The scene in South Florida was surreal Saturday.
On one side of the MacArthur Causeway, the side where police had braced for trouble, scantily clad men and women poured beer and testosterone into the streets, cafes and clubs, while thumping to the loud, restless beats of South Beach.
Meanwhile, on the mainland side of the causeway, allegedly the quiet side this weekend, a naked man was shot to death by police after he was found chewing on another man’s face.
Under the hot sun Saturday in South Beach, long before the nighttime partying began, revelers took videos, posed for photographs and sipped basketball-sized cocktails, strolling Ocean Drive for the annual hip-hop/rap extravaganza known as Urban Beach Week. The event, which traditionally draws upward of 250,000 people from all over the country and from all walks of life, is known as much for its over-the-top fun as it is for its music and celebrity mix.
Ladies in bikinis, fishnet dresses and barely-there bra tops strolled in throngs (and thongs), some of them daring enough to wear spiked heels. Men with low-riding shorts and jeans mingled on the strip, talking game and getting turned away more often than not.
Police presence was heavy but relaxed. There were officers on golf carts, bikes and atop viewing towers. Throughout the day there were several arrests for minor offenses. Those detained were processed in a state-of-the-art police mobile unit set up on Ocean Drive.
Despite rumors that Beach cops had an arrest quota of 2,000 people per day, there were only 93 arrests Friday. Ironically, though South Beach residents braced for possible chaos as in year’s past, the bloodshed was miles away in Miami Saturday afternoon.
It was there, across the McArthur Causeway, just south of The Miami Herald building, that a naked man attacked another man and allegedly began eating the victim’s face. A woman who saw what was happening first flagged down a Miami Herald security guard, then a Miami police officer who happened by.
Police said the officer approached the naked man, ordered him to step away and when he continued to chew the man’s face, the officer shot him dead. The victim was rushed to the hospital, where he was in critical condition Saturday.
The incident made driving east on the Causeway a traffic nightmare, but the party went on despite weeks of buildup that focused mostly on an intense crowd and traffic enforcement plan that included altering South Beach traffic into a one-way loop and closing the eastbound MacArthur Causeway to one lane.
Though the crowd was thinner than year’s past, it was no less risqué.
“I love sex! I just can’t get enough!” bachelorette Yvonne Sosa, condoms dangling from her veil, shouted into Reginald Allison’s megaphone just after midnight Saturday.
Sosa, dressed in white, was in town from Nebraska, a lawyer getting married in a month partying on along with a half dozen friends, family, and legal clerks and secretaries at the law firm where she works.
Allison, a Morehouse College graduate from Atlanta, was promoting a party bus roving South Beach from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The two converged at 11th Street and Ocean Drive for a classic about-to-be-married moment during a weekend known for raucous parties.
But Allison said raucous isn’t the word that comes to mind.
“It’s real chill,” said Allison, who said he bought the megaphone at a store on Biscayne Boulevard.
It’s unclear just how many people were in South Beach’s entertainment district Saturday night, hours before massing inside the clubs. On Collins Avenue, foot traffic was light but cars were packed bumper to bumper. Two men in a baby-blue, 1964 Chevrolet Impala convertible rolled north amid rented motorcycles and Dodge Caravans, while Bentleys, Lamborghinis and a purple sedan with Barney the dinosaur detailed on the side rolled south down Washington Avenue.
That was before the lime green Laffy Taffy ride hit Washington.
Cars blared everything from Tupac and Jay Z and Kanye West to Marvin Gaye, and rolled slowly in one-way loops, implemented Friday, nearly one year after police say a driver refused to stop and then tried to run over several cops, leading to a shootout on the street that killed the driver and wounded four bystanders.
With this weekend the one-year anniversary, much of the media attention around the annual street and club parties focused on police.
But the news of shooting and a police crackdown didn’t reach Nebraska, or New Jersey, or London, where Shereyne Shillingford and eight friends came from for their own bachelorette party.
“We were going to come last week and we moved our flight at the last minute” to be on South Beach for Urban Beach Week, she said.
Over on Washington Avenue, a few storefronts from Mansion, Jimmy Slauson and a buddy burned blunts of pot down to the nub. Cops were swarming the area, but they said they weren’t concerned about police.
“We’re not really trying to test the cops,” said Slauson, from New Jersey, before an officer walked up.
He tossed the blunt.
Keshha Hakelison, 36, of Gainesville, has been coming to Urban Beach Week for the past 10 years.
She said the increased police presence was disturbing.
“This year it changed drastically because of the police. I feel like they are overdoing their protectiveness. I understand they are supposed to protect and serve but I really feel like they are trying to knock everybody’s opportunity to have fun.”
Hakelison said she liked to come to get away without having to spend a lot of money by going to another state. And she enjoys the camaraderie.
“It’s entertainment,’’ she said. “I love it. I love to see my sisters and brothers come together, embrace each other. Just where we can see each other in different shapes, sizes, colors. Just to enjoy being around each other, partying together and having a good time."
So far, the arrest of New York Knicks’ guard J.R. Smith, and a shooting in which no one was injured at 12th Street and Collins Avenue Thursday night, remain the rockiest parts of the beachside weekend.
“It’s pretty quiet, right?” said Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin, a police academy graduate who has been a critic of the event.
Unofficial occupancy figures compiled by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau show that Miami Beach hotels were just 65 percent full Thursday, compared to 67 percent on the same day last year.
Local business were mixed.
On Saturday, restaurant hostesses aggressively tried to attract customers into their eateries.
Some restaurants were offering deals almost half off normal South Beach prices. Appetizers for $3.99, a steak meal for $25 and a lobster tail and shrimp dinner for $35.
All restaurants along Ocean Drive were surrounded by metal barricades to control crowds, but the cash registers were not ringing like last year.
“It used to be like bumping into people,’’ observed Charlotte Smith, who has been an attendee since 2000. “There’s not enough eye candy for us to look at and flirt with, said Jessica Reynolds from Fort Pierce.