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American Airlines began direct service from San Diego to Miami in June, and I took advantage of it at the beginning of August for one of my periodic visits there. The Beatles tune aside, there is no airport in Miami Beach and one flies into Miami International, one of those enormous facilities with moving walkways and various terminals and multiple levels. Once you know your way around though, it's easy to catch the Airport Flyer bus for $2.35 and end up virtually at the front door of the modest hotel that has become my San Diego condo East for a couple of weeks each year.

OK, I admit to a certain pride in getting over on the system and spending less money than everybody else, but there's also a kind of ritual and spirituality to the way the journey unfolds. I get on the Number 7 bus outside my place on University Avenue after taking a last look around and locking up. Everything I need fits into a carry-on soft backpack. I can catch another bus downtown right to Lindbergh Field, but more often I'll walk along the Embarcadero the mile and a half or so to the West Terminal, arriving in plenty of time to sit around and watch people rushing about in the hurried way that I just can't relate to.

The plane may as well be a big city bus as far as I'm concerned; there's little classiness to flying anymore. I've looked at the route and traced it on Google Maps. I can pick out a number of landmarks on the ground if I've got a good window seat, though the flight there is a red-eye and takes place mostly in darkness. Then, before you know it, the flight path has us looping around over Miami Beach, not far from the place where I stay, before landing a ways inland. I make my way across a large, confusing, but now-familiar place, get on the Airport Flyer as the city is waking up, and in a few hours have traversed the continent with public transportation, not dependent on a soul to help me schlep my stuff.

What's so great about Miami Beach, and why would a native San Diegan choose it as a vacation destination? I'm still trying to sort that out into something I can articulate. If San Diego has a bit of an LA influence--whether we want to say that aloud or not--Miami Beach is New York City with short pants. It's like being in another, somewhat similar/somewhat different world, a mirror image of sorts. You might say that the homeless people there are probably dressed as well as the average weekend sloucher in Mission Beach. If the San Diego beach scene were a beer belch and a hearty horselaugh, the Miami Beach version would be a silent-but-deadly with pointed fingers with knowing smiles.

I care little for the clubs and such, though an evening meal along Lincoln Road is nice. There's a Walgreen's down the street from the hotel that sells beer and wine and snack foods. Across from it until 2002 stood Wolfie's, a celebrity hangout in the '50s and '60s described in Lenny Bruce's biography. I'll go back to my room and down a few of whatever is my pleasure, then walk a block to my favorite part of the entire scene: the wooden boardwalk that runs between 23rd or so, by the Walgreen's, to 44th or so, past the Fountainbleau.

If you know what you're looking for and are familiar with the recent history, you can see the spot where Al Pacino as Tony Montana discussed picking up girls with his sidekick near poolside at the Fountainbleau, even though the boardwalk hadn't yet been completed and the pool has since been re-done completely. I spent some time there at conferences and such in the late '80s, and remember the old pool area with its volcano-shaped slide. There are a dozen or so shady gazebos along the wooden stretch, with thick foliage between the walkway and the beach sand. One of these provided the model for the soundstage where scenes in several episodes of "Golden Girls" were filmed, and I'm still trying to figure out which one it might have been.

You can jog or just stroll lazily as far as you'd like. Southward the walkway becomes concrete, and I smile to myself to think that just where the price of everything goes way up the people don't get to walk on the cool wooden slats like I do. After awhile, you get to the hotels and restaurants along Ocean Avenue, one of which has a plaque marking the spot where our hero Tony Montana appeared in that "Scarface" scene with the chainsaw.

After a week or so, I've visited with the couple of local friends I have there, and usually had another blowout with my... whoever she is, generally ignited over the fact that I'm on vacation and she's not. I keep coming back, but probably wouldn't if she lived in Toledo or Omaha or such.

My place in San Diego is a kind of South Beach themed funhouse, with several posters from the Art Deco Museum and splashes of pastel colors on the walls. On the other hand, there's Route 66 paraphernalia and a lot of woodsy Northern Arizona stuff too, because I own a good-sized piece of land there with a nice doublewide mobilehome. I fancy myself a gentleman rural type when I'm at the Arizona place, maintaining it and having a pleasant visit with the renters. I dream the not-too-distant or unobtainable dream that I might retire there and shuttle between it and San Diego, playing the occasional beach bum to my cowboy counterpoint.

The true spirit of my being, though, pulls me further east, to Southern Florida. I'm afraid that one of these days I'm going to up and sell all the beautiful scenery in Arizona and trade it for a modest condo in Miami Beach. I'll probably decorate it to look as SoCal as my San Diego condo looks SoBe. I'll stroll or jog along the boardwalks and beaches of both coasts and cool off in the ocean, wondering how in heck I ever ended up this way but knowing that God never intended me to be landlocked.

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