Since I stopped writing my weekly column for The Miami Herald, people are always asking me: ``How do you like retirement?'' I explain to these people that I am NOT retired: I am doing lots of things outside of the public view, much like Vice President Biden. One of my main activities has been writing humor essays, which have just been published in the form of my new book, I'll Mature When I'm Dead. Here is an excerpt from one of those essays, a visitor's guide to Miami, which is the greatest city on earth for anybody who writes humor for a living.
TIPS FOR VISITING MIAMI
No. 1: Are You Insane?
Some years ago I proposed a new tourism-promotion slogan for Miami. I even had a bumper sticker made. It said:
Never miss a local story.
Come Back to Miami!
We Weren't Shooting at You.
For some reason this slogan never caught on with Miami's tourism industry. Which is a shame, because we need to improve our image. According to a poll by the Zogby organization, 67 percent of Americans agree either ``somewhat'' or ``strongly'' with the statement that ``Miami is plagued by crime.'' This is very upsetting to those of us who live here and love our city. It makes us want to visit every single one of those 67 percent of Americans personally, so we can tell them what Miami is really like, and then kill them with machetes.
But seriously, we are sick and tired of being saddled with the hackneyed, outdated Miami Vice and Scarface image of Miami -- a city crawling with homicidal maniac drug dealers like Al Pacino, casually committing horrendous acts of violence and, worse, speaking with ludicrously fake Cuban accents. The truth is that only a small percentage of Miami's population consists of violent criminals, and the bulk of those are elected officials. The rest of us Miamians are regular people, just like the people in your town: we work hard, try to raise our kids right, and are always ready to help out our neighbors by laying down covering fire when they go outside to get their newspapers.
I'll grant you that in the past Miami has had some problems with ``putting out the welcome mat'' for tourists. I'd say the low point came in 1994, when a group of Norwegians, headed for a vacation in the Bahamas, made a common rookie-visitor mistake: they landed at Miami International Third World Airport (Motto: ``You Can Have Your Luggage When You Pry It From Our Cold, Dead Fingers''). Most travel experts recommend that even if your final destination is Miami, it's better to fly to an airport in some other city -- if necessary, Seattle -- and take a cab from there. Or, as Savvy Air Traveler magazine suggests, ``simply jump out of the plane while it's still over the Atlantic.''
Nonetheless these Norwegian tourists landed at MIA, where they boarded a free courtesy shuttle van that was supposed to take them to a hotel. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the van was then boarded by two men who diverted it and robbed the Norwegians at gunpoint. That is correct: Their hotel courtesy van was hijacked. This story got BIG play in Norway, which does not have a lot of violent crime. If there were a TV crime show called CSI: Norway, most of the cases would involve improperly labeled herring.
So the van hijacking was definitely a ``black eye'' for Miami tourism. It did not help that in the same year, there was another unfortunate, highly publicized incident involving a European tourist. This was a German who spent the night at a hotel near the Miami airport. When he checked out the next morning, he complained about a bad smell in his room. So a maid went to check it out. She looked under the bed, and, to her horror, she found: an Amway representative.
No, seriously, what the maid found under the bed was even worse: a human corpse. This was not a recently deceased corpse; the police concluded it had been there for quite a while.
As you might imagine, this was another story that became a big media deal back in the tourist's home country. The Germans are known for being finicky about cleanliness. They might let it slide if a hotel housekeeping staff failed to notice a dust bunny or two under the bed, but they draw the line at decayed corpses. If you find a corpse under the bed at a German hotel, you can be sure it's a fresh corpse. Once again, Miami looked bad.
But my point is, these stories took place during a different era, specifically: the past. Miami today is a completely different city. What would you say if I told you that, since the year 2000, the city's overall rate of violent crime is down 17.3 percent, and crime against tourists is down by 36.8 percent? If you would say, ``You are totally making those numbers up,'' you would be correct. But I'm pretty sure things are better.
I'm not saying Miami is Disney World. As in any other large urban area, you have to use your common sense to avoid potentially dangerous situations. To give you an idea what I mean by ``potentially dangerous situations,'' here's the beginning of a Miami Herald story from November 2006: ``A manhunt is on for 15 men who crashed a baby shower in a rented hall, killed a partygoer and wounded four other guests with AK-47 assault rifles.''
That is correct: There was a shootout, featuring assault rifles, at a baby shower. It is not uncommon for tempers to flare at ceremonial gatherings in Miami; there was once a shootout in a funeral home here during a wake. Other events that can be ``iffy'' from a safety standpoint in Miami include birthday parties, football games, proms, nightclubs, Halloween, July Fourth, Christmas and of course New Year's Eve, which in Miami involves more gunfire than the Battle of the Bulge, although to be fair most of it is happy gunfire.
But as long as you avoid these dangerous situations, you'll be perfectly safe in Miami.
Reprinted from I'll Mature When I'm Dead by Dave Barry by arrangement with G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2010 by Dave Barry.