looking forward to a new Bush term. Lance LaMar is a pilot, sports model and co- owner of one of the hottest new personal-training gyms in South Beach, Peak Physique. “Yes, I have a few blue friends who are less than thrilled with the election results. And I would have been just as disappointed had my candidate not won. But I’ve been trying to pick up their spirits. South Beach life revolves around the hospitality and entertainment industries. Most everyone agrees that with Bush in office, people will pay less in taxes and have more money to spend. That’s good for us locally. And since a Bush administration means travel will be safer with his strong antiterrorism agenda, it means more American and European tourists here.”
“A major issue for many people, including a lot of our clients in South Beach, is what the election means for gays and gay rights,” adds R. Riley, a fashion and fitness model and Lance’s partner at Peak Physique. “I actually don’t see the President’s agenda doing much to change or impact the gay community-just as I didn’t believe Senator Kerry’s would do much to help it, either. We all know that attitudes towards the gay community are improving, but still have a long way to go. I just don’t think either Bush or Kerry would do too much for fear of alienating the masses. Small steps are being taken-way too small for some, yet way too big for others.
“So how can our friends get over the inauguration blues right now? You might not be surprised to find that I think the best cure is going to the gym and working 194 Ocean Drive out your frustrations if you are really upset about this. Getting physical relieves stress, and, hey, a fringe benefit is you’ll look better. Although they won’t admit it, several of our blue clients have definitely benefited from Bush winning. They’ve increased the frequency and intensity of their workouts so much since the election they are more buff than ever.”
“I really feel people want immediate gratification,” says William Belack, sales director for the Hotel St. Augustine, “and that is certainly true here in South Beach. We often aren’t paying enough attention to the big picture. It’s really not so bad. There has been such a chaotic race toward political correctness. Another Bush term actually gives us a chance to step back and see where we are really going as a country.”
So, if you are among the 55 million who cast a losing vote last November and feel stranded, at least you are in South Florida, which has more than enough distractions to keep even the most dispirited manic-depressive happy. Just look around. Savor the sights and sounds that make us unique. It certainly did not recently seem to us that religious zealots, as some blues feared, had taken control. Jerry Falwell is would have had a seizure if he had been visiting during November’s White Party and seen the gorgeous young men, hand in hand, strolling around South Beach. It has always been a bit different here, from 80-degree Christmases to politics somewhere between those of San Francisco and Beijing. Relish those differences. Embrace the diversity. And if you’re still blue around the inauguration, go and splurge and have 2 some Kobe beef at Prime One Twelve. Dance through the morning hours at Space. Run along the beach. Buy blocks of triple-cream cheese from Epicure and have your own tasting party. And then, when you are most relaxed, the reality will settle in that it’s all this talk of red and blue that really has you down. Those of us who call South Florida home know that politically we are really the color purple, a combination of red and blue, a goal for a blended America. George Bush may be President for the next four years. But unless you plan on moving to Canada (too cold) or France (hate us), scratch your name off the waiting list at the foreign embassies. You might as well stay, and make this little spot of paradise even better.
“I’m certainly not going anywhere,” Senator Graham told us. “I love it here.” So do we. And remember, there’s always 2008.