Dave Barry

Classic ’99: Indiana Dave and the circle of doom

The Miami Circle at Brickell Point on the Miami River February 13th, 1999 after archeologists left the site.
The Miami Circle at Brickell Point on the Miami River February 13th, 1999 after archeologists left the site. Miami Herald File

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, March 14, 1999.

The mysterious Miami Circle .... What is it? Who made it? Why did they make it? Did they have building permits? And most important of all, can we South Floridians - who have far too often, in pursuit of profit, trampled on our precious past - find some way to cash in on it?

I have been thinking hard about these questions, and I think I can answer some of them. But before I do, I want you to take a little trip with me into the past, in order that we may better understand the situation we face today. So let's get into our time machine and travel back into history - back to a time when the place we now call ``Miami'' did not have buildings, or roads, or a single Publix; back to a time when the only features that we modern inhabitants of Miami would recognize were the Miami River, Biscayne Bay, the Everglades and the giant guitar sticking up over what is now Bayside (back then, of course, it was acoustic).

Yes, in those days Miami was a primitive place, and its principal inhabitants led a simple existence. Their lives revolved around the basic necessities of survival: Finding food; protecting themselves from their enemies; nurturing their young; and building large grass nests, in which they would lay 20-60 eggs.

Whoops! We went too far back, to a time when Miami's principal inhabitants were alligators. Let's move forward a few thousands years to when a Native American tribe called the Tequesta arrived here and built a settlement on the mouth of the Miami River, near what is now the Hyatt hotel (back then, of course, it was a Marriott). We know very little about the Tequesta, except what we can glean from the terse observations of the Spanish explorer Juan ``Ponce'' de Leon, who in 1513 wrote these entries in his ship's log:

July 3 - Hot and humid today. Found pretty seashells. Saw some Tequesta.

July 6 - Continued hot and humid. Thinking of proposing trade to Tequesta: Pretty seashells for mosquito repellent. Mosquitoes here size of Yorkshire terriers.

July 8 - Weather still very hot. Crew smells like billy goats. Bad news: Tequesta nixed trade. They point out they live here and already have seashells out wazoo (some kind of Native American term). Mosquitoes worse today. Some carrying small hatchets. Going back to Spain while still contain some blood.

So we see that the Tequesta were not fools. But we know little else about them, other than that they apparently built the Miami Circle - a series of irregularly shaped holes forming a circle 38 feet in diameter. It was covered up for centuries, until recently it was discovered on property owned by a Wicked Developer, who was going to cover it up again with large heavy non-Tequesta buildings.

But then various concerned groups and individuals began holding candlelight vigils, beating drums and emitting press releases, and the Circle went from being a strictly local phenomenon to an international celebrity, kind of like what happened to Gloria Estefan. Within a matter of weeks the Circle was appearing regularly on TV, radio, Letterman, South Beach, etc. Today the Circle is known all over the world and has its own spokespersons, Web sites, lawyers and media advisers. And that's just the beginning. There are rumors in Hollywood (Calif.) that the Circle is being seriously considered for a major motion picture project starring Jennifer Aniston (or possibly Cher) as a Tequesta maiden who finds out from an ancient Medicine Man (Robert De Niro) that the Circle has miraculous healing powers and uses them to restore health to a sick manatee (Marlon Brando). The most recent Gallup poll shows that, if the presidential election were held today, the Circle would easily defeat either Al Gore or George W. Bush Jr. (For that matter, so would Jennifer Aniston.)

So the Circle is big. Everybody loves the Circle; everybody except Joe Carollo and the Wicked Developer wants to save the Circle. But still the question remains: What, exactly, IS the Circle?

A number of fascinating theories have been advanced to answer this question. One theory, put forth by several of the nation's most respected New Age wackos, is that the Circle is actually of extraterrestrial origin, possibly some kind of UFO landing site. This theory is definitely wrong. I say this because of the fact that the Circle in no way resembles the one structure in South Florida that we know for certain was designed and built by and for space aliens. I refer, of course, to the Golden Glades interchange (see Exhibit 1).

exhibit-one.jpg
The Golden Glades Interchange constructed by alien invaders. none

Another theory is that the Miami Circle is a kind of astronomical observatory, which the Tequesta used to figure out, by lining up certain holes in the rock with certain other holes, exactly when the summer and winter solstices were. I, personally, do not subscribe to this theory, and I will tell you why: I don't know what a ``solstice'' is. I had to use my spell-checker to make sure I even spelled it right. And to the best of our knowledge, the Tequesta didn't even have spell-checkers.

