Mister Rogers never lived in Miami.
If he had, instead of gently asking, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” in his red cardigan, he would have been shirtless, sweating, waving a machete and yelling, “Turn down that [expletive deleted] dance music!” His show about kindness would have been about hostility. And really tacky statues.
Miami is home to the second-most annoying neighbors in the nation, behind only Dallas, complain Miamians themselves in a recent survey of residents in 24 cities. Minneapolis, located in the friendly Midwest where people actually make eye contact and say hello, has the nicest neighbors in the most peaceful neighborhoods.
Four of the top annoying five, excluding Philadelphia, are Sun Belt cities with warm climates. Four of the bottom five, excluding Atlanta, have cool climates.
“When you are outdoors more often, you have more exposure to your neighbors and behavior that bothers you,” said Andy Kerns, creative director for Digital Third Coast, a research firm that conducted the survey for Improvenet.com, a home improvement website. Nonstop reggaetón tends to fry nerves when it’s 92 degrees. “I’ve been to Miami, and I can see how it would be hard to be patient when it’s so hot and humid all the time.”
Noise was the most common irritant, whether it was talking and shouting, barking dogs, screaming kids, high-volume television, obnoxious parties, construction and yard work – particularly lawn mowers at 7 a.m. or deafening leaf blowers blasting all the clippings into your yard. Miami was runner-up to Houston in complaints about loud music.
“Noise comes through open windows, echoes down the block and permeates walls,” Kerns said. “Overflowing garbage in the back alley – to some extent you can avoid it; out of sight, out of mind. But noise is very invasive. There is no escape from noise that drives you crazy.”
Miami placed among the top five worst offenders in the categories of general grumpiness, dog poop scofflaws and loud TV. We’d also top the list for mango thieves, peacock enablers, decomposing Santeria chickens and trash pile rage. If it’s any consolation, Nashville and San Antonio were way ahead of Miami in complaints about nudity, and Denver and Portland had the most complaints about public drunkenness. Densely packed New Yorkers hate cooking odors and loud indoor movement. Las Vegas has too much tobacco smoke and Phoenix has too much marijuana smoke. In Indianapolis and Chicago, where trespassing is a pet peeve, watch out for neighbors acting like Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino.”
Miami ranked as the fifth most confrontational city. Most disputes are resolved in a face-to-face encounter. But Miami does have plenty of volatile types like Omar Rodriguez, the neighbor from hell. After 140 complaints were filed against him – neighbors accused Rodriguez of threatening them with guns and machetes, drowning their pets, slashing their tires, smearing excrement on a door – he shot a man three times in his Kendall neighborhood during an argument about dog poop. Rodriguez was charged with attempted murder.
Remember the bitter feud between neighboring couples in Miami Springs? It started with a stolen bird bath and escalated to the point that their yards were separated by razor wire. Police were called to break up a fight between the four adults who were found on the swale wrestling each other, bloodied by punches and kicks.
“Police get called for problems that a knock on the door or a polite note could have solved,” Kerns said. “Based on what we’ve seen lately in politics, with all the angry drama, it is more important than ever to practice patience and compassion toward our neighbors.”
That’s a tough task in Miami, where ethnic and racial strife breeds distrust. Language isn’t the only barrier; Miamians build walls around themselves that block friendly interaction.
Robert Frost said good fences make good neighbors, and in Miami we love our fences – especially unattractive chain link fences, tall black security fences with automated gates (even if no discerning thief would even consider breaking into the house) and ornate metallic fences with curlicues that fail miserably at looking high class.
Here, instead of borrowing a cup of sugar, your neighbor borrows your stove to cook a batch of crack cocaine base (true story, Coconut Grove, circa 1984).
Here, instead of having Tony Soprano as your neighbor, you might live next to a former Latin American or Haitian strongman, drug kingpin, Watergate plumber, Medicare fraudster.
Hurricanes are Miami’s greatest generator of neighborliness. Post-Andrew, one helpful neighbor reassured his block that he’d protect everybody’s property by patrolling with the loaded gun he patted on his hip, prepared to shoot on sight, as long as the blackout continued.
Then there’s the preoccupation with statuary that, try as it might, cannot bestow magnificence and in fact does the opposite. This includes leaping dolphins, lions, assorted Greek gods and goddesses and life-size rearing horses with crazy eyes.
When Mariano Machin erected giant horse statues in his compact front yard on Southwest 29th Street and Douglas Road, the neighbors gagged, but Machin — who died two years ago at age 75 — was such a sweet man that they learned to coexist. They are thankful the horses are geldings.
“I’m very picky about the appearance of my house so I find it kind of ridiculous,” said next-door neighbor Aby Morales. “But we have very nice people in our neighborhood. To each his own. That house on the corner used to be bright orange until we offered to paint it, so my friends would say, ‘Oh, we know where you live — on the street with the Home Depot house and the horse house.
“At least those horses don’t make any noise.”
Neighbor Albert Verdecia also said the display — which includes a water-bearer fountain and a windmill — serves as a landmark for visitors, who joke that he lives in “horse country.” His wife calls it one of the Seven Wonders of the World that is visible from outer space.
“I asked him, ‘Why such big horses?’ and he thought they were beautiful,” Verdecia said. “Have you seen the eyes? Someone painted the eyes. Those statues would be great for a ranch or a farm, but this is not a farm.”
Machin’s widow, Lydia Chavez, said her husband grew up on a farm in Las Villas, Cuba, and the horses reminded him of home.
“People come here all the time and ask my permission to take a photo,” said Chavez, who posed by the horses with her 5-year-old grandson, who is quite fond of them. “They like it. It’s very distinctive. You don’t see many sculptures of “caballos” in Miami.”
What else makes Miami neighbors especially annoying?
Neighbors who pave their lawns. And think painting the concrete green makes it look more natural.
Neighbors who steal mangoes. They are the subject of numerous police reports in Pinecrest.
Neighbors who leave junk strewn about so that it appears you have a meth lab on your block.
Neighbors who feed peacocks that defecate on sidewalks, peck at cars, destroy plants, dig holes in lawns, shriek and howl, and have baby peacocks.
Cat ladies. A Little Havana man was so irritated by his neighbors’ habit of feeding stray cats that he went to their apartment and started shooting at them through the front door.
Neighbors with roosters that crow at dawn.
Neighbors who deposit Santeria offerings of decapitated chickens, fruit, pastelitos, coins and cigars under trees where orishas dwell.
Boundary-pushing neighbors who chop down trees and build McMansions or huge white soulless cubes to the edge of the property line that ruin the character and scale of the surrounding neighborhood, proving that money can’t buy taste.
Neighbors whose windows and doors are bedecked with wrought-iron burglar bars, or “rejas,” run amok. Do they like living in jail?
Neighbors who have had blue tarps covering their roof since 1992. Or never remove the tape that won’t protect their windows from hurricane-force winds.
Code enforcement tattletales and swale Nazis.
Neighbors who plant fake plastic flowers.
Neighbors whose property resembles a used car lot.
Neighbors who abuse trash piles.
Neighbors who don’t trim overhanging tree limbs that cause power outages during hurricanes.
Neighbors who don’t take down their holiday decorations — and if that sleigh looks silly in December it looks even more silly in July.
Neighbors who abandon their foreclosed-upon house which is now used by swimming pool skateboarders and meth heads.