Cadet Dufrene normally wouldn’t come down to Miami Beach from Orlando on a busy holiday weekend.
But the 27-year-old’s girlfriend missed him, so he made the drive. And when he arrived, he found South Beach was hosting a military air and sea show — a nice treat for Dufrene, who is a member of the Air Force reserves.
“This is cool,” he said Sunday, after speaking to an Air Force officer in Lummus Park. (And yes, honest, Cadet is his name and not his rank.)
The Air and Sea Show and Urban Beach Week brought big crowds — families, young revelers and seniors of all races and ethnicities — to South Beach for Memorial Day weekend.
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And they blended smoothly. What just a few summers ago was a too-many-mojitos nightmare weekend of too much alcohol, too few bathrooms and too many to be believed arrest counts was all smiles this Memorial Day.
Even the sweltering heat that hit a record 98 degrees by late Sunday afternoon couldn’t kill the mellow mood — though it didn’t go unnoticed. Kaley Allen, 26, visiting from the state of Washington, merrily splashed in the surf in her black bikini for a while, but eventually fled inside to air conditioning.
“I felt it,” she confessed. “I took a break.”
But whatever few complaints there were vanished in the hip-hop beats emanating from bars on Ocean Drive, occasionally drowned out by the deafening boom of military aircraft flying overhead just off the shore of South Beach.
The F-18s and bombers cut through a cloudless blue sky over flat water. Thousand of beachgoers parked under umbrellas for the event. Back on Ocean Drive, men ditched their tops and women rocked barely there swimsuits amid sweltering temperatures and soaring humidity.
All in all, a relaxing humdrum Sunday during a popular holiday weekend that has, in the almost-distant past, created unsavory headlines.
“I got some parking, no problem,” freelance photographer Steve Simmons said around noon Sunday. “The air show, so far, is great.”
Simmons, an Army veteran, made the trip from West Palm Beach on a weekend he wouldn’t usually visit Miami Beach, lured by lighter traffic and delighted by a family-friendly alternative to the typical adult party scene in South Beach.
Actually, he didn’t know the half of it: The mellow crowd didn’t say a word to him about his wardrobe malfunction of wearing a No. 6 Miami Heat jersey — the one that used to belong to the traitorous guy now generally known as LeBron What’s-His-Name.
In its early years, Urban Beach Week by itself was nearly more than Miami Beach could handle. Most of the island turned into one giant, apocalyptic traffic jam and arrests for stuff like public urination reached astronomical levels — more than 1,000 people were locked up during the weekend in 2006.
And not all the disorder was small-time, either. In 2011, a dozen officers fired more than 100 rounds at a car barreling down a packed Collins Avenue, killing the driver and wounding four bystanders.
But Urban Beach Weekend has turned more amiable the past few years and the trend continued Sunday despite the addition of tens of thousands of spectators for the air and sea show. Crowds were large but spread out across the sand, the park and the South Beach entertainment district, with plenty of room to walk. Traffic was light and moved smoothly during the day Sunday.
Police were out in force on Ocean Drive, in Lummus Park and on the beach, but they mostly seemed to be smiling and waving rather than getting out their handcuffs. By late Sunday afternoon, officers had made only 63 arrests, mainly for misdemeanors like disorderly conduct — though there was also an arrest of a man accused of shooting at a taxi on South Beach.