A theory that makes far more sense is that the Miami Circle was originally some kind of sports arena. There is strong scientific evidence for this, as we see in Exhibit 2, which shows helicopter photographs of (a) the Miami Circle; (b) the Old Ancient Miami Arena; (c) the New Miami Arena in Bayfront Park That Sometimes Catches on Fire; and (d) the Other New Miami Arena in Broward County. Notice that, when viewed from the air, all four structures have almost exactly the same shape. A coincidence? This seems unlikely, given the fact that the Tequesta, in addition to not having spell-checkers, did not have helicopters. So it could be that the Tequesta built the Circle as a sports and entertainment venue, only to abandon it because it lacked adequate luxury skyboxes - a tradition that continues in South Florida to the present day.

exhibit-two.jpg
The Miami Circle, the Old Ancient Miami Arena, the New Miami Arena in Bayfront Park That Sometimes Catches on Fire, and the Other New Miami Arena in Broward County. MIAMI HERALD FILE PHOTOS

But there is yet another possible explanation for the Miami Circle. This explanation came to me when, in the course of the in-depth research I did for this story, I actually visited the site of the Circle personally. On a beautiful sunny day, I stood on the top of the parking structure of the Sheraton Biscayne Bay Hotel and gazed down upon the ancient site, which at the time was covered by a large ancient sheet of plastic. Nevertheless, I was able to get a good view of the area around the Circle. At first, it seemed to be just a jumble of dirt and rocks, but as I continue to gaze down upon it, I gradually started to notice something fascinating - something that had been overlooked by all the so-called ``experts'' who have studied the site, possibly because they, unlike me, have not been taking powerful prescription pharmaceuticals for lower-back pain (see Soccer Hooligan column).

What I began to see, as I gazed down, was that the Miami Circle is not an isolated formation; it is part of a larger pattern. This pattern is very subtle, so, to enable you to see it, we here at the Miami Herald have used a sophisticated image-enhancement technique called DSBH (Drawing Stuff By Hand). First, take a look at Exhibit 3, which is a photograph of the Circle site as it appears to the casual observer. Now, look at Exhibit 4, which is the same photograph after it has been enhanced by the DSBH technique.

exhibit-three.jpg
The Miami Circle as it appears to the casual observer. CHARLES TRAINOR JR MIAMI HERALD FILE

exhibit-four.jpg
The Miami Circle, enhanced by the DSBH technique.

What could these mysterious lines and shapes possibly mean? I do not presume to guess. That is for the experts to determine, and they could take years. All we know is, whatever it is, the Tequesta put it there, and we have to preserve it. But to do that, we, the people, in the form of Miami-Dade County taxpayers, must first purchase the Circle property from the Wicked Developer. He's saying he wants $50 million for it, and he wants it SOON. The question is: Where are we going to get that kind of money in a hurry?

One possible way would be to use expressway tolls. As you are aware, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority recently raised the tolls on four of our expressways from 25 cents to 50 cents to pay for various much-needed road improvements, such as removing a disabled Chevrolet Caprice that has been blocking the center lane of the northbound Palmetto Expressway since 1978. So why not simply impose a larger toll increase, and use the additional money to buy the Circle?

The problem with this idea is that, to raise $50 million in a reasonably short time - say, two weeks, we would have to increase the tolls to .... let's see, let me get out the calculator here.... OK, we would have to increase the toll to $2,436.75 per car. Unfortunately, this could result in serious traffic delays caused by the fact that it would take each driver upwards of seven hours to throw all the quarters into the basket.

Another possible solution would be to raise the $50 million by increasing the fare paid by Metrorail passengers. But this is probably not practical, since we're talking about a total of eight people, three of whom, according to a recent mass-transit survey, ride Metrorail only because they can't figure out how to get off.

So what is the answer? How do we get the money we need to save the Circle? I think I have figured out a solution - a solution that would raise the money without putting the burden on taxpayers; a solution that - this is the beauty of it - uses the Circle itself to generate revenue.

I'm talking about selling the naming rights. Do you remember when Joe Robbie Stadium, which was built by Joe Robbie, was called ``Joe Robbie Stadium?'' But then it was purchased by H. Wayne Huizenga, who sold the naming rights to some underwear company that changed the stadium's name to its current one: Some Underwear Company Stadium. That's how your savvy businesspersons operate these days. They cash in! You don't think H. Wayne's name is really ``H. Wayne Huizenga,'' do you? Don't be an idiot! Who would voluntarily use a name like that? His name is really ``Arnold P. Clampart Jr.'' He sold his naming rights to somebody ELSE named ``H. Wayne Huizenga.''

exhibit-five.jpg

My point is, we can do the same thing with the Miami Circle. That's right: It could become ``The H. Wayne Huizenga Circle.'' Assuming the money was right, I mean. But I think we'd get the really big bucks by approaching a major consumer-product corporation with an interest in enhancing public awareness of its brand. I'm thinking of something along the lines of this:

Or this:

exhibit-six.jpg

Or even this:

exhibit-seven.jpg

Of course all of this would have to be done in good taste. We would not, for example, allow anything like this:

exhibit-eight.jpg

But the point is, we could not only be preserving our precious heritage, but we might even be able to make a nice profit from it. And from time to time, in the interest of improving society, we could use the Circle to make public-service announcements on issues that are of concern to all of us in the South Florida community. In that spirit, I want to close by saying, in all sincerity:

exhibit-nine.jpg

©1999 Dave Barry

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