As a professional journalist, I wanted to gauge the public mood on the eve of the crucial Florida primary, so over the weekend I ventured across the causeway to the typical, working-class, blue-collar neighborhood of South Miami Beach.
South Beach -- or, as the locals call it, ''South Beach'' -- is a tightknit, hardscrabble community nestled alongside the Atlantic Ocean, bounded on the north by Lincoln Road and on the south by a large mass of tourists who have been waiting since Halloween for a table at Joe's Stone Crab.
Demographically, South Beach is an average American small town, with a population of 3,740, increasing at night to a little over 14 million.
Most of the locals work, as their ancestors did, in the field of valet parking, a proud trade that has been handed down from father to son for generations because that is sometimes how long it takes for them to retrieve your car, which could be parked as far away as Argentina.
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An aging South Beach valet, realizing that his time has come, will call his son to his side, hand him a set of car keys and, with his dying breath, say, ''Son, these were given to me by my father, and now it's time I gave them to you. They're for a red Acura. Or it might be a blue Taurus. Or maybe. . . .'' THUD
I arrived on South Beach at around 7:30 p.m. and, using professional journalism skills, began gauging the mood of the people from an average distance of about 15 feet. (Some of the people were carrying snakes.) Based on these observations, I would say that the public mood was restless. This could be explained by concern over the economy, healthcare and Iraq. Another possible explanation is that the nightclubs weren't open yet. South Beach clubs get started fashionably late. The truly hot clubs don't open for the night until 9 a.m. the following day. Even then, they're difficult to get into because they station large, hostile men outside to guard against the danger of paying customers.
As a result, what people mainly do on South Beach is have between three and eight mojitos, then walk around. This can be tricky because the sidewalks are blocked by a dense, maze-like barrier of sidewalk cafe tables occupied by people who have been persuaded by the friendly waiter to order the Seafood Special, which costs $70 (although the friendly waiter does not tell you this) and comes on a plate the size of a wading pool.
So you have this endless surging river of mojito-impaired pedestrians attempting to thread their way through a minefield of other people's entrees, dodging shrimp skewers and getting cocktail sauce all over their thighs. (At least I assume that was cocktail sauce.)
But my journalistic point is that, on the eve of the crucial Florida primary, the mood in the tiny hamlet of South Beach -- and, therefore, we can assume, of the entire state -- was restless, plus a little bit embarrassed for not asking in advance about the price of the Seafood Special. (I refer here to my wife.)
The question is, how will this mood affect the primary voting? Here's where the races stand:
On the Democratic side, it is now clearly a two-person contest between Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton.
This is troubling to advisors for Hillary Clinton, who, as you may recall, was supposed to be the Clinton candidate this time. Hillary's people want Bill to lower his profile, but he can't stop himself. At campaign appearances, he staggers onstage with Hillary advisors clinging to his ankles and as many as eight tranquilizer darts embedded in his neck. That's the kind of competitor he is.
On the Republican side, it's now a dead heat between Mitt Romney and John McCain, who are both running on the platform that the other one is a lying sack of scum.
Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani's shrewd strategy of not entering the race until it was way too late continues to pay dividends in the form of several people who have told pollsters that, no matter what, they still plan to vote for Rudy in the Florida primary, even though they personally reside in New Jersey.
The candidates who win in Florida will receive a major boost going into Super Extreme Mega Tuesday, when primaries will be held in many large states, plus Iowa and New Hampshire, which are being allowed to vote again because they are such whiners. After that, we should have two likely nominees, one of whom will be the next president of the United States.
And then it will be time for another mojito.
©2008 Dave Barry
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