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Written by Gaspar González - BT Contributor   
September 2012

Biscayne Park offers few opportunities for casual interaction, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying

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Where do people go when they leave Biscayne Park? I don’t mean leave for the summer, as so many of my neighbors do every year -- welcome back, folks -- or even move away. I’m talking about when they drive out of the cozy confines of our little village. It’s a question I’ve wondered about for the nearly three years I’ve lived here. The reason? Because I almost never see anyone from Biscayne Park outside of Biscayne Park.

One of the blessings -- or drawbacks, depending on how you look at it -- of living here is that we have no commercial outlets. No stores, no gas stations, no banks, no post office. The smallest errand requires one to leave the Park and, most likely, drive in the direction of either North Miami or Miami Shores, our two sister communities.

Because we lived there before moving to Biscayne Park, my wife and I usually go south to the Shores. We bank there -- at two different banks -- we worship at Miami Shores Community Church, we do our grocery shopping at the Shores Publix, and when we’re in the mood for a quick bite, we swing by Norberto’s Deli on NE 2nd Avenue (where I recommend the homemade roast beef or, when available, the Cuban-style pork sandwiches).

We also do our dry cleaning in the Shores. My toddler attends music classes at Miss Jane’s and goes to Shores Pediatrics when his throat is sore. Our preferred Starbucks is the one on NE 95th Street. Occasionally we’ll go to the Miami Shores Country Club on a Friday night.

And when we do any of these things, there’s a very good chance we’ll see our neighbors -- our old neighbors from the Shores, that is, almost never one of our Biscayne Park neighbors. (The one exception to this is picking up or dropping off our son at his preschool, where a number of Biscayne Park families also have children enrolled; so many, in fact, that it might someday occur to officials in Biscayne Park that we could benefit from having a school here as well.)

How odd is that? Well, consider: I go to the Shores Publix three, maybe four times a week. It’s a habit I got into living in the urban northeast, first in New York City and later in New Haven, Connecticut. Grocery stores were always conveniently close by and so there was no need to plan meals more than a couple of days in advance. Now that we have a small child, my wife and I make much larger shopping trips than we used to (good luck telling our son we’re out of Dora the Explorer yogurt), but we still indulge in being able to decide at the last minute what we might be in the mood for that night.

Suffice to say, I’m at the Shores Publix a lot. How many times have I run into someone I know from the Park there (and I know quite a few people)? Twice, I think. Same goes for the bank and the Shores post office, where I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered anyone I know from the village. I’ve heard Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt -- who lived a few doors down from my current address -- used to frequent Norberto’s, but I never saw him there and, anyway, Mr. Hunt passed away in 2007.

It’s enough to make an amateur urban anthropologist wonder: Are Biscayne Park residents more likely to gravitate to North Miami? Before moving here, I wouldn’t have guessed that was the case, but it might be. Maybe. I know several people who work in North Miami (more than in Miami Shores), and some village families whose children attend William Jennings Bryan Elementary, which draws them to North Miami five days a week. There’s also the Park’s Costco army, its troops distinguishable by the 48-count paper towel bundles and 4-for-1 juice containers they bring home from their weekend maneuvers on 146th Street.

And then there’s my own unscientific research, by which I mean trips to Ricky Thai Bistro on NE 123rd Street. In contrast to the Shores Publix, it’s rare that I walk into Ricky Thai -- a small restaurant with seating for maybe 30 people -- and don’t see somebody from the village.

This includes Commissioner Roxanna Ross, whom I bumped into at the takeout counter one night. I know what you’re thinking. Commissioner Ross is not my biggest fan. Awkward? Not really. It would appear a mutual love of Ricky’s pad woon sen and basil fried rice trumps any philosophical differences. (The food is delicious, though given the popularity of the place, one should remember to call well in advance for takeout. Ricky Thai also delivers.)

And that brings me to my larger point: That, for all its charms, life in Biscayne Park provides relatively few opportunities for the kinds of informal, serendipitous interactions that make people feel connected to one another.

Yes, the village dog-walkers see each other regularly and a lot of the parents do, too; in fact, kids’ birthday parties and afternoon play dates account for most of the contact my wife and I have with our neighbors. Otherwise, though, Biscayne Park can feel a lot like the rest of Miami -- people living side by side being pulled in opposite directions by work, errands, and other demands of daily existence, then coming home to rest up before heading out to their respective corners of the world the next morning.

We’re not likely to see each other at the local breakfast nook or gas station or bakery because there is no local breakfast nook, gas station, or bakery. For most of us, local is what we make it. That’s not a complaint, just a fact in sprawling South Florida.

And it might even be more true of Biscayne Park than neighboring communities. Miami Shores has its downtown and Morningside has the 55th Street Station, while Belle Meade and Palm Grove have the adjacent MiMo District, all of which offer a number of spots where people naturally gather. Biscayne Park, not so much.

But maybe that just means we have to work harder to create our own meeting places. Now that evening temperatures are close to being bearable again, that could be the Tuesday night Biscayne Triangle Truck Round-Up in North Miami, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s monthly “Jazz at MOCA” event, or maybe the soon-to-open art-house cinema in the Shores. (See “Roll ’Em” in this issue.)

Who knows? If enough of us get out there, we might just run into one other.

 

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